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ON LUXURY, IDLENESS, AND INDUSTRY. FROM A LETTER TO BENJAMIN VAUGIIAN, ESQ.*
WRITTEN IN 1784.
It is wonderful how preposterously the affairs of this world are managed. Naturally one would imagine thai the interest of a few individuals should give way to general into terest : but individuals manage their affairs with so much more application, industry and address, than the public do theirs, that general interest most commonly gives way to particular. We assemble parliaments and councils, to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected passions, prejudices and private interests. By the help of these, artíul men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrets, and ediets, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great meii is the greatest foo's upon earth.
I have not yet, indeed, thought of a remedy for luxury. I ain not sure that in a great state it is capable of a remedy; nor that the evil in itself is always so great as is represented. Suppose we include in the definition of luxury ali unnecessary expense, and then let us consider thether laws to prevent such expense are possible to be executeri in a great country, and whether, if they could be executed, our people generally would be happier, or even richer. Is not the hope of being one day able to purchase and enjoy luxuries a great spur to labor and industry? May not luxury therefore produce more than it consumes, if, without such a spur, people would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent. To this purpose I remember a cir
The skipper of a shallop, employed between Cape May and Philadelphia, had done us some small service, for which he refused to be paid. My wife understanding that he had a daughter, sent her a present of a newfashioned cap. Three years after, this skipper being at my house, with an old farmer of Cape May, his passenger, he
* Member of parliament for the borough of Caine, in Wiltshire, between whoin and our autnor there subsisted a very close friends
mentioned the cap, and how much his daughter had been pleased with it. " But (said he) it proved a dear cap to our congregațiou."
"How so?" 66 When my daughter ape peared with it at meeting, it was so much admired, that all the girls resolved to get such caps from Philadelphia; and my wife and I computed thai the whole could not have cost less than one hundred pounris." True, (said the farmer) but you do not tell all the story. I think the cap was nevertheless an advantage lo us; for it was the first thing that put our girls upon knitting worsted Inittens for sale at Philarlelphia, that they might have wherewithal to buy caps and ribbons there; and you know that that industry has contine uerl, and is likely to continue and increase to a much greater value, and answer belter purposes.” Upon the whole, I was inoro reconciled to this little piece of luxury, since not only the girls were made happier by having fine caps, but the Philadelphians by the supply of warın millens.
In our commercial towns upon the sea-coast, fortunes will occasionally be made. Some of those who grow rich will be prudent, live within bounds, and preserve what they have gained for their posterity; others, fond of showing their wealth, will be extravagant, and ruin themselves.Laws cannot prevent this; and perhaps it is not always an evil to the public. A shilling spent idly by a fool may be picked up by a wiser person, who knows better what :o do with it. It is therefore not lost. A vain silly fellow builds a fine house, furnishes it richlv, lives in it expensively, and in a few years ruins himself; but the masons, carpenters, siniths, and other honest tradesmen, have been by his employ assisted in naintaining and raising their families; the farmer has been paid for his labor, and encouraged, and the estate is now in better hands. some cases, indeed, certain inodes of luxury may be a public evil, in the same manner as it is a private one. If there be a nation, for instance, that exports its beef and linen, to pay for the importation of cla. ret and porter, while a great part of its people live upon potatoes, and wear no shirts; wherein does it differ from the sot, who lets his family starve, and sells his clothes to buy drink? Our American cominerce is, I confess, a little in this
way. We sell our victuals to the islands for rum and supar; the substantial necessaries of life for superfluities
But we have plenty, and live well nevertheless; though by being soberer, we might be richer.
The vast quantity of forest land we have yet to clear and put in order for cultivation, will for a long time keep the body of our nation laborious and frugal. Forming an opinion of our people, and their manners, by what is seen among the inhabitants of the seaports, is judging from an improper sample. The people of the trading towns may be rich and luxurious, while the country possesses all the virtues that tend to promote happiness and public prosperity. Those towns are not much regarded by the country; they are hardly considered as an essential part of the States; and the experience of the last war has shown, that their being in the possession of the enemy did not necessarily draw on the subjection of the country; which bravely continued to maintain its freedom and independence notwithstanding,
It has been computed by some political arithmetician, that if every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, that labor would produce sufficieut to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life; want and misery would be banished out of the world, and the rest of the twenty four hours might be leisure and pleasure.
What occasions then so much want and misery? It is the employment of men and women in works that produce neither the necessaries nor the conveniences of life; who, with those who do nothing, consume necessaries raised by the laborious. To explain this:
The first elements of wealth are obtained by labor from the earth and waters. I have land, and raise corn. With this, if I feed a family that does nothing, my corn will be consumed, and at the end of the year I shall be no richer than I was at the beginning. But if, while I feed them, I employ them, some in spinni others in making bricks, &c. for building, the value of my com will be arrested and remain with me, and at the end of the year we may all be better clothed and better lodged. And if, instead of employing a man I feeu in making bricks, I employ him in fiddling for me, the corn he eats is gone, and no part of his manufacture remains to augment the wealth and convenience of the family; I shall, therefore, be the poorer for this
fiddling man, unless the rest of my family work more, of eat less, to make up the deficiency he occasions.
Look round the world, and see the millions employed in doing nothing, or in something that amounts to nothing, when the necessaries and conveniences of life are in question. What is the bulk of commerce, for which we fight and destroy each other, but the toil of millions for superfluities, to the great hazard aird loss of many lives, by the constant dangers of the sea ? How much labur is spent in building and fitting great ships, to go to China and Arabia for tea and coffee, to the West Indies for sugar, to America for tobacco! These things cannot be called the necessaries of life, for our ancestors lived very comfortably without them.
A question may be asked_Could all these people now employed in raising, making, or carrying superfluities, be subsisted by raising necessaries? I think they might. The world is large, and a great part of it still uncultivated. Many hundred millions of acres in Asia, Africa and America, are still in a forest; and a great deal even in Europe. On a hundred acres of this forest, a man might become a substantial farmer; and a hundred thousand men employed in clearing each his hundred acres, would hardly brighten a spot large enough to be visible from the moon, unless with Herschel's telescope; so vast are the regions still in wood.
It is, however, some comfort to reflect that, upon the whole, the quantity of industry and prudence among mankind exceeds the quantity of idleness and folly. Hence the increase of good buildings, farms cultivated, and populous cities filled with wealth, all over Europe, which a few ages since were only to be found on the coast of the Mediterranean; and this notwithstanding the mad wars continually raging by which are often destroyed, in one year, the works of many years' peace. So that we may hope, the luxury of a few merchants on the coast will not be the ruin of America.
One reflection more, and I will end this long rambling letter. Almost all the parts of our bodies require some expense. The feet demand shoes, the legs stockings; the rest of the body clothing; and the belly a good deal of victuals. Our eyes, though exceedingly useful, ask, when reasonable, only the cheap assistance of spectacles, which
could not much impair our finances. But the eyes of other people are the eyes that ruin us. If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine clothes, fine houses, nor fine furniture.
ON THE SLAVE TRADE.
READING in the newspapers the speech of Mr. Jackson in congress against meddling with the affair of slavery, or attempting to mend the condition of slaves, it put me in mind of a similar speech, made about one hundred years since, by Sidi Mahomet Ibrahim, a member of the divan of Algiers, which may be seen in Martin's account of his consulship, 1687. It was against granting the petition of the sect called Erika, or Purists, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery, as being unjust. Mr. Jackson does not quote it: perhaps he has not seen it. If, therefore, some of its reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech it may not only show that men's interests operate, and are operated on, with surprising similarity, in all countries and climates, whenever they are under similar circumstan
The African speech, as translated, is as follows: “Alia Bismillah, &c. God is great, and Mahomet is his prophet.
"Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting their petition? If we cease our cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who, in this hot climate, are to cultivate our lands?
Who are to perform the common labors of our city, and of our families ? Must we not then be our own slaves? And is there not more compassion and more favor due to us Musselmen than to those Christian dogs? We have now above fifty thousand slaves in and near Algiers. This number, if not kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated. If, then, we cease taking and plundering the infidels' ships, and making slaves of the seamen and passen