« ZurückWeiter »
is as unco
My reason for this in commercey
discipline ! 'Tis observable, that as the old ROMANS, by applying themselves solely to war, were the only civilized people that ever possessed military discipline ; lo the modern ITALIANS are the only civilized people, among EUROPEANS, that ever wanted courage and a martial spirit. Those who would alcribe this effeminacy of the ITALIANS to their luxury or politeness, or application to the arts, need but consider the French and ENGLISH, whose bravery is as uncontestable, as their love of luxury, and their asliduity in commerce. The Italian historians give us a more satisfactory reafon for this degeneracy of their countrymen. They shew us how the sword was dropt at once by all the ITALIAN sovereigns; while the VENETIAN aristocracy was jealous of its subjects, the FLORENTINE democracy applied itself entirely to commerce; Rome was governed by priests, and NAPLES by women. War then became the business of soldiers of fortune, who spared one another, and, to the astonishment of the world, could engage a whole day in what they called a battle, and return at night to their camp, without the least bloodshed. - What has chiefly induced severe moralists to declaim against luxury and refinement in pleasure, is the example of antient Rome, which, joining to its poverty and rusticity, virtue and public spirit, rose to such a surprising height of grandeur and liberty ; but having learned from its conquered provinces the Asiatic luxury, fell into every kind of corruption; whence arose fedition and civil wars, attended at last with the total loss of liberty. All the Latin classics, whom we peruse in our infancy, are full of these sentiments, and universally ascribe the ruin of their state to the arts and riches imported from the East : Insomuch that SalLust represents a taste for painting as a vice no less than lewdness and drinking. And so popular were these sentiments during the latter ages of the republic, that this author abounds in praises of the old rigid KOMAN virtue, tho' himself the most egregious instance of modern luxury and corruption; speaks contemptuously of GRECIAN eloquence, tho' the most elegant writer in the world ; nay, employ's preposterous digressions and declamations to this purpose, tho'a model of taste and correctness.
But it would be easy to prove, tliat thefe writers mistook the cause of the disorders in the Roman state, and ascribed to luxury and the arts, what really proceeded from an ill-modelled government, and the unlimited extent of conquests. Luxury or refinement on pleasure has no natural tendency to beget venality and corruption. The value which all men put upon any particular pleasure, depends on comparison and experience ; nor is a porter less greedy of money, which he spends on bacon and brandy, than a courtier, who purchases champagne, and orcolans. Riches are valuable at all times and to all men, because they always purchase pleasures, such as men are accustomed to, and desire: nor can any thing restrain or regulate the love of money but a sense of honour and virtue ; which, if it be not nearly equal at all times, will naturally abound most in ages of luxury and knowlege.
Of all EUROPEAN kingdoms Poland seems the most defective in the arts of war as well as peace, mechanical as well as liberal; and yet 'tis there that venality and corruption do most prevail. The nobles seem to have preserved their crown elective for no other purpose, but regularly to sell it to the highest bidder. This is almost the only species of commerce with which that people are acquainted.
dependent; while and consideration to these submit not to have
The liberties of ENGLAND, fo far from decaying since the origin of luxury and the arts, have never flourished so much as during that period. And tho corruption may seem to increase of late years ; this is chiefly to be ascribed to our established liberty, when our princes have found the impossibility of governing without parliaments, or of terrifying parliaments by the phantom of prerogative. Not to mention, that this corruption or venality prevails infinitely more among the electors than the elected ; and therefore cannot justly be ascribed to any refinements in luxury.
If we consider the matter in a proper light, we shall find, that luxury and the arts are rather favorable to liberty, and have a natural tendency to preserve, if not produce a free government. In rude unpolished nations, where the arts are neglected, all the labor is bestowed on the cultivation of the ground; and the whole fociety divides into two classes, proprietors of land, and their vassals or tenants. The latter are necessarily dependent, and fitted for Navery and subjection; especially where they possess no riches, and are not valued for their knowlege in agriculture ; as must always be the case where the arts are neglected. The for. mer naturally erect themselves into petty tyrants ; and must either submit to an absolute master for the sake of peace and order; or if they will preserve their independency, like the Gothic barons, they must fall into feuds and contests among themselves, and throw the whole society into such confusion, as is perhaps worle than the most despotic government. But where luxury nourishes commerce and industry, the peasants, by a proper cultivation of the land, become rich and independent; while the tradesmen and merchants acquire a share of the property, and draw authority and consideration to that middling rank of men, who are the best and firmest basis of public liberty. These submit not to favery, like the poor peasants, from poverty and meanness of spirit ; and having no hopes of tyrannizing over others, like the barons, they are not tempted, for the sake of that gratification, to submit to the tyranny of their sovereign. They covet equal laws, which may secure their property, and preserve them from monarchical, as well as aristocratical tyranny.
The house of Commons is the support of our popular government, and all the world acknowlege, that it owed its chief influence and consideration to the increase of commerce, which threw fuch a balance of property into the hands of the Commons. How inconsistent then, is it to blame so violently luxury, or a refinement in the arts, and to represent it as the bane of liberty and public spirit ?
To declaim against prefent times, and magnify the virtue of remote ancestors, is a propensity almost inherent in human nature : and as the sentiments and opinions of civilized ages alone are transmitted to posterity, hence it is that we meet with so many severe judgments pronounced against luxury, and even science ; and hence it is that at present we give so ready an assent to them. But the fallacy is easily perceived from comparing different nations that are contemporaries; where we boch judge more impartially, and can better set in opposition those manners with which we are sufficiently acquainted. Treachery and cruelty, the most pernicious and most odious of all vices, seem peculiar to uncivilized ages; and by the refined Greeks and Romans were ascribed to all the barbarous nations, which surrounded them. They might justly, therefore, have presumed, that their own ancestors, so highly celebrated, poffesfed no greater virtue, and were as much
unty and consideration to that midald
ould any pred that labor an, would
inferior to their pofterity in honor and humanity as in taste and science. An antient FRANK or Saxon may be highly extolled : But I believe every man would think his life or fortune much less secure in the hands of a Moor or TARTAR, than in those of a FRENCH or ENGLISH gentleman, the rank of men the most civilized in the most civilized nations.
We come now to the second position which we proposed to illustrate, viz, that as innocent luxury, or a refinement in pleasure, is advantageous to the public ; so where-ever luxury ceases to be innocent, it also ceases to be beneficial; and when carried a degree farther, begins to be a quality pernicious, tho', perhaps, not the most pernicious, to political society.
Let us consider what we call vicious luxury. No gratification, however fensual, can of itself be esteemed vicious. A gratification is only vicious, when it engrosses all a man's expence, and leaves no ability for such acts of duty and generosity as are required by his situation and fortune. Suppose, that he correct the vice, and employ part of his expence in the education of his children, in the support of his friends, and in relieving the poor ; would any prejudice result to society ? On the contrary, the same consumption would arise, and that labor, which, at present, is employed only in producing a Nender gratification to one man, would relieve the necessitous, and bestow satisfaction on hundreds. The same care and toil which raise a dish of peas at ChristMAS, would give bread to a whole family during six months. To say, that, without a vicious luxury, the labor would not have been employed at all, is only to say, that there is some other defect in human nature, such as indolence, selfishness, inattention to others, for which luxury, in some measure provides a remedy; as one poison may be an antidote to another. But virtue, like wholsome food, is better than poisons, however corrected.
SUPPOSE the same number of men that are at present in BRITAIN, with the same foil and climate ; I ask, is it not possible for them to be happier, by the most perfect way of life which can be imagined, and by the greatest reformation which Omnipotence itself could work in their temper and disposition ? To assert, that they cannot, appears evidently ridiculous. As the land is able to maintain more than all its inhabitants, they could never, in such an UTOPIAN state, feel any other ills than those which arise from bodily sickness ; and these are not the half of human miseries. All other ills spring from some vice, either in ourselves or others; and even many of our diseases proceed from the same origin. Remove the vices, and the ills follow. You must only take care to remove all the vices. If you remove part, you may render the matter worse. By banishing vicious luxury, without curing noth and an indifference to others, you only diminish industry in the state, and add nothing to mens charity or their generosity. Let us, therefore, rest contented with asserting, that two opposite vices in a state may be more advantageous than ei' her of them alone; but let us never pronounce vice in itself advantageous. Is it not very inconsistent for an author to affert in one page, that moral distinctions are inventions of politicians for public interest, and in the next page maintain, that vice is advantageous to the public * ? And indeed it seems, upon any system of morality, little less than a contradiction in terms, to talk of a vice which is in general beneficial to society.
* Fable of the bees.
- I THOUGHT this reasoning necessary, in order to give fome light to a philoso. phical question, which has been much disputed in BRITAIN. I call it a philofo. phical question, not a political one. For whatever may be the consequence of such a miraculous transformation of mankind, as would endow them with every fpecies of virtue, and free them from every species of vice; this concerns not the magis ftrate, who aims only ac poffibilities. He cannot cure every vice, by subftituting a virtue in its place. Very often he can only cure one vice by another; and in that case, he ought to prefer what is least pernicious to society. Luxury, when excessive, is the fource of many ills ; but is in general preferable to sloth and idle. nefs, which would commonly succeed in its place, and are more pernicious both to private persons and to the public. When Noth reigns, a mean uncultivated way of life prevails amongst individuals, without fociety, without enjoyment. And if the sovereign, in such a situation, demands the service of his subjects, the labor of the state suffices only to furnish the necessaries of life to the laborers, and can afford nothing to those who are employed in the public service.
A AONEY is not, properly speaking, one of the subjects of commerce ; but M I only the instrument which men have agreed upon to facilitate the exchange of one commodity for another. 'Tis none of the wheels of trade: 'Tis the oil which renders the motion of the wheels more smooth and easy. If we consider any one kingdom by itself, 'tis evident, that the greater or less plenty of money is of no consequence; since the prices of commodities are always proportioned to the plenty of money, and a crown in HARRY VII.'s time served the same purpose as a pound does at present. 'Tis only the pub'ic which draws any advantage from the greater plenty of money, and that only in its wars and negotiations with foreign ftates. And this is the reason, why all rich and trading countries, from CARTHAGE to Britain and HOLLAND, have employed mercenary troops, which they hired from their poorer neighbours. Were they to make use of their native subjects, they would find less advantage from their fuperior riches, and from their great plenty of gold and silver ; since the pay of all their servants inuft rife in proportion to the public opulence. Our small army in BRITAIN of 20,000 men are maintained at as great expence as a French army thrice as numerous,
The English fleet, during the late war, required as much money to support it as all the Roman legions, which kept the whole world in subjection, during the time of the emperors *
* A private foldier in the Roman infantry had pay, which, allowing 5coo men to a legion, makes a denarius a-day, somewhat less than eight pence. 125,000 Tacit. ann. lib. 4. 'Tis true, there were The Roman emperors had commonly 25 legions in also auxiliaries to the legions ; but their numbers
The greater number of people and their greater industry are serviceable in all cafes ; at home and abroad, in private and in public. But the greater plenty of money is very limited in its use, and may even sometimes be a loss' to a nation in its commerce with foreigners.
There seems to be a happy concurrence of causes in human affairs, which check the growth of trade and riches, and hinder them from being confined entirely to one people ; as might naturally at first be dreaded from the advantages of an established commerce. Where one nation has got the start of another in trade, 'tis very difficult for the latter to regain the ground it has loft ; because of the surperior industry and skill of the former, and the greater stocks, of which its merchants are poffeffed, and which enable them to trade for so much finaller profits. But these advantages are compensated, in some measure, by the low price of labor in every nation, which has not an extensive commerce, and does not very much abound in gold and silver. Manufactures, therefore, gradually shift their places, leaving those countries and provinces which they have already enriched, and Aying to others, whither they are allured by the cheapness of provisions and labor; till they have enriched these also, and are again banished by the same causes. And, in general, we may observe, that the dearness of every thing, from plenty of money, is a disadvantage, which attends an established commerce, and fets bounds to it in every country, by enabling the poorer states to undersel the richer in all foreign markets
This has made me entertain a great doubt concerning the benefit of banks and paper-credit, which are fo generally esteemed advantageous to every nation. That provisions and labor should become dear by the increase of trade and money, is, in many respects, an inconvenience; but an inconvenience that is unavoidable, and the effect of that public wealth and prosperity which are the end of all our wishes. 'Tis compensated by the advantages which we reap, from the poffeffion of these precious metals, and the weight which they give the nation in all foreign wars and negotiations. But there appears no reafon for increasing that inconvenience by a : counterfeit money, which foreigners will not accept in any payment, and which : any great diforder in the state will reduce to nothing. There are, 'ris true, many people in every rich state, who, having large sums of money, would prefer paper with good security ; as being of more easy transport and more safe custody. If the public provide not a bank, private bankers will take advantage of this circum• itance; as the goldsmiths formerly did in LONDON, or as the bankers do at pre
fent in DUBLIN : and therefore 'tis better, it may be thought, that a public company should enjoy the benefit of that paper-credit, which always will have place
are uncertain, as well as their pay. To consider double a common soldier. And as the soldiers only the legionaries, the pay of the private men from their pay (Tacit. ann. lib. 1.) bought their could not exceed 1,600,000 pound. Now, the own cloaths, arms, tents, and baggage; this must parliament in the last war commonly allowed for also dimin:fi considerably the other charges of the the fleet 2,500,000, We have therefore 900,000 army. So little expensive was that m ghty goover for the officers and other expences of the Ro. vernment, and so easy was its yoke over the world: Man legions. There seem to have been but few And, indeed, this is the more natural conclusion: officers in the ROMAN armies, in comparison of from the foregoing calculations. For money, afwhat are employed in all our modern troops, ex- ter the conquest of EGYPT, seems to have been cept some Swiss corps. And these officers had nearly in as great plenty at Rome, as it is at present very small pay: A centurion, for instance, only in the richest of the EUROPE AN kingdoms.