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ON LUXURY, IDLENESS, AND
INDUSTRY., From a Letter to Benjamin Vaughan, Esq.* written
[T is wonderful how preposterously the affairs
of this world are managed. Naturally one would imagine that the interest of a few individuals Thould give way to general interest ; 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 wifdom; but we neceffarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected passions, prejudices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its poffeffors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrets, and ediêts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men is the greateft fool upon earth.
I have not yet, indeed, thought of a remedy for luxury. I am not sure that in a great state it is capable of a remedy; nor that the evil is in itself always so great as it is represented. Suppose we include in the definition of luxury all unnecessary expence, and then let us confider whether laws to
* Prefent member of parliament for the borough of Calne, in Wiltshire, between whom and our author there fubafted a very close friendship .
prevent such expence are possible to be executed 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 fpur to labour-and industıy? May not luxury therefore produce inore than it consumes, if, withcut such a spur, people would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent? To this purpose I remember a circumstance. The skipper of a Thallop, employed between Cape-May and Philadelphia, had done us some small services, for whichi he refused to be paid. My wife understanding that he had a daughter, sent her a present of a newtathioned cap. Three years after, this skipper being at my house with an old farmer of Cape-May, his passenger, he mentioned the cap, and how inuch his daughter had been plealed with it.“ But (laid he)it proved a dear cap to our congregation.” - How to ?”—6 When my daughter appeared , with it at meeting, it was so much admired, that all the girls resolved to get such caps frein Piiladelphia; and my wife and I computel that the viole could not have cost less than a hundred piund's"_" True, (faid the farmer) but you do nojiell all the fiory. I think the cap was nevertheless an advantage 19 us; for it was the first thing shat put our girls upon knitting woisted mittens for file at Philadelphiile that they might have where." withal io buy caps and ribbons there'; and you know that incuitry has continued, and is likely CO COinue and increase to a much greater value, Bu an fwer much better purposes?_Upon the
kole, I was more reconciled to this little piece of uxury, since not only the girls were made hapVol. II,
pier by having fine caps, but the Philadelphians by the supply of warm mittens.
In our commercial towns upon the fea-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 pofterity: others fond of shewing 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 to do with it. It is therefore not loft. A vain, silly fellow builds a fine house, furnishes it richly, lives in it expensively, and in a few years ruins himself: but the marons, carpenters, smiths, and other honest tradesmen, have been by, his employ aslisted in maintaining and raising their families;; the farmer has been paid für bis labour; and encouraged, and the entire is now in better handsIn some cases, indeed, certain modes of luxury may be a public evil, in the manner as it is a private one. If there be a nation, for infance that exporis its beef and linen, to pay for ile importation of claret and porter, while a great part of its people live upon potatoes, and wear no fhirts; wherein does it differ from the foi wo lets bis family starve, and sells his chuaihes to buy diink? Quir American commerce is, I contain a little in this way.
We sell our victuals to the islands for run and sugar; ite substantiud necellasies of life for fuperfluities. But we have plenty, and live well neverthelcss, though, by being foberer, 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 laborigus and frugal: Ferming an opinion of our people and their manners, by what is seen among the inhabitants of the sea-ports, is judging from an improper sample. The people of the trading towns may be rich and luxurious, while the country posferies all thie virtues that tend to promote happiness and public prospe ity. Those towns are not much regarded by the country; they are hardly confidered as an effential part of the states; and the experience of the last war has thicwn, that their being in the poiression of the enemy did not neceffarily draw on the subjection of the country, which bravely continued to maintain its freedom and independence notwithstanding.
It has been computed by some political arithimetician, that if every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, that labour would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life ; want and misery would be banilled out of the world, and the rett of the twenty-four hours might be leisure and pleafure. Do What occafions then fo much want and mifery? It is the employment of men and women in works that produce neither the neceflries or conveniences of life, who, with those who do nothing, consume necefiaries raise : by the laborious. To explain
The first elements of wealth are obtained by labour, from the earth and waters. I have land, and raile corn. With this, if I feed a family that does nothing my corn will be consurned, 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 spinning, others in making brikk &c. for building, the value of my corn will be reitců and remain with me, and at the end of ff the year we inay be all better clothed and better lodge éd. And if, instead of employing a man I fee cx in making bricks, l'employ him in fiddling for the, the corn he eats is gone, and no part of his manu. facture remains to augment the wealth and conve. nience of the family; I Mall therefore be the poor. er for this fiddling man, unless the reit of my fa. mi'y work more, or 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 conven ences 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 fuperfluities, to the greai hazard and loss of many lives, by the constant dangers of the sea? How much labour is (pent in building and string great' fhips, to go to China and Arabia for tea and coffee, to the WestIndies for sugar, to America for tobacco ? " These Things cannot be called the nccefiaries of life, for cur anceitors lived very comfortably without them.
A quesion may be asked; Could all these people now employed in railing, making, or carrying fuperfluities, be subfiited by raising neceffaries? I think they might. The world is large, and a great part ofit ftilluncultivated. Many hundred millions of acies 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 á fubftantial farmer; and a hundred thousand men employed in clearing each his hundred acres, would