Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

That this reasoning is not chimerical, but founded on history and experience, our author fhews from the Spartan, Roman, and other ftates, which owed their great power to the want of commerce and luxury; and as it is natural to ask, whether sovereigns may not return to the maxims of ancient policy, and consult their own intereft, in this respect, more than the happiness of their subjects; he answers, that to him it appears almost impossible, because ancient policy was violent, and contrary to the more natural and usual course of things. In the subsequent part. of this discourse, he proceeds to fhew that, though the want of trade and manufactures, among a free and very martial people, may sometimes have no other effect, than to render the public more powerful, yet according to the moft natural course of things, industry, and arts, and trade increase the power of the sovereign, as well as the happiness of the subjects. Towards the close of it, he endeavours to make it appear, that the poverty of the common peaple in France, Italy and Spain, is, in some measure, oweing to the superior riches of the soil and happiness of the climate. • In such a fine mold or foil, says he, as that of those more southern regions, agriculture is an easy art, and one man, with a couple of sorry horses, will be able, in a season, to cultivate as much land as will pay a pretty considerable rent to the proprietor. All the art, which the farmer knows, is to leave his ground fallow for a year, as soon as it is exhausted ; and the warmth of the sun alone, and temperature of the climate enrich it, and restore its fertility. Such poor peafants, therefore, require only a fimple maintenance for their labour. They have no stock nor riches, which claim more; and at the same time, they are for ever dependant on their landlord, who gives no leases, nor fears that his land will be spoiled, by the ill methods of cultivation. In England, the land is rich, but coarse, must be cultivated at a great expence, and produces but fender crops, when not carefully managed, and by a method, which gives not the full profit, but in á course of several years. A farmer, therefore, in England, must have a considerable stock and a long lease; which beget proportionable profits. The fine vineyards of Champagne and Burgundy, that oft yield to the landlord above five pounds per acre, are cultivated by peasants, who have scarce bread; and the reason is, 'that such peasants need no stock but their own limbs, and a few instruments of husbandry, which they can buy for twenty shillings. The

C 3

farmers

farmers are commonly in some better circumstances in those countries. But the graziers are most at their ease of all those, who cultivate the land. The reason is still the sanie. Men must have profits proportionable to their expence and hazard. Where so confiderable a number of the labouring poor as the peasants and farmers, are in very ' low circumstances, all the rest muft partake of their por verty, whether the government of that nation be monarchical or republican.

- We may form a similar remark with regard to the general history of mankind. What is the realon why no people living betwixt the tropics could ever yet attain to any art or çivility, or reach even any police in their government and any military discipline; while few nations in the temperate climates have been altogether deprived of these advantages? It is probable, that one cause of this phænomenon, is the warmth and equality of weather in the torrid zone, that render cloaths and houses lels requisite for the inhabitants, and thereby remove, in part, that neceffity, which is the great spur to industry and invention. Curis acuens ' mortalia corda. Not to mention, that the fewer goods or possessions of this kind any people enjoy, the fewer quarrels are likely to arise amongst them, and the less necessity will there be for a settled police or regular authority to protect and defend them from foreign enemies or from each other.'

Our author introduces his discourse on Luxury, which follows that on Commerce, with observing, that it is a word of a very uncertain fignification, and may be taken in a good as well as in a bad leníe; that in general, it means great refinement in the gratification of the senses, and that any degree of it may be innocent or blameable, according to the age or country or condition of the perfon. - The bounds, says he, betwixt the virtue and the vice cannot here be fixed exactly, more than in other moral subjects. To imagine that the gratifying any of the senses, or the indulging any delicacy in meats, drinks, or apparel, is, of itself a vice, can never enter into any head, that is not disordered by the frenzies of a fanatical enthusiasm. I have, indeed, heard of a monk abroad, who, because the windows of his cell opened upon a very noble profpect, made a covenant with his eyes never to turn that way, or receive fo sensual a gratification. And such is the crime of drinking Champagne or Burgundy, preferably to small beer or porter, These indulgencies are only vices, when they are pursued at the expence of some virtue, as liberality or charity: in like manner, as they are follies, when for them a man ruins

his fortune, and reduces himfelf to want and beggary. Where they entrench upon no virtue, but leave ample subject, whence to provide for friends, family, and every proper object of generosity or compassion, they are entirely innocent, and have in every age been acknowledged such by almost all moralists. To be entirely occupied with the luxury of the table, for instance, without any relish for the pleasures of ambition, study or conversation, is a mark of gross ftupidity, and is incompatible with any vigour of temper or genius. To confine one's expence entirely to fuch a 'gratification, without regard to friends or family, iş an indication of a heart entirely devoid of humanity or be nevolence. But if a man reserve time fufficient for all laudible purfuits, and money fufficient for all generous purposes, he is free from every shadow of blame or reproach.

Since luxury may be considered either as innocent or blameable, one may be surprized at those preposterous. opis nions, which have been entertained concerning it ; while men of libertine principles bestow praifes even on vicious luxury, and represent it as highly advantageous to fociety ; and on the other hand, men of severe morals blame even the most innocent luxury, and represent it as the fource of all the corruptions, disorders, and factions incident to civil government.

Our author endeavours in this discourse to correct both these extremes, by proving, first, that the ages of refinen ment and luxury are both the happiest and most virtuous; and, secondly, that wherever luxury ceases to be innocent, it also ceases to be beneficial, and when carried a degree too far, is a quality pernicious, tho' perhaps not the noft pernicious, to political society. In order to prove his first point, he considers the effects of luxury both in private and public life; and shews that industry, knowledge and humanity, are linked together by an indiffoluble chain, and are found, from experience as well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished and luxurious ages.

• What has chiefly induced severe moralists, says he, to declaim against luxury and refinement in pleasure, is the example of ancient Rome, which, joining to its poverty and rufticity, virtue and public spirit, rose to such a surprising height of grandeur and liberty; but having learned from its conquered provinces the Grecian and 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 clasöcs, whom we perufe in our infancy, are full of these sentiments, and universally ascribe the ruin of

their

C4

their state to the arts and riches imported from the eaft. But it would be easy to prove, that these writers miftook the cause of the disorders in the Roman state, and ascribed to luxury and the arts what really proceeded from an illmodelled 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 ortolans. 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 knowledge.

The liberties of England, so far from decaying since the origin of luxury and the arts, have never flourished to much as during that period. And tho' corruption may seem to encrease of late years, this is chiefly to be ascribed to our established liberty, when our princes have found the impoffibility of governing without parliaments, or of terrifying parliaments by the phantom of prerogative. Not ta 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 favourable 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 labour is bestowed on vassals or tenants. The latter are necessarily dependent and fitted for Slavery and subjection ; especially where they possess no riches, and are not valued for their knowledge in agriculture ; as must always be the case where the arts are neglected. The former 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 fuch confusion as is perhaps worse than the most despotic government. But where luxury nourilhes commerce and industry, the peasants, by a proper cultivation of the land, become rich and independent; while the trades

men

[ocr errors]

men 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 fubmit not to flavery, 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 fake of that gratification, to submit to the tyranny of their fovereign. 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 acknowledge, that it owed its chief influence and consideration to the increase of commerce, which threw such 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 present it as the bane of liberty and public fpirit !!

In the three last pages of this discourse, our author endeavours to prove his second point, and begins with confidering what vicious luxury is. No gratification, says he, however sensual, can of itself, be esteemed vicious. A gratification is only vicious, when it ingrofses 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 fociety? On the contrary, the same consumption would arise, and that labour, which, at present, is employed only in producing a slender gratification to one man, would relieve the necesfitous, and bestow fatisfaction on hundreds. The same care and toil, which raise a dish of peale at Christmas, would give bread to a family during six months. To say, that, without a vicious luxury, the labour would not have been employed at all, is only to fay, that there is some other defect in human nature, such as indolence, selfishness, inattention to'others, for which luxury, in fome measure, provides a remedy ; as one poison may be an antidote to another. But virtue, like wholesome food, is better than poisons, however corrected.

• Suppose the same nùmber of men, that are, at present, in Britain, with the same foil and climate ; I ask, is-it not poffible for them to be happier, by the most perfect way of life, that can be imagined, and by the greatest reformation, which omnipotence itself could work in their temper and

disposition?

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »