« PreviousContinue »
Having often seen foup, when put upon the table at fea in broad flat dishes, thrown out on every side by the rolling of the vessel, I have wished that our tin-men would make our foupbafons with divisions or compartments; forming small plates, proper, for containing foup for one person only. By this disposition, the soup, in an extraordinary roll, would not be thrown out of the plate, and would not fall into the breasts of those who are at table, and scald them.--Having entertained you with these things of little importance, permit me now to conclude with some general reflections upon navigation.
When navigation is employed only for transporting necessary provisions from one country, where they abound, to another where they are wanting ; when by this it prevents famines which were fo frequent and so fatal before it was invented and became so common; we cannot help confidering it as one of those arts which contribute most to the happiness of mankind.—But when it is employed to transport things of no utility, or articles merely of luxury, it is uncertain whether the advantages resulting from it are fufficient to counterbalance the misfortunes it occasions, by exposing the lives of so many individuals upon the vast ocean.
And when it is used to plunder vessels and transport faves, it is evidently only the dreadful means of increasing those calamities which afflict human nature.
One is astonished to think on the number of vessels and men who are daily exposed in going to bring tea from China, coffee from Arabia, and sugar and tobacco from America; all commodities which our ancestors lived very well without. The sugar trade employs nearly a thousand velsels; and that of tobacco almost the same number. With regard to the utility of tobacco, little can be faid; and, with regard to fugar, how much more meritorious would it be to facrifice the momentary pleasure which we receive from drinking it once or twice a-day in our tea, than to encourage the numberless cruelties that are continually exercised in order to procure it us?
A celebrated French moralist said, that, when he considered the war which we foment in Africa to get negroes, the great number who of course perish in these wars; the multitude of those wretches who die in their paffage, by disease, bad air, and bad provisions; and lastly, how many perifh by the cruel treatment they meet with in a state of flavery; when he saw a bit of sugar, he could not help imagining it to be covered with spots of human blood. But, had he added to these considerations the wars which we carry on against one another, to take and retake the islands that produce this commodity, he would not have seen the lugar simply spotted with blood, he would have beheld it entirely tinged with it.
These wars make the maritime powers of Europe, and the inhabitants of Paris and London, pay much dearer for their fugar than those of Vienna, though they are almost three hundred leagues distant from the sea. A pound of sugar, indeed, cofts the former not only the price which they give for it, but also what they pay in taxes, necefsary to support those fleets and armies which serve to defend and protect the countries that produce it.
ON LUXURY, IDLENESS, AND INDUSTRY :
From a Letter to Benjamin Vaughan, Esq. *
written in 1784.
IT is wonderful how prepofteroully the affairs of this world are managed. Naturally one would imagine, that the interest of a few individuals should 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 wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected paflions, 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 edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men is the greatest fool upon carth.
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 fo great as it is represented. Suppose we include in the definition of luxury all unnecessary expence, and then let us consider whether laws to prevent such expence are possible to be executed in a great country, and whether,
* Present member of parliament for the borough of Calne, in Wiltshire, between whom and our author there sublisted a very close friendship.
if they co’ld 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 labour 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 circumstance. The skipper of a shallop, employed between Cape-May and Philadelphia, liad 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 new-fashioned cap. Three years after, this skipper being at my house with an old farmer of Cape-May, his palsenger, he mentioned the cap, and how much his daughter had been pleased with it. “ (faid he) it proved a dear cạp to our congre. “ gation."--How so?_“ When my daughter
appeared 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 that the whole could not have cost 66 less than a hundred pounds.”_" True (said “ the farmer), but you do not tell all the story. “ I think the cap was nevertheless an advantage “ to us; for it was the first thing that put our " girls upon knitting worsted mittens for fale at " Philadelphia, that they might have where*" withal to buy caps and ribbons there ; and
you know that that industry has continued, 6
and is likely to continue and increase to a “ much greater value, and answer better pur“poses.”- Upon the whole, I was more 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 warm mittens.
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 thewing their wealth, will be extravagant, and ruin themselves. Laws cannot prevent this: and perhaps it is not always an evil to the public. A fhilling spent idly by a fool, may be picked up by a wiler perfon, 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 expen fively, and in a few years ruins himself: but the masons, carpenters, smiths, and other honest tradesmen, have been by his employ assisted in mair.caining and raising their families; the farmer has been paid for his labour, and encouraged, and the estate is now in better hands.-In fome cases, indeed, certain modes 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 claret and porter, while a great part of its people live upon potatoes, and wear no shirts; wherein does it differ from the fót who lets his family starve, and sells his clothes to buy drink? Our American commerce is, I confess, a little in this way. We fell our victuals to the iflands for rum and sugar; the substantial necessaries of life for superfluities. But we have plenty, and live well nevertheless; 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 laborious and frugal.
Forming an opinion of our people and their manners, by what is seen among the inhabitants of the fea-ports, is judging from