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ON LUXURY, IDLENESS, AND INDUSTRY:
From a Letter to Benjamin Vaughan, Esq.*
written in 1784.
It is wonderful how preposterously 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 col
* Present member of parliament for the borough of Calne, in Wiltshire, between whom and our avthor there fubfifted a very close friendship.
lected 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 edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an afsembly of great men is the greatest fool
*11 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 reinedy ; nor that the evil is in itself always fa great as it is represented. Suppose we include in the definition of luxury all un. necessary expence, and then let us consider whether laws to 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 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, 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 new-fashioned 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 much his daughter had been pleased with it. “ But (said he) it proved a “ dear cap to our congregation.” « How so?”-“ When my daughter “ appeared with it at meeting, it was so “ much admired, that all the girls re“ solved to get such caps from Phila" delphia; and my wife and I com
puted that the whole could not havę,
Is cost less than a hundred pounds."“ True (said the farmer), but you do not “ tell all the story. I think the cap was s nevertheless an advantage to us; for “ it was the first thing that put our girls
upon knitting worsted mittens for sale “ at Philadelphia, that they might have “ wherewithal to buy caps and ribbons “there ; and you know that that indus- . try
has continued, 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
K 4 posterity :
posterity : others, fond of Chewing their wealth, will be extravagant, and ruin theinfelves. Laws cannot prevent this : and perhaps it is not always an evil to the públic. 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, filly fellow builds a fine house, furnishes it richly, lives in it expensively, and in a few years ruins himself: but the mafons, carpenters, smiths, and other honest trades; men, have been by bis employ assisted in maintaining and raising their fami. lies; the farmer has been paid for his labour, and encouraged, and the estate is now in better hands.-In some 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