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· I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue; the Roman
word is better, impedimenta ..... it hindereth the march.'
In reference to the effect on the character, both of individuals and nations, of wealth and poverty, I will take leave to insert some extracts from the Lectures on Political Economy.
We should attend to the distinction between an individual and a community, when viewed as possessing a remarkable share of wealth. The two cases differ immensely, as far as the moral effects of wealth are concerned. For, first, the most besetting, probably, of all the temptations, to which a rich man, as such, is exposed, is that of pride-an arrogant disdain of those poorer than himself. Now, as all our ideas of great and small, in respect of wealth, and of everything else, are comparative, and as each man is disposed to compare himself with those around him, it is plain, the danger of priding one's self on wealth, affects exclusively, or nearly so, an individual who is rich, compared with his own countrymen; and especially one who is richer than most others in his own walk of life, and who reside in his own neighbourhood. Some degree of national pride there may be, connected with national wealth ; but this is not in general near so much the foundation of national pride as a supposed superiority in valour, or in mental cultivation; and at any rate it seldom comes into play. An Englishman who is poor, compared with other Englishmen, is not likely to be much puffed up with pride at the thought of belonging to a wealthy community. Nay, even though he should himself possess property which, among the people of Timbuctoo, or the aboriginal Britons, would be reckoned great wealth, he will be more likely to complain of his poverty, than to be filled with self-congratulation at his wealth, if most of those of his own class are as rich or richer than himself. And even one who travels or resides abroad, does not usually regard with disdain (on the score of wealth at least) those foreigners who are individually as well off in that respect as himself, though their nation may be poorer than his. And, on the other hand, those individuals who, in a
poor country, are comparatively rich, are quite as much exposed as any to the temptation of pride.
As for what may be said respecting avarice, selfishness, worldly-mindedness, &c., it may suffice to reply, that not only these vices are found as commonly in poor countries as in rich, but even in the same country the poor are not at all less liable to them than the rich. Those in affluent circumstances may be absorbed in the pursuit of gain; but they may also, and sometimes do, devote themselves altogether to literature, or science, or other pursuits, altogether remote from this : those, on the other hand, who must maintain themselves by labour or attention to business, are at least not the less liable to the temptation of too anxiously taking thought for the morrow.
• Luxury, again, is one of the evils represented as consequent on wealth. The word is used in so many senses, and so often without attaching any precise meaning to it, that great confusion is apt to be introduced into any discussion in which it occurs. Without, however, entering prematurely on any such discussion, it may be sufficient, as far as the present question is concerned, to point out that the terms luxury, and luxurious, are considerably modified, as to their force, according as they are applied to individuals or to nations. As an individual, a man is called luxurious, in comparison with other men, of the same community and in the same walk of life with himself: a nation is called luxurious in reference to other nations. The same style of living which would be reckoned moderate and frugal, or even penurious among the higher orders, would be censured as extravagant luxury in a day-labourer: and the labourer, again, if he lives in a cottage with glass-windows and a chimney, and wears shoes and stockings, and a linen or cotton shirt, is not said to live in luxury, though he possesses what would be thought luxuries to a negro-prince. A rich and luxurious nation, therefore, does not necessarily contain more individuals who live in luxury (according to the received use of the word) than a poor one; but it possesses more of such things as would be luxuries in the poor country, while in the rich one they are not. The inclination for self-indulgence and ostentation is not necessarily less strong in poor than in rich nations; the chief difference is, that their luxury is of a coarser description, and generally has more connexion with gross sensuality. Barbarians are almost invariably intemperate.
As for the effeminizing effects that have been attributed to national luxury, which has been charged with causing a decay of national energy, mental and bodily, no such results appear traceable to any such cause. Xenophon, indeed, attributes the degeneracy of the Persians to the inroads of luxury, which was carried, he says, to such a pitch of effeminacy, that they even adopted the use of gloves to protect their hands. We probably have gone as much beyond them, in respect of the common style of living among us, as they, beyond their rude forefathers; yet it will hardly be maintained that this nation displays, in the employments either of war or peace, less bodily or mental energy than our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. In bodily strength, it has been ascertained by accurate and repeated experiments, that civilized men are decidedly superior to savages; and that the more barbarian, and those who lead a harder life, are generally inferior in this point to those who have made more approaches to civilization. There is, indeed, in such a country as this, a larger proportion of feeble and sickly individuals; but this is because the hardship and exposure of a savage life speedily destroy those who are not of a robust constitution. Some there are, no doubt, whose health is impaired by an overindulgent and tender mode of life; but as a general rule it may safely be maintained, that the greater part of that over-proportion of infirm persons among us, as compared, for instance, with some wild North American tribe, owe, not their infirmity, but their life, to the difference between our habits and those of savages. How much the average duration of human life has progressively increased in later times, is probably well-known to most persons.
Lastly, one of the most important points of distinction between individuals and nations in respect to wealth, is that which relates to industry and idleness. Rich men, though they are indeed often most laboriously and honourably active, yet may, and sometimes do, spend their lives in such idleness as cannot be found among the poor, excepting in the class of beggars. A rich nation, on the contrary, is always an industrious nation ; and almost always more industrious than poor .... Among poor and barbarian nations we may find as much avarice, fraud, vaninity, and envy, called forth, in reference perhaps to a string of beads, a hatchet, or a musket, as are to be found in wealthier communities.'
.... The savage is commonly found to be covetous, fre: quently rapacious, when his present inclination impels him to seek any object which he needs, or which his fancy is set on. He is not indeed so steady or so provident, in his pursuit of gain, as the civilized man; but this is from the general unsteadiness and improvidence of his character,—not from his being engrossed in higher pursuits. What keeps him poor, in addition to want of skill and insecurity of property, is not a philosophical contempt of riches, but a love of sluggish torpor and of present gratification. The same may be said of such persons as constitute the dregs of a civilized community ; they are idle, thoughtless, improvident, but thievish. Lamentable as it is to see, as we may, for instance, in our own country, multitudes of Beings of such high qualifications and such high destination as Man, absorbed in the pursuit of merely external and merely temporal objects-occupied in schemes for attaining wealth and worldly aggrandizement, without any higher views in pursuing them,-we must remember that the savage is not above such a life, but below it. It is not from preferring virtue to wealththe goods of the mind to those of fortune—the next world to the present—that he takes so little thought for the morrow; but, from want of forethought and of habitual self-command. The civilized man, too often, directs these qualities to an unworthy object; the savage, universally, is deficient in the qualities themselves. The one is a stream, flowing, too often, in a wrong channel, and which needs to have its course altered; the other is a stagnant pool.?? .
“There is one antecedent presumption that the advancement in national wealth should be, on the whole, favourable to moral improvement, from what we know of the divine dispensations, both ordinary and extraordinary. I am aware what caution is called for in any attempt to reason à priori from our notions of the character and designs of the Supreme Being. But in this case there is a clear analogy before us. We know that God
'See Lecture on the Origin of Civilization.
placed the human species in such a situation, and endued them with such faculties and propensities, as would infallibly tend to the advancement of society in wealth, and in all the arts of life; instead of either creating Man a different kind of Being, or leaving him in that wild and uninstructed state, from which he could never have emerged. Now if the natural consequence of this advancement be a continual progress from bad to worse -if the increase of wealth, and the development of the intellectual powers, tend not to the improvement, but rather to the depravation, of the moral character—we may safely pronounce this to be at variance with all analogy,-a complete reversal of every other appointment that we see throughout creation.
. And it is completely at variance with the revealed Will of God. For, the great impediments to the progress I am speaking of are, war, and dissension of every kind,-insecurity of property-indolence, and neglect of providing for ourselves, and for those dependent on us. Now, God has forbidden Man to kill, and to steal; He has inculcated on him gentleness, honesty, submission to lawful authority, and industry in providing for his own household. If therefore the advancement in national wealth,—which is found to be, by the appointment of Providence, the result of obedience to these precepts-if, I say, this advancement naturally tends to counteract that improvement of the moral character, which the same God has pointed out to us as the great business of this life, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion, that He has given contradictory commands,—that He has directed us to pursue a course of action, which leads to an end the very opposite of what we are required by Himself to aim at.'
• But the opposite conclusion is, surely, much more in accordance with reason and experience, as well as with every rational wish, that as the Most High has evidently formed society with a tendency to advancement in national wealth, so, He has designed and fitted us to advance, by means of that, in virtue, and true wisdom, and happiness.'
• Believe not much them that seem to despise riches.' • The declaimers on the incompatibility of wealth and virtue are mere declaimers, and nothing more. For, you will often