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luxuries. After they have exhausted their own country, they will look to remote climes for fresh accessions; men-singers and women-singers will be imported to delight the ear; and every delicacy of land and water will be procured to regale the palate; and earth and sea be ransacked to obtain some new indulgence to their pride or pleasure. How far all this may contribute even to their present enjoyment is extremely dubious; and no one will suppose that it can be of use to improve their virtue.
(11.) If we turn our view to the effects of wealth on the lower orders of society, we shall find them correspondent to those we have now described.
· 1. As wealth creates new wants, more labour will be required to satisfy them, and its rewards will be proportionable to the demand. Many trades and handicrafts will be promoted, which in other circumstances would languish, or have no existence. And so far as this goes to furnish employment to such as before had none, or none sufficient for their subsistence; or to enable a sober industrious citizen a little to improve his style of living, or, with less anxiety, to live in the same style to which he had been accustomed; and, in addition to this, to lay up something against future contingencies; no man, who is not of more than ordinary severity, will consider such a result as either morally or politically injurious.
2. Other effects in this advanced stage of society are less favourable. Many who are raised above their former mediocrity, or that condition of life in which they lived comfortably with moderate labour, will find it to their manifest detriment; as hereby they will be tempted, either to waste a part of their time in idle indulgence, (which is the case of many of our artizans at present, whó in four days can earn the reward of six) or to raise their stated mode of living beyond what they are able to support. And these evils will be increased by the contagious example of those above them; for though luxury begins, it will not long be confined among the higher orders; froin the first it will descend to the second, till at length it reaches the labouring classes. Their wants will thus grow more numerous; what before was a luxury, will be counted a necessary; and whilst their means of live ing are .augmented, the real ease and comfort of life will be diminished.
3. May I be allowed further to observe, that these consequences may become still more aggravated by a successful foreign commerce. It is true, that, by a constant influx of riches into a country, which will be the case while the balance of trade continues in its favour, a poor nation may be raised to that state of mediocrity we have before described; but here the good effects will cease. Should a sudden flow of wealth elevate the major part of it a step higher, it can only be (as formerly remarked) for a short season; some will grow idle; others, having just tasted the intoxicating cup of luxury, will contract new wants much faster than they will be able to supply them; besides, a sufficient number of labouring poor would not be left behind to perform the necessary drudgery of life, which those, therefore, who had lately raised themselves a degree above them, must either do for
themselves, or pay down a price for it, which might soon reduce them to their former level, if not below it. Lastly, should the commercial balance turn against the country, the consequences might be yet more distressing; such a shock could hardly fail to throw multitudes out of employment, labour would have to find out new channels, many private fortunes might be subverted, and the very existence of the state be brought into danger. .
Hence it may appear, first, that a perpetually increasing commerce ultimately tends to depress the mass of a people beneath mediocrity, however it may elevate the fortunes of individuals; and, secondly, that in respect to manners, its effect is to corrupt a virtuous country, however it may serve to civilize and improve a barbarous one*.
What then shall we think of that policy
* Le commerce corrompt les mæurs pures; cétoit le sujet des plaintes de Platon : il polit et adoucit les moeurs barbares, comme nous le voyons tous les jours.
MONTESQ. Espr. des loix. Liv. xx. ch. 1. .
which would grasp the trade of the world, and in its expansive views; overlooking that system of mediocrity which is the natural seat of virtue and true enjoyment, would let in upon a country an overflow of riches, which is sure to be followed by luxury, with all its mischievous consequences? Yet to establish a better policy, in the latter periods of a great and commercial nation, without giving a check to its industry, and impairing those resources that are necessary to its very existence, may be a matter of much difficulty.
But though a complete reform in this case might exceed the utmost human efforts, yet something might be done: though it might be impossible to call back the political sun to the meridian, after it was passed, his further descent might be retarded. By heavy imposts on luxury its progress might be checked, and many of its pernicious effects diminished. A multitude of hands might be recovered to agriculture and useful manufactures, that are now retained by the more opulent citizens in vicious indul