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Chapter II.: WHAT IS WEALTH? - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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WHAT IS WEALTH?
“ Well, my friend,” said the captain to Mr. Stone, as they sat watching their fire, “how do you feel at the close of this strange day?”
“ Very much as if I were in a dream. When I look round this place and think of all that I have seen and done since morning, I can scarcely believe that we are the same people, living in the same age of the world as yesterday. We seem to have gone back in the course of a night from a state of advanced civilization to a primitive condition of society.”
“Except,” interrupted his friend, “that the intelligence belonging to a state of advancement remains.”
“True,” replied Mr. Stone; “and it is this which makes the present too good an opportunity to be lost of observing what the real wealth of society consists of, and what the unassisted labour of man can do towards producing that wealth.”
“I wish,” said the captain, “that the people in England, who think that wealth consists in gold, and silver, and bank notes, would come here, and see how much their money is worth in our settlement. A thousand sovereigns would not here buy a hat, nor a roll of bank notes a loaf of bread. Here, at least, money is not wealth.
“Nor any where else,” said Mr. Stone, “as we may see by putting a very simple case. Put a man with a bag of gold into an empty house, in England or anywhere else, and he will starve in a week, unless he is allowed to give his gold in exchange for what will supply his wants. But give a man, who has not a shilling, a room well stocked with meat, and bread, and beer, and he has wealth enough to maintain him for a week or a fortnight, or as long as his provision lasts. And this is a test which holds good all the world over.”
“And yet gold and silver may be called riches,” said the captain, “while they procure us things of greater value than themselves.”
“Certainly: they are, as long as they can be made use of, a part of wealth, though only one, and that not the greatest part. Wealth is made up of many things—of land, of houses, of clothes, furniture, food, and of the means (whether gold and silver, or anything else) by which these things may be obtained. Whatever lives, or grows, or can be produced, that is necessary, or useful, or agreeable to mankind, is wealth.”
“ Then our settlement,” said the captain, “is not stripped of all its property. We have some wealth left.”
“Poor as we are,” said his friend, “we are richer than if we were in the midst of the sandy desert to the north of us, with a waggon full of gold in our possession. We have here what gold could not buy in such a place, food and shelter.”
“And other things too,” said the captain.
“We have clothing, for flax grows in the woods, and there are plenty of animals within reach, whose skins can be dried and cleaned to make us cloaks or beds, or tanned for shoes and caps and aprons for our workmen. We have furniture, for there is plenty of timber in the woods to make tables and chairs. We have———”
“Stay,” interrupted his friend, “you are getting on too fast. All these things are likely to become ours, I grant you; but before we can call them our own,—before they become wealth to us, something must be added which we have not yet taken into consideration. You forget that there is no wealth without labour; and labour must be applied before the commonest productions can become wealth.”
“True,” replied the captain. “The flax must be gathered, and dried, and hackled, and woven, before it will make a shirt; and the animals must be caught, and a great deal of labour be spent upon their skins before they become fit for clothing or bedding; and the timber must be felled and sawn, and the pieces put skilfully together, before we possess it in the form of tables and chairs. But surely the case is different with food, of some kinds at least. There is fish in the pond, and fruit on rite tree, ready made for man's use. Man spends no labour on the fruit that grows wild in such a climate as this; and yet we daily find that it is wealth to us.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Stone. “There is the labour of gathering it. An orange is of no use to any man living unless he puts out his hand to pluck it. And as for the fish in the pond,—think of the carp that Hill told us of this morning. They are no wealth to us till we can catch them, though the pool is within reach, and they belong to nobody else.”
“We should have had them by this time if we had but got a net,” said the captain.
“The net is one thing wanting, certainly,” said his friend, “but labour is another. If the net were now lying ready on the bank, we should be no better for the fish, unless some one took the trouble of drawing them out of the water. I do not say that unassisted labour will furnish us with all that we want; but I do say that nothing can be had without the exertion of getting it; that is, that there is no wealth without labour.”
“True,” said the captain. “Even the manna in the wilderness would have been of no more use to the Hebrews than the carp in the pool to us, if they had not exerted themselves to gather it up. Food was never yet rained into the mouth of any man.”
“And if it had been,” said Mr. Stone, “he must have troubled himself to hold back his head and open his mouth. So you see what conclusion we come to, even in an extreme case.”
“But with all our labour,” said the captain, “how little we can do in comparison with what is done for us! Labour may be necessary to make the productions of Nature useful to us; but how much greater are the powers of Nature in preparing them for us! To look hack no farther than to-day,—the antelope could not have been food for us unless haman hands had prepared it; but how much was done beforehand! It was nourished, we know not how, by the grass it fed upon; it was made, we know not how, fit food for our bodies: and our bodies were so formed as to be strengthened by this food. Neither do we understand how fire acts upon the flesh so as to make it tender; or even how wood in its turn nourishes the fire. All that human labour has done was to bring together the wood, and the fire, and the animal, and then to eat the food prepared. Nature did the rest.”
“The case was the same with little Betsy's treat of honey,” added Mr. Stone. “The earth, and the air, and the dew, had nourished the flowers from which the honey was collected: the bees were curiously formed and animated, so that they could gather and store the honey; and the hollows of the tree so made as to hold it. Then again, the rushes, and the twigs, and the leaves, were all fit for the use Betsy made of them; her business was to bring them together in a particular manner so as to make a basket. And thus it is in every case. And even where we seem to make the materials, we only bring together simple materials to make compound ones. We say that the materials of a rush basket are not made by human labour; but that the materials of a paper basket are made by human labour; but though paper is made of linenrags, those rags are made of flax which grows out of the ground. So that Nature still works at the bottom.”
“In the same way,” said the captain, “we say” that the material of a hare-skin waistcoat is not produced by human labour, but that the velvet one of a gentleman of fashion is altogether made by human hands; but still Nature works at the bottom, as you say; for velvet is woven of silk spun by a worm.”
“True” said Mr. Stone; “and thus far only is the labour of man appointed to go. He works with Nature, and his only way of doing so is by motion. He moves her materials together; but how they act upon one another he does not know. You put your torch of wood into the flame, and it blazes. Robertson lets the seed fall into the ground, and it sprouts; he pulls up a root, and it withers. Hill applies certain herbs to a wound, or gives certain medicines, and his patients are cured; or, if they die, he does not know how to prevent it. Fulton dips and rubs his leather in a certain preparation of bark, and it becomes soft and fit for use. His mother puts flour and salt and barm together, and the dough works; she places it in a great heat, and it becomes fit for food. So man brings materials together; but Nature first furnishes them, and then makes them act upon one another.”
“It seems but little that man can do,” said the captain; “but yet that little is all-important to him.”
“Since it is necessary to him,” said Mr. Stone, “it becomes great; and indeed it may be said that there are no bounds to what man can do, since there seem to be no bounds to the powers of Nature. Look what has been done! There may have been, I doubt not there was, a time when the founders of nations could do nothing more than gather the wild fruits of the earth, and find shelter in caves; and now, the successors of these very men produce merchandize, and build ships, and rear splendid buildings, and make roads over mountains, and do a thousand things which would have appeared miracles to their forefathers: and all this time, the wisest men are aware that labour may be employed in a multitude of ways of which we yet know nothing.”
“I should like our people to remain in this settlement,” said the captain, “that we might observe how fast they will advance from the primitive state to which we are reduced, to that in which their countrymen are in England.”
“They will advance rapidly,” replied Mr. Stone; “because they know how to apply their labour. They know what improvements they would aim at, instead of having to try experiments. I hope we shall all stay, for I am curious to see how much may be done by pure labour; and pure labour is our only resource till we can get tools from Cape Town.”
“It will take a long time to do that,” said the captain: “but I am not uneasy. The Bushmen know well enough that nothing more is to be had from us; and we are therefore safe from another attack till we shall have gathered some property about us again. Do you know, my dear friend, nothing has given me so much satisfaction to-day as seeing your wife and yourself in such good spirits. None of our people had so much to lose in the way of property as yourselves,—for I, being a single man, do not care much about those matters. You neither of you seem to be downcast about your losses.”
“Nor are we,” replied Mr. Stone; “but you must remember how different it is to lose everything in such a place as this, and in England. Here there are so few inhabitants, and the natural productions are in such plenty, that we know we have only to work, under the blessing of Providence, to provide ourselves and our child with all that is necessary now, and with comforts and luxuries by and by. Besides, there is here no loss of rank, or sacrifice of independence, because all are in the same condition. It could not happen so in England; and if any calamity should there oblige us to descend to a lower rank in society, or, worse still, to be dependent for our subsistence upon others, we should try, I hope, to be patient, but we could not be so happy as you have seen us to-day.”
“You have both good health, and industry, and contentment,” said the captain; “and they are exactly the qualities we all have most need of just now.”
“Thank God! we have always had cause for content,” replied his friend; “and as for industry, the only difference is, that we must now work in another way. We have always declared that none deserved to be maintained who would not labour, Before, we worked most with our heads; now we must work with our hands as well. And we are both willing.”
“And in order to be fit for labour,” said the captain, “you must sleep; so let us pile some more wood on the fire, and then rouse our watchmen.”
So when they had arranged the time and place for a general consultation on the affairs of the settlement, the next morning, the gentlemen gave up their charge to Robertson and Arnall, and betook themselves to rest.