Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: HOW TO USE PROSPERITY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
Return to Title Page for Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter V.: HOW TO USE PROSPERITY. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
HOW TO USE PROSPERITY.
When the spring advanced, it was observed by many people that Armstrong had not been at church for several Sundays. He had been seen alive and well, during the week-days, by many people; so there were no apprehensions about him; but Mr. Wallace was so curious to know the reason of his absence, that he inquired very particularly of Mr. Hollins, whom he often met.
“He has become a great theologian,” replied Mr. Hollins. “He tells me that he now studies his Bible and religious books for six hours out of the twenty-four. I cannot think how he manages it, for his garden looks as well as usual, and we play the flute as formerly, only he sends me away somewhat earlier in the evenings. I tell him I shall appear at his window some night when the clock strikes twelve, to see if he is at his books then.”
“Take care how you do that, Mr. Hollins. He will shoot you for a thief. But has his study of the Bible made him leave off going to church? Such a pursuit generally leads the other way.”
“He says he was always fond of worshipping in the open air, as Adam and Eve did; and he finds so much in the Bible about the multitudes being collected in the wilderness to hear the word, that having an opportunity just now of doing the same, he is disposed to try this new, or, as he says, very ancient method. Now, there is a company of Ranters near who preach among the hills about two miles off; and he attends their ministry every Sunday morning.”
“One would think,” replied Mr. Wallace, “that he had read nothing of synagogues in the Bible, or of the Christians assembling under a roof for worship. However, it matters little where a pious heart pays its devotions; and Armstrong's worship, pure and sincere, I doubt not, will be acceptable whether it rises from the hill-side or the house of prayer. Do you know how he likes his new practice? “
“He complains terribly of the psalm-tunes being new-fangled and difficult to sing; but he enjoys having so much space to sing in, and likes all the rest of the service very well, except now and then, when he would fain dispute a knotty point with the preachers.”
“And how do the preachers like him?”
“They are no respectors of persons, you know: but they are naturally pleased at having made such a convert, and never forget the observance due to his age. I perceive he is always seated in a sheltered place on a windy day, and that pains are taken to furnish him with the hymns, and to make the service perfectly audible to him. All this is natural, and right enough, mid he has no objection to it.”
“You speak as if you went sometimes.”
“I do; and it would be worth while your going once or twice to witness the Sunday customs of your people; for a great number attend these Ranters.”
It was curious enough that Mr. Wallace's curricle came in sight of the mountain-path which led off from the road to the Ranters' place of meeting, just when Armstrong and Mr. Hollins were turning into it. They stopped at the sound of the carriage.
“I wish,” said Mr. Hollins,” that you would allow me to drive Mrs. Wallace, while you go with our good friend to the church he likes best.”
“Make haste either way,” said Armstrong, “for we are full late, I am afraid.”
In a moment the gentlemen had changed places, and Mr. Wallace was striding along the rough path, trying to keep up with his vigorous old friend.
They were all full late. The silence, preparatory to opening the service, was so profound, that Mr. Wallace was taken by surprise, when a sudden turn brought them into the presence of a thousand people, seated in ranks upon the grass, in a recess between two hills. A few idle boys were playing hide-and-seek among the furze bushes on the ridge of the hill, and some spectators walked slowly round the outskirts of the congregation; but all besides was as still as in a church at the time of prayer. It seemed as if the service had been delayed for Armstrong; for as soon as he and his companion had taken the seat which had evidently been reserved, a movement took place in the waggon which served for a pulpit, and a man stood up to address the assembled hearers.
This man explained that owing to the illness of the preacher who usually conducted the service that duty devolved upon himself, who had hitherto taken only a very humble part in the offices of the day. He trusted that the word of grace would be acceptable, from whatever lips it came; and had, therefore, taken upon him the preacher's office, rather than dismiss them without their accustomed worship.
“This person,” whispered Armstrong, “is more fit to preach than many a trained clergyman, if I may judge by what I have heard. He generally acts only as clerk; but I once heard an address from him, which makes me very glad of an opportunity of hearing him again.”
Mr. Wallace was in too much astonishment to reply, for this man was Paul.
This remarkable fact being once established, nothing very surprising followed; for Mr. Wallace knew enough of Paul to suppose that his service would be, as it proved, very good. He only could not help gucssing what the subject of his sermon would be, and hoping that his text would be, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” It was, however, one from which Paul could preach with more propriety, “Thou shalt not steal”.
It was now Armstrong's turn to do something which appeared strange. He started when the text was given out, and listened with extraordinary eagerness for some time. At length, when the preacher began to describe the pangs of conscience which disturb the thief, even while no human eye has seen, and no human heart suspected, his guilt, Armstrong rose, mounted the waggon, took his stand beside the preacher, and looked again and again round the assembled hearers, shading his eyes with his hand, and gazing as if he would read every countenance Paul himself paused for an instant, and looked surprised; but probably supposed, like Mr. Wallace, that it was merely a whim of the old man's. It was no whim; and the accidental choice of this text and subject was a fortunate circumstance for Armstrong's peace of mind; for he was now firmly convinced that none of those with whom he was accustomed to worship on the Lord's-day, were those who had invaded his repose and his property by night. “Prejudiced as he was against all that was done, and against everybody concerned in the iron-works, he had always suspected that the thieves came from a different quarter, and that there were persons better informed than any of Mr. Wallace's labourers of the extent of his wealth and the place where it was deposited.
Mr. Wallace watched what Paul would do when the service was over and the people were dispersing. He took not the slightest notice of anybody by word or sign, but stood leaning against a tree with his arms folded, following the groups with his eyes as they parted off among the bills. As the last of them disappeared, Mr. Wallace and his companion approached the preacher and thanked him for his service, and asked if he was about to proceed homewards. He was, and they took the same path in company.
“You speak so seldom,” said Mr. Wallace to Paul, “that I suppose you think a great deal; and the society we live in gives a reflective man much to think about.”
“Indeed it does,” replied Paul. “We speak of society as one thing, and regard men in the mass; but what a variety of interests there is among them! Scarcely any two find their chief satisfaction in the same pursuit; and it is this which makes it so difficult to get at the hearts of men. For instance, there might be two or three who would be interested in the subject of my sermon, but how many more would feel they had no concern in it! What is the use and what the interest of such an address to yourself and Mr. Armstrong, or to any others who are thoroughly honest or placed out of tim reach of temptation to steal?”
“Its interest seemed to be very great to Armstrong,” observed Mr. Wallace.
“As an observer,” added Paul. “He looked to see how other people were affected by it, which is a very different thing from being himself affected. I was surprised at his eagerness too.”
Armstrong made no other reply than a smile to the inquiring looks of his companions. Paul proceeded:—
“We should each have a sermon to ourselves, and one every day of the week, if preaching is to balance its power against the other powers which act upon us. There is Jones, my host; he is always thinking about establishing his sons well in the world; that is his chief interest. As for his wife, she is taken up with making her husband comfortable and cherishing her babies.”
“What sort of a sermon would you preach to them?”
“I could only tell them what they feel already — that the pure in heart are blessed. If any pursuits are pure, theirs are; and if any people are blessed, they are this day, with their good, promising children about them, and love and comfort within their door. Then there are their neighbours, the Davisons; there pleasures are of a very different kind,—a glass of spirits each at the end of the day, and a debauch at the fair as often as they can get there. I would preach a very short sermon to them. I would send them trooping, bag and baggage, instead of letting them corrupt the morals and laugh at the sobriety of their neighbours, and waste the capital which they ought to employ for the good of society. The money they lay out in gin and gaming would stock a shop.”
“And what sort of a sermon would you preach to me, Paul?” asked Armstrong; “and what is my chief interest?”
“Your chief interest is yourself, and therefore my sermon would be a pretty severe one,” answered Paul. “But it is a harmless, good-natured self, so I would make allowance, gut I can't forgive your Neat sin against society.”
“You mean my living by myself.”
“Live where you please: but how do you justify it to yourself to share the benefits of society when you do nothing in return? You enjoy the fruits of the labour and capital of others,—you drink your tea from the East Indies and your coffee from the West; you read your newspaper, which is the production of a hundred brains and pairs of hands; you—”
“But I pay for all I use.”
“You do, because you could have nothing without; but not a single service do you render to society that you could avoid, while the means are hourly within your reach. Every man in society ought to belong to one class of producers or the other, or to stimulate production by useful though unproductive labour. You are not like the labourer who adds to his employer's capital, nor yet like the capitalist who, assisted by the labourer, increases the resources of society; nor yet like the profession man who, by improving the social state, opens new demands for the comforts and pleasures of life. You would be a better citizen if you were a surgeon in the next town, or a partner in this concern, in the next blest labourer about the works.”
“You would preach to me from the parable of the talents, I suppose?”
“Exactly so. You understand your own case, I see. I should tell you that the unprofitable servant might be a man of very fine tastes. He might be a star-gazer, or a musician, or a politician, or particularly fond of gardening; but he would still be an unprofitable servant while he hid the money committed to him. It matters little whether it was in a napkin under the ground or in a chest under the bed.”
Mr. Wallace seeing that Armstrong looked troubled, asked Paul how he would set about lecturing him.
“I have less fault to find with you than with most people,” replied Paul, who put such perfect good-humour into his manner that it was almost impossible to be offended with his freedom “Your chief earthly interest is,—what it ought to be,—your lady; and next to her, the prosperity of the people about you. This latter you understand well, and manage wisely.”
“And not the former?”
“I think you will wish, some time or other, that rather less of your expenditure had been of the unproductive kind. I know you are too much of a man of principle to spend the whole income of a fluctuating capital in an unproductive manner; but I should like to see fewer ponies and grooms and lady's maids, and furs and cachemires and similar luxuries.”
“Surely,” said Mrs. Wallace, “when my income is the fruit of my own capital, and my own exertions in employing it, I may fairly indulge my wife and myself in a few luxuries which I can well afford.”
“Very fairly. The only question is, to what extent. If you think it probable that you will continue to enrich society by the accumulation of your capital in any proportion whatever, you are justified in laying out the rest of your income as you and your lady please. But if less prosperous days should come, and you must employ more capital for a less return, your lady may find it a harder thing to walk than if she had never had a carriage, and to dress her own hair than if she had kept her hand in all this time.”
Mr. Wallace could not help smiling at Paul's business-like way of speaking of a lady's toilet. Paul saw that he gave no offence and went on.
“Mr. Bernard's family seem to me to have found the right medium. The lads show by the way they set about learning their business that they have been used to put their souls into their pursuits, and the young ladies and Mrs. Sidney were out on foot every day during the winter in their cloth cloaks and stout shoes, and they seldom went back without carrying a blessing with them. Not that they gave alms. Nobody here wants any, thank Heaven! and if any one did, Mrs. Sidney knows there is no real kindness in giving away money as alms. But they attached the people to them, and put them in the way of managing better, and helped to keep up goodwill among neighbours, and incited many a one to industry by proper encouragement. These are the personal services the rich are called upon to render; and to this Mr. Bernard adds an expenditure which can never be repented of. I was in his drawing-room once, and I saw at a glance the nature of his luxuries.”
“What did you see?”
“Every thing that was useful and comfortable in the way of furniture, and all that was handsome and genteel in the dress of the ladies. But I was more struck with the books and the globes and the musical instruments and the pictures.”
“Then you do not object to all luxuries?”
“O dear no. Whatever helps to inform the mind and improve the taste is a proper object of pursuit to those who can afford it. It is a productive expenditure in a very high sense. Mr. Bernard will, I hope, live to see a fine return for the money he spends on his library in the talent and knowledge which his sons will employ in the service of society. And the accomplishments of his daughters will not only increase the domestic pleasures of all connected with them, but stimulate production, if you will have the whole matter before you. Harps and pianos are made up of labour and capital as much as pig-iron.”
“What a romantic lover you would make!” said Mr. Wallace, laughing. “What a strange figure you would cut in high life if you carried your method of reasoning into an exalted station!”
“If more men did so,” said Paul with a deep sigh; “if, while the great are possessed of their grandeur, they thought as much of its sources as when they are stripped of it, there would be a more just gradation of ranks than there is; there would be no starving paupers on the steps of a palace; there would be no excess in the highest or riot in the lowest classes of society. The worst faults of the extremes of society would be done away if those extremes were brought nearer together. If the rich were more thoughtful and the poor more clear-sighted, both might be surrounded with the luxuries most proper for them: the great man might have unreproached his assemblies of the learned and the gay, and the labourer might refresh himself with his newspaper or his flute when the task of the day is over, while the rose and the jessamine bloom beside his cottage door.—And now,” continued Paul, while his companions remained silent, “I have preached five sermons where I promised only one, so you will be glad if I wish you good day.”
“Stay,” said Mr. Wallace, “you must give us our turn. Do you think you need no admonishing?”
“I need it and I have it. My lot is my best admonition.”
“I see no evil in your lot but what you inflict on yourself. Short rest and long toil, scanty food and warmth, solitude and care,—these are severe evils, but they are your own choice.”
“They are, and therefore they are not evils to me. They are means to the attainment of my great end, and that end is—wealth.”
His companions looked astonished at so barefaced a confession. “What can you mean?” “How do you justify it?” “What, then, are the evils of your lot?” they asked impatiently.
“One question at a time,” said Paul quietly. “I mean, that as all the good and all the evil of my life thus far have been connected with wealth, and as I am so made that I must have one great interest, it is natural that I should be passionately devoted to the pursuit of wealth. I mean that I am a miser.”
“And how do you justify yourself for being a miser? for I suppose, as you are not ashamed to own it, you think you can justify it.”
“I do not pretend to justify it, any more than the drunkard pretends to justify the vice he cannot deny. I do not even make the allowance for myself which you would make for me if you knew all that I could tell. My first choice of an object in life was bad. It was snatched from me, and I have chosen another equally bad. Heaven knows whether I shall be baffled here too, and whether I shall have strength enough to make another choice. Meantime, the misery of my lot is warning enough, if all warning were not in vain.—You ask what this misery is. Sleepless nights, when I lie cold and hungry and weary, fancying all the mischances that may happen to my earnings: incessant self-reproach when I think I have lost an opportunity of making profit; teazing thoughts of pounds, shil lings, and pence, when I would now and then think of other things;—all these are evils, are they not? I cannot listen to a running stream, or sit watching the fieldfares in a clear winter day, or follow the sheep-track among the heath on a summer's evening, with the light heart I once had; for I always have the feeling that I am wasting my time, since these things can bring me no gold. If I think of prayer, my lips will say nothing but ‘Thou canst not serve both God and Mammon.’ is not this an evil? Could you preach me a better sermon than God speaks in his word and in the mountain breeze?”
There was a long silence; for Paul looked so deeply moved by his own self-reproaches that neither of his companions ventured to address him. At length, he stopped as if he was about to leave them.
“Beware,” said he to Armstrong, “of despising my hints about your way of life because I have condemned my own. Remember that however much I injure myself, I serve society after a certain manner. Not by example, I own. In this, I can only be of use as a warning,—a humbling thought to a proud man.—But I not only pay my way honestly, like you, but I am providing wealth for others. It benefits them already, for I put it out to use. It will benefit them again when I am dead. May it never more make any one so wretched as it makes me!”
“Are you a man,” said Mr. Wallace solemnly, “and do you yet submit to such bondage? I could not acknowledge such slavery for an hour. Break your habits of care, and enjoy the life a good God has given you. Think of the days when your father's smile was what you loved best, when your mother's voice was your sweetest music, when perhaps there were playmates beside you whom you loved more than you now love gold. Be a child again in heart while you are a man in understanding, and then you will be at ease without and at peace within.”
Paul made no reply, but turned away to hide the workings of his face, and with long strides crossed the ridge of the hill and disappeared.