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Chapter III.: THE TEMPER OF THE TIME. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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THE TEMPER OF THE TIME.
The stagnation of trade was now a serious evil to Charles, not only as it occasioned his capital to be locked up, and his income to be impaired, nor because he was of so active a temperament that nothing troubled him like the having no business to do,—but because those were the safest amidst the troubles of the times who were supposed to be fully occupied in their private concerns. There was no lack of interest, indeed, for the most restless seeker of excitement; and Charles might have busied himself from morning to night of every day in tracking the progress of the public discontent, if such had been the species of employment he had desired or approved. He might, like other people, have shouted the praises of Necker in every street and square. He might have amused himself with watching with how many different airs the passengers on the Pont Neuf submitted to bow uncovered before the statue of Henry IV., under the penalty of having squibs let off in their faces. He might have witnessed the burning in effigy of obnoxious ministers, and have stood by the great fire into which the king's decrees for suspending the parliament were cast, and have listened, through the live-long day, to the harangues of popular orators, or joined in the midnight processions by which the repose of all quiet citizens was disturbed. But Charles did not see that such attendance on his part could do any good at present, however the case might hereafter be altered. Whether or not he was turning over in his mind plans for his conduct when the time should come for him to act, he now appeared to direct his attention to private affairs, and talked more of wine and olives than of political matters.
He had been accustomed to furnish a large proportion of the home supply of olives and almonds for which there was a demand in Paris, from the produce of the estates of his wife and father-in-law; and now he had applications, day after day, for fruits which he might have sold at a high price, while scarcely a customer came for wine. He had already invested the little floating capital he could spare from the restoration of his vineyards in fruits from Italy and the Levant, which his brother purchased for him as they came up the great canal and the Garonne, on their way to Bordeaux. He now began to wish that he could exchange a part of his large stock of wine for fruits. He knew that wines would rise enormously in price, as soon as the demand should revive; but fruits had already risen enormously, and he wished to turn some of his capital into money by their means. It was easy to do this by extending his transactions with Steele, who purchased fruit in large quantities at Bordeaux to send to England. The demand for fruit in London being at present insignificant in comparison with that for claret, and the direct reverse being the case at Paris, it was Steele's interest to transmit more wine and less fruit, and Charles's to take fruit in exchange for his wine. It was therefore settled that, in addition to their standing bargain for first-rate wine, Steele should have a large choice of second-rate claret, in payment for chestnuts from Spain, oranges and citrons from the Madeiras, olives from the Levant, and almonds from Italy. The terms of exchange were the only difficulty.
Neither Steele nor Charles were speculators, in the common sense of the term, They were prudent men of business, attached to one line of occupation, and in no particular hurry to be richer than everybody else. They now, however, found themselves obliged to speculate, and became more fully aware than they had been before that all trading for purposes of sale is, in fact, speculation. It is necessary for traders not only to take into account all the past and present circumstances which affect the value of the article in which they deal, but to look forward to such as may influence its sale. Their success depends on the foresight which they have exercised, and the sagacity with which they have calculated: in other words, on their skill in speculation. When they extend their views to a further extent than they can command, and found their calculations on contingencies, they become gamesters of that class which is held in horror under the name of speculators: and hence arises a somewhat indistinct dread and dislike of all speculation; while the fact is, no exchange whatever could go on without more or less real speculation. The farmer must speculate on the seasons; the manufacturer on tastes and fashions, and on the supply of raw material; the merchant must speculate on war and peace, and all domestic and much foreign policy. In ordinary times, Charles must speculate on the increase or decline of the taste for claret, or of the number of claret-drinkers in Paris; and now, a new and wide field of calculation was opened before him, on which he must enter if he meant to prosecute his business at all.
From the time that the brothers had entered into business till now, there had been established a tolerably steady rate of understood value, at which goods had been exchanged for one another. There had been occasional and slight variations, according to seasons, and other fluctuating circumstances; so that four pipes of wine might at one time exchange for the same quantity of fruit as three and a half would buy at another; but the circumstances which determined these variations in value being usually foreseen by all parties concerned, their vigilance prevented any very sudden and perplexing convulsions in trade. As long as there were average seasons, an average supply of food, an average quantity of labour to be had, wages and profits (on which price depends) could be calculated, and relied on for remaining nearly at the average rate. But now, there had been both natural and political disasters, whose consequences defied all calculation. There was an over-supply of labour,—as far as the number of labourers went; for thousands of the peasantry had been stripped of all they had, and rendered dependent on neighbouring capitalists for employment and support. At the same time, food was dreadfully deficient, and therefore enormously dear; so that to what price labour would rise, in spite of the over-supply, it was impossible to guess.—The same cause rendered the amount of profits uncertain. Unless it could be settled how much the labourers would appropriate, it must continue unsettled how much would remain over for the capitalist,—even if it could be ascertained how extensive would be the demand for the article. This, again, was doubtful, from the uncertainty of political affairs, which impaired the security of property, and stopped up the channels of mutual exchange. Thus, not only was the permanent original element of exchangeable value,—cost of production,—rendered incalculable, in the case both of wine and fruits, but all the causes which occasion temporary fluctuations were violently at work; and it required a clear head and a strong heart to anticipate and rely upon their issues. Steele's part was the less perplexing of the two. He knew no more than Charles, it is true, how the sudden rise in the value of labour, from the scarcity of food, would affect the price of the stock laid in before labour became so dear; and he could not therefore judge of the probable amount of Charles's profits; but on the head of his employers' profits he felt very secure. The English market was steady: the demand could be nearly estimated, and if it was pretty sure to be good with an abundant supply of wine in the market, it was certain to be very brisk as soon as the supply was known to be deficient. Though, therefore, he might ask less than he need in exchange for his fruit, there was every probability of his gaining more than the usual profit on the wine thus purchased. —Charles, on the other hand, had not only to discover what expense his brother and other vine-growers were at in maintaining labourers, and how much of this was to be charged by tacit agreement upon their present stock, and the same facts with regard to the fruit; but to speculate on the ability and disposition of the people of Paris to buy either wine or fruit, and how much the demand for the one was likely to fall short of, or exceed, the demand for the other.— The result was that the two parties to the bargain fixed upon an exchange which appeared likely to be mutually advantageous, but which proved the value of their commodities to have deviated widely from the ordinary proportion. Setting off an equal expense of labour, and an equal amount of profit, on each side, fifty chests of fruit (from almonds and citrons down to chestnuts) would exchange for a pipe of claret, in ordinary times. Now, twenty chests were all that such a pipe would buy; and yet Charles believed he had made a good bargain, as the demand of thirsty orators for juicy fruits, and of loungers in the streets for chestnuts, was extraordinarily great, while wine was, just then, little in request. His wife, knowing that he had lately been rather pressed for money, watched with interest the process by which it began once more to flow in. By half emptying a cellar in Bordeaux, fruit was made to arrive in Paris by waggon loads, and these were presently converted into cash. But there was one point on which she was not satisfied.
“I see,” said she, “the convenience to us and to the Englishmen of our mutual exchange. It is really charming; as welcome as the traffic between the first maker of weapons and the hunter, when the one had more bows and fishlines than he could use, and the other more venison and trout than he could eat while they were good. But, Charles, are you either of you just in taking advantage of the vengeance of heaven, he to enrich himself, and you to repair your losses? Ought you not to sell wine at the price it professed to bear in your cellars before the hurricane happened? And why is Italian fruit dear, when in Italy there has been no storm?”
“If we sold our goods at last year's prices,” replied Charles, “all our wine and our fruit would be exhausted long before we should have a further supply. Is it not better that they should bear such a price as will make people sparing in their use till we have once more an abundance?”
“And is this the reason why there are granaries not yet exhausted, amidst the cries of the people for bread?”
“It is; and if bread had borne its usual price all this time, there would now be absolute famine in every street of Paris. If the people understood this, they would not storm the flour mills, and throw hundreds of sacks into the Seine, in their rage against the owners. These owners, by causing a gradual distribution, are the best friends of those who are their own bitter enemies; — who waste bread now, because they were not permitted to waste it before.”
“But why should the corn-owners be enriched by scarcity of bread, and you by the destruction of vineyards? You tell me that your gains by this storm will nearly compensate the losses it has cost you. Is this fair?”
“Perfectly so. You know that the value of every thing that is exchanged depends on the labour required to produce it.”
“Yes, yes: and therefore the wine that is to be grown in your desolated vineyards will justly be dear, because much and dear labour will be needed to restore your estates to fertility. But I speak of your present stock, prepared when labour was not particularly high priced, and when only the ordinary quantity of it was wanted.”
“The plain fact is, that labour is now very dear, everywhere; my cellar-full of it, as well as that which is now active in La Favorite. You will hardly wish, my dear, that I should present the public with a portion of it, in the present state of my affairs. I am not exactly in a condition to give away my substance unnecessarily; especially to buyers of wine, who are, for the most part, richer than myself. If harps were suddenly to become doubled in value, you would not sell yours for what you gave for it, would you?”
“No; harp-buyers would be better able to give the market-price than I to do without it.
“Yet we have not considered that your case would be stronger still if it was necessary for you to buy another harp immediately, at the advanced price. Such is my case. I sell my cellar-full of labour in order to purchase a further supply at the present high price. Since I must buy, and must pay dear for what I buy, would it not be folly to sell the same article cheap?”
“The same article! I do not understand you. You would be wrong to hire yourself out for the money wages of a year ago:—to give the strength of your arm for what would buy much less bread: but——”
“But the wine in my cellars and the strength of my arm are equally labour, possessed by me. You may call the one primary, and the other secondary, if you like; but they are equally labour. Yes: all the capital we have,—whether the furniture of this room, or your olive presses, or my wine, is hoarded labour: the labour of the work-people from whom we purchased it.”
“That is curious. Then the price depends upon the labour——O no, there are your profits to be considered. The price depends upon the cost of production; which includes your capital as well as your men's labour.”
“Call it all labour at once, if you like. Profits are the recompense of labour as much as wages: wages of primary, and profits of secondary or hoarded labour; whichever you please to call it.”
“Then why have you been perplexing yourself all this time about this exchange of goods with Steele? Cannot you reckon easily enough the present value of the labour contained in a pipe of wine? and will not this serve as a perfect measure?”
“Nothing ever served as a perfect measure of value yet; or ever will, in my opinion,” replied Charles. “Labour regulates the relative value of Steele's fruit and my wine: but it can never measure the one against the other, or both against houses, or furniture, or money, or any other commodity. Do not you see that, while labour varies as it does, it can never serve as a measure?”
“To be sure, it is very different in its value this winter from what it was the last.”
“Suppose our milk-woman exchanged a quart of cream daily for a pint of coffee, at the coffeeshop opposite; and that the quart and pint pots grew larger or smaller according as the air was damp or dry. These pots would regulate the quantity of cream and coffee; but it would be absurd to call them measures, while the quantity they yield is incessantly varying.”
“Labour is affected by the seasons, I know; and it seems as if it must always be so, and as if there could therefore never be a fixed measure of value.”
“Not only does primary labour produce more at some times, and under some circumstances, than others, but it is impossible to tell beforehand what will be the return to secondary labour; and from this it follows that the shares of the capitalist and the labourer rise and fall against one another, so that neither can be depended upon for steadiness.”
“Well: I suppose we can do without a fixed measure of value, since we cannot get one; but it does seem as if it would be convenient to know always exactly how much food and clothing one might have in exchange for so much money.”
“I am afraid it would be as mischievous in one way as having no regulator would be in another.”
“O, if there were no regulator, men would snatch from one another like wild beasts; and they would soon be in a very beast-like state as to property. Food for the hour would be all any one would think of, if the chances were that he would get nothing by his labour, or be unable to keep what he might obtain.”
“On the other hand, if there were an unvarying measure, men would be a wholly different race from what they are created to be. There is no anticipating the consequences of withdrawing all the discipline by which their faculties are exercised, sharpened, and strengthened. The very supposition is absurd, however, for it includes the absence of all human vicissitudes. Before there could be a true measure of the relative value of human possessions, man must have power to keep the whole surface of the globe in a state of equal fertility, to regulate the sunshine and the rain, and to ordain all who are born to have an equal share of strength, both of limbs and faculties. All lives must also be of the same length, and even sickness would affect his measure. No: that degree of sagacity which can abstract averages is enough of a guide for practical purposes, while it affords a fine exercise for the intellect and the moral nature of man.”
Marguerite shook her head mournfully, asking how much the moral nature of their neighbours was likely to be benefited by the present uncertainty of affairs.
“Infinitely more than we can estimate,” replied Charles, eagerly. “I see every day, not only splendid instances of intellectual effort, applied to the most important departments of social philosophy, but moral struggles and selfsacrifices which dispose me more than ever to bow the knee to human nature.”
“And, as usual, you overlook whatever would not please you. You hear the patriotic harangues of our new mob orators, but not the abominable commentaries of those who stand at your elbow. You join in the shouts with which the national colours are hailed as often as they appear, but are not aware how the white cockade is trodden under foot. You are so taken up with making your obeisance to the parliament you think so virtuous, that you disregard the cruel irreverence with which our anointed sovereigns are blasphemed. This is not just, Charles; it is foolish; and, what is worse, it is disloyal.”
“Nay, my love ——”
“It is not enough that, by your way of regarding public affairs, you amuse my father, and tranquillize me, and encourage in our children a temper like your own. All this is well in ordinary times: but these are days for higher objects and a more intrepid conduct.”
Charles looked steadily at his wife, but she would not yet let him speak. She went on,—
“These are days when the true should pray day and night for vengeance on the false, instead of excusing them: when loyalty should weep in dark corners, since it cannot show its face in the daylight without being profaned. These are days when our children should see a solemn sadness in our countenances; and if they ask why, they should be told in mournful mystery what sympathy is due to suffering royalty.”
“And not to a suffering nation, Marguerite? Is there to be no pride in intrepid patriotism? No joy in public virtue? Shall the birth of liberty be looked upon as an evil omen? If the king had chosen to stand its sponsor, the whole of our mighty people might have peaceably rejoiced together. His disowning it is no reason why others should not hail its advent. His choosing the part of Herod is reason enough why there should be priests waiting and watching in the temple.”
“You are speaking treason!” cried the terrified Marguerite.
“By no means. I am ready to struggle for the king and the throne till death; but it must be for a wise king, and a throne founded in justice. As it is, all things are made to bear two aspects, and it is too much to require all to perceive only one. A forcible division has been made between the past and the future, and no wonder that some incline to look forward, while others persist in a reverted attitude.”
“Ah! how will you reconcile duties in this perverse state of affairs?”
“Very easily. When I am in the mob, I refer the patriotic sentiments of the orators to the new era of freedom, and pity the indecent violence of the hearers as the result of their prolonged subjugation. When heads are uncovered before La Fayette, my heart glows as in the very presence of liberty; when the queen is insulted in the streets of her capital by the refuse of her own sex, I sigh over the mischiefs the oppression of ages has wrought, but still hope that the day of their decline has arrived.”
“And what when Orleans sneaks away from the rabble he has maddened? What when every lamp-post in the Place de Grêve bears its strangled victim?”
“I see in one the monstrous offspring of a deformed and an unformed system. Such a birth can take place but once, and its life must be as brief through want of vigour, as it is hateful from its ugliness. The practice of slaughter too belongs to the old time. The more degraded slaves are, the more certain is it that their emancipation will be signalized by murder.”
“Why then not control, or at least resist them? Is it not dastardly to sit smiling at home, while the loyal and the noble——”
Charles lifted up his finger in token of silence, and rose from his seat, saying,
“Your reproaches impel me to a confidence with which I did not intend to disturb your tranquillity. Follow me.”
Marguerite did so, suspecting that she might soon wish to retract some things which she had said. Her husband led her to his wine-cellars, which were at the back of the house, separated from it by a small court, from which there was an opening through a wide gateway into the street. The few servants who remained at this slack time on the premises were employed about the fruit-store. The keys of the wine-cellars were kept by a confidential clerk, who was always on the spot, and was the only person besides Charles who now ever entered the place.
“Remember,” said Charles to his wife, as he put the key into the first lock; “remember that you have brought this disclosure upon yourself. This will enable you to bear it well. The best thing we can hope is that you may have to bear it long. If calamity should shortly release you from apprehension, you will see that the hopefulness you complain of in me does not arise from levity. Pierre, bring the lantern, and lock us in.”
Marguerite felt half-stifled between her fear of what was to come next, and the close air of the cellars. Her husband held up the light, and she saw that the door had been newly plated with iron. The next thing she was shown was a long train of gunpowder winding among the stores of wine and brandy.
“O, Charles!” she cried; “are you going to blow us up?”
“Not ourselves, or the house either,” he replied. “You see here is not enough to do any great mischief;—only enough to bring down the ceiling upon my wine-casks, and spoil the wine. There are no buildings over this cellar, you know; so there is no danger to human life.”
He then explained that, finding how invariably the worst excesses of the mob were to be traced to their being plied with drink, it had occurred to him to engage all the wine-merchants of Paris in an agreement to refuse, on some pretence or other, to sell wine or spirits to any but private gentlemen who wanted it for their own consumption. Some agreed, and others did not; and these latter, when they had sold all their stock, and could, from the scarcity, get no more, had maliciously whispered in the mobs the secret with which they had been entrusted. One after another of the merchants, knowing the danger to which they were exposed, had fallen off from the agreement; and Charles, whose stock was the largest now remaining in the city, was left almost alone in his determination to refuse the means of intoxicating the mob. He was aware that his wine was longed for, and his life threatened. He could not remove his stock to a distance, for his premises were evidently watched by spies. He had reason to believe that, on the first occasion when the people were to be excited to an extraordinary act of violence, they were to be brought hither to burst open his stores, and be plied with brandy and wine. He did not choose to be thus made the means of promoting riot and murder, and determined on blowing up his stock, if matters came to extremity. On the first alarm of the approach of a mob, he should fire the train, and bring down the roof; making a pit of what was now level ground. Or, if he should be absent, Pierre knew how to do it.
“But how?” asked Marguerite, with as much voice as she had left. “Must it not be fatal to the one who fires?”
“I trust not,” he replied; “though, if it were, my purpose would stand. It is better to sacrifice one life thus, than to make murderous fiends of many thousands. But, look here, this is our contrivance.”
And he showed her how a very small trap-door had been made of one of the stones in the pavement above, through which a light might be let down immediately upon the tram, and from any distance, if the line were of sufficient length.
“It is but little that a quiet citizen can do in times when men of a different make are sure to gain the ascendency,” observed Charles: “but no one is absolved from doing what he can. I am no orator to rouse the people to patriotism, or to soothe their madness; but here I have power in having something like a monopoly of the poison which helps to madden them; and it shall be kept from inflaming their brains, whether they tear me limb from limb, or compel me to drown myself in my own wine, or let me live till the days when they shall thank me for crossing their will.”
Marguerite's terror was aggravated by a sense of shame for having failed to anticipate her husband's heroism, and being now unable to share it. Her thoughts were ready to veer any way in hope of escape, rather than anchor themselves upon her husband's determination, and await the event. No wonder, since she had so much at stake, and was a very simpleton in political matters. She had all possible fears, and no wishes. A miserable state to be in, in such times!
Could not the whole family remove? Could not her husband, at least, slip away by night? Must they remain in the neighbourhood of gunpowder, and in daily expectation of the mob?— actually within hearing of the hated drums?
They must; her husband replied. Any attempt to fly, or to alter their manner of living, would be immediately detected, and would bring a worse destruction than that which they might possibly escape by remaining. Had not Marguerite observed spies about the house?
O yes: every day since poor Joli was found hanged. That was a sad piece of carelessness. Charles thought so too, and even with more reason than his wife. He knew that the dressing up of that dog was set down in the list of his sins against his country. If it had taken place eighteen months later, it would have brought upon him an immediate sentence of death: but matters not having yet gone so far as they were destined to proceed, the fact was only recorded against him.
“Let us go,” said Marguerite, faintly, when she found her husband bent on adhering to his plans, for reasons which she could not gainsay. “I cannot bear the air of this place.”
“We will go presently, love,” replied Charles.
“The first moment that I see you look like yourself, I will call to Pierre to unlock the door. Meanwhile, here is a seat; and I will give you air and something to revive you.”
Having seated her where a breath of fresh air from the little trap-door might blow upon her face, he brought a flask of rich wine, in a full glass of which he pledged her, assuring her, with a smile, that it did not yet taste of gunpowder. His pledge was,—
“Marguerite, my wife,—life and safety to ourselves and our household! If not these,—at least the peace of our enlightened and steadfast will!—Will you not pledge me?”
She bowed her head upon his shoulder, and wept her shame at being unworthy of him,— unfit to live in such times.
“Then preserve yourself, love, to live in better times. They will come; they must come; and steady hopefulness will be our best security till they arrive.”
Marguerite so far succeeded in her endeavour to adopt her husband's principle, that she returned with a smile the searching gaze which Pierre fixed upon her as she issued from the cellar: but her countenance fell at the first words with which he answered her intimation that she now knew the great secret, and would guard it carefully.
“Alas! Madame. I fear it has ceased to be a secret——That is,” he added, changing his tone when he perceived her alarm,—“our men yonder cannot but observe how carefully we keep the place locked, and how many customers we send away; and nothing escapes suspicion in these times. But your having been down is a happy circumstance, Madame; especially as you emerge with an air so charmingly serene.”
This hint to look composed was not lost upon the lady, who tripped across the court with a demeanour of assumed gaiety. It presently vanished; and she looked with astonishment on her husband when at play with the children after dinner. It rent her heart to hear her father inquire perpetually how early in the spring they should set out for Guienne, that he might delight himself in his beloved olive-groves once more, with the children by his side: but Charles answered as if there had still been olive-groves; and as if the family were at liberty to go whither they pleased in their beautiful country. When, at intervals, she saw him whipping his little girl's wooden horse, and practising battledore with his young son, laughing all the while as merrily as either, she could scarcely believe him to be the same who had so lately solemnly pledged her over a train of gunpowder laid by his own resolute hands.