Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: HOW TO ENTERTAIN STRANGERS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 9
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Chapter V.: HOW TO ENTERTAIN STRANGERS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 9 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 9.
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HOW TO ENTERTAIN STRANGERS.
It was long before Henry could get back. He had to convey Jane home, and recover her to a safer state of mind, and then to communicate the intelligence to Patience; and then,—more painful still,—to the young woman whom he always regarded as Michael's wife. At the end of four hours, when it was nearly one in the morning, he knocked at the door of his lodgings, and was instantly let in by his landlord. He perceived that Mr. Price looked very sulky; and he could obtain no answer to his enquiries about whether Mrs. Farrer had been uneasy at his not returning. He bounded up stairs, and Marie was in his arms before he saw how pale was her face, and how swollen her eyes. The fire burned dull, the lamp only glimmered, and there was an air of indescribable confusion in the room; so that, occupied as Henry was with what had happened, he could not help feeling almost bewildered as to whether this was his lodging or not.
“I thought you never, never would have come,” sobbed Marie.
“My love, there has been but too much reason for my staying so long.”
“But there was so much reason for your being at home! Henry, they have carried away my father.”
Marie could not tell where they had taken him. She knew nothing of English law and justice. She had had no one to help her; for Price himself introduced the officers of justice; and Mrs. Price was so stiff and cold in her manner, that Marie was obliged to leave off appealing to her. All she knew was that some men walked in while her father was reading, and she writing; that they showed a paper which her father did not know the use of; searched every corner of the apartments, turning every article of furniture out of its place, and taking possession at last of a pocket-pistol, of beautiful workmanship, which M. Verblane valued as the gift of an old military friend. M. Verblane himself was also carried off, because he had not given notice to the magistrates of having come to live in this place.
“How is this?” enquired Henry of Price who now entered the room. “The arrest of aliens, and the search for weapons, can legally take place only in the day time.”
“They reckon it day time in this sort of thing till nine o'clock, and it wanted full ten minutes to nine when they came.”
“What did you know about this before I went out?” enquired Henry, turning the light of the lamp full upon Price's face.
“Only what most lodging-house keepers know in these days. I was called upon to give an account in writing of all the aliens in my house.”
Henry conjectured very truly that the Prices were at the bottom of the whole affair. Mrs. Price had a very vigorous imagination; and she had given out among her neighbours that M. Verblane was certainly a man of high rank; that he scribbled over more writing paper than any body she ever saw, except the gentleman that called himself his son-in-law; and that the writing must be letters, because nobody ever knew what became of it, and he went out regularly once a day,—no doubt to the post-office, for he never was known to send letters there by any other hand.
Marie was obliged to be comforted with the assurance that this arrest would be only a temporary inconvenience; that such things were constantly happening in these days; and that there was no doubt of her father's being released the next morning. Henry would go at the earliest practicable hour, and he did not doubt of bringing M. Verblane home with him.
Before the earliest practicable hour, however, other engagements occurred to prevent Henry's executing his design. Price came in, while the husband and wife were standing by the fire, mournfully discussing their plans for this day when so much was to be done. Price wished to give notice that he must have his rent this morning. He had gone without it too long, and be had no intention of waiting any longer. Henry was not aware that the time of payment was past. He understood that it was to be quarterly: but Marie produced the little that she had laid by for the purpose; and Henry was reminded to feel in his pocket for the manuscripts that were to have been carried to their destination the night before. They were gone. His pocket was empty.
Never mind! This was no time to think about disappointments in the way of authorship; and, as for the gain,—it was but too probable that Henry would presently have more money than he desired. Price seemed to have some idea of this kind; but not the less did he give notice that his lodgers must turn out at the end of the week. The rooms were already let; so there was no use in saying any thing about it. Henry could only suppose that tidings of Michael's death, and the manner of it, had reached the house, and that it was concluded that, as the one brother had been a smuggler, the other must be a swindler.
Before Price was out of the room, came the printer's man for the manuscript which had been lost. While he was still shaking his head over Marie's calculation of how soon she could make another copy from the short-hand notes she had happily preserved, the matter was settled by the publisher sending to ask for the last Greek proof Henry had had to correct, and to give notice that this was his final transaction with Mr. Farrer, who need not trouble himself to write any thing more for the publication of which he had been the chief support. No further communication from his pen would be accepted. A receipt in form for the money now sent was requested and given, and the cash immediately paid over to Price in discharge of the remainder of the rent. The few shillings left were, when the husband and wife were alone again, pushed from one to the other with the strange impulse of mirth which often arises under the extremest pressure of vexation and sorrow.
“Marie, what do you think of all this?” asked her husband, meeting her eye, which was fixed wistfully upon him.
“I think that if my poor countrymen have their errors, the English have at least their whims. It is at least remarkable that on this morning, when there is so much to call you abroad, one after another should come to keep you at home.”
“Very remarkable!” was all that Henry said before he relapsed into reverie. He roused himself, and snatched up his hat, assuring his wife, however, that it was yet, he believed, too early for him to obtain access to her father, or justice on his behalf. He had not proceeded far down stairs when he was met by three gentlemen, who requested two minutes' conversation with him. They came to invite him to be present at a meeting to be held for the purpose of declaring attachment to the constitution.
“Impossible, gentlemen. You are not aware that my only brother died suddenly last night. I cannot appear needlessly in public to-day.”
And he would have bowed them out; but they had something more to say than condolence. As his attending the meeting was thus unfortunately rendered impossible, perhaps he would sign the address to his Majesty.
“That will depend on what it contains. I own I do not see the immediate occasion for such a protestation; but if the address should express what I think and feel, I shall have no objection to put my name to it.”
The spokesman conceived that, as every true Englishman must be attached to the constitution, there could be no risk to any true Englishman in engaging to declare his attachment.
“Certainly, sir, if we were all agreed as to what the constitution is; but this is the very point on which men differ. One person thinks that a dozen or two of trials and transportations of ignorant and educated men for sedition, and a doubling of the taxes, and an overawing of the House of Commons, are measures of support to the constitution; while others consider them as violations. Therefore I must fully understand what is involved in the address before I sign it; and can, in the mean time, pledge myself to nothing, gentlemen.”
The visitors looked at one another, and departed,—one sighing, another giggling, and the third looking back till the last moment,—like a child who is bidden to look at a traitor, and almost expects to see him turn into some rare animal,—a Turk or an ourang-outang.
This time Henry got as far as the house-door, There he was turned back by the commissioners who were employed in making the returns for the income tax. In vain Henry assured them that he had hitherto had no income, and that, as soon as he could ascertain whether he was to have any of his brother's money, and how much, he would let the gentlemen know. They were not content with assertions given in the street, and, as Henry had no doubt of finally satisfying them in two minutes, he invited them up stairs.
“You are aware, sir, that we are sworn to the most inviolable secrecy as to the affairs of individuals; that we are empowered, when dissatisfied, to call for written explanations of the resources of living, and even to impose an oath, if necessary.”
“Very needful precautions, I should think, considering how strong is the temptation to concealment and fraud, and how very easy evasion must be in a great number of cases. Very necessary precautions, if they could but be effectual.”
“Effectual, sir! Do you suppose we shall violate our oath of secrecy?”
“By no means; but it is impossible that confidence should not often be reciprocally shaken, when the affairs of individuals are thus involuntarily exposed. This inquisition is a heavy grievance, indeed, and it opens the door to a very pernicious use of influence.”
“Well, sir, every tax must have its disadvantages; and when a large revenue must be raised—”
“True; every tax is bad, in one way or another; yet, taxes there must be. I do not know that there can be a better than an income tax, if it can be fairly raised, and duly proportioned to the tenure of incomes. If I find myself soon in possession of an income, I shall offer my proportion with pleasure; you will not need to impose the oath on me. But I do wish, as this tax affords the means, as you say, of raising a large revenue,—I do with that we were relieved of some of our indirect taxes. An income tax may be very cheerfully borne when it is imposed instead of the indirect taxes which fall so unequally as we know they do; but the same tax may be felt as a heavy grievance when it is imposed in addition,—filling up the measure of hardship. Now, we have a load of partial taxes which can be conveniently paid; and also a fair tax,—fair in principle,—which must be vexatiously levied. Let us have the one or the other, but not both.”
“But, Mr. Farter, you are aware that the evils of this income tax will be lessened perpetually. We are now just in the hustle and confusion of making new returns; but when we can establish a system of ascertainment of the wages of various employments, and the interests upon loans, and the averages of capital invested by the commercial men in our districts,—in somewhat the same manner as we can already learn the rental of landlords from the terms of their leases, and the profits of the tenants from the proportion profits are considered to bear to rent,—when this profits arranged, there will be much less occasion for vexatious questioning.”
“And much less facility of evasion. Very true. After all, this tax is a violation of a subordinate rule of taxation, while our indirect taxes violate the first and chief. In fact, it seems to me to violate only that which regards the convenience of the eontributors as to the mode of payment; while it agrees with the prineiple,m to equalize the contributions; with another,—to make the amount, and the time and manner eer tain; and with a third,—to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what goes into The treasury. Whenever I have an income, I had much rather see you on an appointed day, and pay my portion as I would pay my house-rent, knowing that what I pay goes straight to its professed destination, than be treated like a child, and inveigled into paying a little here and a little there, without knowing it; or, if knowing it, with a pretty strong assurance that plenty of pockets are gaping to swallow some of it by the way.”
Marie thought this was like sweetening physic for a child. She wondered that, in a nation of men, such devices should be allowed to be still enacted.
“We are not yet a nation of men, my dear, because we are not yet an educated nation. These taxes on commodities are taxes on ignorance. When, as a nation, we grow wise enough to settie rationally what we shall spend, and why, and how, we shall grow manly enough to come forward with our contribution, instead of letting it be filched from us while we are winking.”
“And yet, sir, it is the rich, and not the ignorant who complain of this new tax, and are all in favour of the old system. They had rather pay double for their tea and their wine than have more money raised in this new way.”
“Yes; no doubt. And the poor man had much rather have his bread and beer bear their natural price, and pay his taxes out of his wages. Thus he is sure of paying no more than his due; while the rich man will be properly compelled to contribute in proportion to The protection he derives from government. He owes so much more than the poor man to the state which guards his greater substance, that it is most unfair to leave his payment to the chance of how much wine, and tea, and other articles he may consume. He cannot himself consume more bread and beer than his poor neighbour; and it is a matter of choice whether he shall keep servants to consume much more. Such choice ought not to be left, when the alternative is the poor man paying the more for the rich man's spending less.”
“Why, indeed, it cannot be justified that the cobbler who patches a miser's shoes should pay fifty per cent. to the state, when the miser himself pays only one per cent. If it be a good rule,—(and it is the rule on which we proceed, —sir,)— that a just taxation will leave individuals in the same relation in which it found them, the advantage will be entirely on The side of the measure we have now in hand.”
“And then comes the question whether there may not be a better tax still. An income tax is immeasurably better than a system of indirect taxation; but there may be means of avoiding the inequalities which remain even under The improved system. If you once begin to graduate your income tax according to the value of the tenure of income—”
“Why, it is hard that the physician, whose large income expires oil his becoming infirm, should pay more than the fundholder or landowner, whose income is permanently yielded to himself and his children.”
“And then, from the fundholders, you must except those who hold terminable annuities. Five per cent. is a much larger payment from a man whose income is to terminate in ten or twenty years, than five per cent would be from the owner of land. And again; if you lay a tax of five per cent on the labourers' wages, the tax falls upon the capital; for the wages must rise just so much as the tax amounts to. It follows of course that the receiver of rent ought to pay a higher per centage, because the capitalist pays for himself and his labourers too. Now, if we once begin making these modifications, (which justice requires,) it seems the most direct and efficacious method to have a property tax; i. e., to tax those incomes which are derived from invested capital. Ah! I see you shake your heads; I see what you would say about the difficulty of defining what is property; and the hardship in a few cases,—as in those of small annuitants; and the tendeney,—the very slight,—the practically imperceptible tendency to check accumulation. We agreed before that all taxes are bad; that there are some difficulties attending all.”
“But do not you allow these evils, sir?”
“I do; but I hold them to be so much smaller than those we have been submitting to all this while as to be almost lost in the comparison,— except for the difficulty that there always is in changing taxes. As for The defiaing of what property is, distinctions have been made quite as subtle as between investments that are too transient to come under the title of property, and those that are not; between the landlord's posscssion of afield that yields rent, and the tenant's investment in marl which is to fertilize it for a season or two. Wherever legislation interferes with the gains of industry, nice distinctions have to be made; and this case will hardly rival our excise regulations. As for the small annuitants, though their case may be a less favourable one than that of richer men, it will be a far more favourable one than it is now, when their small incomes must yield enormously to the state through the commodities they buy. As for the tendency to check accumulation, it is also nothing in comparison with that which at present exists. What can check accumulation so much as the enhancement of the price of every thing that the capitalist and labourer must buy, when part of the added price goes to pay for the trouble and trickery attendant on a roundabout method of taxation? No, no. While, besides this enhancement of price, five or six sevenths of the taxation of the kingdom is borne by the labouring and accumulating classes. I cannot think that our capital would grow the slower for the burden being shifted upon the class of proprietors who can best afford the contribution, which would, after all, leave them in the same relation to other individuals in which it found them.”
“It would certainly issue in that equality, since income from skill and labour would proportion itself presently to the amount of property. The physician who received a guinea-fee from the till now lightly-taxed proprietor, would then receive a pound; and so on, through all occupations. All would enjoy the relief from the diminished cost of collection, as I hope we shall all do under our present commission, sir. Well, you will not oblige us to put you upon your oath as to your amount of income. You really have not an income above 60l. a year, Mr. Farrer? that is our lowest denomination, sir; we tax none under 60l. a year.”
“If you choose to swear me, you may; but my wife and I can assure you that we have no income beyond the few guineas that I may chance to earn from week to week. We have not been married many months; and we have never dared yet to think of such a thing as a regular yearly income. Well, it might be imprudent; but that is all over, I believe. If I find that I now am to have money—“
The commissioners disclaimed all intention of judging the principles or impulses under which Henry's matrimonial affairs had proceeded,—hoped to hear from him soon, if their good wishes should be fulfilled, and left him looking at his watch, and assuring Marie that even yet it was very early.
“But who are these?” cried the unhappy lady, as two men entered the room, without the ceremony of bowing, with which the late visiters had departed. “My husband, there is a conspiracy against us!”
“I believe there is, Marie: but the innocent can in this country confound conspiracies.”
Henry was arrested on a charge of seditious words spoken at divers times; and also, of not having given due notice of an alien residing within the realm without complying with the provisions of the Alien Act.
The word “sedition” sounded fearful to Marie, who bad talked over with her husband, again and again, the fates of Muir and Palmer, of Frost and Winterbottom, and many other victims of the tyranny of the minister of that day. Her first thought was,
“They will send you to Botany Bay. But I will go with you.”
Henry smilingly told her he should not have to trouble her to get ready to go so far, he believed; but if she would put on her bonnet now, he had no doubt she would be permitted to accompany him, and learn for herself where the mistake lay which had led to this absurd arrest.
She went accordingly, trembling,—but making a great effort to shed no tears. In those days of tyrannical and vaguely-expressed laws, of dread and prejudice in high places, a prisoner's fate depended mainly on the strength and clearness of mind of the magistrate before whom he might be brought. Henry was fortunate in this respect.
Some surprising stories were told,—newer to Henry and Marie than to anybody else,—of Henry's disaffection,—of his having dined with old college friends who, to the disgrace of their education, had toasted the French republic, and laughed as the king's health was proposed; of his having been overheard asking how the people could help hating a government which had Mr. Pitt at the head of it, and talked vehemently with some foreigners in praise of equality; and of his having finally refused to declare his attachment to the constitution.
This story was not very formidable when it was first told; and after the magistrate had questioned the witnesses, and heard Henry's own plain statement, he beheved that no ground remained for commitment, or for asking bail. Not a single seditious word could be sworn to; and, as to any imprudent ones that might have been dropped, the assertions of the witnesses were much more imprudent, inasmuch as they could in no way be made to agree with themselves or one another. This charge was dismissed, and Marie found she should not have to go to Botany Bay.
The other accusation was better substantiated. M. Verblane had forgotten to give the required account of himself when he had changed his residence, and it had never occurred to Henry to lodge an information against him, though he knew, (if he had happened to recollect,) that the forms of the alien law had not been complied with. The magistrate had no alternative but to fine him, and, as the amount was not forthcoming, to commit him to prison till the fine should be paid.
Marie's duty was now clear. She must go to Henry's sisters, and obtain the money from them, in order to set her husband free to assist her father.