Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE BUSY-BODY—NO. VIII - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. I Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734
Return to Title Page for The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. I Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. VIII - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. I Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. I (Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734).
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.
THE BUSY-BODY—NO. VIII
Tuesday, March 27, 1729.
One of the greatest pleasures an author can have is certainly the hearing his works applauded. The hiding from the world our names while we publish our thoughts, is so absolutely necessary to this self-gratification, that I hope my well-wishers will congratulate me on my escape from the many diligent but fruitless inquiries that have of late been made after me. Every man will own that an author, as such, ought to be tried by the merit of his productions only; but pride, party, and prejudice at this time run so very high, that experience shows we form our notions of a piece by the character of the author. Nay, there are some very humble politicians in and about this city who will ask on which side the writer is before they presume to give their opinion of the thing wrote. This ungenerous way of proceeding I was well aware of before I published my first speculation, and therefore concealed my name. And I appeal to the more generous part of the world if I have, since I appeared in the character of the Busy-Body, given an instance of my siding with any party more than another in the unhappy divisions of my country; and I have, above all, this satisfaction in myself, that neither affection, aversion, nor interest has biassed me to use any partiality towards any man or set of men, but whatsoever I find nonsensical, ridiculous, or immorally dishonest I have and shall continue openly to attack, with the freedom of an honest man and a lover of my country.
I profess I can hardly contain myself, or preserve the gravity and dignity that should attend the censorial office, when I hear the odd and unaccountable expositions that are put upon some of my works, through the malicious ignorance of some, and the vain pride of more than ordinary penetration in others; one instance of which many of my readers are acquainted with. A certain gentleman has taken a great deal of pains to write a key to the letter in my Number IV., wherein he has ingeniously converted a gentle satire upon tedious and impertinent visitants into a libel on some of the government. This I mention only as a specimen of the taste of the gentleman I am, forsooth, bound to please in my speculations; not that I suppose my impartiality will ever be called in question on that account. Injustices of this nature I could complain of in many instances; but I am at present diverted by the reception of a letter which, though it regards me only in my private capacity as an adept, yet I venture to publish it for the entertainment of my readers.
“To Censor Morum, Esq., Busy-Body General of the Province of Pennsylvania and the Counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex upon Delaware.
I judge by your lucubrations that you are not only a lover of truth and equity but a man of parts and learning and a master of science; as such I honor you. Know then, most profound Sir, that I have from my youth up been a very indefatigable student in and admirer of that divine science, astrology. I have read over Scott, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa above three hundred times; and was in hopes, by my knowledge and industry, to gain enough to have recompensed me for my money expended and time lost in the pursuit of this learning. You cannot be ignorant, Sir, (for your intimate second-sighted correspondent knows all things,) that there are large sums of money hidden under ground in divers places about this town and in many parts of the country; but, alas, Sir, notwithstanding I have used all the means laid down in the immortal authors before mentioned, and when they failed, the ingenious Mr. P—d—l, with his mercurial wand and magnet, I have still failed in my purpose. This therefore I send, to propose and desire an acquaintance with you; and I do not doubt, notwithstanding my repeated ill fortune, but we may be exceedingly serviceable to each other in our discoveries; and that if we use our united endeavours the time will come when the Busy-Body, his second-sighted correspondent, and your very humble servant will be three of the richest men in the province. And then, Sir, what may we not do? A word to the wise is sufficient. I conclude, with all demonstrable respect, yours and Urania’s votary,
In the evening after I had received this letter I made a visit to my second-sighted friend and communicated to him the proposal. When he had read it he assured me that to his certain knowledge there is not at this time so much as one ounce of silver or gold hid under ground in any part of this province; for that the late and present scarcity of money had obliged those who were living, and knew where they had formerly hid any, to take it up and use it in their own necessary affairs; and as to all the rest which was buried by pirates and others in old times, who were never likely to come for it, he himself had dug it all up and applied it to charitable uses: and this he desired me to publish for the general good. For, as he acquainted me, there are among us great numbers of honest artificers and laboring people who, fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business, almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasure. They wander through the woods and bushes by day to discover the marks and signs; at midnight they repair to the hopeful spots with spades and pickaxes; full of expectation, they labor violently, trembling at the same time in every joint, through fear of certain malicious demons who are said to haunt and guard such places. At length a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cart-loads of earth thrown out; but, alas, no keg or iron pot is found! No seaman’s chest crammed with Spanish pistoles or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude that, through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach. Yet when a man is once thus infatuated, he is so far from being discouraged by ill success that he is rather animated to double his industry, and will try again and again in a hundred different places, in hopes at last of meeting with some lucky hit that shall at once sufficiently reward him for all his expense of time and labor.
This odd humor of digging for money, through a belief that much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has for several years been mighty prevalent among us; insomuch that you can hardly walk half a mile out of the town on any side without observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some lately opened. Men, otherwise of very good sense, have been drawn into this practice through an overweening desire of sudden wealth and an easy credulity of what they so earnestly wished might be true; while the rational and almost certain methods of acquiring riches by industry and frugality are neglected or forgotten. There seems to be some peculiar charm in the conceit of finding money: and if the sands of Schuylkill were so much mixed with small grains of gold that a man might in a day’s time, with care and application, get together to the value of half a crown, I make no question but we should find several people employed there that can with ease earn five shillings a day at their proper trades.
Many are the idle stories told of the private success of some people, by which others are encouraged to proceed; and the astrologers, with whom the country swarms at this time, are either in the belief of these things themselves, or find their advantage in persuading others to believe them; for they are often consulted about the critical times for digging, the methods of laying the spirit, and the like whimseys, which renders them very necessary to, and very much caressed by, the poor deluded money-hunters.
There is certainly something very bewitching in the pursuit after mines of gold and silver and other valuable metals, and many have been ruined by it. A sea-captain of my acquaintance used to blame the English for envying Spain their mines of silver and too much despising or overlooking the advantages of their own industry and manufactures. “For my part,” says he, “I esteem the Banks of Newfoundland to be a more valuable possession than the mountains of Potosi; and when I have been there on the fishing account, have looked upon every cod pulled up into the vessel as a certain quantity of silver ore, which required only carrying to the next Spanish port to be coined into pieces of eight; not to mention the national profit of fitting out and employing such a number of ships and seamen.”
Let honest Peter Buckram, who has long without success been a searcher after hidden money, reflect on this, and be reclaimed from that unaccountable folly. Let him consider that every stitch he takes, when he is on his shopboard, is picking up part of a grain of gold that will in a few days’ time amount to a pistole; and let Faber think the same of every nail he drives, of every stroke with his plane. Such thoughts may make them industrious, and, in consequence, in time they may be wealthy. But how absurd is it to neglect a certain profit for such a ridiculous whimsey; to spend whole days at the George, in company with an idle pretender to astrology, contriving schemes to discover what was never hidden, and forgetting how carelessly business is managed at home in their absence; to leave their wives and a warm bed at midnight (no matter if it rain, hail, snow, or blow a hurricane, provided that be the critical hour) and fatigue themselves with the violent exercise of digging for what they shall never find, and perhaps getting a cold that may cost their lives, or at least disordering themselves so as to be fit for no business beside for some days after. Surely this is nothing less than the most egregious folly and madness.
I shall conclude with the words of my discreet friend Agricola, of Chester County, when he gave his son a good plantation. “My son,” said he, “I give thee now a valuable parcel of land; I assure thee I have found a considerable quantity of gold by digging there; thee mayst do the same; but thee must carefully observe this, Never to dig more than plough-deep.”
A MODEST INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF A PAPER CURRENCY1
There is no science the study of which is more useful and commendable than the knowledge of the true interest of one’s country; and perhaps there is no kind of learning more abstruse and intricate, more difficult to acquire in any degree of perfection than this, and therefore none more generally neglected. Hence it is that we every day find men in conversation contending warmly on some point in politics which, although it may nearly concern them both, neither of them understands any more than they do each other.
Thus much by way of apology for this present Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency. And if any thing I shall say may be a means of fixing a subject that is now the chief concern of my countrymen in a clearer light, I shall have the satisfaction of thinking my time and pains well employed.
To proceed, then:
There is a certain proportionate quantity of money requisite to carry on the trade of a country freely and currently; more than which would be of no advantage in trade, and less, if much less, exceedingly detrimental to it.
This leads us to the following general considerations:
First.A great want of money in any trading country occasions interest to be at a very high rate. And here it may be observed, that it is impossible by any laws to restrain men from giving and receiving exorbitant interest where money is suitably scarce. For he that wants money will find out ways to give ten per cent, when he cannot have it for less, although the law forbids to take more than six per cent. Now the interest of money being high is prejudicial to a country several ways. It makes land bear a low price, because few men will lay out their money in land when they can make a much greater profit by lending it out upon interest. And much less will men be inclined to venture their money at sea when they can without risk or hazard, have a great and certain profit by keeping it at home; thus trade is discouraged. And if in two neighbouring countries the traders of one, by reason of a greater plenty of money, can borrow it to trade with at a lower rate than the traders of the other, they will infallibly have the advantage and get the greatest part of that trade into their own hands; for he that trades with money he hath borrowed at eight or ten per cent, cannot hold market with him that borrows his money at six or four. On the contrary, a plentiful currency will occasion interest to be low; and this will be an inducement to many to lay out their money in lands rather than put it out to use, by which means land will begin to rise in value and bear a better price. And at the same time it will tend to enliven trade exceedingly, because people will find more profit in employing their money that way than in usury; and many that understand business very well, but have not a stock sufficient of their own, will be encouraged to borrow money to trade with when they can have it at a moderate interest.
Secondly.Want of money in a country reduces the price of that part of its produce which is used in trade; because, trade being discouraged by it as above, there is a much less demand for that produce. And this is another reason why land in such a case will be low, especially where the staple commodity of the country is the immediate produce of the land; because, that produce being low, fewer people find an advantage in husbandry or the improvement of land. On the contrary, a plentiful currency will occasion the trading produce to bear a good price; because, trade being encouraged and advanced by it, there will be a much greater demand for that produce, which will be a great encouragement of husbandry and tillage, and consequently make land more valuable, for that many people would apply themselves to husbandry who probably might otherwise have sought some more profitable employment.
As we have already experienced how much the increase of our currency, by what paper money has been made, has encouraged our trade, particularly to instance only in one article, ship-building, it may not be amiss to observe under this head what a great advantage it must be to us as a trading country, that has workmen and all the materials proper for that business within itself, to have ship-building as much as possible advanced; for every ship that is built here for the English merchants gains the province her clear value in gold and silver, which must otherwise have been sent home for returns in her stead; and likewise every ship built in and belonging to the province not only saves the province her first cost, but all the freight, wages, and provisions she ever makes or requires as long as she lasts; provided care is taken to make this her pay-port, and that she always takes provisions with her for the whole voyage, which may easily be done. And how considerable an article this is yearly in our favor, every one the least acquainted with mercantile affairs must needs be sensible; for, if we could not build ourselves, we must either purchase so many vessels as we want from other countries, or else hire them to carry our produce to market, which would be more expensive than purchasing, and on many other accounts exceedingly to our loss. Now as trade in general will decline where there is not a plentiful currency, so ship-building must certainly of consequence decline where trade is declining.
Thirdly.Want of money in a country discourages laboring and handicraftsmen (who are the chief strength and support of a people) from coming to settle in it, and induces many that were settled to leave the country and seek entertainment and employment in other places, where they can be better paid. For what can be more disheartening to an industrious laboring man than this, that after he hath earned his bread with the sweat of his brows, he must spend as much time and have near as much fatigue in getting it as he had to earn it? And nothing makes more bad paymasters than a general scarcity of money. And here again is a third reason for land’s bearing a low price in such a country, because land always increases in value in proportion with the increase of the people settling on it, there being so many more buyers; and its value will infallibly be diminished, if the number of its inhabitants diminish. On the contrary, a plentiful currency will encourage great numbers of laboring and handicraftsmen to come and settle in the country, by the same reason that a want of it will discourage and drive them out. Now the more inhabitants, the greater demand for land (as is said above), upon which it must necessarily rise in value and bear a better price. The same may be said of the value of house-rent, which will be advanced for the same reasons; and by the increase of trade and riches people will be enabled to pay greater rents. Now, the value of house-rent rising, and interest becoming low, many, that in a scarcity of money, practised usury, will probably be more inclined to building, which will likewise sensibly enliven business in any place; it being an advantage not only to brickmakers, bricklayers, masons, carpenters, joiners, glaziers, and several other trades immediately employed by building, but likewise to farmers, brewers, bakers, tailors, shoemakers, shopkeepers, and, in short, to every one that they lay their money out with.
Fourthly.Want of money in such a country as ours occasions a greater consumption of English and European goods, in proportion to the number of people, than there would otherwise be. Because merchants and traders, by whom abundance of artificers and laboring men are employed, finding their other affairs require what money they can get into their hands, oblige those who work for them to take one half or perhaps two-thirds goods in pay. By this means a greater quantity of goods are disposed of, and to a greater value; because working-men and their families are thereby induced to be more profuse and extravagant in fine apparel and the like, than they would be if they were obliged to pay ready money for such things after they had earned and received it, or if such goods were not imposed upon them, of which they can make no other use. For such people cannot send the goods they are paid with to a foreign market without losing considerably by having them sold for less than they stand them in here; neither can they easily dispose of them at home, because their neighbours are generally supplied in the same manner. But how unreasonable would it be if some of those very men who have been a means of thus forcing people into unnecessary expense should be the first and most earnest in accusing them of pride and prodigality. Now though this extraordinary consumption of foreign commodities may be a profit to particular men, yet the country in general grows poorer by it apace. On the contrary, as a plentiful currency will occasion a less consumption of European goods, in proportion to the number of the people, so it will be a means of making the balance of our trade more equal than it now is, if it does not give it in our favor; because our own produce will be encouraged at the same time. And it is to be observed that though less foreign commodities are consumed in proportion to the number of people, yet this will be no disadvantage to the merchant, because the number of people increasing will occasion an increasing demand of more foreign goods in the whole.
Thus we have seen some of the many heavy disadvantages a country (especially such a country as ours) must labor under when it has not a sufficient stock of running cash to manage its trade currently. And we have likewise seen some of the advantages which accrue from having money sufficient or a plentiful currency.
The foregoing paragraphs being well considered, we shall naturally be led to draw the following conclusions with regard to what persons will probably be for or against emitting a large additional sum of paper bills in this province.
1. Since men will always be powerfully influenced in their opinions and actions by what appears to be their particular interest, therefore all those who, wanting courage to venture in trade, now practise lending money on security for exorbitant interest, which in a scarcity of money will be done notwithstanding the law—I say all such will probably be against a large addition to our present stock of paper money, because a plentiful currency will lower interest and make it common to lend on less security.
2. All those who are possessors of large sums of money and are disposed to purchase land, which is attended with a great and sure advantage in a growing country as this is—I say the interest of all such men will incline them to oppose a large addition to our money. Because their wealth is now continually increasing by the large interest they receive, which will enable them (if they can keep land from rising) to purchase more some time hence than they can at present; and in the mean time all trade being discouraged, not only those who borrow of them but the common people in general will be impoverished, and consequently obliged to sell more land for less money than they will do at present. And yet after such men are possessed of as much land as they can purchase, it will then be their interest to have money made plentiful, because that will immediately make land rise in value in their hands. Now it ought not to be wondered at if people, from the knowledge of a man’s interests, do sometimes make a true guess at his designs; for interest, they say, will not lie.
3. Lawyers and others concerned in court business will probably many of them be against a plentiful currency, because people in that case will have less occasion to run in debt, and consequently less occasion to go to law and sue one another for their debts. Though I know some even among these gentlemen that regard the public good before their own apparent private interest.
4. All those who are any way dependents on such persons as are above mentioned, whether as holding offices, as tenants, or as debtors, must at least appear to be against a large addition, because if they do not they must sensibly feel their present interest hurt. And besides these there are doubtless many well-meaning gentlemen and others who, without any immediate private interest of their own in view, are against making such an addition, through an opinion they may have of the honesty and sound judgment of some of their friends that oppose it (perhaps for the ends aforesaid), without having given it any thorough consideration themselves. And thus it is no wonder if there is a powerful party on that side.
On the other hand, those who are lovers of trade and delight to see manufactures encouraged, will be for having a large addition to our currency. For they very well know that people will have little heart to advance money in trade when what they can get is scarce sufficient to purchase necessaries and supply their families with provisions. Much less will they lay it out in advancing new manufactures; nor is it possible new manufactures should turn to any account where there is not money to pay the workmen, who are discouraged by being paid in goods, because it is a great disadvantage to them.
Again. Those who are truly for the proprietor’s interest (and have no separate views of their own that are predominant) will be heartily for a large addition. Because, as I have shown above, plenty of money will for several reasons make land rise in value exceedingly. And I appeal to those immediately concerned for the proprietor in the sale of his lands, whether land has not risen very much since the first emission of what paper currency we now have, and even by its means. Now we all know the proprietary has great quantities to sell.
And since a plentiful currency will be so great a cause of advancing this province in trade and riches and increasing the number of its people, which, though it will not sensibly lessen the inhabitants of Great Britain, will occasion a much greater vent and demand for their commodities here; and allowing that the crown is the more powerful for its subjects increasing in wealth and number, I cannot think it the interest of England to oppose us in making as great a sum of paper money here as we, who are the best judges of our own necessities, find convenient. And if I were not sensible that the gentlemen of trade in England, to whom we have already parted with our silver and gold, are misinformed of our circumstances, and therefore endeavour to have our currency stinted to what it now is, I should think the government at home had some reasons for discouraging and impoverishing this province which we are not acquainted with.
It remains now that we inquire whether a large addition to our paper currency will not make it sink in value very much. And here it will be requisite that we first form just notions of the nature and value of money in general.
As Providence has so ordered it that not only different countries but even different parts of the same country have their peculiar most suitable productions, and likewise that different men have geniuses adapted to a variety of different arts and manufactures; therefore commerce, or the exchange of one commodity or manufacture for another, is highly convenient and beneficial to mankind. As for instance, A may be skilful in the art of making cloth, and B understand the raising of corn. A wants corn, and B cloth; upon which they make an exchange with each other for as much as each has occasion for, to the mutual advantage and satisfaction of both.
But as it would be very tedious if there were no other way of general dealing but by an immediate exchange of commodities, because a man that had corn to dispose of and wanted cloth for it might perhaps, in his search for a chapman to deal with, meet with twenty people that had cloth to dispose of but wanted no corn, and with twenty others that wanted his corn but had no cloth to suit him with; to remedy such inconveniences and facilitate exchange men have invented money, properly called a medium ofexchange, because through or by its means labor is exchanged for labor or one commodity for another. And whatever particular thing men have agreed to make this medium of, whether gold, silver, copper, or tobacco, it is to those who possess it (if they want any thing) that very thing which they want, because it will immediately procure it for them. It is cloth to him that wants cloth, and corn to those that want corn; and so of all other necessaries it is whatsoever it will procure. Thus he who had corn to dispose of and wanted to purchase cloth with it might sell his corn for its value in this general medium to one who wanted corn but had no cloth, and with this medium he might purchase cloth of him that wanted no corn but perhaps some other thing, as iron it may be, which this medium will immediately procure, and so he may be said to have exchanged his cloth for iron; and thus the general change is soon performed to the satisfaction of all parties with abundance of facility.
For many ages those parts of the world which are engaged in commerce have fixed upon gold and silver as the chief and most proper materials for this medium; they being in themselves valuable metals for their fineness, beauty, and scarcity. By these, particularly by silver, it has been usual to value all things else. But as silver itself is of no certain permanent value, being worth more or less according to its scarcity or plenty, therefore it seems requisite to fix upon something else more proper to be made a measure of values, and this I take to be labor.1
By labor may the value of silver be measured as well as other things. As, suppose one man employed to raise corn while another is digging and refining silver; at the year’s end, or at any other period of time, the complete produce of corn and that of silver are the natural price of each other; and if one be twenty bushels and the other twenty ounces, then an ounce of that silver is worth the labor of raising a bushel of that corn. Now if by the discovery of some nearer, more easy or plentiful mines, a man may get forty ounces of silver as easily as formerly he did twenty, and the same labor is still required to raise twenty bushels of corn, then two ounces of silver will be worth no more than the same labor of raising one bushel of corn, and that bushel of corn will be as cheap at two ounces as it was before at one, cæteris paribus.
Thus the riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase, and not by the quantity of silver and gold they possess; which will purchase more or less labor, and therefore is more or less valuable, as is said before, according to its scarcity or plenty. As those metals have grown much more plentiful in Europe since the discovery of America,1 so they have sunk in value exceedingly; for, to instance in England, formerly one penny of silver was worth a day’s labor, but now it is hardly worth the sixth part of a day’s labor; because not less than sixpence will purchase the labor of a man for a day in any part of that kingdom; which is wholly to be attributed to the much greater plenty of money now in England than formerly. And yet perhaps England is in effect no richer now than at that time; because as much labor might be purchased or work got done of almost any kind for one hundred pounds then as will now require or is now worth six hundred pounds.
In the next place let us consider the nature of banks emitting bills of credit, as they are at this time used in Hamburgh, Amsterdam, London, and Venice.
Those places being seats of vast trade, and the payment of great sums being for that reason frequent, bills of credit are found very convenient in business; because a great sum is more easily counted in them, lighter in carriage, concealed in less room, and therefore safer in travelling or laying up, and on many other accounts they are very much valued. The banks are the general cashiers of all gentlemen, merchants, and great traders in and about those cities; there they deposit their money and may take out bills to the value, for which they can be certain to have money again at the bank at any time. This gives the bills a credit; so that in England they are never less valuable than money, and in Venice and Amsterdam they are generally worth more. And the bankers, always reserving money in hand to answer more than the common run of demands (and some people constantly putting in while others are taking out), are able besides to lend large sums, on good security, to the government or others for a reasonable interest, by which they are paid for their care and trouble; and the money, which otherwise would have lain dead in their hands, is made to circulate again thereby among the people. And thus the running cash of the nation is, as it were, doubled; for all great payments being made in bills, money in lower trade becomes much more plentiful. And this is an exceeding great advantage to a trading country that is not overstocked with gold and silver.1
As those who take bills out of the banks in Europe put in money for security, so here and in some of the neighbouring provinces we engage our land. Which of these methods will most effectually secure the bills from actually sinking in value comes next to be considered.
Trade in general being nothing else but the exchange of labor for labor, the value of all things is, as I have said before, most justly measured by labor. Now suppose I put my money into a bank and take out a bill for the value; if this bill at the time of my receiving it would purchase me the labor of one hundred men for twenty days, but some time after will only purchase the labor of the same number of men for fifteen days, it is plain the bill has sunk in value one fourth part. Now, silver and gold being of no permanent value, and as this bill is founded on money, and therefore to be esteemed as such, it may be that the occasion of this fall is the increasing plenty of gold and silver, by which money is one fourth part less valuable than before, and therefore one fourth more is given of it for the same quantity of labor; and if land is not become more plentiful by some proportionate decrease of the people, one fourth part more of money is given for the same quantity of land; whereby it appears that it would have been more profitable to me to have laid that money out in land which I put into the bank, than to place it there and take a bill for it. And it is certain that the value of money has been continually sinking in England for several ages past, because it has been continually increasing in quantity. But if bills could be taken out of a bank in Europe on a land security, it is probable the value of such bills would be more certain and steady, because the number of inhabitants continues to be near the same in those countries from age to age.
For as bills issued upon money security are money, so bills issued upon land are in effect coined land.
Therefore (to apply the above to our own circumstances) if land in this province was falling, or any way likely to fall, it would behove the legislature most carefully to contrive how to prevent the bills issued upon land from falling with it. But as our people increase exceedingly, and will be further increased, as I have before shown, by the help of a large addition to our currency, and as land in consequence is continually rising, so in case no bills are emitted but what are upon land security, the money-acts in every part punctually enforced and executed, the payments of principal and interest being duly and strictly required, and the principal bona fide sunk according to law, it is absolutely impossible such bills should ever sink below their first value, or below the value of the land on which they are founded. In short, there is so little danger of their sinking that they would certainly rise as the land rises if they were not emitted in a proper manner for preventing it. That is, by providing in the act that payment may be made either in those bills or in any other bills made current by any act of the legislature of this province, and that the interest, as it is received, may be again emitted in discharge of public debts; whereby circulating, it returns again into the hands of the borrowers and becomes part of their future payments, and thus, as it is likely there will not be any difficulty for want of bills to pay the office, they are hereby kept from rising above their first value. For else, supposing there should be emitted upon mortgaged land its full present value in bills, as in the banks in Europe the full value of the money deposited is given out in bills; and supposing the office would take nothing but the same sum in those bills in discharge of the land, as in the banks aforesaid the same sum in their bills must be brought in in order to receive out the money; in such case the bills would most surely rise in value as the land rises, as certainly as the bank bills founded on money would fall if that money was falling. Thus, if I were to mortgage to loan-office or bank a parcel of land now valued at one hundred pounds in silver, and receive for it the like sum in bills, to be paid in again at the expiration of a certain term of years, before which my land, rising in value, becomes worth one hundred and fifty pounds in silver, it is plain that if I have not these bills in possession, and the office will take nothing but these bills, or else what it is now become worth in silver, in discharge of my land—I say it appears plain that those bills will now be worth one hundred and fifty pounds in silver to the possessor, and if I can purchase them for less, in order to redeem my land, I shall by so much be a gainer.
I need not say any thing to convince the judicious that our bills have not yet sunk, though there is and has been some difference between them and silver; because it is evident that that difference is occasioned by the scarcity of the latter, which is now become a merchandise, rising and falling like other commodities as there is a greater or less demand for it or as it is more or less plenty.
Yet farther, in order to make a true estimate of the value of money we must distinguish between money as it is bullion, which is merchandise, and as by being coined it is made a currency. For its value as a merchandise and its value as a currency are two distinct things, and each may possibly rise and fall in some degree independent of the other. Thus, if the quantity of bullion increases in a country, it will proportionably decrease in value; but if at the same time the quantity of current coin should decrease (supposing payments may not be made in bullion), what coin there is will rise in value as a currency—that is people will give more labor in manufactures for a certain sum of ready money.
In the same manner must we consider a paper currency founded on land, as it is land, and as it is a currency.
Money as bullion or as land is valuable by so much labor as it costs to procure that bullion or land.
Money as a currency has an additional value by so much time and labor as it saves in the exchange of commodities.
If as a currency it saves one fourth part of the time and labor of a country, it has on that account one fourth added to its original value.
When there is no money in a country all commerce must be by exchange.1 Now if it takes one fourth part of the time and labor of a country to exchange or get their commodities exchanged; then in computing their value that labor of exchanging must be added to the labor of manufacturing those commodities. But if that time or labor is saved by introducing money sufficient, then the additional value on account of the labor of exchanging may be abated, and things sold for only the value of the labor in making them, because the people may now in the same time make one fourth more in quantity of manufactures than they could before.
From these considerations it may be gathered that in all the degrees between having no money in a country and money sufficient for the trade, it will rise and fall in value as a currency in proportion to the decrease or increase of its quantity. And if there may be at some time more than enough, the overplus will have no effect towards making the currency as a currency of less value than when there was but enough, because such overplus will not be used in trade but be some other way disposed of.
If we inquire how much per cent interest ought to be required upon the loan of these bills, we must consider what is the natural standard of usury. And this appears to be, where the security is undoubted, at least the rent of so much land as the money lent will buy. For it cannot be expected that any man will lend his money for less than it would fetch him in as rent if he laid it out in land, which is the most secure property in the world. But if the security is casual, then a kind of insurance must be interwoven with the simple natural interest, which may advance the usury very conscionably to any height below the principal itself. Now among us, if the value of land is twenty years’ purchase, five per cent is the just rate of interest for money lent on undoubted security. Yet if money grows scarce in a country it becomes more difficult for people to make punctual payments of what they borrow, money being hard to be raised; likewise, trade being discouraged and business impeded for want of a currency, abundance of people must be in declining circumstances, and by these means security is more precarious than where money is plenty. On such accounts it is no wonder if people ask a greater interest for their money than the natural interest; and what is above is to be looked upon as a kind of premium for the insurance of those uncertainties, as they are greater or less. Thus we always see that where money is scarce interest is high, and low where it is plenty. Now it is certainly the advantage of a country to make interest as low as possible, as I have already shown; and this can be done no other way than by making money plentiful. And since in emitting paper money among us the office has the best of security, the titles to the land being all skilfully and strictly examined and ascertained; and as it is only permitting the people by law to coin their own land, which costs the government nothing, the interest being more than enough to pay the charges of printing, officers’ fees, &c., I cannot see any good reason why four per cent to the loan-office should not be thought fully sufficient. As a low interest may incline more to take money out, it will become more plentiful in trade; and this may bring down the common usury, in which security is more dubious, to the pitch it is determined at by law.
If it should be objected that emitting it at so low an interest and on such easy terms will occasion more to be taken out than the trade of the country really requires, it may be answered that, as has already been shown, there can never be so much of it emitted as to make it fall below the land it is founded on; because no man in his senses will mortgage his estate for what is of no more value to him than that he has mortgaged, especially if the possession of what he receives is more precarious than of what he mortgages, as that of paper money is when compared to land. And if it should ever become so plenty by indiscreet persons continuing to take out a large overplus above what is necessary in trade so as to make people imagine it would become by that means of less value than their mortgaged lands, they would immediately of course begin to pay it in again to the office to redeem their land, and continue to do so till there was no more left in trade than was absolutely necessary. And thus the proportion would find itself (though there were a million too much in the office to be let out) without giving any one the trouble of calculation.
It may, perhaps, be objected to what I have written concerning the advantages of a large addition to our currency, that if the people of this province increase and husbandry is more followed we shall overstock the markets with our produce of flour, &c. To this it may be answered that we can never have too many people (nor too much money). For when one branch of trade or business is overstocked with hands, there are the more to spare to be employed in another. So if raising wheat proves dull, more may (if there is money to support and carry on new manufactures) proceed to the raising and manufacturing of hemp, silk, iron, and many other things the country is very capable of, for which we only want people to work and money to pay them with.
Upon the whole it may be observed that it is the highest interest of a trading country in general to make money plentiful, and that it can be a disadvantage to none that have honest designs. It cannot hurt even the usurers, though it should sink what they receive as interest, because they will be proportionably more secure in what they lend, or they will have an opportunity of employing their money to greater advantage to themselves as well as to the country. Neither can it hurt those merchants who have great sums outstanding in debts in the country, and seem on that account to have the most plausible reason to fear it; to wit, because a large addition being made to our currency will increase the demand of our exporting produce, and by that means raise the price of it, so that they will not be able to purchase so much bread or flour with one hundred pounds when they shall receive it after such an addition as they now can and may if there is no addition. I say it cannot hurt even such, because they will get in their debts just in exact proportion so much the easier and sooner as the money becomes plentier; and therefore, considering the interest and trouble saved, they will not be losers, because it only sinks in value as a currency proportionally as it becomes more plenty. It cannot hurt the interest of Great Britain, as has been shown, and it will greatly advance the interest of the proprietor. It will be an advantage to every industrious tradesman, &c., because his business will be carried on more freely and trade be universally enlivened by it. And as more business in all manufactures will be done by so much as the labor and time spent in exchange is saved, the country in general will grow so much the richer.
It is nothing to the purpose to object the wretched fall of the bills in New England and South Carolina, unless it might be made evident that their currency was emitted with the same prudence and on such good security as ours is; and it certainly was not.
As this essay is wrote and published in haste and the subject in itself intricate, I hope I shall be censured with candor if, for want of time carefully to revise what I have written, in some places I should appear to have expressed myself too obscurely and in others am liable to objections I did not foresee. I sincerely desire to be acquainted with the truth, and on that account shall think myself obliged to any one who will take the pains to show me or the public where I am mistaken in my conclusions. And as we all know there are among us several gentlemen of acute parts and profound learning who are very much against any addition to our money, it were to be wished that they would favor the country with their sentiments on this head in print; which, supported with truth and good reasoning, may probably be very convincing. And this is to be desired the rather because many people, knowing the abilities of those gentlemen to manage a good cause, are apt to construe their silence in this as an argument of a bad one. Had any thing of that kind ever yet appeared, perhaps I should not have given the public this trouble. But as those ingenious gentlemen have not yet (and I doubt never will) think it worth their concern to enlighten the minds of their erring countrymen in this particular, I think it would be highly commendable in every one of us more fully to bend our minds to the study of what is the true interest of Pennsylvania; whereby we may be enabled not only to reason pertinently with one another; but, if occasion requires, to transmit home such clear representations as must inevitably convince our superiors of the reasonableness and integrity of our designs.1
Philadelphia, April 3, 1729.
DIALOGUE CONCERNING VIRTUE AND PLEASURE2
My friend Horatio! I am very glad to see you. Prithee, how came such a man as you alone? And musing too? What misfortune in your pleasures has sent you to philosophy for relief?
You guess very right, my dear Philocles; we pleasure-hunters are never without them; and yet, so enchanting is the game, we cannot quit the chase. How calm and undisturbed is your life! How free from present embarrassments and future cares! I know you love me and look with compassion upon my conduct; show me then the path which leads up to that constant and invariable good which I have heard you so beautifully describe and which you seem so fully to possess.
There are few men in the world I value more than you, Horatio; for amidst all your foibles and painful pursuits of pleasure I have oft observed in you an honest heart and a mind strongly bent towards virtue. I wish, from my soul, I could assist you in acting steadily the part of a reasonable creature, for if you would not think it a paradox I should tell you I love you better than you do yourself.
A paradox indeed! Better than I do myself! When I love my dear self so well that I love every thing else for my own sake.
He only loves himself well who rightly and judiciously loves himself.
What do you mean by that, Philocles? You men of reason and virtue are always dealing in mysteries, though you laugh at them when the church makes them. I think he loves himself very well and very judiciously too, as you call it, who allows himself to do whatever he pleases.
What, though it be to the ruin and destruction of that very self which he loves so well? That man alone loves himself rightly who procures the greatest possible good to himself through the whole of his existence, and so pursues pleasure as not to give for it more than it is worth.
That depends all upon opinion. Who shall judge what the pleasure is worth? Suppose a pleasing form of the fair kind strikes me so much that I can enjoy nothing without the enjoyment of that one object; or that pleasure in general is so favorite a mistress that I will take her as men do their wives, for better, for worse, minding no consequences nor regarding what is to come. Why should I not do it?
Suppose, Horatio, that a friend of yours entered into the world about two-and-twenty, with a healthful, vigorous body, and a fair, plentiful estate of about five hundred pounds a year, and yet before he had reached thirty should, by following his own pleasures and not as you duly regarding consequences, have run out of his estate and disabled his body to that degree that he had neither the means nor capacity of enjoyment left, nor any thing else to do but wisely shoot himself through the head to be at rest, what would you say to this unfortunate man’s conduct? Is it wrong by opinion or fancy only? Or is there really a right and wrong in the case? Is not one opinion of life and action juster than another? Or one sort of conduct preferable to another? Or does that miserable son of pleasure appear as reasonable and lovely a being in your eyes as a man who by prudently and rightly gratifying his natural passions had preserved his body in full health and his estate entire, and enjoyed both to a good old age, and then died with a thankful heart for the good things he had received, and with an entire submission to the will of Him who first called him into being? Say, Horatio, are these men equally wise and happy? And is every thing to be measured by mere fancy and opinion, without considering whether that fancy or opinion be right?
Hardly so neither, I think; yet sure the wise and good Author of nature could never make us to plague us. He could never give us passions on purpose to subdue and conquer them, nor produce this self of mine, or any other self, only that it may be denied, for that is denying the works of the great Creator himself. Self-denial, then, which is what I suppose you mean by prudence, seems to me not only absurd, but very dishonorable to that Supreme Wisdom and Goodness which is supposed to make so ridiculous and contradictory a creature that must be always fighting with himself in order to be at rest, and undergo voluntary hardships in order to be happy. Are we created sick only to be commanded to be sound? Are we born under one law, our passions, and yet bound to another, that of reason? Answer me, Philocles, for I am warmly concerned for the honor of Nature, the mother of us all.
I find, Horatio, my two characters have affrighted you, so that you decline the trial of what is good by reason, and had rather make a bold attack upon Providence, the usual way of you gentlemen of fashion, who, when by living in defiance of the eternal rules of reason you have plunged yourselves into a thousand difficulties, endeavour to make yourselves easy by throwing the burden upon Nature. You are, Horatio, in a very miserable condition indeed, for you say you cannot be happy if you control your passions, and you feel yourself miserable by an unrestrained gratification of them, so that here is evil, irremediable evil, either way.
That is very true; at least it appears so to me. Pray what have you to say, Philocles, in honor of Nature or Providence? Methinks I am in pain for her. How do you rescue her, poor lady?
This, my dear Horatio, I have to say: that what you find fault with and clamor against as the most terrible evil in the world, self-denial, is really the greatest good and the highest self-gratification. If indeed you use the word in the sense of some weak moralists and much weaker divines, you will have just reason to laugh at it; but if you take it as understood by philosophers and men of sense, you will presently see her charms and fly to her embraces, notwithstanding her demure looks, as absolutely necessary to produce even your own darling sole good, pleasure, for self-denial is never a duty or a reasonable action but as it is a natural means of procuring more pleasure than you can taste without it; so that this grave, saint-like guide to happiness, as rough and dreadful as she has been made to appear, is in truth the kindest and most beautiful mistress in the world.
Prithee, Philocles, do not wrap yourself in allegory and metaphor. Why do you tease me thus? I long to be satisfied what is this philosophical self-denial, the necessity and reason of it; I am impatient and all on fire. Explain therefore in your beautiful, natural, easy way of reasoning what I am to understand by this grave lady of yours with so forbidding, downcast looks and yet so absolutely necessary to my pleasures. I stand to embrace her, for, you know, pleasure I court under all shapes and forms.
Attend then and you will see the reason of this philosophical self-denial. There can be no absolute perfection in any creature; because every creature is derived from something of a superior existence, and dependent on that source for its own existence. No created being can be all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, because his powers and capacities are finite and limited; consequently whatever is created must in its own nature be subject to error, irregularity, excess, and imperfectness. All intelligent, rational agents find in themselves a power of judging what kind of beings they are, what actions are proper to preserve them, and what consequences will generally attend them, what pleasures they are for, and to what degree their natures are capable of receiving them. All we have to do then, Horatio, is to consider, when we are surprised with a new object and passionately desire to enjoy it, whether the gratifying that passion be consistent with the gratifying other passions and appetites equally if not more necessary to us, and whether it consists with our happiness to-morrow, next week, or next year; for as we all wish to live, we are obliged by reason to take as much care for our future as our present happiness and not build one upon the ruins of the other. But if through the strength and power of a present passion and through want of attending to consequences we have erred and exceeded the bounds which nature and reason have set us, we are then for our own sakes to refrain or deny ourselves a present momentary pleasure for a future constant and durable one. So that this philosophical self-denial is only refusing to do an action which you strongly desire, because it is inconsistent with health, convenience, or circumstances in the world, or in other words because it would cost you more than it was worth. You would lose by it as a man of pleasure. Thus you see, Horatio, that self-denial is not only the most reasonable but the most pleasant thing in the world.
We are just coming into town, so that we cannot pursue this argument any farther at present; you have said a great deal for nature, Providence, and reason; happy are they who can follow such divine guides.
Horatio, good night; I wish you wise in your pleasures.
I wish, Philocles, I could be as wise in my pleasures as you are pleasantly wise; your wisdom is agreeable, your virtue is amiable, and your philosophy the highest luxury. Adieu, thou enchanting reasoner!
A SECOND DIALOGUE BETWEEN PHILOCLES AND HORATIO CONCERNING VIRTUE AND PLEASURE1
Dear Horatio, where hast thou been these three or four months? What new adventures have you fallen upon since I met you in these delightful, all-inspiring fields, and wondered how such a pleasure-hunter as you could bear being alone?
O Philocles, thou best of friends, because a friend to reason and virtue, I am very glad to see you. Do not you remember, I told you then that some misfortunes in my pleasures had sent me to philosophy for relief? But now I do assure you I can, without a sigh, leave other pleasures for those of philosophy; I can hear the word reason mentioned, and virtue praised, without laughing. Do not I bid fair for conversion, think you?
Very fair, Horatio; for I remember the time when reason, virtue, and pleasure were the same thing with you; when you counted nothing good but what pleased, nor any thing reasonable but what you gained by; when you made a jest of mind and the pleasures of reflection, and elegantly placed your sole happiness, like the rest of the animal creation, in the gratification of sense.
I did so; but in our last conversation, when walking upon the brow of this hill, and looking down on that broad, rapid river, and yon widely-extended beautifully-varied plain, you taught me another doctrine; you showed me that self-denial, which above all things I abhorred, was really the greatest good and the highest self-gratification and absolutely necessary to produce even my own darling sole good, pleasure.
True; I told you that self-denial was never a duty but when it was a natural means of procuring more pleasure than we could taste without it; that as we all strongly desire to live, and to live only to enjoy, we should take as much care about our future as our present happiness, and not build one upon the ruins of the other; that we should look to the end and regard consequences, and if through want of attention we had erred and exceeded the bounds which nature had set us, we were then obliged, for our own sakes, to refrain or deny ourselves a present momentary pleasure for a future constant and durable good.
You have shown, Philocles, that self-denial, which weak or interested men have rendered the most forbidding, is really the most delightful and amiable, the most reasonable and pleasant thing in the world. In a word, if I understand you aright, self-denial is in truth self-recognizing, self-acknowledging, or self-owning. But now, my friend, you are to perform another promise, and show me the path that leads up to that constant, durable, and invariable good, which I have heard you so beautifully describe and which you seem so fully to possess. Is not this good of yours a mere chimera? Can any thing be constant in a world which is eternally changing, and which appears to exist by an everlasting revolution of one thing into another, and where every thing without us and every thing within us is in perpetual motion? What is this constant, durable good, then, of yours? Prithee, satisfy my soul, for I am all on fire and impatient to enjoy her. Produce this eternal blooming goddess with never-fading charms, and see whether I will not embrace her with as much eagerness and rapture as you.
You seem enthusiastically warm, Horatio; I will wait till you are cool enough to attend to the sober, dispassionate voice of reason.
You mistake me, my dear Philocles; my warmth is not so great as to run away with my reason; it is only just raised enough to open my faculties, and fit them to receive those eternal truths and that durable good which you so triumphantly boasted of. Begin, then; I am prepared.
I will. I believe, Horatio, with all your skepticism about you, you will allow that good to be constant which is never absent from you, and that to be durable which never ends but with your being.
Yes, go on.
That can never be the good of a creature which when present the creature may be miserable, and when absent is certainly so.
I think not; but pray explain what you mean, for I am not much used to this abstract way of reasoning.
I mean all the pleasures of sense. The good of man cannot consist in the mere pleasures of sense, because when any one of those objects which you love is absent or cannot be come at you are certainly miserable; and if the faculty be impaired, though the object be present, you cannot enjoy it. So that this sensual good depends upon a thousand things without and within you and all out of your power. Can this then be the good of man? Say, Horatio, what think you, is not this a checkered, fleeting, fantastical good? Can that, in any propriety of speech, be called the good of man which even while he is tasting he may be miserable, and which when he cannot taste he is necessarily so? Can that be our good which costs us a great deal of pains to obtain, which cloys in possessing, for which we must wait the return of appetite before we can enjoy again? Or is that our good which we can come at without difficulty, which is heightened by possession, which never ends in weariness and disappointment, and which the more we enjoy the better qualified we are to enjoy on?
The latter, I think; but why do you torment me thus? Philocles, show me this good immediately.
I have showed you what it is not: it is not sensual, but it is rational and moral good. It is doing all the good we can to others, by acts of humanity, friendship, generosity, and benevolence; this is that constant and durable good which will afford contentment and satisfaction always alike, without variation or diminution. I speak to your experience now, Horatio. Did you ever find yourself weary of relieving the miserable, or of raising the distressed into life or happiness? Or rather, do not you find the pleasure grow upon you by repetition, and that it is greater in the reflection than in the act itself? Is there a pleasure upon earth to be compared with that which arises from the sense of making others happy? Can this pleasure ever be absent, or ever end but with your being? Does it not always accompany you? Doth not it lie down and rise with you, live as long as you live, give you consolation in the hour of death, and remain with you when all other things are going to forsake you, or you them?
How glowingly you paint, Philocles. Methinks Horatio is amongst the enthusiasts. I feel the passion; I am enchantingly convinced, but I do not know why; overborne by something stronger than reason. Sure some divinity speaks within me. But prithee, Philocles, give me the cause why this rational and moral good so infinitely excels the mere natural or sensual.
I think, Horatio, that I have clearly shown you the difference between merely natural or sensual good and rational or moral good. Natural or sensual pleasure continues no longer than the action itself; but this divine or moral pleasure continues when the action is over, and swells and grows upon your hand by reflection. The one is inconstant, unsatisfying, of short duration, and attended with numberless ills; the other is constant, yields full satisfaction, is durable, and no evils preceding, accompanying, or following it. But if you inquire farther into the cause of this difference, and would know why the moral pleasures are greater than the sensual, perhaps the reason is the same as in all other creatures, that their happiness or chief good consists in acting up to their chief faculty, or that faculty which distinguishes them from all creatures of a different species. The chief faculty in man is his reason, and consequently his chief good, or that which may be justly called his good, consists not merely in action, but in reasonable action. By reasonable actions we understand those actions which are preservative of the human kind and naturally tend to produce real and unmixed happiness; and these actions, by way of distinction, we call actions morally good.
You speak very clearly, Philocles; but, that no difficulty may remain on my mind, pray tell me what is the real difference between natural good and evil and moral good and evil, for I know several people who use the terms without ideas.
That may be. The difference lies only in this: that natural good and evil are pleasure and pain; moral good and evil are pleasure or pain produced with intention and design; for it is the intention only that makes the agent morally good or bad.
But may not a man with a very good intention do an evil action?
Yes; but then he errs in his judgment, though his design be good. If his error is inevitable, or such as, all things considered, he could not help, he is inculpable; but if it arose through want of diligence in forming his judgment about the nature of human actions, he is immoral and culpable.
I find, then, that in order to please ourselves rightly, or to do good to others morally, we should take great care of our opinions.
Nothing concerns you more; for as the happiness or real good of men consists in right action, and right action cannot be produced without right opinion, it behoves us, above all things in this world, to take care that our own opinions of things be according to the nature of things. The foundation of all virtue and happiness is thinking rightly. He who sees an action is right—that is, naturally tending to good, and does it because of that tendency, he only is a moral man; and he alone is capable of that constant, durable, and invariable good which has been the subject of this conversation.
How, my dear philosophical guide, shall I be able to know, and determine certainly, what is right and wrong in life?
As easily as you distinguish a circle from a square, or light from darkness. Look, Horatio, into the sacred book of nature; read your own nature, and view the relation which other men stand in to you, and you to them, and you will immediately see what constitutes human happiness, and consequently what is right.
We are just coming into town, and can say no more at present. You are my good genius, Philocles. You have showed me what is good. You have redeemed me from the slavery and misery of folly and vice, and made me a free and happy being.
Then I am the happiest man in the world. Be you steady, Horatio. Never depart from reason and virtue.
Sooner will I lose my existence. Good night, Philocles.
Adieu, dear Horatio!
The following is a dialogue between Socrates, the great Athenian philosopher, and one Glaucon, a private man, of mean abilities, but ambitious of being chosen a senator and of governing the republic; wherein Socrates in a pleasant manner convinces him of his incapacity for public affairs, by making him sensible of his ignorance of the interests of his country in their several branches, and entirely dissuades him from any attempt of that nature. There is also added, at the end, part of another dialogue the same Socrates had with one Charmidas, a worthy man, but too modest, wherein he endeavors to persuade him to put himself forward and undertake public business as being very capable of it. The whole is taken from Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, Book Third.
“A certain man, whose name was Glaucon, the son of Ariston, had so fixed it in his mind to govern the republic, that he frequently presented himself before the people to discourse of affairs of state, though all the world laughed at him for it; nor was it in the power of his relations or friends to dissuade him from that design. But Socrates had a kindness for him, on account of Plato, his brother, and he only it was who made him change his resolution. He met him, and accosted him in so winning a manner that he first obliged him to hearken to his discourse. He began with him thus:
‘You have a mind then to govern the republic?’
‘I have so,’ answered Glaucon.
‘You cannot,’ replied Socrates, ‘have a more noble design; for if you can accomplish it so as to become absolute, you will be able to serve your friends, you will raise your family, you will extend the bounds of your country, you will be known, not only in Athens, but through all Greece, and perhaps your renown will fly even to the barbarous nations, as did that of Themistocles. In short, wherever you come, you will have the respect and admiration of all the world.’
These words soothed Glaucon, and won him to give ear to Socrates, who went on in this manner. ‘But it is certain that if you desire to be honored you must be useful to the state.’
‘Certainly,’ said Glaucon.
‘And in the name of all the gods,’ replied Socrates, ‘tell me what is the first service that you intend to render the state.’
Glaucon was considering what to answer, when Socrates continued. ‘If you design to make the fortune of one of your friends you will endeavour to make him rich, and thus perhaps you will make it your business to enrich the republic?’
‘I would,’ answered Glaucon.
Socrates replied: ‘Would not the way to enrich the republic be to increase its revenue?’
‘It is very likely it would,’ answered Glaucon.
‘Tell me, then, in what consists the revenue of the state, and to how much it may amount. I presume you have particularly studied this matter, to the end that if any thing should be lost on one hand you might know where to make it good on another, and that if a fund should fail on a sudden you might immediately be able to settle another in its place?’
‘I protest,’ answered Glaucon, ‘I have never thought of this.’
‘Tell me at least the expenses of the republic, for no doubt you intend to retrench the superfluous?’
‘I never thought of this either,’ said Glaucon.
‘You were best then to put off to another time your design of enriching the republic, which you can never be able to do while you are ignorant both of its expenses and revenue.’
‘There is another way to enrich a state,’ said Glaucon, ‘of which you take no notice, and that is by the ruin [spoils] of its enemies.’
‘You are in the right,’ answered Socrates; ‘but to this end it is necessary to be stronger than they, otherwise we shall run the hazard of losing what we have. He therefore who talks of undertaking a war ought to know the strength on both sides, to the end that if his party be the stronger he may boldly advise for war, and that if it be the weaker he may dissuade the people from engaging themselves in so dangerous an enterprise.’
‘All this is true.’
‘Tell me, then,’ continued Socrates, ‘how strong our forces are by sea and land, and how strong are our enemies?’
‘Indeed,’ said Glaucon, ‘I cannot tell you on a sudden.’
‘If you have a list of them in writing, pray show it me; I should be glad to hear it read.’
‘I have it not yet.’
‘I see, then,’ said Socrates, ‘that we shall not engage in war so soon; for the greatness of the undertaking will hinder you from maturely weighing all the consequences of it in the beginning of your government. But,’ continued he, ‘you have thought of the defence of the country; you know what garrisons are necessary and what are not; you know what number of troops is sufficient in one and not sufficient in another; you will cause the necessary garrisons to be reinforced and will disband those that are useless?’
‘I should be of opinion,’ said Glaucon, ‘to leave none of them on foot, because they ruin a country on pretence of defending it.’
‘But,’ Socrates objected, ‘if all the garrisons were taken away there would be nothing to hinder the first comer from carrying off what he pleased; but how come you to know that the garrisons behave themselves so ill? Have you been upon the place? Have you seen them?’
‘Not at all; but I suspect it to be so.’
‘When therefore we are certain of it,’ said Socrates, ‘and can speak upon better grounds than simple conjectures, we will propose this advice to the senate.’
‘It may be well to do so,’ said Glaucon.
‘It comes into my mind too,’ continued Socrates, ‘that you have never been at the mines of silver, to examine why they bring not in so much now as they did formerly.’
‘You say true; I have never been there.’
‘Indeed they say the place is very unhealthy, and that may excuse you.’
‘You rally me now,’ said Glaucon.
Socrates added: ‘But I believe you have at least observed how much corn our lands produce, how long it will serve to supply our city, and how much more we shall want for the whole year, to the end you may not be surprised with a scarcity of bread but may give timely orders for the necessary provisions.’
‘There is a deal to do,’ said Glaucon, ‘if we must take care of all these things.’
‘There is so,’ replied Socrates; ‘and it is even impossible to manage our own families well unless we know all that is wanting and take care to provide it. As you see, therefore, that our city is composed of above ten thousand families, and it being a difficult task to watch over them all at once, why did you not first try to retrieve your uncle’s affairs, which are running to decay, and after having given that proof of your industry you might have taken a greater trust upon you? But now, when you find yourself incapable of aiding a private man, how can you think of behaving yourself so as to be useful to a whole people? Ought a man who has not strength enough to carry a hundred pound weight to undertake to carry a heavier burden?’
‘I would have done good service to my uncle,’ said Glaucon, ‘if he would have taken my advice.’
‘How,’ replied Socrates, ‘have you not hitherto been able to govern the mind of your uncle, and do you now believe yourself able to govern the minds of all the Athenians, and his among the rest? Take heed, my dear Glaucon, take heed lest too great a desire of power should render you despised; consider how dangerous it is to speak and entertain ourselves concerning things we do not understand; what a figure do those forward and rash people make in the world who do so; and judge yourself, whether they acquire more esteem than blame, whether they are more admired than contemned. Think, on the contrary, with how much more honor a man is regarded who understands perfectly what he says and what he does, and then you will confess that renown and applause have always been the recompense of true merit, and shame the reward of ignorance and temerity. If therefore you would be honored, endeavour to be a man of true merit; and if you enter upon the government of the republic with a mind more sagacious than usual, I shall not wonder if you succeed in all your designs.’ ”
Thus Socrates put a stop to the disorderly ambition of this man; but, on an occasion quite contrary, he in the following manner exhorted Charmidas to take an employment.
He was a man of sense and more deserving than most others in the same post; but as he was of a modest disposition he constantly declined and made great difficulties of engaging himself in public business. Socrates therefore addressed himself to him in this manner:
“ ‘If you knew any man that could gain the prizes in the public games, and by that means render himself illustrious and acquire glory to his country, what would you say of him if he refused to offer himself to the combat?’
‘I would say,’ answered Charmidas, ‘that he was a mean-spirited, effeminate fellow.’
‘And if a man were capable of governing a republic, of increasing its power by his advice, and of raising himself by this means to a high degree of honor, would you not brand him likewise with meanness of soul if he would not present himself to be employed?’
‘Perhaps I might,’ said Charmidas, ‘but why do you ask me the question?’ Socrates replied: ‘Because you are capable of managing the affairs of the republic, and nevertheless you avoid doing so, though in quality of a citizen you are obliged to take care of the commonwealth. Be no longer then thus negligent in this matter; consider your abilities and your duty with more attention, and let not slip the occasions of serving the republic and of rendering it, if possible, more flourishing than it is. This will be a blessing whose influence will descend not only on the other citizens, but on your best friends and yourself.’ ”
TO MRS. JANE MECOM1
Philadelphia, 19 June, 1731.
Yours of May 26th I received with the melancholy news of the death of sister Davenport, a loss without doubt regretted by all who knew her, for she was a good woman. Her friends ought, however, to be comforted that they have enjoyed her so long, and that she has passed through the world happily, having never had any extraordinary misfortune or notable affliction, and that she is now secure in rest in the place provided for the virtuous. I had before heard of the death of your first child, and am pleased that the loss is in some measure made up to you by the birth of a second.
We have had the smallpox here lately, which raged violently while it lasted. There have been about fifty persons inoculated, who all recovered except a child of the doctor’s, upon whom the smallpox appeared within a day or two after the operation, and who is therefore thought to have been certainly infected before. In one family in my neighbourhood there appeared a great mortality. Mr. George Claypoole (a descendant of Oliver Cromwell) had by industry acquired a great estate, and being in excellent business, a merchant, would probably have doubled it had he lived according to the common course of years. He died first, suddenly; within a short time died his best negro; then one of his children; then a negro woman; then two children more, buried at the same time; then two more; so that I saw two double buryings come out of the house in one week. None were left in the family but the mother and one child, and both their lives till lately despaired of, so that all the father’s wealth, which everybody thought a little while ago had heirs enough, and no one would have given sixpence for the reversion, was in a few weeks brought to the greatest probability of being divided among strangers; so uncertain are all human affairs. The dissolution of this family is generally ascribed to an imprudent use of quicksilver in the cure of the itch, Mr. Claypoole applying it as he thought proper without consulting a physician for fear of charges, and the smallpox coming upon them at the same time made their case desperate.
But what gives me the greatest concern is the account you give me of my sister Holmes’s misfortune. I know a cancer in the breast is often thought incurable; yet we have here in town a kind of shell made of some wood, cut at a proper time, by some man of great skill, (as they say,) which has done wonders in that disease among us, being worn for some time on the breast. I am not apt to be superstitiously fond of believing such things, but the instances are so well attested as sufficiently to convince the most incredulous.
This, if I have interest enough to procure, as I think I have, I will borrow for a time and send it to you, and hope the doctors you have will at least allow the experiment to be tried, and shall rejoice to hear it has the accustomed effect.
You have mentioned nothing in your letter of our dear parents; but I conclude they are well, because you say nothing to the contrary. I want to hear from sister Dowse, and to know of her welfare, as also of my sister Lydia, who I hear is lately married. I intended to have visited you this summer, but printing the paper money here has hindered me near two months, and our Assembly will sit the 2d of August next, at which time I must not be absent; but I hope to see you this fall. I am your affectionate brother,
LETTER FROM CELIA SINGLE1
I must needs tell you that some of the things you print do more harm than good; particularly I think so of the tradesman’s letter which was in one of your late papers, which disobliged many of our sex, and has broken the peace of several families by causing difference between men and their wives. I shall give you one instance, of which I was an eye and ear witness.
Happening last Wednesday morning to be at Mrs. W.’s when her husband returned from market, among other things he showed her some balls of thread which he had bought. “My dear,” says he, “I like mightily those stockings which I yesterday saw neighbour Afterwit knitting for her husband of thread of her own spinning. I should be glad to have some such stockings myself. I understand that your maid Mary is a very good knitter, and seeing this thread in market I have bought it that the girl may make a pair or two for me.” Mrs. W. was just then at the glass dressing her head, and turning about with the pins in her mouth, “Lord, child,” says she, “are you crazy? What time has Mary to knit? Who must do the work, I wonder, if you set her to knitting?” “Perhaps, my dear,” says he, “you have a mind to knit them yourself. I remember, when I courted you, I once heard you say that you had learned to knit of your mother.” “I knit stockings for you!” says she; “not I, truly! There are poor women enough in town who can knit; if you please, you may employ them.” “Well, but my dear,” says he, “you know a penny saved is a penny got, and there is neither sin nor shame in knitting a pair of stockings; why should you have such a mighty aversion to it? And what signifies talking of poor women? You know we are not people of quality. We have no income to maintain us but arises from my labor and industry. Methinks you should not be at all displeased when you have an opportunity of getting something as well as myself.”
“I wonder,” says she, “you can propose such a thing to me. Did not you always tell me you would maintain me like a gentlewoman? If I had married the Captain, I am sure he would have scorned to mention knitting of stockings.” “Prythee,” says he, a little nettled, “what do you tell me of your Captain? If you could have had him I suppose you would, or perhaps you did not like him very well. If I did promise to maintain you as a gentlewoman, methinks it is time enough for that when you know how to behave yourself like one. How long do you think I can maintain you at your present rate of living?” “Pray,” says she, somewhat fiercely, and dashing the puff into the powder-box, “don’t use me in this manner, for I ’ll assure you I won’t bear it. This is the fruit of your poison newspapers; there shall no more come here I promise you.” “Bless us,” says he, “what an unaccountable thing is this? Must a tradesman’s daughter and the wife of a tradesman necessarily be a lady? In short, I tell you, if I am forced to work for a living and you are too good to do the like, there ’s the door, go and live upon your estate. And as I never had or could expect any thing from you, I don’t desire to be troubled with you.”
What answer she made I cannot tell; for, knowing that man and wife are apt to quarrel more violently when before strangers than when by themselves, I got up and went out hastily. But I understand from Mary, who came to me of an errand in the evening, that they dined together very peaceably and lovingly, the balls of thread which had caused the disturbance being thrown into the kitchen fire, which I was very glad to hear.
I have several times in your paper seen reflections upon us women for idleness and extravagance, but I do not remember to have once seen such animadversions upon the men. If we were disposed to be censorious we could furnish you with instances enough. I might mention Mr. Billiard, who loses more than he earns at the green table, and would have been in jail long since had it not been for his industrious wife. Mr. Hustlecap, who, every market-day at least, and often all day long, leaves his business for the rattling of half-pence in a certain alley; or Mr. Finikin, who has seven different suits of fine clothes and wears a change every day, while his wife and children sit at home half naked; Mr. Crownhim, always dreaming over the chequer-board, and who cares not how the world goes with his family so he does but get the game; Mr. Totherpot, the tavern-haunter; Mr. Bookish, the everlasting reader; Mr. Tweedledum, and several others, who are mighty diligent at any thing besides their proper business. I say, if I were disposed to be censorious I might mention all these and more, but I hate to be thought a scandalizer of my neighbours, and therefore forbear; and for your part I would advise you for the future to entertain your readers with something else besides people’s reflections upon one another; for remember that there are holes enough to be picked in your coat, as well as others, and those that are affronted by the satire that you may publish will not consider so much who wrote as who printed, and treat you accordingly. Take not this freedom amiss from
Your friend and reader,
LETTER FROM ANTHONY AFTERWIT1
I am an honest tradesman who never meant harm to anybody. My affairs went on smoothly while a bachelor; but of late I have met with some difficulties, of which I take the freedom to give you an account.
About the time I first addressed my present spouse her father gave out in speeches that if she married a man he liked, he would give with her, two hundred pounds in cash on the day of marriage. He never said so much to me, it is true; but he always received me very kindly at his house and openly countenanced my courtship. I formed several fine schemes what to do with this same two hundred pounds, and in some measure neglected my business on that account; but unluckily it came to pass that when the old gentleman saw I was pretty well engaged and that the match was too far gone to be easily broke off, he, without any reason given, grew very angry, forbid me the house, and told his daughter that if she married me he would not give her a farthing. However (as he thought), we were not to be disappointed in that manner, but, having stole a wedding, I took her home to my house, where we were not in quite so poor a condition as the couple described in the Scotch song, who had
for I had a house tolerably furnished for a poor man before. No thanks to Dad, who I understand was very much pleased with his politic management, and I have since learned that there are other old curmudgeons (so called) besides him who have this trick to marry their daughters and yet keep what they might well spare till they can keep it no longer. But this by way of digression; a word to the wise is enough.
I soon saw that with care and industry we might live tolerably easy and in credit with our neighbours; but my wife had a strong inclination to be a gentlewoman. In consequence of this my old-fashioned looking-glass was one day broke, as she said, no one could tell which way. However, since we could not be without a glass in the room, “My dear,” saith she, “we may as well buy a large fashionable one that Mr. Such-a-one has to sell. It will cost but little more than a common glass, and will look much handsomer and more creditable.” Accordingly the glass was bought and hung against the wall; but in a week’s time I was made sensible by little and little that the table was by no means suitable to such a glass; and a more proper table being procured, some time after my spouse, who was an excellent contriver, informed me where we might have very handsome chairs in the way; and thus by degrees I found all my old furniture stowed up in the garret and every thing below altered for the better.
Had we stopped here it might have done well enough. But my wife being entertained with tea by the good women she visited, we could do no less than the like when they visited us, and so we got a tea-table with all its appurtenances of china and silver. Then my spouse unfortunately overworked herself in washing the house, so that we could do no longer without a maid. Besides this it happened frequently that when I came home at one the dinner was but just put in the pot, and my dear thought really it had been but eleven. At other times when I came at the same hour she wondered I would stay so long, for dinner was ready about one and had waited for me these two hours. These irregularities occasioned by mistaking the time convinced me that it was absolutely necessary to buy a clock, which my spouse observed was a great ornament to the room. And lastly, to my grief, she was troubled with some ailment or other, and nothing did her so much good as riding, and these hackney horses were such wretched ugly creatures that—I bought a very fine pacing mare which cost twenty pounds; and hereabouts affairs have stood for about a twelvemonth past.
I could see all along that this did not at all suit with my circumstances, but had not resolution enough to help it, till lately, receiving a very severe dun, which mentioned the next court, I began in earnest to project relief. Last Monday my dear went over the river to see a relation and stay a fortnight, because she could not bear the heat of the town air. In the interim I have taken my turn to make alterations, namely—I have turned away the maid, bag and baggage (for what should we do with a maid, who, beside our boy, have none but ourselves?). I have sold the pacing mare and bought a good milch cow with three pounds of the money. I have disposed of the table and put a good spinning-wheel in its place, which methinks looks very pretty; nine empty canisters I have stuffed with flax, and with some of the money of the tea-furniture I have bought a set of knitting-needles, for to tell you the truth I begin to want stockings. The fine clock I have transformed into an hour-glass, by which I have gained a good round sum, and one of the pieces of the old looking-glass, squared and framed, supplies the place of the great one, which I have conveyed into a closet, where it may possibly remain some years. In short, the face of things is quite changed, and methinks you would smile to see my hour-glass hanging in the place of the clock. What a great ornament it is to the room! I have paid my debts and find money in my pocket. I expect my dear home next Friday, and as your paper is taken at the house where she is, I hope the reading of this will prepare her mind for the above surprising revolutions. If she can conform herself to this new manner of living, we shall be the happiest couple perhaps in the province, and by the blessing of God may soon be in thriving circumstances. I have reserved the great glass, because I know her heart is set upon it; I will allow her when she comes in to be taken suddenly ill with the headache, the stomach-ache, fainting fits, or whatever other disorder she may think more proper, and she may retire to bed as soon as she pleases. But if I should not find her in perfect health, both of body and mind, the next morning, away goes the aforesaid great glass, with several other trinkets I have no occasion for, to the vendue that very day, which is the irrevocable resolution
Of, Sir, her loving husband, and