John Hopkins's Notions on Political Economy
IN the time of the Fairies, things went on no better than they do at present. John Hopkins, a poor labourer, who had a large family of children to support upon very scanty wages, applied to a Fairy for assistance. "Here am I half starving," said he, "while my landlord rides about in a fine carriage; his children are pampered with the most dainty fare, and even his servants are bedizened with gaudy liveries: in a word, rich men, by their extravagance, deprive us poor men of bread. In order to gratify them with luxuries, we are debarred almost the necessaries of life."—"'Tis a pitiable case, honest friend," replied the Fairy, "and I am ready to do all in my power to assist you and your distressed friends. Shall I, by a stroke of my wand, destroy all the handsome equipages, fine clothes and dainty dishes, which offend you?"—"Since you are so very obliging," said honest John, in the joy of his heart, "it would perhaps be better to destroy all luxuries whatever: for, if you confine yourself to those you mention, the rich would soon have recourse to others; and it will scarcely cost you more than an additional stroke of your wand to do the business outright, and get rid of the evil root and branch."
No sooner said than done. The good-natured Fairy waved her all-powerful wand, and, wonderful to behold! the superb mansion of the landlord shrunk beneath its stroke, and was reduced to a humble thatched cottage. The gay colours and delicate textures of the apparel of its inhabitants faded and thickened, and were transformed into the most ordinary clothing; the green-house plants sprouted out cabbages, and the pinery produced potatoes. A similar change took place in the stables and coach-house: the elegant landau was seen varying in form, and enlarging in dimensions, till it become a waggon; while the smart gig shrunk and thickened into a plough. The manes of the horses grew coarse and shaggy, their coats lost all brilliancy and softness, and their legs became thick and clumsy: in a word, they were adapted to the new vehicles they were henceforward to draw.
Honest John was profuse in his thanks, but the Fairy stopped him short. "Return to me at the end of the week," said she; "it will be time enough for you to express your gratitude when you can judge how much reason you have to be obliged to me."
Delighted with his success, and eager to communicate the happy tidings to his wife and family, John returned home. "I shall no longer," said he to himself, "be disgusted with the contrast of the rich and the poor: what they lose must be our gain, and we shall see whether things will not now go on in a different manner." His wife, however, did not receive him with equal satisfaction; for, on having gone to dress herself (it being Sunday) in her best cotton gown, she beheld it changed to a homely stuff; and her China tea-pot, given her by her landlord's wife, and on which she set no small store, though the handle was broken, was converted into crockery ware!
She came with a woful countenance to communicate these sad tidings to her husband. John hemmed and hawed, and at length wisely determined to keep his own counsel, instead of boasting of being the author of the changes which had taken place. Presently his little boy came in crying. "What ails you, Tommy?" said the father, half pettishly, and somewhat suspecting that he might have caused his tears also. "Why, daddy," replied the urchin, "as I was playing at battledore with Dick, the shuttlecock flew away and was lost, and the battledores turned into two dry sticks, good for nothing but to be burnt." "Psha!" cried the father, who was beginning to doubt whether he had not done a foolish thing. In order to take time to turn over the subject in his mind, and console himself for his disappointment, he called for his pipe. The good wife ran to fetch it, when, lo and behold! the pipes were all dissolved! there was pipe-clay in plenty, but no means of smoking. Poor John could not refrain from an oath, and, in order to pacify him, his wife kindly offered him a pinch of snuff. He took the box: it felt light, and his mind misgave him as he tapped it. It was with too much cause; for, on opening it, he found it empty! At length, being alone, he gave vent to his vexation and disappointment. "I was a fool," cried he, "not to desire the Fairy to meddle with the luxuries of the rich only. God knows, we have so few, that it is very hard we should be deprived of them. I will return to her at the end of the week, and beg her to make an exception in our favour." This thought consoled for awhile; but, long before the end of the week, poor John had abundance of cause to repent of all he had done. His brother Richard, who was engaged in a silk manufactory, was, with all the other weavers, turned out of work. The silk had disappeared; the manufacturers, with ruin staring them in the face, had sent their workmen out upon the wide world. Poor John, conscience-struck, received his starving brother into his house. "You will see great changes for the better soon," said he, "and get plenty of work."—"Where and how?" cried Richard. But that was more than John would say.
Soon after, Jack, his eldest son, returned home from the coachmaker with whom he worked; all the carriages being changed into waggons, carts, and ploughs. "But why not remain with your master, and work at the carts instead of the coaches?" said his father.—"Nay, but he would not keep me, he had no work for me; he had more carts and waggons than he could dispose of for many a day: the farmers, he said, had more than they wanted, and the cartwright business was at an end, as well as coachmaking."
John sighed; indeed, he well-nigh groaned with compunction. "It is, however, fortunate for me," said he, "that I earn my livelihood as a labourer in the fields. Corn and hay, thank God! are not luxuries; and I, at least, shall not be thrown out of work."
In a few days, however, the landlord, on whose estate he worked, walked into the cottage. John did not immediately know him, so much was his appearance altered by a bob wig, a russet suit of clothes, and worsted stockings. "John," said he, "you are an honest hard-working man, and I should be sorry you should come to distress. Here are a couple of guineas, to help you on till you can find some new employment, for I have no further occasion for your services." John's countenance, which had brightened up at the sight of the gold, now fell most heavily. He half suspected that his landlord might have discovered the author of all the mischief (for such he could no longer conceal from himself that the change really was), and he muttered, that "he hoped he had not offended his honour?" "Do not honour me: we are all now, methinks, peasants alike. I have the good fortune, however, to retain my land, since that is not a luxury; but the farm is so much larger than, in my present style of living, I have any occasion for, that I mean to turn the greater part of it into a sheep-walk, or let it remain uncultivated."—"Bless your honour, that would be a sad pity! such fine meadows, and such corn! But cannot you sell the produce, as before? for corn and hay are not luxuries."—"True," replied the landlord, "but I am now living on the produce of less than half my estate; and why take the trouble to cultivate more? for since there are no luxuries to purchase, I want no more money than to pay my labourers, and buy the homely clothes I and my family are now obliged to wear. Half the produce of my land will be quite sufficient for these purposes."
Poor John was now reduced to despair. The cries of distress from people thrown out of work every where assailed his ears. He knew not where to hide his shame and mortification till the eventful week had expired, when he hastened to the Fairy, threw himself on his knees, and implored her to reverse the fatal decree, and to bring back things to what they had been before. The light wand once more waved in the air, but in a direction opposite to that in which it before moved; and immediately the stately mansion rose from the lowly cottage; the heavy teams began to prance and snort, and shook their clumsy harness till they became elegant trappings: but most of all was it delightful to see the turned-off workmen running to their looms and their spindles; the young girls and old women enchanted to regain possession of their lost lace-cushions, on which they depended for a livelihood; and every thing offering a prospect of wealth and happiness, compared to the week of misery they had passed through.
John grew wise by this lesson; and, whenever any one complained of the hardness of the times, and laid it to the score of the expenses of the rich, took upon him to prove that the poor were gainers, not losers, by luxuries; and when argument failed to convince his hearers, he related his wonderful tale. One night at the public house, Bob Scarecrow, who was one of the listeners, cried out, "Ay, it is all fine talk, folks being turned out of work if there were no luxuries; but for his part, he knew it, to his cost, that he at least lost his livelihood because his master spent his all in luxuries. The young lord whom he served as gamekeeper set no bounds to his extravagance, until he had not a farthing left; and then his huntsmen, his hounds, his gamekeeper, and his laced livery-servants, were all sent off together! Now, I should be glad to know, honest John," added Bob, "whether we lost our places because there was too much luxury, or too little?" John felt that there was some truth in what Bob said; but he was unwilling to give up the point. At length a bright thought struck him, and he triumphantly exclaimed, "Too few, Bob! why, don't you see, that as long as your master spent his money too freely in luxuries, you kept your places, and when he was ruined and spent no more, you were turned off?"
Bob, who was a sharp fellow, saw the weakness of John's argument, and replied, "that it was neither more nor less than a quibble, fit for a pettifogging lawyer; for," said he, "suppose that every man of substance were to spend his all, and come to ruin, a pretty plight we poor folks should be in: and you can't deny, that, if the rich lived with prudence, and spent only what they could afford, they would continue to keep us in employment." John felt convinced; and he was above disowning it. "I grant you," said he, "that there may be too much luxury as well as too little, as was the case with your young lord. But then you must allow, that if a man don't spend more than he can afford, that is, if he don't injure himself, we have no reason to complain of his luxuries, whatever they may be, because they give us work, and that not for a short time, after which we are turned off, as was your case, but regularly and for a continuance."
John now went home, satisfied that the expenses of the rich could not harm the poor, unless the expenses first injured the rich themselves. No bad safeguard, thought he; and as he trudged on, pondering it in his mind, he came to this conclusion:—
"Why then, after all, the rich and the poor have but one and the same interest—that is very strange! I always thought they had been as wide apart as the east is from the west! But now I am convinced that the comforts of the poor are derived from the riches of the rich."
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