Introductory Lectures on Political Economy
I have all along spoken of the possession of National Wealth, as more favourable than poverty, to moral improvement, supposing other points equal. For there are several other points in which such inequalities may exist as shall affect the result. Wise or unwise Laws and Customs,—a better or worse Religion,—and other such variations of circumstances, do indeed tend to make a great difference as to the advancement of a society in wealth; but they also make a difference as to the results of its wealth; so that National Prosperity is not every where in an exact ratio to intellectual culture and refinement of manners; nor these, again, to the moral condition of the society. Two nations may be equal in wealth, yet unequal in the higher and better part of civilization; or the superiority may even be on the side of the poorer. But when this is the case, that superiority must be attributed to some other cause rather than to poverty; if, at least, the general conclusion be just, which, I have endeavoured to shew, is deducible, both from a consideration of the nature of Man, and from a wide observation. To argue hastily from a scanty induction, leads to the fallacy described by Logicians under the title of "non causa pro causa;" by which the incautious are often brought to mistake even an impediment in spite of which some effect has been produced, for the very cause of that effect.
And such would be our procedure, if, on observing some poorer community to be more moral and enlightened than a richer one, we should attribute this difference to their comparative degrees of wealth, and should advise, as Mandeville does, a voluntary impoverishment, as the expedient for improving morals.*30
But it is necessary here to premise, that when I speak of national wealth as an advantage with a view to moral improvement, I mean, wealth in proportion to the population. This seems sufficiently obvious; but it is yet necessary to be mentioned, because other views of the comparative wealth of different communities are often taken; and that, very suitably, when the questions at issue are different. If any one, for instance, were speaking of the wealth requisite for the building and maintenance of a Navy, or the erection of some public edifice, or other national work, he would place the Russian Empire far above such States as Hamburgh, or Geneva; though they are, in proportion to their population, much richer.
Again, for other purposes, the wealth of a nation would be computed according to that of the richest individuals. A dealer, for instance, in the most costly pictures, statues, or jewels, might find, that in a given Country he could not dispose of his most valuable articles: this or that People, he would say, is too poor to purchase such things; and he might find a ready sale for these in another country, whose collective wealth, in proportion to its population, might be much less, but great part of it distributed in larger masses among a few individuals. It is evident, that for our present purpose, it is the wealth of the people generally, not of a few individuals, that is to be considered.
With equal wealth however, and in the same sense of the phrase, different communities may be considerably unequal in the most important points of civilization, from various causes; most of which do indeed exert a considerable influence, even in respect of wealth itself, but yet have, besides this, a direct effect also on the national character, and tend to promote, or retard, or entirely stop, the advancement of a people in intelligence, or in morality, or in both.
The character of their religion, for instance, makes a great difference: and in this respect the most eminent nations of antiquity laboured under a great disadvantage, as compared with those of Christendom; and of these, such as are more or less enthralled by various superstitions, are far from being on a level with those who have approached nearer to the religion of the Bible. To the diffusion of knowledge, in particular, a narrow-minded and timid bigotry,—a system of pious fraud,—or spiritual tyranny, disguised in the garb of Christianity, are even more opposed than Paganism itself; which (as a religious system) may be considered as neutral and indifferent to it; while evangelical religion absolutely requires it, since it cannot be really embraced without a certain degree of education. The direct effects of religion on national character, few will be disposed to deny, even of those who believe in no religion; since of several different forms of superstitious error, supposing all religions to be such, one may at least be more compatible with moral improvement than another.
Not however that religion has not an indirect effect also, through its influence on national Prosperity. To take one point out of many: War, which, if Christianity were heartily and generally embraced, would be wholly unknown, has been, even as it is, much mitigated by that humanizing influence. Now War is, in the present day, generally regarded, though to a far less degree than it really is, as a great destroyer of wealth. But the direct demoralizing effect of War is probably still greater than its impoverishing effect. The same may be said of Slavery, in its various forms, including the serfship of the Russians, and, I believe, the Hungarians. If both Slavery and War were at an end, the wealth of nations would increase, but their civilization in the most important points would increase in a still greater ratio.
If again there be a community whose foundation has been laid with a population chiefly consisting of the worst kind of slaves—transported criminals, the scum and refuse of another country, (which Lord Bacon long ago proclaimed to be "a wicked and unblessed thing,") and if, from time to time, fresh supplies be poured into it, of the sweepings of jails—such a community, though its natural advantages of soil, climate, and situation, may enable it nevertheless to advance in wealth, must have but a wretched prospect in respect of moral improvement.*31 And if a colony, so constituted, prove, not so much a place of dreaded punishment to the convicts sent out to it, as a nursery of vice, sending back, from time to time, such as have become the most thorough proficients in villainy, the moral condition of the mother-country also, must suffer from the operation of the system.
A community, again, would, cæteris paribus, labour under a great disadvantage in respect of advancement in virtue at least, whose institutions were such as tended to arm against the laws large bodies of such persons as were not, in the outset, destitute of all moral principle, but whose mode of life was a fit training to make them become so. Such are, Poachers and Smugglers. An excessive multiplication of the latter class is produced by the enactment of laws, whose object is, not revenue, but the exclusion of foreign productions for the supposed benefit of domestic industry. Whatever may be thought of the expediency of those laws, with a view to national wealth, all must agree, that the extension of smuggling must produce the most demoralizing effects.
Again, among nations equal in wealth, the greatest and most important varieties may exist in respect of its distribution. If a large proportion of the wealth of a community consist of the enormous and overgrown fortunes of a few, that community has by no means such promising prospects in respect of the intellectual and moral advancement of the rest of the people, or even of the possessors of those fortunes, with one which enjoys a greater diffusion of wealth. "That state of society," (says the late Professor in his Introductory Lecture,) "in which the productiveness of labour, and the mode in which it is applied, secure to the labouring classes all the necessaries and some of the conveniences of life, seems to be, not merely conducive, but essential, both to their morals and their happiness."
Again, it is a point of the highest importance in many respects, what course the prevailing current of expenditure takes, in a nation of considerable wealth. And in this point different ages and countries exhibit great diversities. In some, the favourite, and, in short, most fashionable style of expenditure shall be in masques and pageants, feasts, and fire-works, and things of that nature, which perish in the very act of using; in others, in sumptuous dress, which is but a little less perishable; in others again, in furniture; or again, in buildings, paintings, libraries, gardens and museums. It will be apparent on a detailed and extensive survey, that every advance from a more gross or puerile, to a more refined and tasteful, and at the same time more rational and useful, style of expenditure, is both the effect, and again also a cause, of a general advance in civilization. A coarse profusion in the most perishable articles, and again, the delight in tawdry kind of splendour, and shewy ornament, are characteristics of a semi-barbarous people.
These however, and several other circumstances which tend to produce inequality in different communities in respect of moral advancement, it will be sufficient to have thus, generally and briefly, pointed out to your notice.
The points which more particularly claim our attention at present, are, those circumstances more immediately connected with national wealth, which may prove unfavourable to national morality.
The first of these is, one result of the division of labour when carried to a great extent;—the evil of reducing each man too much to the condition of a mere machine, or rather of one part of a machine; the result of which is, that the mind is apt to be narrowed—the intellectual faculties undeveloped, or imperfectly and partially developed, through the too great concentration of the attention on the performance of a single, and sometimes very simple, operation.
With respect to this point, I cannot perhaps do better than to cite the remarks of A. Smith on the evil in question, and on the remedy proposed for it. "In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him, not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging; and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life.... renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance, in any other employment than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.
"It is otherwise in the barbarous societies, as they are commonly called, of hunters, of shepherds, and even of husbandmen in that rude state of husbandry which precedes the improvement of manufactures, and the extension of foreign commerce. In such societies the varied occupations of every man oblige every man to exert his capacity, and to invent expedients for removing difficulties which are continually occurring: Invention is kept alive, and the mind is not suffered to fall into that drowsy stupidity, which, in a civilized society, seems to benumb the understanding of almost all the inferior ranks of people.... In such a society indeed, no man can well acquire that improved and refined understanding, which a few men sometimes possess in a more civilized state. Though in a rude society there is a good deal of variety in the occupations of every individual, there is not a great deal in those of the whole society. Every man does, or is capable of doing, almost every thing which any other man does, or is capable of doing. Every man has a considerable degree of knowledge, ingenuity, and invention; but scarce any man has a great degree. The degree, however, which is commonly possessed, is generally sufficient for conducting the whole simple business of the society. In a civilized state, on the contrary, though there is little variety in the occupations of the greater part of individuals, there is an almost infinite variety in those of the whole society. These varied occupations present an almost infinite variety, of objects to the contemplation of those few, who, being attached to no particular occupation themselves, have leisure and inclination to examine the occupations of other people. The contemplation of so great a variety of objects necessarily exercises their minds in endless comparisons and combinations, and renders their understandings, in an extraordinary degree, both acute and comprehensive. Unless those few, however, happen to be placed in some very particular situations, their great abilities, though honourable to themselves, may contribute very little to the good government or happiness of their society. Notwithstanding the great abilities of those few, all the nobler parts of the human character may be, in a great measure, obliterated and extinguished in the great body of the people.
"The education of the common people requires, perhaps, in a civilized and commercial society, the attention of the public more than that of people of some rank and fortune.... The common people have little time to spare for education. Their parents can scarce afford to maintain them even in infancy. As soon as they are able to work, they must apply to some trade by which they can earn their subsistence. That trade too is generally so simple and uniform as to give little exercise to the understanding; while, at the same time, their labour is both so constant and so severe, that it leaves them little leisure and less inclination to apply to, or even to think of, any thing else.
"But though the common people cannot, in any civilized society, be so well instructed as people of some rank and fortune, the most essential parts of education, however, to read, write, and account, can be acquired at so early a period of life, that the greater part even of those who are to be bred to the lowest occupations, have time to acquire them before they can be employed in those occupations. For a very small expense the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.
"The public can facilitate this acquisition, by establishing in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate, that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly, paid by the public; because, if he was wholly, or even principally paid by it, he would soon learn to neglect his business. In Scotland the establishment of such parish schools has taught almost the whole common people to read, and a very great proportion of them to write and account. In England the establishment of charity-schools has had an effect of the same kind, though not so universally, because the establishment is not so universal. If in those little schools the books, by which the children are taught to read, were a little more instructive than they commonly are; and if, instead of a little smattering of Latin, which the children of the common people are sometimes taught there, and which can scarce ever be of any use to them; they were instructed in the elementary parts of geometry and mechanics, the literary education of this rank of people would perhaps be as complete as it can be. There is scarce a common trade which does not afford some opportunities of applying to it the principles of geometry and mechanics, and which would not therefore gradually exercise and improve the common people in those principles, the necessary introduction to the most sublime as well as to the most useful sciences.
"The public can encourage the acquisition of these most essential parts of education by giving small premiums, and little badges of distinction, to the children of the common people who excel in them.
"The public can impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education, by obliging every man to undergo an examination or probation in them before he can obtain the freedom in any corporation, or be allowed set up any trade, either in a village, or town corporate."*32
On this passage I need hardly remark, that the religious education (to which our Author does not advert) of the children of the poor, and that, up to a much higher point than is at present generally thought of among us, ought to occupy a prominent place. And instruction on several other points also might, I am convinced, be very easily and very advantageously added. There are some very simple but important truths belonging to the science we are now engaged in, which might with the utmost facility be brought down to the capacity of a child, and which, it is not too much to say, the Lower Orders cannot even safely be left ignorant of. One of them I adverted to in a former Lecture. Can the labouring classes, (and that too in a country where they have a legal right to express practically their political opinions,) can they safely be left to suppose, as many a demagogue is ready, when it suits his purpose, to tell them, that inequality of conditions is inexpedient, and ought to be abolished—that the wealth of a man whose income is equal to that of a hundred labouring families, is so much deducted from the common stock, and causes a hundred poor families the less to be maintained;—and that a general spoliation of the rich, and equal division of property, would put an end to poverty for ever?"*33
"If a horse" (says Mandeville, in his treatise against Charity-schools) "knew as much as a man, I should not like to be his rider." There is a reason for this beyond what was in the author's mind. It would be not only unsafe, but unjust, to treat a rational Being (which, on that supposition, the horse would be) as a slave; governed, not for his own benefit, (however humanely,) but for his master's. If in any country it is the settled plan to keep the Lower Orders in this kind of brutish subjection, it is at least consistent to keep them in brutish ignorance also. But where they are admitted not only to freedom, but also, many of them, to a share of political power, it is the height of inconsistency to neglect any means of instructing them how to make a good use of their advantages. It seems preposterous to reckon a man fit to take a part in the management of a ship, and yet unfit to learn anything of navigation.
Much of that kind of knowledge to which I have been alluding, might easily be embodied, in an intelligible and interesting form, not merely in regular didactic treatises, but in compilations of history, or of travels, and in works of fiction, which would afford amusement as well as instruction. For, amusement, of one kind or another, men will seek, and find: and it is therefore a great point gained in respect of morality, if the mass of the people can be provided with such as shall be, even merely not hurtful. He who advertised a reward for any one who should discover a new pleasure, would have deserved well of mankind, if he had stipulated that it should be innocent. It is not enough to teach the people to read, and then merely to put the Bible into their hands. Books should be written expressly for their use, (and how can men of education be more laudably occupied?) not merely of grave instruction, but also such as may form in them a taste that shall tend to withdraw them, in their hours of recreation also, from all that is gross and corrupting.
To the workmen in large manufactories in particular, assistance of such a kind as A. Smith speaks of, is, from the peculiarly monotonous character of their employment,*34 the most needed, and, from their being collected in such large bodies, the most easily afforded. Some large manufacturers have accordingly established schools and chapels, appropriated to the use of their enormous families. It is, I cannot but think, a disgrace to the nation, that this procedure is not, and has not been long since, universal. Since A. Smith wrote, much has been done in England in regard to the education of the people. But much remains to be done. If we compare our present condition in this point, not with what it was thirty years ago, but with what it ought to be, we shall find less reason for self-satisfied exultation, than for increased exertion.
As for the danger apprehended from overeducating the labouring classes, I shall offer some observations presently, on the true character of that danger, and on the means of averting it.
I wish first to call your attention to another inconvenience which may result from a high degree of division of labour: I mean, the additional liability to the evil of being thrown out of employment. I cannot describe this better than in the words of the late Professor.
After adverting to the remark of M. Garnier, in his notes to the French translation of A. Smith, that in France no man of health and strength need be without employment, which that Author attributes to the absence of such restrictions as our poor-laws impose, Mr. Senior observes, that nevertheless the common people in France are worse fed, and incomparably worse clothed, than in England; and adds, that "the French labourer being employed in more capacities than the Englishman, has more trades to turn to, and for that very reason is less efficient at any one. The Russian is probably more seldom out of employ than the Frenchman, and the Tartar, less frequently than either. But I believe nothing to be more clearly established than that, cæteris paribus, the productiveness of labour is in proportion to its subdivision; and that, cæteris paribus, in proportion to that subdivision must be the occasional suffering from want of employment."
"A Savage may be compared to one of his own instruments, to his club, or his adze, clumsy and inefficient, but yet complete in itself.*35 A civilized artificer is like a single wheel or roller, which when combined with many thousand others in an elaborate piece of machinery, contributes to effects which seem beyond human force and ingenuity; but alone is almost utterly useless."
The inconvenience here described is both an evil in itself, and also (what is more especially to our present purpose) tends towards a demoralizing effect through the medium of the occasional distress resulting from it. It is an inconvenience which, though it may be greatly mitigated, cannot, I think, be entirely obviated, in an advanced state of Society, without not only foregoing the advantage of the division of labour, but introducing the most oppressive compulsory enactments; since, where there is a free competition, that workman will always obtain a preference, who, from having chiefly confined himself to one kind of operation, possesses superior skill. It is proverbial, that the man of many trades does not thrive, being, in each department, surpassed by others; and resembling Homer's Margites, who practised many arts, but all, unskilfully:
But there are means by which the evil in question may be much alleviated. A small degree of care in education will diminish the extreme helplessness which is often found in manufacturing labourers. The women in particular are often so improvident, in devoting themselves exclusively and unremittingly to a single operation, for the sake of earning higher wages for the present, that they grow up ignorant of the common domestic offices; and when they marry, are wholly dependent on such as they hire for those purposes; so that a fall of wages, or want of work, reduces their families to a state of much greater discomfort, than others, with the same absolute poverty, have to encounter. The plan has been adopted accordingly in many schools, of teaching the children, even of both sexes, both needlework and several other little manual arts, which at all times may be a convenience to them, and, in emergencies, may materially alleviate the pressure of distress.
Another expedient which provident good-sense would suggest as a safeguard against the worst extremities of this evil, is, that the several members of a family should betake themselves, as far as that is possible, to different occupations; by which means, as it will very seldom happen that a stagnation of trade will equally affect all at the same time, they will be enabled to assist each other. Each family may thus in some degree combine within itself the variety of employments which exists in the whole community; in which, now one, and now another class, will be comparatively depressed, though the whole may be prosperous and advancing.
It is true, the proposed expedient can be but very imperfectly adopted in a town that is the seat of some great manufacture which absorbs perhaps four-fifths of the inhabitants; and even in other cases, there is generally some little advantage in point of convenience and of present gain, in the opposite procedure: but it is the very province of prudence, to sacrifice a smaller immediate, to a greater future, benefit.
But the great resource is, in habits of forethought and frugality. The Savings-Banks, which Bishop Sumner recommended with such philanthropic zeal, and, which he has happily lived to see very generally established, have done, and are doing, incalculable good in this way; though, if they had become general some ten or twenty years earlier, at the time when wages were at the highest, they would have saved probably much moral degradation, resulting from the distress which followed. It happens as a fortunately countervailing circumstance, that in those very employments which are the most liable to fluctuation, wages are, generally speaking, the highest: so that in prosperous times, the workman of steady habits, and not, like the savage, a slave to present gratification and thoughtless of the future, may accumulate a little store, which, when employment falls short, may either enable him to subsist till times improve again, or till he shall have acquired a competent skill in some other kindred art; or else, to remove with his family to some place where he can earn support.
Of the two evils then, which are connected with the division of labour, the contraction of the faculties and consequent debasement of mind, resulting from a too limited range of occupation, and, the danger of being thrown out of work, the appropriate remedies are, I think, to be found in judicious education, and habits of provident frugality. That advanced state of Society, which is the most exposed to the evils, is also the most favourable to the application of the remedies.
The other danger to which a community may be exposed, through great and increasing wealth, is connected with that augmentation and diffusion of knowledge, and of intellectual culture, to which it naturally leads. Many apprehend mischief from what they call overeducation of the mass of the people; the too great amount, or too sudden increase, of the knowledge placed within their reach—of their taste for intellectual pursuits—and their disposition to think and judge for themselves. They are thence, it is said, disposed to be puffed up with conceit at their superiority to their unenlightened forefathers, arrogant, and averse to subordination—deeming themselves competent to decide on every question—rashly embracing crude theories, and craving after innovation, from an idea that all ancient institutions must be either obsolete remnants of a state of general barbarism and darkness, or contrivances of fraudulent oppressors for imposing on the simple.
I am far from thinking that serious dangers of this kind do not arise as accompaniments of the Progress of Society, in wealth, and in knowledge, and intelligence. But I am convinced they do not arise from the too great amount, or too great diffusion, of mental cultivation, but from misdirected and disproportionate cultivation. And this misdirection does not consist so much in the imparting of knowledge which had better be withheld from a particular class, or the exercise of faculties which, in them, had better be left dormant, as in the violation of proportion—the neglect of preserving a due balance between different studies and different mental powers. No illustration will better explain my meaning than that of the bodily growth. A child neglected at the period of growth, will become ricketty and deformed, from some of the limbs receiving perhaps no absolutely undue increase, but a disproportioned increase; while others, do not indeed shrink, nor perhaps cease to grow, but do not increase at the same rate. In such a case, we sometimes say that the head or the trunk is grown too large for the limbs; meaning, however, not absolutely, but relatively;—not that the growth of one part is in itself excessive, but that the other parts have not kept pace with it. And though such a distortion is worse even than a general dwarfish and stunted growth, it is obvious that a full and regular development of all the parts, is far preferable to either; and also, that it is, when Nature is making an effort towards growth, not only more desirable, but more practicable, to make that an equable and well-proportioned growth, than to repress it altogether. We should endeavour rather to strengthen the weak parts, than to weaken the strong. But if we take no pains to do either the one or the other, it is plain that both the corporeal, and also the intellectual and moral, expansion, must lead to disease and deformity.
As far as relates to Religion, the most important point of all, both in itself, and as far as relates to the question now more immediately before us, I will avail myself of the words of a recent publication, which express sentiments in which I wholly coincide.
"A vast and momentous moral crisis is rapidly approaching—the rise of Education throughout the mass of the People. Amidst pretensions to sensible spiritual communion on the one hand, and a careful avoidance of recognizing any divine interposition on the other—amidst theories invented or imported, that would subject the sacred volume to the rules of mere ordinary criticism, opposed only in partial and personal controversy—a large portion of the community, which has been hitherto uneducated, is suddenly roused into free inquiry, and furnished with ability to perceive all that darkens and deforms the subject; but—it must be owned and lamented—not furnished with that spiritual training, which alone enables the inquirer to see his way through it.
"It is not that the people at large are without any religious and moral instruction—it is not that they have absolutely less now than heretofore—they have probably more. But the progress of spiritual and worldly knowledge is unequal; and it is this inequality of progress that constitutes the danger. It is a truth which cannot be too strongly insisted on, that if the powers of the intellect be strengthened by the acquisition of science, professional learning, or general literature—in short, secular knowledge, of whatever kind, without being proportionately exercised on spiritual subjects, its susceptibility of the objections which may be urged against Revelation will be increased, without a corresponding increase in the ability to remove them. Conscious of having mastered certain difficulties that attach to subjects which he has studied, one so educated finds it impossible to satisfy himself about difficulties in Revelation; Revelation not having received from him the same degree of attention; and, forgetful of the unequal distribution of his studies, charges the fault on the subject. Doubt, discontent, and contemptuous infidelity, (more frequently secret than avowed,) are no unusual results. It seems indeed to have been required of us by the Author of Revelation, that his Word should have a due share of our intellect, as well as our heart; and that the disproportionate direction of our talents, no less than of our affections, to the things of this world, should disqualify us for faith. What is sufficient sacred knowledge for an uneducated person, becomes inadequate for him when educated; even as he would be crippled and deformed, if the limb which was strong and well-proportioned when he was a child, should have undergone no progressive change as his bodily stature increased, and he grew into manhood. We must not think to satisfy the divine law, by setting apart the same absolute amount as the tithe of our enlarged understanding, which was due from a narrower and more barren field of intellectual culture.
"Nor let it be imagined that this is true only of minds highly gifted, and accomplished in science, elegant literature, or professional pursuits. It is not the absolute amount of worldly acquirements, but the proportion that they bear to our religious attainments, be these what they may, that is to be dreaded. If the balance of intellectual exercise be not preserved, the almost certain result will be, either an utter indifference to religion; or else, that slow-corroding scepticism, which is fostered by the consciousness, that difficulties corresponding to those that continue to perplex our view of Revelation have, in our other pursuits, been long surmounted and removed."*37
It may be added, that with respect to another matter also of high importance in itself, and (as I trust has been shewn) not unconnected with religion,—Political-Economy,—as ignorance, or erroneous views concerning it, are in themselves to be deprecated, so, there is here also, an especial danger in a disproportionate neglect. For since men who regard themselves as generally well-educated, will always, however uneducated they may in fact be in respect of these subjects, reckon themselves, though they may shun the name of Political-Economy, competent judges of the questions pertaining to it, which appear to be every one's business, the consequence must be, that their education on other points will only serve to superadd to their ignorance, the rashness of confident self-conceit.
How far either in respect of these or of other points any given community may be exposed to the dangers resulting from an ill-regulated and disproportionate growth, must depend on the rapidity of its increase in wealth and intelligence, combined with the negligence, or the obstinacy, with which its members forget, or refuse, to conform themselves to the situation in which they are placed:—to the degree of prevalence (to speak more precisely) of two opposite errors: one, that of such as deprecate the increase and spread of intellectual culture, as in itself an evil, though an evil which, after all, they can only murmur at, but not effectually repress; and look back with vain regret on those ages of primitive rudeness and torpid ignorance, which they cannot recall; the other, that of those whose views, though more cheerful, are not more enlightened—who hail with joy every symptom of any kind of advancement, without at all troubling themselves to secure an equable and well-balanced advancement; or apprehending, or ever thinking of, any probable mischief from the want of it. The one party sighs for the restoration of infancy; the other exults in the approach of a distorted maturity.
This subject, if fully developed, would alone occupy a considerable volume. It will be sufficient for our present purpose, to have merely pointed out to you the considerations which deserve your attention, and to have slightly hinted at the circumstances which may occasion one community to avail itself better, and another worse, of the advantages which wealth and civilization afford, with a view to moral improvement.
It is plain, that if, of two communities equal in wealth, the one were to make the wisest, the other the most unwise, use of this advantage, their moral conditions would be immensely different; though it would be not the less true, that a real advantage had been placed within the reach of both.
Let it be supposed, for instance, that in the one, the higher classes were anxiously occupied in diffusing the blessings of education among the people, and had provided adequately for the instruction both of children and adults; taking care that the most essential points of education should occupy the foremost place, and the next to them, the next; and exercising the judgment of a cultivated understanding as to the relative importance of each, and as to the best modes of conveying instruction in each: let us suppose their wealth to be employed in making an adequate provision for a sufficient number of respectable religious teachers, and of places of worship, to meet fully the wants of their population: let the schools again, for the education of the children of their own class, be conducted on a similar principle; making sound religious instruction, and the cultivation of sincere and practical religious habits, the primary object of attention, and placing every other branch of education in its proper order; taking especial care not to let shewy accomplishments become a readier path to distinction than substantial cultivation of the understanding; and guarding most sedulously against that besetting danger, the introduction into their schools of a wrong code of morality—a false point of honour, distinct from, or at variance with, Christian principle: let their Universities, again, and other institutions for ulterior education, be so regulated as to exhibit in the disposition of their endowments, the full efficiency of well-directed wealth, in carrying on a plan of manly instruction, of which the foundations should have been laid in earlier years; not sending forth into the world, to assume the office of legislators and directors of public afairs, such as shall have completed their education without having ever even begun the study of the subjects with which they are to be conversant, except so far as they may have taken upon trust some long-venerated prejudices; but men qualified for the high profession they are to follow, by a preparation analogous to what is required even of the humblest artisan:—let these objects, and such as these, occupy the attention, and employ the resources of an enlightened and opulent community—let these be, I do not say, perfectly attained, (since perfection is not to be expected of man,) but at least sedulously aimed at,—proposed as objects—thought of; (and this surely is no impossibility:)—and let the other community, perversely or negligently, pursue, in all or in many of these points, an opposite course; and it is easy to pronounce which of the two is employing its wealth with the better prospect of success, in attaining superior objects;—which is likely to improve, and which, to stand still or fall back, in respect of true national greatness;—which is the more advanced, and has the fairer prospect of advancing towards a higher and better kind of civilization than any nation has hitherto exhibited. And yet each party shall have received perhaps the very same number of Talents, though the one promises fair to double them, and the other is in danger of having them taken away.
I have thought it best thus to introduce the subject of Political-Economy, by directing your attention to some of the topics by which the current prejudices against the study may be removed, and its importance evinced, because I feel certain that you will often have occasion to encounter such prejudices, and will often meet with persons who underrate that importance.
In my next Lecture, I shall endeavour to explain some practical principles relative to the mode in which the Science should be studied, which I think ought to be kept in view by those who are engaged in, and especially by those who are first entering on, the pursuit.
Notes for this chapter
The lady who was exhibited some time ago, who being born without arms or legs, practised needlework, painting, and other arts, notwithstanding the deficiency, did indeed absolutely excel many whose bodily conformation is perfect: but those who are conscious of inferiority to her in those arts, would not be therefore recommended to throw away their natural advantages, but to make the most of them;—to aim at greater proficiency by learning to employ their hands, not by cutting them off.
See article "Transportation," in No. I. of the London Review, and since appended to a "Letter to Earl Grey on Secondary Punishments."
Vol. iv. p. 182-188. The Author has not perhaps much exaggerated the stupid narrow-mindedness of the labouring classes where their education is totally neglected: but he appears to have very greatly over-rated the intelligence, the thoughtfulness, and the mental activity of Barbarians.
See Sermon "on Education," preached at Halesworth.
As a set-off against this, however, it should be remembered, that manufacturers who are collected in large bodies have the advantage of mutual intercourse to sharpen their faculties, to a much greater extent than agricultural labourers. In most instances they may even during their work be engaged in conversation; which, however unprofitable and even hurtful in other respects, at least affords some intellectual exercise. And if their conversation be on the whole of a hurtful or frivolous character, must not this be attributed in great measure to the want of a well-conducted education?
It is curious to contrast the case of Alexander Selkirk, who was left for some years on the Island of Juan Fernandez, with that of a Musquito-Indian mentioned in Dampier's voyages, who was also left (but by accident) on the very same Island, for about as long a time. The savage cheerfully exercised all the little ingenuity possessed by his tribe, in providing himself with such implements, clothing, and habitation, as he had been accustomed to; and was found living in much the same style as prevails among the nation of Indians. The European was overwhelmed with melancholy, and seems scarcely to have exerted any of his powers.
Plato, in his Erastæ, represents Socrates ridiculing one who represented a Philosopher as this kind of person, having a slight knowledge of various arts, but perfect in none, and like the Pentathlete in the Games. When, says he, good artists are to be had, such a one is useless.
Hinds on Inspiration, p. 4-6.
End of Notes
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