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neighbours of the Continent launch out into the ocean of science, without proper store for the voyage, we fear shipwreck in every breeze, and consume in port those powers, which might probably have weathered every storm.
Projectors in a state are generally rewarded above their deserts; projectors in the republic of letters, never. If wrong, every inferior dunce thinks himself entitled to laugh at their disappointment; if right, men of superior talents think their honour engaged to oppose; since every new discovery is a tacit diminution of their own pre-eminence.
To aim at excellence, our reputation, our friends, and our all must be ventured; by aiming only at mediocrity, we run no risk, and we do little service. Prudence and greatness are ever persuading us to contrary pursuits. The one instructs us to be content with our station, and to find happiness in bounding every wish. The other impels us to superiority, and calls nothing happiness but rapture. The one directs to follow mankind, and to act and think with the rest of the world. The other drives us from the crowd, and exposes us as a mark to all the shafts of envy, or ignorance. "Nec minus periculum ex magna fama quam ex mala."-Tacit.(1)
The rewards of mediocrity are immediately paid; those attending excellence generally paid in reversion. In a word, the little mind who loves itself, will write and think with the vulgar, but the great mind will be bravely eccentric, and scorn the beaten road, from universal benevolence.(2)
(1) ["Nor is there less danger from great fame than from infamy.”] (2) [Here followed, in the original edition of the Bee, a paper, entitled "A City Night Piece," with the following motto from Martial—
"Ille dolet verè qui sine teste dolet."
This beautiful essay was transferred by the author to the "Citizen of the World;" where it forms No. CXVI.]
No. V.-SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1759.
UPON POLITICAL FRUGALITY.
Frugality has ever been esteemed a virtue, as well among Pagans as Christians: there have been even heroes who have practised it. However, we must acknowledge, that it is too modest a virtue, or, if you will, too obscure a one, to be essential to heroism; few heroes have been able to attain such a height. Frugality agrees much better with politics; it seems to be the base and support, and, in a word, the inseparable companion of a just administration.
However this be, there is not, perhaps, in the world a people less fond of this virtue than the English; and, of consequence, there is not a nation more restless, more exposed to the uneasinesses of life, or less capable of providing for particular happiness. We are taught to despise this virtue from our childhood; our education is improperly directed, and a man who has gone through the politest institutions, is generally the person who is least acquainted with the wholesome precepts of frugality. We every day hear the elegance of taste, the magnificence of some, and the generosity of others, made the subject of our admiration and applause. All this we see represented, not as the end and recompense of labour and desert, but as the actual result of genius, as the mark of a noble and exalted mind.
In the midst of these praises bestowed on luxury, for which elegance and taste are but another name, perhaps it may be deemed improper to plead the cause of frugality. It may be thought low, or vainly declamatory, to exhort our youth from the follies of dress, and of every other superfluity;
to accustom themselves, even with mechanic meanness, to the simple necessaries of life. Such sort of instructions may appear antiquated; yet, however, they seem the foundations of all our virtues, and the most efficacious method of making mankind useful members of society. Unhappily, however, such discourses are not fashionable among us, and the fashion seems every day growing still more obsolete, since the press, and every other method of exhortation, seems disposed to talk of the luxuries of life as harmless enjoyments. I remember, when a boy, to have remarked, that those who in school wore the finest clothes were pointed at as being conceited and proud. At present, our little masters are taught to consider dress betimes, and they are regarded, even at school, with contempt, who do not appear as genteel as the rest. Education should teach us to become useful, sober, disinterested, and laborious members of society; but does it not at present point out a different path? It teaches us to multiply our wants, by which means we become more eager to possess, in order to dissipate, a greater charge to ourselves, and more useless or obnoxious to society.
If a youth happens to be possessed of more genius than fortune, he is early informed, that he ought to think of his advancement in the world; that he should labour to make himself pleasing to his superiors; that he should shun low company-by which is meant the company of his equals; that he should rather live a little above than below his fortune; that he should think of becoming great; but he finds none to admonish him to become frugal, to persevere in one single design, to avoid every pleasure and all flattery, which, however, seeming to conciliate the favour of his superiors, never conciliate their esteem. There are none to teach him, that the best way of becoming happy in himself and useful to others, is to continue in the state in which fortune at first
placed him, without making too hasty strides to advancement; that greatness may be attained, but should not be expected; and that they who most impatiently expect advancement, are seldom possessed of their wishes. He has few, I say, to teach him this lesson, or to moderate his youthful passions; yet, this experience may say, that a young man, who but for six years of the early part of his life could seem divested of all his passions, would certainly make, or considerably increase his fortune, and might indulge several of his favourite inclinations in manhood with the utmost security.
The efficaciousness of these means is sufficiently known and acknowledged; but as we are apt to connect a low idea with all our notions of frugality, the person who would persuade us to it, might be accused of preaching up avarice.
Of all vices, however, against which morality dissuades, there is not one more undetermined than this of avarice. Misers are described by some as men divested of honour, sentiment, or humanity; but this is only an ideal picture, or the resemblance at least is found but in a few. In truth, they who are generally called misers, are some of the very best members of society. The sober, the laborious, the attentive, the frugal, are thus styled by the gay, giddy, thoughtless, and extravagant. The first set of men do society all the good, and the latter all the evil that is felt. Even the excesses of the first no way injure the commonwealth; those of the latter are the most injurious that can be conceived.
The ancient Romans, more rational than we in this particular, were very far from thus misplacing their admiration or praise; instead of regarding the practice of parsimony as low or vicious, they made it synonymous even with probity. They esteemed those virtues so inseparable, that the known expression of Vir frugi signified, at one and the
same time, a sober and managing man, an honest man, and a man of substance.
The Scriptures, in a thousand places, praise economy; and it is every where distinguished from avarice. But, in spite of all its sacred dictates, a taste for vain pleasures and foolish expense is the ruling passion of the present times. Passion did I call it? rather the madness which at once possesses the great and the little, the rich and the poor; even some are so intent upon acquiring the superfluities of life, that they sacrifice its necessaries in this foolish pursuit.
To attempt the entire abolition of luxury, as it would be impossible, so it is not my intent. The generality of mankind are too weak, too much slaves to custom and opinion, to resist the torrent of bad example. But if it be impossible to convert the multitude, those who have received a more extended education, who are enlightened and judicious, may find some hints on this subject useful. They may see some abuses, the suppression of which would by no means endanger public liberty; they may be directed to the abolition of some necessary expenses, which have no tendency to promote happiness or virtue, and which might be directed to better purposes. Our fire-works, our public feasts and entertainments, our entries of ambassadors, &c., what mummery all this! what childish pageants! what millions are sacrificed in paying tribute to custom! what an unnecessary charge at times when we are pressed with real want, which cannot be satisfied without burthening the poor!
Were such suppressed entirely, not a single creature in the state would have the least cause to mourn their suppression, and many might be eased of a load they now feel lying heavily upon them. If this were put in practice, it would agree with the advice of a sensible writer of Sweden, who, in the Gazette de France, 1753, thus expressed himself on that subject: "It were sincerely to be