페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

soldier repeated his blows; he had soon companions in the work; and in the course of a few minutes the huge idol was overthrown."

The above interesting extract from "The Wandering Jew" affords another proof that in the round-robin of human events the same cir cumstances are perpetually recurring, and that the present, with a few variations, is but a copy of the past, and an anticipation of the future. Virtually, if not literally, the great Serapis of England, the Dagon, the Golden Calf, the huge unholy Mammon to which every knee was bent, is at this very moment undergoing an assault not less deadly and destructive than that which was inflicted upon his glittering ancestor by the fanatics of Alexandria. In the present instance it is the worshippers of the Baal who are the assailants; but the sword of Brutus was not the less fatal because he was the friend of Cæsar, and the fall of the modern Mammon is only rendered the more certain when he becomes his own victim, and finds that his limbs are gradually lopped off by his adorers. Every body knows that his polypean power was in his faculty of reproduction, or, in other words, that the value and efficacy of money consisted in the high rate of interest which it afforded. Nothing ever constituted a more extraordinary sight, in the social system, than the deification enjoyed by a fundholder, lolling in luxurious idleness, while the pampered goose saw all his countrymen sweating with their brows and brains, and taxed in every direction to support the splendour of his apotheosis. He was the very child and champion of Mammon,-a living illustration of the old Sibylline story that a golden bough opens the gates of Elysium. But alack! insatiable capitalists have increased the stock of wealth faster than the labouring classes can use and absorb it ;-manure is of little value where there are no lands to cultivate ;— and the dung and dross of the gold mine, like any other commodity of which there is an over-supply, has become depreciated in proportion to the glut. The interest being generally lowered Government was enabled to set the dangerous precedent of reducing the funds. This was worse than the blow of the battle-axe which struck the gilded plate from off the cheek of Serapis; it was assaulting the Gog of the goldworshippers in the vital members of his strength; and as money at the present rate of interest does not possess more than half its former power, it may truly be stated that the monster's right arm has been fairly severed from his body. The first blow has been struck, and heaven and earth have not yet returned to their original chaos, but human beings have at all events approximated somewhat nearer to their intrinsic value; and the impecuniary classes may well set up a shout of triumph, that many a purse-proud and bloated man of wealth, who "bestrode the narrow earth like a Colossus," has been brought nearer to their own level.

Every day is still further lowering the financial stature of these gilt giants, and raising the height of those whose worth is in themselves. At the actual reduced value of money, every one who derives an income of fifteen hundred a year from his talents, has as good a revenue as a capitalist of fifty thousand pounds. A doctor in decent practice, or a thriving barrister, would be entitled, if they were equally ignorant, to be as arrogant and swaggering as an alderman with his plum; a favourite author may draw as largely upon his brains as many a wealthy cit upon his banker; and as for the Great Unknown, if he could but get rid of his talents, he might without disparagement be compared to

the great loan-contractor and Crœsus of the city. A marvellous change is rapidly operating in the condition of English society: hitherto the rich have always been thought wise; the time is now coming when the wisest will always be the richest. They who, like Atalanta, run after the golden pippins, will be thrown out of the course; and they who, like Hippomenes, trust more to their head than their heels, will arrive the soonest at the goal. Neither Radicals nor Spenceans ever contemplated such a revolution in property as is now carrying into effect by its largest possessors. Woe! woe! to the brainless favourites of the blind Goddess :-there is a hand-writing on the wall of Plutus's temple, which proclaims that their empire shall speedily pass away; that their power shall be transferred from the pocket to the brain; that the wise men upon 'Change shall presently ask not what a man has, but what he is; and that personal talents shall secure wealth and distinction to their owner, while talents of gold and silver shall be lying unproductive in the coffers of the ex-opulent.

Hogarth, in the picture of the Election, represents one of the mob sitting athwart the projecting sign of the King's Head, and sawing it off in such a manner, that, when he succeeds in his object, he must inevitably be precipitated to the ground, and dashed to pieces. Blind and besotted as they are, our modern money-getters are offering a not less egregious instance of stupid self-destruction by their suicidal efforts to increase that accumulation of wealth beneath which they will be ultimately smothered. Have they never, in their autumnal visits to Brighton or Margate, seen the toiling ocean throwing up a barrier of shingle against its own future encroachments? They are equally strenuous in heaping up stones by which they themselves may be knocked down, and are dedicating all their power to the achievement of insignificance. The "dirus hydrops" is at its height, and they are attempting to cure it by deeper potations of the "aurum potabile." The goose lays them golden eggs every day, and they are cutting her up for more. Heavens! what are the recent inundations of our seas and rivers to the Pactolian deluge which is to overwhelm us from every province of South Ame rica? The whole continent of Columbus is already mined and undermined and cnuntermined from one end to the other, and as the goldfreighted fleets are wafted to our shores, we may shortly expect that our very pot-girls shall realize the fable of Danae. When America was discovered, the Peruvians and Potosians attached so little value to this yellow metal, that they used it for the meanest kitchen utensils, and eagerly exchanged it for iron. Yet a little while and we bid fair to be placed in the same predicament; and when the spade shall be of more value, because more useful, than the ingot, what will be the situation of the nominally wealthy? Successful in all their speculations, they will only the more quickly exemplify the fate of Midas, who turned every thing he touched to gold, and was starved to death in the midst of his magnificence. If their asinine ears were open to advice, I would whisper them that though they may read of the "auri sacra fames," they can neither eat nor drink gold; and that, to quote a homely proverb, they are not likely to make the pot boil by bringing coals to Newcastle. I would moreover remind them that the approaching era will be a golden age rather for those who are without that commodity, than for those who have it, and that they must possess something more than a glittering mineral, if they wish to avoid becoming paupers.

And all these Assurance, and Gas, and Steam Navigation, and Pearl Fishery, and Railway Companies, and the more fantastical associations for vending milk, and washing linen, and transplanting Smithfield, and making Tunnels,-all these chimerical projects, which ransack the four elements for their theory, and the tour quarters of the earth for their developement, what are they but the agonies and convulsions of expiring wealth, endeavouring to extort a high interest from visions when it can no longer be extracted from realities, and only doomed to exemplify the fate of the clown, who, having no more sheep to fleece, attempted to shear his hogs, and was rewarded for his pains with great cry and little wool? It may be a little while protracted by these delusions, but, if we remain at peace, there will be no averting the inevitable doom of wealth. Down the huge idol must come: government will repeat the blow; the battle-axe will again be raised against the dismembered Serapis; the three per cents, will be reduced to two, to one per cent. and ultimately the monster will be overthrown amid the triumphant shouts of the impecuniary classes. When this consummation is accomplished, the whole society of England will form a pleasant company of penny less ladies and gentlemen, offering the singular spectacle of a very primitive and agrarian state as to property, combined with all the wants and luxuries of advanced civilization. There will be a social equality, with the greatest possible individual inequality. We shall all have to start afresh and work for our bread, while there will be thousands of gouty, bloated, indolent, and ignorant ex-opulents, who will neither have the means, mental or corporeal, of earning their subsistence. Physical power will of course take the lead, and there will no longer be the smallest necessity for poor rates; talents will presently surpass brute force; and the professions, as being the most useful, will attain the highest rank, constituting a nobility of industry as a contrast to the aristocracy of indolence. The latter, however, will be allowed to retain their titles; and if they can cover their backs with their coat of armis, cut firewood from their genealogical tree, and chew the names of their ancestors, which are for ever in their mouths, so as to convert them into food for their stomachs, they may still be as comfortable and as well off as ever.

The great mass of the state annuitants, however, will unquestionably become paupers, who cannot in common humanity be left to starve, and for whose support the laborious and the talented classes will doubtless come forward with the characteristic liberality of Englishmen. Once liberated from the poor laws, no one will think of again opening that Pandora's box of all mischief and misery; but as prevention is better than cure, it is highly necessary that we should each, to the best of our ability, anticipate the coming crisis, and I therefore beg leave to submit to the consideration of the public a new paper, and a new project which I propose to entitle a

Plan for the Employment of the Ex-Opulent.

For the consolation of the unfortunate class who are destined to be relieved by this benevolent institution, and that I may alleviate their mental as well as their pecuniary distresses, I shall begin by appealing to their own candour whether they ever derived felicity from their former wealth, and whether it is not a startling inconsistency to be unhappy at the loss of that, the possession of which conferred no happiness. The gra

tifications which opulence can bestow are finite; its power of annoyance. infinite; with its pleasures we are soon satiated; its cares and anxieties become more acute the longer they are endured. Some great cottonspinner, we have lately been told by the papers, now owns four of the finest country-mansions in England. He can only reside at and enjoy the delights of one at a time, while he is liable to be simultaneously pelted with all the vexations to which the other three may subject him. His second bailiff may write him word that the poachers have ravaged his favourite preserves and dragged his fishponds; his third that the inundations have drowned his cattle and thrown down an expensive wall; his fourth that a fire in the library has consumed his rare books and choice pictures: and all these pleasant epistles may be deposited upon his breakfast-table at the same moment. This case is thrown out for the consideration of the ex-opulent, who are moreover invited to reflect, that although wealth does not render life more pleasant, it makes death more terrible; and that it cannot purchase us a friend, while it converts heirs and relatives into enemies, eagerly wishing for our departure, that they may lavish in one year what we have been perhaps hoarding for fifty.

In announcing to the lazy and polished paupers whom we purpose to relieve, that they will be expected to take to some honest employment, they will no doubt be shocked in the first instance at the novel and degrading idea of their becoming in any way useful to society. But their pride need not be altogether inconsolable. England at large felt no humiliation when Napoleon reproached her with being a shopkeeping nation. A celebrated political economist, not less remarkable for the profundity of his researches and the acuteness of his intellect, than for the exalted speculations to which both are dedicated, observes that Nature herself, either literally or typically, sets us an example of every trade which she wishes us to pursue. Thus of the four elements he remarks, that earth may be denominated a gardener, ocean a tidewaiter, fire a lamplighter, air a bellows-blower. The sun he terms a tanner, the stars nightmen, using Charles's wain in the way of business, the dust a blind-maker, time a habit maker or tooth-drawer, and so on; but as many, perhaps, may deem his discovery visionary and fantastical, we shall proceed at once to the developement of our plan for the relief of these patrician and polite paupers.

A great portion of our mendicant gentry will have been fortunately qualified, even by the nature of their idleness, for the new habits of industry which we shall chalk out for them, and cannot reasonably object to perform for their subsistence what they have long practised for their amusement. Those addicted to the turf, horse-racing, hunting, and similar equestrian pursuits, will be sure of obtaining comfortable situations as grooms, jockeys, ostlers, horse-dealers, livery stable keepers, or whippers in, of which characters they have always affected the appearance. Tyrants of the trigger, who have invariably considered the life of a fellow creature secondary to that of a pheasant, will form admirable gamekeepers; and if they are shot by poachers, or caught in one of their own steel-traps, will have the consolation of knowing that the game laws from which their sufferings flow, have originated with themselves. Gamblers, from the long habit of shaking their elbows and sitting up all night, will find no inconvenience in offi

ciating as fiddlers for a ball-room: the nocturnal shouters of Bacchanalian songs may set the hours of the night to any tune they please, and sing them in our streets as parochial watchmen: card-players may manufacture the packs which they used to shuffle and cut; epicures may cook the victuals which they formerly criticised; Bond-street loungers may put on a blue coat and red waistcoat, and pursue their peripatetics as the street police; City money-scrapers may be set to work at scraping the Macadamized roads, or employed in our mines; and by devoting other classes to pursuits equally adapted to their habits, we shall quickly be relieved from a great portion of these unfortunate ex-opulents.

There will remain, however, a pretty considerable assortment of fashionable young brothers, smart small annuitants, and "pleasant fellows about town," whose principal occupation has been that of dining out and ministering to the entertainment of the company as professed wags, droll dogs, and comical chaps. As the dinner-givers in the new era will be all men of bustling life, much too busy to cut their own jokes, it may be highly desirable to continue these merry-andrews in their profession, enabling them to live by a retaining fee for every meal, equivalent to that which is bestowed upon our public singers. Avoid ance of unnecessary labour being the characteristic of all modern improvements, they will doubtless form themselves into an association to facilitate their duties. Like the club of country curates, who met together once a month to exchange sermons, they should have stated assemblages for the general transfer of jokes; for the bon-mots which have been used up and become stale in one district, may come out perfectly fresh and original in another, and thus be upon actual service for many months, before they have completed the round of the metropolis. How much preferable this system to the wasteful expenditure of new facetiæ! Clerks, however, should be kept constantly employed in the composition of original jeux d' esprit upon all subjects of passing interest, to which subscribers should only become entitled upon paying double, till they were a little hackneyed, when they should be received into the common stock at the ordinary price. A fund should be esta blished, and the utmost value given for gentlemen's old jokes, provided they were not worn too threadbare. Contracts for this purpose should instantly be made with Mr. Jekyll, Lord Norbury, Theodore Hook, and other established wags, who should be bound down, under a heavy penalty, not to vend their cast puns and second-hand sallies to any other establishment. Regular collections from Joe Miller should be kept for civic feasts or illiterate parties, upon whom it would be a waste of wit to lavish more modern stores; and private lessons might be given to thriving dunces aspiring to the reputation of being wits. They might even be provided with decently dressed members of the society to accompany them to parties, as cousins just arrived from the country, and enable them to let off a whole volley of provided puns and preconcerted impromptus. Persons sent out on this delicate mission, for which a handsome remuneration would be expected, should be warranted not to get tipsy, and not to venture upon any jokes of their own when they have used up the stock with which they were entrusted, after which period they should be strictly enjoined to depart, or at all events to say nothing more when they have nothing more to say.

« 이전계속 »