136. As in all previous discussions of our subject, we must study the relation of the commanding rich to the obeying poor in its simplest elements, in order to reach its first principles. The simplest state of it, then, is this:1 a wise and provident person works much, consumes little, and lays by a store; an improvident person works little, consumes all his produce, and lays by no store.LE2 Accident interrupts the daily work, or renders it less productive; the idle person must then starve or be supported by the provident one, who, having him, thus at his mercy, may either refuse to maintain him altogether, or, which will evidently be more to his own interest, say to him, “I will maintain you, indeed, but you shall now work hard, instead of indolently, and instead of being allowed to lay by what you save, as you might have done, had you remained independent, I will take all the surplus. You would not lay it up for yourself; it is wholly your own fault that has thrown you into my power, and I will force you to work, or starve; yet you shall have no profit of your work, only your daily bread for [262/263] it; [and competition shall determine how much 2].” This mode of treatment has now become so universal that it is supposed to be the only natural—nay, the only possible—one; and the market wages are calmly defined by economists as “the sum which will maintain the labourer.”LE3
137. The power of the provident person to do this is only checked by the correlative power of some neighbour of similarly frugal habits, who says to the labourer—“I will give you a little more than this other provident person: come and work for me.” The power of the provident over the improvident depends thus, primarily, on their relative numbers; secondarily, on the modes of agreement of the adverse parties with each other. The accidental level of wages is a variable function of the number of provident and idle persons in the world, of the enmity between them as classes, and of the agreement between those of the same class. It depends, from beginning to end, on moral conditions.
138. Supposing the rich to be entirely selfish, it is always for their interest that the poor should be as numerous as they can employ, and restrain. For, granting that the entire population is no larger than the ground can easily maintain—that the classes are stringently divided—and that there is sense or strength of hand enough with the rich to secure obedience; then, if nine—tenths of a nation are poor, the remaining tenth have the service of nine persons each;3 but, if eight—tenths are poor, only of four each; if [263/264] seven-tenths are poor, of two and a third each; if six-tenths are poor, of one and a half each; and if five-tenths are poor, of only one each. But, practically, if the rich strive always to obtain more power over the poor, instead of to raise them—and if, on the other hand, the poor become continually more vicious and numerous, through neglect and oppression,—though the range of the power of the rich increases, its tenure becomes less secure; until, at last, the measure of iniquity being full, revolution, civil war, or the subjection of the state to a healthier or stronger one, closes the moral corruption, and industrial disease.4
139 It is rarely, however, that things come to this extremity. Kind persons among the rich, and wise among the poor, modify the connexion of the classes; the efforts made to raise and relieve on the one side, and the success of honest toil on the other, bind and blend the orders of society into the confused tissue of half-felt obligation, sullenly-rendered obedience, and variously-directed, or misdirected, toil, which from the warp of daily life. But this great law rules all the wild design: that success (while society is guided by laws of competition) signifies always so much victory over your neighbour as to obtain the direction of his work, and to take the profits of it. This is the real source of all great riches. No man can become largely rich by his personal toil.5 The work of his own hands, wisely directed, will indeed always maintain himself and his family, and make fitting provision for his age. But it is only by the discovery of some method of taxing the labour of others that he can become opulent. Every increase of his capital enables him to extend this taxation more widely; that [265/265] is, to invest larger funds in the maintenance of labourers,—to direct, accordingly, vaster and yet vaster masses of labour, and to appropriate its profits.
140. There is much confusion of idea on the subject of this appropriation. It is, of course, the interest of the employer to disguise it froms the persons employed; and, for his own comfort and complacency, he often desires no less to disguise it from himself. And it is matter of much doubt with me, how far the foul and foolish arguments used habitually on this subject are indeed the honest expression of foul and foolish convictions;—or rather (as I am sometimes forced to conclude from the irritation with which they are advanced) are resolutely dishonest, wilful, and malicious sophisms, arranged so as to mask, to the last moment, the real laws of economy, and future duties of men.LE4 By taking a simple example, and working it thoroughly out, the subject may be rescued from all but such determined misrepresentation.
141. Let us imagine a society of peasants, living on a river-shore, exposed to destructive inundation at somewhat extended intervals; and that each peasant possesses of this good, but imperilled, ground, more than he needs to cultivate for immediate subsistence. We will assume farther (and with too great probability of justice), that the greater part of them indolently keep in tillage just as much land as supplies them with daily food;—that they leave their children idle, and take no precautions against the rise of the stream. But one of them, (we will say but one, for the sake of greater clearness) cultivates carefully all the ground of his estate; makes his children work hard and healthily; uses his spare time and theirs in building a rampart against the river; and, at the end of some years, has in his store–houses large reserves of food and clothing,—in his stables a well–tended breed of cattle, and around his fields a wedge of wall against flood. The torrent rises at last—sweeps away the harvests, and [255/266] half the cottages of the careless peasants, and leaves them destitute. They naturally come for help to the provident one, whose fields are unwasted, and whose granaries are full. He has the right to refuse it to them: no one disputes this right.6 But he will probably not refuse it; it is not his interest to do so, even were he entirely selfish and cruel. The only question with him will be on what terms his aid is to be granted.
142. Clearly, not on terms of mere charity. To maintain his neighbours in idleness would be not only his ruin, but theirs. He will require work from them, in exchange for their maintenance; and, whether in kindness or cruelty, all the work they can give. Not now the three or four hours they were wont to spend on their own land, but the eight or ten hours they ought to have spent.7 But how will he apply this labour? The men are now his slaves;—nothing less, and nothing more. On pain of starvation, he can force them to work in the manner, and to starvation, he chooses. And it is by his wisdom in this choice that the worthiness of his mastership is proved, or its unworthiness. Evidently, he must first set them to bank out the water in some temporary way, and to get their ground cleansed and resown; else, in any case, their continued maintenance will be impossible.10 That done, and while he has still to feed them, suppose he makes them raise a secure rampart for their own ground against all future flood, and rebuild their houses in safer places, with the best material they can find; being allowed time out of their working hours to fetch such material from a distance. And for the food and clothing advanced, he takes security in land that as much shall be returned at a convenient period.
143. We may conceive this security to be redeemed, and the debt paid at the end of a few years. The prudent [266/267] peasant has sustained no loss; but is no richer than he was, and has had all his trouble for nothing. But he has enriched his neighbours materially; bettered their houses, secured their land, and rendered them, in worldly matters, equal to himself. In all rational and final sense, he has been throughout their true Lord and King.
144. We will next trace his probable line of conduct, presuming his object to be exclusively the increase of his own fortune. After roughly recovering and cleansing the ground, he allows the ruined peasantry only to build huts upon it, such as he thinks protective enough from the weather to keep them in working health. The rest of their time he occupies, first in pulling down, and rebuilding on a magnificent scale, his own house, and in adding large dependencies to it. This done,LE5 in exchange for his continued supply of corn, he buys as much of his neighbours‘ land as he thinks he can superintend the management of; and makes the former owners securely embank and protect the ceded portion. By this arrangement, he leaves to a certain number of the peasantry only as much ground as will just maintain them in their existing numbers; as the population increases, he takes the extra hands, who cannot be maintained on the narrowed estates, for his own servants; employs some to cultivate the ground he has bought, giving them of its produce merely enough for subsistence; with the surplus, which, under his energetic and careful superintendence, will be large, he maintains a train of servants for state, and a body of workmen, whom he educates in ornamental arts. He now can splendidly decorate his house, lay out its ground magnificently, and richly supply his table, and that of his household and retinue. And thus, without any abuse of right, we should find established [267/268] all the phenomena of poverty and riches, which (it is supposed necessarily) accompany modern civilization. In one part of the district, we should have unhealthy land, miserable dwellings, and half-starved poor; in another, a wellordered estate, well-fed servants, and refined conditions of highly-educated and luxurious life.
145. I have put the two cases in simplicity, and to some extremity. But though in more complex and qualified operation, all the relations of society are but the expansion of these two typical sequences of conduct and result. I do not say, observe, that the first procedure is entirely recommendable; or even entirely right; still less, that the second is wholly wrong. Servants, and artists, and splendour of habitation and retinue, have all their use, propriety, and office. But I am determined that the reader shall understand clearly what they cost; and see that the condition of having them is the subjection to us of a certain number of imprudent or unfortunate persons (or, it may be, more fortunate than their masters), over whose destinies we exercise a boundless control. “Riches” mean eternally and essentially this; and God send at last a time when those words of our best-reputed economist shall be true, and we shall indeed “all know what it is to be rich” [JR note: (See Preface to Unto this Last); that it is to be slave-master over farthest earth, and over all ways and thoughts of men. Every operative you employ is your true servant: distant or near, subject to your immediate orders, or ministering to your widely-communicated caprice,—for the pay the stipulates, or the price he tempts,—all are alike under this great dominion of the gold. The milliner who makes the dress is as much a servant (more so, in that she uses more intelligence in the service) as the maid who puts it on; the carpenter who smooths the door, as the footman who opens it; the tradesmen who supply the table, as the labourers and sailors who supply the tradesmen. Why speak of these lower services? Painters and singers (whether of note or rhyme), [268/269] jesters and story-tellers, moralists, historians, priests,—so far as these, in any degree, paint, or sing, or tell their tale, or charm their charm, or “perform” their rite, for pay [LE: compare Unto this Last, §22] —in so far, they are all slaves; abject utterly, if the service be for pay only; abject less and less in proportion to the degrees of love and of wisdom which enter into their duty, or can enter into it, according as their function is to do the bidding and the work of a manly people;—or to amuse, tempt, and deceive, a childish one.
146. There is always, in such amusement and temptation, to a certain extent, a government of the rich by the poor, as of the poor by the rich; but the latter is the prevailing and necessary one, and it consists, when it is honourable, in the collection of the profits of labour from those who would have misused them, and the administration of those profits for the service either of the same persons in future, or of others; and when it is dishonourable, as is more frequently the case in modern times, it consists in the collection of the profits of labour from those who would have rightly used them, and their appropriation to the service of the collector himself.
147. The examination of these various modes of collection and use of riches will form the third branch of our future inquiries [LE: A reference to the intended sequel.]; but the key to the whole subject lies in the clear understanding of the difference between selfish and unselfish expenditure. It is not easy, by any course of reasoning, to enforce this on the generally unwilling hearer; yet the definition of unselfish expenditure is brief and simple. It is expenditure which, if you are a capitalist, does not pay you, but pays somebody else; and if you are a consumer, does not please you, but pleases somebody else. Take one special instance, in further illustration of the general type given above. I did not invent that type, but spoke of a real river, and of real peasantry, the languid and sickly race which inhabits, or haunts—for they are [269/270] often more like spectres than living men—the thorny desolation of the banks of the Arve in Savoy.LE6 Some years ago, a society, formed at Geneva, offered to embank the river for the ground which would have been recovered by the operation; but the offer was refused by the (then Sardinian) government. The capitalists saw that this expenditure ture would have “paid” if the ground saved from the river was to be theirs. But if, when the offer that had this aspect of profit was refused, they had nevertheless persisted in the plan, and merely taking security for the return of their outlay, lent the funds for the work, and thus saved a whole race of human souls from perishing in a pestiferous fen (as, I presume, some among them would, at personal risk, have dragged any one drowning creature out of the current of the stream, and not expected payment therefor), such expenditure would have precisely corresponded to the use of his power made, in the first instance, by our supposed richer peasant—it would have been the king’s, of grace, instead of the usurer’s , for gain.LE7
148. “Impossible, absurd, Utopian!” exclaim nine-tenths of the few readers whom these words may find. No, good reader, this is not Utopain: but I will tell you what would have seemed, if we had not seen it, Utopian on the side of evil instead of good; that ever men should have come to value their money so much more than their lives, that if you call upon them to become soldiers, and take chance of a bullet through their heart, and of wife and children being left desolate, for their pride’s sake, they will do it gaily, without thinking twice; but if you [270/271] ask them, for their country’s sake, to spend a hundred pounds without security of getting back a hundred-and-five,8 they will laugh in your face.
149. Not but that also this game of life-giving and taking is, in the end, somewhat more costly than other forms of play might be. Rifle practice is, indeed, a not unhealthy pastime, and a feather on the top of the head is a pleasing appendage; but while learning the stops and fingering of the sweet instrument, does no one ever calculate the cost [271/272] of an overture? What melody does Tityrus meditate on his tenderly spiral pipe?LE8 The leaden seed of it, broad-cast, true conical “Dents de Lion” seed—needing less allowance for the wind than is usual with that kind of herb—what crop are you likely to have of it? Suppose, instead of this volunteer marching and counter-marching, you were to do a little volunteer ploughing and counter-ploughing? [LE: See above, p. 74 and n.] It is more difficult to do it straight: the dust of the earth, so disturbed, is more grateful than for merely rhythmic footsteps. Golden cups, also, given for good ploughing, would be more suitable in colour: (ruby glass, for the wine which “giveth his colour” [LE: Proverbs xxiii. 31.] on the ground, might be fitter for the rifle prize in ladies’ hands). Or, conceive a little volunteer exercise with the spade, other than such as is needed for moat and breastwork, or even for the burial of the fruit of the laden avena-seed, subject to the shrill Lemures’ criticism—
Wer hat das Haus so schlecht gebaut?LE9
If you were to embank Lincolnshire more stoutly against the sea? or strip the peat of Solway, or plant Plinlimmon [272/273] moors with larch—then, in due season, some amateur reaping and threshing?
“Nay, we reap and thresh by steam, in these advanced days.”
I know it, my wise and economical friends. The stout arms God gave you to win your bread by, you would fain shoot your neighbours, and God’s sweet singers with;LE10 then you invoke the fiends to your farm-service; and —
When young and old come forth to play
On a sulphurous holiday,
Tell how the darkling goblin sweat
(His feast of cinders duly set),
And, belching night, where breathed the morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-labourers could not end. [LE: Ruskin here re-writes Milton: see L’ Allegro, 97–109.]
105. Going back to the matter in hand we will press the example closer. On a green knoll above that plain of the Arve, between Cluse and Bonneville, there was, in the year 1860,LE11 a cottage, inhabited by a well-doing family [273/274] —man and wife, three children, and the grandmother. I call it a cottage, but in truth, it was a large chimney on the ground, wide at the bottom, so that the family might live round the fire; lighted by one small broken window, and entered by an unclosing door. The family, I say, was “well-doing”; at least, it was hopeful and cheerful; the wife healthy, the children, for Savoyards, pretty and active, but the husband threatened with decline, from exposure under the cliffs of the Mont Vergi by day, and to draughts between every plank of his chimney in the frosty nights.
“Why could he not plaster the chinks?” asks the practical reader. For the same reason that your child cannot wash its face and hands till you have washed them many a day for it, and will not wash them when it can, till you force it.
151. I passed this cottage often in my walks, had its window and door mended; sometimes mended also a little the meal of sour bread and broth, and generally got kind greeting and smile from the face of young or old; which greeting, this year, narrowed itself into the half-recognising stare of the elder child, and the old woman’s tears; for the father and mother were both dead,—one of sickness, the other of sorrow. It happened that I passed not alone, but [274/275] with a companion, a practised English joiner,LE11 who, while these people were dying of cold, had been employed from six in the morning to six in the evening, for two months, in fitting, without nails, the panels of a single door in a large house in London. Three days of his work taken, at the right time, from fastening the oak panels with useless precision, and applied to fasten the larch timbers with decent strength, would have saved these Savoyards’ lives. He would have been maintained equally; (I suppose him equally paid for his work by the owner of the greater house, only the work not consumed selfishly on his own walls;) and the two peasants, and eventually, probably their children, saved.
152.There are, therefore,—let me finally enforce, and leave with the reader, this broad conclusion,—three things to be considered in employing any poor person. It is not enough to give him employment. You must employ him first to produce useful things; secondly, of the several (suppose equally useful) things he can equally well produce, you must set him to make that which will cause him to lead the healthiest life; lastly, of the things produced, it remains a question of wisdom and conscience how much you are to take yourself, and how much to leave to others. A large quantity, remember, unless you destroy it, must always be so left at one time or another; the only questions you have to decide are, not what you will give, but when, and how, and to whom, you will give. The natural law of human life is, of course, that in youth a man shall labour and lay by store for his old age, and when age comes, shall use what he has laid by, gradually slackening his toil, and allowing himself more [275/276] frank use of his store; taking care always to leave himself as much as will surely suffice for him beyond any possible length of life.LE12 What he has gained, or by tranquil and unanxious toil continues to gain, more than is enough for his own need, he ought so to administer, while he yet lives, as to see the good of it again beginning, in other hands; for thus he has himself the greatest sum of pleasure from it, and faithfully uses his sagacity in its control. Whereas most men, it appears, dislike the sight of their fortunes going out into service again, and say to themselves,—“I can indeed nowise prevent this money from falling at last into the hands of others, nor hinder the good of it from becoming theirs, not mine; but at least let a merciful death save me from being a witness of their satisfaction; and may God so far be gracious to me as to let no good come of any of this money of mine before my eyes.”LE13
153. Supposing this feeling unconquerable, the safest way of rationally indulging it would be for the capitalist at once to spend all his fortune on himself, which might actually, in many cases, be quite the rightest as well as the pleasantest thing to do, if he had just tastes and worthy passions. But, whether for himself only, or through the hands, and for the sake of others also, the law of wise life is, that the maker of the money should also be the spender of it, and spend it, approximately, all, before he dies; so that his true ambition as an economist should be, to die, not as rich, but as poor, as possible, 11 calculating the ebb [276/277] tide of possession in true and calm proportion to the ebb tide of life. Which law, checking the wing of accumulative desire in the mid-volley, 12 and leading to peace of possession and fulness of fruition in old age, is also wholesome in that by the freedom of gift, together with present help and counsel, it at once endears and dignifies age in the sight of youth, which then no longer strips the bodies of the dead, but receives the grace of the living. Its chief use would (or will be, for men are indeed capable of attaining to this much use of their reason), that some temperance and measure will be put to the acquisitiveness of commerce.13 For as things stand, a man holds it his duty to be temperate in his food, and of his body, but for no duty to be temperate in his riches, and of his mind. He sees that he ought not to waste his youth and his flesh for luxury; but he will waste his age, and his soul, for money, and think he does no wrong, nor know the delirium tremens of the intellect for disease. But the law of life is, that a man should fix the sum he desires to make annually, as the food he desires to eat daily; and stay when he has [277/278] reached the limit, refusing increase of business, and leaving it to others, so obtaining due freedom of time for better thoughts. [JR note: I desire in the strongest terms to reinforce all that is contained in this paragraph.] How the gluttony of business is punished, a bill of health for the principals of the richest city houses, issued annually, would show in a sufficiently impressive manner.
154. I know, of course, that these statements will be received by the modern merchant as an active border rider of the sixteenth century would have heard of its being proper for men of the Marches to get their living by the spade, instead of the spur. But my business is only to state veracities and necessities; I neither look for the acceptance of the one, nor hope for the nearness of the other. Near or distant, the day will assuredly come when the merchants of a state shall be its true ministers of exchange, its porters, in the double sense of carriers and gate-keepers, bringing all lands into frank and faithful communication, and knowing for their master of guild, Hermes the herald, instead of Mercury the gain-guarder.
155. And now, finally, for immediate rule to all who will accept it.
The distress of any population means that they need food, house-room, clothes, and fuel. You can never, therefore, be wrong in employing any labourer to produce food, house-room, clothes, or fuel; but you are always wrong if you employ him to produce nothing, (for then some other labourer must be worked double time to feed him); and you are generally wrong, at present, if you employ him (unless he can do nothing else) to produce works of art or luxuries; because modern art is mostly on a false basis, and modern luxuryLE14 is criminally great.14 [278/279]
156. . The way to produce more food is mainly to bring in fresh ground, and increase facilities of carriage;—to break rock, exchange earth, drain the moist, and water the dry, to mend roads, and build harbours of refuge.LE15 Taxation thus spent will annihilate taxation, but spent in war, it annihilates revenue.
157. The way to produce house-room is to apply your force first to the humblest dwellings. When your bricklayers are out of employ, do not build splendid new streets, but better the old ones; send your paviours and slaters to the poorest villages, and see that your poor are healthily lodged, before you try your hand on stately architecture. You will find its stateliness rise better under the trowel afterwards; and we do not yet build so well that we need hasten to display our skill to future ages. Had the labour which has decorated the Houses of Parliament filled, instead, rents in walls and roofs throughout the county of Middlesex; and our deputies met to talk within massive [279/280] walls that would have needed no stucco for five hundred years,—the decoration might have been better afterwards, and the talk now. And touching even our highly conscientious church building, it may be well to remember that in the best days of church plans, their masons called themselves “logeurs du bon Dieu”; and that since, according to the most trusted reports, God spends a good deal of His time in cottages as well as in churches, He might perhaps like to be a little better lodged there also. 158. The way to get more clothes is—not, necessarily, to get more cotton. There were words written twenty years ago15 which would have saved many of us some shivering, had they been minded in time. Shall we read them again?
“The Continental people, it would seem, are importing our machinery, beginning to spin cotton, and manufacture for themselves; to cut us out of this market, and then out of that! Sad news, indeed; but irremediable;—by no means the saddest news. The saddest news, is that we should find our National Existence, as I sometimes hear it said, depend on selling manufactured cotton at a farthing an ell cheaper than any other People. A most narrow stand for a great Nation to base itself on! A stand which, with all the Corn-Law Abrogations conceivable, I do not think will be capable of enduring.
“My friends, suppose we quitted that stand; suppose we came honestly down from it and said—‘This is our minimum of cotton-prices. We care not, for the present, to make cotton any cheaper. Do you, if it seem so blessed [280/281] to you, make cotton cheaper. Fill your lungs with cotton-fuzz, your hearts with copperas-fumes, with rage and mutiny; become ye the general gnomes of Europe, slaves of the lamp!‘—I admire a nation which fancies it will die if it do not undersell all other Nations to the end of the world. Brothers, we will cease to undersell them; we will be content to equal-sell them; to be happy selling equally with them! I do not see the use of underselling them. Cotton-cloth is already two-pence a yard or lower; and yet bare backs were never more numerous among us. Let inventive men cease to spend their existence incessantly contriving how cotton can be made cheaper; and try to invent, a little, how cotton at its present cheapness could be somewhat justlier divided among us. Let inventive men consider, Whether the Secret of this Universe . . . does after all consist in making money. . . . With a Hell which means—‘Failing to make money,‘ I do not think there is any Heaven possible that would suit one well . . . In brief, all this Mammon-Gospel, of Supply-and-demand, Competition, Laissez-faire, and Devil take the hindmost” (foremost, is it not, rather, Mr. Carlyle?), “begins to be one of the shabbiest Gospels ever preached.” [The original essay here adds: “(In the matter of clothes, decidedly”).]
159. The way to produce more fuel16 is first to make your coal mines safer, by sinking more shafts; then set all your convicts to work in them, and if, as is to be hoped, you succeed in diminishing the supply of that sort of labourer, consider what means there may be, first, of growing forest where its growth will improve climate; secondly, of splintering the forests which now make continents of fruitful land pathless and poisonous, into faggots for fire;—so gaining at once dominion icewards and sunwards. Your steam power has been given (you will find eventually) for [281/282] work such as that: and not for excursion trains, to give the labourer a moment’s breath, at the peril of his breath for ever, from amidst the cities which it has crushed into masses of corruption. When you know how to build cities, and how to rule them, you will be able to breathe in their streets, and the “excursion” will be the afternoon’s walk or game in the fields round them.LE16
160. “But nothing of this work will pay?” No; no more than it pays to dust your rooms, or wash your doorsteps. It will pay; not at first in currency, but in that which is the end and the source of currency,—in life; (and in currency richly afterwards). It will pay in that which is more than life,—inLE17 light, whose true price has not yet been reckoned in any currency, and yet into the image of which, all wealth, one way or other, must be cast. For your riches must either be as the lightning, which, Begot but in a cloud, Though shining bright, and speaking loud, Whilst it begins, concludes its violent race; And, where it gilds, it wounds the place;LE18— or else, as the lightning of the sacred sign, which shines from one part of the heaven to the other. There is no other choice; you must either take dust for deity, spectre [282/283] for possession, fettered dream for life, and for epitaph, this reversed verse of the great Hebrew hymn of economy (Psalm cxii.):—“He hath gathered together, he hath stripped the poor, his iniquity remaineth for ever:”—or else, having the sun of justiceLE19 to shine on you, and the sincere substance of good in your possession, and the pure law and liberty of life within you, leave men to write this better legend over your grave:— “He hath dispersed abroad. He hath given to the poor. His righteousness remaineth for ever.”LE20
Last modified 22 March 2019