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general principle, whose very generality is perilous to the conscience ? It is indeed. “Here, perhaps, lies the great peril of business, in the generality of the rule. For conscience does not in most cases definitely say, “ Thou shalt do this thing, and thou shalt do that.” It says always, “ Thou shalt do right,” but what that is, is not always clear. And hence it is, that a man may take care to offend against no definite remonstrance of conscience, and that he may be, in the common acceptation, an honest man; and yet, that he may be a selfish, exacting, and oppressive man; a man who can never recognise the rights and interests of others; who can never see anything but on the side that is favourable to himself; who drowns the voice of his modest neighbour, with always and loudly saying, “ Oh! this is right,” and “tìat can't be”—a man, in fine, who, although he seldom, perhaps never, offends against any assignable or definite precept of conscience, has swerved altogether from all uprightness and generosity. What then is to be done? A work, I answer, of the most ennobling character. A man must do more than to attain to punctilious honesty in his actions; he must train his whole soul, his judgment, his sentiments, and affections, to uprightness, candour, and good will.
In fine, I look upon business as one vast scene of moral action. “ The thousand wheels of commerce, with all their swift and complicated revolutions, I regard as an immense moral machinery. Meanness and cunning may lurk amidst it, but it was not designed for that degradation. That must be a noble scene of action, where conscience is felt to be a law. And it is felt to be the law of business; its very violations prove it such. It is the enthroned sovereign of the plan; disobedience, disloyalty, give attestation to it. Nothing is too holy to connect with it. There is a temple in one of the cities of Europe, through which is the very passage to the market-place; and those who pass there often rest their burthens to turn aside and kneel at the altar of prayer. So were it meet that all men should enter upon their daily business. The temple of mammon should be the temple of God. The gates of trade should be as the entrance to the sanctuary of conscience. There is an eye of witnessing and searching scrutiny fixed upon every one of its doings. The presence of that all-seeing One, not confined, as some imagine, to tho silent church or the solitary grove the presence of God, I think it not too solemn to say, is in every countingroom and warehouse of yonder mart, and ought to make it holy ground,
I have thus attempted to show that business has an ultimate, moral end-ono going beyond the accumulation of property.
This may also be shown to be true, not only on the scale of our private affairs, but on the great theatre of history. Commerce has always been an instrument in the hands of Providence, for accomplishing nobler ends than promoting the wealth of nations. It has been the grand civilizer of nations. It has been the active principle in all civilization; or, to speak more accurately, it has presented that condition of things in which civilization has always rapidly advanced
, and without which, it never has. The principles of civilization, properly speaking, are the principles of humanity--the natural desire of knowledge, liberty, and refinement. But commerce seems to have been the germ, the original spring, that has put all other springs in action. Liberty has always followed its steps; and with liberty,
science and religion have gradually advanced and improved, and never Fithout it. All those kingdoms of central Asia, and of Europe too, which commerce has never penetrated, have been, and are, despotisms. With its earliest birth on the Mediterranean shore, freedom was born. Phænicia, the merchants of whose cities, Tyre and Sidon, were accounted princes; the Hebrew commonwealth, which carried on a trade through those parts; the Grecian, Carthaginian, and Roman States, were not only the freest, but they were the only free states of antiquity. In the middlle ages commerce broke down, in Europe, the feudal system, raising up, in the Hanse Towns, throughout Germany, Sweden, and Norway, a body of men who were able to cope with barons and kings, and to wrest from them their free charters and rightful privileges. In England, its influence is proverbial; the sheetanchor, it has long been considered, of her unequalled prosperity and intelligence. On our own happy shores it has a still more unobstructed field, and is destined, I trust, to spread over the whole breadth of our interior domain, wealth, cultivation, and refinement.
Its moral influences are the only ones of which we stand in any doubt, and these, it need not be said, are of unequalled importance. The philanthropist, the Christian, the Christian preacher, are all bound to watch these influences with the closest attention, and to do all in their power to guard and elevate them. To this work I am attempting to contribute my humble part; and I conceive that I have now come to the grand principle of safety and improvement, viz. that trade is essentially a moral business; that it has a moral end more important than success; that the attainment of this end is better han the acquisition of wealth, and that the failure of it is worse than any commercial failure-worse than bankruptcy, poverty, ruin.
It is upon this point that I wish especially to insist; but there aro one or two topics that may previously claim some attention.
If, then, business is a moral dispensation, and its highest end is moral, I shall venture to call in question the commonly supposed desirableness of escaping from it—the idea which prevails with so many of making a fortune in a few years, and afterwards of retiring to a state of leisure. If business really is a scene of worthy employment and of high moral action, I do not see why the moderate pursuit of it should not be laid down in the plan of entire active life; and why, upon this plan, a man should not determine to give only so much time each day to his avocations as would be compatible with such a plan; only so much time, in other words, as will be compatible with the daily enjoyment of life, with reading, society, domestic intercourse, and all the duties of philanthropy and devotion. If the merchant does not dislike or despise his employment-and it is when he makes himself the mere slave of business that he creates the greatest real objections to it—if
, I say, he looks upon his employment as lawful and laudable, an appointment of God to accomplish good purposes in this world, and better for the next; why should he not, like the physician, the lawyer, and clergyman, like the husbandman and artisan, continue in it, through the period of active life, and adjust his views, expectations, and engagements, to that reasonable plan? But now, instead of this, what do we see around us? Why, men are engaging in business—here, at home, in their own country, in the bosom of their families, and amidst their friends--as if
they were in a foreign and infectious clime; and must be in haste to make their fortunes, that they may escape with their lives to some place of safety, ease, and enjoyment!
And now, what sort of preparation for retirement is this life, absorbed in business? It is precisely that sort of preparation that unfits a man for retirement. Nothing will work well or agreeably in experience, which has not some foundation in previous habits and practice. But for all those things which are to be a man's resources in retirement, his previous life, perhaps, has given him not a moment of time. He has really no rural tastes; for he has scarcely seen the country for years, except on hurried journeys of business; the busy wheels of commerce now, alas! roll through the year, and he is chained to them every month. He has made no acquaintance with the fine arts; no music has there been for his car but the clink of gold; no pictures for his eye but fine coloured drawings of houses and lots, or of fancy villages and towns. He has cultivated no habits of reading; and-what I hold to be just as fatal to the happiness of any life, retired or active-he has cultivated no habits of devotion. Add to all this, that he is thrown upon the dangerous state of luxurious leisure-that prepared, enriched, productive hot-bed of prurient imaginations and teeming passionswithout any guards against its moral perils. And what is likely to be the consequence? He will become perhaps an indolent and bloated sensualist, cumbering the beautiful grounds on which he vegetates rather than lives; or, from the violent change of his habits, you will soon hear, perhaps, that without any other cause than the change, he is dead; or he may live on, in weariness and ennui, wishing in his heart that he were back again, though it were to take his place behind the counter of the humblest shop.
I do not pretend, of course, that I am portraying the case of every man, who is proposing to retire from business. There are those, doubtless, whose views of retiring are reasonable and praiseworthy; who do not propose to escape from all employment; who are living religiously and virtuously in the midst of their business, and not unwisely intending to make up for the deficiency of those qualities in retirement; who wish to improve and beautify some pleasant rural abode, and thus, and in many other ways, to be useful to the country around them. Το such a retirement I have nothing to object: and I only venture to suggest, as an obvious dictate of good sense, that he who proposes, some day, to retire from business, should, in the meantime, cultivate those qualities and habits which will make him happy in retirement. But this I also say, that I do more than doubt, whether any man, who is completely engrossed in business, from morning till night, for twenty or thirty years, can be prepared to enjoy or improve a life of leisure.
Another topic, of which I wish to speak, is the rage for speculation. I wish to speak of it now in a particular view-as interfering, that is to say, with the moral end of business. And here, again, let me observe, that I can have nothing to do with instances, with exceptions. I can only speak of the general tendency of things. And it is not against speculation simply, that I have anything to allege. All business possesses more or less of this character. Everything is bought on the expectation of selling it for more. But this rage for speculation, this eagerness of many for sudden and stupendous accumulation, this spirit
of gambling in trade, is a different thing. It proceeds on principles entirely different from the maxims of a regular and pains-taking business. It is not looking to diligence and fidelity for a fair reward, but to change and chance for a fortunate turn. It is drawing away men's minds from the healthful processes of sober industry and attention to business, and leading them to wait in feverish excitement, as at the wheel of a lottery. The proper basis of success-vigilant care and labour-is forsaken for a system of baseless credit. Upon this system, men proceed, straining their means and stretching their responsibilities, till, in calm times, they can scarcely hold on upon their position; and when a sudden jar shakes the commercial world, or a sudden blast sweeps over it, many fall, like untimely fruit, from the towering tree. of fancied prosperity. Upon this system, many imagine that they are doing well, when they are not doing well. They rush into expenses, which they cannot afford, upon the strength, not of their actual, but of their imaginary or expected means. Young men, who, in former days, would have been advised to walk a while longer, and patiently to tread the upward path, must buy horses and vehicles for their accommodation, and, mounted upon the car of fancied independence, they are hurried only to swifter destruction.
This system of rash and adventurous speculation overlooks all the moral uses and ends of business. To do business and get gain, honestly and conscientiously, is a good thing. It is a useful discipline of the character. I look upon a man who has acquired wealth, in a laudable, conscientious, and generous pursuit of business, not only with a respect far beyond what I can feel for his wealth-for which indeed, abstractly, I can feel none at all-but with the distinct feeling that he has acquired something far more valuable than opulence. But for this discipline of the character, for the reasonableness and rectitude of mind which a regular business intercourse may form, speculation furnishes but a narrow field, if any at all; such speculation, I mean, as has lately created a popular phrensy in this country about the sudden acquisition of property. The game which men were playing was too rapid, and the stake too large, to admit of the calm discriminations of conscience, and the reasonable contemplation of moral ends. Wealth came to be looked upon as the only end; and immediate wealth was the agitating prize. Men could not wait for the slow and disciplinary methods, by which Providence designed that they should acquire it; but they felt as if it were the order of Providence, that fortunes should fall direct from heaven into their open hands. Rather should we not say, that multitudes did not look to heaven at all, but to speculation itself instead, as if it were a god, or some wonder-working magician at least, "that was suddenly to endow them with opulence. Acquisition became the story of an Arabian tale; and men's minds were filled with romantic schemes, and visionary hopes, and vain longings, rather than with sobriety, and candour, and moderation, and gratitude, and trust in Heaven.
This insane and insatiable passion for accumulation, ever ready, when circumstances favour, to seize upon the public mind, is that "love of money which is the root of all evil," that "covetousness which is idolatry." It springs from an undue, an idolatrous estimate of the value of property. Many are feeling, that nothing-nothing will do for
them or for their children, but wealth ; not a good character, not welltrained and well-exerted faculties, not virtue, not the hope of heavennothing but wealth. It is their god, and the god of their families. Their sons are growing up to the same worship of it, and to an equally baneful reliance upon it for the future; they are rushing into expenses which the divided property of their father's house will not enable them to sustain ; and they are preparing to be, in turn and from necessity, slaves to the same idol. How truly is it written, that “they that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition!” There is no need that they should be rich; but they will be rich. All the noblest functions of life may be discharged without wealth, all its highest honours obtained, all its purest pleasures enjoyed; yet I repeat it, nothing, nothing will do but wealth. Disappoint a man of this, and he mourns as if the highest end of life were defeated. Strip him of this; and, this gone, all is gone. Strip him of this, and I shall point to no unheard of experience, when I say—he had rather die than live!
The grievous mistake, the mournful evil implied in this oversight of the great spiritual end, which should be sought in all earthly pursuits, is the subject to which I wished to draw your attention in the last place. It is not merely in the haste to be rich, accompanied with the intention to retire from business to a state of luxuuions and self indulgent leisure; it is not merely in the rage for speculation, that the evils of overlooking the moral aim of business are seen; but they sink deep into the heart, in the ordinary walks of regular and daily occupation; dethroning the spiritual nature from its proper place, vitiating the affections, and losing some of the noblest opportunities for virtue that can be lost on earth.
The spiritual nature, I say, is dethroned from its proper place, by this substitution of the immediate end, wealth, for the ultimate end, virtue. Who is this being that labours for nothing but property, with no thought beyond it; with the feeling that nothing will do without it; with the feeling that there are no ends in life that can satisfy him, if that end is not gained? You will not tell me that it is a being of my own fancy. You have probably known such; perhaps some of you are such. I have known men of this way of thinking, and men, too, of sense and of amiable temper. Who, then, I ask again, is this being? He is an immortal being; and his views ought to stretch themselves to eternity-ought to seek an ever-expanding good. And this being, so
immortal in his nature, so infinite in faculties—to what is he looking? To the sublime mountain range that spreads along the horizon of this world? To the glorious host of glittering stars, the majestic train of night, the infinite regions of heaven? No—his is no upward gaze, no wide vision of the world—to a speck of earthly dust he is looking. He might lift his eye, a philosophic eye, to the magnificence of the uniperse, for an object; and upon what is it fixed? Upon the mole-hill beneath his feet! That is bis end. Everything is nought, if that is
, gone. He is an immortal being, I repeat; he may be enrobed in that vesture of light, of virtue, which never shall decay; and he is to live through such ages, that the time shall come, when to his eye all the splendours of fortune, of gilded palace and gorgeous equipage, shall be no more than the spangle that falls from a royal robe ; and yet, in tl.at