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life, and taught men to portion out their esteem to other qualities than usefulness, agriculture still maintained its reputation, and was taught by the polite and elegant Celsus among the other arts.
The usefulness of agriculture I have already shown; I shall now, therefore, prove its necessity: and, having before declared, that it produces the chief riches of a nation, I shall proceed to show, that it gives its only riches, the only riches which we can call our own, and of which we need not fear either deprivation or diminution.
Of nations, as of individuals, the first blessing is independence. Neither the man nor the people can be happy to whom any human power can deny the necessaries or conveniencies of life. There is no way of living without the need of foreign assistance, but by the product of our own land, improved by our own labour. Every other source of plenty is perishable or casual.
Trade and manufactures must be confessed often to enrich countries; and we ourselves are indebted to them for those ships by which we now command the sea from the equator to the poles, and for those sums with which we have shown ourselves able to arm the nations of the north in defence of regions in the western hemisphere. But trade and manufactures, however profitable, must yield to the cultivation of lands in usefulness and diguity.
Commerce, however we may please ourselves with the contrary opinion, is one of the daughters of Fortune, inconstant and deceitful as her mother; she chooses her residence where she is least expected, and shifts her abode when her continuance is, in appearance, most firmly settled. Who can read of the present distresses of the Genoese, whose only choice now remaining is, from what monarch they shall solicit protection? Who can see the Hanseatick towns in ruins, where, perhaps, the inhabitants do not always equal the number of the houses, but he will say to himself, these are the cities, whose trade enabled them once to give laws to the world, to whose merchants princes sent their jewels in pawn, from whose
treasuries armies were paid, and navies supplied? And who can then forbear to consider trade as a weak and uncertain basis of power, and wish to his own country greatness more solid, and felicity more durable?
It is apparent, that every trading nation flourishes, while it can be said to flourish, by the courtesy of others. We cannot compel any people to buy from us, or to sell to us. A thousand accidents may prejudice them in favour of our rivals; the workmen of another nation may labour for less price, or some accidental improvement, or natural advantage, may procure a just preference to their commodities; as experience has shown, that there is no work of the hands, which, at different times, is not best performed in different places.
Traffick, even while it continues in its state of prosperity, must owe its success to agriculture; the materials of manufacture are the produce of the earth. The wool which we weave into cloth, the wood which is formed into cabinets, the metals which are forged into weapons, are supplied by nature with the help of art. Manufactures, indeed, and profitable manufactures, are sometimes raised from imported materials, but then we are subjected, a second time, to the caprice of our neighbours. The natives of Lombardy might easily resolve to retain their silk at home, and employ workmen of their own to weave it. And this will certainly be done when they grow wise and industrious, when they have sagacity to discern their true interest, and vigour to pursue it.
Mines are generally considered as the great sources of wealth, and superficial observers have thought the possession of great quantities of precious metals the first national happiness. But Europe has long seen, with wonder and contempt, the poverty of Spain, who thought herself exempted from the labour of tilling the ground, by the conquest of Peru, with its veins of silver. Time, however, has taught even this obstinate and haughty nation, that without agriculture they may, indeed, be the transmitters of money, but can never be the possessours. They may dig
it out of the earth, but must immediately send it away to purchase cloth or bread, and it must at last remain with some people wise enough to sell much, and to buy little; to live upon their own lands, without a wish for those things which nature has denied them.
Mines are themselves of no use, without some kind of agriculture. We have, in our own country, inexhaustible stores of iron, which lie useless in the ore for want of wood. It was never the design of Providence to feed man without his own concurrence; we have from nature only what we cannot provide for ourselves; she gives us wild fruits, which art must meliorate, and drossy metals, which labour must refine.
Particular metals are valuable, because they are scarce; and they are scarce, because the mines that yield them are emptied in time. But the surface of the earth is more liberal than its caverns. The field, which is this autumn laid naked by the sickle, will be covered, in the succeeding summer, by a new harvest; the grass, which the cattle are devouring, shoots up again when they have passed over.it.
Agriculture, therefore, and agriculture alone, can support us without the help of others, in certain plenty, and genuine dignity. Whatever we buy from without, the sellers may refuse; whatever we sell, manufactured by art, the purchasers may reject; but, while our ground is covered with corn and cattle, we can want nothing; and if imagination should grow sick of native plenty, and call for delicacies or embellishments from other countries, there is nothing which corn and cattle will not purchase.
Our country is, perhaps, beyond all others, productive of things necessary to life. The pineapple thrives better between the tropicks, and better furs are found in the northern regions. But let us not envy these unnecessary privileges. Mankind cannot subsist upon the indulgences of nature, but must be supported by her more common gifts. They must feed upon bread, and be clothed with wool; and the nation that can furnish these universal com
modities, may have her ships welcomed at a thousand ports, or sit at home and receive the tribute of foreign countries, enjoy their arts, or treasure up their gold.
It is well known to those who have examined the state of other countries, that the vineyards of France are more than equivalent to the mines of America; and that one great use of Indian gold, and Peruvian silver, is to procure the wines of Champaigne and Burgundy. The advantage is, indeed, always rising on the side of France, who will certainly have wines, when Spain, by a thousand natural or accidental causes, may want silver. But, surely, the valleys of England have more certain stores of wealth. Wines are chosen by caprice; the products of France have not always been equally esteemed; but there never was any age, or people, that reckoned bread among superfluities, when once it was known. The price of wheat and barley suffers not any variation, but what is caused by the uncertainty of seasons.
I am far from intending to persuade my countrymen to quit all other employments for that of manuring the ground. I mean only to prove, that we have, at home, all that we can want, and that, therefore, we need feel no great anxiety about the schemes of other nations for improving their arts, or extending their traffick. But there is no necessity to infer, that we should cease from commerce, before the revolution of things shall transfer it to some other regions! Such vicissitudes the world has often seen; and, therefore, such we have reason to expect. We hear many clamours of declining trade, which are not, in my opinion, always true; and many imputations of that decline to governours and ministers, which may be sometimes just, and sometimes calumnious. But it is foolish to imagine, that any care or policy can keep commerce at a stand, which almost every nation has enjoyed and lost, and which we must expect to lose as we have long enjoyed.
There is some danger, lest our neglect of agriculture should hasten its departure. Our industry has, for many ages, been employed in destroying the woods which our
ancestors have planted. It is well known that commerce is carried on by ships, and that ships are built out of trees; and, therefore, when I travel over naked plains, to which tradition has preserved the name of forests, or see hills arising on either hand barren and useless, I cannot forbear to wonder, how that commerce, of which we promise ourselves the perpetuity, shall be continued by our descendants; nor can restrain a sigh, when I think on the time, a time at no great distance, when our neighbours may deprive us of our naval influence, by refusing us their timber.
By agriculture only can commerce be perpetuated ; and by agriculture alone can we live in plenty without intercourse with other nations. This, therefore, is the great art, which every government ought to protect, every proprietor of lands to practise, and every inquirer into nature to improve.