Or, private vices, publick benefits
by Bernard Mandeville
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes
Bernard de Mandeville (the 'de' is often omitted) was a Dutch medical doctor who settled in London and produced a range of works in his adopted language. The Fable of the Bees, and its accompanying essay on morality suggests that we ought to be cautious in condemning evil vices such as luxury, greed and envy, because they can actually be the cause of more public benefits than we may realise.
Reduced from 124,000 words to 5,100. Edited by Glyn Hughes
LAWS and Government are to the Political Bodies of Civil Societies, what the Vital Spirits and Life it self are to the Natural Bodies of Animated Creatures; and as those that study the Anatomy of Dead Carcases may see, that the chief Organs and nicest Springs more immediately required to continue the Motion of our Machine, are not hard Bones, strong Muscles and Nerves, nor the smooth white Skin that so beautifully covers them, but small trifling Films and little Pipes that are either over-look’d, or else seem inconsiderable to Vulgar Eyes; so they that examine into the Nature of Man, abstract from Art and Education, may observe, that what renders him a Sociable Animal, consists not in his desire of Company, Good-nature, Pity, Affability, and other Graces of a fair Outside; but that his vilest and most hateful Qualities are the most necessary Accomplishments to fit him for the largest, and, according to the World, the happiest and most flourishing Societies.
The following Fable, in which what I have said is set forth at large, was printed above eight Years ago in a Six Penny Pamphlet, call’d, the Grumbling Hive; or Knaves turn’d Honest; and being soon after Pirated, cry’d about the Streets in a Half-Penny Sheet. All I can say of them is, that they are a Story told in Dogrel, which without the least design of being Witty, I have endeavour’d to do in as easy and familiar a manner as I was able: The Reader shall be welcome to call them what he pleases.
What Country soever in the Universe is to be understood by the Bee-Hive represented here, it is evident from what is said of the Laws and Constitution of it, the Glory, Wealth, Power and Industry of its Inhabitants, that it must be a large, rich and warlike Nation, that is happily govern’d by a limited Monarchy. The Satyr therefore to be met with in the following Lines upon the several Professions and Callings, and almost every Degree and Station of People, was not made to injure and point to particular Persons, but only to shew the Vileness of the Ingredients that all together compose the wholesome Mixture of a well-order’d Society, and from thence to expose the Unreasonableness and Folly of those, that desirous of being an opulent and flourishing People, and wonderfully greedy after all the Benefits they can receive as such, are yet always murmuring at and exclaiming against those Vices and Inconveniences, that from the Beginning of the World to this present Day, have been inseparable from all Kingdoms and States that ever were fam’d for Strength, Riches, and Politeness, at the same time.
To do this, I touch upon some of the Faults and Corruptions the several Professions and Callings are generally charged with. After that I shew that those very Vices of every particular Person by skilful Management, were made subservient to the Grandeur and worldly Happiness of the whole.
If you ask me, why I have done all this, cui bono(1)? and what Good these Notions will produce? truly, besides the Reader’s Diversion, I believe none at all; but if I was ask’d, what Naturally ought to be expected from ’em, I wou’d answer, That in the first Place the People, who continually find fault with others, by reading them, would be taught to look at home, and examining their own Consciences. This I say ought naturally to be expected from the publishing of these Notions, if People were to be made better by any thing that could be said to them; but Mankind having for so many Ages remain’d still the same, notwithstanding the many instructive and elaborate Writings, by which their Amendment has been endeavour’d, I am not so vain as to hope for better Success from so inconsiderable a Trifle.
There are, I believe, few People in London, of those that are at any time forc’d to go a-foot, but what could wish the Streets of it much cleaner than generally they are: but when once they come to consider, that what offends them is the result of the Plenty, great Traffick and Opulency of that mighty City, if they have any Concern in its Welfare, they will hardly ever wish to see the Streets of it less dirty. For if we mind the Materials of all Sorts that must supply such an infinite number of Trades and Handicrafts; the vast quantity of Victuals, Drink and Fewel that are daily consum’d in it, the Waste and Superfluities that must be produced from them; the multitudes of Horses and other Cattle that are always dawbing the Streets, the Carts, Coaches and more heavy Carriages that are perpetually wearing and breaking the Pavement, I ask if a good Citizen, in consideration of what has been said, might not assert, that dirty Streets are a necessary Evil inseparable from the Felicity of London.
THE GRUMBLING HIVE: OR, KNAVES TURN'D HONEST
ONE of the greatest Reasons why so few People understand themselves, is, that most Writers are always teaching Men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their Heads with telling them what they really are. As for my Part, without any Compliment to the Courteous Reader, or my self, I believe Man (besides Skin, Flesh, Bones, &c. that are obvious to the Eye) to be a compound of various Passions, that all of them, as they are provoked and come uppermost, govern him by turns, whether he will or no. I have thought fit to enquire, how Man, no better qualify’d, might yet by his own Imperfections be taught to distinguish between Virtue and Vice: And here I must desire the Reader once for all to take notice, that when I say Men, I mean neither Jews nor Christians; but meer Man, in the State of Nature and Ignorance of the true Deity.
AN ENQUIRY Into the ORIGIN of MORAL VIRTUE
ALL untaught Animals are only sollicitous of pleasing themselves, and naturally follow the bent of their own Inclinations. The Chief Thing, therefore, which Lawgivers have endeavour’d, has been to make the People believe it more beneficial for every Body to conquer than indulge his Appetites, and much better to mind the Publick than what seem’d his private Interest. This was (or at least might have been) the manner after which Savage Man was broke; from whence it is evident, that the first Rudiments of Morality, broach’d by skilful Politicians, to render Men useful to each other as well as tractable, were chiefly contrived that the Ambitious might reap the more Benefit from, and govern vast Numbers of them with the greater Ease and Security.
It is visible then that it was not any Heathen Religion or other Idolatrous Superstition, that first put Man upon crossing his Appetites and subduing his dearest Inclinations, but the skilful Management of wary Politicians; and the nearer we search into human Nature, the more we shall be convinced, that the Moral Virtues are the Political Offspring which Flattery begot upon Pride.
There is no Man of what Capacity or Penetration soever, that is wholly Proof against the Witchcraft of Flattery, if artfully perform’d, and suited to his Abilities. Children and Fools will swallow Personal Praise, but those that are more cunning, must be manag’d with greater Circumspection; and the more general the Flattery is, the less it is suspected by those it is levell’d at. You may safely praise the Employment a Man is of, or the Country he was born in; because you give him an Opportunity of screening the Joy he feels upon his own account, under the Esteem which he pretends to have for others. The meanest Wretch puts an inestimable value upon himself, and the highest wish of the Ambitious Man is to have all the World, as to that particular, of his Opinion.
But such Men can part from what they value themselves, and, from no other Motive but their Love to Goodness, perform a worthy Action in Silence: Such Men, I confess, have acquir’d more refin’d Notions of Virtue than those I have hitherto spoke of; yet even in these (with which the World has yet never swarm’d) we may discover no small Symptoms of Pride, and the humblest Man alive must confess, that the Reward of a Virtuous Action, which is the Satisfaction that ensues upon it, consists in a certain Pleasure he procures to himself by Contemplating on his own Worth: Which Pleasure, together with the Occasion of it, are as certain Signs of Pride, as looking Pale and Trembling at any imminent Danger, are the Symptoms of Fear.
The Greediness we have after the Esteem of others, and the Raptures we enjoy in the Thoughts of being liked, and perhaps admired, are Equivalents that overpay the Conquest of the strongest Passions, and consequently keep us at a great Distance from all such Words or Actions that can bring Shame upon us. The Passions we chiefly ought to hide for the Happiness and Embellishment of the Society are Lust, Pride, and Selfishness; therefore the Word Modesty has three different Acceptations, that vary with the Passions it conceals.
The Multitude will hardly believe the excessive Force of Education, and in the difference of Modesty between Men and Women ascribe that to Nature, which is altogether owing to early Instruction: Miss is scarce three Years old, but she is spoke to every Day to hide her Leg, and rebuk’d in good Earnest if she shews it; while Little Master at the same Age is bid to take up his Coats, and piss like a Man. It is Shame and Education that contains the Seeds of all Politeness, and he that has neither, and offers to speak the Truth of his Heart, and what he feels within, is the most contemptible Creature upon Earth, tho’ he committed no other Fault. If a Man should tell a Woman, that he could like no body so well to propagate his Species upon, as her self, and that he found a violent Desire that Moment to go about it, and accordingly offer’d to lay hold of her for that purpose; the Consequence would be, that he would be call’d a Brute, the Woman would run away, and himself never be admitted in any civil Company. There is no body that has any Sense of Shame, but would conquer the strongest Passion rather than be so serv’d. But a Man need not conquer his Passions, it is sufficient that he conceals them. A fashionable Gentleman may have as violent an Inclination to a Woman as the brutish Fellow; but then he behaves himself quite otherwise; he first addresses the Lady’s Father, and demonstrates his Ability splendidly to maintain his Daughter; upon this he is admitted into her Company; at Night they go to Bed together, where the most reserv’d Virgin very tamely suffers him to do what he pleases. The next Day they receive Visits, and no body laughs at them, or speaks a Word of what they have been doing. As to the young Couple themselves, they take no more Notice of one another.
Because Impudence is a Vice, it does not follow that Modesty is a Virtue; it is built upon Shame, a Passion in our Nature, and may be either Good or Bad according to the Actions perform’d from that Motive. People of Substance may Sin without being expos’d for their stolen Pleasure; but Servants and the Poorer sort of Women have seldom an Opportunity of concealing a Big Belly, or at least the Consequences of it.
IT may be said, that Virtue is made Friends with Vice, when industrious good People, who maintain their Families and bring up their Children handsomely, pay Taxes, and are several ways useful Members of the Society, get a Livelihood by something that chiefly depends on, or is very much influenc’d by the Vices of others, without being themselves guilty of, or accessary to them, any otherwise than by way of Trade, as a Druggist may be to Poisoning, or a Sword-Cutler to Blood-shed.
Thus the Merchant, that sends Corn or Cloth into Foreign Parts to purchase Wines and Brandies, encourages the Growth or Manufactury of his own Country; he is a Benefactor to Navigation, increases the Customs, and is many ways beneficial to the Publick; yet it is not to be denied but that his greatest Dependence is Lavishness and Drunkenness: For if none were to drink Wine but such only as stand in need of it, nor any Body more than his Health requir’d, that Multitude of Wine-Merchants, Vintners, Coopers, &c. that make such a considerable Shew in this flourishing City, would be in a miserable Condition. The same may be said not only of Card and Dice-makers, that are the immediate Ministers to a Legion of Vices; but of Mercers, Upholsterers, Tailors, and many others, that would be starv’d in half a Year’s time, if Pride and Luxury were at once to be banished the Nation.
The worst of all the Multitude Did something for the Common Good
THIS, I know, will seem to be a strange Paradox to many; and I shall be ask’d what Benefit the Publick receives from Thieves and House-breakers. They are, I own, very pernicious to Human Society, and every Government ought to take all imaginable Care to root out and destroy them; yet if all People were strictly honest, and no body would meddle with or pry into any thing but his own, half the Smiths of the Nation would want Employment; and abundance of Workmanship (which now serves for Ornament as well as Defence) is to be seen every where both in Town and Country, that would never have been thought of, but to secure us against the Attempts of Pilferers and Robbers.
If an ill-natur’d Miser spends but Fifty Pounds a Year, tho’ he has no Relation to inherit his Wealth, should be Robb’d of Five Hundred or a Thousand Guineas, it is certain that as soon as this Money should come to circulate, the Nation would be the better for the Robbery, and receive the same and as real a Benefit from it, as if an Archbishop had left the same Sum to the Publick; yet Justice and the Peace of the Society require that he or they who robb’d the Miser should be hang’d, tho’ there were half a Dozen of ’em concern’d.
Thieves and Pick-pockets steal for a Livelihood, and either what they can get Honestly is not sufficient to keep them, or else they have an Aversion to constant Working: they want to gratify their Senses, have Victuals, Strong Drink, Lewd Women, and to be Idle when they please. The Victualler, who entertains them and takes their Money, knowing which way they come at it, is very near as great a Villain as his Guests. But if he fleeces them well, minds his Business and is a prudent Man, he may get Money and be punctual with them he deals with.
A Highwayman having met with a considerable Booty, gives a poor common Harlot, he fancies, Ten Pounds to new-rig her from Top to Toe; is there a spruce Mercer so conscientious that he will refuse to sell her a Thread Sattin, tho’ he knew who she was? She must have Shoes and Stockings, Gloves, the Stay and Mantua-maker, the Sempstress, the Linen-Draper, all must get something by her, and a hundred different Tradesmen dependent on those she laid her Money out with, may touch Part of it before a Month is at an end.
Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the Health or the Vigilance and Industry of the Poor than the infamous Liquor, the name of which, deriv’d from Juniper in Dutch, is now by frequent use and the Laconick Spirit of the Nation, from a Word of middling Length shrunk into a Monosyllable, Intoxicating Gin, that charms the unactive, the desperate and crazy of either Sex, and makes the starving Sot behold his Rags and Nakedness with stupid Indolence, or banter both in senseless Laughter, and more insipid Jests: It is a fiery Lake that sets the Brain in Flame, burns up the Entrails, and scorches every Part within; and at the same time a Lethe of Oblivion, in which the Wretch immers’d drowns his most pinching Cares, and with his Reason all anxious Reflexion on Brats that cry for Food, hard Winters Frosts, and horrid empty Home. In hot and adust Tempers it makes Men Quarrelsome, renders ’em Brutes and Savages, sets ’em on to fight for nothing, and has often been the Cause of Murder.
The short-sighted Vulgar in the Chain of Causes seldom can see further than one Link; but those who can enlarge their View, and will give themselves the Leisure of gazing on the Prospect of concatenated Events, may, in a hundred Places, see Good spring up and pullulate from Evil, as naturally as Chickens do from Eggs. The Money that arises from the Duties upon Malt is a considerable Part of the National Revenue, and should no Spirits be distill’d from it, the Publick Treasure would prodigiously suffer on that Head. But if we would set in a true Light the many Advantages, and large Catalogue of solid Blessings that accrue from, and are owing to the Evil I treat of, we are to consider the Rents that are received, the Ground that is till’d, the Tools that are made, the Cattle that are employ’d, and above all, the Multitude of Poor that are maintain’d, by the Variety of Labour, required in Husbandry, in Malting, in Carriage and Distillation, before we can have the Product of Malt, which we call Low Wines, and is but the Beginning from which the various Spirits are afterwards to be made.
Besides this, a sharp-sighted good-humour’d Man might pick up abundance of Good from the Rubbish, which I have all flung away for Evil. He would tell me, that whatever Sloth and Sottishness might be occasion’d by the Abuse of Malt-Spirits, the moderate Use of it was of inestimable Benefit to the Poor, who could purchase no Cordials of higher Prices, that it was an universal Comfort, not only in Cold and Weariness, but most of the Afflictions that are peculiar to the Necessitous, and had often to the most destitute supply’d the Places of Meat, Drink, Clothes, and Lodging. That the stupid Indolence in the most wretched Condition occasion’d by those composing Draughts, which I complain’d of, was a Blessing to Thousands, for that certainly those were the happiest, who felt the least Pain. As to Diseases, he would say, that, as it caused some, so it cured others, and that if the Excess in those Liquors had been sudden Death to some few, the Habit of drinking them daily prolong’d the Lives of many, whom once it agreed with; that for the Loss sustain’d from the insignificant Quarrels it created at home, we were overpaid in the Advantage we receiv’d from it abroad, by upholding the Courage of Soldiers, and animating the Sailors to the Combat; and that in the two last Wars no considerable Victory had been obtain’d without.
Parties directly opposite, Assist each other, as ’twere for spight.
NOthing was more instrumental in forwarding the Reformation, than the Sloth and Stupidity of the Roman Clergy; yet the same Reformation has rous’d ’em from the Laziness and Ignorance they then labour’d under; and the Followers of Luther, Calvin, and others, may be said to have reform’d not only those whom they drew in to their Sentiment, but likewise those whob remain’d their greatest Opposers.
If Courtezans and Strumpets were to be prosecuted with as much Rigour as some silly People would have it, what Locks or Bars would be sufficient to preserve the Honour of our Wives and Daughters? Where six or seven Thousand Sailors arrive at once, as it often happens at Amsterdam, that have seen none but their own Sex for many Months together, how is it to be suppos’d that honest Women should walk the Streets unmolested, if there were no Harlots to be had at reasonable Prices? For which Reason the Wise Rulers of that well-order’d City always tolerate an uncertain number of Houses, in which Women are hired as publickly as Horses at a Livery-Stable. From whence I think I may justly conclude that Chastity may be supported by Incontinence, and the best of Virtues want the Assistance of the worst of Vices.
The Root of Evil, Avarice.
As long as Men have the same Appetites, the same Vices will remain. In all large Societies, some will love Whoring and others Drinking. The Lustful that can get no handsome clean Women, will content themselves with dirty Drabs; and those that cannot purchase true Hermitage or Pontack, will be glad of more ordinary French Claret. Those that can’t reach Wine, take up with worse Liquors, and a Foot Soldier or a Beggar may make himself as drunk with Stale-Beer or Malt-Spirits, as a Lord with Burgundy, Champaign or Tockay. The cheapest and most slovenly way of indulging our Passions, does as much Mischief to a Man’s Constitution, as the most elegant and expensive.
IF we trace the most flourishing Nations in their Origin, we shall find that in the remote Beginnings of every Society, the richest and most considerable Men among them were a great while destitute of a great many Comforts of Life that are now enjoy’d by the meanest and most humble Wretches: So that many things which were once look’d upon as the Invention of Luxury, are now allow’d even to those that are so miserably poor as to become the Objects of publick Charity, nay counted so necessary, that we think no Human Creature ought to want them.
There is of all the Multitude not one Man in ten but what will own, (if he was not brought up in a Slaughter-house) that of all Trades he could never have been a Butcher; and I question whether ever any body so much as killed a Chicken without Reluctancy the first time. Some People are not to be persuaded to taste of any Creatures they have daily seen and been acquainted with, while they were alive; others extend their Scruple no further than to their own Poultry, and refuse to eat what they fed and took care of themselves; yet all of them will feed heartily and without Remorse on Beef, Mutton and Fowls when they are bought in the Market. In this Behaviour, methinks, there appears something like a Consciousness of Guilt, it looks as if they endeavour’d to save themselves from the Imputation of a Crime (which they know sticks somewhere) by removing the Cause of it as far as they can from themselves; and I can discover in it some strong remains of Primitive Pity and Innocence, which all the arbitrary Power of Custom, and the violence of Luxury, have not yet been able to conquer.
Those who would have it that the Frugality of that Nation flows not so much from Necessity, as a general Aversion to Vice and Luxury, will put us in mind of their publick Administration and Smalness of Salaries, their Prudence in bargaining for and buying Stores and other Necessaries, the great Care they take not to be imposed upon by those that serve them, and their Severity against them that break their Contracts. But what they would ascribe to the Virtue and Honesty of Ministers, is wholly due to their strict Regulations, concerning the management of the publick Treasure, from which their admirable Form of Government will not suffer them to depart; and indeed one good Man may take another’s Word, if they so agree, but a whole Nation ought never to trust to any Honesty, but what is built upon Necessity; for unhappy is the People, and their Constitution will be ever precarious, whose Welfare must depend upon the Virtues and Consciences of Ministers and Politicians.
Would you banish Fraud and Luxury, prevent Profaneness and Irreligion, and make the generality of the People Charitable, Good and Virtuous, break down the Printing-Presses, melt the Founds, and burn all the Books in the Island, except those at the Universities, where they remain unmolested, and suffer no Volume in private Hands but a Bible: Knock down Foreign Trade, prohibit all Commerce with Strangers, and permit no Ships to go to Sea, that ever will return, beyond Fisher-Boats.
By such pious Endeavours, and wholsome Regulations, the Scene would be soon alter’d; the greatest part of the Covetous, the Discontented, the Restless and Ambitious Villains would leave the Land, vast Swarms of Cheating Knaves would abandon the City, and be dispers’d throughout the Country: Artificers would learn to hold the Plough, Merchants turn Farmers, and the sinful over-grown Jerusalem, without Famine, War, Pestilence, or Compulsion, be emptied in the most easy manner, and ever after cease to be dreadful to her Sovereigns. The happy reform’d Kingdom would by this means be crowded in no part of it, and every thing Necessary for the Sustenance of Man be cheap and abound: On the contrary, the Root of so many thousand Evils, Money, would be very scarce, and as little wantedb, where every Man should enjoy the Fruits of his own Labour, and our own dear Manufacture unmix’d be promiscuously wore by the Lord and the Peasant.
Ashamed of the many Frailties they feel within, all Men endeavour to hide themselves, their Ugly Nakedness, from each other, and wrapping up the true Motives of their Hearts in the Specious Cloke of Sociableness, and their Concern for the publick Good, they are in hopes of concealing their filthy Appetites and the Deformity of their Desires; while they are conscious within of the Fondness for their darling Lusts, and their Incapacity, barefac’d, to tread the arduous, rugged Path of Virtue.
To make a Great an Honest Hive perhaps might be done where People are contented to be poor and hardy; but if they would enjoy their Ease and the Comforts of the World, and be at once an opulent, potent, and flourishing, as well as a Warlike Nation, it is utterly impossible. I have heard People speak of the mighty Figure the Spartans made above all the Commonwealths of Greece, notwithstanding their uncommon Frugality and other exemplary Virtues. But being debarred from all the Comforts of Life, they could have nothing for their Pains but the Glory of being a Warlike People inured to Toils and Hardships, which was a Happiness that few People would have cared for. Englishmen would hardly have envy’d them their Greatness.
T’enjoy the World’s Conveniencies.
THAT the Words Decency and Conveniency were very ambiguous, and not to be understood, unless we were acquainted with the Quality and Circumstances of Persons. The Goldsmith, Mercer, or any other of the most creditable Shopkeepers, that has three or four thousand Pounds to set up with, must have two Dishes of Meat every Day, and something extraordinary for Sundays. His Wife must have a Damask Bed against her Lying-in, and two or three Rooms very well furnished: The following Summer she must have a House, or at least very good Lodgings in the Country. Some People call it but Decency to be served in Plate, and reckon a Coach and six among the necessary Comforts of Life; and if a Peer has not above three or four thousand a Year, his Lordship is counted Poor.
Avarice then and Prodigality are equally necessary to Society; but a National Frugality there never was nor never will be without a National Necessity. I shall end my Remarks on the Grumbling Hive with assuring the Champions of National Frugality that it would be impossible for the Persians and other Eastern People to purchase the vast Quantities of fine English Cloth they consume, should we load our Women with less Cargo’s of Asiatick Silks.
(1) Cui bono? (Latin) 'Who benefits?'
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