Love of Speculating—The Tulip Mania in Holland—The South Sea Stock bubble; its origin, &c.—Its demoralizing influence—The Railway Mania—Illustrations of avarice—Anecdote from Madame de Genlis of a miser and a Surgeon—Sacrifices Of the parsimonious—The rewards of Mammon, &c.
WITH the advancement of science and the progress of civilization, the general tone of society has not proportionately improved. The age abounds with many illustrations of progress, of vast enterprise—of genius and of talent. But the mainspring of all this activity—of all these gigantic schemes, admirable inventions, and discoveries, is evidently the love of gain. Napoleon designated us a nation of shopkeepers; could he now describe us, he would designate us a nation of speculators; competition has rendered the usual come of trade in-adequate to satisfy ambition, and men look eagerly for some speculation by which their riches may be augmented with greater speed, they enter into any scheme however wild, and into any project however improbable; some few grow rich on the ruin of the many, and votaries of Mammon become more numerous. If we call to mind the bubbles which at various times have excited the cupidity of avarice, we shall be surprised that men have not learnt in their failure a little wisdom to protect them against such fascinations for the future. The tulip mania, which raged among the Dutch in the year 1634, will show how the reason will become dazzled with the hope of gain. We regard now, that singular infatuation as a species of madness; and we can scarcely credit, although the fact is well authenticated, that men could have been so absurd as to invest four thousand florins in the purchase of a single bulb. A tulip, called the Admiral Liefken was worth, at the market value, four thousand four hundred florins; and the Semper Augustus produced five thousand five hundred florins in cash. Holland was the El Dorado of enthusiasts. In 1636 the tulip mania was at its height: regular offices were established in the cities of Holland. Stock jobbers were seized with the prevailing epidemic, dealt largely in tulips, and they became a favourite species of stock, and everyone was eager to invest their fortunes in Dutch bulbs; men threw up their trade, and rushed to the tulip marts with their capital. The wealthy parted with houses and broad lands for a few bulbs. Legitimate trade was neglected, and the public mind was in a continual ferment; every day reports reached the ears of anxious tradesmen and poor artisans of some case of sudden fortune, of some needy man made rich by the lucky speculation of a day. Laws were drawn up with legislative gravity for the due regulation of tulip dealers, and tulip buyers; and everyone seemed to be convinced that the golden trade in tulips would last for ever. By and bye when they had their tulips instead of lands and tenements; instead of cash in the funds, or capital in trade, some few found a time to think—thought soon restored the reason, and cooled the brain; and those who were wise enough to think, made speedy sales. There were more tulips, but fewer buyers—the bubble burst—a panic spread, and thousands mourned over ruin and desolation—over cheerless homes, and beggared prospects—the once ample fortune of many an opulent merchant—of many a thriving trader, and comfortable artisan, was now contained in a few bulbs, which no one cared to buy. The South Sea bubble is another lamentable instance of the spirit of avarice as displayed in speculation. This company, as our readers are doubtless aware, was first proposed in. the year 1711, and was founded upon the supposition, that the English would be allowed to trade to the coast of Peru. In the year 1720, the scheme was brought before the public, Sir John Blunt drew up the plans, and submitted them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A company was formed, and a bill brought before parliament. By circulating favourable reports, the project soon excited the attention of the public. For five days the books of the company were opened for a subscription of one million, at the rate of three hundred pounds for every hundred pound of capital. Eager crowds came to invest their money; in a few days the stock was worth three hundred and fifty per cent, and it ultimately rose to one thousand pounds. The rage for speculation now commenced; new companies started up every day, with schemes as chimerical as the South Sea delusion. Some, in fact had no scheme at all; and actually issued prospectuses, and solicited subscriptions for a stock, the intention and purpose of which they did not condescend to explain; one cunning rogue pretended that he had discovered a plan, by which fortune would be certain to follow; he promised to publish the particulars in a month; in the meantime, two guineas were to be paid to entitle the person to a subscription of one hundred pounds. The project, wild as it was, was not too wild for the age; one thousand dupes paid in one day their first instalment, and the next day the swindler had decamped. This spirit of speculation was soon to be at an end. The noble and the wealthy, royalty and the poor, bishops, clergymen, doctors, authors, merchants, and artisans, all dabbled in the South Sea Stock, during the memorable year 1720. But one day in September the stock suddenly fell; fear filled every heart, and every one rushed into the mart with their stock; on the 29th, it went down from one thousand per cent to one hundred and fifty. Merchants closed their warehouses, and bankers in disguise sought refuge in other kingdoms. Numbers were ruined past all redemption; despair, insanity, or suicide, was the fate of thousands; and the public morals, and the course of commerce and industry, received a check which it took years to overcome.
Such are the delusions which the avarice of a people will sometimes lead them into. We might easily produce other examples; we might point to the era of lotteries, and show their demoralizing influence on society. In recent times—in the spurious companies of the year 1826, and in the railway mania of the last few years, we might also point to striking illustrations of this Mammon worship, and of the wild enthusiasm of Mammon's votaries.
But this eager pursuit of wealth too often entails misery and retribution. It is a significant fact, that in times of such adventure and speculation cases of insanity are very numerous, and the bills of mortality exhibit a fearful increase. The alternate hopes of a golden future, and the fear of beggary and ruin, haunt the fevered mind both day and night; and when disappointment comes, as it too often does, with loss of fortune and loss of peace, the infatuated worshipper of Mammon sinks into a premature grave, or broods over his loss with a mind in which the light of reason is no more.
Such are the effects of avarice as exemplified in the spirit of gambling and speculation; and we have seen, in our previous chapters, the effects of avarice as exemplified in the spirit of parsimony. The one will sacrifice to Mammon, wealth, in the hopes of future golden blessings; the latter will sacrifice health, comfort, and the soul, to retain that which he has already received. Rather than part with his gold, we have seen the miser die of actual starvation; and in the cases of Sir William Smyth and Vandille it has been shown how insignificant is pain or the fear of danger to the miser, when compared with the torture which he feels at parting with his hoards.
Madame de Genlis relates a curious anecdote in her "Souvenirs de Felicie L***," of a rich miser, curiously illustrating the sacrifices which avarice will make to Mammon. M. de C*** was very rich, but had become blind by a cataract which had formed on both his eyes; he dwelled in the remotest part of Languedoc, and he went to Paris to consult a surgeon, who told him that he must be couched, for the success of which he would be answerable. M. de C*** enquired what would be the expense of the operation. "Fifty livres," replied Graujean. M. de C*** loudly remonstrated against the charge, which he protested was enormous, and offered to make a bargain to lower the price; the surgeon was inflexible, and with an ill grace M. de C*** was compelled to submit. Some days afterwards the surgeon completed the operation on one eye, when having removed the bandages, M. de C*** exclaimed with transport that his sight was perfectly restored. "Come then," said the oculist, "let us proceed to the other eye." "Stay," replied the miser, "you ask fifty guineas for the whole operation, that is five-and-twenty for each eye; now as I see quite as well as is necessary, I shall content myself with one eye; to pay so much for the other would be extravagance, seeing that it would be a luxury only: there are your five-and-twenty guineas!"
For these sacrifices, what are the rewards of Mammon worship? We refer to the lives of those miserable objects of self-inflicted penury, which we have related in our former chapters, as a fit answer to such a question. Youth without the joys of youth, manhood without the purposes and duties of life, old age without one ray of solace or consolation, and death on a squalid bed of misery, unattended and unbedewed with the tear of affection, are the rewards which Mammon vouchsafes to his anxious followers.