The citizen of the world: or, letters from a Chinese philosopher, residing in London, to his friends in the east. ... [pt.1]
Goldsmith, Oliver, 1730?-1774.

LETTER XI.

To the same.

FROM such a picture of nature in primeval sim∣plicity, tell me, my much respected friend, are you in love with fatigue and solitude? Do you sigh for the severe frugality of the wandering Tartar, or regret being born amidst the luxury and dissumulation of the polite? Rather tell me, has not every kind of life vices peculiarly its own? Is it not a truth, that refined countries have more vices, but those not so terrible; barbarous nations few, and they of the most hideous Page  41 complexion? Perfidy and fraud are the vices of civi∣lized nations, credulity and violence those of the inha∣bitants of the desert. Does the luxury of the one produce half the evils of the inhumanity of the other? Certainly those philosophers, who declaim against luxury have but little understood its benefits: they seem insensible, that to luxury we owe not only the greatest part of our knowledge, but even of our virtues.

It may sound fine in the mouth of a declaimer when he talks of subduing our appetites, of teaching every sense to be content with a bare sufficiency, and of sup∣plying only the wants of nature; but is there no more satisfaction in indulging those appetites, if with innocence and safety, than in restraining them? Am not I better pleased in enjoyment than in the sullen sa∣tisfaction of thinking that I can live without enjoyment? The more various our artificial necessities, the wider is our circle of pleasure; for all pleasure consists in ob∣viating necessities as they rise; luxury, therefore, as it encreases our wants, encreases our capacity for hap∣piness.

Examine the history of any country remarkable for opulence and wisdom, you will find they would never have been wise had they not been first luxurious; you will find poets, philosophers, and even patriots, march∣ing in luxury's train. The Reason is obvious; we then only are curious after knowledge when we find it con∣nected with sensual happiness. The senses ever point out the way, and reflection comments upon the disco∣very. Inform a native of the desert of Kobi, of the exact measure of the parallax of the moon, he finds Page  42 no satisfaction at all in the information; he wonders how any could take such pains, and lay out such trea∣sures in order to solve so useless a difficulty; but con∣nect it with his happiness, by shewing that it improves navigation, that by such an investigation he may have a warmer coat, a better gun, or a finer knife, and he is instantly in raptures at so great an improvement. In short, we only desire to know what we desire to pos∣sess; and whatever we may talk against it, luxury adds the spur to curiosity, and gives us a desire of becoming more wise.

But not our knowledge only, but our virtues are im∣proved by luxury. Observe the brown savage of Thi∣bet, to whom the fruits of the spreading pomegranate supply food, and its branches an habitation. Such a character has few vices I grant, but those he has are of the most hideous nature, rapine and cruelty are scarce crimes in his eye, neither pity nor tenderness, which enoble every virtue, have any place in his heart; he hates his enemies, and kills those he subdues. On the other hand, the polite Chinese and civilized Eu∣ropean seem even to love their enemies. I have just now seen an instance where the English have succoured those enemies whom their own countrymen have actually refused to relieve.

The greater the luxuries of every country, the more closely, politically speaking, is that country united. Luxury is the child of society alone, the luxurious man stands in need of a thousand different artists to furnish out his happiness: it is more likely, therefore, that he should be a good citizen who is connected by motives of Page  43 self-interest with so many, than the abstemious man who is united to none.

In whatsoever light therefore we consider luxury, whether as employing a number of hands naturally too feeble for more laborious employment, as finding a va∣riety of occupation for others who might be totally idle, or as furnishing out new inlets to happiness, with∣out encroaching on mutual property, in whatever light we regard it, we shall have reason to stand up in its de∣fence, and the sentiment of Confucius still remains un∣shaken; that we should enjoy as many of the luxuries of life as are consistent with our own safety; and the pros∣perity of others, and that be who finds out a new plea∣sure is one of the most useful members of society.