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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/688

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

study in philosophy and political economy. He presents the subject in a moral and philosophical view, in the light of the history of luxury, and with the aid of the side-lights of the judgments which have been expressed upon it at different epochs, from which citations are made.

It is first necessary to understand the sense in which the word luxury is used. I designate as an object of luxury everything that does not answer to some primary need, and which, costing much money and consequently much labor, is within the reach of only a small number of persons. An extravagant consumption is one that destroys the product of many days of labor without bringing any rational satisfaction to the one who makes it, as when a ballroom queen spoils in the whirls of the dance a lace robe worth ten thousand francs, destroying in a moment the equivalent of fifty thousand hours of eye-taxing labor. What advantage does any one derive from the waste? It follows from our definition that an object may be a luxury at one time and cease to be so at another, when it can be procured without great expense. As Roscher says,[1] the motive here is wholly relative. Each people and each age considers that which it is in the habit of doing without as superfluous. The chronicle of Holinshed complains of the refinements of the English of his time (1577), who introduced chimneys instead of letting the smoke escape through the holes in the roof, and used dishes of earthenware or tin instead of the wooden vessels with which they had got along before. Another author of the same time, Slaney, "On Rural Expenditure," was indignant at the employment of oak instead of willow in building, saying: "Formerly the houses were of willow, and the men of oak; now it is the contrary." When calicoes and muslins were first brought from the Indies, only the rich could wear them; now working-people think lightly of them. The progress of art is thus constantly bringing more objects within the reach of the greatest number; but the definition remains that that is extravagant which is at the same time superfluous and dear.

From his analysis of the feelings which give rise to luxury, M. Baudrillart educes three which he considers natural and universal: vanity, sensuality, and the instinct for adornment. Vanity makes one desire to be distinguished and to surpass others in appearance; to pass before the crowd, that admires riches and power, as powerful and rich. When a woman pays ten thousand dollars for a necklace of fine pearls, she does not do it simply to possess something handsome and adorn

herself, for false pearls would be more shapely and quite as lustrous, but because the costly necklace will be the emblem and sign of her opulence. People when they see it will say she is rich, and her lesser rivals will be jealous, adding a seasoning to her vanity. In the gratification of this feeling we seek satisfaction in a factitious existence in the opinions of other persons. It is a general sentiment, and has a

  1. ↑ "Die Grundlagen der Nationalökonomie," iv, 2.