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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/689

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MORALS OF LUXURY.

remarkable power. When public opinion inclines toward virtue, it may become a stimulant for good, but will lead to luxury and corruption among a public adoring riches.

Vanity, and the love of dress that it engenders, which are very marked with the savage who tattooes before he clothes himself, become refined among civilized men and in the fashionable world, and are tempered and turned in a better direction as culture is developed and the rule of good sense becomes more influential. Formerly men, like women, wore bright goods, galoons, lace, jewels; but, since the beginning of this century, civilized nations have adopted the black coat of England; it has come to be regarded as in bad taste for a man to display jewels, and simplicity, carefulness, and extreme propriety are regarded as constituting the whole of masculine elegance. Women, however, continue to bore their ears to put rings in them, and seek to adorn themselves with trinkets of glass and metal. How may we cure this infirmity, inherited from primitive barbarism? John Stuart Mill has pointed out the way by suggesting that when woman is trained to occupy herself with affairs of the mind, she will, like modern man, cease to take pleasure in gewgaws. Christianity has already worked miracles in this direction among the Quakers and in convents: why may it not, in alliance with the culture of the reason and the sentiment of justice, do more?

The kind of luxury that has its roots in sensual seeking is harder to contend against than that which arises from vanity, because it compels us to deal with enjoyments which are real though wholly superficial. On this point M. Baudrillart remarks that as matter is finite by its nature, sensuality is limited in its capacities. Man, however, deludes himself into believing that this is not the case. It seems to him that no enjoyment procures for him the gratification it ought to give; so, when he has exhausted one, he craves another pleasure. The refinements become nicer, and new ones are demanded. Dearness heightens the enjoyment by adding to the charm of an object agreeable in itself the piquant relish of a difficulty overcome. We may give all real satisfaction to the senses without excessive expenditure. The extravagant cost is occasioned by the desire to shine, ostentatiousness, to which there are no limits. It was not in mere sensuality that Cleopatra swallowed a pearl, and Heliogabalus ate a dish of nightingales' tongues. Progress in the arts of production may bring us abundance of all that is useful; but, if the object is to distinguish ourselves from others, it is necessary to consume, at any price, what is dear and rare.

The third source of luxury is the instinct for adornment, which, as M. Baudrillart well says, must not be confounded with ostentatiousness, even when that finds its only expression in it, or with sensuality, even when it ministers to it. It is primitive with man, for the prehistorical cave-dwellers carved on pieces of bone the figures of the reindeer and beavers that lived in the land in their times. Cultivated and