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THE MAIN CHANCE.
“ Search then the ruling passion : there alone
The wild are constant, and the cunning known,
I am one of those who do not think that mankind are exactly governed by reason or a cool calculation of consequences. I rather believe that habit, imagination, sense, passion, prejudice, words, make a strong and frequent diversion from the right line of prudence and wisdom. I have been told, however, that these are merely the irregularities and exceptions, and that reason forms the rule or basis; that the understanding, instead of being the sport of the capricious and arbitrary decisions of the will, generally dictates the line of conduct it is to pursue, and that self-interest or the main chance is the unvarying load-star of our affections or
the chief ingredient in all our motives, that thrown in as ballast gives steadiness and direction to our voyage through life. I will not take upon me to give a verdict in this cause as judge; but I will try to plead one side of it as an advocate, perhaps a biassed and feeble one.
As the passions are said to be subject to the controul of reason, and as reason is resolved (in the present case) into an attention to our own interest or a practical sense of the value of money, it will not be amiss to inquire how much of this principle itself is founded in a rational estimate of things or is calculated for the end it proposes, or how much of it will turn out (when analysed) to be mere madness and folly or a mixture, like all the rest, of obstinacy, whim, fancy, vanity, ill-nature, and so forth, or a nominal pursuit of good. This passion or an inordinate love of wealth shews itself, when it is strong, equally in two opposite ways, in saving or in spending, in avarice (or stinginess) and in extravagance. To examine each of their order. That lowest and most familiar form of covetousness, commonly called stinginess, is at present (it must be owned) greatly on the wane in civilised society; it has been driven out of fashion either by ridicule and good sense, or by the spread of luxury, or by supplying the mind with other
sources of interest, besides those which relate to the bare means of subsistence, so that it
may almost be considered as a vice or absurdity struck off the list as a set off to some that in the change of manners and the progress of dissipation have been brought upon the stage. It is not, however, so entirely banished from the world, but that examples of it may be found to our purpose. It seems to have taken refuge in the petty provincial towns or in old baronial castles in the north of Scotland, where it is still triumphant. To go into this subject somein detail. What is more common in these places than to stint the servants in their wages, to allowance them in the merest necessaries, never to indulge them with a morsel of savoury food, and to lock up every thing from them as if they were thieves or common vagabonds broke into the house? The natural consequence is that the mistresses live in continual hot water with their servants, keep watch and ward over them—the pantry being in a state of siege-grudge them every mouthful, every appearance of comfort or moment of leisure, and torment their own souls every minute of their lives about what if left wholly to itself would not make a difference of five shillings at the year's end. There are families so notorious for
this kind of surveillance and meanness, that no servant will go to live with them; for to clench the matter, they are obliged to stay if they do, as under these amiable establishments and to provide against an evasion of their signal advantages, domestics are never hired but by the half-year. Cases have been known where servants have taken a pleasant revenge on their masters and mistresses without intending it: where the example of sordid saving and meanness having taken possession of those who in the first instance were victims to it, they have conscientiously applied it to the benefit of all parties, and scarcely suffered a thing to enter the house for the whole six months they stayed in it. To pass over, however, those cases which may plead poverty as their excuse, what shall we say to a lady of fortune (the sister of an oldfashioned Scotch laird) allowing the fruit to rot in the gardens and hot-houses of a fine old mansion in large quantities sooner than let any of it be given away in presents to the neighbours, and when peremptorily ordered by the master of the house to send a basket-full every morning to a sick friend, purchasing a small pottle for the purpose, and satisfying her mind (an intelligent and well-informed one) with this miserable subterfuge ? Nay farther, the same