Monday, October 13, 2014

World literature and trade and commerce

In my paper on the construction of Europe as a cultural space, I am drawing attention to three thinkers who stressed the connection between trade and commerce, on the one hand; and the "advance" of manners and customs and the amity among nations, on the other. These are Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Nicholas Barban.

First, Voltaire, in his 1736 work Le Mondaine (The Worldling):

See how that fleet, with canvas wings,
From Texel, Bordeaux, London brings,
By happy commerce to our shores,
All Indus, and all Ganges stores;
Whilst France, that pierced the Turkish lines,
Sutans make drunk with rich French wines.
Just as the time of Nature’s birth,
Dark ignorance o’erspread the earth;
None then in wealth surpassed the rest,
For naught the human race possessed.
Of clothes, their bodies then were bare,
They nothing had, and could not share:
Then too they sober were and sage,
Martialo lived not in that age.
Eve, first formed by the hand divine,
Never so much as tasted wine.
Do you our ancestors admire,
Because they wore no rich attire?
Ease was like wealth to them uknown,
Was’t virtue? Ignorance alone.
Would any fool, had he a bed,
On the bare ground have laid his head?

Next, Montesqieu, from Spirit of the Laws (1748):

“Commerce cures destructive prejudices, and it is an almost general rule that everywhere there are gentle mores, there is commerce and that everywhere there is commerce, there are gentle mores. ... Commerce has spread knowledge of the mores of all nations everywhere; they have been compared to each other, and good things have resulted from this.” (ch. 1)

“The natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace. Two nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent; if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling, and all unions are founded on mutual needs.” (ch. 2)

“It is the nature of commerce to make superfluous things useful, and useful things necessary.” (ch. 23)

Finally, the interesting figure of Barban, one of the earliest exponents of free trade, who makes concrete a point made by Goethe in his comments on world literature, namely, that commerce with other nations lessens our prejudices toward our neighbors. From A Discourse of Trade (1790):

"Nature may be satisfied with little; but it is the wants of the Mind, Fashion, and desire of Novelities, and Things scarce, that causeth Trade. A Person may have English-Lace, Gloves, or Silk, as much as he wants, and will Buy no more such; and yet, lay out his Money on a Point of Venice, Jessimine-Gloves, or French-Silks; he may desire to Eat Westphalian-Bacon, when he will not English ...”

No comments: