Commerce, which has enriched the citizens of England, has helped make
them free, and this freedom has in turn extended commerce; hence the greatness
of the state. It is commerce which gradually established the naval forces that
have made the English the masters of the sea. They have now close to two
hundred war ships. Posterity will perhaps be surprised to learn that a little
island which has but a small quantity of lead, tin, clay and wool became so
powerful through its commerce that it could send in 1723 three fleets to three
extremities of the world at the same time, one to Gibraltar, conquered and
maintained by its arms; another to Porto-Bello, to deprive the king of Spain of
the enjoyment of the treasures of the Indies; and the third to the Baltic Sea
to prevent the powers of the north from fighting.
When Louis XIV made Italy tremble, and his armies, already in possession
of Savoy and Piedmont, were on the point of taking Turin, Prince Eugene had to
march from the remotest parts of Germany to the assistance of the duke of
Savoy. He had no money, without which cities can neither be taken nor defended.
He had recourse to the English merchants. In half an hour's time they lent him
fifty millions, with which he liberated Turin, beat the French, and wrote this
short note to those who had lent him the money: "Gentlemen, I have received
your money, and flatter myself I have employed it to your satisfaction."
All this gives an English merchant a just pride, and causes him, not
without reason, to compare himself to a citizen of Rome. Thus the younger son
of a peer of the realm does not disdain trade. Lord Townshend, secretary of
state, has a brother who is satisfied with being a merchant in the city. At the
time when Lord Oxford ruled all England, his younger brother was a merchant at
Aleppo, whence he would not depart, and where he died.
This custom, which is now unhappily dying out, appears monstrous to a
German, whose head is full of the hereditary privilege of his family. They can
never conceive how it is possible that the son of an English peer should be no
more than a rich and powerful bourgeois, while in Germany everyone is a prince.
I have known more than thirty highnesses of the same name, whose whole fortunes
and estate put together amounted to a few coats of arms and their pride.
In France anybody is a marquis who wants to be; and whoever comes from
the obscurity of some remote province with money in his pocket and a name that
ends with "ac" or "ille," can say "A man of my quality and rank";
and hold merchants in the most sovereign contempt. The merchant hears his
profession spoken of scornfully so often, that he is foolish enough to blush
because of it. I do not know, however, which is the most useful to his country,
a powdered lord, who knows to a minute when the king rises or goes to bed,
perhaps to stool, and who gives himself airs.