Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/March 1881/Morals of Luxury
By ÉMILE DE LAVELEYE.
THE real question to be considered in discussing the ethics of luxury is, Is it useful? This question has a bearing on living issues, for it touches the foundation of the contentions which threaten civilized societies. It is well considered in the "History of Luxury" of M. Baudrillart, who has brought to his work the result of twenty years of 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, 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 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 refined, it has become the æsthetic sentiment, the love of the beautiful, which has created all the arts. Instead of condemning it, it is proper to encourage it and exalt it, for in public monuments it becomes an agent of civilization and a source of pure, disinterested enjoyments accessible to the whole people. Applied in private life to the decoration of houses, furniture, and articles of use, and in everything to the choice of beautiful forms, as was done in antiquity, it purifies the taste and becomes an instrument of progress. The love of the beautiful and the instinct for adornment are good in themselves, and do not necessarily urge to luxury, for it is not in the dearness of the material but in the harmony of the colors and the purity of the lines that they should be manifested. The difference between luxury and art is thus indicated by M. Baudrillart: "Art pursues the realization of the beautiful, or the reproduction of certain forms. Luxury has only one aim—to seem. The object of art is essentially disinterested; that of luxury is egotistical. In the eye of luxury, the beautiful itself, the object of the passionate pursuit of the true artist charmed with perfection, is only something that glitters. Luxury pays for art as it pays for matter, and buys great works just as it spends money for jewels and fine goods." These incentives to luxury are reënforced by the love of change, which is revealed principally in the caprices of fashion. Fashion is one of the plagues of the times, and produces evils of various kinds. First, according to the M. Baudrillart, it makes the mind frivolous by diverting it from the things that ought to occupy it. "Those who make a point of elegance are obliged to employ themselves considerably with their clothes, and to devote to them a degree of study which certainly can not elevate their minds or make them capable of great things." This is the moral evil. The economical evil is well described by M. J. B. Say: "Fashion has the privilege of throwing things away before they have lost their usefulness, frequently even before they have lost their freshness; it multiplies consumption and condemns what is still good, neat, and becoming to be good for nothing. Thus the rapid succession of fashions impoverishes a state both as to what it consumes and what it does not consume." To make a goods of silk, wool, or cotton, of a new pattern, the expense of designs, models, printing-rollers, etc., must be incurred. What is not sold during the year becomes a remnant which is disposed of at a discount. Certain styles are not to the taste of the public, and are left to be sold at half price. All of the advances and losses must be covered by the total of sales, or the ruined manufacturer will have to cease producing. The changes of fashion thus considerably augment the price of all the objects to which they apply. If the costume were not so changing, the current manufacture of the goods which it requires would be carried on at better advantage than that of the thousands of different styles that arise in the different seasons of every year.
M. Baudrillart takes a position between the rigorous school, which advocates the retrenchment of wants, and the lax school, which regards luxury as something agreeable to the person and necessary to the state, and as indispensable to the progress of civilization; and he distinguishes between a luxury that is virtuous, permissible, and even laudable, and one which is improper and immoral. I can not admit the distinction; and I believe that the rigorous school is right. The condemnations which have been pronounced against luxury by the sages and philosophers of antiquity, the fathers of the Church, and the orators of the pulpit, are justified by the conclusions of modern thought. These men were ignorant of political economy, but they were inspired by right instincts and sentiments.
We have said that luxury consists in the consummation, to satisfy a factitious want, of something that has cost much labor. While labor is necessary to secure the satisfaction of bare needs, and while so many men are living in almost absolute destitution, can it be legitimate to employ a great part of the forces of capital and workmen which are at our disposition in producing superfluities which we would often be better without? A thing may cost enormous sums and still be useless and even injurious. Thousands of workmen are employed in the preparation of diamonds; but if the only use of the diamonds is to stimulate the vanity of those who possess them and to excite envy in those who have none, it would be better if they were sent to the bottom of the ocean. If the same workmen were employed in making articles of comfort for those who are in need of them, would it not be a subject for congratulation? I do not advocate sumptuary laws, but I look with pleasure on countries like Norway and the Alpine cantons of Switzerland, where, although no one buys diamonds, all have the means to procure necessaries. The real point to be considered is, that every object of luxury costs a great deal of labor; could not this labor be made useful in a more rational manner? The truth will appear more clearly by regarding an isolated individual. Would any man devote three years to making for himself a jewel that will be of no service to him? The absurdity of the actual transaction is hidden by the appearance of an exchange and the fact that the wearer of the jewel commands it of another. If we regard humanity in the light of a man obliged to satisfy his wants by his labor, it will appear to be folly to employ a part of the time in cutting diamonds, and in return to be obliged to go barefooted another part of the time. The inhabitants of a state have the disposal of a certain number of hours in a day; if they employ half of them in making futilities, it is evident that half the population will want for necessaries.
While M. Baudrillart condemns what he considers improper luxury with sufficient energy, he assumes that the procuring of necessaries does not afford a sufficient incentive to effort, and that a certain degree of luxury, of a moderate and moral kind, is indispensable as a stimulant to labor. I admit, with John Stuart Mill, that it may be well to give new wants to still savage people, so that their energy and ingenuity may be stimulated and they be lifted out of a condition of indolence by the exertion necessary to satisfy those wants; but the taste for consuming is not the one that needs to be stimulated among European peoples. The greater number of men, even in a country as rich as France, have not such homes, or furniture, or clothing, or food as hygiene requires, nor such as they all certainly would desire to have. Is not this want of necessaries sufficient to urge them to labor? It is the only incentive of those who labor with their hands; and it is only those who are at ease that seek for the superfluous. "But what," says M. Baudrillart, "will you do with those thousands of artists, those hundreds of thousands of workmen, who are working in metals, in cloths, ivory, woods, gems, with infinite taste?" The eminent economist himself answers the question a few pages further on, in replying to those who say that France "produces too much." "What does this fortunate France produce too much of? It is not of the things useful or agreeable in life when there are so many poor. Let some one point out what it is that is produced in superabundance. Is it wool, when so many are cold? Is it grain, when so many are in want of bread?" Let the men who are working at ivory and gems produce the wool and the grain which you say are lacking, and the question will be answered.
M. Baudrillart regards a small number of wants as a sign of inferiority, and supposes that the development of material wants corresponds with that of the moral faculties. This is true in the earlier stages of civilization, but ceases to be so in the later stages, when the development of wants is so little a sign of progress that they have been most multiplied and refined in times of laxity, corruption, and decadence. This is exemplified and proved in the case of the Roman Empire, where the impossible was pursued, and extravagance sought the height of enjoyment in the indulgence of perverted fancies.
Economists are accustomed to measure the degree of civilization of a country by its productive power. In a certain country the rich lay the world under contribution for the adornment of their mansions and the supply of their tables, while a million poor people may be living on public charity, a third of the population may be illiterate, another third may be without necessaries, and the prisons may have to be enlarged and martial law proclaimed. No matter; that country is called the most civilized in the world. In another country, we find brawny rustics, owning their houses and lands, procuring by their labor all that is indispensable to them. No one among them falls short of a certain degree of ease and education, but no luxury can be seen anywhere. That country is considered very backward. Such are the habitual judgments of the day. I believe them to be superficial and false.
Bastiat suggests, in his "Harmonies Économiques," that we can not find a solution to the questions raised by the introduction of machinery and external competition while we consider want as an invariable quantity; we must admit that our needs are indefinitely expansible, and invoke luxury to afford an opportunity to put surplus labor to use. Machines, the economists of this school reason in effect, abridge labor; the more they are multiplied and perfected, the fewer hours of labor are required to obtain the same products. Thus the demand for hands is diminished, and an increasing number of workmen are put out of employment. In order to keep these men at work, new wants must be invented as fast as actual wants are satisfied by a smaller amount of effort, so that the hours that have been placed at our disposition may be utilized.
I claim that we ought to ask that the time that has been gained by the increased productiveness of machinery should be devoted, not to the creation of superfluities to satisfy factitious demands, but to the cultivation of the mind and the enjoyment of society and of the beauties of art and nature. At present the effect of machinery seems to have been not to shorten but to lengthen the hours of toil, and to extend them through the night, and to make life more intense and cause a greater expenditure of nervous force.
To satisfy our rational wants we require food, clothing, and habitation suitable to the climate and season; to these we may add the cheap accessories which the progress of industrial art has put within the reach of all. The line between a consumption that is reasonable and one that is not so may be found in every case by answering the question whether the satisfaction which the desired object will procure is worth the time and effort necessary to produce it. If it is, I am right in procuring it; but, if to get it I have to divert human labor from a more useful destination, I am wrong. I sacrifice what is necessary to what is superfluous. M. Baudrillart regards everything superfluous as a luxury. I agree rather with M. J. B. Say, who thinks it must be also dear. Thus, a Japanese fan costing a cent or two and a cheap looking-glass are superfluous; but, as it costs but little effort to get them, the satisfaction they afford is quite worth the expenditure. When the countryman drinks his wine which he would sell, perhaps, at four sous a quart, it is not extravagance. When a Crœsus drinks Johannisberger at eight dollars a bottle, the expense is relatively little for him; but he has, nevertheless, consumed the equivalent of twenty days of labor, which have been taken from the whole of the time available to humanity for the satisfaction of its essential wants, and for what advantage? Only to secure the fugitive taste of a flavor that is hardly appreciable to the finest palates. No one will hesitate to say that the time has been put to a bad use. The fact escapes the world under the complications of exchange; nevertheless, people have an intuition of it, for they often blame certain foolish expenditures even when they are incurred by those who can afford them.
We may consider luxury from three points of view: First, from the moral point, as concerning the individual; within what limits is the perfect satisfaction of wants useful in the normal development of the human faculties? Second, from the economical point; to what extent is luxury a help or a hindrance to the increase of wealth? Third, from the point of right and justice; is luxury compatible with the equitable division of products, and with the general principle that the remuneration of each person ought to be proportional to the amount of useful labor that he has performed? The third aspect of the problem has hardly been appreciated, because it has never been clearly seen that juridical principles should be applied to the economical repartition of products. We should not forget, however; that Christianity, having made charity a duty, has always condemned luxury because it devotes to superfluous and therefore immoral expenditure that which ought, according to its principles, to be given to the poor.
Putting aside the consideration of what man owes to his fellows, and what charity and justice expect of him, let us see whether luxury is good or injurious to the individual. The end to be pursued by man in his life is the normal development of all his faculties and the happiness that should result from it. It includes the perfection of his physical and intellectual forces, of his sentiments, of his affections in the family and toward his race, and the enjoyment of the beautiful in nature and art. Modern luxury, with the multitude of efforts required to satisfy its demands, opposes a double inconvenience against the attainment of these objects. Time has to be consumed in gaining the money that its futilities require, and the leisure that is left after the money is got is employed in expending it upon them. The whole man is thus entangled in a wheel-work of material pursuits, and can afford nothing for the life of the mind and the heart. Consider the life of that financier who counts his millions by the hundred: his transactions, his calculations, his business associates, take up his whole day; and even in the evening, among pleasures which he seeks and does not enjoy, he is still thinking about operations that may increase that fortune the revenue of which already surpasses by many times the cost of all the wants that he can dream of. He may be said to be loaded down under the mass of his property. He may be without doubt a useful wheel in the general work of production, but is he on the road that leads to perfection and happiness? The man without wants is without cares, and may be gay as the lark all the day. By help of the gifts of science and art we are able to produce so much wealth that we are confounded at the sight of the figures by which it is measured in the statistical tables; and still our age is preoccupied, tense, and melancholy.
Bossuet treats this point in his "Traité de la Concupiscence" in language of great force: "The body," he says, "humbles the sublimity of our thoughts, and attaches us, who ought to breathe of heaven, to the earth. . . . Why," he continues, "do you turn your necessities into vanity? You need a house as a defense against injury from the weather—it is a weakness. You need food so that you can repair your forces, which are wasting away at every moment—another weakness. You need a bed where you can rest in your weariness and give yourself up to a sleep that chains and overwhelms your reason—another deplorable weakness. You make of all these witnesses and monuments of your weakness a spectacle for your vanity, and it seems as if you wished to triumph with the display of the infirmities that environ you on every side." Bossuet, it may be, carries the doctrine of renunciation to asceticism, but is he not right in the main? Is not every one of our needs a weakness, a subjection, a temptation to sacrifice the good and the just to sensuality? Dignity of bearing, pride in conduct, fidelity to opinion, often depend on simplicity in life. The fewer wants one has, the freer will he be to do whatever duty commands, and the less will he have in important crises to listen to the suggestions of cupidity.
The opinion that luxurious expenditure promotes the prosperity of the people is an error of the most pernicious character. Those who indulge in superfluities imagine that they are doing a service to the working people, and governing bodies, sharing in the delusion, sometimes grant special appropriations to induce certain functionaries to set the example of costly outlays. The most elementary notions of political economy should show this idea to be false. The progress of industry depends on-the increase of capital, and capital grows with saving. Luxury does not promote the increase of wages, but opposes it. Wages can only rise when capital increases faster than the number of workmen, or, as Cobden says, when two masters are running after one workman. Now, in order that this may take place, each of the competing employers must have accumulated a capital by saving. It is thus saving, not superfluous expenditure, that permits the creation of new fabrics and the employment of more workmen. In very rich countries, indeed, luxury does not prevent the increase of capital, because the incomes are sufficient there to answer for both purposes. Those who save are found in those countries along with those who spend, and the possessor of a large income may easily indulge some of his fancies and still save considerable sums. The immense surplus revenues of England are employed in the creation of new enterprises at home and abroad; but, if thrift were more general in that land, its productive capital would be still more largely increased and more widely distributed.
It is claimed, as a thing that is admitted by every one, that luxury stimulates trade. J. B. Say shows up this doctrine with the story of a rich uncle of his, who, after dining, broke his wineglasses, saying that the world must live. Say wondered why it would not be as well to break the rest of the furniture, to help more of the world's workmen to live. According to this view, Nero was inspired by true economical principles when he sung over the burning of Rome. M. de Saint-Chamant once remarked that, if Paris should be destroyed by fire, he would deplore the event as a citizen, but rejoice over it as an economist, for it would give an extraordinary bound to labor. If the doctrine be true, political economy should be the science, not of the production, but of the destruction, of wealth. The error arises from regarding labor rather than its results as the chief object.
To clear up this error, it is necessary, as Bastiat says, to distinguish between what we see and what we do not see. We see the workman who is engaged in replacing what has been destroyed, but we do not see the other workman who might have been employed to make something else with the money which we now have to apply to the payment of the former workman. Say's uncle certainly furnished work to the glass-factory, but if he had saved his glasses he might have spent the same amount of money in buying other things, and himself had more objects, while the wealth of the state would have been increased. Many hands were employed in rebuilding the monuments that were destroyed in Paris in 1871; but with the money that was thus spent other monuments, schoolhouses, or railways, for example, might have been built, and at the closing up of the account Paris would still have had its palaces, and the state would have gained new halls of instruction and new means of transportation.
It may be urged that, if our theories are carried out, hosts of tradesmen and artisans will be condemned to starvation. The value of this objection may be illustrated by an hypothetical example in life. A wealthy banker spends immense sums in feasts, and induces his friends to spend three or four times as much as he does. The dealers to whom patronage is given accumulate great sums. The public is charmed, trade flourishes. Now comes a preacher thundering against luxury, and instigating a revival of frugality. Balls and feasts are given up. What will be the result of the change? The banker and his friends are not going to throw their money away or let it be idle, but will do something with it to make it return a profit. One will improve a long neglected piece of land, will plant and drain it, and repair the buildings; another will enlarge his factory, and a third will undertake railway contracts. All will make work, and that of a useful and productive character, so that they may receive interest for their outlays. The same amount of money is spent, and it supports the same amount of work and gives a living to the same number of workmen, only they are employed in the fields, where they are not seen, instead of being engaged in the fashionable shops, where they are always before the eye of the public. Now look at the difference in the effect on the wealth of the country. When the ballroom lights were put out, what was left? Nothing but rumpled vanities, deranged stomachs, and overtaxed nerves. The capital of society has been twice diminished: in the expenditure of money and the waste of human force. On the other hand, when the useful enterprises which have given as much work are finished, there remain a field better drained and manured and bearing more grain, a better planted forest furnishing more wood, a new factory turning out more goods, and a new railway line. The country is enriched and produces more. In the next year the workmen are better provided for, their expenses are lessened, more hands are needed to keep the increased capital employed, and wages are raised. A profit has accrued on both sides. The application of means to the production of necessary and useful objects has the additional advantage that the demand for such objects is more stable, that they are not so readily dispensed with in times of retrenchment, and are not so subject to the changes and caprices of fashion.
It is further pleaded that luxury makes money circulate. This, also, is unsound. Circulation of itself brings no profit. Money nowhere circulates faster than on the green cloth of the roulette-table. Some lose, others gain, millions; but what is the profit to the country? Money is all the time in circulation, unless it is buried in a pot. The important matter is, whether in passing from hand to hand it commands permanent ameliorations and satisfies the real wants of men, or whether it is wasted upon the futilities that minister to pride and ostentation.
The crowd approve the letting off of expensive fireworks, and believe that the money they cost is still in the country, and that nothing is lost. But there were in the country two capitals: one of money, the other represented by powder, which might have been employed in extracting coal and minerals from the earth, or in works for railways. The second capital has vanished in smoke, and only the money is left. Consumption is always destruction; it is important to see that for this destruction is returned as compensation some satisfaction of real wants, or the creation of some new means of production. Consumption is in reality a barter. We give up an existing value; if we receive in return something to strengthen the body and exalt the soul, we have done well; if something to stimulate pride and vanity, it is worse than nothing, and we have done ill.
We may regard luxury, in the third place, from the juridical side, and ask if it is compatible with right and justice. All Christian tradition answers the question in the negative. The Scriptures abound in passages condemning the egotistical and unregulated employment of riches. The fathers of the Church insisted upon a kind of equality of right, and urged that those who have a superfluity can not legitimately dispose of it for themselves, but ought to share it with those who are in want of necessaries. The Church has indicated alms as the single remedy for inequality of wealth and its resultant luxury. What is to be done, however, now that political economy has demonstrated, from the evidence of facts, that alms engenders idleness, mendicity, indolence, and debasement of character, and that it is fundamentally wrong, because it levies an impost on those who work for the profit of those who do not work?
The true solution of the question is to be found in encouraging the greatest possible number of citizens to become holders of property. Let it be in the power of each one to secure a parcel of land, a bond, or an industrial obligation, a little capital in some form, so that property may become democratized, and extreme inequality will be caused to disappear; then, if the progress of mechanical arts induces the multiplication and refinement of products, they will be within the reach of all. Such conditions still prevail in countries where the agrarian customs and the proprietary forms of primitive times have not been destroyed by the civil laws and feudal and royal usurpations.
Voltaire says on this subject, in his "Dictionnaire Philosophique": "If we understand by luxury all that is over and above the necessary, it is a natural consequence of the progress of the human species, and by a consequent reasoning every enemy of luxury should believe, with Rousseau, that man's real state of happiness and virtue is not that of the savage, but of the orang-outang. We feel, however, that it would be absurd to regard as evils such conveniences as all men enjoy; so we generally give the name of luxury only to the superfluities which are within the reach of but a small number of persons. In this sense, luxury is a necessary concomitant of property, without which no society can exist, and of a great inequality in fortunes, which is the result, not of the right of property, but of bad laws. It is, therefore, bad laws that generate luxury, and it is good laws that must destroy it. Hence, moralists should address their remonstrances to legislators, not to individuals; for it is in the order of possible events that a virtuous and enlightened man should have the power of making reasonable laws, but it is not in human nature that all the rich men of a country should virtuously give up the enjoyment of buying pleasure and vanity at the price of a small sum of money."
One kind of luxury only, in my opinion, is justifiable: that, namely, which admits the public to its enjoyments; which invites the masses to the pleasures of public gardens and fountains, which places the beautiful within the reach of those who can not own statuary or pictures, by establishing museums of art, and which founds libraries and public expositions. Such collective luxury, if well directed, is profitable to all. It raises the level and fecundates the genius of industry. The duty of the easy classes in every country is to favor those movements which will tend to enable all of the people to become possessors of property, and themselves to set the example of application to labor, rural tastes, simplicity of life, and high moral and intellectual culture. Those who have the disposal of the superfluous produce of the country should employ their wealth not in refining material enjoyments, or in stimulating the unhealthy gratifications of vanity and pride, but in works of general utility, as many an American citizen and more than one European sovereign have done.