Abbildungen der Seite

the answer is, that it is better to mitigate Usury by declaration,29 than to suffer it to rage 30 by connivance.


1. Usury.' The word usury, which in Bacon's time meant

simply interest, has now come to mean exorbitant interest. It is in the former sense that we must understand it throughout this essay.

For many years it was considered a heinous moral wrong to require in repayment of a loan anything over and above the sum originally lent, and hence the origin of laws against usury, which restricted or even prohibited the exaction of interest by lenders. In many cases these laws originated in a commendable desire to protect borrowers against unscrupulous money-lenders, and they have a reasonable justification in the fact that, in an age when profitable investment of money was unheard of, and the bulk of a man's wealth was hoarded up, he suffered no loss by lending money, provided it were repaid to him. In Christian countries the exaction of interest was regarded with abhorrence because of the severe denunciations of the practice in several passages of Holy Scripture (Exod. xxii, 25, 26; Lev. xxv, 35-37).

The whole state of society has, however, greatly changed since laws of this kind were common, and the many and vari. ous ways in which capital can now be invested and profit. ably employed, have originated a large class of business men who borrow for profit (a class totally distinct from those who borrow from necessity), and who are content to allow the lender a share of that profit called interest, keeping the remainder as their own reward.

The folly of laws restricting interest_was conclusively exposed by Jeremy Bentham, 1747, in Defence of Usury, who showed their mischievous effect upon general commerce, and their utter inefficacy in regard to the protection of needy borrowers. It is now quite clear to every intelligent man that a loan is a commodity which has a value, and that the price of loans must be determined not by legislation, but, like the value of everything else, viz., by the bargaining of the market; that is, in other words, by the equation of supply and demand.

An Act of Parliament, passed by Henry VIII in 1545, limited the rate of interest to ten per cent. per annum ; this was repealed as heinously sinful in the reign of Edward VI, but re-enacted in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth. The subject occupied the attention of the legislature in several sessions of Parliament shortly before this essay was written, and in 1624 another Act was passed reducing the maximum rate of

interest to eight per cent. 2. "invectives'- -severe censures, reproaches. (From inveigh.) 3. 'The drones, a lazy race, are driven from their hive'-Virgil,

Georgics, iv, 168. 4. 'In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread;' not 'in the

sweat of another's brow.' See Gen. iii, 19. 5. 'orange-tawny bonnets.' In the Middle Ages it was custom

ary to enforce by law certain styles of dress upon the different ranks and professions of society, and it was not uncommon to compel Jews to wear head-dresses of yellow.

Such a dress of distinctive colour was probably the Jewish gaber

dine' of Shylock-Merchant of Venice, iii. 6. against nature for money to beget money. Interest was

considered a wicked or incestuous offspring, begotten by the money lent. Hence, in the Merchant of Venice, Antonio asks Shylock :

"When did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend ?'

The following passage from Meres will illustrate the same conceit:

'Usurie and encrease of gold and silver is unlawful because against nature; nature hath made them sterill and barren, usurie maketh them procreative.'

The conceit was originated by Aristotle, De Republ., lib. i, cap. x, in a passage of which the following is a translation :

'Usury is justly to be censured; for it has not its origin in nature but amongst ourselves; for usury is most reasonably detested, as the increase of our fortune arises from the money itself, and not by employing it to the purpose for which it was intended. For it was devised for the sake of exchange, but usury multiplies it, and hence usury has received the name of Tókos or produce, for whatsoever is produced is itself like its parents; and usury is merely money born of money, so that of all means of money-making this is the most contrary to nature.'

7. 'A concession by reason of hardness of heart.' See Matt. xix, 8. 8. “Banks'-i.e. public societies or corporations permitted by the

State to lend money under certain restrictions, and on certain conditions ; in contradistinction to private money-lenders.

As the first of the proposed means for checking usury, Bacon designates this as 'suspicious and cunning;' in his day money matters were so imperfectly understood that banking as a business was looked upon with suspicion.

The first public bank established in modern Europe was that of Venice, founded in 1157 ; it existed for more than six centuries—until the overthrow of the Venetian republic in 1797. It was, like our Bank of England, an incorporation of public creditors, to whom privileges were allowed by

the State. 9. discovery of men's estates '-compulsory disclosure of men's

affairs so as to ascertain whether they had increased them

unlawfully by usury. 10. 'weighed out, or culled out'-either accurately ascertained, or

else, if possible, separated from the evil. 11. make forth'-go forward. 12. “money would not lie still. This is an absurd fallacy. A

banker does not receive deposits of money to lock it up safely until the depositor requires it again, but he at once begins to use it. Were it not so, truly banks would be 'suspicious and cunning.' Hoarded weath lies still. Banks are

a means of profitably circulating wealth. 13. 'vena porta." See note 35, Essay XIX. 14. sit'-hold (as a farm is held at a certain rent). 15. customs '-duties and taxes, as part of State income. 16. purchasing.' He evidently means 'purchasing of land,'

which, in his time, was almost the only form of property. His theory, as to the consequence of usury upon the price of

landed property, is altogether fallacious. 17. stand'-stagnation, hindrance. 18. undoing '-ruin, injury. See note 2, Essay XXVIII. 19. 'under foot'-at a low price; below its real value. 20. A mortgage is a conveyance of property as security for the pay

ment of a debt or fulfilment of some condition ; when the debt is paid or the condition fulfilled the conveyance becomes null, but if unfulfilled, it becomes absolute.

Bacon says that mortgaging will never put a stop to usury, because if the mortgagee cannot have profit (' usë'), he will

naturally try to compel a forfeiture of the property mortgaged. 21. Utopia.' He is referring to Sir Thomas More's famous poli

tical romance, which describes an imaginary model country called Utopia, all the institutions and customs of which are absolutely perfect. One of the Utopian customs was to induce a contempt for gold and silver, by compelling

criminals to wear them as a punishment. 22. reglement'-regulation. 23. 'to seek'-in want; at a loss.

* I do not think my sister so to seek,

Or so unprincipled in virtue's book '-Comus, 336, 337.
• They are as much to seek in other things,
As he that only can design a tree

Would be to draw a shipwreck'-ROSCOMMON. 24. Declare that no penalty shall be exacted for lending money at this 25. Bacon does not see that in loans, as in other commodities,


there is a constant tendency to general equality in value, and this equality is produced by the raising of all prices to the highest possible amount. No man will sell his wheat at 50S. a quarter if his neighbour is selling no better wheat at 545. ; and no lender would be contented with 5 per cent. if other

lenders were getting 6 per cent. 26. edge'-sharpen, quicken. 27. answered'-paid, remunerated. 28. Then they will not be able to lend other men's money, as their

secret agents, pretending that it is their own.

In the precautions which Bacon here suggests, he really exhibits the weakness, folly, and impracticableness of the scheme he is proposing. What would he have said if he could have foreseen the rise and prosperity of so many joint

stock banks! 29. • declaration '-open recognition and regulation. 30.‘rage'-grow excessive and harmful.


1. Some attempts have been made to stop usury

1. By invectives ; offensive names and comparisons.
2. By 'suspicious and cunning propositions:

(a.) Banks.

(6.) Discovering of men's estates, etc. II. The discommodities of usury, viz., that it

1. Causes stagnation of capital.
2. Is a hindrance and burden to merchants.
3. Decreases the royal revenue.
4. Aggregates the wealth of the country in the hands of a

5. Decreases the price of land.
6. Discourages industries, improvements, and inventions.

7. Impoverishes many men who are obliged to borrow. III. The commodities of usury:

1. It encourages and assists young merchants.
2. It saves needy men from 'sudden undoing.'

3. It is folly to think that it can be suppressed.
IV. Suggestions for the reformation and regulation of usury:

1. The two objects to be aimed at:

(a.) To check excessive usury.

(6.) To facilitate trade. 2. Modes of obtaining these : (a.) Let an ordinary low rate of interest (say 5 per cent.)

be legalised, and made free and open to all. This will

1. Stimulate trade.
2. Ease borrowers.
3. Raise price of land.

4. Encourage industrious improvements.
(6.) Let certain persons be licensed to lend at a higher

rate on these conditions :

1. The interest to be less than previously.
2. No banks or common stock 'to be licensed.
3. A sum to be paid for the licence.
4. The number of licensed lenders to be un-

limited, but restricted to certain principal

cities and towns. V. Such authorised usury is better than the present prevalent


XLII.-OF YOUTH AND AGE. (1612, slightly

enlarged 1625.) A man that is young in years may be old in hours, if he have lost no time; but that happeneth rarely. Generally, Youth is like the first cogitations, not so wise as the second: for there is a Youth in thoughts, as well as in ages; and yet the invention 1 of young men is more lively than that of old, and imaginations stream into their minds better, and, as it were, more divinely.2

Natures that have much heat, and great and violent desires and perturbations, are not ripe for action till they have passed the meridian of their years : as it was with Julius Cæsar and Septimius Severus ;3 of the latter of whom it is said, ' Juventutem egit erroribus, imo furoribus plenam; '4 and yet he was the ablest emperor, almost, of all the list; but reposed natures may do well in Youth, as it is seen in Augustus Cæsar, Cosmus, Duke of Florence, Gaston de Foix, and others. On the other side, heat and vivacity in Age is an excellent composition for business.

Young men are fitter to invent than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel, and fitter for new projects than for settled business; for the experience of Age, in things that fall within the compass of it, directeth them; but in new things abuseth? them.

« ZurückWeiter »