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of less, now of higher value, always agrees in this--that it is uniform, inexorable, and so in this sense all law is of equal dignity and significance; it beseems us well to take good heed lest we carelessly appropriate the word even, and so, calling that law which is only accident, invest a mere pretender with the royal purple that belongs to the king only.
Is there, then, anything in this matter of equivalents which can justly claim to be called a law? As remarked already, there is a law of gravitation, in no wise to be relaxed or suspended in behalf of the unwary traveller who sets his foot too near the crumbling edge of the precipice. There is a law of combustion, and though whole cities may suffer from it, and the wealth men have been gathering up through long years of toil and self-denial melt away from them in a single night, by reason of a spark falling a hand's breadth to the right rather than to the left; there is no help for it—the law must be satisfied. It may be a great army has been marshalled and equipped, under some latelyCorsican adventurer—now become French emperor-and the earth trembles beneath their feet, as the moving squadrons take their way towards yon Russian capital. Soon follows Borodino's battle—the Russian capital is given to the flames. Beyond that circle of fire lies, in half-concealed ambush, another foe—the piercing cold of a northern winter—and the ominous word “retreat ” is sounded all along through those now broken ranks. Retreat! Back again, through deserts where there are no houses, and no food grows; where is wide, interminable sweep of half-frozen marsh and stainless snow; stainless now, but to-morrow to be crimsoned with the blood of that fugitive host, whose course is marked by the bodies of dead and dying soldiers. Back again? Yes, even to the banks of some opposing Beresina river, whose thronged bridge, hammered upon by close-pursuing Russian artillery, shall then and there fall in pieces, and in the coming spring twelve thousand corpses shall tell how many French fighting men, in one single instant, found watery
graves there. Back again? Yes, and out of all that mighty host, preyed upon by disease, and famine, and cold, and fatigue, and the bayonets of the pursuing foe, twenty thousand are at last gathered under the walls of Paris. Such is law!
See that widowed mother there. Except for that single son of hers, that only child, her daily prayer would be to go hence, and join the father of that child, now, as she believes, in heaven. But the son remains, a support and a solace to the mother-the mother a support and solace to the
When the labors of the day are over, the mother already watching there with listening ear for the familiar footfall, he hurries away from the place of business, the path he follows showing, just a step in advance, a decrepit, shivering, starving, friendless beggar. The report of a rifle, carelessly handled and discharged, is heard ; the beggar passes on unharmed; the listening ear hears not one impatient footstep, but many, as of a crowd, that hesitates; and she knows it all. Law-law even in accident.
But assuming, as we for a moment must, that there is no misappropriation of the word here-be it so. What of it? Why not allow the foundling thus lying, naked and nameless, under the hedge to remain there? Why call for christeningrobes, and, by giving the outcast a name, make his worthlessness perhaps all the more apparent ? To which questions we now proceed to furnish such answer as may be; premising only this one quite self-evident remark—that lofty endeavor is often attended by miserable failure; that lavish expenditure is daily and hourly followed by most pitiful results ; the fit solution of which apparent incongruousness, we flatter ourselves, we have found, when, taking up with that which comes accredited to us by long usage, we exclaim : Fortune is a blind goddess, a capricious, perverse dame, who bestows her favors altogether at random. And we pronounce this man lucky, and that man unlucky; and that is all there is to be said about it.
Let us, then, now inquire, the way having thus been pre
pared for it, what is meant by this “law of equivalents.” A man chances upon a horse having certain fine points, offered for sale in the market, and would like to become the owner of him. He feels well assured that one or two, or five hundred, or, it may be, that five thousand dollars will not answer the purpose ; but he is equally well assured that, somewhere along in the line of hundreds or thousands, there is a point he can reach, so that his purse be long enough, when the coveted object may become his own. Another man goes into the market to buy a barrel of flour. He understands perfectly well that the only question which can arise is, whether, supposing, indeed, that his money be not counterfeit, he has enough of it. It is a question of quantity, and nothing else. And so always, all along through the narrow, intricate by-ways where trade and commerce engage men's attention in all the infinitely diversified pursuits and transactions, where the sole object of the transfer is money, from the wholesale millionnaire, who buys by the cargo, down to the poor needle-woman, who sends to the retail shop on the corner for a half ounce of tea, it is still and always a question of amount, and nothing else. And inasmuch as ninety-nine parts in a hundred of all that occupies the thoughts and furnishes motive to the vast majority, is this very kind of exchange we have described, money to be paid by one party and received by the other, the quantity thereof being the sole question ; and inasmuch as almost every man in the community is reminded of this fact by every money transaction he enters into, and so has it dwelling by his side every day and every hour of his life, would it not be the most natural error in the world for him to fall into, that the same rule applies elsewhere, quite outside of money transactions ? Might we not suspect, even were there no recorded facts to demonstrate it, that in other calculations, and other enterprises, quite foreign to those of trade and commerce, he would be found still placing his reliance on, and making sole account of, quantity, amount, magnitude, in matters with which, if the truth were to be spoken, all these have nothing and less than nothing to do?
We have thus selected money and given to it a prominence here, since, having been long accepted by common consent as the measure of value, it seemed the fittest illustration for the purpose in hand. But it is as an illustration only that we have introduced it, and not at all as an exhaustive statement of the subject-matter. For the commodities or objects to which the measure is to be applied—how are these in turn to be themselves estimated ? Chiefly again by bulk, by magnitude, by quantity-all these, or some of them, to be ascertained and set down with counting-house exactness on the appointed page, so many pounds troy or avoirdupois—so many cubic feet, so many bushels. And this is not accident, and so forming an exception to a rule. It is not accident, and so a matter against which relief is to be sought or prayed for. Within its legitimate sphere it is itself legitimate. It is the law of man’s condition, who, himself the subject of material wants, has been constituted lord and proprietor of a material uni
In the fashioning and subduing of this universe, he not only makes provision for these his natural wants, which haunt him at every step, clamoring loudly to be satisfied, but here he wins almost his only triumphs. Here he is allowed to witness a growth commensurate with the amount of skill and labor expended, and in this growth and these triumphs, he imagines, at least, that he discovers approbation for the path his industry has selected-chiefly, material ; secondarily, spiritual.
Again, outside and beyond the mammon temple, around whose walls forever ascends the roar of trade and commerce, a still additional contribution, though of a quite opposite description, is found in the same direction in our emotions. Illimitable stretch of far-sweeping forests; stupendous cataracts; immense lakes ; snow-capped mountains ; immeasurable, ever-booming ocean; those mysterious orbs of light that pursue their way through the unfathomable vault above usall these awaken within us emotions of sublimity. They fill us with delight; they claim our homage; they penetrate our souls with a religious awe. However the mere arithmetic of life, which has to do with the inferior parts of man's nature, may have hanging around it a taint of the sordid, and the gross, and the sensual, no conscience-questions arise in this school to annoy the willing disciple. In yielding to these emotions, instead of any fear lest he may be approaching dangerous ground, he feels that he is responding to a voice that addresses his better nature, inviting him to a purer atmosphere, to loftier heights, to brighter fields. And thus, once more, magnitude becomes for us at the same time a synonym and a symbol of value. The great is the good ; the vast is the sacred; the infinite is the holy. And surely it were passing strange if habits of thought become so inveterate by long indulgence, and by constant exercise; if rules of measurement, so incorporated and interfused into our very life by a strict necessity of our nature, by the very law of its being, and then still further accredited by these higher and holier instincts—passing strange would it be, if principles thus introduced to our hands should never overleap their appropriate boundaries, and be found claiming an application in other fields to which they are all unsuited.
Reduced, then, to set formula, the law means, first, this: that for a large class of objects which the world has long set its heart upon,-indeed, for most that are not subjects of trade, — nature affixes as the price, not magnitude, not amount, not quantity, not even value, as men estimate value, but kindspecific reward being attached to specific effort, and specific experience to specific payment.
Secondly. As payment must be made in kind, the law is inexorable, and recognizes nothing like barter or substitution-knows nothing of exchangeable values.
Thirdly. Insisting as it does upon kind, the law takes into its own hands the decision as to what that kind shall be, and determines beyond appeal its value ; and, although it frequently demands variety of payment, it accepts no surplus endowments or offerings in one direction, to atone for lack in another.