Imágenes de páginas


BOOK fame moft refpectable and well informed authors acquaint us, that when any perfon undertakes to work a new mine in Peru, he is univerfally looked upon as a man deftined to bankruptcy and ruin, and is upon that account fhunned and avoided by every body. Mining, it feems, is confidered there in the fame light as here, as a lottery, in which the prizes do not compenfate the blanks, though the greatnefs of fome tempts many adventurers to throw away their fortunes in fuch unprofperous projects.

As the fovereign, however, derives a confiderable part of his revenue from the produce of filver mines, the law in Peru gives every poffible encouragement to the discovery and working of new ones. Whoever difcovers a new mine, is entitled to measure off two hundred and fortyfix feet in length, according to what he fuppofes to be the direction of the vein, and half as much in breadth. He becomes proprietor of this portion of the mine, and can work it without paying any acknowledgment to the landlord. The intereft of the Duke of Cornwall has given occafion to a regulation nearly of the fame kind in that ancient dutchy. In waste and uninclosed lands any perfon who difcovers a tin mine, may mark out its limits to a certain extent, which is called bounding a mine. The bounder becomes the real proprietor of the mine, and may either work it himself, or give it in leafe to another, without the confent of the owner of the land, to whom, however, a very finall acknowledgment must be paid upon working it. In both regula

[blocks in formation]

tions the facred rights of private property are CHA P. facrificed to the fuppofe dinterefts of public re


The fame encouragement is given in Peru to the discovery and working of new gold mines; and in gold the king's tax amounts only to a twentieth part of the ftandard metal. It was once a fifth, and afterwards a tenth, as in filver; but it was found that the work could not bear even the lowest of these two taxes. If it is rare, however, fay the fame authors, Frezier and Ulloa, to find a person who has made his fortune by a filver, it is ftill much rarer to find one who has done fo by a gold mine. This twentieth part seems to be the whole rent which is paid by the greater part of the gold mines in Chili and Peru. Gold too is much more liable to be fimuggled than even filver; not only on account of the fuperior value of the metal in proportion to its bulk, but on account of the peculiar way in which nature produces it. Silver is very feldom found virgin, but, like most other metals, is generally mineralized with fome other body, from which it is impoffible to feparate it in fuch quantities as will pay for the expence, but by a very laborious and tedious operation, which cannot well be carried on but in workhouses erected for the purpose, and therefore expofed to the inspection of the king's officers. Gold, on the contrary, is almoft always found virgin. It is fometimes found in pieces of fome bulk; and even when mixed in finall and almost infen. fible particles with fand, earth, and other extra



BOOK neous bodies, it can be feparated from them by


a very short and fimple operation, which can be carried on in any private house by any body who is poffeffed of a fmall quantity of mercury. If the king's tax, therefore, is but ill paid upon filver, it is likely to be much worse paid upon gold; and rent must make a much smaller part of the price of gold, than even of that of filver.

The lowest price at which the precious metals can be fold, or the finalleft quantity of other goods for which they can be exchanged during any confiderable time, is regulated by the fame principles which fix the lowest ordinary price of all other goods. The ftock which muft com. monly be employed, the food, cloaths, and lodg ing which muft commonly be confumed in bring. ing them from the mine to the market, determine it. It must at least be fufficient to replace that stock with the ordinary profits.

Their highest price, however, feems not to be neceffarily determined by any thing but the actual fcarcity or plenty of thofe metals themfelves. It is not determined by that of any other commodity, in the fame manner as the price of coals is by that of wood, beyond which no fcarcity can ever raife it. Increase the scarcity of gold to a certain degree, and the smallest bit of it may become more precious than a diamond, and exchange for a greater quantity of other goods.

The demand for thofe metals arifes partly from their utility, and partly from their beauty. If you except iron, they are more useful than, perhaps, any other metal. As they are lefs


liable to ruft and impurity, they can more eafily CHA P. be kept clean; and the utenfils either of the table or the kitchen are often upon that account more agreeable when made of them. A filver boiler is more cleanly than a lead, copper, or tin one; and the fame quality would render a gold boiler ftill better than a filver one. Their principal merit, however, arifes from their beauty, which renders them peculiarly fit for the ornaments of drefs and furniture. No paint or dye can give fo fplendid colour as gilding. The merit of their beauty is greatly enhanced by their scarcity. With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches confifts in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never fo complete as when they appear to poffefs thofe decifive marks of opulence which nobody can poffefs but themselves. In their eyes the merit of an object which is in any degree either useful or beautiful, is greatly enhanced by its scarcity, or by the great labour which it requires to collect any confiderable quantity of it, a labour which nobody can afford to pay but themselves. Such objects they are willing to purchase at a higher price than things much more beautiful and useful, but more common. These qualities of utility, beauty, and scarcity, are the original foundation of the high price of thofe metals, or of the great quantity of other goods for which they can every-where be exchanged. This value was antecedent to and independent of their being employed as coin, and was the quality which fitted them for that employment. That


BOOK employment, however, by occafioning a new de I. mand, and by diminishing the quantity which could be employed in any other way, may have afterwards contributed to keep up or increase their value.

The demand for the precious ftones arifes altogether from their beauty. They are of no ufe, but as ornaments; and the merit of their beauty is greatly enhanced by their scarcity, or by the difficulty and expence of getting them from the mine. Wages and profit accordingly make up, upon moft occafions, almoft the whole of their high price. Rent comes in but for a very small fhare; frequently for no fhare; and the moft fertile mines only afford any confiderable rent. When Tavernier, a jeweller, vifited the diamond mines of Golconda and Vifiapour, he was informed that the fovereign of the country, for whofe benefit they were wrought, had ordered all of them to be fhut up, except those which yield the largest and fineft ftones. The others, it feems, were to the proprietor not worth the working.

As the price both of the precious metals and of the precious ftones is regulated all over the world by their price at the most fertile mine in it, the rent which a mine of either can afford to its proprietor is in proportion, not to its abfolute, but to what may be called its relative fertility, or to its fuperiority over other mines of the fame kind. If new mines were discovered as much fuperior to thofe of Potofi as they were fuperior to thofe of Europe, the value of filver might be


« AnteriorContinuar »