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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 small quantity of mercury. If the king's tax, therefore, is but ill paid upon filver, it is likely to be much wo: fe 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 fmalleft 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 commonly be employed, the food, cloaths, and lodging which must commonly be confumed in bringing them from the mine to the market, determine it. It must at least be sufficient 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 scarcity can ever raise it. Increase the scarcity of gold to a certain degree, and the fmalleft bit of it may become more precious than a diamond, and exchange for a greater quantity of other goods.
The demand for those metals arifes partly from their utility, and partly from their beauty. If you except iron, they are more ufeful than, perhaps, any other metal. As they are lefs
liable to ruft and impurity, they can more eafily CHAP. 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 dress 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 fcarcity, 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 ufeful, but more common. Thefe 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 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 arises altogether from their beauty. They are of no use, 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 fmall fhare; frequently for no fhare; and the most 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 whose benefit they were wrought, had ordered all of them to be fhut up, except those which yield the largest and finest 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 those of Potofi as they were fuperior to thofe of Europe, the value of filver might be
fo much degraded as to render even the mines of c HA P. Potofi not worth the working. Before the dif covery of the Spanish West Indies, the moft fertile mines in Europe may have afforded as great a rent to their proprietor as the richest mines in Peru do at prefent. Though the quantity of filver was much lefs, it might have exchanged for an equal quantity of other goods, and the proprietor's fhare might have enabled him to purchase or command an equal quantity either of labour or of commodities. The value both of the produce and of the rent, the real revenue which they afforded both to the public and to the proprietor, might have been the fame.
The most abundant mines either of the precious metals or of the precious ftones could add little to the wealth of the world. A produce of which the value is principally derived from its fcarcity, is neceffarily degraded by its abun dance. A fervice of plate, and the other frivolous ornaments of drefs and furniture, could be purchased for a smaller quantity of labour, or for a fmaller quantity of commodities; and in this would confift the fole advantage which the world could derive from that abundance.
It is otherwife in estates above ground. The value both of their produce and of their rent is in proportion to their abfolute, and not to their relative fertility. The land which produces a certain quantity of food, cloaths, and lodging, can always feed, cloath, and lodge a certain number of people; and whatever may be the proportion of the landlord, it will always give
BOOK him a proportionable command of the labour of thofe people, and of the commodities with which that labour can supply him. The value of the moft, barren lands is not diminished by the neighbourhood of the moft fertile. On the contrary, it is generally increased by it. The great number of people maintained by the fertile lands afford a market to many parts of the produce of the barren, which they could never have found among those whom their own produce could maintain.
Whatever increases the fertility of land in producing food, increafes not only the value of the lands upon which the improvement is bestowed, but contributes likewife to increase that of many other lands, by creating a new demand for their produce. That abundance of food, of which, in confequence of the improvement of land, many people have the difpofal beyond what they themselves can confume, is the great caufe of the demand both for the precious metals and the precious ftones, as well as for every other conveniency and ornament of drefs, lodging, houfhold furniture, and equipage. Food not only constitutes the principal part of the riches of the world, but it is the abundance of food which gives the principal part of their value to many other forts of riches. The poor inhabitants of Cuba and St. Domingo, when they were first discovered by the Spaniards, ufed to wear little bits of gold as ornaments in their hair and other parts of their drefs. They feemed to value them as we would do any little pebbles of fomewhat