Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Essay on Luxury by Oliver Goldsmith


Some of Oliver Goldsmith's writing is assigned to AO students in year 9.  I don't think this essay is one of them, but it could be used for dictation or just as one of the essays included in their literature reading.  If you do that, I'd include three or four more of his essays so the students get a feel and sense of Goldsmith's style.

To use for dictation, the year 9 student should spend a few minutes a day reading it and studying the spelling and punctuation each day on Monday thru Thursday.  On Friday, dictate any two paragraphs to your student and then compare to the original and make necessary corrections.  You could allow them to take dictation on a word program with the spell-check on (you may need to note that some of the spellings below are English rather than American)

You could have your student read this carefully on Monday, make an outline of it on Tuesday, and on Friday try to rewrite it in his own words.  This is the method Ben Franklin used to improve his own writing.  Suggest updating it by revising the problematic references (such as the 'savage in Thibet.')

Or ask your student to write his own essay on luxury.  Does the student agree or disagree with what Goldsmith says here?

Compare and contrast what Goldsmith says to the current trend for minimalism and 'Kon Mari-izing.'

The Benefits Of Luxury In Making A People More Wise And Happy
From Oliver Goldsmith’s CITIZEN OF THE WORLD, compiled from texts at archive.org
Note- this was published in 1760/61. and describes people of other countries and races in ways we find appalling today.

From such a picture of nature in primeval simplicity, tell me, my much respected friend, are you in love with fatigue and solitude? Do you sigh for the severe frugality of the wandering Tartar, or regret being born amidst the luxury and dissimulation of the polite? Rather tell me, has not every kind of life vices peculiarly its own? Is it not a  truth, that refined countries have more vices, but those not so terrible; barbarous nations few, and they of the most hideous complexion? Perfidy and fraud are the vices of civilised nations, credulity and violence those of the inhabitants of the desert. Does the luxury of the one produce half the evils of the inhumanity of the other? Certainly, those Philosophers who declaim against luxury have but little understood its benefits; they seem insensible, that to luxury we owe not only the greatest part of our knowledge, but even of our virtues.

It may sound fine in the mouth of a declaimer, when he talks of subduing our appetites, of teaching every sense to be content with a bare sufficiency, and of supplying only the wants of nature; but is there not more satisfaction in indulging those appetites, if with innocence and safety, than in restraining them? Am not I better pleased in enjoyment, than in the sullen satisfaction of thinking that I can live without enjoyment? The more various our artificial necessities, the wider is our circle of pleasure; for all pleasures consist in obviating necessities as they arise: luxury, therefore, as it increases our wants, increases our capacity for happiness.*  

Examine the history of any country remarkable for opulence and wisdom, you will find they would never have been wise had they not been first luxurious; you will find poets, philosophers, and even patriots, marching in luxury's train. The reason is obvious: we then only are curious after knowledge, when we find it connected with sensual happiness. The senses ever point out the way, and reflection comments upon the discovery. Inform a native of the desert of Kobi, of the exact measure of the parallax of the moon**, he finds no satisfaction at all in the information; he wonders how any could take such pains, and lay out such treasures, in order to solve so useless a difficulty: but connect it with his happiness, by shewing that it improves navigation — that by such an investigation he may have a warmer coat, a better gun, or a finer knife, — and he is instantly in raptures at so great an improvement. In short, we only desire to know what we desire to possess; and whatever we may talk against it, luxury adds the spur to curiosity, and gives us a desire of becoming more wise.  

But not our knowledge only, but our virtues are improved by luxury. Observe the brown savage of Thibet, to whom the fruits of the spreading pomegranate supply food, and its branches an habitation. Such a character has few vices, I grant, but those he has are of the most hideous nature: rapine and cruelty are scarcely crimes in his eye; neither pity nor tenderness, which ennoble every virtue, have any place in his heart; he hates his enemies, and kills those he subdues. On the other hand, the polite Chinese and civilized European, seem even to love their enemies. I have just now seen an instance, where the English have succoured those enemies, whom their own countrymen actually refused to relieve.***  
The greater the luxuries of every country, the more closely, politically speaking, is that country united. Luxury is the child of society alone; the luxurious man stands in need of a thousand different artists to furnish out his happiness: it is more likely, therefore, that he should be a good citizen who is connected by motives of self-interest with so many, than the abstemious man who is united to none.  

In whatsoever light, therefore, we consider luxury, whether as employing a number of hands, naturally too feeble for more laborious employment; as finding a variety of occupation for others who might be totally idle; or as furnishing out new inlets to happiness, without encroaching on mutual property; in whatever light we regard it, we shall have reason to stand up in its defense, and the sentiment of Confucius still remains unshaken, "That we should enjoy as many of the luxuries of life as are consistent with our own safety, and the prosperity of others; and that he who finds out a new pleasure, is one of the most useful members of society.”  

Notes:

 * This sentiment, a favourite one with Goldsmith, is well expressed in his poem the Traveller:  
If few their wants, their pleasures are but few;
For every want that stimulates the breast,
Becomes a source of pleasure when redrest.
Hence from such lands each pleasing science flies,
That first excites desire, and then supplies;
Unknown to them, when sensual pleasures cloy,
To fill the languid pause with finer joy;
Unknown those powers that raise the soul to flame,
Catch every nerve, and vibrate through the frame.


**a term in Astronomy—the difference between the apparent and the real place of a star or other celestial object.  

***During the Napoleonic Wars the French prisoners of war in English hands experienced great want and poverty, as they were expected to receive some funds to alleviate their living conditions from friends, family, and government at home.  The French refused, and so the English citizens took up a subscription to raise money for their relief.  One of the donations came from an Englishman who termed himself a 'Citizen of the world,' and this was the source of Goldsmith's title, and the subject of another one of his essays in the volume.

You can read more about Citizen of the World here.

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3 comments:

  1. We will be doing Year 9 next year, so I'm bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks Wendi!

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  3. No two writers think alike. Everyone is unique. For the same reason, everyone has his own manner of using language. essay writer

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