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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the True Nature of Benevolence
By Montesquieu (1689–1755)
 
From ‘The Spirit of Laws’: Translation of Thomas Nugent

A MAN is not poor because he has nothing, but because he does not work. The man who without any degree of wealth has an employment, is as much at his ease as he who without labor has an income of a hundred crowns a year. He who has no substance, and yet has a trade, is not poorer than he who, possessing ten acres of land, is obliged to cultivate it for his subsistence. The mechanic who gives his art as an inheritance to his children has left them a fortune which is multiplied in proportion to their number. It is not so with him who, having ten acres of land, divides it amongst his children.  1
  In trading countries, where many men have no other subsistence but from the arts, the State is frequently obliged to supply the necessities of the aged, the sick, and the orphan. A well-regulated government draws this support from the arts themselves. It gives to some, such employment as they are capable of performing; others are taught to work, and this teaching becomes of itself an employment.  2
  The alms given to a naked man in the street do not fulfill the obligations of the State, which owes to every citizen a certain subsistence, a proper nourishment, convenient clothing, and a kind of life not incompatible with health.  3
  Aurengzebe being asked why he did not build hospitals, said, “I will make my empire so rich that there shall be no need of hospitals.” He ought to have said, “I will begin by rendering my empire rich, and then I will build hospitals.”  4
  The riches of the State suppose great industry. Amidst the numerous branches of trade, it is impossible but some must suffer; and consequently the mechanics must be in a momentary necessity.  5
  Whenever this happens, the State is obliged to lend them a ready assistance; whether it be to prevent the sufferings of the people, or to avoid a rebellion. In this case hospitals, or some equivalent regulations, are necessary to prevent this misery.  6
  But when the nation is poor, private poverty springs from the general calamity; and is, if I may so express myself, the general calamity itself. All the hospitals in the world cannot cure this private poverty; on the contrary, the spirit of indolence which it constantly inspires, increases the general and consequently the private misery.  7
  Henry VIII., resolving to reform the Church of England, ruined the monks, of themselves a lazy set of people, that encouraged laziness in others; because, as they practiced hospitality, an infinite number of idle persons, gentlemen and citizens, spent their lives in running from convent to convent. He demolished even the hospitals, in which the lower people found subsistence, as the gentlemen did theirs in the monasteries. Since these changes, the spirit of trade and industry has been established in England.  8
  At Rome the hospitals place every one at his ease except those who labor, except those who are industrious, except those who have land, except those who are engaged in trade.  9
  I have observed that wealthy nations have need of hospitals, because fortune subjects them to a thousand accidents; but it is plain that transient assistances are much better than perpetual foundations. The evil is momentary; it is necessary therefore that the succor should be of the same nature, and that it be applied to particular accidents.  10
 
 
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