To me it is a great pleasure, when I look on the affairs of human life … (MANDEVILLE)

To me it is a great pleasure, when I look on the affairs of human life … (MANDEVILLE)

To me it is a great pleasure, when I look on the affairs of human life, to behold into what various and often strangely opposite forms the hopes of gain and thoughts of lucre shape men, according to the different employments they are of and stations they are in. How gay and merry does every face appear at a well-ordered ball, and what a solemn sadness is observed at the masquerade of a funeral! But the undertaker is as much pleased with his gains as the dancing master: both are equally tired in the occupations, and the mirth of one is as much forced as the gravity of the other is affected. Those who have never minded the conversation of a spruce mercer and a young lady, his customer, that comes to his shop, have neglected a scene of life that is very entertaining..


His business is to sell as much silk as he can at a price by which he shall get what he proposes to be reasonable, according to the customary profits of the trade. As to the lady, what she would be at is to please her fancy and buy cheaper by a groat or sixpence per yard than the things she wants are commonly sold at. From the impression the gallantry of our sex has made upon her, she imagines (if she be not very deformed) that she has a fine mien and easy behaviour and a peculiar sweetness of voice; that she is handsome, and, if not beautiful, at least more agreeable than most young women she knows. As she has no pretensions to purchase the same thing with less money than other people but what are built on her good qualities, so she sets herself off to the best advantage her wit and discretion will let her.


Before her coach is yet quite stopped, she is approached by a gentleman-like man, that has everything clean and fashionable about him, who in low obeisance pays her homage, and as soon as her pleasure is known that she has a mind to come in, hands her into the shop, where immediately he slips from her, and through a by-way that remains visible only for half a moment, with great address entrenches himself behind the counter; here facing her, with a profound reverence and modish phrase, he begs the favour of knowing her commands. Let her say and dislike what she pleases, she can never be directly contradicted: she deals with a man in whom consummate patience is one of the mysteries of his trade, and whatever trouble she creates she is sure to hear nothing but the most obliging language and has always before her a cheerful countenance, where joy and respect seem to be blended with good humour and altogether make up an artificial serenity more engaging than untaught nature is able to produce.


While she remains irresolute what to take, he seems to be the same in advising her and is very cautious how to direct her choice; but when once she has made it and is fixed, he immediately becomes positive that it is the best of the sort, extols her fancy, and the more he looks upon it, the more he wonders he should not before have discovered the pre-eminence of it over anything he has in his shop. By precept, example, and great application, he has learned unobserved to slide into the inmost recesses of the soul, sound the capacity of his customers, and find out their blind side unknown to them: by all which he is instructed in fifty other stratagems to make her over-value her own judgment as well as the commodity she would purchase. The greatest advantage he has oyer her lies in the most material part of the commerce between them, the debate about the price, which he knows to a farthing and she is wholly ignorant of; therefore he nowhere more egregiously imposes on her understanding; and though here he has the liberty of telling what lies he pleases as to the prime cost and the money he has refused, yet he trusts not to them only, but, attacking her vanity, makes her believe the most incredible things in the world concerning his own weakness and her superior abilities; he had taken a resolution, he says, never to part with that piece under such a price, but she has the power of talking him out of his goods beyond anybody he ever sold to; he protests that he loses by his silk, but seeing that she has a fancy for it and is resolved to give no more, rather than disoblige a lady he has such an uncommon value for, he will let her have it and only begs that another time she will not stand so hard with him.


In the meantime, the buyer, who knows that she is no fool, and has a voluble tongue, is easily persuaded that she has a very winning way of talking, and thinking it sufficient for the sake of good breeding to disown her merit and in some witty repartee retort the compliment, he makes her swallow very contentedly the substance of everything he tells her. The upshot is that, with the satisfaction of having saved ninepence per yard, she has bought her silk exactly at the same price as anybody else might have done, and often gives sixpence more than, rather than not have sold it, he would have taken.






The fable of the bees
Bernard Mandeville



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