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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Shaftesbury’s story reminds me a another story about glaziers given by the 19th century French political economist Frédéric Bastiat. In a chapter entitled “The Broken Window” in What is Seen and What is not Seen (1848) Bastiat makes the point that creating business for the glazier by deliberately breaking windows only makes the glazier better off. The people whose windows were broken take money they would have saved or spent on other things in order to repair their windows. They lose out and so do the businesses they would have spent their money on if the windows had not been broken. Shaftesbury is not making this economic point. Rather, he is making fun of publishers who try to whip up authors to reply in print to any criticism or slight their previous published work might have stimulated, in what he called “learned scuffles” and a “war of letters”. What is interesting in this Super Bowl week is his comic story about an early form of football hooliganism, how quickly the “bladder” is deflated, and his sly digs at his publisher for behaving in a similar way.

4 February, 2010

Shaftesbury200

The Earl of Shaftesbury relates the story of an unscrupulous glazier who gives the rowdy town youths a football so they will smash windows in the street and thus drum up business (1737)

Read the full quote in context here.

The English philosopher Shaftesbury (1671-1713) likens the efforts of book publishers to make use of bitter intellectual disputes in order to sell more books, to that of unscrupulous glaziers who encourage town youths to break windows by giving them a football to play with in the street:

So have I known a crafty Glazier, in time of Frost, procure a Football, to draw into the Street the emulous Chiefs of the robust Youth. The tumid Bladder bounds at every Kick, bursts the withstanding Casements, the Chassys, Lanterns, and all the brittle vitrious Ware. The Noise of Blows and Out-cries fills the whole Neighbourhood; and Ruins of Glass cover the stony Pavements; till the bloated battering Engine, subdu’d by force of Foot and Fist, and yielding up its Breath at many a fatal Cranny, becomes lank and harmless, sinks in its Flight, and can no longer uphold the Spirit of the contending Partys.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Taking it, however, for granted, “That a sorry Treatise may be the foundation of a considerable Answer;” a Reply still must certainly be ridiculous, which-ever way we take it. For either the Author, in his original Piece, has been truly refuted, or not. If refuted; why does he defend? If not refuted; why trouble himself? What has the Publick to do with his private Quarrels, or his Adversary’s Impertinence? Or supposing the World out of curiosity may delight to see a Pedant expos’d by a Man of better Wit, and a Controversy thus unequally carry’d on between two such opposite Partys; How long is this Diversion likely to hold good? And what will become of these polemick Writings a few Years hence? What is already become of those mighty Controversys, with which some of the most eminent Authors amus’d the World within the memory of the youngest Scholar? An original Work or two may perhaps remain: But for the subsequent Defenses, the Answers, Rejoinders, and Replications; they have been long since paying their attendance to the Pastry-cooks. Mankind perhaps were heated at that time, when first those Matters were debated: But they are now cool again. They laugh’d: They carry’d on the Humour: They blew the Coals: They teaz’d, and set on, maliciously, and to create themselves diversion. But the Jest is now over. No-one so much as inquires Where the Wit was; or Where possibly the Sting shou’d lie of those notable Reflections and satirical Hints, which were once found so pungent, and gave the Readers such high Delight.—Notable Philosophers and Divines, who can be contented to make sport, and write in learned Billingsgate, to divert the Coffee-house, and entertain the Assemblys at Booksellers Shops, or the more airy Stalls of inferior Book-retailers!

It must be allow’d, That in this respect, controversial Writing is not so wholly unprofitable; and that for Book-Merchants, of whatever Kind or Degree, they undoubtedly receive no small Advantage from a right Improvement of a learned Scuffle. Nothing revives ’em more, or makes a quicker Trade, than a Pair of substantial Divines or grave Philosophers, well match’d, and soundly back’d; till by long worrying one another, they are grown out of breath, and have almost lost their Force of Biting.—“So have I known a crafty Glazier, in time of Frost, procure a Football, to draw into the Street the emulous Chiefs of the robust Youth. The tumid Bladder bounds at every Kick, bursts the withstanding Casements, the Chassys, Lanterns, and all the brittle vitrious Ware. The Noise of Blows and Out-cries fills the whole Neighbourhood; and Ruins of Glass cover the stony Pavements; till the bloated battering Engine, subdu’d by force of Foot and Fist, and yielding up its Breath at many a fatal Cranny, becomes lank and harmless, sinks in its Flight, and can no longer uphold the Spirit of the contending Partys.”

This our Author supposes to have been the occasion of his being so often and zealously complimented by his Amanuensis (for so he calls his Bookseller or Printer) on the Fame of his first Piece. The obliging Crafts-man has at times presented him with many a handsom Book, set off with Titles of Remarks, Reflections, and the like, which, as he assur’d him, were Answers to his small Treatise. “Here Sir! (says he) you have a considerable Hand has undertaken you!——This Sir, is a Reverend—This a Right Reverend——This a noted Author——Will you not reply, Sir?——O’ my word, Sir, the World is in expectation.” “Pity they shou’d be disappointed!” “A dozen Sheets, Sir, wou’d be sufficient.—You might dispatch it presently.” “Think you so?” “I have my Paper ready—And a good Letter.—Take my word for it—You shall see, Sir!” “Enough. But hark ye (Mr. A, a, a, a) my worthy Engineer, and Manager of the War of Letters! Ere you prepare your Artillery, or engage me in Acts of Hostility, let me hear, I intreat you, Whether or no my Adversary be taken notice of.—Wait for his Second Edition. And if by next Year, or Year or two after, it be known in good Company that there is such a Book in being, I shall then perhaps think it time to consider of a Reply.”

[More works by Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1621 – 1683) and on 18th Century Commonwealthmen]