Friday, July 8, 2016

The History of a Lump of Gold by Alexander Watt 1885

The History of a Lump of Gold by Alexander Watt 1885

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GOLD! What word in the English language, not Divine, creates so powerful an impression upon the human senses as the sound of this little word! With what silent rapture we receive it as our own! And how different is the feeling when it comes into our hands merely to convey to another—who is to own it! Even its presence seems to command respect akin to awe, and admiration beyond the power of utterance. When kindly allowed to inspect the bullion in one of the vaults of the Bank of England recently, how deeply was the mind impressed by the solemn stillness of the place until the courteous guide called our attention to the massive ingots of the precious metal silently reposing upon trucks that might well have felt proud to support such a burthen. It was impossible not to feel that one was in the august presence of the most serviceable mineral substance known on our globe—to the value of about one million and a half sterling. We have melted gold; alloyed it with other metals; refined it; deposited it upon various baser metals by electricity; dissolved it in large quantities for the purposes of electro-deposition and photography, and in numerous ways have been accustomed to "handle it," but we confess that we have never felt that "contempt" for the metal which is said to be born of "familiarity."

Gold! Most beautiful of all the metals; most useful of all terrestrial substances; with which any other object under the sun may be obtained in exchange—well did the poet say of thee—

Bright and yellow, hard and cold, 
Molten, graven, hammered, and rolled; 
Heavy to get and light to hold; 
Hoarded, bartered, bought and sold, 
Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled; 
Spurned by the young, but hugged by the old 
To the very verge of the churchyard mould. 

"It is real gold," one will say, when beholding a well-fashioned trinket, without thinking of the toil and skill devoted to its manufacture, as a fool will admire the gilt frame of a picture without noticing the marvellous painting which it envelopes. Apart from the beauty of its colour, as a metal, its great weight, and the many useful and ornamental purposes to which it may be applied, its power of being exchangeable for anything else in the world gives to gold an importance which not even the diamond itself can boast. For good or for evil, it is the most potent substance on the surface of our planet. That it has been productive of as much mischief as benefit to mankind is a question which no-one can answer; but that it is capable of doing more good than harm, were it not for the inherent selfishness of human nature, there cannot be the shade of a doubt. While one being will gloat over the amount of gold he owns—and keeps—another revels in its possession for the enjoyment he may derive from its expenditure. The latter is doubtless the happier of the two, while certainly being the most useful to his species.

When we consider the boundless variety of enjoyments—the many sources of happiness—that may be purchased with gold, it seems impossible to conceive that the human mind could voluntarily abandon all these for the solitary and transient enjoyment of accumulating it merely for its own sake, as though the miser would say, with Shakespeare,

"This hand was made to handle nought but gold!" 

And yet how many have even deprived themselves of the ordinary comforts of existence to hoard up the precious metal! When we read that certain well-known individuals have accumulated wealth to the extent of many millions sterling—while hideous poverty, suffering, and woe have surrounded them— may we not say that such an accumulation is a crime?

Some persons have argued that gold loses its value so soon as it is transferred into coin. An able writer in Chambers's Journal however, refutes this argument by the following sensible observations:—"Gold is desirable for the sake of its own special virtues, and it becomes additionally valuable when employed as the medium of exchange among nations. It is because of the universal desire of nations to possess it, that it enjoys its supremacy as money. By its comparative indestructibility it commands and enjoys the proud privilege of being the universal standard of value in the world. It is, therefore, elevated, instead of being degraded, by the impress of the Mint stamp; for to its own intrinsic value is added that of being the passport of nations. This is a dignity attained by no other metal. It has been urged that the Government guarantee of a solvent nation stamped upon a piece of tin, or wood, or paper, will form a counter quite as valuable as gold for a medium of exchange. So it might, but the circulation would only be within certain limits. A Scotch bank-note is passed from hand to hand with even more confidence than a sovereign—in Scotland. But take one to England and observe the difficulty and often impossibility of changing it. The pound-note is worth a sovereign, but its circulating value is local. Even with a Bank of England note, travellers on the Continent occasionally experience some difficulty in effecting a satisfactory exchange. But is there a country in the most rudimentary condition of commerce, where an English sovereign, or a French napoleon, or an American eagle, cannot be at once exchanged at the price of solid gold?"

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