That this is probable to be the cause will appear further thus. France (though I do not believe all the great outcries we make of their misery and distress--if one-half of which be true, they are certainly the best subjects in the world) yet without question has felt its share of the losses and damages of the war; but the poverty there falling chiefly on the poorer sort of people, they have not been so fruitful in inventions and practices of this nature, their genius being quite of another strain. As for the gentry and more capable sort, the first thing a Frenchman flies to in his distress is the army; and he seldom comes back from thence to get an estate by painful industry, but either has his brains knocked out or makes his fortune there.
If industry be in any business rewarded with success it is in the merchandising part of the world, who indeed may more truly be said to live by their wits than any people whatsoever. All foreign negotiation, though to some it is a plain road by the help of custom, yet is in its beginning all project, contrivance, and invention. Every new voyage the merchant contrives is a project; and ships are sent from port to port, as markets and merchandises differ, by the help of strange and universal intelligence--wherein some are so exquisite, so swift, and so exact, that a merchant sitting at home in his counting-house at once converses with all parts of the known world. This and travel make a true-bred merchant the most intelligent man in the world, and consequently the most capable, when urged by necessity, to contrive new ways to live. And from hence, I humbly conceive, may very properly be derived the projects, so much the subject of the present discourse. And to this sort of men it is easy to trace the original of banks, stocks, stock-jobbing, assurances, friendly societies, lotteries, and the like.
To this may be added the long annual inquiry in the House of Commons for ways and means, which has been a particular movement to set all the heads of the nation at work; and I appeal, with submission, to the gentlemen of that honourable House, if the greatest part of all the ways and means out of the common road of land taxes, polls, and the like, have not been handed to them from the merchant, and in a great measure paid by them too.
However, I offer this but as an essay at the original of this prevailing humour of the people; and as it is probable, so it is also possible to be otherwise, which I submit to future demonstration.
Of the several ways this faculty of projecting have exerted itself, and of the various methods, as the genius of the authors has inclined, I have been a diligent observer and, in most, an unconcerned spectator, and perhaps have some advantage from thence more easily to discover the faux pas of the actors. If I have given an essay towards anything new, or made discovery to advantage of any contrivance now on foot, all men are at the liberty to make use of the improvement; if any fraud is discovered, as now practised, it is without any particular reflection upon parties or persons.
Projects of the nature I treat about are doubtless in general of public advantage, as they tend to improvement of trade, and employment of the poor, and the circulation and increase of the public stock of the kingdom; but this is supposed of such as are built on the honest basis of ingenuity and improvement, in which, though I will allow the author to aim primarily at his own advantage, yet with the circumstances of public benefit added.
Wherefore it is necessary to distinguish among the projects of the present times between the honest and the dishonest.
There are, and that too many, fair pretences of fine discoveries, new inventions, engines, and I know not what, which--being advanced in notion, and talked up to great things to be performed when such and such sums of money shall be advanced, and such and such engines are made--have raised the fancies of credulous people to such a height that, merely on the shadow of expectation, they have formed companies, chose committees, appointed officers, shares, and books, raised great stocks, and cried up an empty notion to that degree that people have been betrayed to part with their money for shares in a new nothing; and when the inventors have carried on the jest till they have sold all their own interest, they leave the cloud to vanish of itself, and the poor purchasers to quarrel with one another, and go to law about settlements, transferrings, and some bone or other thrown among them by the subtlety of the author to lay the blame of the miscarriage upon themselves.