Thirdly, if it has been a trading voyage, perhaps the adventurer has paid three or four such premiums, which sometimes make the insurer clear more by a voyage than the merchant. I myself have paid 100 pounds insurances in those small premiums on a voyage I have not gotten 50 pounds by; and I suppose I am not the first that has done so either.
This way of assuring has also, as other arts of trade have, suffered some improvement (if I may be allowed that term) in our age; and the first step upon it was an insurance office for houses, to insure them from fire. Common fame gives the project to Dr. Barebone--a man, I suppose, better known as a builder than a physician. Whether it were his, or whose it was, I do not inquire; it was settled on a fund of ground rents, to answer in case of loss, and met with very good acceptance.
But it was soon followed by another, by way of friendly society, where all who subscribe pay their quota to build up any man's house who is a contributor, if it shall happen to be burnt. I won't decide which is the best, or which succeeded best, but I believe the latter brings in most money to the contriver.
Only one benefit I cannot omit which they reap from these two societies who are not concerned in either; that if any fire happen, whether in houses insured or not insured, they have each of them a set of lusty fellows, generally watermen, who being immediately called up, wherever they live, by watchmen appointed, are, it must be confessed, very active and diligent in helping to put out the fire.
As to any further improvement to be made upon assurances in trade, no question there may; and I doubt not but on payment of a small duty to the government the king might be made the general insurer of all foreign trade, of which more under another head.
I am of the opinion also that an office of insurance erected to insure the titles of lands, in an age where they are so precarious as now, might be a project not unlikely to succeed, if established on a good fund. But I shall say no more to that, because it seems to be a design in hand by some persons in town, and is indeed no thought of my own.
Insuring of life I cannot admire; I shall say nothing to it but that in Italy, where stabbing and poisoning is so much in vogue, something may be said for it, and on contingent annuities; and yet I never knew the thing much approved of on any account.
OF FRIENDLY SOCIETIES.
Another branch of insurance is by contribution, or (to borrow the term from that before mentioned) friendly societies; which is, in short, a number of people entering into a mutual compact to help one another in case any disaster or distress fall upon them.
If mankind could agree, as these might be regulated, all things which have casualty in them might be secured. But one thing is particularly required in this way of assurances: none can be admitted but such whose circumstances are (at least, in some degree) alike, and so mankind must be sorted into classes; and as their contingencies differ, every different sort may be a society upon even terms; for the circumstances of people, as to life, differ extremely by the age and constitution of their bodies and difference of employment--as he that lives on shore against him that goes to sea, or a young man against an old man, or a shopkeeper against a soldier, are unequal. I do not pretend to determine the controverted point of predestination, the foreknowledge and decrees of Providence. Perhaps, if a man be decreed to be killed in the trenches, the same foreknowledge ordered him to list himself a soldier, that it might come to pass, and the like of a seaman. But this I am sure, speaking of second causes, a seaman or a soldier are subject to more contingent hazards than other men, and therefore are not upon equal terms to form such a society; nor is an annuity on the life of such a man worth so much as it is upon other men: therefore if a society should agree together to pay the executor of every member so much after the decease of the said member, the seamen's executors would most certainly have an advantage, and receive more than they pay.