Monthly Archives: November 2012

Of Public Property

From Fors Clavigera, Letter 7, July 1, 1871. There are so many interesting things in this letter, beginning with More’s Utopia and, thence, to contemporary political economy, that I want to copy out the whole thing. But this will do for now:

…So much for the first law of old Communism, respecting work. Then the second respects property, and it is that the public, or common, wealth, shall be more and statelier in all its substance than private or singular wealth; that is to say (to come to my own special business for a moment) that there shall be only cheap and few pictures, if any, in the insides of houses, where nobody but the owner can see them; but costly pictures, and many, on the outsides of houses, where the people can see them: also that the Hôtel-de-Ville, or Hotel of the whole Town, for the transaction of its common business, shall be a magnificent building, much rejoiced in by the people, and with its tower seen far away through the clear air; but that the hotels for private business or pleasure, cafés, taverns, and the like, shall be low, few, plain, and in back streets; more especially such as furnish singular and uncommon drinks and refreshments; but that the fountains which furnish the people’s common drink should be very lovely and stately, and adorned with precious marbles and the like. Then farther, according to old Communism, the private dwellings of uncommon – dukes and lords – are to be very simple, and roughly put together – such persons being supposed to be above all care for things that please the commonality; but the buildings for public or common service, more especially schools, almshouses, and workhouses, are to be externally of a majestic character, as being for noble purposes and charities; and in their interiors furnished with many luxuries for the poor and sick. And finally and chiefly, it is an absolute law of old Communism that the fortunes of private persons should be small, and of little account in the State; but the common treasure of the whole nation should be of superb and precious things in redundant quantity, as pictures, statues, precious books; gold and silver vessels, preserved from ancient times; gold and silver bullion laid up for use, in case of any chance need of buying anything suddenly from foreign nations; noble horses, cattle, and sheep, on the public lands; and vast spaces of land for culture, exercise, and garden, round the cities, full of flowers, which, being everybody’s property, nobody could gather; and of birds which, being everybody’s property, nobody could shoot. And, in a work, that instead of a common poverty, or national debt, which every poor person in the nation is taxed annually to fulfill his part of, there should be a common wealth, or national reverse of debt, consisting of pleasant things, which every poor person in the nation should be summoned to receive his dole of, annually; and of pretty things, which every person capable of admiration, foreigners as well as natives, should unfeignedly admire, in an aesthetic, and not a covetous manner (though for my own part, I can’t understand what it is that I am taxed now to defend, or what foreign nations are supposed to covet, here.) …

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