The Sack Of Corn

Mathurin, in other respects as poor as Job, and obliged to earn his

bread by day-labor, became, nevertheless, by some inheritance, the

owner of a fine piece of uncultivated land. He was exceedingly anxious

to cultivate it. Alas! said he, to make ditches, to raise fences, to

break the soil, to clear away the brambles and stones, to plough it, to

sow it, might bring me a living in a year or two; but certainly not

or to-morrow. It is impossible to set about farming it, without

previously saving some provisions for my subsistence until the harvest;

and I know, by experience, that preparatory labor is indispensable, in

order to render present labor productive. The good Mathurin was not

content with making these reflections. He resolved to work by the day,

and to save something from his wages to buy a spade and a sack of corn;

without which things, he must give up his fine agricultural projects. He

acted so well, was so active and steady, that he soon saw himself in

possession of the wished-for sack of corn. I shall take it to the

mill, said he, and then I shall have enough to live upon till my field

is covered with a rich harvest. Just as he was starting, Jerome came to

borrow his treasure of him. If you will lend me this sack of corn,

said Jerome, you will do me a great service; for I have some very

lucrative work in view, which I cannot possibly undertake, for want of

provisions to live upon until it is finished. I was in the same case,

answered Mathurin, and if I have now secured bread for several months,

it is at the expense of my arms and my stomach. Upon what principle of

justice can it be devoted to the realization of your enterprise

instead of mine?

You may well believe that the bargain was a long one. However, it was

finished at length, and on these conditions:

First. Jerome promised to give back, at the end of the year, a sack of

corn of the same quality, and of the same weight, without missing a

single grain. This first clause is perfectly just, said he, for

without it Mathurin would give, and not lend.

Secondly. He engaged to deliver five litres on every hectolitre.

This clause is no less just than the other, thought he; for without

it Mathurin would do me a service without compensation; he would inflict

upon himself a privation--he would renounce his cherished enterprise--he

would enable me to accomplish mine--he would cause me to enjoy for a

year the fruits of his savings, and all this gratuitously. Since he

delays the cultivation of his land, since he enables me to realize a

lucrative labor, it is quite natural that I should let him partake, in a

certain proportion, of the profits which I shall gain by the sacrifice

he makes of his own.

On his side, Mathurin, who was something of a scholar, made this

calculation: Since, by virtue of the first clause, the sack of corn

will return to me at the end of a year, he said to himself, I shall

be able to lend it again; it will return to me at the end of the second

year; I may lend it again, and so on, to all eternity. However, I cannot

deny that it will have been eaten long ago. It is singular that I should

be perpetually the owner of a sack of corn, although the one I have lent

has been consumed for ever. But this is explained thus: It will be

consumed in the service of Jerome. It will put it into the power of

Jerome to produce a superior value; and, consequently, Jerome will be

able to restore me a sack of corn, or the value of it, without having

suffered the slightest injury; but quite the contrary. And as regards

myself, this value ought to be my property, as long as I do not consume

it myself; if I had used it to clear my land, I should have received it

again in the form of a fine harvest. Instead of that, I lend it, and

shall recover it in the form of repayment.

From the second clause, I gain another piece of information. At the end

of the year, I shall be in possession of five litres of corn, over the

100 that I have just lent. If, then, I were to continue to work by the

day, and to save a part of my wages, as I have been doing, in the course

of time I should be able to lend two sacks of corn; then three; then

four; and when I should have gained a sufficient number to enable me to

live on these additions of five litres over and above each, I shall be

at liberty to take a little repose in my old age. But how is this? In

this case, shall I not be living at the expense of others? No,

certainly, for it has been proved that in lending I perform a service; I

complete the labor of my borrowers; and only deduct a trifling part of

the excess of production, due to my lendings and savings. It is a

marvellous thing, that a man may thus realize a leisure which injures no

one, and for which he cannot be envied without injustice.