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Letter On Fireworks
by [?]



Among the principal topicks of conversation which now furnish the places of assembly with amusement, may be justly numbered the fireworks, which are advancing, by such slow degrees, and with such costly preparation.

The first reflection, that naturally arises, is upon the inequality of the effect to the cause. Here are vast sums expended, many hands, and some heads, employed, from day to day, and from month to month; and the whole nation is filled with expectations, by delineations and narratives. And in what is all this to end? in a building, that is to attract the admiration of ages? in a bridge, which may facilitate the commerce of future generations? in a work of any kind, which may stand as the model of beauty, or the pattern of virtue? To show the blessings of the late change of our state[2] by any monument of these kinds, were a project worthy not only of wealth, and power, and greatness, but of learning, wisdom, and virtue. But nothing of this kind is designed; nothing more is projected, than a crowd, a shout, and a blaze: the mighty work of artifice and contrivance is to be set on fire for no other purpose that I can see, than to show how idle pyrotechnical virtuosos have been busy. Four hours the sun will shine, and then fall from his orb, and lose his memory and his lustre together; the spectators will disperse, as their inclinations lead them, and wonder by what strange infatuation they had been drawn together. In this will consist the only propriety of this transient show, that it will resemble the war of which it celebrates the period. The powers of this part of the world, after long preparations, deep intrigues, and subtle schemes, have set Europe in a flame, and, after having gazed awhile at their fireworks, have laid themselves down where they rose, to inquire for what they have been contending.

It is remarked, likewise, that this blaze, so transitory and so useless, will be to be paid for, when it shines no longer: and many cannot forbear observing, how many lasting advantages might be purchased, how many acres might be drained, how many ways repaired, how many debtors might be released, how many widows and orphans, whom the war has ruined, might be relieved, by the expense which is now about to evaporate in smoke, and to be scattered in rockets: and there are some who think not only reason, but humanity offended, by such a trifling profusion, when so many sailors are starving, and so many churches sinking into ruins.

It is no improper inquiry, by whom this expense is at last to be borne; for certainly, nothing can be more unreasonable than to tax the nation for a blaze, which will be extinguished before many of them know it has been lighted; nor will it be consistent with the common practice, which directs, that local advantages shall be procured at the expense of the district that enjoys them. I never found, in any records, that any town petitioned the parliament for a may-pole, a bull-ring, or a skittle-ground; and, therefore, I should think, fireworks, as they are less durable, and less useful, have, at least, as little claim to the publick purse.

The fireworks are, I suppose, prepared, and, therefore, it is too late to obviate the project; but I hope the generosity of the great is not so far extinguished, as that they can, for their diversion, drain a nation already exhausted, and make us pay for pictures in the fire, which none will have the poor pleasure of beholding but themselves.


[1] Inserted in the Gentleman’s Magazine, Jan. 1749.

[2] The peace of Aix la Chapelle, 1748.