[November 1795]

Thoughts and Details on Scarcity

This document is the nearest thing to a formal treatise on economics that Edmund Burke ever wrote. Even so, it was not meant as a full treatment of the subject but was a lengthy memorandum to the Prime Minister, William Pitt, on an immediate question of policy. Burke was alarmed by a project for governmental subsidy of the wages of agricultural laborers during a time of poor harvests. His memorandum was therefore very much an ad hoc document, addressed to a temporary situation.

Burke thought well enough of it, however, to plan to expand it into a fuller work. But in the year and a half that remained of his life, he was a sick and dying man, and more urgently concerned with the folly of British overtures toward peace with Revolutionary France. He never managed to write more than several disjointed pages of his proposed economic treatise, and the memorandum was not published until after his death, by his literary executors, French Laurence and Walker King.

They had it published in 1800 with a lengthy preface by themselves. It is included here for their explanation of the circumstances in which Burke wrote the memorandum and of their editing and interpolation in Burke’s text of the fragments of his planned expansion of it that they found among his papers.

Thoughts and Details on Scarcity

[Originally Presented to The Right Hon. William Pitt, in the Month of November, 1795]


Nov. 1, 1800

The wisdom, which is canonized by death, is consulted with a sort of sacred veneration. A casual remark, or an incidental maxim in some ancient author, an interesting narrative, or a pointed anecdote from the history of past times, even though they bear but a remote and general application to the exigency of our own immediate situation, are caught up with eagerness, and remembered with delight. But how much more important is the instruction which we may derive from the posthumous opinions of those who, having been most eminent in our own times for superior talents and more extensive knowledge, have formed their observation on circumstances so similar to our own, as only not to be the same, yet who speak without influence from the little prejudices and passions, to which accident, folly, or malevolence may have given birth in the present moment.The late Mr. Burke, in the estimation of those who were most capable of judging, stood high, both as a scientific and a practical farmer. He carried into his fields the same penetrating, comprehensive, and vigorous mind, which shone forth so conspicuously in all his exertions on the stage of public life. Wherever he was, in whatever he was engaged, he was alike assiduous in collecting information, and happy in combining, what he acquired, into general principles. All that the ancients have left us upon husbandry was familiar to him, and he once encouraged and set on foot a new edition of those valuable writers; but, though he might occasionally derive new hints even from those sources, he preferred the authority of his own hind
*45 to that of Hesiod or Virgil, of Cato or Columella. He thought for himself upon this, as upon other subjects; and not rejecting sound reforms of demonstrated errors, he was, however, principally guided by the traditionary skill and experience of that class of men, who, from father to son, have for generations laboured in calling forth the fertility of the English soil. He not only found in agriculture the most agreeable relaxation from his more serious cares, but he regarded the cultivation of the earth, and the improvement of all which it produces, as a sort of moral and religious duty. Towards the close of his life, when he had lost his son, in whom all his prospects had long centered, after lamenting, in an elegant allusion to Virgil, that the trees, which he had been nursing for many years, would now afford no shade to his posterity, he was heard to correct himself, by adding, “Yet be it so: I ought not therefore to bestow less attention upon them—they grow to God.”Agriculture, and the commerce connected with, and dependent upon it, form one of the most considerable branches of political economy; and as such, Mr. Burke diligently studied them. Indeed, when he began to qualify himself for the exalted rank which he afterwards held among statesmen, he laid a broad and deep foundation; and to an accurate research into the constitution, the laws, the civil and military history of these kingdoms, he joined an enlightened acquaintance with the whole circle of our commercial system. On his first introduction, when a young man, to the late Mr. Gerard Hamilton, who was then a Lord of Trade, the latter ingenuously confessed to a friend still living, how sensibly he felt his own inferiority, much as he had endeavoured to inform himself, and aided as he was by official documents, inaccessible to any private person. He was also consulted, and the greatest deference was paid to his opinions by Dr. Adam Smith, in the progress of the celebrated work on the Wealth of Nations.In Parliament, Mr. Burke very soon distinguished himself on these topics. When the first great permanent law for regulating our foreign corn-trade
*46 was under the consideration of the House in 1772, he was one of its principle supporters, in a speech admired at the time for its excellence, and described as abounding with that knowledge in oeconomics, which he was then universally allowed to possess, and illustrated with that philosophical discrimination, of which he was so peculiarly a master. About the same time, too, he zealously promoted the repeal of the statutes against
forestallers;*47 a measure not lightly and hastily proposed or adopted in the liberal impulse of an unguarded moment, but the result of various investigations made by the House, or in different committees, during six years of scarcity and high prices; a measure which, although two Bills of a contrary tendency had formerly been introduced and lost, so approved itself, at length, to the reason of all, that it was ordered to be brought in, without a single dissentient voice. Yet, though such was his early pre-eminence in these pursuits, to the last hour of his life, as his fame spread wider and wider over Europe, he availed himself of the advantage which this afforded him, to enlarge the sphere of his enquiries into the state of other countries, that he might benefit his own. The consequence of all was, he every day became more firmly convinced, that the unrestrained freedom of buying and selling is the great animating principle of production and supply.
The present publication records Mr. Burke’s most mature reflections on these interesting subjects; the more valuable, because the sentiments which he delivered on the occasions already mentioned, have not been preserved to us, either by himself or by others. He was alarmed by the appearance of the crop in 1795, even before the harvest. In the autumn of that year, when the produce of the harvest began to be known, the alarm became general. Various projects, as in such cases will always happen, were offered to Government; and, in his opinion, seemed to be received with too much complaisance. Under this impression, anxious as he ever was, even in his retirement, and in the midst of his own private affliction, for the publick safety and prosperity, he immediately addressed to Mr. Pitt
*48 a Memorial, which is the ground-work of the following tract. Afterwards, considering the importance of the matter, and fearing a long cycle of scarcity to come, he intended to have dilated the several branches of the argument, and to have moulded his “Thoughts and Details” into a more popular shape. This he purposed to have done in a series of letters on rural oeconomics, inscribed to his friend Mr. Arthur Young. It may be remembered, that he even announced this design in an advertisement.
*49 But his attention was irresistibly called another way. His whole mind was engrossed by the change of policy which discovered itself in our councils at that period,
*50 when forgetting the manly arts, by which alone great nations have ever extricated themselves from momentous and doubtful conflicts, we descended, against the remonstrances of our allies, to the voluntary and unnecessary humiliation of soliciting a peace, which, in his judgment, the animosity of our insolent enemy was not then disposed to grant, and which, if offered, we could not then have accepted, without the certainty of incurring dangers much more formidable than any that threatened us from the protraction of the war. He hastened to raise and re-inspirit the prostrate genius of his country. In a great measure he succeeded, and was still employed in the pious office, when Divine Providence took him to receive the reward of those, who devote themselves to the cause of virtue and religion. After his decease, two or three detached fragments only of the first letter to Mr. Young were found among his papers. These could not be printed in that imperfect state, and they seemed too precious to be wholly thrown aside. They have been inserted, therefore, in the Memorial, where they seemed best to cohere. The first and largest of these interpolations reaches from the middle of the sixth to the bottom of the 18th page; the second commences near the bottom of the 20th, and ends a little below the middle of the 24th; and the last, occupying about three pages and a half, forms the present conclusion.
The Memorial had been fairly copied, but did not appear to have been examined or corrected, as some trifling errors of the transcriber were perceptible in it. The manuscript of the fragments was a rough draft from the Author’s own hand, much blotted and very confused. It has been followed with as much fidelity as was possible, after consulting those who were most accustomed to Mr. Burke’s manner of writing. Two or three chasms in the grammar and sense, from the casual omission of two or three unimportant words at a distance, have been supplied by conjecture. The principal alteration has been the necessary change of the second for the third person, and the consequent suppression of the common form of affectionate address, where Mr. Young is named. That gentleman alone can have reason to complain of this liberty, inasmuch as it may seem to have deprived him of that, which in some sort was his property, and which no man would have known better how to value. But, it is hoped, he will pardon it, since in this manner alone these
golden fragments (to borrow a favourite phrase of critics and commentators) could have been made, as they were designed to be, of general utility. To the reader no apology is due, if the disquisitions thus interwoven may seem a little disproportioned to the summary statements of the original Memorial. Their own intrinsic worth and beauty will be an ample compensation for that slight deformity; though perhaps in such a composition, as this professes to be (and the title is Mr. Burke’s own) nothing of the kind could have been fairly regarded as an irregular excrescence, had it been placed by himself, where it now stands.
The Memorial, which was indeed communicated to several members of the King’s Government, was believed at the time to have been not wholly unproductive of good. The enquiry, which had been actually begun, into the quantity of corn in hand,
*52 was silently dropped. The scheme of public granaries, if it ever existed, was abandoned. In Parliament the Ministers maintained a prudent and dignified forbearance; and repressed in others, or where they could not entirely controul, interposed to moderate and divert, that restless spirit of legislation, which is an evil that seems to grow up, as the vehemence of party-contention abates. The consistency and good sense of the Commons defeated an attempt, which was made towards the close of the sessions, to revive against forestallers of one particular description, some portion of the exploded laws.
Last year, on the approach of our present distresses, the same excellent temper of mind seemed to prevail in Government, in Parliament, and among the people. There was no proposal of taking stock, no speculation of creating a new establishment of royal purveyors to provide us with our daily dole of bread. The corn merchants were early assured that they should not again have to contend with the competition of the Treasury,
*53 in the foreign market. A Committee of the House of Commons ventured to dissuade the stopping of the distilleries
*54 in a report, very closely coinciding with the reasoning of Mr. Burke. Little or no popular declamation was heard on the miseries of “the labouring poor”; not a single petition was presented, or motion made, against forestallers. The least objectionable of the experiments suggested, to encrease the supply or lessen the consumption, were adopted. It is hardly worthy of mention, as an exception, that a Parliamentary charter was granted to a company of very worthy and well-meaning persons, who, on the notion of a combination (which, by the way, they totally failed in proving) among the trades that supply the capital with bread, opened a subscription for undertaking to furnish nearly one-tenth of the consumption. They were contented to do this with limited profits, merely as humane badgers and jobbers, charitable millers, sentimental mealmen,
*55 and philanthropic bakers. But distrusting a little their own sufficiency for their new business, they naturally desired to be exempted from the operation of the bankrupt laws; and their bill was carried by a very small majority, consisting of partners in the firm. All this while, under trials much more severe than in the former dearth, the inferior classes displayed a patience and resignation, only to be equalled by the alacrity and zeal, which the higher and middle orders every where manifested, to relieve the necessities of their poorer neighbours in every practicable mode.
The present is a season of ferment and riot. The old cry against forestallers has been raised again with more violence than ever. It has been adjudged, for the first time, it is presumed, since the repealing act of 1772, that they are still liable to be punished by the common law, with fine and imprisonment at least, if not with whipping and the pillory, according to the notion which the judge may entertain of their crime.The interpreters of the law must expound it, according to their conscientious judgments, as it is; and the doctrine is not quite new. It has certainly been suggested in grave books since the repeal. Yet men of sober minds have doubted, and will doubt, whether in the whole code of customs and usages, derived to us from our ancestors, there can be found any one part so radically inapplicable to the present state of the country, as their Trade law; which, formed before commerce can be said to have existed, on mixed considerations, of police for the prevention of theft and rapine, and of protection to the interest of the Lord in the rights of toll and stallage,
*56 permitted no transaction of bargain and sale in any kind of commodity, but openly at a market, or a fair, and more anciently still, with the addition of witnesses also before the magistrate, or the priest; which knew of no commercial principle, but that of putting, in every instance, the grower, the maker, or the importer, native and foreigner alike, at the mercy of the consumer, and for that purpose prohibited every intermediate profit, and every practice by act, by word, or by writing, that could enhance the price; by which, if the dragging of the mouldering records into day be not a mere robbery of the moths and worms, should a gentleman encourage fishermen, brewers, and bakers to settle on his estate, it may be pronounced a
forestallage of the next town, and a silk merchant, should he
ask too much for his raw and organzine
*57 (the unfortunate Lombard in the assize-book only asked, he did not get it from the poor
*58 may be punished by a heavy fine; which cannot now be partially in force against one set of dealers, and abrogated by disuse with regard to all others; which, if generally applied for a single term, without the interposition of that wisdom of Parliament, over which this resort to the common law is by some regarded as a triumph, would more effectually clog, distress, and ruin our foreign and domestic commerce in all its branches, than a confederacy of the whole world against us in many years.
Be the late convictions, however, what they may, in legal merits; their practical effects have been much to be deplored. Gross minds distorted them into authorities to prove, that there was plenty in the land, and that the arts of greedy and unfeeling men alone intercepted the bounty of Providence. Meetings were called; non-consumption agreements were signed, to fix a compulsory price, and associations were formed, chiefly in cities and great towns, to prosecute those, without whom cities and great towns can never be regularly fed. There is no weak, no wild, no violent project, which did not find countenance in some quarter or other. The fall of the market immediately after the harvest, and the subsequent rise, though the natural effects of obvious causes, encreased the public agitation; and the multitude began to pursue their usual course of providing in the shortest way for their instant wants, or of terrifying, or punishing those, whom they had been taught to consider as their oppressors; unconscious or unconcerned that they were thus only preparing for themselves a tenfold aggravation of their own future sufferings. The eyes of all were now turned towards Parliament, not for a train of judicious measures, which, if it be possible, may hereafter again equalize the production with the consumption of the country, but for an immediate supply; as if the omnipotence of Parliament could restore a single grain that has been injured by the most contemptible insect.At such a juncture, however unfavourable it may be to the popularity of this little tract, the publication of it was felt to be a duty. He who wrote it, ever set that consideration before him as the first motive of all his actions. While he lived, he never ceased, publickly and privately, to warn his country and her rulers, against every danger which his wisdom foresaw. He now gives to her and them, this solemn warning from his grave.

Thoughts and Details on Scarcity

Of all things, an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous, and it is always worst in the time when men are most disposed to it: that is, in the time of scarcity. Because there is nothing on which the passions of men are so violent, and their judgment so weak, and on which there exists such a multitude of ill-founded popular prejudices.The great use of Government is as a restraint; and there is no restraint which it ought to put upon others, and upon itself too, rather than on the fury of speculating under circumstances of irritation. The number of idle tales spread about by the industry of faction, and by the zeal of foolish good-intention, and greedily devoured by the malignant credulity of mankind, tends infinitely to aggravate prejudices, which, in themselves, are more than sufficiently strong. In that state of affairs, and of the publick with relation to them, the first thing that Government owes to us, the people, is
information; the next is timely coercion: the one to guide our judgment; the other to regulate our tempers.
To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of Government. It would be a vain presumption in statesmen to think they can do it. The people maintain them, and not they the people. It is in the power of Government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good in this, or perhaps in any thing else. It is not only so of the state and statesman, but of all the classes and descriptions of the Rich—they are the pensioners of the poor, and are maintained by their superfluity. They are under an absolute, hereditary, and indefeasible dependance on those who labour, and are miscalled the Poor.The labouring people are only poor, because they are numerous. Numbers in their nature imply poverty. In a fair distribution among a vast multitude, none can have much. That class of dependant pensioners called the rich, is so extremely small, that if all their throats were cut, and a distribution made of all they consume in a year, it would not give a bit of bread and cheese for one night’s supper to those who labour, and who in reality feed both the pensioners and themselves.But the throats of the rich ought not to be cut, nor their magazines plundered; because, in their persons they are trustees for those who labour, and their hoards are the banking-houses of these latter. Whether they mean it or not, they do, in effect, execute their trust—some with more, some with less fidelity and judgment. But on the whole, the duty is performed, and every thing returns, deducting some very trifling commission and discount, to the place from whence it arose. When the poor rise to destroy the rich, they act as wisely for their own purposes as when they burn mills, and throw corn into the river, to make bread cheap.When I say, that we of the people ought to be informed, inclusively I say, we ought not to be flattered: flattery is the reverse of instruction. The
poor in that case would be rendered as improvident as the rich, which would not be at all good for them.
Nothing can be so base and so wicked as the political canting language, “The Labouring
Poor.” Let compassion be shewn in action, the more the better, according to every man’s ability, but let there be no lamentation of their condition. It is no relief to their miserable circumstances; it is only an insult to their miserable understandings. It arises from a total want of charity, or a total want of thought. Want of one kind was never relieved by want of any other kind. Patience, labour, sobriety, frugality, and religion, should be recommended to them; all the rest is downright
fraud. It is horrible to call them “The
once happy labourer.”
Whether what may be called moral or philosophical happiness of the laborious classes is increased or not, I cannot say. The seat of that species of happiness is in the mind; and there are few data to ascertain the comparative state of the mind at any two periods. Philosophical happiness is to want little. Civil or vulgar happiness is to want much, and to enjoy much.If the happiness of the animal man (which certainly goes somewhere towards the happiness of the rational man) be the object of our estimate, then I assert, without the least hesitation, that the condition of those who labour (in all descriptions of labour, and in all gradations of labour, from the highest to the lowest inclusively) is on the whole extremely meliorated, if more and better food is any standard of melioration. They work more, it is certain; but they have the advantage of their augmented labour; yet whether that increase of labour be on the whole a
good or an
evil, is a consideration that would lead us a great way, and is not for my present purpose. But as to the fact of the melioration of their diet, I shall enter into the detail of proof whenever I am called upon: in the mean time, the known difficulty of contenting them with any thing but bread made of the finest flour, and meat of the first quality, is proof sufficient.
I further assert, that even under all the hardships of the last year, the labouring people did, either out of their direct gains, or from charity, (which it seems is now an insult to them) in fact, fare better than they did, in seasons of common plenty, 50 or 60 years ago; or even at the period of my English observation, which is about 44 years. I even assert, that full as many in that class, as ever were known to do it before, continued to save money; and this I can prove, so far as my own information and experience extend.It is not true that the rate of wages has not encreased with the nominal price of provisions. I allow it has not fluctuated with that price, nor ought it; and the Squires of Norfolk
*59 had dined, when they gave it as their opinion, that it might or ought to rise and fall with the market of provisions. The rate of wages in truth has no
direct relation to that price. Labour is a commodity like every other, and rises or falls according to the demand. This is in the nature of things; however, the nature of things has provided for their necessities. Wages have been twice raised in my time, and they bear a full proportion, or even a greater than formerly, to the medium of provision during the last bad cycle of twenty years. They bear a full proportion to the result of their labour. If we were wildly to attempt to force them beyond it, the stone which we had forced up the hill would only fall back upon them in a diminished demand, or, what indeed is the far lesser evil, an aggravated price of all the provisions, which are the result of their manual toil.
[There is an implied contract, much stronger than any instrument or article of agreement, between the labourer in any occupation and his employer—that the labour, so far as that labour is concerned, shall be sufficient to pay to the employer a profit on his capital, and a compensation for his risk; in a word, that the labour shall produce an advantage equal to the payment. Whatever is above that, is a direct
tax; and if the amount of that tax be left to the will and pleasure of another, it is an
arbitrary tax.
If I understand it rightly, the tax proposed on the farming interest of this kingdom,
*60 is to be levied at what is called the discretion of justices of peace.
The questions arising on this scheme of arbitrary taxation are these—Whether it is better to leave all dealing, in which there is no force or fraud, collusion or combination, entirely to the persons mutually concerned in the matter contracted for; or to put the contract into the hands of those, who can have none, or a very remote interest in it, and little or no knowledge of the subject.It might be imagined that there would be very little difficulty in solving this question; for what man, of any degree of reflection, can think, that a want of interest in any subject closely connected with a want of skill in it, qualifies a person to intermeddle in any the least affair; much less in affairs that vitally concern the agriculture of the kingdom, the first of all it’s concerns, and the foundation of all it’s prosperity in every other matter, by which that prosperity is produced?The vulgar error on this subject arises from a total confusion in the very idea of things widely different in themselves; those of convention, and those of judicature. When a contract is making, it is a matter of discretion and of interest between the parties. In that intercourse, and in what is to arise from it, the parties are the masters. If they are not completely so, they are not free, and therefore their contracts are void.But this freedom has no farther extent, when the contract is made; then their discretionary powers expire, and a new order of things takes it’s origin. Then, and not till then, and on a difference between the parties, the office of the judge commences. He cannot dictate the contract. It is his business to see that it be
enforced; provided that it is not contrary to pre-existing laws, or obtained by force or fraud. If he is in any way a maker or regulator of the contract, in so much he is disqualified from being a judge. But this sort of confused distribution of administrative and judicial characters, (of which we have already as much as is sufficient, and a little more) is not the only perplexity of notions and passions which trouble us in the present hour.
What is doing, supposes or pretends that the farmer and the labourer have opposite interests; that the farmer oppresses the labourer; and that a gentleman called a justice of peace, is the protector of the latter, and a controul and restraint on the former; and this is a point I wish to examine in a manner a good deal different from that in which gentlemen proceed, who confide more in their abilities than is fit, and suppose them capable of more than any natural abilities, fed with no other than the provender furnished by their own private speculations, can accomplish. Legislative acts, attempting to regulate this part of oeconomy, do, at least, as much as any other, require the exactest detail of circumstances, guided by the surest general principles that are necessary to direct experiment and enquiry, in order again from those details to elicit principles, firm and luminous general principles, to direct a practical legislative proceeding.First, then, I deny that it is in this case, as in any other of necessary implication, that contracting parties should originally have had different interests. By accident it may be so undoubtedly at the outset; but then the contract is of the nature of a compromise; and compromise is founded on circumstances that suppose it the interest of the parties to be reconciled in some medium. The principle of compromise adopted, of consequence the interests cease to be different.


Corn, as a general term, includes all the cereals, wheat, rye, barley, oats, maize, rice, etc.

To “forestall” is to intercept goods before they reach the public market, to buy them up privately and keep them off the market with a view to raising the price. Until 1772 it had been forbidden by law.

William Pitt the Younger, First Lord of the Treasury (Prime Minister) since 1784.

In December 1795, “it was announced that a letter from Burke to Young on agricultural wages would shortly appear.”
W&S 9:119, headnote. This was a more precise description of the subject of the memorandum than “rural oeconomics,” as this Preface calls it.

The overtures for peace with Revolutionary France that occasioned Burke’s
Letters on a Regicide Peace, for which see volume 3.

These interpolations have been placed in brackets for the convenience of the reader.

See note on p. 77.

The purchase of grain abroad by the British government to feed the poor at home.

In June 1795, the distillation of spirits from wheat, barley, or malt was prohibited until February 1796 in order to increase the supply of those grains to feed the population; in December 1796, the prohibition was extended to February 1797.
W&S 9:141, n. 1.

Badger: one who buys corn and other commodities and carries them elsewhere to sell—more broadly, an itinerant middleman between producers and consumers; jobber: a piece-worker, one employed by the job—more broadly, a middleman, broker, or small trader or salesman; mealman: one who deals in meal, the edible part of any grain or pulse ground to a powder, e.g., oatmeal, Indian cornmeal.

Toll: a charge levied by a lord for the privilege of bringing goods to a market for sale; stallage: a charge for the privilege of setting up a stall at a fair or market.

Raw: raw silk, drawn from the cocoons by the process of reeling; organzine: the strongest and best kind of silk thread, formed of several strands twisted together in the direction contrary to that in which their component filaments are twisted.

An old spelling for women engaged in the manufacture, use, or sale of silk.

Burke may have mistakenly written Norfolk when he meant Suffolk, where the Justices of the Peace recommended that the wages of laborers should be adjusted in proportion to the price of corn.
W&S 9:122-23.

The reference is to the so-called Speenhamland system, which inspired Burke to write this memorandum to William Pitt. In 1782, Parliament had enacted Gilbert’s Act, which authorized local governments to grant allowances in aid of wages. Subsidizing the wages of the poor was not even then a new departure in English law. On this basis, in 1795 the magistrates of Berkshire, a county adjacent to Burke’s Buckinghamshire, met in the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland, and adopted a scheme to ensure laborers a living wage. A minimum wage was fixed, which varied with the price of corn; if the wages actually paid fell below that, they would be supplemented from the poor rates.

Instrumentum vocale, the tool that speaks;
semivocale, the tool that utters sounds but not words;
mutum, the tool that is inanimate, hence mute.

Samuel Pufendorf (1632-94), whose
The Whole Duty of Man was used as a textbook at Trinity College, Dublin, when Burke was a student there. It was a translation of Pufendorf’s
De officio hominis et civis, which in turn was an epitome, made by Pufendorf himself, of his famous
De jure gentium et naturae (1672).

“Born to consume the fruits [of the earth].” Horace
Epistles 1.2.27.

To drill is to sow seeds or seedlings along a shallow furrow.

One who acts for another as an agent, deputy, or representative; more narrowly, an agent who buys or sells for another; a commission merchant.

A circular letter sent by the Council through the Home Secretary to the Lords Lieutenant asking them to hold magistrates’ meetings in their counties to ascertain the produce of the recent harvest.
W&S 9:133, n. 1.

Bounty: a sum of money paid by government to merchants or manufacturers to encourage an industry or trade. It could be a sum paid to exporters of corn because exports produced a favorable balance of trade or, as here, to importers to encourage buying grain abroad in a time of scarcity of corn at home. Burke was obviously not opposed to all government intervention in the economy.

See Alexander Pope’s
Epilogue to the Satires, deploring the presumptuousness of the lower classes in imitating the vices of their social superiors:

This, this, my friend, I cannot, must not bear;

Vice thus abused demands a nation’s care;

This calls the Church to deprecate our sin,

And hurls the thunder of the laws on gin.

Dialogue 1, lines 129-31.

An apparatus used in distilling spirits.

The greatest work or art, that of realizing alchemy’s dream of turning base metals into gold.

That of the fixing of prices by government.

The first words of a passage in Homer, in which Hector tells his wife that he knows that Troy is doomed:

The day will come when sacred Troy will perish,

And Priam and his people shall be slain.

Iliad 6.448-49.

The Roman general Scipio, who had finally and fully conquered Carthage, repeated Hector’s words, “The day will come,” when his Greek friend, the historian Polybius, asked him why he wept when he saw Carthage in flames. He feared for Rome, too, says Polybius, “when he reflected on the fate of all things human.”
Histories 38.22.1-3.

His son Richard, who had died the year before, on August 2, 1794.

Volume 4, Speech on Fox’s East India Bill