The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter XI


In making a proper selection of punishments, much skill is required: comparatively much less is requisite in the proper selection of rewards. Not only are the species of rewards more limited in number than those of punishments, but the grounds of preference are more easily discoverable, and there are not, as in the case of punishments, any passions which tend to mislead the judgment.

The qualities desirable in rewards are the same as in the case of punishments: we shall enumerate them, and then proceed to point out in what degree they are united in certain modes of remuneration.

A reward is best adapted to fulfil the purpose for which it may be designed, when it is---

  1. Variable, susceptible of increase or diminution in respect of amount, that it may be proportioned to the different degrees of of service.
  2. Equable, that equal portions may at all times operate with equal force upon all individuals.
  3. Commensurable, with respect to other species of rewards attached to other services.
  4. Exemplary: its apparent ought not to differ from its real value. This quality is wanting, when a large expense is incurred for the purpose of reward, without its becoming matter of notoriety. The object aimed at ought to be to strike the attention, and produce a durable impression.
  5. Economical. More ought not to be paid for a service than it is worth. This is the rule in every market.
  6. Characteristic: as far as possible analogous to the service. It becomes by this means the more exemplary.
  7. Popular. It ought not to oppose established prejudices. In vain did the Roman emperors bestow honours upon the most odious informers; they degraded the honours, but the informers were not the less infamous. But it is not enough that it does not oppose the prejudices: it is desirable that every reward should obtain the approbation of the public.
  8. Fructifying: calculated to excite the perseverance of the individual in the career of service, and to supply him with new resources.

In the selection from among the variety of rewards, of that particular one which most certainly will produce any desired affect, attention must not only be paid to the nature of the service, but also to the particular disposition and character of the individual upon whom it is to operate. In this respect, public regulations can never attain the perfection of which domestic discipline is susceptible. No sovereign can ever in the same degree be acquainted with the dispositions of his subjects, as a father may be with those of his children. This disadvantage is however compensated by the larger number of competitors. In a kingdom, every diversity of temperament, and every degree of aptitude, may be found united together; and provided the reward be proportionate to the service, it will be of little importance what may be its nature: like the magnet, which out of heterogeneous mass attracts and separates the most hidden particles of iron, it will detect the individual susceptible of its attraction. Besides, the nature of pecuniary reward, which is adapted to the greater proportion of services, is such that every individual may convert it into the species of pleasure which be most prefers.

To form a judgment of the merits and demerits of pecuniary reward, a glance at the list of desirable qualities will suffice. It will at once be seen which of them it possesses, and of which of them it is deficient: it is variable, equable, and commensurable. It ought to be added, that it is frequently indispensably necessary: there are many cases in which every other reward, separated from this, would not only be a burthen, but even a mockery, especially if the performance of the service have been attended with an expense or loss greater than the individual can easily support.

On the other hand, pecuniary reward is not exempt from disadvantages. Speaking generally (for there are many exceptions,) it is neither exemplary, nor characteristic, nor even popular.[2] When allowed to exceed a certain amount, it tends to diminish the activity of the receiver: instead of adding to his inclination to persevere in his services, it may furnish him with a temptation to discontinue them. The enriched man will be apt to think like the soldier of Lucullus, who became timid so soon as he possessed property to preserve.

Ibit eò, quo vis, qui zonam perdidit, inquit.
Hor. Epist. II. lib. 2.

There are also cases in which money, instead of an attractive, may have a repulsive effect,---instead of operating as a reward, may be considered as an insult, at least by persons who possess any delicacy in their sentiments of honour. A certain degree of skill is therefore required in the application of money as a reward: it is oftentimes desirable that the pecuniary should appear only as an accessary to the honorary, which should be made to constitute the principal part of the reward.[3]

Every pecuniary reward may be, as it were, annihilated by its relative smallness. A man of independent fortune, and of a certain rank in society, would be considered as degraded by accepting a sum that would not degrade a mechanic. There is no rule for determining; what is permitted or prohibited in this respect: custom has established the prejudice. But the difficulty it presents is not insurmountable. By combining together money and honour, a compound is formed,which is universally pleasing: medals, for example, possess this double advantage. By a little art and precaution, a solid peace is established between pride and cupidity; and thus united, they have both been ranged under the banners of merit. Pride proclaims aloud---``It is not the intrinsic value of the metal which possesses attractions for me; it is the circle of glory alone with which it is surrounded.'' Cupidity makes its calculation in silence, and accurately estimates the value of the material of the prize.

By the Society of Arts a still higher degree of perfection has been attained. A choice is commonly allowed between a sum of money and a medal. Thus all conditions and tastes are satisfied: the mechanic or peasant pockets the money; the peer or gentleman ornaments his cabinet with a medal.

The apparent value of medals is in some cases augmented, by rendering the design,upon them characteristic of the service on account of which they are bestowed. By the addition of the name of the individual rewarded, an exclusive certificate is made in his favour. The ingenuity displayed in the choice of the design has sometimes been extremely happy.

A British statute gives to the person who apprehends and convicts a highwayman, amongst other rewards, the horse on which the offender was mounted when he committed the offence. Possibly the framer of this law may have taken the hint from the passage in Virgil, in which the son of Æneas promises to Nisus, in case of the success of the expedition he was meditating, the very horse and accoutrements which Turnus had been seen to use.

It is equally possible, that the same knowledge of human nature, which suggested to the Latin poet the efficacy of such a reward, suggested it at once to the English lawyer. Be this as it may, this provision is commendable on three several accounts. In the assignment of the prize, it pitches upon an object, which, from the nature of the transaction, is likely to make a particular impression on the mind of the person whose assistance is required; acting in this respect in conformity to the rule above laid down, which recommends an attention to the circumstances influencing the sensibility of the person on whom impression is to be made. It also has the advantage of being characteristic, as well as exemplary. The animal, when thus transferred, becomes a voucher for the activity and prowess of its owner, as well as a trophy of his victory.

An arrangement like this, simple as it is, or rather because it is so simple, was an extraordinary stretch in British policy; in which, though there is generally a great mixture of good sense, there reigns throughout a kind of littleness and mauvaise honte, which avoids, with timid caution, everything that is bold, striking, and eccentric, scarcely ever hazarding any of those strong and masterly touches which strike the imagination, and fill the mind with the idea of the sublime.

Examples of rewards of this nature abound in the Roman system of remuneration. For every species of merit, appropriate symbolic crowns were provided. This branch of their administration preserved the ancient simplicity of Rome in its cradle; and the wreath of parsley long eclipsed the splendour of the crowns of gold. I was about to speak of their triumphs, but here I am compelled to stop: humanity shudders at that pride of conquest which treads under its feet the vanquished nations. The system of legislation ought no doubt to be adapted to the encouragement of military ardour, but it ought not to fan it into such a flame as to make it the predominant passion of the people, and to prostrate everything before it.

Honorary rewards are eminently exemplary: they are standing monuments of the service for which they have been bestowed; they also possess the desirable property of operating as a perpetual encouragement to fresh exertions. To disgrace an honorary reward, is to be a traitor to one's self; he that has once been pronounced brave, should perpetually merit that commendation.

To create a reward of this nature, is not very difficult. The symbolical language of esteem is, like written language, matter of convention. Every mode of dress, every ceremony, so soon as it is made a mark of preeminence, becomes honourable. A branch of laurel, a ribband, a garter---everything possesses the value which is assigned to it. It is however desirable, that these ensigns should possess some emblematic character expressive of the nature of the service for which they are bestowed. With reference to this principle, the blazonry of heraldry appears rude and unmeaning. The decoration of the various orders of knighthood, though not deficient in splendour, are highly deficient in respect of character: they strike the eye, but they convey no instruction to the mind. A ribband appears more like the finery of a woman, than the distinctive decoration of a hero.

Honorary titles have frequently derived a part of their glory from being characteristic. The place which has been the theatre of his exploits has often furnished a title for a victorious general, well calculated to perpetuate the memory of his service and his glory. At a very early period of their history, the Romans employed this expedient in addition to the other rewards which they conferred upon the general who completed a conquest.---Hence the surnames of Africanus, Numidicus, Asiaticus, Germanicus, and so many others. This custom was frequently been imitated. Catherine II. revived it in favour of the Romanoffs and Orloffs. Mahon, twice in the eighteenth century, furnished titles to its conquerors. The mansion of Blenheim unites to the eclat of the name, a more substantial proof of national gratitude.[5]

The Romans occasionally applied the same mode of reward to services of a different description. The Appian way perpetually recalled to the memory of those who journeyed on it, the liberality of Appius.[6]

The career of legislation may also furnish some instances of honours which possess this character of analogy. In the digest of the Sardinian laws, every praiseworthy care was taken to inform the people to which of their sovereigns they were indebted for each particular law. It is an example worthy of imitation. It may have been intended as a mark of respect, as well as for convenience of reference, that it has been customary to designate by the title of the Grenville Act, the admirable law which this representative of the people procured to be enacted for the impartial decision of questions relative to contested elections.

Had the statue of this legislator been placed in the House of Commons, from which he banished a scandalous disorder, it would both have been a monument of gratitude, and a noble lesson: it might have for its companion a statue of his noble rival, the author of Economical Reform. It is thus that the impartial judgment of posterity, forgetting the differences which separated them, delights to recollect the excellencies which assimilated them to each other: it is thus that it has placed, side by side of each other, Eschines and Demosthenes. The more men become enlightened, the more clearly will they perceive the necessity, at least, of dividing honour between those who cause nations to flourish by means of good laws, and those who defend them by their valour.

Among the most obvious and efficacious means of conferring honorary rewards, are pictures, busts, statues, and other imitative representations of the person meant to be rewarded. These spread his fame to posterity, and, in conjunction with the history of the service, hand down the idea of the person by whom it was rendered. They are naturally accompanied with inscriptions explanatory of the cause for which the honour was decreed. When the art of writing has become common, these inscriptions will frequently give disgust, by the length or extravagance of the elogium; and it will then become an object of good taste to say as much in as few words as possible. Perhaps the happiest specimens of the kind that were, or ever will be produced, are the two inscriptions placed under the statues of Louis XIV. and Voltaire; the one erected by the town of Montpellier, the latter by a society of men of letters, of whom Frederick III. king of Prussia was one:---``A Louis XIV. après sa mort.'' ``A Voltaire, pendant sa vie: ``To the king, though no longer the object of hope and fear: to the poet and philosopher, though still the butt of envy. The business, on occasions like these, is not to inform but to remind: history and the art of printing do the rest.

The greater number of the rewards of which we have spoken above, are occasional, that is, applied to a particular action. There are others which are more permanent in their character, such as the Hospitals of Chelsea and Greenwich, in England, and l'Hôtel des Invalides at Paris.

Doubts have often been entertained of the utility of these establishments. Rewards, it has been said, might be extended to a much greater number of individuals, if the annual amount of the expenses of these places were distributed in the shape of pensions, while the individuals would thus be rendered much happier, since men who have passed their days of activity, united in a place where they are no longer subject to the cares and labours of life, are exposed to the most ceaseless listlessness. I shall not dispute the truth of these observations, but on the other hand, shall examine the effect of these establishments upon the minds of soldiers and sailors. Their imaginations are flattered by the magnificence of these retreats; it is a brilliant prospect, opened to them all; an asylum is provided for those who, having quitted their country and their families in their youth, have frequently, in their days of decrepitude and age, no other home in the world. Those who are mutilated or disfigured with wounds, are consoled by the renown which awaits them in the hospital, where everything reminds them of their exploits; It may also be for the benefit of the service more prudent thus to unite than to disperse them. It is a luxury; but it is rational, exemplary, and possesses a character of justice and magnificence.

These establishments being necessarily limited with respect to the number which can be admitted into them, may be considered upon the footing of extraordinary rewards, applicable to distinguished services. They would thus constitute a species of nobility for the soldiers and sailors. They would acquire an additional degree of splendour, were their walls adorned by the trophies taken in war, which would there appear much more appropriately placed, than when deposited in the temples of peace. The decorations of the chapel of l'Hôtel des Invalides are admirable. The flags suspended in the cathedral of St. Paul only awaken thoughts at variance with those of religious worship: removed to Chelsea or Greenwich, they would be connected with natural associations, and would furnish a text to the commentaries of those who acquired them by their valour.

It is not often that every desirable quality is seen to be united in one and the same reward: this union, however, frequently takes place in an almost imperceptible manner.

An instance of a reward particularly well adapted to the nature of the service, is that of the monopoly which it is almost universally the custom to create in favour of inventors. From the very nature of the thing, it adapts itself with the utmost nicety to those rules of proportion to which it is most difficult for reward artificially instituted by the legislator to conform. It adapts itself with the utmost nicety to the value of the service. If confined, as it ought to be, to the precise point in which the originality of the invention consists, it is conferred with the least possible waste of expense: it causes a service to be rendered, which without it a man would not have a motive for rendering; and that only by forbidding others from doing that which, were it not for that service, it would not have been possible for them to have done. Even with regard to such inventions (for such there will be) where others, besides him who possessed himself of the reward, have scent of the invention, it is still of use, by stimulating all parties, and setting them to strive which shall first bring his discovery to bear. With all this it unites every property which can be wished for in a reward. It is variable, equable, commensurable, characteristic, exemplary, frugal, promotive of perseverance, subservient to compensation, popular, and revocable.

[RR, Book I, Chapter X] [RR, Book I, Chapter XII]