"The Way to be Rich"—A curious Biography of a Miser in the Days of the Commonwealth—Large Savings from Little Earnings—The Cunning of Avarice—A Warning to Drowning Men not to catch at Straws—An Usurer's Schemes and Plots—Fast Young Men of the Commonwealth—The Hypocrisy of Avarice.
AUDLEY was a celebrated miser of the time of the Stewarts; he amassed his wealth during the reign of the first Charles, and flourished amazingly under the protectorate of Cromwell. His life is displayed by an unknown author, in a tract quaintly entitled the "Way to be Rich, according to the practice of the Great Audley, who began with two hundred pounds in the year 1605, and died worth four hundred thousand pounds this instant, November, 1662." The volume is scarce; and like many scarce volumes, is very insipid in style, and very prosy in detail; but we have thought it worthwhile to briefly sketch his habits, and thrifty schemes. Audley was originally a clerk, with only six shillings a week salary, and yet out of this scanty sum he managed to save more than half. His dinner seldom cost him anything, for he generally made some excuse to dine with his master's clients; and as to his other meals, a crust of bread or a dry biscuit, was regarded as fare sufficient after an ample dinner. In one circumstance he was somewhat different from other misers; he was clean, if not neat in his outward appearance, but he was thus scrupulous in his apparel from principle; for Audley often asserted, that to be thrifty it was necessary to pay some respect to such matters. He was remarkably industrious, even when a young man. At an age when others were seeking pleasure, he was busy in lending out, and increasing his early savings. He was always ready to work when the usual hours of business were over, and would willingly sit up the whole night to obtain some trifling remuneration. He was never above soliciting trifles, and touching his hat to his master's clients. Bo rigid was he in his economy, and so usurious in his dealings, that in four years, during which time however he had never received more than a salary of six or eight shillings a week, he managed to save and amass five hundred pounds. The salary of the remaining years of his apprenticeship he sold for sixty, and after awhile, having made up six hundred pounds in all, he lent the whole to a nobleman for an annuity of ninety-six pounds for nineteen years, which annuity was secured upon property producing eight hundred a year. The nobleman soon died, and his heir neglected to pay the annuity. Audley had execution upon the property, and by legal trickery, in which he was well versed, he managed to obtain, in the way of fines and forfeitures, about four thousand pounds profit upon his original six hundred.
His master being one of the clerks of the Compter, Audley had many opportunities of practising his disreputable cunning; and of obtaining vast sums by deluding insolvent debtors, and in deceiving their creditors. He would buy bad debts for a mere trifle, and afterwards compound with the poor insolvent. One instance of his avarice and villainy is so curious, that we cannot refrain from giving the anecdote to our readers. A tradesman named Miller unfortunately got into arrears with his merchant, whose name was White. Many fruitless applications were made for the debt, and at last Miller was sued by the merchant for the sum of two hundred pounds. He was unable to meet the demand, and was declared insolvent. Audley goes to White, and offers him forty pounds for the debt, which the merchant gladly accepts. He then goes to Miller, and undertakes to obtain his quittance of the debt for fifty pounds, upon condition that he entered into a bond to pay for the accommodation. The drowning man catches at a straw, and the insolvent, with many protestations of thanks, eagerly signs a contract which, without consideration, he regarded as one so light, and so easy, in its terms, as to satisfy him that the promptings of benevolence, and friendship, could alone actuate his voluntary benefactor. The contract was, that he should pay to Audley some time within twenty years from that time, one penny progressively doubled, on the first day of twenty consecutive months; and in case he failed to fulfil these easy terms, he was to pay a fine of five hundred pounds. Thus acquitted of his debt of two hundred pounds, Miller arranged with the rest of his creditors, and again commenced business. Fortune turned, and he participated liberally in her smiles. Every month added largely to his trade, and at last he became firmly established. Two or three years after signing the almost forgotten contract, Miller was accosted one fine morning in October by old Audley, who politely demanded the first instalment of the agreement. With a smile, and many renewed expressions of thankfulness, the hopeful tradesman paid his penny. On the first of the succeeding month Audley again called, and demanded twopence, and was as politely satisfied as before. On the first of December, he received a groat; the first of February, one shilling and four pence. Still Miller did not see through the artifice, but paid him with a gracious smile; perhaps, however, there was something cynical in the look of Audley as he left the shop this time, for the poor tradesman's suspicions were aroused, and he put his pen to paper, as he ought to have done years before, to ascertain the amount of his subsequent payments. Reader, what think you would have been the amount of the payment due on the first of the twentieth month? What BUM, think ye, the little penny had become? No less than two thousand one hundred and eighty pounds! And what was the aggregate amount of all these twenty monthly payments? Why, the enormous sum of four thousand three hundred and sixty-six pounds, eleven shillings, and three pence! It sounds incredulous, but if you think it a fable, do as Miller did, and reckon for yourselves. Of course Miller refused the payment of his bond, and forfeited five hundred pounds by the benevolence and charity of the miser.
Such is a single instance of the cunning of avarice as displayed, on many occasions, by this miser. His whole life was one of trickery and disreputable craft. His schemes of villainy were so intricate, and his deceptions so subtle, that few could discover their purpose, or tread the labyrinth of his plot. By means of a set of clerks, as disreputable as himself, he became known to the gay gallants of the day as a professed money-lender. "Nor were," says his anonymous biographer, "the youngsters so needy; as Audley was ready to feed them with money, sometimes with a covetous violence forcing upon them more than they desired." Of course always providing that the security was substantial, and the "consideration" dazzling. Of all the lawyers who disgraced their profession, there was never one so disreputable as Audley—there was never usurer so usurious—never a creditor so unrelenting; and there never was one whose craft wrought the ruin of so many unfortunate, but honest men. As the cunning spider before he crawls from his hiding-place to pounce upon his hapless prey, allows it to attempt an escape, that it may be exhausted by fruitless struggles, and become entwined more securely within the snare; lest the sudden appearance of his own ugly self should terrify his victim into some burst of momentary violence, by which he would rend the frail fabric of his net, and escape the flimsy designs of his destroyer. So, did this wretch of avarice, entice the extravagant into acts of still greater profligacy, that he might seam them more entirely within his meshes, before he allowed them to fathom his dastardly schemes of ruin, and his plans of deep and accomplished villainy. He would secure himself by bonds and mortgages on magnificent estates, and would do all he could to encourage the thoughtless borrower in a vicious course of life. He never refused to "advance," and was always ready to proffer his advice.
The "fast" young gentlemen of the day, who wore high boots, slouched hats, and gaudy swords, thought him "a good sort of fellow," for he had always money to gratify their desires, and to keep up the game. It is often the case, that they who glory in having "seen the world," and who seem to imagine that they have gained much, by peeping beneath the veil of vice, are the most easily deceived; and, instead of becoming wise by their experience, remain the merest simpletons on earth, to be fleeced by every knave, with a common share of cunning, and to be deceived by the smooth-tongued hypocrisy of every villain, who will call himself their friend. Thus it was, that old Audley found his gay customers obsequious in their obedience to his wishes, and always thankful for his advice. He generally advised his debtors to sell, before they borrowed too much, the straggling parts of their estates; assuring them that they would scarcely be sensible of such sales. "These he would buy of them at half their value; so that the feathers would buy the goose, and the wood pay for the ground; and when the poor gentleman had, with his money, stopped one gap, by prodigality he would open another. O! how the principal, the use, the compound interest, swell the debt, to an incredible sum, until half the estate was sold; and then the old man knew that when half the estate was gone, the gentleman would live as if he enjoyed the whole, and though he abated his possessions, he abated not in expenses; how subtly would he let his debts grow on, until they became a considerable sum. Gentlemen could not be more careless to pay, than he was willing to continue the debt, knowing that, Bonds, like infants, battle best with sleeping."
This old sinner was a great hypocrite, and, with all his villainy, made some outward show of piety. "He took care," says his biographer, "to accompany himself, to his dying day, with some grave and reverend divine, from whom, if he gained not piety, he gained the reputation of it. He would have, in his chamber, upon the table, a large bible, and Bishop Andrews' Sermons; and if you surprised him not, you might find him busy with one of these books, but if you came suddenly, he was in his closet."