Life of Thomas Guy, an Illustration of Parsimony without Avarice—His Speculations and Schemes—His Economy and his Liberality—Anecdote of Guy and Hopkins the Miser—Matrimonial Engagements—Mutability of Love—Death of Guy—His Munificence—Last Will and Testament—Conclusion, &c.
As an illustration of extreme parsimony without avarice, we present the reader with a brief sketch of the life and eccentric habits of Thomas Guy. This remarkable man, whose charity far exceeded his habits of saving, was the son of a lighterman and coal-merchant in Horsleydown, Southwark. [Note: See Highmore's Pietas Londinensis, 8vo. Lond. 1810, for some account of this singular character.] He was born at the commencement of the civil war: of his education and early life but little is known. In 1660 he was bound apprentice to John Clarke, a bookseller, living in the porch of Mercer's Hall, Cheapside. As soon as his term was expired, he commenced trading for himself, with a capital of two hundred pounds; he carried on business in a house situated between Cornhill and Lombard Street, and his trade was principally in English Bibles. At that time Bibles were so badly and so carelessly printed in England, that almost every page was disfigured by some typographical error. This induced Guy to enter into a speculation to print them in Holland, and to import them into England, by which scheme a more accurate edition could be sold at a price considerably under that of the London Bibles. The University of Oxford, having by charter certain privileges in the printing of Bibles, interfered and prevented our enterprising bibliopole from carrying out his design. He then, however, contracted with the University for the privilege of printing them; and for many years he was enabled to amass considerable sums of money by carrying on an extensive trade in Bibles. This laid the foundation for his vast fortune; for being a bachelor, and naturally of a very frugal and saving disposition, his profits were allowed to accumulate. He was most penurious in his domestic arrangements, and the complete suit of his every day apparel would scarcely have fetched eighteen-pence from the most enterprising Israelite. He usually dined upon his shop counter with an old newspaper or dirty proof-sheet for a table cloth. His meals were always of the most frugal nature, and he seldom indulged in luxuries. His savings as a book-seller he speedily augmented by purchasing seamen's tickets, during the continental wars in Queen Anne's time, and by large but cautious speculations in South Sea Stock.
Most of our readers are probably familiar with the history of that celebrated "bubble," and are aware how pernicious were its effects at the time upon the operations of legitimate commerce: the pursuit of trade was abandoned—property was sacrificed at a ruinous loss, and visions of a golden future fevered the imaginations of the most unpretending capitalists. Stock rose enormously; and every man who possessed a portion regarded it as the germ of future affluence. By and bye the bubble burst, and thousands were ruined in the terrible crisis. Gay the poet held some of the stock, which the advice of his more cautious friends could not induce him to part with; he deemed it worth twenty thousand pounds, every penny of which was lost. Some few, more careful than the rest, enriched themselves by selling out when the delusion was in its zenith. Thomas Guy was among this number. In the year 1720 he possessed stock to the amount of forty-five thousand five hundred pounds. His suspicions were excited as to its stability as an investment; and when it rose to about three hundred pounds he began to sell out, and continued doing so until it arose to six hundred, when he disposed of the whole of his remaining property in the stock at that rate. It ultimately, however, reached the almost fabulous price of one thousand and fifty pounds per cent! From beginning to end Thomas Guy is said to have made nearly five hundred thousand pounds by the great South Sea bubble! During all this prosperity Guy observed the most rigid parsimony; but he never allowed his love of saving to render him forgetful of his duties as a Christian. Long before this vast acquisition of wealth he paid for the building of the wards on the north side of the outer court of Saint Thomas's Hospital, and for many years he annually gave one hundred pounds towards the funds of that institution. It is somewhat singular to find such munificence in a person of such penurious habits; and the life of Thomas Guy is a striking proof of the wide distinction we ought to draw between parsimony and avarice: the one is not essentially a selfish or sordid propensity, and its observance may sometimes have for its motive noble ulterior object in view; whilst avarice is a passion purely selfish, and can never sympathize with such virtues as charity or benevolence. Not that we should deem it necessary to carry the principle of saving to the extent which the following anecdote of Guy displays. It is said that one evening he was sitting in his little back parlour meditating over a handful of half lighted embers, confined within the narrow precincts of a brick stove; a farthing candle was on the table at his side, but it was not lit, and the fire afforded no light to dissipate the gloom; he sat there all alone planning some new speculation; congratulating himself on saving a pennyworth of fuel, or else perchance thinking how else he could bestow some thousand guineas in charity: his thoughts, whether on subjects small or great, were interrupted by the announcement of a visitor; he was a shabby, meagre, miserable looking old man; but compliments were exchanged, and the guest was invited to take a seat; Guy immediately lighted his farthing candle, and desired to know the object of the gentleman's call: the visitor was no other than the celebrated Hopkins, who on account of his avarice and rapacity had obtained the name of Vulture Hopkins. "He lived," says Pope, "worthless, but died worth three hundred thousand pounds, which he would give to no person living, but left it so as not to be inherited till after the second generation." His counsel represented to him how many years it must be before this could take effect, and that his money would only lie at interest all that time. He expressed great joy thereat, and said they would then be as long in spending as he had been in getting it. But the Chancery afterwards set aside the will, and gave it to the heir at law. The reader will probably remember the lines in Pope's Moral Essays—
"When Hopkins dies a thousand lights attend,
The wretch that living saved a candle's end."
"I have been told," said Hopkins, as he entered the presence of Thomas Guy, "that you are better versed in the prudent and necessary art of saving, than any man now living, and I now wait upon you for a lesson in frugality, an art in which I used to think I excelled, but I am told by all who know you that you are greatly my superior." "If that is all you are come about," said Guy, "why then we can talk the matter over in the dark;" so saying, he with great deliberation put the extinguisher on his newly lighted farthing candle. Struck with this instance of economy, Hopkins acknowledged the superior abilities of his host, and took his leave imbued with a profound respect for such an adept in the art of saving.
It is singular to observe what trifling events will sometimes act as a pivot upon which the future events of a life will turn. It is to one of these slight rufflings in the stream of life that the public are indebted for the noble institution which still exists as a monument of the munificent charity of the parsimonious Thomas Guy. "He employed," says Highmore, a female servant whom he agreed to marry. Some days previous to the intended ceremony he ordered the pavement before his door to be mended up to a particular stone, which he marked, and then left his house on business. The servant in his absence looking at the workman, saw a broken stone beyond the mark which they had not repaired, and on pointing to it with that design, they acquainted her that Mr. Guy had not ordered them to go so far. She however directed it to be done, adding, with the security of feeling incidental to her expectation of soon becoming his wife, "Tell him I bade you, and he will not be angry." But she soon learnt how dangerous it is for any one in a dependent situation to exceed the limits of their authority; for her master, on his return, was so enraged at finding that they had exceeded his orders, and put him to an additional expense, that he renounced his matrimonial engagement with his servant, and devoted his ample fortune to public charity.
When he had reached the age of seventy-six, and found himself possessed of a fortune, which might justly be regarded as enormous for the age, Guy commenced his munificent plans of charity. He took of the Governors of St. Thomas's Hospital, a piece of ground opposite to that building, on a lease of nine hundred and ninety-nine years, at an annual rent of thirty pounds per annum. The spot was, at that time, covered with small tenements, which in a few months he had removed. Plans were drawn out—foundations dug with the utmost speed; and he who had been so solicitous to save a farthing candle, had the gratification to behold, before he died, a handsome hospital erected with a portion of his parsimonious savings. Eighteen thousand seven hundred and ninety-three pounds were expended in the erection of Guy's Hospital; and its eccentric founder, who died in 1724, in his eighty-first year, endowed it with two hundred and twenty thousand pounds, the residue of his estate. Other acts of kindness and charity adorn the memory of this singular but most benevolent man. He bequeathed one thousand pounds for the discharging of four debtors within the City of London, and in the counties of Middlesex and Surrey; by this means, some seven or eight hundred were liberated from prison. He bequeathed to Christ's Hospital a perpetual annuity of four hundred pounds, for taking in four children yearly, on the nomination of the Governors. In his life time he founded some almshouses at Tamworth, which borough he represented in Parliament during several sessions; these almshouses he further endowed by his will with a perpetual annuity of one hundred and twenty-five pounds. Nor did this worthy man forget his numerous relatives—many of them were poor, and most of them were in indifferent circumstances—they all, however, had to be grateful for the parsimony which Guy had practised during his life. Not one of them was forgotten; to some he left small annuities for life, and to others considerable sums of money. To most of his sister's children and cousins, who were very numerous, he left a thousand pounds apiece. Among his poor relatives, in various sums, he left life annuities amounting to near nine hundred pounds per annum; and among his younger relations and executors, he distributed nearly seventy-six thousand pounds. It is seldom that the hoardings of parsimony have been in their distribution so guided by the dictates of benevolence. Guy did not, like the miser, save for the senseless and selfish gratification of an ignoble passion. He saved that he might bestow, and he consecrated his profits in trade, and his accumulations by rigid self-denial to the service of the poor, the unfortunate, and the sick—all honour, and all praise, to the memory of the kind and noble-hearted bookseller!