Misers - CHAPTER XI: THE INSANITY OF AVARICE.

CHAPTER XI: THE INSANITY OF AVARICE.

Avarice in the Insane—Curious Anecdotes of Lunatics—The Miser of St. Petersburg—His singular Life, and enormous Wealth—His Loan to Catharine, Empress of Russia—The Miser's Watch-dog—Its death—The Miser becomes his own Housedog to save the cost of another—Col. Dogherty of the Royal Marines—His singular character—Michael Dudley, the Miser, and his one hundred pound note—The Miser of Bloomsbury—Sheldon, the Miser of Kentish Town—Indications of Insanity—The effects of Avarice on the Mind—Avarice a prolific cause of Insanity, &c.

            Like all other faculties and propensities of the human mind, the mania to acquire sometimes becomes a mental disease, and outsteps the control of the better feelings. The asylums for the insane contain numerous and remarkable instances of the morbid workings of this ignoble love of gold. Wretches of the most abject misery—imbecile and insane—will sometimes display the utmost craft and circumspection in the gratification of this ruling passion of their minds. As a monomania, it is too lamentably common; for we must regard the man, who, whilst in possession of an ample fortune, still strives by the most sordid parsimony, and the most disreputable cunning, to increase his hoards, as one whose mind is impaired, or whose passion for gold has produced a mental aberration. The proprietor of a private lunatic asylum once related to us some singular anecdotes of this passion, as manifested by his unfortunate patients. One of them had been a noted miser years before he became an inmate of the asylum; and a sudden and unforeseen loss which he had sustained, was supposed to have been the cause of his insanity. His whole soul had been centred in his gold, and deprived of his treasure, his mind became a total wreck; in his lucid intervals he would grow desponding, and abandon himself to the most lamentable despair; he would pine and fret; sob like a child deprived of its bauble, and then, in the paroxysm of his grief, rave into frantic madness; clutch hold of his keepers and denounce them as robbers, and seeking some worthless object that happened to be at hand, he would guard it with the most tenacious ferocity, declaring that it was his bag of gold, and that he would rather part with life, than part with that. Another poor wretch used to wander about the garden of the asylum in search of pebbles, which happened by their rotundity to call up to his mind the recollection of coin; these he would seek for with persevering industry, and, when discovered, he would secrete them about his clothes with the greatest caution, and after a time bury them in a particular spot in the garden, and he always manifested the most intense anxiety if any of the other patients happened to wander near the place of his secret hoards. He was generally harmless in his manner, but he was always excited into passion, if by any chance his pursuits were interfered with, or his fictitious coin disturbed by his unfortunate companions.

            Many years ago, there lived in a large, cheerless and dilapidated, old house in St. Petersburg, a wretched miser. He confined himself to one room, and left the rest of the rambling edifice to moulder into ruin; he cared for no comfort, and deprived himself even of those things which the poorest regard as the necessaries of life; he seldom lit a fire to repel the dampness, which, hung on the walls of his solitary chamber, and a few worthless objects of furniture was all that the room contained. Yet to this singular being the Empress Catherine the Second owed a million of roubles. His cellar, it was said, contained casks full of gold, and packages of silver were stowed away in the dismal corners of his ruinous mansion. He was one of the richest men in Russia. He relied, for the safety of his hoards, upon the exertions of a huge mastiff, which he had trained to bark and howl throughout the night, to strike terror into the hearts of thieves. The miser outlived the dog; but he disliked to part with any portion of his treasure in the purchase of another cur, and he resolved to save his money by officiating as his own watch dog. Every morning, and every evening, would that insane old man wander about his dismal habitation, barking and howling in imitation of his recent sentinel.

            Perhaps a more decided manifestation of the insanity of avarice was exemplified in the life of Lieutenant-Colonel O'Dogherty, of the Royal Marines. He died in February, 1819, near Landrake. For more than twenty years he was in the habit of visiting Plymouth Market, and he always made his appearance, mounted on an old hack as lean as Rosinante. The singularity of his dress, and the eccentricity of his manners, soon obtained for him the reputation of a miser. He generally wore a nightcap, tied round his head, which had evidently been for years a stranger to the wash-tub; an old hat, quite bare of nap, and brimless; a rough waistcoat, the original texture of which it would have puzzled the most sagacious to have discovered—so numerous were its patches and so various its hues; a greasy leather pair of breeches; an old coat, which no Jew would have rescued from the kennel, and a pair of shattered shoes bound round with huge hay-bands, formed the usual habiliments of this sin-gular character. On his last visit to Plymouth, a week or two before his death, thus arrayed, he seated himself on the steps of the Plymouth Telegraph Office to eat an apple, which probably, was designed to satisfy his hunger during the greatest portion of the day. Yet, whilst practising this wretched penury, he possessed freehold property of considerable value, amply sufficient to have maintained him in comfort, and in a dignity befitting the squire of his village. He chose, however, to forsake the family mansion, and took up his abode in a small cottage in its immediate vicinity. A most wretched hovel it was, without a pane of glass in the windows, but with innumerable inconvenient apertures in the roof. He always kept the door closely barred and blocked up, and he used to get in and out of his house through the bedroom window, with the aid of a ladder; this he would at night draw up after him, and seek his repose on a bundle of dirty straw, huddled into one corner of his room.

            We may observe too, indications of an unsound mind in the senseless manner in which some misers have been known to gratify their love of hoarding; in the case of John Little, and several others, mentioned in our former chapters, we have seen the miser gratifying his propensity to hoard, when, by so doing, he necessarily entailed a pecuniary loss. We have a curious illustration of this, in the case of Michael Dudley, an Irishman, who was robbed in the year 1831. It seems, from the report of the trial of the thieves, which appeared in the papers of the time, that he had been robbed of an old pocket book, containing notes to the value of one hundred and sixty pounds, among which there was one note for a hundred pounds, that he had carried about with him for seventeen years. He came possessed of it by a legacy, and nothing could induce him to part with it for a note of more modern currency, or to place it out at interest. This old man had been for many years a boot cleaner at the Castle Tavern, in Exeter-street, Dublin, and he was constantly seen wandering about the streets, dressed in a miserable tattered suit of clothes, which, many years ago, had been given to him out of charity. He seldom purchased a meal, but strove to satisfy the cravings of nature by pickings from the refuse of the market stalls, or by begging a few scraps of the inhabitants. He lived in a garret, in a dismantled, uninhabited old tenement, in Sycamore-lane, a perfect slave to self-sacrifice and self-denial.

            A rich capitalist, named M. Thibaudard, died a few years ago, at Paris, leaving an immense sum of money; some of which was found hoarded away in the most unaccountable places rendering it doubtful whether the whole of his property was ever discovered. He had a residence in the country, but he hired a room in Paris, which he used frequently to visit. He died, and left his wife residuary legatee. A few weeks after his death, she went to Paris, to the room before alluded to. The weather was cold, and she had a fire lit, but as the smoke poured from the fireplace, and filled the room, she sent for a sweep, who examined the chimney, where, at a considerable height, he found a leather valise, containing twenty thousand francs, gold coins, and a large quantity of precious stones. It is evident, that the man who would thus place his property in jeopardy, must, as it were, have been on the verge of insanity.

            Some two or three years ago, a miserable old man died in the metropolis, leaving behind him an ample fortune. For many years he had been in the habit of rising at an early hour in the morning, and sallying out to search the streets for bits of bone or rags; he always bent his steps towards Covent Garden market, and from the refuse of the stalls, he would carry home a quantity of fragments of potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables, which, in the course of the day, he would stew down, and form into a dainty dish. He always walked along the streets with his eyes upon the ground; no pin escaped his vigilant eye; no piece of paper was passed without being examined; no fragment of twine, no stray remnant of cloth or rag, was allowed to repose in the kennel; sometimes he was rewarded by the discovery of some article of greater value, and he used to boast that he had found several pieces of jewellery in the vicinity of the theatres. He lived in a room, in a house in Gilbert-street, Bloomsbury; the house was his own, and he had several others in the same street, and considerable sums of money in the funds, or stowed away in his own house. He seldom purchased provisions, but managed to eke out a subsistence from his gatherings in the streets; sometimes he bought a stale loaf, or a small quantity of butter, at a chandler's shop in the neighbourhood, and his constant remark was, "never mind how rank it is, so as it is cheap." In this case, avarice became so strong, as to overwhelm the mind, and the old man. died at an advanced age, imbecile and insane.

            A few weeks ago, an old miser, of the name of Sheldon, died at Blandford-place, Kentish Town. He has left it is supposed, about twenty thousand pounds; yet this miserable slave to mammon would wander about the adjacent streets, to pick up any rubbish that could be turned into money, or any fragments that would help to form a meal; he had often been seen pick up bits of bread or potato from the mud in the streets, and carry them home, when he would wash them, and afterwards eat them with a relish; he was insensible to all notions of refinement or decency, and for twenty years he never allowed his room to be swept. He seldom wore a hat, and in the coldest weather he refused to allow himself a coat. He never washed his face but once a month, and then only when urged to do so by constant importunities. Often have we seen him perambulating the roads about Kentish Town, with a crowd of boys behind him, hooting and exasperating the old miser into a passion, but even in the midst of his perplexity, and when his rage was at its height, if a bone or a piece of rag happened to meet his eye, he would forget his passion and his tormentors in his eagerness to obtain it. Habits of parsimony seem conducive to longevity, for he died at the advanced age of eighty-five. He had no relations that have yet been discovered, and his ample fortune is destined to be locked up in Chancery, or to go to strangers whom he had never seen.

            Such instances are evident indications of insanity; we behold in them the moral powers of the mind; all those social faculties which elevate man so immeasurably above the brute, ruled despotically by an inordinate passion to acquire. There are few passions, indeed, the abuse of which so endanger the equilibrium of the human mind, as that of avarice, and, in a great commercial country like our own, the prevalence of this feeling leads to incalculable misery, both individually and nationally. The endless solicitude—the feverish excitement—the harassing competition—the speculating nature of commercial enterprise, and the wear and tear incidental to these things, make the young man forget the dreams of youth, and the old man the remembrance of the tomb. The soul becomes enthralled by schemes of gain; social joys and domestic duties are forgotten; like an ill-regulated clock, the countenance bears false evidence of years; premature wrinkles, lines of anxious thought, point to a premature old age, and to an early grave. We are not indifferent to the blessing of commerce; we are not insensible of the necessity for exertion which exists, and we have no word of blame for those struggling to obtain an honourable livelihood. But, without arrogating to ourselves the office of a monitor, we would gently remind him, who has allowed avarice to usurp the place of legitimate enterprise, of the perils which he is weaving around him. Let him think for a moment, of the fiery ordeal through which he must pass to accomplish his schemes of avarice. Let him dwell for a moment upon the sacrifice of peace of mind, on the loss of health, on the nights of unquiet sleep, on the torturing disappointments, on the anxious fears, and the almost certain fate of an early death which the lust for gold entails. Let him then cast up the profits of this misery and toil; draw up within his mind a balance sheet, debit to himself on the one side, the probable consequences which we have enumerated, and credit to himself on the other, the bags of gold which peradventure he may accumulate; the interest they may produce in the few short years which he may have to live; the sum total of the fortune which he will be able to leave for his heir to spend. Weigh both sides, examine every item, and strike a balance. Choose between bags of unused gold, an unquiet life, an early grave; or a healthy life, a peaceful old age, and a happy death-bed.

            It may, perhaps, influence the decision of those who will condescend to draw up, within their minds, such a balance sheet, to know that no propensity or faculty is so liable to disease as that of acquisitiveness; that the inordinate pursuit of wealth produces more mental dissolution, more mental calamities, and more insanity, than does the abuse of any other passion of the human mind. In a table, compiled by M. Esquirol, it appeared that one hundred and sixty-four cases of insanity bore the following proportions: fifty of them were merchants, thirty-three were military men, twenty-five were students, twenty-one administrateurs, ten were advocates, eight artists, four chemists, four were doctors, four were farmers, three were sailors, and two were engineers. This preponderance of merchants, or of those manifesting most actively the love of gain, and the most eager in the pursuit of wealth, was fully borne out by an examination of the patients in other lunatic asylums. Merchants formed by fax the largest pro-portion of the insane in all the establishments. M. Fodere attributes this circumstance to the "chances of speculation, which keep the mind constantly on the stretch, and which in a moment, give or take away a fortune." Reader! remember these things when draw-ing up your balance sheet.

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