Avarice the abuse of a feeling which God intended as a blessing—The virtue of Economy—Extravagance in literary Men—Parsimony versus Frugality—How to Save—The importance of little things—Jacob Clement the City Broker—Jacques Lafitte—The Dust Heap—Nothing useless—Marine Storekeepers—Mysterious Bone-pickers—Singular death of a Miser, &c., &c.
Rather would we, that our pen fell powerless from our hand, than that we should inadvertently have said one word of discouragement to they who are striving, by cheerful and willing self-denial, to provide out of humble incomes a provision against the hour of misfortune. Because men will drink wine till they become no longer human—because men, in striving to degrade themselves to a level with beasts, forget all the responsibilities of their higher nature, and find delight in wallowing in oblivious drunkenness; we would not, on that account, refuse to partake with temperance of that which God has given us as a blessing. And because men forget their souls, and the nobler purposes of life, and in their eagerness and avarice for gold, root out all good and manly feeling, and coin, as it were, their very hearts into metal; we would not neglect, by prudent and honourable means, to acquire wealth. Whilst we abhor the abuse, and think it well to guard others by hideous examples of its folly and vice, we can appreciate and participate in its legitimate use. We look upon it as a solemn duty in men, whether regarded as citizens or as fathers of families, to practice a prudent economy; and the man who is frugal without being avaricious—who is parsimonious without being sordid—we regard as fulfilling one of his greatest social duties. Joseph, be it remembered, was thought to display his sagacity when he advised Pharaoh to lay up in the seven plenteous years, for the seven ensuing years of famine. "Where," said the king, "shall we find such an one as this? A man in whom is the spirit of God!" And St. Paul solemnly affirms that "he hath sunk even below infidelity, who is negligent to provide for those of his own house." If, therefore, economy is a virtue, wastefulness becomes a sin. And yet, how many weakly glory in being thought extravagant; ruined spendthrifts will boast of their meanless prodigality, and their wasteful dissipation, as if in their past liberal selfishness they could claim some forbearance for their present disrepute, or some compassion for the misfortunes into which their own heedlessness has thrown them. The learned, too, will disclaim all knowledge of the dull routine of economy, and proclaim their ignorance of the affairs of life, as if the confession endowed them with a virtue; but perfection is not the privilege of any order of men, and many who ought to have been the monitors of mankind, whose talents have made their names immortal, embittered their lives, and impaired the vigour of their intellects, by their thoughtless and wanton improvidence. The calamities of authors is a hackneyed theme. Savage, Steel, Sheridan, Gay, Logan, and Maginn, are not instances, as some have asserted, of literary misfortune and neglect, so much as examples of learned profligacy and imprudence. Most of them were at times affluent, and most of them had opportunities in the success and popularity of their writings, of providing means to ward off those calamities which darkened the annals of their literary history, and which made them so familiar with
"Want, the garret, and the jail."
We are too apt to overlook the difference which subsists between parsimony and avarice; the one, while it may be a virtue in some, is a sin in others; but avarice, in whomsoever it may appear, must always be regarded as a vice. Parsimony in the man who, having but a narrow income, is anxious to provide for his family, who is ambitious to ascend higher in the social scale, and who feels solicitous to save his progeny from some of those hard vicissitudes of poverty which his own experience has taught him to dread; parsimony in such an one becomes a virtue, worthy of our highest regard, and deserving our warmest approbation. It is kindled by the best feelings of nature, and the tenderest sympathies of the heart. It is a virtuous parsimony that seeks out of present affluence, to lay by something for a rainy day. It is an indication of a sinful avarice that would employ extortion, or use craft, and Israelitish cunning, to augment an already abundant store. It is a virtuous parsimony that would save a little to help an aged parent in the evening of life; to administer to the wants of the sick, or to provide the sad obsequies for poorer relatives. It is an indication of sinful avarice that would let the parent shiver over a fireless hearth, that would begrudge one atom of wealth to soothe the bed of sickness, or that would allow the charity of strangers to provide the last home for departed kindred. Avarice, indeed, is but a diseased action of a propensity, which, if properly used, is beneficial to our well-being. The propensity to acquire is natural to the human mind, and when it is manifested by a prudent frugality, is one of the greatest moral blessings of life. Religion enjoins, and scripture warrants, the practice of economy, and
"Reason bids you for your own provide."—POPE.
The best and ablest writers of every age have proclaimed its benefits, and enforced it as a habit, which not only keeps poverty and want from humble homes, but inspires its observer with a feeling of manly independence and inward comfort, which greatly help to rob of their sting, the cares and vicissitudes of life. Whilst, therefore, in illustrating the passion of avarice, we have endeavoured to display by remarkable examples, the grovelling sordidness of that vice, we are anxious to distinguish between it, and its opposite virtue; as avarice is one of the most debasing propensities of the human mind, so is frugality one of its greatest virtues. Whilst one is the source of misery, wretchedness, and endless sin; the other is the promoter of domestic happiness, of homely comfort, and social joy.
Whilst, however, we applaud the economist, we detest the miser, and would willingly raise our voice, to aid the cry against the avaricious man; the cringing, grasping, selfish accumulator of gold, the cold, unfeeling, heartless money-lender. We would raise our voice against the greedy and the selfish, who would wrong the widow of her pittance, and who, whilst he possessed the means, would refuse to help the poor and indigent, with a fraction of his wealth. We would raise our voice, too, against that man, who, to increase his stores, would stoop to mean and grovelling acts, or sell his honour for a little gold. A heart so enshrined in Mammon, is not worthy the society of upright men, and well deserves contempt. Reader! shun such when you meet with them; their very touch is contamination, and to seek their gold, is indeed to seek the wages of sin and death. It is hard that men will not always distinguish between wretches so worthless, and the honest, praiseworthy, frugal man. And yet, how often are the efforts of the latter discouraged by the unfeeling voice of the thoughtless prodigal, who laughs at his saving, and calls it parsimony; and at his frugality, and calls it avarice.
An ingenious writer compares a miser to a growing tree, which, whilst living and increasing, can be applied to no immediate use, but which at last, when cut down, supplies material for the most useful purposes; and a poet says, that
Riches, like insects, when concealed they lie,
Wait but for wings, and in their season fly.
Who sees pale Mammon pine amidst his store,
Sees but a backward steward of the poor;
This year a reservoir to keep and spare,
The next, a fountain, spouting through his heir.
If this offers no palliation for the vice of avarice, it shows that the result of a miser's life, is at least, more profitable to mankind than that of the spendthrift. The miser treasures up his gold in his senseless fondness for the yellow metal: he cares not to put it out to interest or to invest it in commerce: he hoards it up, gloats over it in the day, and handles it in the dark at night. He sleeps with his bony fingers clenched about his bags, holding them tighter in his fitful dreams, lest the robbers, who are ever passing before him in his visions, should take his treasure from him. If the wind shakes his crazy habitation, the miser, with a sudden start, awakes:
"Along the silent room he stalks,
Looks back, and trembles as he walks.
Each lock, and every bolt, he tries,
In every creek and corner pries;
Then opes the chest, with treasure stored,
And stands in raptures o'er his hoard."
A being like this, who can help despising? But such an one bears no resemblance to the frugal man, whose object is merely to refrain from useless expenditure; and whilst participating with thankfulness in a few of the enjoyments, manifests no anxiety to revel in the superfluities of life till he has provided something to help him in adversity and decay.
With those who have no hereditary birthright before them—who have only their health and muscles for a fortune, and who, like the silkworm, must spin all their riches out of their own bosom—industry and frugality become, as we have said before, solemn duties, which they have no more right to neglect than they have to cast aside their implements of toil, and refuse to work for their daily bread: and yet how often do we see the artisan, with a numerous progeny, clustering around him, with a fond wife depending on his exertions, neglect, although he has ample opportunities, to lay by one penny to aid in the hour of sickness, or to help his family should death call him away. It is a bitter thought for a dying man, that they who crowd around his bed with anxious solicitude—they who for so many years he has loved and cherished—who have been a comfort to him in trouble, and a solace in the dark hour of adversity—that the dear being who has journeyed with him so cheerfully along the stony path of life, and who ever had a smile of hope for him, and a kind word to bless him when his soul was heavy—who always entered into his wishes, and sympathised with his emotions—whose warm and faithful heart, overflowing with a chaste and confiding love,,was ever busy in scheming little plans to give him pleasure, and to anticipate his unuttered wishes: it is gall and bitterness to a dying man to think that this dear creature and his little ones should be left unprotected in the wide world alone—in the midst of unsympathising strangers, and the prospect of the workhouse as the only refuge from starvation. A bleak and torturing thought is that, to wring the expiring heart of a dying man! It is seldom, indeed, that one who has passed his life so thoughtlessly, can enjoy that inward consolation, and that sustaining hope, which ought, at the moment of death, to fill the soul of a Christian: his anxious mind cannot untwine itself from its painful reveries, and he breathes his last without the peace of God that passeth all understanding.
We consider it, then, an imperative duty that all who have the power, should save—that they should husband up little by little an increasing store for their future wants. Some will say that, by doing this we are showing how little faith we have in Providence; but they that say so, speak unadvisedly, and might as well argue that, if we saw a child in the water, and could save it, we ought not to do so, but trust to Providence for its rescue. It is our duty to be provident, careful, and frugal: it is our duty, because the God of heaven bade us gather up the fragments that remain, and to allow nothing to be lost. We must not act, in this railway-stirring age, like the waggoner in the bog, but embrace the opportunities which God has given us, and use his gifts with prudence. Others will say, sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, and advise us to think less about what may happen to us by and bye; but they draw false reasoning from another holy passage, for if we become the humble instruments of our own preservation from pecuniary want, does that prove less our gratitude to Providence for having given us the means to do so? Yet this is a maxim, which, when indiscriminately applied, has sometimes wrought the ruin of many, both good and noble. James Ballantyne, the partner of Sir Walter Scott, on his death-bed, affirmed that many of those calamities which overtook them, and which involved the ruin of the great literary magician, was owing to the weakness of Scott in shrinking from the appearance of danger, and from his aptness to carry too far the maxim, that, "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."
Many who have the wish to be frugal will scarcely know how to begin: they have lived so long the thoughtless spendthrift, that they cannot be thoughtful all at once. They will mention the trifling sum that forms their weekly earnings, and ask, how is it possible to reserve even a little, out of such a pittance? It is a cheerful proverb that tells us "Where there is a will there is a way;" and the homely truism is a suitable answer to all who ask, How can I save?
There are few working men who, if they have the desire to be economical, will not call to mind some useless luxury, in which they are in the habit of indulging, and from which they could easily refrain. Taste and caprice have invented an infinite variety of superficial wants, in these modem times, which are as unnecessary to our happiness, as some of them are injurious to our bodies. The morning glass, the evening pipe, or the Saturday's night revel, might be profitably dispensed with, both to the health and to the purse. The savings may not be great at first, but frugality will have gained the ascendancy; and it is astonishing how much prosperity will follow, and how many opportunities will offer, of adding to the little store, if prudence and industry are on the watch. Retrench, in every reasonable manner, your expenses, and strictly adhere to the admirable axiom of the Roman poet-
Fortunam debet quisque; manere suam."—OVID.
("Everyone should live within his income")
and recollect the words of Dr. Cotton, that
"Your portion is not large indeed,
But then, how little do you need,
For Nature's calls are few;
In this the Art of living lies,
To want no more than may suffice,
And make that little do."
There are few who have not, at one time or other, felt, how useful a few pounds would have proved, in advancing their future prospects; and who have not, at such times, looked back with regret to their past extravagance, and to their thoughtlessness, in spending stray sixpences. It is only when we count up such trivial sums, that we are convinced of their importance, or at all capable of judging how much we have lost by squandering them. The old tale of the poor drover, who gradually scraped enough together to purchase a calf, and, from that small beginning, went on until he became the possessor of many thousands a year, is an instance of frugality worth remembering; yet let it never be forgotten, that, "although the apprehensions of future wants may justify a cautious frugality, they can by no means excuse a sordid avarice." Bearing this in mind, the lives of misers, whilst they portray the evils of an inordinate passion to acquire, also illustrate a truism, well deserving the attention of all who are anxious to practice frugality without covetousness. The importance of little things, the value of trifles, and the power of the pence, is nowhere so strikingly exemplified, as in the habits of those eccentric characters, whose lives we have here presented to the reader. "Take care," said Lord Chesterfield, "of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves." The saying is worthy of remembrance; for small sums may, with some aptness, be compared to seconds of time, which generate years, centuries, and even eternity itself. Let not a regard for little things be thought a manifestation of avarice. Our Rothschilds, our Barings, and our Coutts', would never have amassed their almost fabulous fortunes, had they not constantly regarded little things, and looked well after the pence. Many of the most wealthy members of the Stock Exchange, who can now lend their thousands, and their tens of thousands, originally belonged to the most subordinate ranks of society. Jacob Clement, the city broker, who died a few years ago, leaving a fortune of three hundred thousand pounds, began life as a pot-boy at an inn, at Aylesbury. His first situation, in London, was as a waiter; but he had perseverance, practised frugality, and encouraged habits of saving; had he neglected such habits, he would probably have died a waiter. There is wisdom in that saying of the miser, who maintained, that "a farthing is the semina of wealth, the seed of a golden progeny;" and often has its truth been remembered, not only by misers, but by those whose virtues have only been equalled by their prosperity. Perhaps in no instance was this parsimonious care for trifles, so truly elevated into a virtue, as exemplified in the life of Jacques Laffitte. There appears something almost noble, in the pinching, screwing parsimony of that great banker. In an early month of the year 1778, with a tolerable education, and with many natural qualifications, for a financial life, Jacques Laffitte was seeking for a situation as a clerk. He had high hopes, and a light heart, for he brought with him a letter of introduction to M. Perregaux, the Swiss banker. But with all his sanguine anticipations, and golden day dreams, he was bashful, and retiring. It was with a trembling heart that the young provincial appeared before the Parisian man of bonds and gold; he managed to explain the purpose of his visit, and presented his letter of recommendation. The banker quietly read the note. "It is impossible," said he, as he laid it aside, "that I can find room for you at present; all my offices are fall; should there be a vacancy at a future time, I will see what can be done; in the meantime, I advise you to seek elsewhere, as it may be a considerable period before I shall be able to admit you." Away went sunshine, and prosperous visions! Disappointed and gloomy, poor Jacques left the presence of the polite banker. As he crossed, with downcast eyes, the court-yard of the noble mansion, he observed a pin lying on the ground; his habitual habits of frugality, amidst his disappointment, were still upon the watch; he picked up the pin, and carefully stuck it into the lapel of his coat. From that trivial action sprang his future greatness; that one single act of frugal care and regard for little things, opened the way to a stupendous fortune. From the window of his cabinet M. Perregaux had observed the action of the rejected clerk, and he wisely thought, that the man who would stoop to pick up a pin, under such circumstances, was endowed with the necessary qualities for a good economist; he read in that single act of parsimony, an indication of a great financial mind, and he deemed the acquisition of such an one as wealth itself.
Before the day had closed, Laffitte received a note from the banker. "A place," it said, "is made for you at my office, which you may take possession of to-morrow." The banker was not deceived in his estimate of the character of Laffitte, and the young clerk soon displayed a talent and aptness for his calling, that procured his advancement from the clerk to the cashier; from a cashier to a partner; and from a partner to the head proprietor of the first banking-house in Paris. He became a deputy, and then president of the Council of Ministers. What a destiny for the man who would stoop to pick up a pin!
In the zenith of his prosperity, Lafitte retained the same principles of frugality and saving. He was never the avaricious and grasping miser, but he was ever the parsimonious saver. He would scold, and sometimes read his clerks a lecture upon their wilful waste of a pen, a piece of paper, or an inch of twine; yet he had a heart of charity, and could be munificent in his benevolence. One morning a sister of St. Vincent de Paul entered the boudoir of the banker, to solicit his subscription to some charitable object. He appeared somewhat ruffled in his temper, but he received her graciously. "What do you require, my good sister," he asked. "Sir," she replied, "I come to you on behalf of my poor neighbours; their distress is great." "Indeed! you have called at the right time, for just now I am angry with that gentleman for wasting my wafers." At the same time, he pointed to a young man seated at a desk, who smiled, but was evidently disconcerted. The sister of charity feared her mission would be a fruitless one; and that her visit might not be without some good result, she amiably applied herself to excuse the fault of the young clerk, who had merited the reproof of the careful money dealer, by not making one wafer serve to seal two letters. Lafitte listened attentively, and afterwards presented to the good sister a check for one thousand francs, saying, at the same time, "If, in my career, I had not economized in trifles, it would not be so easily for me to have contributed to-day to the excellent object which you have in view. Pray look in upon me from time to time!" The character of the banker loses nothing by this regard for little things.
Some years ago, a large dust contractor had a daughter, who was about to be married. His future son-in-law was respectable, but not wealthy, and the match in point of pecuniary circumstances was in his favour. He did not ask for a dowry, but the father of the young lady promised to make them a present on their wedding day. The guests were assembled, the ceremony had been completed, and the father called his son on one side. "I promised to make you a present on your marriage; you observe," said he, pointing through the window at which they were standing, "that large heap of dust, I give it you as my daughter's dowry." The young man bowed, he had expected a few hundred guineas; but he felt chagrined, and almost insulted at such a present. "A heap of dust and dirt, the scrapings of the public street! A fine marriage gift," he murmured to himself, "and a vexatious disappointment!" Nothing more was said at the time; but after the honeymoon he began to think of the dowry. He offered it for sale, and great was his surprise to find the heap of dust, which he had thought so worthless, produce him two thousand pounds. Thus it is, that what some men despise, the frugal and the parsimonious will make the groundwork of a fortune.
There is nothing without its use, and nothing that will not produce a price. Thousands of pounds are earned in London every year, by collecting fragments of old rags, pieces of old nails, and remnants of old cord and twine. These are hoarded up, sorted out, and sold to the proprietors of those dingy receptacles of filth and fat, which are to be found in all the back streets of the metropolis. The "marine store" trade is one of the most profitable in London; by encouraging thrift in others, the dealers in such things grow thrifty themselves. They learn by their business the value of little things; they will buy a farthing's worth of iron, and a pennyworth of dirty rags. In London, there are a number of amphibious kind of human beings—in appearance neither men nor women, but something between the two. They are known by their peculiar and grotesque appearance. Some wear a hat, but cover their shoulders with a gown. Some are adorned in an old bonnet, but as if to keep up the mystery, button a shabby dress coat tightly round their person. In fact, few could venture to predict to which sex they belong. They are draggled-tailed looking creatures, and some are not unlike the hags in Macbeth. They keep their eyes constantly on the ground, glancing along the gutters of the street with amazing rapidity; and, considering how old they are, it is surprising how quickly they discern the objects of their search. They usually carry a coarse dirty bag, into which they put promiscuously every little bit of linen or woollen rag, string, bone, or iron, which they may be fortunate enough to discover in the mud. The little heaps of dust, swept out by shop-boys from behind the counters, are constant mines of treasure, they are sure to find among them something to reward their pains. These singular "snappers up of trifles" are a terror and a mystery to every schoolboy, and they often form the subject of conversation among the junior classes. Many are the traditions current in such places about these mysterious beings. It is said, that a boy, observing one of these thrifty souls busy gathering up something in the streets, and, dying to learn the wonders of her craft, made a sudden snatch at her bag, when out tumbled filth and refuse of all description; dirty rags; bones too stale for even dogs to pick; an old shoe; a dead cat; a part of an iron hoop; sundry lumps of fat; shreds of cloth; horse-shoe nails; bits of hempen cord; fragments of coal; pieces of wood, and a catalogue of sundry articles too numerous to mention. Yet these things, thrown away as useless, and thus gathered up, have their value; and many are known to obtain their livelihood in London by these morning gleanings An old woman, an eccentric character, who may be seen almost every morning rambling about the squares, north of Holborn, is said to have amassed a considerable sum of money in this way; true is it, that one-half of the world knows not how the other half lives.
One October evening, a few years ago, a dirty, ragged, miserable looking, little old man, entered the shop of Mr. James, a broker, in High Street, Gravesend. He wished to know if Mr. James had any objection to receive him as a lodger. He had lived, he said, for many years in Crown Court—certainly not one of the most cheerful, nor respectable localities of the town. His request was complied with, and he took immediate pos. session of his room, expressing himself much pleased with the accommodation. I short time after he had retired to rest, he was taken ill. The symptoms assumed a serious aspect, and two medical men were sent for.-Upon their arrival, Mr. James was informed that his lodger was dying—nothing could save the old man—his end was inevitable; they communicated this sad news quietly to the patient, who immediately ordered an attorney to be sent for. Those around his bed were surprised, for the old man certainly did not look as if he had anything to leave. The attorney, however, was speedily in attendance, the old man raised himself in the bed. "I bequeath," said he, "to my daughter one hundred and fifty pounds, and forty pounds to each of my nephews." The attorney inquired if he had a wife. "No," replied he, "but I have two brothers, and another daughter, who have all behaved very ill towards me; and I shall leave them nothing." When asked to whom he would leave the residue of his property, should there be any; he replied, to Mr. James as a return for his kindness and humanity. At the same time he handed to the attorney a paper parcel, which, on opening, proved to contain securities for upwards of eight hundred pounds in the Bank of England. He died the next morning. It was fortunate for Mr. James that he did not despise the dirty and shabby looking old man. He had received him kindly, and his politeness won for him five hundred sovereigns, which was the amount remaining after all the legacies were paid. This singular character, who was seventy-five years of age at his death, had gathered together much of his money by collecting bits of bone and rag, which he had often been seen to pick up in the streets, and put into his pocket.