His Birth and Estate—His garments and outward appearance—Miss Dancer and her feminine graces—The Miser's Mansion—The finding of a Treasure—The Story of the Mutton Pies—A Miser's idea of Death—Bob, the Miser's cur—Griffiths and his Master—How to turn a penny—A substitute for a Fire—The advantages of keeping a Snuff-box—The Miser dies without a Shirt—The Treasures of a Dunghill, &c.
THERE are few, who, by their habits of parsimony, have gained such notoriety as Daniel Dancer; by nature he was a complete miser, the passion of avarice in him, obscured during the whole of his life every feeling of virtue, and every trace of natural affection.
The life of Dancer is not without its moral; we behold the vice of an inordinate acquisitiveness in its darkest hues, and we learn how incompetent is wealth to bestow happiness without the presence of virtue and benevolence to guide the mind in its distribution, and to make its accumulation in the hands of one, a blessing to the hearts of many.
Daniel Dancer was born in the year 1716, he was the oldest of a family of three boys, and one girl; his father lived on Harrow Weald Common, on Harrow-on-the-Hill, where he possessed property, which produced a comfortable income; we have no information relative to the habits and character of the senior Dancer, and can-not say whether the propensity to acquire was excited in the mind of the son, by the example of the parent, nor have we any memorial of the infancy and boyhood of this famous miser.
Upon the death of his father, Daniel Dancer came into possession of the paternal estate; the few hundreds which it annually produced was, by the strictest parsimony, and the most rigid saving, so increased as to produce, before he died, a revenue of three thousand pounds per annum. The sister of this singular character was as miserly as himself, and their habits and inclinations so harmonized, that after the death of their parents they always lived together, and strove during the whole of their lives to rival each other in their mode of scraping up and saving money.
The outward appearance of this amiable couple was such, that none could pass them without remark; and most could observe from their dress and manners indications of the presence of that sordid passion to which they devoted their entire lives, and to which they sacrificed every source of comfort and enjoyment. Daniel was his own tailor, and if he was not particularly happy in the style and cut of his garments, he at least displayed considerable ingenuity in the way of patching, repairing, and contriving; Jacob might have been proud, and Joseph vain of such a coat of many colours, as was the outer garment of Daniel Dancer; it was made of pieces of every hue, and fragments of every texture, collected from the streets, or raked out from the dust heaps. His lower garments were of the most unmentionable description, and would totally have disordered the nerves of any Scotchman; they were kept together by a strong hay-band girt round his waist, his stockings were so much darned, that it was difficult to discover any traces of the original, and in cold or wet weather, they were usually fortified and protected with ropes of twisted hay; by this novel and ingenious contrivance, he was enabled to save his boots; in fact, he was never known to spend a single shilling in shoe leather; now and then he would in his rambles pick up an odd shoe, which some poor cottager had thought too old for use; these were regarded by Dancer as great treasures, and he often spent his winter evenings in mending and patching them, for he was always his own cobbler. Linen was a luxury, says his biographer, to which, notwithstanding his avaricious disposition, he was not quite a stranger; for, at an early period of his saving career, he used to buy two shirts annually; but, for some years previous to his death, he never allowed himself more than one, for which he would give at some old clothes shop two shillings and sixpence, and was never once known to go to so handsome a price as three shillings; after it had got into his possession, it never underwent the necessary operation of either washing or mending; upon his back it was doomed to perpetual slavery, until it fell off in rags; hence, it will not be doubted, nor will it surprise the reader to be told, that notwithstanding Mr. Dancer's peculiarity of disposition induced him to shun the world, he never was without a numerous retinue about him; whose lively sport and attachment to his person, made his acquaintance as well as his neighbours, extremely cautious of approaching him.
Nor was Miss Dancer more scrupulous in her attire: she had but few feminine charms, and these few she made no attempts to adorn with the fascination of dress. Her accoutrements were usually a mixture of male with female paraphernalia, tied round with a ravelling of hemp; for even in this part of her attire, she studied how to make one cord last longer by untwisting it to make it go further; and thus equipped, she would sally forth, armed with a broom-stick and pitch-fork, to check the progress of such daring marauders as had the audacity to intrude upon her brother's grounds—on which occasions, her neighbours observed she had more the appearance of a walking dunghill than of one of the fair sex.
The miserable hovel in which this eccentric, but harmonious pair, took up their abode, was perfectly in accordance with their appearance: no one could have passed it without thinking of poverty and squalidness: it was an eyesore to passers-by, and a bugbear to the rising generation. The crazy window-sashes were paneless, and the loss of glass had been supplied with pieces of board, with paper and dirty rags. The tiles were loosened from the roof, and patches of unknown substances proclaimed the parsimony and ingenuity of the owner of the wretched habitation: the miser's house, in fact, was like the miser's coat, so patched and so slovenly repaired, that little of the original could be discovered; and its architecture appeared of the most novel and inventive kind.
Mr. Dancer's calculations for saving money were systematic and regular: nothing escaped his attention which had relation to this great object of his life—nothing ever too trivial for his care, and nothing too mean for his attention. So rigid was his parsimony, that he rarely washed his face and hands, because, as he said, soap was expensive, towels would wear out in time, and cost money to cleanse when dirty. It is said, however, that to avoid the inconvenience arising from a too great accumulation of filth, he would, once or twice a week, in the summer time, repair to a neighbouring pond, and there wash himself with sand, and afterwards lie on the bank to dry his skin by basking in the sunshine.
Dancer undoubtedly possessed an inventive genius, and his talents were great auxiliaries to his schemes of saving. If he felt the want of any article, he always endeavoured to make some other object answer the purpose, to obviate the necessity of expenditure. One day, by some strange chance, a neighbour entered the hovel of the miser: he found Mr. Dancer busily engaged pulling the nails out of the side of his bellows; and upon asking him the reason for so doing, he replied, that wanting some nails to fasten a piece of leather to a hole, which time had effected in the boarding of the house, he thought he could spare some out of that useful piece of household furniture, and, by that means, save buying; observing, at the same time, that undertakers, trunk-makers, and bellows-makers were the most extravagant and wasteful rascals in the world in their profusion of nails.
Daniel Dancer and his sister seem to have lived for no other purpose than to save money, nor to have had any other object than its accumulation. They had no thoughts, nor principles, nor rules of life, but such as were grounded upon the multiplication table. Every action of their life was to acquire, and their every thought was devoted to the study of the art of saving. They denied themselves any regular repast, but strove to vie with each other in their endeavours to lengthen the period between their meals. They never eat but when hunger compelled, and they never, in satisfying their hunger, indulged in the luxury of gratifying their appetite. Three pounds of coarse beef, and fourteen hard dumplings, formed their weekly provision for many years, without alteration or improvement. In hot weather, the meat appealed unpleasantly to the sense of smell, and advanced somewhat too far in the process of decomposition to have pleased a delicate appetite; but, as old Daniel used to observe on such occasions, that those who were devoted to saving, should feel satisfaction at these circumstances; for, if it did not improve the flavour of the meat, it rendered it more economical, because a less quantity proved sufficient; and, as none could be wasted, it lasted all the longer. Accident, or some unexpected fall of luck, would occasionally relieve this everlasting routine of hard dumplings. An uncommon instance (says his biographer) occurred one summer's morning, which, for many weeks, saved him the trouble of inquiring for fragments of meat at the butcher's stall, and which enabled him to gratify his darling avarice and insatiable propensity to save money. It happened one morning, as Mr. Dancer was taking his usual walk upon the common, to pick up bones, sticks, or any bit of rag or other matters that might go towards repairing his clothes or his house; that he found a sheep that had apparently died from natural disease, and most probably in a putrid state: this was a rare prize for Mr. Dancer; and incredible as it may appear, he took it up, and bore it home on his shoulders in triumph to his sister, who received it as the immediate gift of heaven to bless their poor souls with a change of food, and enable them to feast without expense, which was, to the appetite of a miser, the most savoury sauce that could accompany such a delicious morsel as carrion mutton. The sheep was immediately skinned and cut up, the fat was carefully laid aside, and, with the meat, Miss Dancer manufactured an immense number of pies; on these pies they feasted for many weeks—never departing from their accustomed frugality, and never indulging in any change of diet, until the whole stock was consumed. When a miser finds a treasure he is sure to lock it up; he is nervous whilst the eyes of strangers are upon it, and he never thinks it safe unless bars or bolts protect it. Dancer, therefore, soon locked up his pies in his strong chest, much to the annoyance of his fair sister; for the neighbours one morning observing that lady rather low spirited, kindly inquired into the cause, when, after some hesitation, she acknowledged that her brother Daniel had scolded her for feasting upon the mutton pies with too voracious an appetite, and accused her of extravagance, which she observed with tears, was an exceedingly hard case, as she loved to save as well as himself; but what vexed her more, he had locked them up in his strong trunk. It was seldom that such precaution was necessary, for she appears to have been as totally absorbed by the spirit of acquisitiveness as her brother; they were children of the same parents, and never were two beings in their devotion to mammon, and in their inordinate avarice, born with such an exact resemblance. Their tastes and their disposition, their opinions and principles were in perfect harmony. The miser is ever a stranger to piety, and religion is at variance with the professed object of his life. Whenever Mr. Dancer happened to stray into a church, it was only to obtain a little rest, and he was sure to depart before any collection was made; as he thought the gift of a penny was like parting with the seed of a guinea. He might, indeed, be deemed a predestinarian from the following circumstance. But as Mr. Locke observes, "Let ever so much probability hang on one side, a covetous man's reasoning, and money on the other, it is easy to foresee which will outweigh." It was during the last illness which terminated his sister's life, that he was importuned to afford her some medical advice and assistance; to which he shrewdly replied, "It would cost him money, and besides," continued he, "why should I waste my money in wickedly and wantonly trying to oppose the will of God! If the girl has come to her latter end, nothing can save her, and all I may do will only tend to make me lose my money; and she may as well die now as at any other time. If I thought bleeding would recover her, I would open a vein myself; but I cannot think of paying for physic for dying people." The dread of incurring expense, and parting with his darling coin, was insurmountable. Mr. Dancer's reasoning on the conduct of Providence, ever tended towards his favourite penchant—" Save money."
Perhaps never having felt the inconvenience of ill health, or, from that callosity of heart ever attendant upon an avaricious mind; he at this period allowed his sister, in her last exigency, but the usual portion of coarse beef, with the cold hard dumpling, to which he added the miser's humanity—"If you don't like it, why go without." But Mr. Dancer's deficiency of care was very amply supplied by the generous Lady Tempest, who afforded every attention and kindness necessary to the ease of Miss Dancer. The latter was possessed of more than two thousand pounds, which she intended to leave Lady Tempest, for her extraordinary care in her last illness; but she, unfortunately for Lady Tempest, expired before she could sign a will in her favour; and her property being thus left intestate, and at the dis, position of the law, her two other brothers wished equally to divide it with Mr. Dancer; but to this proposal he would not agree, and obstinately refused to comply with any amicable arrangement; insomuch that, after a long while persevering, and obstinately refusing to come to any agreement of participation, a law suit followed, and Mr. Dancer recovered ten hundred and forty pounds of his sister's fortune, as the regular price of her board and lodging for thirty years, at thirty pounds per annum, and one hundred pounds for the last two years; for this charge he declared to be very reasonable, as during that time she had done nothing but eat and lie in bed. The remainder of her estate, after these extraordinary deductions, was equally divided between the two brothers and Mr. Dancer.
After his sister's death, a pair of sheets, as black as soot bags, were discovered upon the bed; but these he would never suffer to be removed; and when they were worn out, they were never replaced; so that, after that time, he entirely relinquished the luxury of using linen to sleep in. He would not allow anyone to make his bed, although Lady Tempest often solicited him to permit it; and for many years his room was never swept. Towards the time of his death, it was observed to be filled with sticks, which he had stolen out of the different hedges. A considerable quantity of odd-shapen gravel stones were also found in a bag; but for what use these were intended is unknown. The report of his riches, and the idea of its concealment about the house, once brought a troop of housebreakers, who very easily entered, and without any search warrant rummaged every corner of the place; but although this domiciliary visit cost some of them their lives, they took away but little property. Old Dancer had been long on his guard, and his mode of hiding was so peculiar to himself, that the grand object of the thieves was never discoverable by them. Mr. Dancer concealed his treasure where no one would have ever thought of seeking for it. Bank notes were usually deposited with the spiders, and hid amongst the cobwebs in the cowhouse; and guineas in holes in the chimney, and about the fireplace, covered with soot and ashes. Soon after the robbery, when the thieves were apprehended, and to be tried, it being very necessary that Mr. Dancer should attend the trial, Lady Tempest requested that, in order to appear a little decent, he would change his shirt, and she would lend him a clean one. "No, no," he replied, "it is not necessary; the shirt I have on is quite new, I bought it only three weeks ago, and then it was clean."
This extreme love of money overcame every other consideration; and to his attachment to gain may be ac-counted his strange behaviour as before related, to his sister at her latter end. But in one singular instance he seemed in some measure to forego his favourite idea of saving. He had a dog, of which he was extremely fond, and which he called by the familiar appellation of "Bob." His treatment of this animal offers an instance of that inconsistency in human actions, which philosophy seeks in vain to account for. "While his parsimony was so severe, that he denied himself a penny loaf a day, and existed entirely upon Lady Tempest's pot liquor, and the scraps from her kitchen; he allowed his dog a pint of milk daily, with other dainties, which he would have thought a sinful waste to have procured for himself. Upon a complaint being made to him that his favourite Bob had worried some of his neighbour's sheep, he took the dog to a farrier's shop, and had all his teeth filed down. For this barbarous action he never assigned any reason; possibly it might be to prevent the like again, as he might shrewdly guess that any further damage from his dog's mischievous manner, might bring expenses upon him. His sister being dead and finding himself lonesome, he hired a man for his companion, and in his choice he showed much discernment; for his man Griffiths was a proper counterpart of himself. When they went out, they took different roads, though both followed the same occupation; only that the servant indulged more taste for strong beer; a liquor which Mr. Dancer carefully avoided, as costing money; but Griffiths would tipple a little, which was the cause of much altercation, when these saving souls met, after their day's labour. However, Griffiths generally came loaded with bones, some of which having upon them still some fragments of flesh, served to heighten their repast, and to quiet his master's anger. This fellow had, by as severe a parsimony as that exercised by Mr. Dancer, contrived to accumulate five hundred pounds out of wages, which had never exceeded ten pounds per annum. At the time he lived with Mr. Dancer, he was upwards of sixty, and hired himself to him for eighteen pence a week."
Lady Tempest was the only person who had any influence on this unfortunate miser. She employed every contrivance to make him partake of those conveniences and indulgences, which his fortune could supply, and his advanced years required; but all her entreaties were without effect, and were only answered with such interrogatories as, "Where was he to get the money?"—"How could he afford it? If it was not for some charitable assistance, how could he live?" One day however, this lady, after a great deal of persuasion, prevailed upon Dancer to purchase a hat, which he did of a Jew, for a shilling, having worn the one he then possessed upwards of fourteen years, but he still considered it too good to throw away. When Lady Tempest visited him the next time, she, to her great astonishment, perceived him still with his old hat on. On importuning him for the reason, he at last told her, that after much solicitation, he had prevailed on his old man Griffiths, to give him sixpence profit upon the hat he had purchased by her desire a few days before.
Mr. Dancer had arrived at his seventy-eighth year, before he felt any serious cause of complaint, to call in a doctor; his antipathy to the medical tribe has been already mentioned; therefore it was in vain to advise him to take any medicine, even when there was a necessity for it.
In 1794, during the illness which terminated the life of this miserable object of avarice, Lady Tempest accidentally called upon him, and found him lying in an old sack, which came up to his chin, and his head wrapped up in pieces of the same materials, as big as a bee hive. On her remonstrating against the impropriety of such a situation, he observed, that being a very poor man he could not afford better; and, having come into the world without a shirt, he was determined to go out in the same manner. As he brought nothing with him, he did not think he had any right to carry anything away; and the less he made use of he thought was the more acceptable to God; so that, in his last moments, he made his saving notions square with his most serious thoughts. Lady Tempest then requested him to have a pillow to raise his head, which he refused, but ordered his old servant Griffiths to bring him some litter out of the stable to raise his head, as the lady thought he would lie easier.
Though Mr. Dancer never indulged himself in the extravagant luxury of snuff-taking, yet he was careful always to solicit a pinch or two from those who did; but it was not to gratify his own nose, but rather to gratify, in a minor point of view, his love of hoarding; all that he collected by these friendly offerings, he carefully saved up and put into a box, which he carried about him for that purpose; and when full he would barter its contents at a neighbouring chandler's shop for a farthing candle, which he made last until he had replenished his box again.
His opinion of professors of physic was rather singular, and seemed to border upon predestination. To use his own language, the medical tinkers were all a set of rogues; that while they patched up one hole, always contrived to make two, for a better job; but he allowed that there was some utility in the art of surgery, in repairing accidental fractures; but he always qualified the admission with the reflection that its practitioners were a set of extortioners.
His prejudice against the whole tribe of lawyers was determined in the extreme, and his aversion to this class of men was so great, that he would even forego his own interest, to gratify his resentment; as the following anecdote will prove.
"Having, as was usually his half yearly custom, agreed with an old clothes woman for a shirt for half a crown, as he thought, the dealer called at his house, and left him one worth three shillings; but for which he refused to pay any more than his original agreement of two shillings and sixpence. Notwithstanding the party urged the goodness and the fineness of the article Mr. Dancer was impenetrable, and no more than the half-crown would he pay; which the woman as peremptorily refusing, at last applied to the Court of Requests of the district, to which he was obliged to repair, although it cost him fivepence on the journey for bread and cheese, and the cost of hearing, &c.; in all upwards of four and sixpence." This had such an effect on Mr. Dancer's mind, that he ever afterwards held the lawyers in abhorrence; for to give or to pay, were not to be found in his vocabulary. Addition and multiplication were his favourite rules, and usury was the foundation of his geod deeds.
"The most delightful task of Mr. Dancer's life was to count his gold, and to visit the holes where it lay depo-sited, and to see that all was safe. Upon one of these nocturnal visits he was net a little frightened: while counting the contents of one of his rich pots in the cow-house; a large tom cat, terrified at his untimely appearance in that place of concealment, and rushing through a hole in the boarding, left Mr. Dancer in such panic, that he thought Old Nick himself was watching his motions. To add to his terror, in returning back to the home he fell over something soft, which proved at last to be a poor jackass lying upon the ground, that had strayed in through one of the many apertures time had made in the enclosure of the estate."
Though Mr. Dancer, by his spirit of covetousness, de-based himself in this sordid manner, yet he kept a horse, for which he showed a great partiality; but he never allowed it more than two shoes at a time, deeming it all unnecessary expense to shoe the hind feet of the animal; and he used to say it was more pleasant for a horse to feel the naked grass than to be confined in unnatural shoes.
Mr. Dancer was, perhaps, the most perfect picture of human penury that ever existed, and the most singular character that ever lived; his habits were those of an hermit, and his extreme avarice rendered him as abstemious as any ascetic of the desert In this state lived, and in this situation died, Daniel Dancer Esq., a memorable proof to the world, that the advantages of fortune, unless properly directed, will not make their possessor happy. Lady Tempest, who came into possession of a great portion of the miser's property, enjoyed it but for a short time; for whilst attending to the comforts of Dancer during his last illness she caught a cold which terminated fatally, a few months after her accession to the immense fortune left by the old miser.
The house, or rather the heap of ruins, in which Mr. Dancer lived, and which at his death devolved to the right of Captain Holmes, was a most miserable decayed building, for it had not been repaired for more than half a century. But though poor in external structure, the ruinous fabric was very rich in the interior. It took many weeks to explore its whole contents; and Captain Holmes found it a very agreeable task to dive into the miser's secret hoards. One of Mr. Dancer's richest escritoires was found to be a dung heap in the cowhouse; a sum but little short of two thousand five hundred pounds was contained in this rich piece of manure; and in an old jacket carefully tied, and strongly nailed down to the manger, in bank notes and gold, were found five hundred pounds more. Several bowls were discovered filled with guineas and half-guineas; and at different times, on searching the corners of the house, they found various parcels of bank notes. Some were crammed into the crevices in the wall; bundles were hid under the cushions and covers of the chairs; some were reposing snugly at the back of the drawers; and notes amounting to six hundred pounds were found neatly doubled up, in the inside of an old tea-pot, over which the miser had placed a bit of paper, whimsically inscribed, "not to be too hastily looked over." In the stable the Captain found jugs full of old dollars and shillings It was observable that Mr. Dancer used to visit this place in the dead of the night; but for what purpose even old Griffiths himself could not guess; but it is supposed it was to rob one jug, to add to a bowl he had buried, and which was nearly full when taken up from under one of the hearth tiles.
The chimney was not left unsearched, and paid very well for the trouble; for in nineteen different holes, all filled with soot, were found various sums of money, amounting together to more than two hundred pounds.