A Poor Man Rich - And A Rich Man Poor
( Originally Published 1902 )
THERE was a very old man, who had been intelligent, honest. industrious, and faithful to his religious duties, whose reason was shaken a little from its throne. He had an innocent and harmless kind of mania, he labored under the delusion that he was exceedingly wealthy, that he owned most of the property of the State in which he lived. With a palm-leaf fan in his hand, which he carried in cold weather as well as warm, he would walk through the various parts of the town, where men were working on the street or canal or river front or upon some building, and give specific instructions as to how he wanted the work done. When a boy, I used to see him in the bank, depositing and drawing out vast sums of money to keep his great enterprises going. Being a man so highly respected, the tellers of the bank humored him in his delusion. They would take little pieces of paper, which he thought were money, and give him due credit on his book; or they would give him out little scraps of paper, which he would count carefully, say, " Correct," and put in his purse as precious treasure.
Going up and coming down the steps of the same bank, I used to see another old man, who was laboring under a similar delusion. He thought he was rich; he had a store, and a stock of goods, a number of farms, a beautiful residence, stocks and bonds, and the people considered him about the most prosperous merchant in the town. But, in fact, he was not really rich. He lacked those elements which contribute to the development of man's better self. He loved his money so much that he had almost no disposition or time for anything else; he was so fond of it that it did him and other people very little good. The pieces of paper, that he put in one bank window and took out of the other, with their colors of green and red and black, with their figures, and faces of President, Secretary or General, upon them, were more handsome than those the other old man had, but they were as powerless to make him really wealthy. As his relatives died away from him he became more sordid in spirit, and dwarfed in his manhood. I was present at his funeral, and looked carefully to see if a single tear fell from any eye during the exercises. If one fell I did not discover it. After his death, there was a bitter fight in the courts over the pieces of paper that the poor-rich man had left.
The other old man, with the fan in his hand, who was laughed at because he thought he was rich and was poor, was in reality rich. Until the time of his extreme old age, he had lived a life of intelligence, truthfulness, integrity, kindness, generosity, and piety. Even in his strange delusion the moral equalities dominated his heart. He had all that he really needed in this life, and had laid up treasure in heaven. He thought he owned a state; he was the son of a King, and owned an empire.