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The Unpurchasables

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE world history of late years has offered some singularly impressive examples on the subject of what may be called life's imponderables. Politics and commerce are regions where the lower forces are constantly in evidence, where wealth and material power seem to have undisputed sway. Yet it is just here where the illustrations we refer to have been given ; illustrations which show how matter and force, all-controlling as they seem, are really impotent before a something which is invisible and spiritual. In politics we have had the spectacle of German relations with France. A generation ago Germany attacked and overwhelmed France with its military forces. The conquest seemed complete. And in one sphere it was. In point of arms, in point of strategy, the Teuton showed supreme. He won all in France except one thing —the French soul. And now, after three and a half decades, the truth is dawning on the conqueror that, compared with this imponderable, the milliards, the territory, the military glory are a worthless asset, Germany to-day yearns for a thing she has not. Her best men realise that a nation, like an individual, cannot live healthily without the love and confidence of its neighbours. And love and confidence are neither to be bought nor forced.

The other example comes from America. Our cousins across the water are suffering just now, like ourselves, from a wave of materialism which is beating with perilous impact upon the country's noblest moral traditions. There is a delirium of display. We read of Lucullus banquets, of fortunes spent on a meal. People meet at receptions not for talk, the healthy interchange of soul with soul, but to exhibit their jewellery. In reading of these affairs the mind runs not on social or mental qualities so much as on the glitter of costume. To describe that one might fall back on Marlowe in his " Jew of Malta," and talk of

Bags of fiery opals, sapphires, amethysts,
Jacinths, hard topaz, grass green emeralds,
Beauteous rubies, sparkling diamonds.

Life has become a race as to who shall have the grandest house, the finest yacht, the longest purse. But on the American side of this competition some curious things have happened. In the great insurance scandals that so shocked the public a while ago some well-known names were implicated. Men who had the finest Puritan tradition behind them, whose forbears were scholars and saints, who themselves had earned a reputation for refined and scholarly instincts, stood revealed as having bartered these imponderables for hard cash. They discovered later what an altogether curious asset conscience is. You can sell it. Nothing is easier. No stock on the market is more readily moved. But you cannot buy it back. And the tragedy is that the man, once of high aim and purpose, who has disposed of this inner outfit, finds too late that the thing which has passed from him, and that he cannot recall, is the one supreme value he possessed.

An actual understanding of this truth is the world's clamant need to-day. We want a clear teaching, which shall appeal especially to the business man, as to the position of money in any true scheme of life. We have abundant treatises of political economy, all worthy our best study. But when we have understood the theory of ex-changes, the currency, the laws which regulate the movements of capital, we find ourselves in front of a question bigger than all these. The currency realm is that of the purchasables. But bordering it, and touching at every point, is a realm of unpurchasables. And we, in the most puzzling manner, are related to both. With money in his pocket, man stands so curiously between animal and spiritual. The beasts do not carry purses ; neither do the angels, so far as we know. " Aut deus, aut bellua" (" Either God or beast "), used to be said of the hermits of the Thebaid. The proverb has more than a local application. In the twentieth century we feel both inside us, and are continually wondering how, in so strange a composition of forces, to find the resultant. Political economy, that teaches so much, will not teach us this. Ricardo and Mill show the laws of material wealth, but what we want first and most to know is how these stand to the deeper laws of life.

Political economy is a young science. The world was singularly slow in grasping the theory of the creation and distribution of wealth ; but it realised very early how the property question was at every point mixed up with the invisible values. Cicero in his remarks on fortune in the " De Officiis," has a vivid sense of the spiritual side of riches. " Fortune," says he, " should be originally acquired with honesty, without any scandalous or oppressive practices ; it should then be made serviceable to as many as possible, provided they be worthy ; it should next be augmented with prudence, by industry and frugality, without serving purposes of pleasure and luxury, rather than of generosity and humanity." Here, we see, is a doctrine of capital saturated in its every part with the moral sentiment. The Roman sage, who borrowed here from the Greeks, his teachers, sees that the money question can only be solved by reference to the anterior life question.

A kind of delirium tremens on the wealth subject prevails in the world to-day ; otherwise it would be difficult to comprehend how anyone could in such a matter miss his way. The pointers are so numerous and so unmistakable. The millionaire can buy all sorts of things, but never the best. The seventy years of lusty health hid in the ruddy growing lad yonder—can moneybags buy that ? He may be blind, and that street-hawker across the way, with two eyes in his head, holds a treasure worth more than the other's millions, and which these cannot purchase. Says poet to Dives, " The land is yours, the landscape is mine." Our capitalist may buy books by the ton to fill his brand-new library. They are the world's classics. Does he possess them ? How absurd for him to fumble with his clumsy gold key at the delicate lock which gives admittance to this realm ! The key does not fit at all. The scholar, the kindred spirit to these thought-kings, has the open sesame to their en-chanted kingdom, while the money-spinner, if he be that and nothing else, must stand outside. He can buy his way to the door, and that is as far as his purse carries.

As long as man is man this must be the rule. The laws here are certain and irrevocable. The imponderables are greater than the things which are weighed, measured and bought. The truth asserts itself in all sorts of ways. At a company which comprised duchesses, peers, a whole crowd of the fashionable world, Dr. Johnson was announced. " As soon as he was come," we read, " and had taken a chair, the company began to collect around him, till they became not less than four or five deep, those behind standing and listening over the heads of those that were sitting near him." Thus did wealth and fashion wait on the man of Bolt-court, with his pension of £300 a year. " Pauperemque dives me petit, the rich man seeks me the poor man," cries Horace in his time. The reason in both instances was the same. The Roman and the Englishman had each a life-value which Dives in his inmost soul knew was greater than his own.

The young people, who are to be the creators of the coming generation, need to make up their minds on these questions. At present they seem all on the side of the ponderables. They will have appearances, at whatever cost. Love, it is voted, is not nearly as good as a thousand a year. On one side we see strenuous, fine young fellows, with capacities in them for the best things. On the other side are our growing English girls, who in a right and sane world, should blossom into sweetest wifehood and motherhood. But our scale of living has gone up. There are the social ambitions ! Before the heart's demand, before the soul's plea, before affection, strengthened and refined by mutual sacrifice—before these invisibles, which are nevertheless the beauty and glory of human life, the modern code places as primary the mint, anise, cumin of the dresses one must wear, of the scale of one's housekeeping ! So our young man keeps to his unshared bachelor luxuries ; our maiden waits for the offer of wealth ; and the years pass, until they find the best of life, its highest fruitions gone beyond their reach, beyond recall. Traddles, in " David Copperfield," and his bride, " the dearest girl in the world," in the days of their humble but merry housekeeping in the young barrister's chambers, used, as one of their enjoyments to look in at the West End shop-windows, at all the fine things they could not buy, but were so happy without ! They got them after-wards, but what was the later prosperity compared with that first treasure, the treasure of youth, strength, hope and love !

Wealth can get to the outskirts of life ; it can never reach its centres. It can feed the lower nature and the middle nature, but never the highest. The startling denunciation of riches which we find in the Fathers, in Basil, in Jerome, in Chrysostom proceeded from the sense, not only of the injustice which so often accompanied their acquirement and use, but of the obstacle their pursuit offered to the highest bliss of the soul. Laurence Oliphant declares that " moral truth cannot be discovered by a bad man." We may add, " Nor can it be discovered by the mere wealth-hunter." That road misses all the finest prospects. The soul must be on another track to catch sight of these. Judaea knew this thousands of years ago ; so did India, and Persia, and Egypt. They knew, as the Bhagavad Gita has it, the boundless pleasure which is far more worthy of the understanding than that which ariseth from the senses." They knew, as Porphyry puts it, how " to despise what will not be required when we are rid of the body, and to practise that which will be needed when set free from it." Mammon can feed only a bit of a man ; can play upon but one string of his vast instrument, a string which soon wears out and loses tone.

There are men who think they can buy heaven with their money, and so they endow churches and make huge testamentary donations to missions ! It is our queer modern way. It will be almost worth dying to see the kind of inheritance these capitalists have by such means secured for them-selves in the next world. There are certain currencies—such as Turkish paper money—which shrink a good deal in the process of exchange. But this shrinkage will be nothing in comparison with the drop in value which awaits some properties at the exchange bureau of death. Some of us, for our discipline and eternal good, will discover then how woefully we have misunderstood the celestial currency. We shall have to begin all over again.



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