( Originally Published 1879 )
ECONOMY is the parent of integrity, of liberty, and of ease; and the beauteous sister of temperance, of cheerfulness, and health; and profuseness is a cruel and crazy demon, that gradually involves her followers in dependence and debt; that is, fetters them with irons that enter into their souls.
A sound economy is a sound understanding brought into action. It is calculation realized; it is the doctrine of proportion educed to practice. It is foreseeing contingencies and providing against them. Economy is one of three sisters of whom the other and less reputable two are avarice and prodigality. She alone keeps the straight and safe path, while avarice sneers at her as profuse, and prodigality scorns at her as penurious. To the poor she is indispensable; to those of moderate means she is found the representative of wisdom. The loose change which many young men throw away uselessly, and sometimes even worse, would often form the basis of fortune and independence. But when it is so recklessly squandered it becomes the worst enemy to the young man. He will soon find that he has bought nothing but expensive habits, and perhaps a ruined character. Economy, joined to industry and sobriety is a better outfit to business than a dowery.
We don't like stinginess, we don't like economy, when it comes down to rags and starvation. We have no sympathy with the notion that the poor man should hitch himself to a post and stand still, while the rest of the world moves forward. It is no man's duty to deny himself every amusement, every recreation, every comfort, that he may get rich. It is no man's duty to make an iceberg of himself, to shut his eyes and ears to the sufferings of his fellows, and to deny himself the enjoyment that results from generous actions, merely that he may hoard wealth for his heirs to quarrel about. But there is an economy which is every man's duty, and which is especially commendable in the man who struggles with poverty—an economy which is consistent with happiness, and which must be practiced if the poor man would secure independence. It is almost every man's privilege, and it becomes his duty, to live within his means; not to, but within them. This practice is of the very essence of honesty. For if a man does not manage honestly to live within his own means he must necessarily be living dishonestly upon the means of some one else. If your means do not suit your ends, pursue those ends which suit your means. Men are ruined not by what they really want, but by what they think they want. Therefore they should never go abroad in search of their wants; if they be real wants they will come home in search of them; for if they buy what they do not want, they will soon want what they cannot buy.
Wealth does not make the man, we admit, and should never be taken into the account in our judgment of men; but competence should always be secured, when it can be, by the practice of economy and self-denial only to a tolerable extent. It should be secured, not so much for others to look upon, or to raise us in the estimation of others, as to secure the consciousness of independence, and the constant satisfaction which is derived from its acquirement and possession.
Simple industry and thrift will go far toward making any person of ordinary working faculty comparatively independent in his means. Almost every working man may be so, provided he will carefully husband his resources and watch the little outlets of useless expenditure. A penny is a very small matter, yet the comfort of thousands of families depends upon the proper saving and spending of pennies. If a man allows the little pennies, the result of his hard work, to slip out of his fingers—some to the beer-shop, some this way and some that—he will find that his life is little raised above one of mere animal drudgery. On the other hand, if he take care of the pennies; putting some weekly into a benefit society or an insurance fund, others into a savings-bank, and confiding the rest to his wife to be carefully laid out, with a view to the comfortable maintenance and education of his family, he will soon find that his attention to small matters will abundantly repay him, in increasing means, growing comfort at home, and a mind comparatively free from fears as to the future. If a working man have high ambition and possess richness in spirit—a kind of wealth which far transcends all mere worldly possessions-he may not only help himself, but be a profitable helper of others in his path through life.
When one is blessed with good sense, and fair opportunities, this spirit of economy is one of the most beneficial of all secular gifts, and takes high rank among the minor virtues. It is by this mysterious power that the loaf is multiplied, that using does not waste, that little becomes much, that scattered fragments grow to unity, and that out of nothing, or next to nothing, comes the miracle of something ! Economy is not merely saving, still less, parsimony. It is foresight and arrangement. It is insight and combination. It is a subtile philosophy of things by which new uses, new compositions are discovered. It causes inert things to labor, useless things to serve our necessities, perishing things to renew their vigor, and all things to exert themselves for human comfort. Economy is generalship in little things. We know men who live better on a thousand dollars a year than others upon five thousand. We know very poor persons who bear about with them in everything a sense of fitness and nice arrangement, which make their life artistic. There are day-laborers who go home to more real comfort of neatness, arrangement, and prosperity, in their single snug room, than is found in the lordly dwellings of many millionaires. And blessings be on their good angel of economy, which wastes nothing, and yet is not sordid in saving; that lavishes nothing, and is not parsimonious in giving; that spreads out a little with the blessings of taste upon it, which, if it does not multiply the provision, more than makes it up in the pleasure given. Let no man despise economy.
There is no virtue so unduly appreciated as economy, nor is there one more truly worthy of estimation; a neglect of economy eventually leads to every misery of poverty and degradation, not unfrequently to every variety of error and of crime. Dr. Johnson asserted, " that where there was no prudence, there was no virtue." Of all the maxims pronounced by that great moralist, perhaps no one was more just or more instructive. Even in that branch of prudence that directs us to take cognizance of our pecuniary affairs, the propriety of this aphorism is very striking.
The progress of civilization has incurred a necessity of barter and exchange as the means. of subsistence. Thus wealth, as the medium of acquiring all the comforts and all the luxuries of life, has obtained high consideration among mankind. Philosophers may there-fore scoff as much as they please at the value placed upon riches, but they will never succeed in lessening the desire for their possession. When considered as the means of enjoying existence in comfort, it must be seen that it is only by the judicious expenditure of wealth, that this end can be obtained. Pass a few years, and the prodigal is pennyless. How few, under such circumstances, but, directly or indirectly, are guilty of injustice and cruelty. Debts unpaid, friends deceived, kindred deprived of a rightful inheritance—such are the consequences of profusion, and are not such positive acts of injustice and cruelty? Let those, therefore, who indignantly stigmatize the miser as a pest to society, and in a fancied honorable horror of miserly meanness are for showing their nobler spirit by running into an opposite extreme, reflect, that though different the means, how similar the results of profusion; how exactly conducting to the same crimes and miseries. The taste of the age is so much more friendly to prodigality; the lavish expenditure of wealth, by conducing to the gratification of society, is so often unduly applauded, that it is an extreme much more likely to be rushed upon. But when the real consequences of its indulgence are fairly and dispassionately surveyed, its true deformity will be quickly perceived.
In short, economy appears to induce the exertion of almost every laudable emotion; a strict regard to honesty; a laudable spirit of independence; a judicious prudence in providing for the wants; a steady benevolence in preparing for the claims of the future. Really we seem to have run the circle of the virtues; justice and disinterestedness, honesty, independence, prudence, and benevolence.