Money As An Element Of Weakness
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The demoralizing influence of poverty is now generally conceded. Not so the equally demoralizing influence of wealth. In all the vicissitudes of human life there is no surer touchstone of character than the possession of wealth. There is no other advantage which man can win more certain to test his weakest side and reveal it to the world. There are few men, indeed, who can stand the test of unlimited prosperity and not show the meanness and weakness of their natures. The evils resulting from poverty are, in the main, envy, discontent and crime ; but there are evils in the possession of great wealth no less certainly than in great poverty. Reflect upon the life of any rich man that you may know and mark the tendency toward indulgence, selfishness and disregard of the rights of others. If poverty makes them thieves, then wealth makes them tyrants, and which class is the most dangerous to society, it is hard to determine.
In one of the popular pictorial papers a few years ago, a boy who had gone to the bad, upon being rebuked by his father, was represented to have made the following reply : " It is all well enough for you to talk. It is precious easy to keep straight on nothing a year. You were thrown penniless upon the world at the age of fourteen. I should like to have seen you in my circumstances, after a college education, with two thousand a year ever since." This picture, true to life, represents one of the weaknesses of the possession of wealth. Scores of boys are ruined every year by wealthy and indulgent parents, especially in our large cities. They are plentifully supplied with money, allowed to pass their time as they please and choose their own companions. By this means they are tempted directly into vice and wickedness, and the parents are sometimes horrified to find their darling son a sot or a villain. There can be no greater misfortune for any boy than to have too much money, and too much time to spend it in. Every large town and city is full of boys who have nothing in the world to do but spend a large allowance in the way that does them the greatest harm. Their days and nights are spent in evil companionships and in pursuits that unfit them for useful labor and bring them at last to untimely degradation and destruction. As we were about leaving college for different pursuits in life, a class-mate said to the author that he felt as though he had hardly had a fair chance in life. Born of wealthy parents, with every wish of his life gratified, with more money and luxuries than he needed, he never had felt and never could feel that incentive to study that seemed to thrill the minds of his poorer classmates. He had therefore always worked at a disadvantage, and felt that he was going into the world to win his own way, handicapped as it were, by too much help in boyhood. The young man of whom I speak was one of excellent principle and a good mind, but up to the time that we left college he had never known the necessity of toil and effort. What he had accomplished in the way of educating himself had been done in an aimless, unsatisfactory way. He felt and saw that other young men in their fight with difficulty had developed harder sinews and more enduring strength than he, and these facts filled his mind with great regret as he contemplated his life work upon which he was just entering.
Habits of industry, honesty and self-control are a greater benefit than hoarded wealth, and when the possession of money takes away the incentive to the cultivation of these virtues, it then becomes a source of weakness and a means of demoralization. If a young man has learned the proper value of time ; if he has been trained by precept and example to use his time aright ; if he has been led to look upon wealth, not as a means of indulgence, but as a means of accomplishing great good in this world, then he may be safely entrusted with his father's bank-book. We are told that the son of General Butler was sent to college with a check in his hand and instructed to draw for more whenever it pleased him, and that he never abused the trust. It may do for the children of Robert Ingersol to go when they please to an open money drawer ; but such a policy generally practiced would be the total ruin of nine-tenths of our American boys and girls.