The Virtue Of Generosity
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Two years ago a well-to-do farmer died, leaving a large family of children and a considerable tract of land. Some years previous he had deeded forty acres to the eldest son, and had given him a lease of the balance for thirty-two years. The younger members of the family, legally debarred from any hold upon their share of the property, consulted a lawyer, who advised them to have a conference with the older brother, and see if a settlement could not be effected. The brothers and sisters went to see him, and, with-out waiting to have the subject introduced, he produced the lease and tore it to pieces in their presence, saying, as he did so, that he was a Christian and could not conscientiously maintain the claim which the law gave him over the property of his brothers and sisters. This story, if true, and the author believes it to be, is a remarkable example of genuine generosity. This is not the world's way of looking at one's rights. The business world is actuated by a very selfish heart, if not by the selfish maxims that it preaches. " Every man for himself," says one of these mottoes of inhuman greed. " Look out for number one," is the selfish cry of another. Get all you can and keep all you can get," is a doctrine of similar import, and in the eyes of ordinary business men the act of this Christian young man would look like the essence of stupidity. The acquisition of wealth is too often pursued in a spirit of most astounding selfishness. In their efforts to accumulate wealth, men forget that generosity, as well as economy, is a virtue. But we think the opportunity and the willingness to be generous are great sources of happiness. There is a real joy in being generous. It pays to do an act of kindness, or even to go farther than that, and give away a little money now and then. Such a course has a direct tendency to save a man from the canker-rust of selfishness and the moth-eating of a miserly spirit. One of the great-est dangers of the accumulation of wealth upon character, lies in the fact that there is a continual temptation for men to forego all natural feelings of generosity, and live only for the mere purpose of heaping dollars together. How many Christian men, misled by a feverish haste to be rich, are continually attempting the impossible task of reconciling the selfishness of money-getting with the plain and declared teachings of christianity with respect to generosity. What strange things men sometimes do, and justify them-selves in doing them on the specious plea that they cannot otherwise succeed in accomplishing their undertaking. If that be true, better not to succeed. It is always best to order one's life on some principle higher than self-interest. What if it does prevent one from making money faster than his neighbors. Is money the real end of life? What if his cherished purposes do fail because he will not stoop to some-thing mean to accomplish them. Better fail a thousand times than to accumulate wealth, or achieve honor, or do anything at the price of one's manhood.
A popular proverb says : "Any fool can spend money, but it takes a shrewd man to make it." But Uncle Esek in one of his quaint sayings in the Century has a different view of the case. He says : "There are plenty of people who know how to make money and how to waste it, but few who know how to spend it." A fool can certainly waste money. He can squander it; he can let it slip away from him through sheer incompetence, but he does not know anything about spending money wisely. The art of spending money is, indeed, a fine art. Between the extremes of waste and penuriousness there is a middle ground of wisdom in expenditure. About one man in a thousand stands on that ground. The talent of money-getting and that of money-spending are totally unlike and are not often united in the same person. Few of the great millionaires are at all successful in making any proper use of their immense fortunes. George Peabody is an exception. So was Peter Cooper, and a few others. But the great mass of them, Gould, Sage, Field, Vanderbilt, Stewart, Sir Moses Montefiore and the Rothschilds, have done little or nothing in the way of charity or generosity. None of them seem to have mastered the art of money-spending. It is a sad fact that the great mass of our rich men do not seem to feel the responsibility which the possession of riches puts upon them. They are often as grasping and avaricious when in the possession of many thousands as when they possessed only hundreds of dollars. Few of them ever stop to think what they ought to do with this greatest blessing of civilization, and they simply go on acquiring and piling up a useless fortune for some spendthrift to waste in the third generation. The art of spending, like the art of accumulating, cannot be learned in a day; but the mere heaping together of vast sums of money is not the true way to use a fortune.