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Money - Its Use And Abuse

( Originally Published 1884 )

The Right Use of Money a Test of Wisdom.—The Virtue of Self-denial.—Self-imposed Taxes.—Economy Necessary to Independence.—Helplessness of the Improvident.—Frugality an Important Public Question.—The Bondage of the Improvident.—Independence Attainable by Working Men. —Living within the Means.—Bacon's Maxim.—Running into Debt.—Haydon's Debts.—Dr. Johnson on Debt.—The Duke of Wellington on Debt.—Washington.

" Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train attendant,
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent."—BURNS.

HOW a man uses money makes it, saves it, and spends it is perhaps one of the best tests of practical wisdom. Although money ought by no means to be regarded as a chief end of man's life, neither is it a trifling matter, to be held in philosophic contempt, repsenting, as it does to so large an extent, the means of physical comfort and social well-being. Indeed, some of the finest qualities of human nature are intimately related to the right use of money; such as generosity, honesty, justice, and self-sacrifice; as well as the practical virtues of economy and providence. On the other hand, there are their counterparts of avarice, fraud, injustice, and selfishness, as displayed by the inordinate lovers of gain; and the vices of thriftlessness, extravagance, and improvidence, on the part of those who misuse and abuse the means intrusted to them. " So that," as is wisely observed by Henry Taylor in his thoughtful 'Notes from Life,' " a right measure and manner in getting, saving, spending, giving, taking, lending, borrowing, and bequeathing, would almost argue a perfect man."

Comfort in worldly circumstances is a condition which every man is justified in striving to attain by all worthy means. It secures that physical satisfaction, which is necessary for the culture of the better part of his nature; and enables him to provide for those of his own household, without which, says the apostle, a man is " worse than an infidel." Nor ought the duty to be any the less pleasing to us, that the respect which our fellow-men entertain for us in no slight degree depends upon the manner in which we exercise the opportunities which present themselves for our honorable advancement in life. The very effort required to be made to succeed in life with this object, is of itself an education; stimulating a man's sense of self-respect, bringing out his practical qualities, and disciplining 'him in the exercise of patience, perseverance, and such like virtues. The provident and careful man must necessarily be a thoughtful man, for he lives not merely for the present, but with provident forecast makes arrangements for the future. He must also be a temperate man, and exercise the virtue of self-denial, than which nothing is so much calculated to give strength to the character. John Sterling says truly, that " the worst education which teaches self denial, is better than the best which teaches every thing else, and not that." The Romans rightly employed the same word (virtus) to designate courage, which is in a physical sense what the other is in a moral; the highest virtue of all being victory over ourselves.

Hence the lesson of self-denial the sacrificing of a present gratification for a future good is one of the last that is learnt. Those classes which work the hardest might naturally be expected to value the most the money which they earn. Yet the readiness with which so many are accustomed to eat up and drink up their earnings as they go, renders them to a great extent helpless and dependent upon the frugal. There are large numbers of persons among us who, though enjoying sufficient means of comfort and independence, are often found to be barely a day's march ahead of actual want when a time of pressure occurs; and hence a great cause of social helplessness and suffering. On one occasion a deputation waited on Lord John Russell, respecting the taxation levied on the working classes of the country, when the noble lord took the opportunity of remarking, " You may rely upon it that the Government of this country durst not tax the working classes to any thing like the extent to which they tax themselves in their expenditure upon intoxicating drinks alone!" Of all great public questions, there is perhaps none more important than this no great work of re-form calling more loudly for laborers. But it must be admitted that self-denial and self-help" would make a poor rallying-cry for the hustings; and it is to be feared that the patriotism of this day has but little regard for such common things as individual economy and providence, although it is by the practice of such virtues only that the genuine independence of the industrial classes is to be secured. " Prudence, frugality, and good management," said Samuel Drew, the philosophical shoemaker, " are excellent artists for mending bad times: they occupy but little room in any dwelling, but would furnish a more effectual remedy for the evils of life than any Reform Bill that ever passed the Houses of Parliament " Socrates said, " Let him that would move the world move first himself." Or as the old rhyme runs--

" If every one would see
To his own reformation,
How very easily
You might reform a nation."

It is, however, generally felt to he a far easier thing to reform the Church and the State than to reform the least of our own bad habits; and in such matters it is usually found more agreeable to our tastes, as it certainly is the common practice, to begin with our neighbors rather than with ourselves.

Any class of men that lives from hand to mouth will ever be an inferior class. They will necessarily remain impotent and helpless, hanging on to the skirts of society, the sport of times and seasons. Having no respect for themselves, they will fail in securing the respect of others. In commercial crises, such men must inevitably go to the wall. Wanting that husbanded power which a store of savings, no matter how small, invariably gives them, they will be at every man's mercy, and, if possessed of right feelings, they can not but regard with fear and trembling the future possible fate of their wives and children. " The world," once said Mr. Cob-den to the working men of Huddersfield, " has always been divided into two classes those who have saved, and those who have spent the thrifty and the extravagant. The building of all the houses, the mills, the bridges, and the ships, and the accomplishment of all other great works which have rendered man civilized and happy, has been done by the savers, the thrifty; and those who have wasted their resources have always been their slaves. It has been the law of nature and of Providence that this-should be so; and I were an impostor if I promised any class that they would advance themselves if they were improvident, thoughtless, and idle."

Equally sound was the advice given by Mr. Bright to an assembly of working men at Rochdale, in 1847, when, after expressing his belief that, " so far as honesty was concerned, it was to be found in pretty equal amount among all classes," he used the following words : " There is only one way that is safe for any man, or any number of men, by which they can maintain their present position if it be a good one, or raise themselves above it if it be a bad one that is, by the practice of the virtues of industry, frugality, temperance, and honesty. There is no royal road by which men can raise themselves from a position which they feel to be uncomfortable and unsatisfactory, as regards their mental or physical condition, except by the practice of those virtues by which they find numbers amongst them are continually advancing and bettering themselves."

There is no reason why the condition of the average workman should not be a useful, honorable, respectable, and happy one. The whole body of the working classes might (with few exceptions) be as frugal, virtuous, well-informed, and well-conditioned as many individuals of the same class have already made them-selves. What some men are, all without difficulty might be. Employ the same means, and the same results will follow. That there should be a class of men who live by their daily labor in every state is the ordinance of God, and doubtless is a wise and righteous one; but that this class should be otherwise than frugal, contented, intelligent, and happy, is not the design of Providence, but springs solely from the weakness, self indulgent, and perverseness of man himself. The healthy spirit of self-help created amongst working people would more than any other measure serve to raise them as a class, and this, not by pulling down others, but by levelling them up to a higher and still advancing standard of religion, intelligence, and virtue. " All moral philosophy," says Montaigue, " is as applicable to a common and private life as to the most splendid. Every man carries the entire form of the human condition with him."

When a man casts his glance forward, he will find that the three chief temporal contingencies for which he has to provide are want of employment, sickness, and death. The two first he may escape, but the last is inevitable. It is, however, the duty of the prudent man so to live, and so to arrange, that the pressure of suffering, in event of either contingency occurring, shall be mitigated to as great an extent as possible, not only to himself, but also to those who are dependent upon him for their comfort and subsistence. Viewed in this light, the honest earning and the frugal use of money are of the greatest importance. Rightly earned, it is the representative of patient industry and untiring effort, of temptation resisted and hope rewarded; and rightly used, it affords indications of prudence, fore-thought and self-denial the true basis of manly character. Though money represents a crowd of objects without any real worth or utility, it also represents many things of great value; not only food, clothing and household satisfaction, but personal self-respect and independence. Thus a store of savings is to the working man as a barricade against want, it secures him a footing, and enables him to wait, it may be in cheerfulness and hope, until better days come round. The very endeavor to gain a firmer position in the world has a certain dignity in it, and tends to make a man stronger and better. At all events, it gives him greater freedom of action, and enables him to husband his strength for future effort.

But the man who is always hovering on the verge of want is in a state not far removed from that of slavery. He is in no sense his own master, but is in constant peril of falling under the bondage of others, and accepting the terms which they dictate to him. He can not help being in a measure servile, for he dares not look the world boldly in the face; and in adverse times he must look either to alms or the poor's rates. If work fails him altogether, he has not the means of moving to another field of employment; he is fixed to his parish like a limpet to its rock, and can neither migrate nor emigrate.

To secure independence, the practice of simple economy is all that is necessary. Economy requires neither superior courage nor eminent virtue; it is satisfied with ordinary energy, and the capacity of average minds. Economy, at bottom, is but the spirit of order applied in the administration of domestic affairs : it means management, regularity, prudence, and the avoidance of waste. The spirit of economy was expressed by our Divine Master in the words, " Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing may be lost." His omnipotence did not disdain the small things of life; and even while revealing His infinite power to the multitude, he taught the pregnant lesson of carefulness, of which all stand so much in need.

Economy also means the power of resisting present gratification for the purpose of securing a future good, and in this light it represents the ascendency of reason over the animal instincts. It is altogether different from penuriousness : for it is economy that can always best afford to be generous. It does not make money an idol but regards it as a useful agent. As Dean Swift observes, " we must carry money in the head, not in the heart." Economy may be styled the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the mother of Liberty. It is evidently conservative conservative of character, of domestic happiness, and social well being. It is, in short, the exhibition of self-help in one of its best forms.

Francis Homer's father gave him this advice on entering life:—" Whilst I wish you to be comfortable in every respect, I can not too strongly inculcate economy. It is a necessary virtue to all; and however the shallow part of mankind may, dispise it, it certainly leads to independence, which is a grand object to every man of a high spirit." Burn's lines, quoted at the head of this chapter, contain the right idea; but unhappily his strain of song was higher than his practice; his ideal better than his habit. When laid on his death-bed he wrote to a friend, " Alas! Clarke, I begin to feel the worst. Burns' poor widow, and a half a dozen of his dear little ones helpless orphans; there I am weak as a woman's tear. Enough of this ; 'tis half my disease.

Every man ought so to contrive as to live within his means. This practice is of the very essence of honesty. For if a man do not manage honestly to live within his own means, he must necessarily be living dishonestly upon the means of somebody else. Those who are careless about personal expenditure, and consider merely their own gratification, without regard for the comfort of others, generally find out the real uses of money when it is too late. Though by nature generous, these thriftless persons are often driven in the end to do very shabby things. They waste their money as they do their time; draw bills upon the future; anticipate their earnings; and are thus under the necessity of dragging after them a load of debts and obligations which seriously affect their action as free and independent men.

It was a maxim of Lord Bacon, that when it was. necessary to economize, it was better to look after petty savings than to descend to petty gettings. The loose cash which many persons throw away uselessly, and worse, would often form a basis of fortune and independence for life. These wasters are their own worst enemies, though generally found amongst the ranks of those who rail at the injustice of " the world." But if a man will not be his own friend, how can he expect that others will? Orderly men of moderate means have always something left in their pockets to help, others; whereas your prodigal and careless fellows who spend all never find an opportunity for helping any body. It is poor economy, however, to be a scrub. Narrow-mindedness in living and in dealing is generally short-sighted, and leads to failure. The penny soul, it is said, never came to twopence. Generosity and liberality, like honesty, prove the best policy after all. Though Jenkinson, in the " Vicar of Wakefield," cheated his kind-hearted neighbor Flamborough in one way or another every year, Flamborough," said he, " has been regularly growing in riches, while I have come to poverty and a jail." And practical life abounds in cases of brilliant results from a course of generous and honest policy.

The proverb says that " an empty bag can not stand upright;" neither can a man who is in debt. It is also difficult for a man who is in debt to be truthful; hence it is said that lying rides on debt's back. The debtor has to frame excuses to his creditor for postponing pay. ment of the money he owes him, and probably also to contrive falsehoods. It is easy enough for a man who will exercise a healthy resolution, to avoid incurring the first obligation; but the facility with which that has been incurred often becomes a temptation co a second; and very soon the unfortunate borrower becomes so entangled that no late exertion of industry can set him free. The first step in debt is like the first step in falsehood; almost involving the necessity of proceeding in the same course, debt following debt as lie follows lie. Hay don, the painter, dated his decline from the day on which he first borrowed money. He realized the truth of the proverb, " Who goes a-borrowing, goes a sorrowing." The significant entry in his diary is: " Here began debt and obligation out of which I have never been and never shall be extricated as long as I live." His autobiography shows but too painfully how embarrassment in money matters produces poignant distress of mind, utter incapacity for work, and constantly recurring humilitations. The written advice which he gave to a youth when entering the navy was as follows : " Never purchase any enjoyment if it can not be procured without borrowing of others. Never borrow money; it is degrading. I do not say never lend, but never lend if by lending you render yourself unable to pay what you owe; but under any circumstances never borrow." Fichte, the poor student, refused to accept even presents from his still poorer parents.

Dr. Johnson held that early debt is ruin. His words ,on the subject are weighty, and worthy of being held in remembrance. " Do not," said he, " accustom your-self to consider debt only as an inconvenience; you will find it a calamity. Poverty takes away so many means of doing good, and produces so much inability to resist evil, both natural and moral, that it is by all virtuous means to be avoided. . . Let it be your first care, then, not to be in any man's debt. Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult. Frugality is not only the basis of quiet, but of benificence. No man can help others that wants help himself; we must have enough before we have to spare."

It is the bounden duty of every man to look his affairs in the face, and to keep an account. of his incomings and outgoings in money matters. The exercise of a little simple arithmetic in this way will be found of great value. Prudence requires that we shall pitch our scale of living a degree below our means, rather than up to them. But this can only be done by carrying out faithfully a plan of living by which both ends may be made to meet. John Locke strongly advised this course : " Nothing," said he, " likelier to keep a man within compass than having constantly before his eyes the state of his affairs in a regular course of ac-count." The Duke of Wellington kept an accurate detailed account of all the moneys received and expended by him. " I make a point," said he to Mr. Gleig, " of paying my own bills, and I advise every one to do the same; formerly I used to trust a confidential servant to pay them, but I was cured of that folly by receiving one morning, to my great surprise, duns of a year or two's standing. The fellow had speculated with my money, and left my bills unpaid." Talking of debt, his remark was, " It makes a slave of a man. I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I never got into debt." Washington was as particular as Wellington was, in matters of business detail; and it is a remarkable fact, that he did not disdain to scrutinize the smallest outgoings of his household determined as he was to live honestly within his means even when holding the high office of President of the American Union.

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