Riches Without Wings
Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.
--EPH. iv. I.
Abundance consists not alone in material possession, but in an
Less coin, less care; to know how to dispense with wealth is to
Rich, from the very want of wealth,
In heaven's best treasures, peace and health.
Money never made a man happy yet; there is nothing in its
nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he
wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.
There are treasures laid up in the heart, treasures of charity,
piety, temperance, and soberness. These treasures a man takes
with him beyond death, when he leaves this world.
"It is better to get wisdom than gold; for wisdom is better
than rubies, and all things that may be desired are not to be
compared to it."
"Better a cheap coffin and a plain funeral after a useful,
unselfish life, than a grand mausoleum after a loveless,
I ought not to allow any man, because he has broad lands, to
feel that he is rich in my presence. I ought to make him feel
that I can do without his riches, that I cannot be
bought--neither by comfort, neither by pride,--and although I
be utterly penniless, and receiving bread from him, that he is
the poor man beside me.
"I don't want such things," said Epictetus to the rich Roman orator who
was making light of his contempt for money-wealth; "and besides," said
the stoic, "you are poorer than I am, after all. You have silver
vessels, but earthenware reasons, principles, appetites. My mind to me a
kingdom is, and it furnishes me with abundant and happy occupation in
lieu of your restless idleness. All your possessions seem small to you;
mine seem great to me. Your desire is insatiate, mine is satisfied."
"Lord, how many things are in the world of which Diogenes hath no need!"
exclaimed the stoic, as he wandered among the miscellaneous articles at
a country fair.
"One would think," said Boswell, "that the proprietor of all this
(Keddlestone, the seat of Lord Scarsfield) must be happy." "Nay, sir,"
said Johnson, "all this excludes but one evil, poverty."
"What property has he left behind him?" people ask when a man dies; but
the angel who receives him asks, "What good deeds hast thou sent before
"What is the best thing to possess?" asked an ancient philosopher of his
pupils. One answered, "Nothing is better than a good eye,"--a figurative
expression for a liberal and contented disposition. Another said, "A
good companion is the best thing in the world;" a third chose a good
neighbor; and a fourth, a wise friend. But Eleazar said: "A good heart
is better than them all." "True," said the master; "thou hast
comprehended in two words all that the rest have said, for he that hath
a good heart will be contented, a good companion, a good neighbor, and
will easily see what is fit to be done by him."
"My kingdom for a horse," said Richard III. of England amid the press of
Bosworth Field. "My kingdom for a moment," said Queen Elizabeth on her
death-bed. And millions of others, when they have felt earth, its riches
and power slipping from their grasp, have shown plainly that deep down
in their hearts they value such things at naught when really compared
with the blessed light of life, the stars and flowers, the companionship
of friends, and far above all else, the opportunity of growth and
development here and of preparation for future life.
Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark wrote on the window of her prison,
with her diamond ring: "Oh, keep me innocent; make others great."
"These are my jewels," said Cornelia to the Campanian lady who asked to
see her gems; and she pointed with pride to her boys returning from
school. The reply was worthy the daughter of Scipio Africanus and wife
of Tiberius Gracchus. The most valuable production of any country is its
crop of men.
"I will take away thy treasures," said a tyrant to a philosopher. "Nay,
that thou canst not," was the retort; "for, in the first place, I have
none that thou knowest of. My treasure is in heaven, and my heart is
Some people are born happy. No matter what their circumstances are they
are joyous, content and satisfied with everything. They carry a
perpetual holiday in their eye and see joy and beauty everywhere. When
we meet them they impress us as just having met with some good luck, or
that they have some good news to tell you. Like the bees that extract
honey from every flower, they have a happy alchemy which transmutes even
gloom into sunshine. In the sick room they are better than the physician
and more potent than drugs. All doors open to these people. They are
We make our own worlds and people them, while memory, the scribe,
faithfully registers the account of each as we pass the milestones
dotting the way. Are we not, then, responsible for the inhabitants of
our little worlds? We should fill them with the true, the beautiful and
the good, since we are endowed with the faculty of creating.
"Genius," says Whipple, "may almost be defined as the faculty of
acquiring poverty." It is the men of talent who make money out of the
work of the men of genius. Somebody has truly said, that the greatest
works have brought the least benefit to their authors. They were beyond
the reach of appreciation before appreciation came.
There is an Eastern legend of a powerful genius, who promised a
beautiful maiden a gift of rare value if she would pass through a field
of corn and, without pausing, going backward, or wandering hither and
thither, select the largest and ripest ear,--the value of the gift to be
in proportion to the size and perfection of the ear she should choose.
She passed through the field, seeing a great many well worth gathering,
but always hoping to find a larger and more perfect one, she passed them
all by, when, coming to a part of the field where the stalks grew more
stunted, she disdained to take one from these, and so came through to
the other side without having selected any.
A man may make millions and be a failure still. Money-making is not the
highest success. The life of a well-known millionaire was not truly
successful. He had but one ambition. He coined his very soul into
dollars. The almighty dollar was his sun, and was mirrored in his heart.
He strangled all other emotions and hushed and stifled all nobler
aspirations. He grasped his riches tightly, till stricken by the scythe
of death; when, in the twinkling of an eye, he was transformed from one
of the richest men who ever lived in this world to one of the poorest
souls that ever went out of it.
Lincoln always yearned for a rounded wholeness of character; and his
fellow lawyers called him "perversely honest." Nothing could induce him
to take the wrong side of a case, or to continue on that side after
learning that it was unjust or hopeless. After giving considerable time
to a case in which he had received from a lady a retainer of two hundred
dollars, he returned the money, saying: "Madam, you have not a peg to
hang your case on." "But you have earned that money," said the lady.
"No, no," replied Lincoln, "that would not be right. I can't take pay
for doing my duty."
Agassiz would not lecture at five hundred dollars a night, because he
had no time to make money. Charles Sumner, when a senator, declined to
lecture at any price, saying that his time belonged to Massachusetts and
the nation. Spurgeon would not speak for fifty nights in America at one
thousand dollars a night, because he said he could do better: he could
stay in London and try to save fifty souls. All honor to the comparative
few in every walk of life who, amid the strong materialistic tendencies
of our age, still speak and act earnestly, inspired by the hope of
rewards other than gold or popular favor. These are our truly great men
and women. They labor in their ordinary vocations with no less zeal
because they give time and thought to higher things.
King Midas, in the ancient myth, asked that everything he touched might
be turned to gold, for then, he thought, he would be perfectly happy.
His request was granted, but when his clothes, his food, his drink, the
flowers he plucked, and even his little daughter, whom he kissed, were
all changed into yellow metal, he begged that the Golden Touch might be
taken from him. He had learned that many other things are intrinsically
far more valuable than all the gold that was ever dug from the earth.
The "beggarly Homer, who strolled, God knows when, in the infancy and
barbarism of the world," was richer far than Croesus and added more
wealth to the world than the Rothschilds, the Vanderbilts and Goulds.
An Arab who fortunately escaped death after losing his way in the
desert, without provisions, tells of his feelings when he found a bag
full of pearls, just as he was about to abandon all hope. "I shall never
forget," said he, "the relish and delight that I felt on supposing it to
be dried wheat, nor the bitterness and despair I suffered on discovering
that the bag contained pearls."
It is an interesting fact in this money-getting era that a poor author,
or a seedy artist, or a college president with frayed coat-sleeves, has
more standing in society and has more paragraphs written about him in
the papers than many a millionaire. This is due, perhaps, to the malign
influence of money-getting and to the benign effect of purely
intellectual pursuits. As a rule every great success in the money world
means the failure and misery of hundreds of antagonists. Every success
in the world of intellect and character is an aid and profit to society.
Character is a mark cut upon something, and this indelible mark
determines the only true value of all people and all their work. Dr.
Hunter said: "No man was ever a great man who wanted to be one." Artists
cannot help putting themselves and their own characters into their
works. The vulgar artist cannot paint a virtuous picture. The gross, the
bizarre, the sensitive, the delicate, all come out on the canvas and
tell the story of his life.
Who would not choose to be a millionaire of deeds with a Lincoln, a
Grant, a Florence Nightingale, a Childs; a millionaire of ideas with
Emerson, with Lowell, with Shakespeare, with Wordsworth; a millionaire
of statesmanship with a Gladstone, a Bright, a Sumner, a Washington?
Some men are rich in health, in constant cheerfulness, in a mercurial
temperament which floats them over troubles and trials enough to sink a
shipload of ordinary men. Others are rich in disposition, family, and
friends. There are some men so amiable that everybody loves them; some
so cheerful that they carry an atmosphere of jollity about them. Some
are rich in integrity and character.
"Who is the richest of men?" asked Socrates. "He who is content with the
least, for contentment is nature's riches."
"Do you know, sir," said a devotee of Mammon to John Bright, "that I am
worth a million sterling?" "Yes," said the irritated but calm-spirited
respondent, "I do; and I know that it is all you are worth."
A bankrupt merchant, returning home one night, said to his noble wife,
"My dear, I am ruined; everything we have is in the hands of the
sheriff." After a few moments of silence the wife looked into his face
and asked, "Will the sheriff sell you?" "Oh, no." "Will the sheriff sell
me?" "Oh, no." "Then do not say we have lost everything. All that is
most valuable remains to us--manhood, womanhood, childhood. We have lost
but the results of our skill and industry. We can make another fortune
if our hearts and hands are left us."
"We say a man is 'made'," said Beecher. "What do we mean? That he has
got the control of his lower instincts, so that they are only fuel to
his higher feelings, giving force to his nature? That his affections
are like vines, sending out on all sides blossoms and clustering fruits?
That his tastes are so cultivated that all beautiful things speak to
him, and bring him their delights? That his understanding is opened, so
that he walks through every hall of knowledge, and gathers its
treasures? That his moral feelings are so developed and quickened that
he holds sweet commerce with Heaven? O, no--none of these things. He is
cold and dead in heart, and mind, and soul. Only his passions are alive;
but--he is worth five hundred thousand dollars!
"And we say a man is 'ruined.' Are his wife and children dead? O, no.
Have they had a quarrel, and are they separated from him? O, no. Has he
lost his reputation through crime? No. Is his reason gone? O, no; it is
as sound as ever. Is he struck through with disease? No. He has lost his
property, and he is ruined. The _man_ ruined! When shall we learn that
'a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he
"How is it possible," asks an ancient philosopher, "that a man who has
nothing, who is naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a
slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has
sent you a man to show you that it is possible. Look at me who am
without a city, without a house, without possessions, without a slave;
I sleep on the ground; I have no wife, no children, no praetorium, but
only the earth and heavens, and one poor cloak. And what do I want? Am I
not without sorrow? Am I not without fear? Am I not free? When did any
of you see me failing in the object of my desire? or even falling into
that which I would avoid? Did I ever blame God or man? Did I ever accuse
any man? Did any of you ever see me with a sorrowful countenance?"
"You are a plebeian," said a patrician to Cicero. "I am a plebeian,"
replied the great Roman orator; "the nobility of my family begins with
me, that of yours will end with you." No man deserves to be crowned with
honor whose life is a failure, and he who lives only to eat and drink
and accumulate money is surely not successful. The world is no better
for his living in it. He never wiped a tear from a sad face, never
kindled a fire upon a frozen hearth. There is no flesh in his heart; he
worships no god but gold.
Why should I scramble and struggle to get possession of a little portion
of this earth? This is my world now; why should I envy others its mere
legal possession? It belongs to him who can see it, enjoy it. I need not
envy the so-called owners of estates in Boston and New York. They are
merely taking care of my property and keeping it in excellent condition
for me. For a few pennies for railroad fare whenever I wish I can see
and possess the best of it all. It has cost me no effort, it gives me no
care; yet the green grass, the shrubbery, and the statues on the lawns,
the finer sculptures and paintings within, are always ready for me
whenever I feel a desire to look upon them. I do not wish to carry them
home with me, for I could not give them half the care they now receive;
besides, it would take too much of my valuable time, and I should be
worrying continually lest they be spoiled or stolen. I have much of the
wealth of the world now. It is all prepared for me without any pains on
my part. All around me are working hard to get things that will please
me, and competing to see who can give them the cheapest. The little I
pay for the use of libraries, railroads, galleries, parks, is less than
it would cost to care for the least of all I use. Life and landscape are
mine, the stars and flowers, the sea and air, the birds and trees. What
more do I want? All the ages have been working for me; all mankind are
my servants. I am only required to feed and clothe myself, an easy task
in this land of opportunity.
There is scarcely an idea more infectious or potent than the love of
money. It is a yellow fever, decimating its votaries and ruining more
families in the land, than all the plagues or diseases put together.
Instances of its malevolent power occur to every reader. Almost every
square foot of land of our continent during the early buccaneer period
(some call it the march of civilization), has been ensanguined through
the madness for treasure. Read the pages of our historian Prescott, and
you will see that the whole anti-Puritan history of America resolves
itself into an awful slaughter for gold. Discoveries were only side
Speak, history, who are life's victors? Unroll thy long scroll and say,
have they won who first reached the goal, heedless of a brother's
rights? And has he lost in life's great race who stopped "to raise a
fallen child, and place him on his feet again," or to give a fainting
comrade care; or to guide or assist a feeble woman? Has he lost who
halts before the throne when duty calls, or sorrow, or distress? Is
there no one to sing the paean of the conquered who fell in the battle of
life? of the wounded, the beaten, who died overwhelmed in the strife? of
the low and humble, the weary and broken-hearted, who strove and who
failed, in the eyes of men, but who did their duty as God gave them to
"We have yet no man who has leaned _entirely_ on his character, and
eaten angel's food," said Emerson; "who, trusting to his sentiments,
found life made of miracles; who, working for _universal aims_, found
himself fed, he knew not how; clothed, sheltered, and weaponed, he knew
not how, and yet it was done by his own hands."
At a time when it was considered dangerous to society in Europe for the
common people to read books and listen to lectures on any but religious
subjects, Charles Knight determined to enlighten the masses by cheap
literature. He believed that a paper might be instructive and not be
dull, cheap without being wicked. He started the "Penny Magazine," which
acquired a circulation of two hundred thousand the first year. Knight
projected the "Penny Cyclopedia," the "Library of Entertaining
Knowledge," "Half-Hours with the Best Authors," and other useful works
at a low price. His whole adult life was spent in the work of elevating
the common people by cheap, yet wholesome publications. He died in
poverty, but grateful people have erected a noble monument over his
How many rich dwellings there are, crowded with every appointment of
luxury, that are only glittering caverns of selfishness and discontent!
"Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred
"No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger,"
says Beecher. "It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or
poor according to what he _is_, not according to what he _has_."
If our thoughts are great and noble, no mean surroundings can make us
miserable. It is the mind that makes the body rich.
Howe'er it be, it seems to me,
'Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.
Be noble! and the nobleness that lies
In other men, sleeping, but never dead,
Will rise in majesty to meet thine own.
Previous: Books And Success