Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct

Samuel Smiles
Smiles, Samuel
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First Pub. Date
Boston: Ticknor and Fields
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13 of 17

Chapter IX


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

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."—Shakspeare.


HOW a man uses money—makes it, saves it, and spends it—is perhaps one of the best tests of his practical wisdom. Although money ought by no means to be regarded as the chief end of man's life, neither is it a trifling matter, to be held in philosophic contempt, representing 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 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 indifferent 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 everything 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.


What is the quality in which the improvident classes of this country are so deficient as self-denial,—the ability to sacrifice a small present gratification for a future good? Those classes who 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 absolutely helpless and dependent upon the frugal. There are large numbers of men 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 anything like the extent to which they tax themselves in their expenditure upon intoxicating drinks alone!"*13


Of all great public questions, there is none more important than this,—no great work of reform 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 be a far easier thing to reform the constitution in Church and 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 cannot but regard with fear and trembling the future possible fate of their wives and children. "The world," once said Mr. Cobden 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. What is it that has made, that has in fact created, the middle class in this country, but the virtues to which I have alluded? There was a time when there was hardly any class in England, except the highest, that was equal in condition to the poorest class at this moment. How is it that the hundreds of thousands of men, now existing in this our country, of the middle class, are educated, comfortable, and enjoying an amount of happiness and independence, to which our forefathers were wholly unaccustomed? Why, by the practice of those very virtues; for I maintain that there has never been in any former age as much of these virtues as is now to be found amongst the great middle class of our community. When I speak of the middle class, I mean that class which is between the privileged class, the richest, and the very poorest in the community; and I would recommend every man to pay no attention whatever to public writers or speakers, whoever they may be, who tell them that this class or that class, that this law or that law, that this government or that government, can do all these things for them. I assure you, after long reflection and much observation, that there is no way for the working classes of this country to improve their condition but that which so many of them have already availed themselves of,—that is, by the practice of those virtues, and by reliance upon themselves."


There is no reason why the condition of the average workman in this country 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 themselves. 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-indulgence, 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 Montaigne, "is as applicable to a common and private life as to the most splendid. Every man carries the entire form of the human condition within him."


Economizing one's means with the mere object of hoarding is a very mean thing; but economizing for the purpose of being independent is one of the soundest indications of manly character; and when practised with the object of providing for those who are dependent upon us, it assumes quite a noble aspect. It is the exhibition of self-help in one of its best forms. Francis Horner's father gave him this good advice on first entering life: "Whilst I wish you to be comfortable in every respect, I cannot too strongly inculcate economy. It is a necessary virtue to all; and however the shallow part of mankind may despise it, it certainly leads to independence, which is a grand object to every man of a high spirit." Burns's lines, above quoted, contain the right idea; but unhappily his strain of song was higher than his practice; his ideal better than his habit. When laid upon his death-bed he wrote to a friend, "Alas! Clarke, I begin to feel the worst. Burns's poor widow, and 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 dawdle with their money as with 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. 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 anybody. 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 kindhearted neighbor Flamborough in one way or another every year, "Flamborough," he says, "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 cannot stand upright;" neither can a man who is in debt. Debt makes everything a temptation. It lowers a man in self-respect, places him at the mercy of his tradesman and his servant, and renders him a slave in many respects, for he can no longer call himself his own master, nor boldly look the world in the face. 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 payment 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 to 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. Haydon, 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." Haydon had long been accustomed to borrow money from his poor father, which, however, he did not include in his obligations. Far different was the noble spirit displayed by Fichte, who said. when struggling with poverty, "For years I have never accepted a farthing from my parents, because I have seven sisters who are all young and in part uneducated: and because I have a father who, were I to allow it. would in his kindness bestow upon me that which belongs by right to his other children." For the same high-minded reason, Fichte even refused to accept presents from his poor 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 yourself 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 beneficence. 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, "is likelier to keep a man within compass than having constantly before his eyes the state of his affairs in a regular course of account." 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 while holding the high office of President of the American Union.


Admiral Jervis, Earl St. Vincent, has told the story of his early struggles, and, amongst other things, of his determination to keep out of debt. "My father had a very large family," said he, "with limited means. He gave me twenty pounds at starting, and that was all he ever gave me. After I had been a considerable time at the station [at sea], I drew for twenty more, but the bill came back protested. I was mortified at this rebuke, and made a promise, which I have ever kept, that I would never draw another bill without a certainty of its being paid. I immediately changed my mode of living, quitted my mess, lived alone, and took up the ship's allowance, which I found quite sufficient; washed and mended my own clothes; made a pair of trousers out of the ticking of my bed; and having by these means saved as much money as would redeem my honor, I took up my bill; and from that time to this I have taken care to keep within my means." Jervis for six years endured pinching privation, but preserved his integrity, studied his profession with success, and gradually and steadily rose by merit and bravery to the highest rank. Samuel Drew's first lesson in economy is thus described by himself: "When I was a boy, I somehow got a few pence, and coming into St. Austell on a fair day, laid out all on a purse. My empty purse often reminded me of my folly; and the recollection has since been as useful to me as Franklin's whistle was to him."


It is a great point for young men to begin well; for it is in the beginning of life that that system of conduct is adopted, which soon assumes the force of Habit. Begin well, and the habit of doing well will become quite as easy as the habit of doing badly. Well begun is half ended, says the proverb; and a good beginning is half the battle. Many promising young men have irretrievably injured themselves by a first false step at the commencement of life; while others, of much less promising talents, have succeeded simply by beginning well, and going onward. The good practical beginning is, to a certain extent, a pledge, a promise, and an assurance, of the ultimate prosperous issue. There is many a poor creature, now crawling through life, miserable himself and the cause of sorrow to others, who might have lifted up his head and prospered, if, instead of merely satisfying himself with resolutions of well-doing, he had actually gone to work and made a good practical beginning.


Too many are, however, impatient of results. They are not satisfied to begin where their fathers did, but where they left off. They think to enjoy the fruits of industry without working for them. They cannot wait for the results of labor and application, but forestall them by too early indulgence. A worthy Scotch couple, when asked how their son had broken down so early in life, gave the following explanation: "When we began life together, we worked hard, and lived upon porridge and such like, gradually adding to our comforts as our means improved, until we were able at length to dine off a bit of roast meat and sometimes a boilt chuckie (or fowl); but as for Jock, our son, he began where we had left off,—he began wi' the chuckie first." The same illustration will apply to higher conditions of life than that of this humble pair.


Mr. Hume hit the mark when he once stated in the House of Commons—though his words were followed by "laughter"—that the tone of living in England is altogether too high. Middle-class people are too apt to live up to their incomes, if not beyond them; affecting a degree of "style" which is most unhealthy in its effect upon society at large. There is an ambition to bring up boys as gentlemen, or rather "genteel" men; though the result frequently is, only to make them gents. They acquire a taste for dress, style, luxuries, and amusements, which can never form any solid foundation for manly or gentlemanly character; and the result is, that we have a vast number of gingerbread young gentry thrown upon the world, who remind one of the abandoned hulls sometimes picked up at sea, with only a monkey on board.


There is a dreadful ambition abroad for being "genteel." We keep up appearances, too often at the expense of honesty; and, though we may not be rich, yet we must seem to be so. We must be "respectable," though only in the meanest sense,—in mere vulgar outward show. We have not the courage to go patiently onward in the condition of life in which it has pleased God to call us; but must needs live in some fashionable state to which we ridiculously please to call ourselves, and all to gratify the vanity of that unsubstantial genteel world of which we form a part. There is a constant struggle and pressure for front seats in the social amphitheatre; in the midst of which all noble self-denying resolve is trodden down, and many fine natures are inevitably crushed to death. What waste, what misery, what bankruptcy, come from all this ambition to dazzle others with the glare of apparent worldly success, we need not describe. The mischievous results show themselves in a thousand ways,—in the rank frauds committed by men who dare to be dishonest, but do not dare to seem poor; and in the desperate dashes at fortune, in which the pity is not so much for those who fail, as for the hundreds of innocent families who are so often involved in their ruin.


The late Sir Charles Napier, in taking leave of his command in India, did a bold and honest thing in publishing his strong protest, embodied in his last General Order to the officers of the Indian army, against the "fast" life led by so many young officers in that service, involving them in ignominious obligations. Sir Charles strongly urged, in that famous document,—what had almost been lost sight of,—that "honesty is inseparable from the character of a thorough-bred gentleman;" and that "to drink unpaid-for champagne and unpaid-for beer, and to ride unpaid-for horses, is to be a cheat, and not a gentleman." Men who lived beyond their means, and were summoned, often by their own servants, before Courts of Requests for debts contracted in extravagant living, might be officers by virtue of their commissions, but they were not gentlemen. The habit of being constantly in debt, the Commander-in-Chief held, made men grow callous to the proper feelings of a gentleman. It was not enough that an officer should be able to fight; that any bull-dog could do. But did he hold his word inviolate,—did he pay his debts? These were among the points of honor which, he insisted, illuminated the true gentleman's and soldier's career. As Bayard was of old, so would Sir Charles Napier have all British officers to be. He knew them to be "without fear," but he would also have them "without reproach." There are, however, many gallant young fellows, both in India and at home, capable of mounting a breach on an emergency amidst belching fire, and of performing the most desperate deeds of valor, who nevertheless cannot or will not exercise the moral courage necessary to enable them to resist a petty temptation presented to their senses. They cannot utter their valiant "No," or "I can't afford it," to the invitations of pleasure and self-enjoyment; and they are found ready to brave death rather than the ridicule of their companions.


The young man, as he passes through life, advances through a long line of tempters ranged on either side of him; and the inevitable effect of yielding, is degradation in a greater or less degree. Contact with them tends insensibly to draw away from him some portion of the divine electric element with which his nature is charged; and his only mode of resisting them is to utter and to act out his "No" manfully and resolutely. He must decide at once, not waiting to deliberate and balance reasons; for the youth, like "the woman who deliberates, is lost." Many deliberate, without deciding; but "not to resolve, is to resolve." A perfect knowledge of man is in the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." But temptation will come to try the young man's strength; and once yielded to, the power to resist grows weaker and weaker. Yield once, and a portion of virtue has gone. Resist manfully, and the first decision will give strength for life; repeated, it will become a habit. It is in the outworks of the habits formed in early life that the real strength of the defence must lie; for it has been wisely ordained, that the machinery of moral existence should be carried on principally through the medium of the habits, so as to save the wear and tear of the great principles within. It is good habits, which insinuate themselves into the thousand inconsiderable acts of life, that really constitute by far the greater part of man's moral conduct.


Hugh Miller has told how, by an act of youthful decision, he saved himself from one of the strong temptations so peculiar to a life of toil. When employed as a mason, it was usual for his fellow-workmen to have an occasional treat of drink, and one day two glasses of whiskey fell to his share, which he swallowed. When he reached home, he found, on opening his favorite book,—"Bacon's Essays,"—that the letters danced before his eyes, and that he could no longer master the sense. "The condition," he says, "into which I had brought myself was, I felt, one of degradation. I had sunk, by my own act, for the time, to a lower level of intelligence than that on which it was my privilege to be placed; and though the state could have been no very favorable one for forming a resolution, I in that hour determined that I should never again sacrifice my capacity of intellectual enjoyment to a drinking usage; and with God's help, I was enabled to hold by the determination." It is such decisions as this that often form the turning-points in a man's life, and furnish the foundation of his future character. And this rock, on which Hugh Miller might have been wrecked, if he had not at the right moment put forth his moral strength to strike away from it, is one that youth and manhood alike need to be constantly on their guard against. It is about one of the worst and most deadly, as well as extravagant, temptations which lie in the way of youth. Sir Walter Scot used to say "that of all vices drinking is the most incompatible with greatness." Not only so, but it is incompatible with economy, decency, health, and honest living. When a youth cannot restrain, he must abstain. Dr. Johnson's case is the case of many. He said, referring to his own habits, "Sir, I can abstain; but I can't be moderate."


But to wrestle vigorously and successfully with any vicious habit, we must not merely be satisfied with contending on the low ground of worldly prudence, though that is of use, but take stand upon a higher moral elevation Mechanical aids, such as pledges, may be of service to some, but the great thing is to set up a high standard of thinking and acting, and endeavor to strengthen and purify the principles, as well as to reform the habits. For this purpose a youth must study himself, watch his steps, and compare his thoughts and acts with his rule. The more knowledge of himself he gains, the more humble will he be, and perhaps the less confident in his own strength. But the discipline will be found most valuable which is acquired by resisting small present gratifications to secure a prospective greater and higher one. It is the noblest work in self-education,—for

      "Real glory
Springs from the silent conquest of ourselves,
And without that the conqueror is nought
But the first slave."


Many popular books have been written for the purpose of communicating to the public the grand secret of making money. But there is no secret whatever about it, as the proverbs of every nation abundantly testify. "Many a little makes a meikle."—"Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves."—"A penny saved is a penny gained."—"Diligence is the mother of good-luck."—"No pains no gains."—"No sweat no sweet."—"Sloth, the key of poverty."—"Work, and thou shalt have."—"He who will not work, neither shall he eat."—"The world is his, who has patience and industry."—"It is too late to spare when all is spent."—"Better go to bed supperless than rise in debt."—"The morning hour has gold in its mouth."—"Credit keeps the crown of the causeway." Such are specimens of the proverbial philosophy, embodying the hoarded experience of many generations, as to the best means of thriving in the world. They were current in people's mouths long before books were invented; and like other popular proverbs, they were the first codes of popular morals. Moreover they have stood the test of time, and the experience of every day still bears witness to their accuracy, force, and soundness. The proverbs of Solomon are full of wisdom, as to the force of industry, and the use and abuse of money: "He that is slothful in work is brother to him that is a great waster."—"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." Poverty, he says, shall come upon the idler, "as one that travelleth, and want as an armed man;" but of the industrious and upright, "The hand of the diligent maketh rich."—"He who will not plough by reason of the cold, shall beg in harvest, and have nothing."—"The drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags."—"The slothful man says there is a lion in the streets."—"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings."—But above all "It is better to get wisdom than gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."


Simple industry and thrift will go far towards making any person of ordinary working faculty comparatively independent in his means. Even a 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 spending and saving of pennies. If a man allows the little pennies, the results of his hard work, to slip out of his fingers,—some to the beershop, 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. That this is no impossible thing, even for a common laborer in a workshop, may be illustrated by the remarkable career of Thomas Wright, of Manchester, whose life affords only another proof of the power of patient perseverance in well-doing, and of the influence which even the humblest person, who is diligent in improving his opportunities, may exercise for the advantage of his fellow-creatures.


It was scarcely to have been expected, that one of the most difficult and apparently impossible of things, the reclamation of criminals, should have been not only attempted, but accomplished, by a man working for weekly wages in a foundry! Yet this work was done by Thomas Wright when employed with the Messrs. Ormerod, at Manchester. Accident first directed his attention to the difficulty encountered by liberated convicts in returning to habits of honest industry. His mind was possessed by the subject; and to remedy the evil became the purpose of his life. He did not neglect his work, for he honorably performed his duties as a foundry-man, and his working and business qualities were so highly prized by his employers, that he was gradually raised to the post of foreman of his shop. Nor did he neglect his family, for, upon comparatively small means, he respectably brought up a large family. Though he worked from six in the morning till six at night, still there were leisure minutes that he could call his own,—more especially his Sundays,—and these he employed in the service of convicted criminals; a class then far more neglected than they are now. But a few minutes a day, well employed, can effect a great deal; and it will scarcely be credited, that in ten years this working man, by steadfastly holding to his purpose, succeeded in rescuing not fewer than three hundred felons from continuance in a life of villany! He came to be regarded as the moral physician of the Manchester Old Bailey; and when the Chaplain and all others failed, Thomas Wright often succeeded. Children he thus restored healed to their parents; sons and daughters otherwise lost, to their homes; and many a returned convict did he contrive to settle down to honest and industrious pursuits. The task was by no means easy. It required money, time, energy, prudence, and above all, character, and the confidence which character invariably inspires. The most remarkable circumstance of all is, that Wright relieved many of these poor outcasts out of the comparatively small wages earned by him at foundry work. He did all this on an income which did not average, during his working career, 100l. per annum; and yet, while he was able to bestow substantial aid on criminals, to whom he owed no more than the service of kindness which every human being owes to another, he also maintained his own family in comfort, and was, by frugality and carefulness, enabled to lay by a store of savings against his approaching old age. Every week he apportioned his income with deliberate care; so much for the indispensable necessaries of food and clothing, so much for the landlord, so much for the schoolmaster, so much for the poor and needy; and the lines of distribution were resolutely observed. By such means did this humble workman pursue his great work, with the results we have so briefly described. His career affords one of the most remarkable and striking illustrations of the force of purpose in a man, of the might of small means carefully and sedulously applied, and, above all, of the power which an energetic and upright character invariably exercises upon the lives and conduct of others.


There is no discredit, but honor, in every right walk of industry, whether it be in tilling the ground, making tools, weaving fabrics, or selling the products behind a counter. A youth may handle a yard-stick, or measure a piece of ribbon; and there will be no discredit in doing so, unless he allows his mind to have no higher range than the stick and ribbon; to be as short as the one, and as narrow as the other. "Let not those blush who have," said Fuller, "but those who have not a lawful calling." And Bishop Hall said, "Sweet is the destiny of all trades, whether of the brow or of the mind." Men who have raised themselves from a humble calling, need not be ashamed, but rather ought to be proud of the difficulties they have surmounted. The laborer on his feet stands higher than the nobleman on his knees. An American President, when asked what was his coat-of-arms, remembering that he had been a hewer of wood in his youth, replied, "A pair of shirt-sleeves." Lord Tenterden was proud to point out to his son the shop in which his father had shaved for a penny. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin, to which Flechier replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles." Some small spirits, ashamed of their origin, are always striving to conceal it, and by the very efforts they make to do so, betray themselves; like that worthy but stupid Yorkshire dyer, who, having gained his money by honest chimney-sweeping, and feeling ashamed of chimneys, built his house without one, sending all his smoke into the shaft of his dye-works. The benevolent Sir Thomas Bernard, one of the best practical philanthropists of his day, in his "Tracts for bettering the Condition of the Poor," makes honorable mention of "a very intelligent and valuable man, Mr. David Porter, a master chimney-sweeper in Welbeck Street," who is another good illustration of the force of diligence and well-doing. In early boyhood Porter was kidnapped for a sweep; the condition of climbing-boys at the time being one almost of slavery. The boy, however, had energy of body and mind, and survived the privations of his unfortunate class. At eighteen years of age he commenced business as a sweep on his own account. When employment was slack in his trade, he sought and found it in others; in summer and harvest time he went into Lincolnshire and worked at farm labor, always bringing home a little store of savings. But he did not neglect his mind; above all, he did not forget the hardships endured by the poor little climbing-boys; all of which he had himself passed through. He therefore devoted his leisure,—snatched from a busy life,—to write a treatise on the subject, which he printed and distributed amongst influential persons; thereby initiating, as Granville Sharp had done, the movement which issued in the amelioration of the sufferings of this class. Mr. Porter, by his frugality, industry, and application to business, eventually realized a large fortune, at the same time promoting the comforts of his boys and workmen in a manner altogether unknown and unusual at the time. On Sir Thomas Bernard asking Mr. Porter how he had succeeded in his business, and accumulated so large a fortune, he answered, "By never having an idle hour or an idle guinea." This was his whole secret.


Nothing, however, is more common than energy in money-making, quite independent of any higher object than its accumulation. A man who devotes himself to this pursuit, body and soul, can scarcely fail to become rich. Very little brains will do; spend less than you earn; add guinea to guinea; scrape and save; and the pile of gold will gradually rise. John Foster quoted a striking illustration of what this kind of determination will do in money-making. A young man who ran through his patrimony, spending it in profligacy, was at length reduced to utter want and despair. He rushed out of his house intending to put an end to his life, and stopped on arriving at an eminence overlooking what were once his estates. He sat down, ruminated for a time, and rose with the determination that he would recover them. He returned to the streets, saw a load of coals which had been shot out of a cart on to the pavement before a house, offered to carry them in, and was employed. He thus earned a few pence, requested some meat and drink as a gratuity, which was given him, and the pennies were laid by. Pursuing this menial labor, he earned and saved more pennies; accumulated sufficient to enable him to purchase some cattle, the value of which he understood, and these he sold to advantage. He now pursued money with a step as steady as time, and an appetite as keen as death; advancing by degrees into larger and larger transactions, until at length he became rich. The result was, that he more than recovered his possessions, and died an inveterate miser. When he was buried, mere earth went to earth. With a nobler spirit, the same determination might have enabled such a man to be a benefactor to others as well as to himself. But the life and its end in this case were alike sordid.


The saving of money for the mere sake of it, is but a mean thing, even though earned by honest work; but where earned by dice-throwing, or speculation, and without labor, it is still worse. To provide for others, and for our own comfort and independence in old age, is honorable, and greatly to be commended; but to hoard for mere wealth's sake is the characteristic of the narrow-souled and the miserly. It is against the growth of this habit of inordinate saving, that the wise man needs most carefully to guard himself; else, what in youth was simple economy, may in old age grow into avarice, and what was a duty in the one, may become a vice in the other. It is the love of money—not money itself—which is "the root of evil,"—a love which narrows and contracts the soul, and closes it against generous life and action. Hence, Sir Walter Scott makes one of his characters declare that "the penny siller slew mair souls than the naked sword slew bodies." It is one of the defects of business too exclusively followed, that it insensibly tends to a mechanism of character. The business man gets into a rut, and often does not look beyond it. If he lives for himself only, he becomes apt to regard other human beings only in so far as they minister to his ends. Take a leaf from such men's ledger, and you have their life. It is said of one of our most eminent modern men of business—withal a scrupulously honorable man—who spent his life mainly in money-making, and succeeded, that when upon his death-bed, he turned to his favorite daughter, and said solemnly to her, "Hasn't it been a mistake,——?" He had been thinking of the good which other men of his race had done, and which he might have done, had he not unhappily found exclusive money-making to be a mistake when it was too late to remedy it; and, when he must leave behind him his huge pile of gold, the accumulation of which had been almost the sole object of his life.


Worldly success, measured by the accumulation of money, is no doubt a very dazzling thing; and all men are naturally more or less the admirers of worldly success. But though men of persevering, sharp, dexterous, and unscrupulous habits, ever on the watch to push opportunities, may and do "get on" in the world; yet it is quite possible that they may not possess the slightest elevation of character, nor a particle of real greatness. He who recognizes no higher logic than that of the shilling, may become a very rich man, and yet remain all the while an exceedingly poor creature. For riches are no proof whatever of moral worth; and their glitter often serves only to draw attention to the worthlessness of their possessor, as the glowworm's light reveals the grub. "In morals," says Mr. Lynch,*14 "a penny may outweigh a pound,—may represent more industry and character. The money that witnesses of patient, inventive years of fair dealing and brave dealing, proves 'worth' indeed. But neither a man's means nor his worth are measurable by his money. If he has a fat purse and a lean heart, a broad estate and a narrow understanding, what will his 'means' do for him,—what will his 'worth' gain him?" Let a man be what he will, it is the mind and heart that make a man poor or rich, miserable or happy; for these are always stronger than fortune.


The manner in which so many allow themselves to be sacrificed to their love of wealth, reminds one of the cupidity of the monkey,—that caricature of our species. In Algiers, the Kabyle peasant attaches a gourd, well fixed, to a tree, and places within it some rice. The gourd has an opening merely sufficient to admit the monkey's paw. The creature comes to the tree by night, inserts his paw, and grasps his booty. He tries to draw it back, but it is clenched, and he has not the wisdom to unclench it. So there he stands till morning, when he is caught, looking as foolish as may be, though with the prize in his grasp. The moral of this little story is capable of a very extensive application in life.


The power of money is on the whole over-estimated. The greatest things which have been done for the world have not been accomplished by rich men, or by subscription lists, but by men generally of small pecuniary means. Christianity was propagated over half the world by men of the poorest class; and the greatest thinkers, discoverers, inventors, and artists, have been men of moderate wealth, many of them little raised above the condition of manual laborers in point of worldly circumstances. And it will always be so. Riches are oftener an impediment than a stimulus to action; and in many cases they are quite as much a misfortune as a blessing. The youth who inherits wealth, is apt to have life made too easy for him, and he soon grows sated with it, because he has nothing left to desire. Having no special object to struggle for, he finds time hang heavy on his hands; he remains morally and spiritually asleep; and his position in society is often no higher than that of a polypus over which the tide floats.

"His only labor is to kill the time,
And labor dire it is, and weary woe."


Yet the rich man, inspired by a right spirit, will spurn idleness as unmanly; and if he bethink him of the responsibilities which attach to the possession of wealth and property, he will feel even a higher call to work than men of poorer lot. This, however, must be admitted to be by no means the practice of life. The golden mean of Agur's perfect prayer, is, perhaps, the best lot of all, if we did but know it: "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me." The late Joseph Brotherton left a fine motto to be recorded upon his monument in the Peel Park at Manchester,—the declaration in his case being strictly true: "My richness consisted not in the greatness of my possessions, but in the smallness of my wants." He rose, as we have seen, from the humblest station, that of a factory boy, to an eminent position of usefulness, by the simple exercise of homely honesty, industry, punctuality, and self-denial. Down to the close of his life, when not attending Parliament, he did duty as minister in a small chapel in Manchester to which he was attached; and in all things he made it appear, to those who knew him in private life, that the glory he sought was not "to be seen of men," or to excite their praise, but to earn the consciousness of discharging the every-day duties of life, down to the smallest and humblest of them, in an honest, upright, truthful, and loving spirit.


"Respectability," in its best sense, is good. The respectable man is one worthy of regard, literally worth turning back to look at. But the respectability that consists in merely keeping up appearances is not worth looking at in any sense. Far better and more respectable is the good poor man than the bad rich one,—better the humble silent man than the agreeable well-appointed rogue, who keeps his gig. A well-balanced and well-stored mind, a life full of useful purpose, whatever the position occupied in it may be,—is of far greater importance than average worldly respectability. The highest object of life we take to be, to form a manly character, and to work out the best development possible, of body and spirit,—of mind, conscience, heart, and soul. This is the end; all else ought to be regarded but as the means. Accordingly, that is not the most successful life in which a man gets the most pleasure, the most money, the most power or place, honor or fame; but that in which a man gets the most manhood, and performs the greatest amount of useful work and of human duty. Money is power after its sort, it is true; but intelligence, public spirit, and moral virtue, are powers too, and far nobler ones. "Let others plead for pensions," wrote Lord Collingwood to a friend; "I can be rich without money, by endeavoring to be superior to everything poor. I would have my services to my country unstained by any interested motive; and old Scott*15 and I can go on in our cabbage-garden without much greater expense than formerly." On another occasion he said, "I have motives for my conduct which I would not give in exchange for a hundred pensions."


The making of a fortune may no doubt enable some people to "enter society," as it is called; but to be esteemed there, they must possess qualities of mind, manners, or heart, else they are merely rich people, nothing more. There are men "in society" now, as rich as Crœsus, who have no consideration extended towards them, and elicit no respect. For why? They are but as moneybags, their only power is in their till. The men of mark in society,—the guides and rulers of opinion,—the really successful and useful men,—are not necessarily rich men; but men of sterling character, of disciplined experience, and of moral excellence. Even the poor man like Thomas Wright, though he possess but little of this world's goods, may, in the self-consciousness of a well-cultivated nature, of opportunities used and not abused, of a life spent to the best of his means and ability, look down, without the slightest feeling of envy, upon the person of mere worldly success, the man of moneybags and acres.

Notes for this chapter

The whole expenses of conducting the government of Great Britain, at home and abroad, for the year ending the 31st March, 1859, including the excessive cost of the army and navy in that year, the courts of justice, and all the public departments of state (exclusive only of the interest on the national debt), amounted to 34,136,399l.; whereas it is computed by Mr. Porter, that we expend annually upwards of forty-eight millions sterling on intoxicating drinks and tobacco, the principal part of which is borne by the working classes.
"Lectures in aid of Self-Improvement;" a book somewhat didactic in its manner, but full of manly vigor and golden thought.
His old gardener. Collingwood's favorite amusement was gardening. Shortly after the battle of Trafalgar a brother admiral called upon him, and, after searching for his lordship all over the garden, he at last discovered him, with old Scott, in the bottom of a deep trench which they were busily employed in digging.

End of Notes

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