Copyright
William Edward Hartpole Lecky.

The map of life, conduct, and character online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryWilliam Edward Hartpole LeckyThe map of life, conduct, and character → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


pursued some lucrative employment will sooner be satisfied with the
competence he has acquired and will gladly exchange his work for a life
of leisure. The English character prefers a higher rate of expenditure
and work continued to the end.

It is probable that, so far as happiness depends on money, the happiest
lot - though it is certainly not that which is most envied - is that of a
man who possesses a realised fortune sufficient to save him from serious
money cares about the present and the future, but who at the same time
can only keep up the position in society he has chosen for himself, and
provide as he desires for his children, by adding to it a professional
income. Work is necessary both to happiness and to character, and
experience shows that it most frequently attains its full concentration
and continuity when it is professional, or, in other words,
money-making. Men work in traces as they will seldom work at liberty.
The compulsory character, the steady habits, the constant emulation of
professional life mould and strengthen the will, and probably the
happiest lot is when this kind of work exists, but without the anxiety
of those who depend solely on it.

It is also a good thing when wealth tends to increase with age. 'Old
age,' it has been said, 'is a very expensive thing.' If the taste for
pleasure diminishes, the necessity for comfort increases. Men become
more dependent and more fastidious, and hardships that are indifferent
to youth become acutely painful. Beside this, money cares are apt to
weigh with an especial heaviness upon the old. Avarice, as has been
often observed, is eminently an old-age vice, and in natures that are in
no degree avaricious it will be found that real money anxieties are more
felt and have a greater haunting power in age than in youth. There is
then the sense of impotence which makes men feel that their earning
power has gone. On the other hand youth, and especially early married
life spent under the pressure of narrow circumstances, will often be
looked back upon as both the happiest and the most fruitful period of
life. It is the best discipline of character. It is under such
circumstances that men acquire habits of hard and steady work,
frugality, order, forethought, punctuality, and simplicity of tastes.
They acquire sympathies and realisations they would never have known in
more prosperous circumstances. They learn to take keen pleasure in
little things, and to value rightly both money and time. If wealth and
luxury afterwards come in overflowing measure, these lessons will not be
wholly lost.

The value of money as an element of happiness diminishes rapidly in
proportion to its amount. In the case of the humbler fortunes, each
accession brings with it a large increase of pleasure and comfort, and
probably a very considerable addition to real happiness. In the case of
rich men this is not the case, and of colossal fortunes only a very
small fraction can be truly said to minister to the personal enjoyment
of the owner. The disproportion in the world between pleasure and cost
is indeed almost ludicrous. The two or three shillings that gave us our
first Shakespeare would go but a small way towards providing one of the
perhaps untasted dishes on the dessert table. The choicest masterpieces
of the human mind - the works of human genius that through the long
course of centuries have done most to ennoble, console, brighten, and
direct the lives of men, might all be purchased - I do not say by the
cost of a lady's necklace, but by that of one or two of the little
stones of which it is composed. Compare the relish with which the tired
pedestrian eats his bread and cheese with the appetites with which men
sit down to some stately banquet; compare the level of spirits at the
village dance with that of the great city ball whose lavish splendour
fills the society papers with admiration; compare the charm of
conversation in the college common room with the weary faces that may be
often seen around the millionaire's dinner table, - and we may gain a
good lesson of the vanity of riches. The transition from want to comfort
brings with it keen enjoyment and much lasting happiness. The transition
from mere comfort to luxury brings incomparably less and costs
incomparably more. Let a man of enormous wealth analyse his life from
day to day and try to estimate what are the things or hours that have
afforded him real and vivid pleasure. In many cases he will probably say
that he has found it in his work - in others in the hour spent with his
cigar, his newspaper, or his book, or in his game of cricket, or in the
excitement of the hunting-field, or in his conversation with an old
friend, or in hearing his daughters sing, or in welcoming his son on his
return from school. Let him look round the splendid adornments of his
home and ask how many of these things have ever given him a pleasure at
all proportionate to their cost. Probably in many cases, if he deals
honestly with himself, he would confess that his armchair and his
bookshelves are almost the only exceptions.

Steam, the printing press, the spread of education, and the great
multiplication of public libraries, museums, picture galleries and
exhibitions have brought the chief pleasures of life in a much larger
degree than in any previous age within the reach of what are called the
working classes, while in the conditions of modern life nearly all the
great sources of real enjoyment that money can give are open to a man
who possesses a competent but not extraordinary fortune and some
leisure. Intellectual tastes he may gratify to the full. Books, at all
events in the great centres of civilisation, are accessible far in
excess of his powers of reading. The pleasures of the theatre, the
pleasures of society, the pleasures of music in most of its forms, the
pleasures of travel with all its variety of interests, and many of the
pleasures of sport, are abundantly at his disposal. The possession of
the highest works of art has no doubt become more and more a monopoly of
the very rich, but picture galleries and exhibitions and the facilities
of travel have diffused the knowledge and enjoyment of art over a vastly
wider area than in the past. The power of reproducing works of art has
been immensely increased and cheapened, and in one form at least the
highest art has been brought within the reach of a man of very moderate
means. Photography can reproduce a drawing with such absolute perfection
that he may cover his walls with works of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da
Vinci that are indistinguishable from the originals. The standard of
comfort in mere material things is now so high in well-to-do households
that to a healthy nature the millionaire can add little to it. Perhaps
among the pleasures of wealth that which has the strongest influence is
a country place, especially when it brings with it old remembrances, and
associations that appeal powerfully to the affections and the
imagination. More than any other inanimate thing it throws its tendrils
round the human heart and becomes the object of a deep and lasting
affection. But even here it will be probably found that this pleasure is
more felt by the owner of one country place than by the great
proprietor whose life is spent alternately in several - by the owner of a
place of moderate dimensions than by the owner of those vast parks which
can only be managed at great expense and trouble and by much delegated
supervision, and which are usually thrown open with such liberality to
the public that they probably give more real pleasure to others than to
their owners.

Among the special pleasures of the enormously rich the collecting
passion is conspicuous, and of course a very rich man can carry it into
departments which men of moderate fortune can hardly touch. In the rare
case when the collector is a man of strong and genuine artistic taste
the possession of works of beauty is a thing of enduring pleasure, but
in general the mere love of collecting, though it often becomes a
passion almost amounting to a mania, bears very little proportion to
pecuniary value. The intelligent collector of fossils has as much
pleasure as the collector of gems - probably indeed more, as the former
pursuit brings with it a much greater variety of interest, and usually
depends much more on the personal exertions of the collector. It is
pleasant, in looking over a geological collection, to think that every
stone we see has given a pleasure. A collector of Caxtons, a collector
of large printed or illustrated editions, a collector of first editions
of famous books, a collector of those editions that are so much prized
because an author has made in them some blunder which he afterwards
corrected; a collector of those unique books which have survived as
rarities because no one thought it worth while to reprint them or
because they are distinguished by some obsolete absurdity, will
probably not derive more pleasure, though he will spend vastly more
money, than the mere literary man who, being interested in some
particular period or topic, loves to hunt up in old bookshops the
obscure and forgotten literature relating to it. Much the same thing may
be said of other tastes. The gratification of a strong taste or hobby
will always give pleasure, and it makes little difference whether it is
an expensive or an inexpensive one.

The pleasures of acquisition, the pleasures of possession, and the
pleasures of ostentation, are no doubt real things, though they act in
very different degrees on different natures, and some of them much more
on one sex than on the other. In general, however, they tend to grow
passive and inert. A state of luxury and splendour is little appreciated
by those who are born to it, though much if it follows a period of
struggle and penury. Yet even then the circumstances and surroundings of
life soon become a second nature. Men become so habituated to them that
they are accepted almost mechanically and cease to give positive
pleasure, though a deprivation of them gives positive pain. The love of
power, the love of society, and - what is not quite the same thing - the
love of social influence, are, however, much stronger and more enduring,
and great wealth is largely valued because it helps to give them, though
it does not give them invariably, and though there are other things that
give them in an equal or greater degree. To many very rich men some form
of field sports is probably the greatest pleasure that money affords. It
at least gives a genuine thrill of unmistakable enjoyment.

Few of the special pleasures of the millionaire can be said to be
purely selfish, for few are concentrated altogether on himself. His
great park is usually open to the public. His pictures are lent for
exhibition or exhibited in his house. If he keeps a pack of hounds
others hunt with it. If he preserves game to an enormous extent he
invites many to shoot it, and at his great entertainments it will often
be found that no one derives less pleasure than the weary host.

At the same time no thinking man can fail to be struck with the great
waste of the means of enjoyment in a society in which such gigantic sums
are spent in mere conventional ostentation which gives little or no
pleasure; in which the best London houses are those which are the
longest untenanted; in which some of the most enchanting gardens and
parks are only seen by their owners for a few weeks in the year.

Hamerton, in his Essay on Bohemianism, has very truly shown that the
rationale of a great deal of this is simply the attempt of men to obtain
from social intercourse the largest amount of positive pleasure or
amusement it can give by discarding the forms, the costly
conventionalities, the social restrictions that encumber and limit it.
One of the worst tendencies of a very wealthy society is that by the
mere competition of ostentation the standard of conventional expense is
raised, and the intercourse of men limited by the introduction of a
number of new and costly luxuries which either give no pleasure or give
pleasure that bears no kind of proportion to their cost. Examples may
sometimes be seen of a very rich man who imagines that he can obtain
from life real enjoyment in proportion to his wealth and who uses it
for purely selfish purposes. We may find this in the almost insane
extravagance of vulgar ostentation by which the parvenu millionaire
tries to gratify his vanity and dazzle his neighbours; in the wild round
of prodigal dissipation and vice by which so many young men who have
inherited enormous fortunes have wrecked their constitutions and found a
speedy path to an unhonoured grave. They sought from money what money
cannot give, and learned too late that in pursuing shadows they missed
the substance that was within their reach.

To the intelligent millionaire, however, and especially to those who are
brought up to great possessions, wealth is looked on in a wholly
different light. It is a possession and a trust carrying with it many
duties as well as many interests and accompanied by a great burden of
responsibility. Mere pleasure-hunting plays but a small and wholly
subsidiary part in such lives, and they are usually filled with much
useful work. This man, for example, is a banker on a colossal scale.
Follow his life, and you will find that for four days in the week he is
engaged in his office as steadily, as unremittingly as any clerk in his
establishment. He has made himself master not only of the details of his
own gigantic business but of the whole great subject of finance in all
its international relations. He is a power in many lands. He is
consulted in every crisis of finance. He is an important influence in a
crowd of enterprises, most of them useful as well as lucrative, some of
them distinctively philanthropic. Saturday and Sunday he spends at his
country place, usually entertaining a number of guests. One other day
during the hunting season he regularly devotes to his favourite sport.
His holiday is the usual holiday of a professional man, with rather a
tendency to abridge than to lengthen it, as the natural bent of his
thoughts is so strongly to his work that time soon begins to hang
heavily when he is away from it.

Another man is an ardent philanthropist, and his philanthropy probably
blends with much religious fervour, and he becomes in consequence a
leader in the religious world. Such a life cannot fail to be abundantly
filled. Religious meetings, committees, the various interests of the
many institutions with which he is connected, the conflicting and
competing claims of different religious societies, fully occupy his time
and thoughts, sometimes to the great neglect of his private affairs.

Another man is of a different type. Shy, retiring, hating publicity, and
not much interested in politics, he is a gigantic landowner, and the
work of his life is concentrated on the development of his own estate.
He knows the circumstances of every village, almost of every farm. It is
his pride that no labourer on his estate is badly housed, that no part
of it is slovenly or mismanaged or poverty-stricken. He endows churches
and hospitals, he erects public buildings, encourages every local
industry, makes in times of distress much larger remissions of rent than
would be possible for a poorer man, superintends personally the many
interests on his property, knows accurately the balance of receipts and
expenditure, takes a great interest in sanitation, in new improvements
and experiments in agriculture, in all the multifarious matters that
affect the prosperity of his numerous tenantry. He subscribes liberally
to great national undertakings, as he considers it one of the duties of
his position, but his heart is not in such things, and the well-being of
his own vast estate and of those who live upon it is the aim and the
work of his life. For a few weeks of the year he exercises the splendid
and lavish hospitality which is expected from a man in his position, and
he is always very glad when those weeks are over. He has, however, his
own expensive hobby, which gives him real pleasure - his yacht, his
picture gallery, his museum, his collection of wild animals, his
hothouses or his racing establishment. One or more of these form the
real amusement of his active and useful life.

A more common type in England is that of the active politician. Great
wealth and especially great landed property bring men easily into
Parliament, and, if united with industry and some measure of ability,
into official life, and public life thus becomes a profession and in
many cases a very laborious one. There are few better examples of a
well-filled life and of the skilful management and economy of time than
are to be found in the lives of some great noblemen who take a leading
part in politics and preside over important Government departments
without suffering their gigantic estates to fall into mismanagement, or
neglecting the many social duties and local interests connected with
them. Most of their success is indeed due to the wise use of money in
economising time by trustworthy and efficient delegation. Yet the
superintending brain, the skilful choice, the personal control cannot
be dispensed with. In a life so fully occupied the few weeks of pleasure
which may be spent on a Scotch moor or in a Continental watering-place
will surely not be condemned.

The economy of time and the elasticity of brain and character such lives
develop are, however, probably exceeded by another class. Nothing is
more remarkable in the social life of the present generation than the
high pressure under which a large number of ladies in great positions
habitually live. It strikes every Continental observer, for there is
nothing approaching it in any other European country, and it certainly
far exceeds anything that existed in England in former generations.
Pleasure-seeking, combined, however, on a large scale with
pleasure-giving, holds a much more prominent place in these lives than
in those I have just described. With not a few women, indeed, of wealth
and position, it is the all-in-all of life, and in general it is
probable that women obtain more pleasure from most forms of society than
men, though it is also true that they bear a much larger share of its
burdens. There are, however, in this class, many who combine with
society a truly surprising number and variety of serious interests. Not
only the management of a great house, not only the superintendence of
schools and charities and local enterprises connected with a great
estate, but also a crowd of philanthropic, artistic, political, and
sometimes literary interests fill their lives. Few lives, indeed, in any
station are more full, more intense, more constantly and variously
occupied. Public life, which in most foreign countries is wholly outside
the sphere of women, is eagerly followed. Public speaking, which in the
memory of many now living was almost unknown among women of any station
in English society, has become the most ordinary accomplishment. Their
object is to put into life from youth to old age as much as life can
give, and they go far to attain their end. A wonderful nimbleness and
flexibility of intellect capable of turning swiftly from subject to
subject has been developed, and keeps them in touch with a very wide
range both of interests and pleasures.

There are no doubt grave drawbacks to all this. Many will say that this
external activity must be at the sacrifice of the duties of domestic
life, but on this subject there is, I think, at least much exaggeration.
Education has now assumed such forms and attained such a standard that
usually for many hours in the day the education of the young in a
wealthy family is in the hands of accomplished specialists, and I do not
think that the most occupied lives are those in which the cares of a
home are most neglected. How far, however, this intense and constant
strain is compatible with physical well-being is a graver question, and
many have feared that it must bequeath weakened constitutions to the
coming generation. Nor is a life of incessant excitement in other
respects beneficial. In both intellectual and moral hygiene the best
life is that which follows nature and alternates periods of great
activity with periods of rest. Retirement, quiet, steady reading, and
the silent thought which matures character and deepens impressions are
things that seem almost disappearing from many English lives. But lives
such as I have described are certainly not useless, undeveloped, or
wholly selfish, and they in a large degree fulfil that great law of
happiness, that it should be sought for rather in interests than in
pleasures.

I have already referred to the class who value money chiefly because it
enables them to dismiss money thoughts and cares from their minds. On
the whole, this end is probably more frequently attained by men of
moderate but competent fortunes than by the very rich. This is at least
the case when they are sufficiently rich to invest their money in
securities which are liable to no serious risk or fluctuation. A
gigantic fortune is seldom of such a nature that it does not bring with
it great cares of administration and require much thought and many
decisions. There is, however, one important exception. When there are
many children the task of providing for their future falls much more
lightly on the very rich than on those of medium fortune.

There is a class, however, who are the exact opposite of these and who
make the simple acquisition of money the chief interest and pleasure of
their lives. Money-making in some form is the main occupation of the
great majority of men, but it is usually as a means to an end. It is to
acquire the means of livelihood, or the means of maintaining or
improving a social position, or the means of providing as they think fit
for the children who are to succeed them. Sometimes, however, with the
very rich and without any ulterior object, money-making for its own sake
becomes the absorbing interest. They can pursue it with great advantage;
for, as has been often said, nothing makes money like money, and the
possession of an immense capital gives innumerable facilities for
increasing it. The collecting passion takes this form. They come to care
more for money than for anything money can purchase, though less for
money than for the interest and the excitement of getting it.
Speculative enterprise, with its fluctuations, uncertainties and
surprises, becomes their strongest interest and their greatest
amusement.

When it is honestly conducted there is no real reason why it should be
condemned. On these conditions a life so spent is, I think, usually
useful to the world, for it generally encourages works that are of real
value. All that can be truly said is that it brings with it grave
temptations and is very apt to lower a man's moral being. Speculation
easily becomes a form of gambling so fierce in its excitement that, when
carried on incessantly and on a great scale, it kills all capacity for
higher and tranquil pleasures, strengthens incalculably the temptations
to unscrupulous gain, disturbs the whole balance of character, and often
even shortens life. With others the love of accumulation has a strange
power of materialising, narrowing and hardening. Habits of
meanness - sometimes taking curious and inconsistent forms, and applying
only to particular things or departments of life - steal insensibly over
them, and the love of money assumes something of the character of mania.
Temptations connected with money are indeed among the most insidious and
among the most powerful to which we are exposed. They have probably a
wider empire than drink, and, unlike the temptations that spring from
animal passion, they strengthen rather than diminish with age. In no
respect is it more necessary for a man to keep watch over his own
character, taking care that the unselfish element does not diminish, and
correcting the love of acquisition by generosity of expenditure.

It is probable that the highest form of charity, involving real and
serious self-denial, is much more common among the poor, and even the
very poor, than among the rich. I think most persons who have had much
practical acquaintance with the dealings of the poor with one another
will confirm this. It is certainly far less common among those who are
at the opposite pole of fortune. They have not had the same discipline,
or indeed the same possibility of self-sacrifice, or the same means of
realising the pains of poverty, and there is another reason which tends


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryWilliam Edward Hartpole LeckyThe map of life, conduct, and character → online text (page 20 of 25)