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A Little Matter of Money by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

From, Maids Wives and Bachelors

“It is unpleasant not to have money,” says Mr. Hazlitt; indeed, it has become a sort of social offence to be short of virtue in this respect; for both nationally and personally, we are loath to confess so tragic a calamity. We may assert that, having food and clothes, we are therewith content, and that we would not encounter the perils and snares of vast wealth; but are we quite sure that this humility and contentment is not a fine name for being too lazy to earn money, or too extravagant to keep it? Again, if all were content with the simple satisfaction of their necessities—if nobody wanted to be rich—nobody would be industrious or frugal, or strive to acquire knowledge. Who then would build our churches, and endow our colleges? Who would send out missionaries, and encourage science and inventions? The golden grapes may be out of our reach, but they are a noble fruit when pressed by kindly hands, and have given graciously unto the world their wine of consolation.

The fact is that we have come to a time in which the want of money is about as bad a moral distemper as the love of it. The latter position is an admitted truth; the former is only beginning to put forth its claims to the notice of professed moralists. Whatever special virtue there was in poverty seems to be in direct antagonism to the spirit of the present day; for there is no doubt that worldly prosperity has come to be regarded as one of the legitimate fruits of the gospel. The modern Church puts forth her hands and grasps the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come. Why not? Money gives a power of doing good that nothing material can equal. Even “The Truth” has now to depend on the currency, and the most evangelical societies pay treasurers as well as missionaries.

The amount of money in a man's pocket is a great moral factor. He who has plenty of ready cash and is not good-natured needs a thorough change, and nothing but being born again will cure him. But the man who is in a chronic state of poverty is a man placed in selfish relations to every one around him. How hard it is for such a one to be generous, just, and sympathetic! He is almost compelled to look on his fellow-creatures with the eye of a slave-merchant, to consider: How can they profit me? What can I gain by them? He must marry for money, or not marry for the want of it. His friendship is a kind of traffic. His religion is subject to considerations, for he will either go to church for a certain connection, or he will not go at all because of the collections.

Now, there is abundance of living strength in Christianity to meet this and all other special wants of the age. There is no doubt that money is the principle of our social gravitation, and we need preachers who will not be afraid to tell us the truth, even though nobody has ever told it just in that particular way before. We accept without demur all that has been said about the evils of loving money; will some of our spiritual teachers tell us how to avoid the evils and cure the moral and physical distress caused by the want of money? That this is a gigantic evil, we have constant proof in the daily papers; in murder, theft, suicide, domestic misery and cruelty. These criminals are far seldomer influenced by the love of money than by the want of it. If instead of being without a dollar, they had had sufficient for their necessities, would they have run such risks, incurred such guilt, staked life on one desperate chance, flung it away in despairing misery?

Of course the word “sufficient” is very elastic. It can be so moderate and temperate; and again it can grasp at impossibilities. “My wants,” said the Count Mirabel, “are few: a fine house, fine carriages, fine horses, a complete wardrobe, the best opera box, the first cook, and plenty of pocket-money—that is all I require.” He thought his desires very temperate; so also did the Scotchman, who, praying for a modest competency, added, “and that there be no mistake, let it be seven hundred pounds a year, paid quarterly in advance.” There are indeed all sorts of difficulties connected with this question, and anybody can find their way into them. But there must also be a way out; and if our guides would survey the ground a little, they would earn and have our thanks. For undoubtedly this want of money is as great a provocation to sin as the love of it. An empty purse is as full of wicked thoughts as an evil heart; and the Father who allotted seven guardian angels to man, and made five of them hover round his pockets—empty or full—knew well his most vulnerable points.


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