Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

even though a millionaire, to get somebody to prepare a biography of him, who would represent that he was familiar with ancient languages, the letters of whose alphabets he could hardly distinguish from each other, if that alone would secure him the position he coveted! It was equally useless for the biographer to represent him (while laughing at him in his sleeve, and making his readers laugh, also) as the descendant, in a direct, legitimate line, of a very ancient and aristocratic, if not princely or royal family. Especially did all this prove a failure, if the millionaire candidate belonged to that class who, not only covet every good piece of land, or every handsome, convenient house that happens to be within the range of their vision, but unhesitatingly offers to buy it from the owner; and, if the owner decline, become indignant and spiteful.

Yet such were sometimes successful even in classic times. We have a very interesting instance of this in the works of Plato. Socrates and some of his friends are discussing public matters, as usual ; referring to the people of Syracuse, one of the interlocutors proceeds to say: “And they have just now sent ambassadors, intending, as it seems to me, to deceive, in some way, the state. During our conversation, the ambassadors from Syracuse happened to pass by; when, pointing to one of them, Erasistratus observed *That person, Socrates,' said he, 'is the most wealthy of the Siceliotes and Italiotes; and how should he not be ?'” &c. Erasistratus here proceeds to point out the different sources of the ambassador's wealth ; having satisfactorily proved that he is a millionaire, Socrates asks, as it were, incidentally, “What kind of person, Erasistratus, does this man seem to be in Sicily?” “This man,” said he, “ both seems to be and is one of the most knavish of all the Siceliotes and Italiotes, by how much he is the wealthiest ; so that should you be willing to ask any Siceliotes whom he thought to be the greatest rogue, not one of them would mention any other person than

him.” *

Yet he is an ambassador, and his person must be considered as sacred by the Athenians, on pain of being regarded

• Plato's Works, vol. VI., Eryxias, c. 1, 2.

as at war with the Syracusians! We need hardly say that the sole object of the philosopher is not to describe an individual millionaire ; but to show what importance should be attached, in general, to that class of mortals. After discussing the whole subject of amassing wealth, with the utmost moderation, and, without the least prejudice, the conclusion arrived at is, “that of necessity they who should appear to us to be the wealthiest, are in the most depraved state."*

This has been the experience of all ages. What corrupts the nation corrupts the individual, and vice versa. And let those who doubt that money, or enormous wealth corrupts the nation, consult the most reliable historians of those nations which no longer exist. Neither Socrates nor Plato bears any testimony in regard to the demoralizing influence of millionaires, which is not fully corroborated by Thucydides, Strabo, and Lucian.

And has Rome had a different experience ? Our reply is that there never has been a more complete unanimity on any subject than that between all the Roman historians and satirists, as to the chief cause of the downfall of Rome. As long as there were no millionaires to rob one-half of the people and corrupt the other half, Rome continued the mistress of the world, after she had once secured the prestige of a brave and powerful nation. No historian has given a more impartial, truthful account of his country than Sallust ; no historian has traced effects to their causes with more sagacity or with more scientific precision. * And what is his report on this subject? In the opening pages of his Catalina, he solemnly warns all posterity that riches (divitia) were the destruction of Rome. “First, he says, “the love of money, and then the love of power increased.”+ He shows, with the graphic force of a consummate artist, how it sapped and subverted all those noble virtues for which the Romans were distinguished before Roman millionaires openly purchased the right of robbing whole provinces. Sallust describes how gradually this state of things supervened ; most justly does he compare the growing avarice to the invasion of a pestilence. I

pestilence. Becoming

* Eryxias, c. 30.
+ Igitur primo pecuniæ dein imperii cupido crevit. Bel. Cat.

| Post, ubi contagio, quasi pestilentia, invasit.

more and more earnest and eloquent as he proceeds, he shows how the increasing avarice acted on body and mind, like a poison, rendering both effeminate. Nor does he forget how the greediness of the millionaire became more and more boundless and insatiable from day to day.* Our readers

may

well believe that one Roman millionaire coveted his neighbor's house, while another coveted his neighbor's farm,t for we see instances enough of such covetousness in our own time. There was some hope, however, according to the historian, until wealth began to be regarded as an honor to those who had it; then talent, refinement and virtue were equally despised ; honest poverty became a cause of reproach, &c., &c.I

We have taken pains to quote the most important passages in the original, at the bottom of the page; we should have taken similar pains with the Greek, but our printers are no admirers of the latter. Our reason for being so careful in the present instance is, that, as already intimated, there are some of our millionaires who claim to be quite familiar with the classic languages; probably because those who aspire to be rulers are generally supposed to know more than those whom they wish to rule, even though the latter be the nominal or elected rulers!

It is true that the authorities we have hitherto quoted, as to the demoralizing influence of millionaires, are pagans. Perhaps money has acquired a different nature under the Christian dispensation; and it must be admitted that there are some facts which seem strongly to support that view of the case. Thus, for example, are not the pews in our christian churches sold by auction, like cast-off clothes, or spavined horses, to the highest bidders? Nay, do not our Christian ministers sell themselves to all sorts of speculators, who, in turn, want to make profit by them? And are not those same Christian ministers ready to do anything, however reprehensible, or shameful, for those who praise and recommend them to their own satisfaction as marketable goods?

*Semper infinita, insatiabalis est. + Domum alius, alius agros cupere.

Postquam divitiæ honori esse cæperunt, et eas gloria, imperium potentia sequebatur; hebescere virtus, paupertas probro haberi, &c. -- Bel. Cat.

All this, and a good deal more, must be admitted ; yet, we think, that avarice is quite as demoralizing among Christians as it was among pagans; nor can we believe that Christian (?) millionaires, as such, are entitled to any more honor or consideration, at the present day, than the pagan millionaires were in the days of Sallust, Tacitus, or Juvenal.

But let us pause for a moment, to see who will be regarded as a good authority on the subject. On a little reflection, we think it must be admitted that Milton ought to be accepted by our millionaires as well as by our parsons. As “Paradise Lost” has reference to the olden time, we pass over that and turn to “Paradise Regained.” No one understood the ancient world better than Milton ; no one was more fully aware that the greatest deeds of which man was capable, were performed in poverty. In writing his great poems he had before his mind such men, who were voluntarily poor, as Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes the Cynic, and Pythagoras, as well as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. It is not strange, then, that his representative millionaire is the arch enemy of mankind, who attempts to corrupt even Christ himself with his money; and still less strange is it that it is into the mouth of Christ the poet puts the strongest denunciations of avarice and wealth, as compared to virtue, valour and wisdom. Satan concludes a long argument as follows :

Therefore, if at great things thou would'st arrive,
Get riches first, get wealth, and treasure heap,
Not difficult, if thou hearken to me:
Riches are mine, fortune is in my haud;
They whom I favor thrive in wealth amain ;

While virtue, valour, wisdom, sit in want." It will be admitted that there is quite as much truth as poetry in this. The reply of the great founder of christianity carries conviction to every mind, that is not hopelessly depraved. It extends to over forty verses, but a few lines will be sufficient for our purpose :

"Among the heathen (for throughout the world
To me is not unknown what hath been done
Worthy of memorial) canst thou not remember
Quintius, Fabricius, Curius, Regulus ?

86

Paradise Regained, B. ii., v. 426

For I esteem those names of men so poor,
Who could do mighty things, and could contemn
Riches, though offer'd from the hand of kings.
And what in me seems wanting, but that I
May also in this poverty as soon
Accomplish what they did, perhaps, and more?

Ectol not riches, then, the toil of Fools."* But did we mention all who have warned mankind against avarice and avaricious men, we should not omit one of the great thinkers and benefactors of all nations; and need we say that Washington would be among the number? So would Franklin, and all others whose memory we are bound to revere. In ancient or modern times not one of this class has attempted to exalt avarice above virtue, talent, refinement and wisdom. But who are the honored men of the present day in this republic? Who are the most familiar companions and most esteemed advisers of our rulers ?

1 Vol.,

Art. VII.-Juventus Mundi. The Gods and Men of the Heroic Age.

By the Right Honorable William EWART GLADSTONE. 8vo. pp. 554. Boston : Little Brown & Co., 1869.

There is something grand in the spectacle of a great statesman busied with the administration of the affairs of an empire, and taking an active and leading part in all the important political and social questions of the day, sustaining the most envenomed attacks upon his conduct and motives, yet finding repose in studies which others call toil, and turning to the antique music of the Iliad and the Odyssey for mental recreation. Such a spectacle was exhibited in Lord Bacon, in the late Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and in the late Earl of Derby; all of whom turned to Greece for a theme on which to exercise their genius and scholarship. At an age when most men cease from labor, Lord Derby made his translation of Homer.

Now, while immersed in state problems which would crush the majority of men, or at all events incapacitate them from turning their attention to other things, we find the prime minister of Great Britain devoting the few leisure hours left

* Ib., v. 444.

« VorigeDoorgaan »