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THE CONDITION OF POVERTY BETTER THAN THAT OF RICHES ABUSED,
EccLEs. iv. 6.
Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and veration of spirit.
AMONG the numbers that disquiet themselves in vain, there are none farther from the road of happiness than those who toil insatiably for the acquisition of riches. A mind that has this bias can seldom be at ease; for the goods of fortune are in a state of perpetual fluctuation, and that man must know but little repose, who rests his hopes on what chance may take away. Certainly avarice is a species of madness; if madness be nothing more than an absence, or a suspension of reason : for who can be more destitute of reason than he who chooses the evil, and shuns the good? Yet such is the conduct of the man who hath set his heart on the increase of riches. In a life whose days are few and evil, he is hourly adding to that evil by an unnecessary anxiety to make provision for a life that should have many days. The best privilege of wealth would be the enjoyment of quiet, but he forfeits that quiet for the acquisition of more: his desires are not bounded by the wants of nature, or the decent conveniencies of life; money is the object of his affections, and while he labours to acquire it, the use of it is forgot. But though there is no infatuation that takes hold of the human mind more unaccountably ridiculous than this inordinate love of wealth, it is certain that no vice or folly whatever is more difficult to subdue. When covetousness has once entrenched itself in the heart, it bids defiance to every attack from without, and is equally proof against the solid force of reason, or the lighter weapons of ridicule. It is in vain that a covetous man is made the jest of the liberal, or branded with folly by the wise—it is in vain to argue with him—it is in vain to preach to him; and it is only with a view of securing those from avarice who are yet untainted with it that I mention the miseries of it in this discourse. The covetous man, I have already observed, is destitute of reason: in his conduct he is evidently so; but as most human beings, and
even madmen, think that they act agreeably to reason, let us endeavour to find out upon what principles the man of avarice is reconciled to himself. Doubtless he imagines, like the man of pleasure, that he is in the only way that leadeth to happiness; for the pursuit of that is the first mover with us all. He imagines so, I say; but upon what grounds? He knows that wealth will purchase every outward convenience of life; that it will procure us respect, and set us free from labour: this he concludes, and so far he judges rightly: “But it is not a little, says he, that will do “these things; I must have yet more before “I can quietly and comfortably sit down to “enjoy it. Well, now I have obtained what “I proposed; yet there is one piece of dig“nity which I should be glad to have, but “which my fortune will scarcely bear; there“fore I must have yet more, before I can “quietly and comfortably sit down to enjoy “it.” Thus he reasons with himself, till—he dies—till he is surprised to find that life is at an end, while he is yet only in the way to happiness. But this mode of reasoning is followed only by one set of the covetous. There are many, who, without any view to future or distant happiness, neither have nor seek any other pleasure than that of hoarding and accumulating. These are far gone in the moneyloving madness, and have not even a pretence to justify their conduct by reason. Gold is their idol, and their covetousness is, as the apostle terms it, downright idolatry. These are equally guilty, but they are not more happy than the wretch I have been just describing; for, like those poor Indians, who give up half their food to their idols, they go without common necessaries to increase their treasure, and starve themselves to lay up the provisions of life. It was not so much my design, upon this occasion, to expose the criminal nature of covetousness, as to prove the misery that attends it; but as virtue is certainly a means of happiness, I may observe, that it must be unknown to the man of avarice; for it is scarce possible that he should have any virtue. The social virtues are those which, in their practice, are most peculiarly delightful; but what social virtue can a covetous man be capable of? To relieve the wants of his fellowcreatures, would be inconsistent with his principles of saving: to compassionate their miseries; to yield them the consolations of a feeling heart; of that he is equally inca
pable; for the heart of avarice never feels. The tender sensations of pity, the warmth of social love, the glow of friendship, and the liberal joy that is inspired by the general happiness he never felt, or desired to feel. His heart, absorbed in the lowest of vulgar passions, the love of glittering earth, knows no other affection, no superior sentiment. To the happiness that is derived from the intercourse of society he is an utter stranger, for he looks for nothing more from his connections with his fellow-creatures than the advancement of his favourite views, the increase of his wealth. II. Yet, thus miserable as he is, he may possibly think himself happier than the poor who is despised of his neighbour. If he does, let him go with us a moment into the cottage of humble labour and contented poverty. What do I hear in this place the voice of joy the simple song of cheerful innocence 1 How still, how peaceful is this rustic habitation 1 Sure this is the dwelling of quietness 1. She has taken up her abode beneath this humble roof, and health and content and cheerJulness are her inmates. Behold, here is a matron following her daily employment, and two smiling children playing by her See, how her eye is filled with maternal affection 1 R