There is an Eastern legend of a powerful genius, who promised a beautiful maiden a gift of rare value if she would pass through a field of corn and, without pausing, going backward, or wandering hither and thither, select the largest and ripest ear,–the value of the gift to be in proportion to the size and perfection of the ear she should choose. She passed through the field, seeing a great many well worth gathering, but always hoping to find a larger and more perfect one, she passed them all by, when, coming to a part of the field where the stalks grew more stunted, she disdained to take one from these, and so came through to the other side without having selected any.
A man may make millions and be a failure still. Money-making is not the highest success. The life of a well-known millionaire was not truly successful. He had but one ambition. He coined his very soul into dollars. The almighty dollar was his sun, and was mirrored in his heart. He strangled all other emotions and hushed and stifled all nobler aspirations. He grasped his riches tightly, till stricken by the scythe of death; when, in the twinkling of an eye, he was transformed from one of the richest men who ever lived in this world to one of the poorest souls that ever went out of it.
Lincoln always yearned for a rounded wholeness of character; and his fellow lawyers called him “perversely honest.” Nothing could induce him to take the wrong side of a case, or to continue on that side after learning that it was unjust or hopeless. After giving considerable time to a case in which he had received from a lady a retainer of two hundred dollars, he returned the money, saying: “Madam, you have not a peg to hang your case on.” “But you have earned that money,” said the lady. “No, no,” replied Lincoln, “that would not be right. I can’t take pay for doing my duty.”
Agassiz would not lecture at five hundred dollars a night, because he had no time to make money. Charles Sumner, when a senator, declined to lecture at any price, saying that his time belonged to Massachusetts and the nation. Spurgeon would not speak for fifty nights in America at one thousand dollars a night, because he said he could do better: he could stay in London and try to save fifty souls. All honor to the comparative few in every walk of life who, amid the strong materialistic tendencies of our age, still speak and act earnestly, inspired by the hope of rewards other than gold or popular favor. These are our truly great men and women. They labor in their ordinary vocations with no less zeal because they give time and thought to higher things.
King Midas, in the ancient myth, asked that everything he touched might be turned to gold, for then, he thought, he would be perfectly happy. His request was granted, but when his clothes, his food, his drink, the flowers he plucked, and even his little daughter, whom he kissed, were all changed into yellow metal, he begged that the Golden Touch might be taken from him. He had learned that many other things are intrinsically far more valuable than all the gold that was ever dug from the earth.
The “beggarly Homer, who strolled, God knows when, in the infancy and barbarism of the world,” was richer far than Croesus and added more wealth to the world than the Rothschilds, the Vanderbilts and Goulds.
An Arab who fortunately escaped death after losing his way in the desert, without provisions, tells of his feelings when he found a bag full of pearls, just as he was about to abandon all hope. “I shall never forget,” said he, “the relish and delight that I felt on supposing it to be dried wheat, nor the bitterness and despair I suffered on discovering that the bag contained pearls.”
It is an interesting fact in this money-getting era that a poor author, or a seedy artist, or a college president with frayed coat-sleeves, has more standing in society and has more paragraphs written about him in the papers than many a millionaire. This is due, perhaps, to the malign influence of money-getting and to the benign effect of purely intellectual pursuits. As a rule every great success in the money world means the failure and misery of hundreds of antagonists. Every success in the world of intellect and character is an aid and profit to society. Character is a mark cut upon something, and this indelible mark determines the only true value of all people and all their work. Dr. Hunter said: “No man was ever a great man who wanted to be one.” Artists cannot help putting themselves and their own characters into their works. The vulgar artist cannot paint a virtuous picture. The gross, the bizarre, the sensitive, the delicate, all come out on the canvas and tell the story of his life.
Who would not choose to be a millionaire of deeds with a Lincoln, a Grant, a Florence Nightingale, a Childs; a millionaire of ideas with Emerson, with Lowell, with Shakespeare, with Wordsworth; a millionaire of statesmanship with a Gladstone, a Bright, a Sumner, a Washington?
Some men are rich in health, in constant cheerfulness, in a mercurial temperament which floats them over troubles and trials enough to sink a shipload of ordinary men. Others are rich in disposition, family, and friends. There are some men so amiable that everybody loves them; some so cheerful that they carry an atmosphere of jollity about them. Some are rich in integrity and character.