“Who is the richest of men?” asked Socrates. “He who is content with the least, for contentment is nature’s riches.”
“Do you know, sir,” said a devotee of Mammon to John Bright, “that I am worth a million sterling?” “Yes,” said the irritated but calm-spirited respondent, “I do; and I know that it is all you are worth.”
A bankrupt merchant, returning home one night, said to his noble wife, “My dear, I am ruined; everything we have is in the hands of the sheriff.” After a few moments of silence the wife looked into his face and asked, “Will the sheriff sell you?” “Oh, no.” “Will the sheriff sell me?” “Oh, no.” “Then do not say we have lost everything. All that is most valuable remains to us–manhood, womanhood, childhood. We have lost but the results of our skill and industry. We can make another fortune if our hearts and hands are left us.”
“We say a man is ‘made’,” said Beecher. “What do we mean? That he has got the control of his lower instincts, so that they are only fuel to his higher feelings, giving force to his nature? That his affections are like vines, sending out on all sides blossoms and clustering fruits? That his tastes are so cultivated that all beautiful things speak to him, and bring him their delights? That his understanding is opened, so that he walks through every hall of knowledge, and gathers its treasures? That his moral feelings are so developed and quickened that he holds sweet commerce with Heaven? O, no–none of these things. He is cold and dead in heart, and mind, and soul. Only his passions are alive; but–he is worth five hundred thousand dollars!
“And we say a man is ‘ruined.’ Are his wife and children dead? O, no. Have they had a quarrel, and are they separated from him? O, no. Has he lost his reputation through crime? No. Is his reason gone? O, no; it is as sound as ever. Is he struck through with disease? No. He has lost his property, and he is ruined. The _man_ ruined! When shall we learn that ‘a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth?'”
“How is it possible,” asks an ancient philosopher, “that a man who has nothing, who is naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent you a man to show you that it is possible. Look at me who am without a city, without a house, without possessions, without a slave; I sleep on the ground; I have no wife, no children, no prætorium, but only the earth and heavens, and one poor cloak. And what do I want? Am I not without sorrow? Am I not without fear? Am I not free? When did any of you see me failing in the object of my desire? or even falling into that which I would avoid? Did I ever blame God or man? Did I ever accuse any man? Did any of you ever see me with a sorrowful countenance?”
“You are a plebeian,” said a patrician to Cicero. “I am a plebeian,” replied the great Roman orator; “the nobility of my family begins with me, that of yours will end with you.” No man deserves to be crowned with honor whose life is a failure, and he who lives only to eat and drink and accumulate money is surely not successful. The world is no better for his living in it. He never wiped a tear from a sad face, never kindled a fire upon a frozen hearth. There is no flesh in his heart; he worships no god but gold.
Why should I scramble and struggle to get possession of a little portion of this earth? This is my world now; why should I envy others its mere legal possession? It belongs to him who can see it, enjoy it. I need not envy the so-called owners of estates in Boston and New York. They are merely taking care of my property and keeping it in excellent condition for me. For a few pennies for railroad fare whenever I wish I can see and possess the best of it all. It has cost me no effort, it gives me no care; yet the green grass, the shrubbery, and the statues on the lawns, the finer sculptures and paintings within, are always ready for me whenever I feel a desire to look upon them. I do not wish to carry them home with me, for I could not give them half the care they now receive; besides, it would take too much of my valuable time, and I should be worrying continually lest they be spoiled or stolen. I have much of the wealth of the world now. It is all prepared for me without any pains on my part. All around me are working hard to get things that will please me, and competing to see who can give them the cheapest. The little I pay for the use of libraries, railroads, galleries, parks, is less than it would cost to care for the least of all I use. Life and landscape are mine, the stars and flowers, the sea and air, the birds and trees. What more do I want? All the ages have been working for me; all mankind are my servants. I am only required to feed and clothe myself, an easy task in this land of opportunity.