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ESSAY XXVIII. OF EXPENSE.
RICHES are for spending, and spending for honour and good actions—therefore extraordinary expense must be limited by the worth of the occasion: for voluntary undoing' may be as well for a man's country as for the kingdom of heaven; but ordinary expense ought to be limited by a man's estate, and governed with such regard as2 it be within his compass; and not subject to deceit and abuse of servants; and ordered to the best show, that the bills may be less than the estimation abroad. Certainly, if a man will keep but of even hand, his ordinary expenses ought to be but to the half of his receipts; and if he think to wax3 rich, but to the third part. It is no baseness for the greatest to descend and look into their own estate. Some forbear it, not upon negligence alone, but doubting4 to bring themselves into melancholy, in respect5 they shall find it broken: but wounds cannot be cured without searching. He that cannot look into his own estate at all had need both choose well those whom he employeth, and change them often; for new are more timorous and less subtle. He that can look into his estate but seldom, it behoveth him to turn all to certainties. A man had need, if he be plentiful in some kind of expense, to be as saving again in some other: as, if he be plentiful in diet, to be saving in apparel; if he be plentiful in the hall, to be saving in the stable, and the like; for he that is plentiful in expenses of all kinds, will hardly be preserved from decay. In clearing of a man's estate, he may as well hurt himself in being too sudden as in letting it run on too long; for hasty selling is commonly as disadvantageable6 as interest. Besides, he that clears at once will relapse, for, finding himself out of straits, he will revert to his customs; but he that cleareth by degrees induceth a habit of frugality, and gaineth as well upon his mind as upon his estate. Certainly, who' hath a state to repair may not despise small things: and commonly, it is less dishonourable to abridge petty charges than to stoop to petty gettings. A man ought warily to begin charges which, once begun, will continue; but in matters that return not, he may be moro magnificent.
1 Undoing. Ruin. 'Ho that ventures to be a surety for another, vintn1H undoing for his sake.'—South.
2 As. That. See page 26.
3 Wax. To grow; to become. Sec page 306. * Doubt. Tofear.
'I doubt there's deep resentment in his mind.'—Oticay. 3 In respect. In case.
6 Disadvantageable. Disadvantageous. 'The said court had given a very iisadsantageable relation of three great farms.'—Addison.
'Riches are for spending, and spending for honour. '
For those who are above the poorest classes, the heaviest,—or some of the heaviest—expenses are, as Bacon expresses it, 'for honour'—i.e. for the display of wealth. We do not, indeed, commonly speak of' display of wealth' except when the wealth and the display of it are something unusually great. We speak rather of 'living in a decent, or in a handsome style.' But this does certainly imply the purchase of many articles which we provide ourselves with because they are costly ;—which are provided in order to be observed, and observed as costly; or, which comes to the same thing, because the absence of them would bo observed as denoting shabbiness. For instance, a silver watch, or a gilt one, is as useful as a gold one; and beech or cherrytree makes as useful furniture as mahogany or rosewood. And as for the mere gratification to the eye, of the superior beauty of these latter, this is, to persons of moderate means, no sufficient set-off against the difference of cost. Moreover, a bunch of wild flowers, or a necklace of crab's-eye-seeds, &c., are as pretty to look at, and as becoming, as jewels or coral; and if these latter were to become equally cheap, some other kind of decoration would be sought for, and prized on account of its known costliness.
For,' though people censure any one for making a display beyond his station, yet if he falls below it in what are considered the decencies of his station, he is considered as either absurdly penurious, or else very poor.
1 Who. lIe who. See pngo tor. Y
And why, it may be asked, should any one be at all ashamed of this latter,—supposing his poverty is not the result of any misconduct? The answer is, that though poverty is not accounted, by any persons of sense, disgraceful, the exposure of it is felt to be a thing indecent: and though, accordingly, a rightminded man does not seek to make a seeret of it, he does not like to expose it, any more than he would to go without clothes.
The Greeks and Romans had no distinct expressions for the 'disgraceful' and the 'indecent:' 'turpe' and ata-^pov served to express both. And some of the ancient philosophers, especially the Cynics (see Cic. de Off.), founded paradoxes on this ambiguity, and thus bewildered their hearers and themselves. For, it is a great disadvantage not to have (as our language has) distinct expressions for things really different.
There are several things, by the way, besides those just attended to, which are of the character of, not disgraceful, but indecent: that is, of the existence of which we are not ashamed, but which we should be ashamed to obtrude on any one's notice; e.g. self-love, which is the deliberate desire for one's own happiness; and regard for the good opinion of others. These are not—when not carried to excess—vices, and consequently are not disgraceful. Any vice, a man wishes to be thought not to have; but no one pretends or wishes to be thought wholly destitute of all regard for his own welfare, or for the good opinion of his fellow-creatures. But a man of sense and delicacy keeps these in the background, and, as it were, clothes them; because they become offensive when prominently displayed.
And so it is with poverty. A man of sense is not ashamed of it, or of deliberately confessing it; but he keeps the marks of it out of sight .
These observations a person was making to a friend, who strenuously controverted his views, and could not, or would not perceive the distinction above pointed out. 'I, for my part' said he, 'am poor, and I feel no shame at all at its being known.. Why, this coat that I now have on, I have had turned. because I could not well afford a new one; and 1 care not who knows it.' He did not perceive that he had established the very point he was controverting; for if there had been, in his view, nothing indecent in the display of poverty, he would have worn the coat without turning. He might have had it 'scoured if needful; but though clean, it would still have looked threadbare; and he did not like to make this display of poverty.
'Ordinary expense ought to be limited by a man's estate. '
It is of course a great folly—and a very common one,—for a man to impoverish himself by a showy expenditure beyond his means. And it is a minor folly for him—without outrunning—to make a display beyond his station, and to waste money on show such as was not expected of him, when he might, obviously, have found many better uses for it. But when to choose the time as to each point, would of course be no easy matter.
Perhaps it may be laid down in reference to what may be called ornamental expense—anything that is not so strictly required as a decency, that you would be censured and ridiculed for being without it,—that you should have such articles only asyou can afford, not only to buy, but to replace; supposing them of a perishable nature.
For, the 'honour,' as Bacon calls it, of any display of wealth, consists, surely, in not only having, such and such articles, but having them without uneasiness;—without any very anxious care about them. If you have a very fine set of china-ware, and are in a continual apprehension of its being broken, you had lietter, in point of respectability as well as of comfort, have been content with plain Worcester. If a lady is in a perpetual fever lest some costly veil or gown should be soiled or torn, this indicates that she would have done better to wear a less costly dress. There is something in what is said by little Sandford in the ' Tale,' who preferred a horn cup to one of silver, ' because it never made him uneasy.'
Of course it is not meant that a man should not live in a house such as he could not afford with perfect ease to rebuild if it were burnt down ; or that he ought to be thus prepared to meet with other such extraordinary calamities. But he should be prepared to meet each kind of accident that each kind of article respectively is commonly liable to: e.g. glass and porcelain to be broken, trinkets to be dropped and lost, horses to be lamed, &c. If you cannot face the ordinary and average amount of accidents with respect to any such article, or if it is a matter of anxious care and uneasiness, you are better without it. For, this anxious care and uneasiness proves that the expense is a great one to you. You may indeed conceal this anxious care, and show, externally, a feigned composure and indifference. But then you are undergoing all this uneasiness, —and also all this labour to hide this uneasiness,—for the sake of appearing richer than you are. But to one who has no wish of this kind, the proper measure is, with a view to respectability, as well as peace of mind, not what expenses he can afford, but what he can habitually afford without feeling them a grievous care.
Of course higher motives come in, when one considers the good that may be done, to our friends and to the poor, by curtailing showy expenditure.
It is wonderful how some people fail to perceive what an absurd and ridiculous figure a man makes who is continually bemoaning the narrowness of his means, and setting forth the hardship of his case in not having a better income, while he is sitting in a room full of inlaid tables, splendid inkstands and boxes, and other costly gewgaws, which it is no discredit at all to bo without, and which are thought desirable chiefly as a display of wealth.
1 It is no baseness for the greatest to descend and look into their own estate.'
It is worth remarking, as a curious circumstance, and the reverse of what many would expect, that the expenses called for by a real or imagined necessity of those who have large incomes, are greater in proportion than those of persons with slender means; and that consequently a larger proportion of what are called the rich, are in embarrassed circumstances, than of the poorer. This is often overlooked, because the absolute number of those with large incomes is so much less, that, of course, the absolute number of persons under pecuniary difficulties, in the poorer classes, must form a very great majority, but