The Use & Abuse Of Riches
Post written by Sir Francis Bacon & Peter G. James Sinclair.
I spend most of my reading time in the company of men who lived if not hundreds, and some thousands of years ago. Wisdom is ageless and Sir Francis Bacon is such a one who lived between 1561 and 1626.
Sir Francis was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, and author, and served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. Although his political career ended in disgrace, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution.
I have in my possession a copy of Bacon’s Essays and was particularly drawn to the thirty-third essay entitled Of Riches. I have endeavored to bring this piece into the 21st Century, used the assistance of Google Translate to unwrap some of the Latin passages, modernized the language somewhat, and have even given definitions of some obscure old English words. For easier reading I have also added headings that break the piece up into smaller portions that I trust will be a little easier to digest. Enjoy – and don’t be overly concerned if you do not understand every single word. Just one word or one phrase can change your life FOREVER.
May I now introduce you to one of my mentors – Sir Francis Bacon…
I CANNOT call riches better than the baggage of virtue. The Roman word is better, impedimenta. For as the baggage is to an army, so are riches to virtue. It cannot be spared, nor left behind, but it hinders the march; yea, and the care of it, sometimes loses or disturbs the victory.
Riches Are For Distribution
Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in the distribution; the rest is but conceit. So says Solomon, Where much is, there are many to consume it; and what has the owner, but the sight of it with his eyes? The personal fruition in any man, cannot reach to feel great riches: there is a custody of them; or a power of dole, and donative of them; or a fame of them; but no solid use to the owner.
Do you not see what feigned prices, are set upon little stones and rarities? and what works of ostentation are undertaken, because there might seem to be some use of great riches? But then you will say, they may be of use, to buy men out of dangers or troubles.
Use Soberly, Distribute Cheerfully & Leave Contentedly
As Solomon says, Riches are as a strong hold, in the imagination of the rich man. But this is excellently expressed, that it is in imagination, and not always in fact. For certainly great riches, have sold more men, than they have bought out.
Seek not proud riches, but such as you may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly. Yet have no abstract nor friarly contempt of them. (Relating to friars – a friar, or occasionally fray, is a man who is a member of a mendicant religious order in Catholic Christianity who takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.) But distinguish, as Cicero says well of Rabirius Posthumus, In studio rei amplificandae apparebat, non avaritiae praedam, sed instrumentum bonitati quaeri (was evident in the pursuit of bettering of the thing, not the prey of avarice (extreme greed for wealth or material gain), but to look for the goodness of the instrument of).
By Good Means & Just Labor – Pace Slowly
Hearken also to Solomon, and beware of hasty gathering of riches; Qui festinat ad divitias, non erit insons (that make haste to riches, there shall be no innocent). The poets feign, that when Plutus (which is Riches) is sent from Jupiter, he limps and goes slowly; but when he is sent from Pluto, he runs, and is swift of foot. Meaning that riches gotten by good means, and just labor, pace slowly; but when they come by the death of others (as by the course of inheritance, testaments, and the like), they come tumbling upon a man.
But it may be applied likewise to Pluto, taking him for the devil. For when riches come from the devil (as by fraud and oppression, and unjust means), they come upon speed. The ways to enrich are many, and most of them foul. Parsimony (the quality of being careful with money – thrift) is one of the best, and yet is not innocent; for it withholds men from works of liberality and charity.
Riches By Improvement
The improvement of the ground is the most natural obtaining of riches; for it is our great mother’s blessing, the earth’s; but it is slow. And yet where men of great wealth do stoop to husbandry, it multiplies riches exceedingly.
I knew a nobleman in England, that had the greatest audits of any man in my time; a great grazier, a great sheep-master, a great timber man, a great collier (coal mining), a great corn-master, a great lead-man, and so of iron, and a number of the like points of husbandry. So as the earth seemed a sea to him, in respect of the perpetual importation. It was truly observed by one, that he came very hardly, to a little riches, and very easily, to great riches.
For when a man’s stock is come to that, that he can expect the prime of markets, and overcome those bargains, which for their greatness are few men’s money, and be partner in the industries of younger men, he cannot but increase mainly.
By Diligence & By A Good Name
The gains of ordinary trades and vocations are honest; and furthered by two things chiefly: by diligence, and by a good name, for good and fair dealing. But the gains of bargains, are of a more doubtful nature; when men shall wait upon others’ necessity, broke by servants and instruments to draw them on, put off others cunningly, that would be better chapmen (an itinerant dealer or hawker in early modern Britain), and the like practices, which are crafty and naught.
As for the chopping of bargains, when a man buys not to hold but to sell over again, that commonly grinds double, both upon the seller, and upon the buyer.
Methods Used To Acquire & Lose Riches
Sharings (shares?) do greatly enrich, if the hands be well chosen, that are trusted.
Usury (the lending of money with an interest charge for its use) is the most certain means of gain, though one of the worst; as that whereby a man doth eat his bread, in sudore vultus alieni (the sweat of strangers); and besides, does plough upon Sundays. But yet certain though it be, it has flaws; for that the scriveners (middle English term for a person who could read or write. This usually indicated secretarial and administrative duties. Scriveners later developed into public servants, accountants, lawyers and petition writers.) and brokers do value unsound men, to serve their own turn.
The fortune in being the first, in an invention or in a privilege, doth cause sometimes a wonderful overgrowth in riches; as it was with the first sugar man, in the Canaries. Therefore if a man can play the true logician, to have as well judgment, as invention, he may do great matters; especially if the times be fit.
He that rests upon gains certain, shall hardly grow to great riches; and he that puts all upon adventures, does oftentimes break and come to poverty: it is good, therefore, to guard adventures with certainties, that may uphold losses.
Monopolies, and coemption(purchase of all supplies of a commodity in the market especially to gain a monopoly) of wares for re-sale, where they are not restrained, are great means to enrich; especially if the party have intelligence, what things are like to come into request, and so store himself beforehand.
Riches gotten by service, though it be of the best rise, yet when they are gotten by flattery, feeding humors, and other servile conditions, they may be placed amongst the worst.
As for fishing for testaments and executorships – as Tacitus says of Seneca, testamenta et orbos tamquam indagine capi (wills and bereaved as net capture), it is yet worse; by how much men submit themselves to meaner persons, than in service.
Riches That Fly
Believe not much, them that seem to despise riches; for they despise them, that despair of them; and none worse, when they come to them.
Be not penny-wise; riches have wings, and sometimes they fly away of themselves, sometimes they must be set flying, to bring in more.
Men leave their riches, either to their kindred, or to the public; and moderate portions, prosper best in both. A great state left to an heir, is as a lure to all the birds of prey round about, to seize on him, if he be not the better established in years and judgment. Likewise glorious gifts and foundations, are like sacrifices without salt; and but the painted sepulchers of alms, which soon will putrefy, and corrupt inwardly.
Defer Not Charity
Therefore measure not your advancements, by quantity, but frame them by measure: and defer not charities till death; for, certainly, if a man weigh it rightly, he that does so, is rather liberal of another man’s, than of his own.
Information source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon & gutenberg.org/files/575/575-h/575-h.htm
Photo source: godmoneyme.com