There is something radically wrong in modern society:
While wealth and luxury—the aimless spending—are on the increase, happiness and contentment are on the decrease,
The newspapers every month contain accounts of individuals, assuredly prosperous in all their pecuniary affairs, and some of them young and healthy, who in the very midst of what the poor think perfect bliss, have committed self-murder.
Among the busier and more laboring kinds of people, the same general absence of happiness prevails—
For I do not believe the people of these days are happy;
The people go questing and wandering anxiously about, as if with the general impression that pleasure is hidden somewhere, and that by searching they may possibly find it—but that it’s very doubtful—
Generally, the one who takes the most trouble to obtain pleasure, gets the least.
The road to riches is easily open to me, but I do not choose it,
I have found out that it is a very dangerous thing to be rich.
What is it that you made money? What is it that you got what you wanted?
High tide—everything crowded on to the utmost of prosperity—all flush, rose-color—wealth, friends, luck,
Then low tide—the reverse—
What is your money-making now? what can it do now?
The money value of real and personal property in New York City is somewhere between five hundred millions and a thousand millions of dollars—
In its positive intrinsic it is all nothing of account,
The whole of it is not of so much account as a pitcher of water or a basket of fresh eggs.
This great earth that rolls in the air, and the sun and the moon, and men and women,
The light and shade, unspeakable joys and sorrows,
The wonders that fill each minute of time forever, and each acre of surface and space forever,
What have you reckon’d them for, camerado?—
Have you reckon’d them for your trade or farm-work? or for the profits of your store?
Do you think nothing more is to be made of them than storekeeping and books and drygoods and something to pay taxes on?
Will we rate our cash and business high?
I have no objection, I rate them as high as the highest—
Then a child born of a woman and man I rate beyond all rate.
After long constraint in the respectable and money-making dens of existence a man emerges for a few hours and comes up like a whale to spout and breathe!
One glimpse then of the eternal realities of things—real men and women, refreshing, hearty, and wicked.
When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the night-watchman’s daughter,
When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite and are my friendly companions,
I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of them as I do of men and women like you.
The ignorant man is demented with the madness of owning things;
It is the endless delusion of big and little smouchers, in all their varieties, to suppose they have succeeded when the documents are signed and sealed, and they enter in possession of their gains;
The orthodox proprietor says, This is mine. I earned or received or paid for it, and by positive right of my own, I will put a fence around it, and keep it exclusively to myself.
Yet what cold drop is that which slowly patters, patters, with sharpened poisoned points, on the skull of his greediness, and go whichever way he may, it still hits him, though he see not whence it drips nor what it is?
When one is sick or old or irritable, the richest parlors and costliest ornaments appear unsightly.
It may be claim’d that general worldly prosperity, and a populace well-to-do, and with all life’s material comforts, is the main thing, and is enough.
I admit the weight of the claim, then answer that the soul of man will not with such only—nay, not with such at all—be finally satisfied; but needs what, (standing on these and on all things, as the feet stand on the ground,) is address’d to the loftiest, to itself alone.
Can I dully suppose that I may attain to certain possessions—as houses or stocks or lands or goods; and when I have paid the money and taken the receipts and warranty deeds such property will be mine to enter upon and enjoy?
Yes, maybe, as people stone blind from their birth enjoy the exhibitions of pictures and sculpture,
But the wisest soul knows that no object can really be owned by one man or woman any more than another.
Dismal and measureless fool not to see the hourly lessons of the one eternal law:
The only way in which anything can really be owned is by the infusion or inspiration of it in the soul. The only way we attach it to our feelings is by identifying it with the human spirit—through love, through pride, through our craving for beauty and happiness.
O it lurks in me night and day—what is gain after all to savageness and freedom?
The most affluent man is he that confronts all the shows he sees by equivalents out of the stronger wealth of himself.
The business man the acquirer vast,
Tickets buying, taking, selling, but in to the feast never once going,
After assiduous years surveying results, preparing for departure,
Devises houses and lands to his children, bequeaths stocks, goods, funds for a school or hospital,
Leaves money to certain companions to buy tokens, souvenirs of gems and gold.
I heard today of a young man who was bequeathed $500,000 and wasted it,
There are young men who are bequeathed more than that and never put it to good use.
That is profitable which you carry with you after death.
I, my life surveying,
With nothing to show, to devise, from its idle years,
Nor houses, nor lands—nor tokens of gems or gold for my friends,
Only these souvenirs of democracy—in them—in all my songs—behind me leaving.
I will carefully earn riches to be carried with me after the death of my body,
And I will make a new song of riches, namely the riches of the body and the spirit, which are before death and after death.
The money or income question is the one that least bothers me.
Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my eyes,
That they turn from gazing after and down the road,
And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?
I fetch up here in harsh and superb light—wretchedly poor, excellent well,
I complain not of myself; my poverty is the least of my trouble.
Though poor now, even to penury, I do not want for anything; I have not so far been deprived of any physical thing I need or wish whatever, and I feel confident I shall not, in the future.
Everything is mine that I want—I have a good bed, a fire, as much grub as I wish and whatever I wish—plenty of good strawberries—and two or three good friends,
I maintain good heart and cheer, (my only torment, family matters.)
If I could only feel well and sleep well, I should not care a straw for pecuniary botherations and losses;
As to all the little extra fixings and superfluities, I never did care for them.
Mrs. Ashton has sent for me to be brought to her house, to be taken care of—of course I do not accept her offer. They live in grand style and I should be more bothered than benefitted by their refinements and luxuries, servants, etc.
While not hitherto actually wanting, (and not worrying much about the future either,)
I have come to the end of my rope, and am in fact ridiculously poor;
It is now time to stir first for money enough to live,
It is necessary for me for the time to get employment, some little steady paying occupation.
My ideas of salary are very moderate—just enough to pay my way, with strict economy, to be independent of want.
You speak of not being overburdened with greenbacks and profit?
Well, one can bear that, if one only keeps hearty and fat and in good spirits.
I can be satisfied and happy henceforward if I can get one meal a day—
One dish, plain and rude, cheap, nutritious, plentiful, is enough for a meal—
And know that mother and all are in good health.
Is it you that thought the rich better off than you?
There is nothing in them which we who are poor and plain need at all envy.
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches—
All enjoyments and properties and money, and whatever money will buy—
If you are rich in yourself you are rich,
Otherwise you are wretchedly poor.
See’st thou not, the only real wealth of wealth in generosity?
Charity and personal force are the only investments worth anything.
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve;
Who has lavish’d all? for I lavish constantly the best I have,
Going in for my chances, spending for vast returns.
Who goes for men and women showing poverty richer than wealth?
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Tone your wants and tastes low down enough—
In civilized life, the trouble and expense are mostly for what is needless, and mars rather than mends,
While that really needed is cheap and is soon done.
The best amusements are the cheapest,
The most superb beauties are the cheapest, the world over,
I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
No possession but you may possess it, enjoying all without labor or purchase, abstracting the feast yet not abstracting one particle of it.
As for me, I am a born loafer, a great loafer, who enjoys so much seeing the busy world move by him, and exhibiting itself for his amusement, while he takes it easy and just looks on and observes,
The fields, the waters, the trees, the interesting specimens of humanity to be scared up—all are, for me, ministers to entertainment.
Loafe with me on the grass;
I have sometimes amused myself with picturing out a nation of loafers, to idle lusciously and simply—
Only think of it! An entire loafer kingdom!