A of M, 113-115: The idle rich

AofM 112-115

Nevisanus hath as hard an opinion of rich men, “wealth and wisdom cannot dwell together.” […] Sapientia non invenitur in terra suaviter viventium [wisdom is not found in the land of those who live at ease]. For beside a natural contempt of learning, which accompanies such kind of men, innate idleness (for they will take no pains), and which Aristotle observes, ubi mens plurima, ibi minima fortuna [where there is most wit there is little wealth], ubi plurima fortuna, ibi mens perexigua, great wealth and little wit go commonly together. (114-115)

This section made me think of the time my husband and I were perusing one of those really great used bookstores where paperbacks are 25 cents and hardbacks are 50 cents, and when you attempt to pay for your massive haul the wizened retiree running the place shrugs with annoyance and says, “I don’t know, how’s five dollars?” And of course you give him at least ten, which for some reason is even more of an inconvenience. God willing, I will someday be that irascible shopkeep, selling off my esoteric library in a decomposing garage. Life is beautifully cyclical, or something like that. Anyhow, at this particular “store,” we found a dusty old hardback called Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, by Stephen Leacock. Here is an excerpt:

The sunlight flickers through the elm trees, illuminating expensive nursemaids wheeling valuable children in little perambulators. Some of the children are worth millions and millions. In Europe, no doubt, you may see in the Unter den Linden avenue or the Champs Elysées a little prince or princess go past with a clattering military guard to do honour. But that is nothing. It is not half so impressive, in the real sense, as what you may observe every morning on Plutoria Avenue beside the Mausoleum Club in the quietest part of the city. Here you may see a little toddling princess in a rabbit suit who owns fifty distilleries in her own right. There, in a lacquered perambulator, sails past a little hooded head that controls from its cradle an entire New Jersey corporation. The United States attorney- general is suing her as she sits, in a vain attempt to make her dissolve herself into constituent companies. Near by is a child of four, in a khaki suit, who represents the merger of two trunk line railways. You may meet in the flickered sunlight any number of little princes and princesses far more real than the poor survivals of Europe. Incalculable infants wave their fifty- dollar ivory rattles in an inarticulate greeting to one another. A million dollars of preferred stock laughs merrily in recognition of a majority control going past in a go- cart drawn by an imported nurse. And through it all the sunlight falls through the elm- trees, and the birds sing and the motors hum, so that the whole world as seen from the boulevard of Plutoria Avenue is the very pleasantest place imaginable.

Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich was published in 1914. I highly recommend it. 1621, 1914, 2017. Who can really tell the difference? Except that now – in a free democracy – we are voluntarily making these little princes into presidents. You just have to laugh, eh?


This post is part of a long, tedious, and illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy – more info here and follow along on Facebook here

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