If wealth is the obedient and laborious slave of virtue and of public honour, then wealth is in its place and has its use; but if this order is changed, and honour is to be sacrificed to the conservation of riches, riches, which have neither eyes nor hands, nor anything truly vital in them, cannot long survive the being of their vivifying powers, their legitimate masters, and their potent protectors. If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free: if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. We are bought by the enemy with the treasure from our own coffers. Too great a sense of the value of a subordinate interest may be the very source of its danger, as well as the certain ruin of interests of a superior order. Often has a man lost his all because he would not submit to hazard all in defending it.
With all the pride that wealth is apt to inspire, how seldom are the opulent truly aware of their high destination! Placed by the Lord of all on an eminence, and intrusted with a superior portion of his goods, to them it belongs to be the dispensers of his bounty, to succour distress, to draw merit from obscurity, to behold oppression and want vanish before them, and, accompanied wherever they move with perpetual benedictions, to present an image of Him who, at the close of time, in the kingdom of the redeemed, will wipe away tears from all faces. It is surely unnecessary to remark how insipid are the pleasures of voluptuousness and ambition compared to what such a life must afford, whether we compare them with respect to the present, the review of the past, or the prospect of the future.
Whosoever shall look heedfully upon those who are eminent for their riches, will not think their condition such as that he should hazard his quiet, and much less his virtue, to obtain it. For all that great wealth generally gives above a moderate fortune, is more room for the freaks of caprice, and more privilege for ignorance and vice, a quicker succession of flatteries, and a larger circle of voluptuousness.
When, therefore, the desire of wealth is taking hold of the heart, let us look round and see how it operates upon those whose industry or whose fortune has obtained it. When we find them oppressed with their own abundance, luxurious without pleasure, idle without ease, impatient and querulous in themselves, and despised or hated by the rest of mankind, we shall soon be convinced that, if the real wants of our condition are satisfied, there remains little to be sought with solicitude or desired with eagerness.
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 slenderer 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 if you look to the proportions it is quite the reverse. Take the number of persons of each amount of income, divided into classes, from £100 per annum up to £100,000 per annum, and you will find the percentage of those who are under pecuniary difficulties continually augmenting as you go upwards. And when you come to sovereign States, whose revenue is reckoned by millions, you will hardly find one that is not deeply involved in debt! So that it would appear that the larger the income the harder it is to live within it.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Expense.
The declaimers on the incompatibility of wealth and virtue are mere declaimers, and nothing more. For you will often find them, in the next breath, applauding or condemning every measure or institution according to its supposed tendency to increase or diminish wealth. You will find them not only readily accepting wealth themselves from any honourable source, and anxious to secure from poverty their children and all most dear to them (for this might be referred to the prevalence of passion over principle), but even offering up solemn prayers to heaven for the prosperity of their native country, and contemplating with joy a flourishing condition of her agriculture, manufactures, or commerce,in short, of the sources of her wealth. Senecas discourses in praise of poverty would, I have no doubt, be rivalled by many writers of this island, if one-half of the revenues he drew from the then inhabitants of it, by lending them money at high interest, were proposed as a prize. Such declaimers against wealth resemble the Harpies of Virgil, seeking to excite disgust at the banquet of which they are themselves eager to partake.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Riches.