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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Moral Essays

Epistle III. Of the Use of Riches

  • To Allen, Lord Bathurst

  • That it is known to few, most falling into one of the extremes, Avarice or Profusion. The point discussed, whether the invention of money has been more commodious or pernicious to mankind. That Riches, either to the Avaricious or the Prodigal, cannot afford happiness, scarcely necessaries. That Avarice is an absolute frenzy, without an end or purpose. Conjectures about the motives of avaricious men. That the conduct of men, with respect to Riches, can only be accounted for by the Order of Providence, which works the general good out of extremes, and brings all to its great end by perpetual revolutions. How a Miser acts upon principles which appear to him reasonable. How a Prodigal does the same. The due medium and true use of riches. The Man of Ross. The fate of the Profuse and the Covetous, in two examples; both miserable in life and in death. The story of Sir Balaam.

  • P.WHO shall decide when doctors disagree,

    And soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?

    You hold the word from Jove to Momus giv’n,

    That Man was made the standing jest of Heav’n,

    And gold but sent to keep the fools in play,

    For some to heap, and some to throw away.

    But I, who think more highly of our kind

    (And surely Heav’n and I are of a mind),

    Opine that Nature, as in duty bound,

    Deep hid the shining mischief under ground:

    But when by man’s audacious labour won,

    Flamed forth this rival to its sire the sun,

    Then careful Heav’n supplied two sorts of men,

    To squander these, and those to hide again.

    Like doctors thus, when much dispute has past,

    We find our tenets just the same at last:

    Both fairly owning riches, in effect,

    No grace of Heav’n, or token of th’ elect;

    Giv’n to the fool, the mad, the vain, the evil,

    To Ward, to Waters, Chartres, and the Devil.

    B.What Nature wants, commodious gold bestows;

    ’T is thus we eat the bread another sows.

    P.But how unequal it bestows, observe;

    ’T is thus we riot, while who sow it starve.

    What Nature wants (a phrase I much distrust)

    Extends to luxury, extends to lust.

    Useful I grant, it serves what life requires,

    But dreadful too, the dark assassin hires.

    B.Trade it may help, Society extend.

    P.But lures the pirate, and corrupts the friend.

    B.It raises armies in a nation’s aid.

    P.But bribes a senate, and the land ’s betray’d.

    In vain may heroes fight and patriots rave,

    If secret gold sap on from knave to knave.

    Once, we confess, beneath the patriot’s cloak,

    From the crack’d bag the dropping guinea spoke,

    And jingling down the back-stairs, told the crew

    ‘Old Cato is as great a rogue as you.’

    Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!

    That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!

    Gold imp’d by thee, can compass hardest things,

    Can pocket states, can fetch or carry kings;

    A single leaf shall waft an army o’er,

    Or ship off senates to some distant shore;

    A leaf, like Sibyl’s, scatter to and fro

    Our fates and fortunes as the winds shall blow;

    Pregnant with thousands flits the scrap unseen,

    And silent sells a King or buys a Queen.

    Oh, that such bulky bribes as all might see,

    Still, as of old, incumber’d villany!

    Could France or Rome divert our brave designs

    With all their brandies or with all their wines?

    What could they more than Knights and Squires confound,

    Or water all the Quorum ten miles round?

    A statesman’s slumbers how this speech would spoil,

    ‘Sir, Spain has sent a thousand jars of oil;

    Huge bales of British cloth blockade the door;

    A hundred oxen at your levee roar.’

    Poor Avarice one torment more would find,

    Nor could Profusion squander all in kind.

    Astride his cheese Sir Morgan might we meet;

    And Worldly crying coals from street to street,

    Whom with a wig so wild and mien so ’mazed,

    Pity mistakes for some poor tradesman crazed.

    Had Colepepper’s whole wealth been hops and hogs,

    Could he himself have sent it to the dogs?

    His Grace will game: to White’s a bull be led,

    With spurning heels and with a butting head.

    To White’s be carried, as to ancient games,

    Fair coursers, vases, and alluring dames.

    Shall then Uxorio, if the stakes he sweep,

    Bear home six whores, and make his lady weep?

    Or soft Adonis, so perfumed and fine,

    Drive to St. James’s a whole herd of swine?

    Oh, filthy check on all industrious skill,

    To spoil the nation’s last great trade,—Quadrille!

    Since then, my lord, on such a world we fall,

    What say you?B.Say? Why, take it, gold and all.

    P.What Riches give us let us then inquire:

    Meat, Fire, and Clothes.B.What more?P.Meat, Clothes, and Fire.

    Is this too little? would you more than live?

    Alas! ’t is more than Turner finds, they give.

    Alas! ’t is more than (all his visions past)

    Unhappy Wharton waking found at last!

    What can they give? To dying Hopkins, heirs?

    To Chartres, vigour? Japhet, nose and ears?

    Can they in gems bid pallid Hippia glow?

    In Fulvia’s buckle ease the throbs below?

    Or heal, old Narses, thy obscener ail,

    With all th’ embroidery plaster’d at thy tail?

    They might (were Harpax not too wise to spend)

    Give Harpax’ self the blessing of a friend;

    Or find some doctor that would save the life

    Of wretched Shylock, spite of Shylock’s wife.

    But thousands die without or this or that,

    Die, and endow a College or a Cat.

    To some indeed Heav’n grants the happier fate

    T’ enrich a bastard; or a son they hate.

    Perhaps you think the poor might have their part?

    Bond damns the poor, and hates them from his heart:

    The grave Sir Gilbert holds it for a rule

    That ev’ry man in want is knave or fool.

    ‘God cannot love (says Blunt, with tearless eyes)

    The wretch he starves’—and piously denies:

    But the good bishop, with a meeker air,

    Admits, and leaves them, Providence’s care.

    Yet, to be just to these poor men of pelf,

    Each does but hate his neighbour as himself:

    Damn’d to the mines, an equal fate betides

    The slave that digs it and the slave that hides.

    B.Who suffer thus, mere charity should own,

    Must act on motives powerful tho’ unknown.

    P.Some war, some plague or famine, they foresee,

    Some revelation hid from you and me.

    Why Shylock wants a meal the cause is found;

    He thinks a loaf will rise to fifty pound.

    What made directors cheat in South-sea year?

    To live on ven’son, when it sold so dear.

    Ask you why Phryne the whole auction buys?

    Phryne foresees a general excise.

    Why she and Sappho raise that monstrous sum?

    Alas! they fear a man will cost a plum.

    Wise Peter sees the world’s respect for gold,

    And therefore hopes this nation may be sold.

    Glorious ambition! Peter, swell thy store,

    And be what Rome’s great Didius was before.

    The crown of Poland, venal twice an age,

    To just three millions stinted modest Gage.

    But nobler scenes Maria’s dreams unfold,

    Hereditary realms, and worlds of gold.

    Congenial souls! whose life one av’rice joins,

    And one fate buries in th’ Asturian mines.

    Much-injured Blunt! why bears he Britain’s hate?

    A wizard told him in these words our fate:

    ‘At length Corruption, like a gen’ral flood

    (So long by watchful ministers withstood),

    Shall deluge all; and Av’rice, creeping on,

    Spread like a low-born mist and blot the sun;

    Statesman and Patriot ply alike the stocks,

    Peeress and Butler share alike the Box,

    And judges job, and bishops bite the town,

    And mighty Dukes pack cards for half a crown:

    See Britain sunk in lucre’s sordid charms,

    And France revenged of Anne’s and Edward’s arms!’

    ’T was no court-badge, great Scriv’ner! fired thy brain,

    Nor lordly luxury, nor city gain:

    No, ’t was thy righteous end, ashamed to see

    Senates degen’rate, patriots disagree,

    And nobly wishing party-rage to cease,

    To buy both sides, and give thy country peace.

    ‘All this is madness,’ cries a sober sage:

    ‘But who, my friend, has Reason in his rage?

    The Ruling Passion, be it what it will,

    The Ruling Passion conquers Reason still.’

    Less mad the wildest whimsy we can frame

    Than ev’n that Passion, if it has no aim;

    For tho’ such motives folly you may call,

    The folly ’s greater to have none at all.

    Hear then the truth:—‘’T is Heav’n each Passion sends,

    And diff’rent men directs to diff’rent ends.

    Extremes in Nature equal good produce;

    Extremes in Man concur to gen’ral use.’

    Ask me what makes one keep, and one bestow?

    That power who bids the ocean ebb and flow,

    Bids seed-time, harvest, equal course maintain,

    Thro’ reconciled extremes of drought and rain;

    Builds life on death, on change duration founds,

    And gives th’ eternal wheels to know their rounds.

    Riches, like insects, when conceal’d they lie,

    Wait but for wings, and in their season fly.

    Who sees pale Mammon pine amidst his store,

    Sees but a backward steward for the poor;

    This year a reservoir to keep and spare;

    The next a fountain spouting thro’ his heir

    In lavish streams to quench a country’s thirst,

    And men and dogs shall drink him till they burst.

    Old Cotta shamed his fortune and his birth,

    Yet was not Cotta void of wit or worth.

    What tho’ (the use of barb’rous spits forgot)

    His kitchen vied in coolness with his grot?

    His court with nettles, moats with cresses stor’d,

    With soups unbought, and salads, bless’d his board;

    If Cotta lived on pulse, it was no more

    Than Bramins, Saints, and Sages did before;

    To cram the rich was prodigal expense,

    And who would take the poor from Providence?

    Like some lone Chartreux stands the good old hall,

    Silence without, and fasts within the wall;

    No rafter’d roofs with dance and tabor sound,

    No noontide bell invites the country round;

    Tenants with sighs the smokeless towers survey,

    And turn th’ unwilling steeds another way;

    Benighted wanderers, the forest o’er,

    Curse the saved candle and unopening door;

    While the gaunt mastiff, growling at the gate,

    Affrights the beggar whom he longs to eat.

    Not so his son; he mark’d this oversight,

    And then mistook reverse of wrong for right:

    (For what to shun will no great knowledge need

    But what to follow is a task indeed!)

    Yet sure, of qualities deserving praise,

    More go to ruin fortunes than to raise.

    What slaughter’d hecatombs, what floods of wine,

    Fill the capacious Squire and deep Divine!

    Yet no mean motive this profusion draws;

    His oxen perish in his country’s cause;

    ’T is George and Liberty that crowns the cup,

    And zeal for that great House which eats him up.

    The woods recede around the naked seat,

    The sylvans groan—no matter—for the fleet;

    Next goes his wool—to clothe our valiant bands;

    Last, for his country’s love, he sells his lands.

    To town he comes, completes the nation’s hope,

    And heads the bold train-bands, and burns a pope.

    And shall not Britain now reward his toils,

    Britain, that pays her patriots with her spoils?

    In vain at court the bankrupt pleads his cause;

    His thankless country leaves him to her laws.

    The sense to value Riches, with the art

    T’ enjoy them, and the virtue to impart;

    Not meanly nor ambitiously pursued,

    Not sunk by sloth, nor raised by servitude;

    To balance fortune by a just expense,

    Join with economy magnificence;

    With splendour charity, with plenty health;

    O teach us, Bathurst! yet unspoil’d by wealth,

    That secret rare, between th’ extremes to move

    Of mad Good-nature and of mean Self-love.

    B.To worth or want well weigh’d be bounty giv’n

    And ease or emulate the care of Heav’n

    (Whose measure full o’erflows on human race):

    Mend Fortune’s fault, and justify her grace.

    Wealth in the gross is death, but life diffused,

    As poison heals in just proportion used:

    In heaps, like ambergris, a stink it lies,

    But well dispers’d is incense to the skies.

    P.Who starves by nobles, or with nobles eats?

    The wretch that trusts them, and the rogue that cheats.

    Is there a lord who knows a cheerful noon

    Without a fiddler, flatt’rer, or buffoon?

    Whose table Wit or modest Merit share,

    Unelbow’d by a gamester, pimp, or player?

    Who copies yours or Oxford’s better part,

    To ease th’ oppress’d, and raise the sinking heart?

    Where’er he shines, O Fortune! gild the scene,

    And angels guard him in the golden mean!

    There English bounty yet a while may stand,

    And honour linger ere it leaves the land.

    But all our praises why should Lords engross?

    Rise, honest Muse! and sing the Man of Ross:

    Pleas’d Vaga echoes thro’ her winding bounds,

    And rapid Severn hoarse applause resounds.

    Who hung with woods yon mountain’s sultry brow?

    From the dry rock who bade the waters flow?

    Not to the skies in useless columns tost,

    Or in proud falls magnificently lost,

    But clear and artless, pouring thro’ the plain

    Health to the sick, and solace to the swain.

    Whose causeway parts the vale with shady rows?

    Whose seats the weary traveller repose?

    Who taught that Heav’n-directed spire to rise?

    The Man of Ross, each lisping babe replies.

    Behold the market-place with poor o’erspread!

    The Man of Ross divides the weekly bread:

    He feeds yon almshouse, neat, but void of state,

    Where age and want sit smiling at the gate:

    Him portion’d maids, apprenticed orphans blest,

    The young who labour, and the old who rest.

    Is any sick? the Man of Ross relieves,

    Prescribes, attends, the medicine makes and gives:

    Is there a variance? enter but his door,

    Balk’d are the courts, and contest is no more:

    Despairing quacks with curses fled the place,

    And vile attorneys, now a useless race.

    B.Thrice happy man! enabled to pursue

    What all so wish, but want the power to do!

    Oh say, what sums that gen’rous hand supply?

    What mines to swell that boundless charity?

    P.Of debts and taxes, wife and children clear,

    This man possess’d—five hundred pounds a year.

    Blush, Grandeur, blush! proud courts, withdraw your blaze!

    Ye little stars, hide your diminish’d rays!

    B.And what? no monument, inscription, stone,

    His race, his form, his name almost unknown?

    P.Who builds a church to God, and not to Fame,

    Will never mark the marble with his name:

    Go, search it there, where to be born and die,

    Of rich and poor makes all the history;

    Enough that Virtue fill’d the space between,

    Prov’d by the ends of being to have been.

    When Hopkins dies, a thousand lights attend

    The wretch who living saved a candle’s end:

    Should’ring God’s altar a vile image stands,

    Belies his features, nay, extends his hands;

    That livelong wig, which Gorgon’s self might own,

    Eternal buckle takes in Parian stone.

    Behold what blessings Wealth to life can lend!

    And see what comfort it affords our end.

    In the worst inn’s worst room, with mat half-hung,

    The floors of plaster, and the walls of dung,

    On once a flock-bed, but repair’d with straw,

    With tape-tied curtains, never meant to draw,

    The George and Garter dangling from that bed

    Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red,

    Great Villiers lies—alas! how changed from him,

    That life of pleasure and that soul of whim!

    Gallant and gay, in Cliveden’s proud alcove,

    The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and Love;

    Or just as gay at council, in a ring

    Of mimic statesmen and their merry King.

    No Wit to flatter, left of all his store—

    No Fool to laugh at, which he valued more—

    There, victor of his health, of fortune, friends,

    And fame, this lord of useless thousands ends!

    His Grace’s fate sage Cutler could foresee,

    And well (he thought) advised him, ‘Live like me.’

    And well his Grace replied, ‘Like you, Sir John?

    That I can do when all I have is gone!’

    Resolve me, Reason, which of these is worse,

    Want with a full or with an empty purse?

    Thy life more wretched, Cutler! was confess’d;

    Arise, and tell me, was thy death more bless’d?

    Cutler saw tenants break and houses fall,

    For very want; he could not build a wall:

    His only daughter in a stranger’s power,

    For very want; he could not pay a dower:

    A few gray hairs his rev’rend temples crown’d;

    ’T was very want that sold them for two pound.

    What ev’n denied a cordial at his end,

    Banish’d the doctor, and expell’d the friend?

    What but a want, which you perhaps think mad,

    Yet numbers feel,—the want of what he had!

    Cutler and Brutus dying both exclaim,

    ‘Virtue! and wealth! what are ye but a name!’

    Say, for such worth are other worlds prepared?

    Or are they both in this their own reward?

    A knotty point! to which we now proceed.

    But you are tired—I ’ll tell a tale—B.Agreed.

    P.Where London’s column, pointing at the skies,

    Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies,

    There dwelt a citizen of sober fame,

    A plain good man, and Balaam was his name.

    Religious, punctual, frugal, and so forth,

    His word would pass for more than he was worth;

    One solid dish his week-day meal affords,

    An added pudding solemnized the Lord’s;

    Constant at Church and ’Change; his gains were sure,

    His givings rare, save farthings to the poor.

    The Devil was piqued such saintship to behold,

    And long’d to tempt him like good Job of old;

    But Satan now is wiser than of yore,

    And tempts by making rich, not making poor.

    Rous’d by the Prince of Air, the whirlwinds sweep

    The surge, and plunge his father in the deep;

    Then full against his Cornish lands they roar,

    And two rich shipwrecks bless the lucky shore.

    Sir Balaam now, he lives like other folks,

    He takes his chirping pint, and cracks his jokes.

    ‘Live like yourself,’ was soon my lady’s word;

    And lo! two puddings smoked upon the board.

    Asleep and naked as an Indian lay,

    An honest factor stole a gem away:

    He pledg’d it to the knight; the knight had wit,

    So kept the diamond, and the rogue was bit.

    Some scruple rose, but thus he eas’d his thought:

    ‘I ’ll now give sixpence where I gave a groat;

    Where once I went to church I ’ll now go twice—

    And am so clear too of all other vice.’

    The tempter saw his time; the work he plied;

    Stocks and subscriptions pour on ev’ry side,

    Till all the demon makes his full descent

    In one abundant shower of cent per cent,

    Sinks deep within him, and possesses whole,

    Then dubs Director, and secures his soul.

    Behold Sir Balaam, now a man of Spirit,

    Ascribes his gettings to his parts and merit;

    What late he call’d a blessing now was wit,

    And God’s good providence a lucky hit.

    Things change their titles as our manners turn,

    His counting-house employ’d the Sunday morn:

    Seldom at church (’t was such a busy life),

    But duly sent his family and wife.

    There (so the Devil ordain’d) one Christmas-tide

    My good old lady catch’d a cold and died.

    A nymph of quality admires our knight;

    He marries, bows at court, and grows polite;

    Leaves the dull cits, and joins (to please the fair)

    The well-bred cuckolds in St. James’s air:

    First for his son a gay commission buys,

    Who drinks, whores, fights, and in a duel dies;

    His daughter flaunts a viscount’s tawdry wife;

    She bears a coronet and p—x for life.

    In Britain’s senate he a seat obtains,

    And one more pensioner St. Stephen gains.

    My lady falls to play; so bad her chance,

    He must repair it; takes a bribe from France:

    The house impeach him; Coningsby harangues;

    The court forsake him, and Sir Balaam hangs.

    Wife, son, and daughter, Satan! are thy own,

    His wealth, yet dearer, forfeit to the crown:

    The Devil and the King divide the prize,

    And sad Sir Balaam curses God and dies.