In order that the clock should run, the pendulum
Compensations of Poverty.
swings both ways. Because of the long, free
swing of the city pendulum toward vice, we have the
periodical swing toward morality, and because of
the pronounced predilection of the civilized world
for luxury, which means extravagance, we now
have a society forming to teach the "beauties of
poverty" and the bliss which results from having
"no burden of possessions."
Without doubt, good will result from this move-
ment in time. There are hours, I am sure, when
Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Carnegie long for the bliss
of "no possessions." Hours, not days.
The burden of riches galls the back occasionally.
The burden of poverty galls continually.
Indigestion is discomfort.
Starvation is agony.
Too extensive a wardrobe is a vexation to the
Rags and patches are a humiliation to the
To be a lord or lady of fashion often (not always)
belittles the character by its limitations.
To be a vagabond, however "artistic," lowers the
ideals and perverts to moral sense. At least, that
has been the result of my observations.
It has been my misfortune to come in contact with
some of the enthusiastic pioneers of the new order
of "beautiful poverty." Some years ago I listened
to a series of their eloquent discourses on the
"blessings of nothing."
A man and a woman, both highly gifted and
intellectual, talked many hours for many weeks to
me on the vulgarity of accumulating riches, and the
reflection it was upon the "artist" who found a ready
market for his wares. "The real painter, the real
sculptor, the real poet appeals to but a few fine
souls," they said. "They are always poor--usually
beggars--until they die. So soon as the masses
want their work and money pours in upon them,
they may know they have lowered their standard.
To be popular is to be vulgar. Anybody can earn
money. Only the great souls can live without
"I should be miserable if I knew where my next
day's meals were coming from," said the man.
"To me there is an exalted rapture in rising in the
morning without a penny in my pocket. I do my
best work then."
"The true artist always does," said the woman,
with a far-away look in her eyes. "I should be
sorry to see you doing work 'to-order' of an inferior
man, just because he would pay you a big sum for
it. I should be sorry to have you popular. You
would then be vulgar, cheap and common in my
Meantime the second law of universe--that which
should come next to godliness--was violated by
both the priest and priestess of the "Order of
Beautiful Poverty." The weather was warm, and
one preferred to converse with them outdoors to in.
They made merry regarding the continuous per-
formance of their wearing apparel.
"Nothing so directly stamps a man or woman as
vulgar as a large and varied wardrobe," said the
woman. "We should stamp our clothing with our
individuality, and not be afraid to have a costume
become familiar to the eyes of our friends."
"But not to their noses," I mentally observed.
Meanwhile the man and the woman possessed
large, healthful appetites. They exhibited a
prompt willingness to eat and drink and smoke all
the luxuries provided by the vulgar money of com-
mon people. Their own butcher and baker went
clamoring many times to their door for payment of
just bills. Hard-working tradesmen passed wake-
ful hours at night because this man and woman de-
lighted to dwell upon the rarefied heights of blissful
poverty. There was no money favor they hesitated
to accept or ask of the material-minded acquaint-
ances, who had lived on a lower plane and accumu-
lated filthy lucre enough to lend. And they jested
about their debts, and believed that the world should
be proud to assist its few true artists, whose eternal
debtor it was, whether it knew it or not.
Now, I must confess, much as I deplore the in-
creasing tendency of civilization toward wasteful
and senseless luxury and extravagance, that it
seems less reprehensible to me than the lives of
these people, who were for a time the leaders of an
order intended to promote "plain living and high
There is no healthful "high thinking" which in-
cludes uncleanliness of person or attire, indifference
to deliberately accumulated debts and a ready
acceptance from the hands of others, of the luxuries
and comforts which are theoretically disdained as
"cumbersome and unnecessary."
People who preach the beauties of no possessions
should be willing to live up to their teachings.
The high thinking which will help the world must
be exemplified by the wholesome, cleanly appear-
ance of its adherents, and by a nice illustration on
their part of their sense of personal responsibility
and their belief in other people's rights.
I cannot help thinking it is more important to
the best progress of the world that a man should
cheapen his art rather than lower his morality; and
whatever the art enthusiasts may say to the con-
trary, a man's moral sense is blunted when he
laughs at his debts and makes no efforts to obtain,
with own labor, the comforts and luxuries he
freely accepts from others. There is a sane, sensi-
ble and safe medium course.
To live on what we can afford by paying as we go;
to believe that we are capable of earning and enjoy-
ing whatever we need, and to make our own stand-
ards instead of following those set for us by others.
There is no need of poverty; there is no necessity
No noble happiness can be found with either.
Demand what we need for our highest, best
development, and it will come.
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.