Story type: Essay
An old man sits at the end of his life, with money piled up on all sides of him. Years ago he was working hard. All his ability was strained to the utmost pushing back those who strove to pass him on the road up the golden mountain.
He enjoyed the conflict, he enjoyed the sight of beaten rivals. His delight was in work, in ACQUISITION. His growing surplus added new zest to his life. He pitied “the poor fool” who wasted time at anything save money-making.
But he is at the top of the heap of money now. He looks about, and none compete with him. A few strugglers–too far away to be heard–strive for a little of his useless accumulation. Legal sharpers struggle and get a little, and in return keep away those who try to climb up near him.
The interest has gone out of life. Where he used to see competitors, he now sees only old memories. The old associates have gone–it is even too late to help them–and he will soon go, too.
He looks out over the land, and sees, when it is too late, all that he has missed while he thought he was doing the thing most important.
He has made a hundred millions of dollars, but not one human friend.
He can hire almost any man to do anything. But there is not enough money in the world to hire any one to miss him sincerely when he is gone.
Such a man as this–an actual individual, with wealth far exceeding one hundred millions–has insured his life for half a million. To those who asked “why” he replied: “I want some insurance company to be sorry when I die. No one else will be sorry.” Possibly he thought he was joking. But there was truth in what he said.
The man who piles up money builds a solid wall that shuts out the world from him. Sycophants climb over the wall–but their flattery and fawning grow tiresome. Old age and cessation of strong feeling cause the mind to see clearly–and hypocrisy no longer deceives in the old, pleasant way.
The most depressing fact in the old man’s life is the hopelessness of trying to change. His mind has worked so long in one direction that it can no longer work in any other. He would like, perhaps, to begin now and live as others live, but he cannot do it.
There are men whose great wealth is earned WITH PART OF THEIR ABILITY, leaving them force and strength for other things. Such a man was Peter Cooper.
But the man most frequently seen in America is the man who accumulates money for money’s sake. His is a sad heart when he looks over the past and ahead into the short future.
If he has children, he has hardly known them–and HIS MONEY has separated them from each other.
When his son was a little child the rich man made himself think that he was piling up the money for that boy. What became of that boy?
Ask the Keeley Cure, the public gambling houses, Monte Carlo, the divorce court–and the other “resources” of the sons of the very rich.
Thousands envy him, and he knows it. But there is little in being envied when old age makes a lonely life unbearable, and when the next striking event in his career will be a funeral.
There are hundreds of thousands of men with their thoughts fixed absolutely on money making. They hate what threatens money. They love those who sympathize with money. They live, work, vote, talk, marry and cheat their friends for money.
If they fail–as most of them do–they die unhappy. If they succeed, money cheats THEM, and for all their devotion gives them nothing.
“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
The man wastes his soul who devotes its forces only to accumulating wealth.