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A CHAPTER ON LIFE ASSURANCE.
WHEN bully Bottom, the Athenian weaver, confidently undertook to perform all the parts in "the most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby," he had, we doubt not, an entire belief in the consummate universality of his powers. Pyramus he would play, and Thisbe, as also the Lion and the Wall-he put in for the prologue and epilogue — and, had there been an orchestra, he would doubtless also have volunteered his services as first fiddle. There are yet extant among us, men who appear to be inspired by a like monopolising ambition. They are ready to turn their hands, not to anything, but to everything. No subject comes amiss to them; they are willing to afford us information on all topics, just as you may see in the window of some miscellaneous warehouse in a remote country town, tape and treacle, tracts and tobacco, snuff, gingerbread, combs, beads, bread, muslins, hardware, and red herrings displayed in alluring juxtaposition. The ambition of Mr Francis is to occupy the entire field of commercial literature, and to be considered, in all coming time, as the Herodotus of the City. We are not disposed by any means to underrate his natural qualifications for the task. He has no sort of sympathy for anything beyond the precincts of Temple Bar. The atmosphere of Lombard Street is at all times more grateful to his nostrils than the spicy gales of Arabia; nor can he reflect, without a sympathising shudder, upon the miserable destiny of those who are doomed, for the greater part of their lives, to absent themselves from the felicity of Mincing Lane. If he were to write an ecclesiastical history, the foremost saints in his calendar would be St Martin Outwich, St Margaret Lothbury, St Mildred Poultry, and St Anne Blackfriars. What appetite for romance he has, was evidently fostered by an early perusal of the history of Whittington and his Cat. His traditionary heroes are the pot-bellied,
Annals, Anecdotes, and Legends: A FRANCIS. London, 1853.
beetle-browed Lords of the Exchange, such as are occasionally represented on the stage in snuff-coloured coats and bob-wigs; and who, in their own day, drove many a profitable bargain with Government, and exercised, through their money-bags, a powerful influence over the destinies of Europe. The living objects of his admiration are bank directors, chairmen of railways, pursy aldermen, and successful speculators. A European Congress is, in his eyes, a matter of less consequence than a national loan; he considers no victory in the field half so glorious as a successful operation on the Funds.
Within the last few years he has favoured us with a History of the Bank of England, a History of the English Railway, Chronicles and Characters of the Stock Exchange; and now he comes before us with Annals, Anecdotes, and Legends of Life Assurance. This, it must be acknowledged, is a pretty fair allowance; but we are by no means of opinion that his vein is yet exhausted. Anecdotes of the Common Council from the earliest times, will doubtless, in due season, appear. The Lives of the Lord Mayors is a desideratum in civic literature which no one is so well qualified as Mr Francis to supply. Sketches of the Tailors', Mercers', and Fishmongers' Companies are still vehemently wanted; and considerable romantic interest might be excited by Legends of Wapping, and harrowing Tales of the Tariff. Some of these subjects, we apprehend, would afford scope for a pleasing variety; which, to say the truth, Mr Francis, for his own sake, ought to exhibit as soon as possible, seeing that it has been rarely our lot to peruse a work so decidedly wearisome as that which is now lying before us.
If treated philosophically, the subject of Life Assurance is undoubtedly one of great interest. The system affords by far the best means which have yet been discovered of placing
Chronicle of Life Assurance. By JOHN
industry beyond the reach of casualties, and of removing those harassing cares and torturing anxieties regarding the future, which have so often the effect of embittering existence, and even of paralysing activity. If, by a regular annual payment out of his income, a man has secured to his family, in the event of his death, whenever that may occur, an adequate provision, he has contributed most materially to his own happiness and comfort. His last hours cannot be haunted by the agonising thought that, in spite of all his efforts, frugality, and self-denial, he is leaving his wife and children to the cold charity of the world, or to the grudging care of relatives. Those who desire to be absolutely rich may, if their lives are spared long enough, attain that object by sordid and perpetual pinching, and rigorous abstinence from the enjoyments, hospitalities, and charities of existence. It is not difficult to accumulate gold, if a man has courage to be an Elwes; indeed, cases are almost daily cited of apparent paupers, amongst whose rags and gallimaufry, in the corner of some fetid cellar, extraordinary hoards are discovered. No one, however, but a mere caitiff would addict himself to this kind of metallic accumulation; and it is noticeable, that the practice is chiefly confined to dried-up bachelors, who have either no relatives to succeed to them, or who hate their relatives cordially. Poor wretches! If, ere they have given up the ghost on their ill-tended couch, and been deposited in the paltry shells which they have bespoken from a motive of posthumous economy, they could obtain a vision of the serene or lively countenances of those who shall walk at their funeral and divide their gains-if they could be prospectively present at the banquet which is to follow the ceremony, and witness the enormous consumption of liquor quaffed, not in honour of their memories, but by way of congratulation to the inebriated heirs-if they could hear, by anticipation, the remarks of the jocular guests, the retailed anecdotes of their meannesses, and the commentaries on their cruel selfishness-they might possibly, before the spirit has left the clay, ask themselves seriously for what end, either
in this world or the next, they have consented to lead the life of muckworms, and insure the contempt of their race. For, of all creatures upon earth, none is so despicable as the miser. It is not impossible that the profligate may have a friend, for there is usually left about him some tonch of humanity-some one unbroken chord of the finer feelings of our nature; but the miser meets with no sympathy. Even the nurse who is hired to attend him in his latest hours, loathes the ghastly occupation, and longs for the moment of her release; for, although the death-damp is already gathering on his brow, the thoughts of the departing sinner are still upon his gold, and, at the mere jingle of a key, he starts from his torpor, in a paroxysm of terror, lest a surreptitious attempt is being made upon the sanctity of his strong-box. Deeds there are many in that box; but where are the deeds that should have comforted the dying man? What blessings has he purchased for himself through his long and useless life? There are no prayers of the orphan or widow for him-not a solitary voice has ever breathed his name to Heaven as a benefactor. One poor penny, given away in the spirit of true charity, would now be worth more to him than all the gold that the world contains; but, notwithstanding that he was a church-going man, and familiar from his infancy with those awful texts in which the worship of mammon is denounced, and the punishment of Dives told, he has never yet been able to divorce himself from his solitary love or lust, or to part with one atom of his pelf. And so, from a miserable life, detested and despised, he passes into a drear eternity; and those whom he has neglected, or misused, make merry with the hoards of the miser!
The system of Life Assurance has, we think, a decided and wholesome tendency towards checking the early development of extremely sordid habits. If we were to put faith in the representations of play-wrights and novelists, we should be apt to imbibe the notion that avarice, parsimony, and extreme selfishness are vices from which youth is generally exempt, and that they are rarely ex
hibited in early manhood. Never was a more fallacious idea promulgated. The child is, emphatically, the father of the man; and there is scarce one of the corruptions of maturity which was not engendered in the days of nonage. Give a boy the uncontrolled use of money before he knows its value-or, what is even worse, give him the license of credit, and you make him a spendthrift through life. The earliest lessons are by far the most difficult to get rid of-nay, it is next to impossible altogether to escape from their influence. Teach a child, on the contrary, to hoard his Saturday's penny, for the mere sake of gathering money, and to a moral certainty you make him a miser. We are convinced that, if an accurate moral census could be taken, the result would be a positive majority of living misers under the age of thirtyfive. Of course, we do not mean to aver that a young miser can equal his senior in sordidness. The veriest screw, so long as his blood is untorpid, must have some amusements; but he buys such indulgences at the cheapest rate, and is, in consequence, a marked man among his contemporaries. All his tastes are low, and parsimony controls his dissipation. He frequents the meanest tavern, climbs up to the shilling gallery in the theatres, prefers parliamentary trains, and smokes nothing but pigtail. It may be that he is poor, and, in that case, great allowance is to be made for him. But, in nine cases out of ten, he is positively richer than the men in his own rank of life, and has begun to hoard systematically for the mere sake of accumulation. He has heard and measured the maxim that more fortunes are made by saving than by enterprise; and, as his ambition is not of a daring nature, he is content to confine himself solely to such renown as a millionaire is certain to achieve, and early to lay that foundation which is necessary for a future monetary fame.
False estimates of character are unfortunately too common in this world; and by many persons such despicable habits, when exhibited in youth, are regarded as the signs and token of a laudable prudence. The mother, whose anxiety for the welfare of her
son amounts to a nervous terror, dreads the effects of his intimacy with some gay companion whose high spirits occasionally lead him into scrapes, and who, it may very well be, is more reckless in his expenditure than his station in life will justify. She sees the faults, but she does not see the good qualities which redeem such a character. Granted that the young man may be imprudent; he is nevertheless frank, generous, honourable, and sincere;-and these are attributes which can hardly be rated too highly. Rated, however, they are not at all by the timid matron, who naturally looks upon her own dear Henry as the pink of unalloyed innocence, and is determined that, if possible, he shall escape contamination. Inquisition is made as to the habits of the young companion, for whom Henry has lately manifested an unaccountable degree of attachment; and most hideous to the maternal ear is the catalogue of revelations. Can Damon be allowed to associate with a Pythias who has taken down signs, wrenched knockers, and even insulted the dignity of the law by committing an assault upon a policeman? Is he not already, despite his tender years, ranked in the list of condemned felons, seeing that he has appeared in the dock before the awful presence of a sitting magistrate, and been fined five shillings for his active participation in a row? Once, according to the testimony of a virtuous and scandalised abigail, who was so much affected while giving evidence that she had to be sustained by cinnamon water, he returned home at a late hour decidedly the worse of liquor; and the extent of his familiarity with such horrid orgies may be gathered from the fact, that next morning, about eleven o'clock, he had the audacity to ask for sodawater. There is yet more, which the tongue of the aged serving-woman almost refuses to utter, until, comforted by more cordial, she reveals the awful secret, that, in the recklessness of the young man's guilt, he has even made proposals for a pass-key! How is it possible that Henry can be allowed to associate with such a monster? On the other hand, there is Charley Skrimp, her own beloved
nephew. What a boy that is-what a pattern to all around him! It is recorded that, at twelve years of age, he had established a box with a slit in the lid, into which went every penny accorded to him for the purchase of sweetmeats, and a good many other stray coppers, which, lying upon the mantel-piece, seemed to claim the care of a proprietor. What became of that hoard, when, swelled by occasional argentine windfalls, it reached the enormous amount of five pounds? Was it wasted in juvenile dissipation, or did he lay it out on a present to his mother, or did he expend it on the purchase of a silver watch, once the object of his ambition? Not so. The earliest arithmetical attempts of the sucking Ricardo were applied to the investigation of the interest-tables, and he lodged his money in a savings bank. Out of the allowance made bim for dress while at college, he regularly laid by one-half-philosophically disregarding the lampoons aimed at his greasy coat and baggy trousers, by his more natty and less provident class-fellows. Now, as an apprentice to a Writer to the Signet, he makes no end of threepences by copying papers, and never was known to expend a shilling in the enjoyment of ale and oysters. It is true that he is mortally detested by all of his compeers; but when did virtue, in this wicked world of ours, escape persecution? To Henry's mother, therefore, Charley Skrimp appears the very pattern of prudence and perfection, and earnestly does she entreat her boy to cultivate the friendship and profit by the example of his cousin. She had better have handed him over to the tender mercies of Fagan. Young as he is, every seed of generous or manly feeling has already withered in the mind of Skrimp. His whole soul is devoted to pelf, to gain which he will flatter, lie, or cozen-not, however, so as to be detected; for caution is his leading attribute, and he knows full well the marketable value of a good character. He is too consummate a knave to practise the usual cant of hypocrisy. He assumes a blunt, downright demeanour, which has all the appearance of honesty; and in a few years will be considered as an eccentric, independent creature,
perhaps a little surly and morose in his manner, but strictly to be relied on for integrity, and a first-rate man of business. If he marries, it will be for money, no matter how old, ugly, or stupid, the female incumbrance may be: indeed, it is to be hoped that she may be old, so that the race may not be perpetuated; ugly, because otherwise she would add to her misery by exciting the jealousy of her spouse; and stupid, in order that she may never fully discover the enormous depth of his debasement.
Skrimp, however, must be regarded as an instance of the innate natural miser. Such persons are to be found in every station of life, from the peer to the peasant, and perhaps in them the sordid vice cannot be eradicated. But there are others, naturally more generous, who are made misers by circumstance. Most laudable is that ambition which prompts a man to elevate himself in the ranks of society, and which suggests frugality and selfdenial as the best, and sometimes the only, means of attaining that distinction. Even more praiseworthy and commendable are the efforts of a youth who for a long series of years abstains from the enjoyments so natural to his age, for the sake of fulfilling a pious duty to an indigent parent, or of preparing a comfortable home for one whom he has loved from boyhood. Such exertions and sacrifices bring with them their own reward and blessing. But there is danger in too close and unremitting an attention to money-getting, and great risk lest it degenerate into an absolute miserly habit. We are of those who maintain that it is the bounden duty of a man to regulate his expenditure by his income-that the former ought to be increased or diminished according to the ratio of the latter-and that any other rule of conduct is absolutely opposed to the interests of society at large. The disparity of fortunes in this country has been made a subject of commentary and reproach. Longwinded treatises have been written to account for this unnatural distribution of property; and socialists frantically insist upon the propriety of a general partition. There can be no doubt whatever as to the method by which fortunes are generally made in
the breed becomes sufficiently purified to claim through a fictitious pedigree a place among the ancient gentry of England.
In this way, or in the higher branches of commerce, many large modern fortunes are made, instances of accumulation in the learned professions being comparatively rare. We do not undervalue the enterprise and sagacity which have led to such results; although we scorn and despise the degrading averment which we have seen more than once hazarded in print, to the effect that the discoverer of some mechanical improvement has done more for humanity than has been accomplished by the genius of Newton or Shakspeare. But we do not think that society at large profits by these undue accumulations. Every day we are told of the immense quantity of capital which is seeking employment, and which cannot be invested in the ordinary legitimate channels. The men of millions moan because they cannot meet with a safe and profitable investment; and yet misery is clamorous in our streets.
this mechanical age of ours. A man of intelligence and enterprise, but without the social ideas which rank and education engender, applies himself diligently to his calling, and straightway begins to prosper. What he gets, he saves; and from a mechanic becomes a mill-owner or an iron-master. He discovers or purchases some important invention, which gives him a tremendous start. Trade is brisk, orders plentiful; and no very long time elapses ere he can count his income by thousands. Many of that class are, we know, remarkably liberal in their expenditure, and do much towards the promotion both of arts and letters. But there are others who entertain no such enlightened views, and we instance the case of one of them. What is the object of all the wealth which is thus accumulating? Just this he is possessed with the very common but most vulgar ambition of becoming what he calls the founder of a family. At present he is fully as rich as the neighbouring peer, into whose gardens his chimney-stalks shed their soot: but he is not content with that; for, in the dim vista of futurity, he thinks he can descry his illiterate son, now lounging about the mill, with a lordly mantle on his shoulders, and a glistening coronet on his head. Radical as he is, or was, that vision is never absent from his thought. Clap him on a platform at Manchester, and he will denounce the aristocracy as a contemptible set of humbugs; listen to him in his own drawing-room, when half-intoxicated with heavy port, and you may hear him promise his daughter the prefix of Honourable to her
When this worthy descends to his grave, unbedewed by the tears of the thousands who have sweltered and toiled in his factory, he leaves behind him a colossal fortune. Not by the next generation, however, is that fortune properly enjoyed. The son and heir still retains his pot-house habits and low propensities has a turn, perhaps, for horse-racing, but, on the whole, prefers a cock-fight-is wretched if, by any accident, he gets into polished society, and frantic if society refuses to take notice of his claims. In the third descent, perhaps,
This is not a matter which can be amended by law or legislative enactment. The social inquirer can hardly hope to devise a practical remedy, though he may discover the causes which lead to an undue distribution of wealth. It is of the very essence of freedom that a man should be left to the uncontrolled disposal of the fruits of his own industry. His income, indeed, may be taxed; but, beyond that, he may employ the surplus as he pleases. He cannot be compelled to expend more or less than his own inclination may dictate. If he is a miser, he must be allowed to save-if open-handed, to give freely. But we have a right, at all events, to express our opinion as to the moral and social effects of undue accumulation.
We question not that it is the duty of a man to labour for the sake of his children;-that is, he is under a distinct moral obligation to have them properly educated and instructed, and fairly launched into the world. With regard to sons, we maintain that he is obliged to do little further. We speak of those who have been the