Whenever I read in your newspapers that an engagement between young Society people has been broken off I cannot help but admire their courage. Their marriage had probably been engineered for them by their parents or their friends, their respective wealth and social connections had certainly been weighed in the balance on either side, and neither being found wanting it was decided that connubial bliss was bound to follow. But the young people knew better and stood firm against the conspiracy to build their happiness on the insecure foundation of wealth.
In the past--which you are, all of you, so fond of calling the good old days--it would have been very difficult for those young people to set their faces against the commands of their respective families. Custom dictated that parents should 'arrange' the future of their children, and as often as not the result was a demmed unhappy mess for the poor young things. How lucky youth is nowadays to be allowed to mould its life as it will, and I will readily admit that wealth--in terms of £.s.d. hardly ever enters into the ideal realms of a genuine love-match.
Unfortunately one cannot blind oneself to the fact that the influence of money is very largely on the increase these days. Too often I notice that the share-pusher or fraudulent financier is accepted in certain strata of modern society. Croesus is toadied too because of the benefits which may accrue from his goodwill, and an ill-mannered millionaire is often made more welcome than a poor gentleman because of the tips he is able to give for a flutter on the Stock Exchange.
Far be it from me to assert that money has not its romantic side! I were a demmed ingrate if I did, for it was money that enabled me to indulge my passion for adventure, which I could not have done had I been a penniless rustic. Money does undoubtedly open for one the portals of a wide, wide world. It brings the many delightful luxuries of the earth within one's reach; it can satisfy one's wishes and fulfil one's desires. But it is not almighty, and somehow the very things that are beyond its reach are the most important of all.
I enjoyed my wealth; I liked the comfort it brought me and the luxuries. I loved my white-winged 'Day-Dream', my lace, my perfumes, my horses and my home. I still love the things that wealth can give. I love to see beautiful pearls round a beautiful woman's neck. I love to see her wear expensive furs, silks and dainty shoes, and all the rest of the fripperies that women love. But I do not believe in the influence of wealth as wealth, or in the power of pearl necklaces and fur coats. There are influences far greater than these.
To begin with--and I am deliberately treading here on delicate ground--there is religion. There is no money in the world that could purchase the conviction of a devout man or woman, no matter to what form of belief he or she may adhere. The pages of the world's history teem with the relations of terrible martyrdom endured for its sake in the early days of Christianity, or during the great religious persecutions of the Middle Ages. These facts are too well known to need reiteration, but they do serve to prove that not even life, much less wealth or honours, was thought too high a price to pay when religious convictions were at stake.
A famous statesman did once assert that 'every man has his price'. Now that was a demmed foolish assertion on the part of that statesman: it goes to prove that he, for one, knew very little of men and of life or he would never have made it. Take your own case, m'dears; would you, if the reward was high enough, commit murder, betray your friend, or rob an old woman of her savings? Would a sackful of gold, or all the gold in the world, compensate you for the loss of love, honour, or self-respect? Egad! I'll not wait for an answer.
There is nothing in the world that will purchase the love of a woman if she be forced into a marriage with the veriest Croesus. Many a rich man has learnt that hard lesson to his cost. Diamonds and pearls, fur coats or your wonderful motor cars--every luxury a woman's heart can desire--will not command a single heartfelt caress or the true fervour of a loving kiss.
Money cannot purchase love, and it cannot purchase health. There is at least one millionaire in your world to-day who would give five-sixths of his entire fortune to any doctor who could cure him permanently of a troublesome, though not deadly, disease. A very well-known lady of Victorian times offered £100,000 to any physician who could rid her of a disfiguring mark on the face. Beauty-culture was not then the highly scientific study that it is to-day and the lady took the ugly mark with her to the grave.
Egad! do not these two instances dispose of the theory that wealth is an almighty power? And I could quote you innumerable others. But it is exceedingly pleasant, I'll admit--and so is health. Wealth has not the satisfying quality of faith, nor the rapture of love, and personally, I am of the opinion that great wealth is a source of more trouble than anything else on earth. The acquiring of it is a worry, the losing it a greater worry still. In that way it is like teeth--trouble when they come and a demmed trouble when they go!
The possession of money is, in fact, a perpetually unsatisfied ambition. The man who owns a bicycle longs to have a car; as soon as he can afford a car he wants a large one; having a larger one he wants a more expensive one, or a more exclusive make; having this he wants a yacht, and in the striving after these things he spends his life in a musty office with his ear glued to a telephone, whilst love, happiness, idealism and adventure pass him by.
And in the end money, that precious thing for the acquisition of which he has sacrificed his whole life toiling and slaving and striving, cheats him out and out, because it is powerless to obtain for him that which perhaps he wants more than anything else in the world.
Unfortunately the tendency of to-day is to imagine that wealth must be gained at all costs, that nothing matters except money and the luxuries it can bring; that for its sake it is wise to sacrifice everything that the idealist holds most dear--love, conscience, art, even honour sometimes.
It is true that you cannot take love and honour to the money-lender or the pawnbroker as you can a string of pearls, but when you have them even a visit to the pawnbroker is robbed of some of its sting. You may have a hard struggle for life; you may even feel the pinch of poverty; you may have to deny yourself and those you care for many pleasant luxuries, but if you have a clean record and possess the love of one who is dear to you, you will own gems far more precious than the rarest pearls that ever came out of the sea. And what is more, these gems have a purchasing power which no money in the world ever had, or ever will have, for they can, in their turn, purchase love and friendship. Honour calls to honour, love to love, both will bring into your life that great, priceless, wonderful thing without which no life can be complete--true and loyal friends.