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The Destructive Consequences Of Dissipation And Luxury Post by :crostrad Category :Short Stories Author :M. (arnaud) Berquin Date :October 2011 Read :3059

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The Destructive Consequences Of Dissipation And Luxury

On a fine evening, in the midst of summer, Mr. Drake and his son Albert took a walk in some of the most agreeable environs of the city. The sky was clear, the air cool; and the purling streams, and gentle zyphyrs rustling in the trees, lulled the mind into an agreeable gloom. Albert, enchanted with the natural beauties that surrounded him, could not help exclaiming, "What a lovely evening!" He pressed his father's hand, and, looking up to him, said, "You know not, papa, what thoughts rise in my heart!" He was silent for a moment, and then looked towards heaven, his eyes moistened with tears. "I thank God," said he, "for the happy moments he now permits me to enjoy! Had I my wish, every one should taste the beauties of this evening as I do. Were I the king of a large country, I would make my subjects perfectly happy."

Mr. Drake embraced his son, and told him, that the benevolent wish he had just uttered came from a heart as generous as it was humane. "But would not your thoughts change with your fortune? Are you certain, that in an exalted station you should preserve the sentiments which now animate you in that middling state, in which it has pleased Heaven to place you?"

Albert was a little surprised that his father should ask such a question, for he had no idea that riches could bring with them cruelty and wickedness.

Mr. Drake told him, that indeed was not always the case. "The world has produced fortunate persons," said he, "who have remembered their past distresses, and have always retained the most charitable ideas for the unfortunate; but we too often see, what is a disgrace to the human heart, that a change of fortune alters the most tender and sympathetic affections. While we ourselves labour under misfortunes, we look upon it as a duty incumbent on every man to assist us. Should the hand of God relieve us, we then think that all his intentions in the preservation of the world are answered, and too often cease to remember those unfortunate wretches, who remain in the gulf from which we have been rescued. You may see an instance of this in the man who frequently comes to beg charity of me, whom I relieve with reluctance, and cannot but censure myself for so doing."

Albert told his father that he had frequently observed how coolly he put money into his hands, without speaking to him in that tender language, which he generally used to other poor people. He therefore begged his father would tell him what could be his reason for it.

"I will tell you, my dear," said Mr. Drake, "what has been his conduct, and then leave you to judge how far I do right. Mr. Mason was a linen-draper in Cheapside; and though the profits of his business were but moderate, yet a poor person never asked his charity in vain. This he viewed as his most pleasing extravagance, and he considered himself happy in the enjoyment of it, though he could not pursue this indulgence to the extent of his wishes. Business one day called him on 'Change, he heard a number of capital merchants talking together of vast cargoes, and the immense profits to be expected from them. 'Ah!' said he to himself, 'how happy these people are! Were I as rich, Heaven knows, I should not make money my idol, for the poor should plentifully partake of my abundance.'

"This man went home with a bosom full of ambitious thoughts; but his circumstances were too narrow to embrace his vast projects, as it required no small share of prudence, in the management of his affairs, to make every thing meet the end of the year. 'Ah!' cried he, 'I shall never get forward, nor rise above the middling condition, in which I at present linger.'

"In the midst of these gloomy thoughts, a paper inviting adventurers to purchase shares in the lottery was put into his hand. He seemed as if inspired by Fortune, and caught the idea immediately. Without considering the inconvenience to which his covetousness might reduce him, he hastened to the lottery-office, and there laid out four guineas. From this moment he waited with impatience for the drawing, nor could he find repose even at night on his pillow. He sometimes repented of having so foolishly hazarded what he could not well bear the loss of, and at other times he fancied he saw riches pouring in upon him from all quarters. At last the drawing began, and, in the midst of his hopes and fears, Fortune favoured him with a prize of five thousand pounds.

"Having received the money, he thought of nothing else for several days; but when his imagination had cooled a little, he began to think what use he should make of it. He therefore increased his stock, extended his business, and, by care and assiduity in trade, soon doubled his capital. In less than ten years he became one of the most considerable men in the city, and hitherto he had punctually kept his promise, in being the friend and patron of the poor; for the sight of an unfortunate person always put him in mind of his former condition, and pleaded powerfully in behalf of the distressed.

"As he now frequented gay company, he by degrees began to contract a habit of luxury and dissipation: he purchased a splendid country-house, with elegant gardens, and his life became a scene of uninterrupted pleasures and amusements. All this extravagance, however, soon convinced him, that he was considerably reducing his fortune; and his trade, which he had given up, to be the more at leisure for the enjoyment of his pleasures, no longer enabled him to repair it. Besides, having been so long accustomed to put no restraint on his vanity and pride, he could not submit to the meanness of lessening his expenses. 'I shall always have enough for myself,' thought he, 'and let others take care of themselves.'

"As his fortune decreased, so did his feelings for the distressed; and his heart grew callous to the cries of misery, as with indifference we hear the roaring tempest when sheltered from its fury. Friends, whom he had till then supported, came as usual to implore his bounty, but he received them roughly, and forbid them his house. 'Am I,' said he, 'to squander my fortune upon you? Do as I have done, and get one for yourselves.'

"His poor unhappy mother from whom he had taken half the pension he used to allow her, came to beg a corner in any part of his house, where she might finish her few remaining days; but he was so cruel as to refuse her request, and with the utmost indifference saw her perish for want. The measure of his crimes, however, was now nearly filled. His wealth was soon exhausted in debaucheries and other excesses, and he had neither the inclination nor ability to return to trade. Misery soon overtook him, and brought him to that state in which you now see him. He begs his bread from door to door, an object of contempt and detestation to all honest people, and a just example of the indignation of the Almighty."

Albert told his father, that if fortune made men so wicked and miserable, he wished to remain as he was, above pity, and secure from contempt.

"Think often, my dear child," said his father to him, "of this story, and learn from this example, that no true happiness can be enjoyed, unless we feel for the misfortunes of others. It is the rich man's duty to relieve the distresses of the poor; and in this more solid pleasure is found, than can be expected from the enervating excesses of luxury and pomp."

The sun was now sinking beneath the horizon, and his parting beams reflected a lovely glow upon the clouds, which seemed to form a purple curtain round his bed. The air, freshened by the approach of evening, breathed an agreeable calm; and the feathered inhabitants of the grove sung their farewell song. The wind rustling among the trees, added a gentle murmur to the concert, and every thing seemed to inspire joy and happiness, while Albert and his father returned to their house with thoughtful and pensive steps.

(The end)
M. (Arnaud) Berquin's short story: Destructive Consequences Of Dissipation And Luxury

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