Old-Fashioned Wisdom from John Ploughman

TO EARN MONEY IS EASY compared with spending it well; anybody may dig up potatoes, but it is not one woman in ten that can cook them. Men do not become rich by what they get, but by what they save. Many men who have money are short of wit as a hog is of wool; they are under years of discretion, though they have turned forty . . . . What their fathers got with rakes, they throw away with shovel. After the miser comes the prodigal.

Often men say of the spendthrift, his own father was no man’s friend but his own; and now the son is no man’s enemy but his own; the fact is, the old gentleman went to hell by the lean road, and his son has made up his mind to go there by the fat. As soon as the spendthrift gets his estate, it goes like a lump of butter in a greyhound’s mouth.

All his days are the first of April; he would buy an elephant at a bargain, or [roof] his house with pancakes, nothing is too foolish to tickle his fancy; his money burns holes in his pocket, and he must squander it, always boasting that his motto is, “Spend, and God will send.” . . . he forestalls his income, and draws upon his capital, and so kills the goose which lays the golden eggs. He never spares at the brim, but he means, he says, to save at the bottom. Times never were good to lazy prodigals; if they were good to them they would be bad for all the world besides.

If a little gambling is thrown in with the fast living, money melts like a snowball in an oven. A young gambler is sure to be an old beggar if he lives long enough.

The devil leads him by the nose, 
Who the dice so often throws.

There are more asses than those with four legs. I am sorry to say they are found among working men as well as fine gentlemen. Fellows who have no estate but their labor, and no family arms except those they work with, will yet spend their little earnings at the beer—shop or in waste. No sooner are their wages paid than away they go . . . to contribute their share of fools’ pence towards keeping up the landlord’s red face and round corporation. Drinking water neither makes a man sick nor in debt, nor his wife a widow, and yet some men hardly know the flavor of it; but beer, guzzled down as it is by many a working man, is nothing better than brown ruin. Dull droning blockheads sit on the ale bench and wash out what little sense they have ever had.

Some go to shop with as much wit as Samson had in both his shoulders, but no more; they do not buy well; they have not sense to lay out their money to advantage. Buyers ought to have a hundred eyes, but these have not even half a one, and they do not open that; well was it said that if fools did not go to market, bad wares would never be sold. They never get a pennyworth for their penny, and this often because they are on the hunt for cheap things, and forget that generally the cheapest is the dearest, and one cannot buy a good shilling’s worth of a bad article. When there’s five eggs a penny, four of them are rotten.

I suppose we all find the money goes quite fast enough, but after all it was made to circulate, and there’s no use in hoarding it. It is bad to see our money become a runaway servant and leave us, but it would be worse to have it stop with us and become our master. We should try, as our minister says, “to find the golden mean,” and neither be lavish nor stingy.

By John Ploughman

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #19 in 1988]

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