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To: CHARLES GOODRICH WHITING, Critic, Poet, Friend
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THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS
BY GEORGE POPE MORRIS (1802-1864)
[From The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots, with Other Sketches of the Times (1839), by George Pope Morris.]
Look into those they call unfortunate,
And, closer view’d, you’ll find they are unwise.—Young.
Let wealth come in by comely thrift,
And not by any foolish shift:
Who gripes too hard the dry and slippery sand
Holds none at all, or little, in his hand.—Herrick.
Let well alone.—Proverb.
How much real comfort every one might enjoy if he would be contented with the lot in which heaven has cast him, and how much trouble would be avoided if people would only “let well alone.” A moderate independence, quietly and honestly procured, is certainly every way preferable even to immense possessions achieved by the wear and tear of mind and body so necessary to procure them. Yet there are very few individuals, let them be doing ever so well in the world, who are not always straining every nerve to do better; and this is one of the many causes why failures in business so frequently occur among us. The present generation seem unwilling to “realize” by slow and sure degrees; but choose rather to set their whole hopes upon a single cast, which either makes or mars them forever!
Gentle reader, do you remember Monsieur Poopoo? He used to keep a small toy-store in Chatham, near the corner of Pearl Street. You must recollect him, of course. He lived there for many years, and was one of the most polite and accommodating of shopkeepers. When a juvenile, you have bought tops and marbles of him a thousand times. To be sure you have; and seen his vinegar-visage lighted up with a smile as you flung him the coppers; and you have laughed at his little straight queue and his dimity breeches, and all the other oddities that made up the every-day apparel of my little Frenchman. Ah, I perceive you recollect him now.
Well, then, there lived Monsieur Poopoo ever since he came from “dear, delightful Paris,” as he was wont to call the city of his nativity—there he took in the pennies for his kickshaws—there he laid aside five thousand dollars against a rainy day—there he was as happy as a lark—and there, in all human probability, he would have been to this very day, a respected and substantial citizen, had he been willing to “let well alone.” But Monsieur Poopoo had heard strange stories about the prodigious rise in real estate; and, having understood that most of his neighbors had become suddenly rich by speculating in lots, he instantly grew dissatisfied with his own lot, forthwith determined to shut up shop, turn everything into cash, and set about making money in right-down earnest. No sooner said than done; and our quondam storekeeper a few days afterward attended an extensive sale of real estate, at the Merchants’ Exchange.