Vanishing Roads and Other Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 329 pages of information about Vanishing Roads and Other Essays.

On the contrary, he buys precisely the same things as his fellow-millionaires, the same stereotyped possessions—­houses in Fifth Avenue and Newport, racehorses, automobiles, boxes at the opera, diamonds and dancing girls; and whether, as the phrase is, he makes good use of his wealth, or squanders it on his pleasures, the so-called good or bad uses are alike drearily devoid of individuality.  Philanthropist or profligate, the modern millionaire is one and the same in his lack of initiative.  Saint or sinner, he is one or the other in the same tame imitative way.

The rich men of the past, the splendid spendthrifts of antiquity, seem usually to have combined a gift of fancy with their wealth, often even something like poetry; and their extravagances, however extreme, had usually a saving grace of personal whim to recommend them to lovers of the picturesque.  Sardanapalus and Heliogabalus may have been whatever else you please, but they were assuredly not commonplace; and the mere mention of their names vibrates with mankind’s perennial gratitude for splendour and colossal display, however perverse, and even absurd.  The princes of the Italian Renaissance were, of course, notable examples of the rich man as fantast, probably because they had the good sense to seek the skilled advice of poets and painters as to how best to make an artistic display of their possessions.  Alas, no millionaire today asks a poet’s or painter’s assistance in spending his money; yet, were the modern millionaire to do so, the world might once more be delighted with such spectacles as Leonardo devised for the entertainments at the Villa Medici—­those fanciful banquets, where, instead of a mere vulgar display of Medici money—­“a hundred dollars a plate,” so to say—­whimsical wit and beauty entered into the creation of the very dishes.  Leicester’s famous welcoming of Elizabeth to Kenilworth was perhaps the last spectacular “revel” of its kind to strike the imagination; though we must not fail to remember with gratitude the magnificent Beckford, with his glorious “rich man’s folly” of Fonthill Abbey, a lordly pleasure house which naturally sprang from the same Aladdin-like fancy which produced “Vathek.”

I but mention one or two such typical examples at random to illustrate the difference between past and present.  At present the rich man’s paucity of originality is so painful that we even welcome a certain millionaire’s penchant for collecting fleas—­he, it is rumoured, having paid as much as a thousand dollars for specimens of a particularly rare species.  It is a passion perhaps hard to understand, but, at least, as we say, it is “different.”  Mr. Carnegie’s more comprehensible hobby for building libraries shows also no little originality in a man of a class which is not as a rule devoted to literature.  Another millionaire I recently read of, who refused to pay the smallest account till it had run for five years, and would then gladly pay it, with compound interest at five per cent., has something

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Vanishing Roads and Other Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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