By Anne Matthews
March 1, 2009
It is now, in this very moment, that I can and must pay for that I have received. The past and its load of debt are balanced against the present. And on the future I have no claim. Is not beauty created at every encounter between a man and life, in which he repays his debt by focusing on the living moment all the power which life has given him as an obligation? Beauty—for the one who pays his debt. For others, too, perhaps.
—Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, 1964
Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.
—Herbert Hoover (1874–1964)
[The school owners] had chosen to befriend me, and their friendship included canings, reproaches and humiliations, which were good for me and saved me from an office stool. That was their version, and I believed in it. It was therefore clear that I owed them a vast debt of gratitude. But I was not grateful. … On the contrary, I hated both of them.
—George Orwell, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” 1952
She had learned to bargain, pare down prices, evade fees, brow-beat the small tradespeople and wheedle concessions from the great—not, as Ralph perceived, from any effort to restrain her expenses, but only to prolong and intensify the pleasure of spending. … So the purveyors continued to mount to their apartment, and Ralph, in the course of his frequent flights from it, found himself always dodging the corners of black glazed boxes and swaying pyramids of pasteboard; always lifting his hat to sidling milliners’ girls. … He felt incompetent to pronounce on the needs to which these visitors ministered; but the reappearance among them of the blond-bearded jeweller gave him ground for fresh fears.
—Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country, 1913
As the circulation of money was very slow, a law was made for the Egyptians that a man might have that money lent to him which he needed, by offering as security the dead body of his father.
—Herodotus, Histories, Vol. I
I was gambling in Havana
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this.
—Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” 1994
This little orchard will be a part of a great holding next year, for the debt will have choked the owner. This vineyard will belong to the bank. … The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. … The food must rot, must be forced to rot. The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. … In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
—John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939
He uncovered his face … , and said: … “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you
remember to pay the debt?”
The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else?
There was no answer to the question.
—Plato on the death of Socrates, “Phaedo”
In his Petersburg world, all people were divided into two completely opposite sorts. One was the inferior sort: the banal, the stupid and, above all, ridiculous people who believed that one husband should live with one wife, who he had married in church, that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest, a man manly, temperate and firm, that one should raise children, earn one’s bread, pay one’s debts. … But there was another sort of people, the real ones, to which they all belonged, and for whom one had, above all, to be elegant, handsome, magnanimous, bold, gay, to give oneself to every passion without blushing and laugh at everything else.
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1877
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
—Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850
[To pay for the printing of my first book] I sold the few pieces of furniture I owned. The watch my father had solemnly given me, on which he had had two little crossed flags enameled, soon went off to the pawnbroker’s. My black poet’s suit followed the watch … and off I went into the street carrying my books on my shoulder, with holes in my shoes, but beside myself with joy … ink fresh and its paper still crisp, that enchanted and ecstatic moment.
—Pablo Neruda, Memoirs, 1977
There is no class of people in the world, who have such good memories as creditors.
—P. T. Barnum, The Art of Money Getting, 1880
“Which one would you like, ma’am?” he asked, turning the bunch of chrysanthemums about that she might choose for herself. She looked at the large mop-headed blossoms. Their curled petals were deep garnet colour within and tawny yellow without. As the light fell on their sleek flesh the garnet colour glowed, the tawny yellow paled as if it were thinly washed with silver. She longed for the moment when she might stroke her hand over those mop heads.
“I think I will take them all,” she said.
—Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes, 1926
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder or out of debt …
Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.
—W. D. Snodgrass, “April Inventory,” Selected Poems, 1957–1987
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.
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