Commonplace Book - Summer 2010


By Anne Matthews | June 1, 2010


People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

Dear Cleinias, the class of men is small—they must have been rarely gifted by nature, and trained by education—who, when assailed by wants and desires, are able to hold out and observe moderation, and when they might make a great deal of money are sober in their wishes, and prefer a moderate to a large gain. But the mass of mankind . . . prefer gains without limit.

Plato, Laws

We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.

John Maynard Keynes, The Yale Review, June 1933

A frown passed across [American rail baron Collis P.] Huntington’s face. The question seemed to irritate him. He replied that, yes, he had seen the Eiffel Tower. “I wasn’t impressed,” he said. . . . “Your Eiffel Tower is all very well,” Huntington told the French reporters. “But where’s the money in it?”

Richard Rayner, The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California (2008)

Money, for example, as these Wasps possessed it, seemed something rigid and invisible, like glass. Though it could be broken and distributed, acquired and passed on, it quite lacked organic festiveness. Whereas money under Jewish hands was yeasty; it grew and spread and frolicked on the counting table. . . . Being among the goyim frightened Bech, in truth; their collective chill was the chill of devils.

John Updike, Bech Is Back, 1982

The figures of the balance show
Rich deposits, swollen greed
While the hours are nosing paint
Silently as fungi feed.

Adrian Stokes, With All the Views, 1981

Would you be rich? Do you think that the single point worth sacrificing everything else to? You may then be rich. Thousands have become so from the lowest beginnings by toil, and diligence, and attention to the minutest articles of expense and profit. But you must give up the pleasures of leisure, of an un­em­barrassed mind, and of a free, unsus­picious temper. You must learn to do hard, if not unjust things; and as for the embar­rass­ment of a delicate and ingenuous spirit, it is ne­ces­sary for you to get rid of it as fast as possible.

Lydia Child, The American Frugal Housewife, 1828

This wise age counts its merchants, and reckons its armies ciphers. But why do I talk of this age?—every age has some ostentatious system to excuse the havoc it commits. Conquest, honour, chivalry, religion, balance of power, commerce, no matter what, mankind must bleed, and take a term for a reason. ’Tis shocking! Good night.

—Letter from Horace Walpole, to Sir Horace Mann, 26 May 1762

I went to a snow-viewing party.
Gladly will I sell
For profit,
Dear merchants of the town,
My hat laden with snow.

Matsuo Basho (Edo period, Japan, 1644–1694)

A few hours later she entered her little room over the kindergarten, bolted the door with shaking fingers, and emptied a heavy canvas sack upon the middle of her bed. Then she opened her trunk, and taking thence the brass match-box and chamois-skin bag added their contents to the pile. Next she laid herself upon the bed and gathered the gleaming heaps of gold pieces to her with both arms, burying her face in them with long sighs of unspeakable delight. . . . One evening she had even spread all the gold pieces between the sheets, and had then gone to bed, stripping herself, and had slept all night upon the money, taking a strange and ecstatic pleasure in the touch of the smooth flat pieces the length of her entire body.

Frank Norris, McTeague, 1899

Attention to money is commonplace enough, even in the remotest communities of rural Ireland, but single-minded preoccupation with profit is rare indeed . . . a show of goodwill to the man with whom the deal is being effected, a drink in the bar to clinch it, the ancient tradition of giving a penny with every bargain, the very lack of haste—these things are aimed at the obviation of hostility. Behind them lies a concealed assumption that dealing is inimical to friendliness, and therefore to community.

Hugh Brody, Inishkillane, 1973

Even a potato in a dark cellar has a certain low cunning about him which serves him in excellent stead. He knows perfectly well what he wants and how to get it.

Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1872

It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. . . . I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.

Edward Abbey, High Country News, September 24, 1976

Before inflation, they used to say of Hollywood, “There’s nothing as scared as a million dollars.” After all, movie-making is the process of turning money into light. All they have at the end of the day is images flickering on a wall.

John Boorman, Money into Light, 1985

George: A toast! A toast to Papa Dollar and Mama Dollar, and if you want the old Building and Loan to stay in business, you better have a family real quick.

Cousin Tilly: I wish they were rabbits.

George: I wish they were too. Okay, let’s put them in the safe and see what happens.

Frank Capra et al., It’s A Wonderful Life, 1947

We may see the small value God has for riches, by the people he gives them to.

Alexander Pope, Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1727

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments are closed for this post.