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An essay by Geoffrey Chaucer

Dame Prudence On Riches

Title:     Dame Prudence On Riches
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer [More Titles by Chaucer]

When Prudence had heard her husband avaunt himself of his riches and of his money, dispreising the power of his adversaries, she spake and said in this wise: Certes, dear sir, I grant you that ye ben rich and mighty, and that riches ben good to 'em that han well ygetten 'em, and that well can usen 'em; for, right as the body of a man may not liven withouten soul, no more may it liven withouten temporal goods, and by riches may a man get him great friends; and therefore saith Pamphilus: If a neatherd's daughter be rich, she may chese of a thousand men which she wol take to her husband; for of a thousand men one wol not forsaken her ne refusen her. And this Pamphilus saith also: If thou be right happy, that is to sayn, if thou be right rich, thou shalt find a great number of fellows and friends; and if thy fortune change, that thou wax poor, farewell friendship and fellowship, for thou shalt be all alone withouten any company, but if[1] it be the company of poor folk. And yet saith this Pamphilus, moreover, that they that ben bond and thrall of linage shuln be made worthy and noble by riches. And right so as by riches there comen many goods, right so by poverty come there many harms and evils; and therefore clepeth Cassiodore, poverty the mother of ruin, that is to sayn, the mother of overthrowing or falling down; and therefore saith Piers Alphonse: One of the greatest adversities of the world is when a free man by kind, or of birth, is constrained by poverty to eaten the alms of his enemy. And the same saith Innocent in one of his books; he saith that sorrowful and mishappy is the condition of a poor beggar, for if he ax not his meat he dieth of hunger, and if he ax he dieth for shame; and algates necessity constraineth him to ax; and therefore saith Solomon: That better it is to die than for to have such poverty; and, as the same Solomon saith: Better it is to die of bitter death, than for to liven in such wise. By these reasons that I have said unto you, and by many other reasons that I could say, I grant you that riches ben good to 'em that well geten 'em and to him that well usen tho' riches; and therefore wol I shew you how ye shulen behave you in gathering of your riches, and in what manner ye shulen usen 'em.

[Footnote 1: Except.]

First, ye shuln geten 'em withouten great desire, by good leisure, sokingly, and not over hastily, for a man that is too desiring to get riches abandoneth him first to theft and to all other evils; and therefore saith Solomon: He that hasteth him too busily to wax rich, he shall be non innocent: he saith also, that the riches that hastily cometh to a man, soon and lightly goeth and passeth from a man, but that riches that cometh little and little, waxeth alway and multiplieth. And, sir, ye shuln get riches by your wit and by your travail, unto your profit, and that withouten wrong or harm doing to any other person; for the law saith: There maketh no man himself rich, if he do harm to another wight; that is to say, that Nature defendeth and forbiddeth by right, that no man make himself rich unto the harm of another person. And Tullius saith: That no sorrow, ne no dread of death, ne nothing that may fall unto a man, is so muckle agains nature as a man to increase his own profit to harm of another man. And though the great men and the mighty men geten riches more lightly than thou, yet shalt thou not ben idle ne slow to do thy profit, for thou shalt in all wise flee idleness; for Solomon saith: That idleness teacheth a man to do many evils; and the same Solomon saith: That he that travaileth and busieth himself to tillen his lond, shall eat bread, but he that is idle, and casteth him to no business ne occupation, shall fall into poverty, and die for hunger. And he that is idle and slow can never find convenable time for to do his profit; for there is a versifier saith, that the idle man excuseth him in winter because of the great cold, and in summer then by encheson of the heat. For these causes, saith Caton, waketh and inclineth you not over muckle to sleep, for over muckle rest nourisheth and causeth many vices; and therefore saith St. Jerome: Doeth some good deeds, that the devil, which is our enemy, ne find you not unoccupied, for the devil he taketh not lightly unto his werking such as he findeth occupied in good werks.

Then thus in getting riches ye musten flee idleness; and afterward ye shuln usen the riches which ye ban geten by your wit and by your travail, in such manner, than men hold you not too scarce, ne too sparing, ne fool-large, that is to say, over large a spender; for right as men blamen an avaricious man because of his scarcity and chinchery, in the same wise he is to blame that spendeth over largely; and therefore saith Caton: Use (saith he) the riches that thou hast ygeten in such manner, that men have no matter ne cause to call thee nother wretch ne chinch, for it is a great shame to a man to have a poor heart and a rich purse; he saith also: The goods that thou hast ygeten, use 'em by measure, that is to sayn, spend measureably, for they that folily wasten and despenden the goods that they han, when they han no more proper of 'eir own, that they shapen 'em to take the goods of another man. I say, then, that ye shuln flee avarice, using your riches in such manner, that men sayen not that your riches ben yburied, but that ye have 'em in your might and in your wielding; for a wise man reproveth the avaricious man, and saith thus in two verse: Whereto and why burieth a man his goods by his great avarice, and knoweth well that needs must he die, for death is the end of every man as in this present life? And for what cause or encheson joineth he him, or knitteth he him so fast unto his goods, that all his wits mowen not disseveren him or departen him fro his goods, and knoweth well, or ought to know, that when he is dead he shall nothing bear with him out of this world? and therefore saith St. Augustine, that the avaricious man is likened unto hell, that the more it swalloweth the more desire it hath to swallow and devour. And as well as ye wold eschew to be called an avaricious man or an chinch, as well should ye keep you and govern you in such wise, that men call you not fool-large; therefore, saith Tullius: The goods of thine house ne should not ben hid ne kept so close, but that they might ben opened by pity and debonnairety, that is to sayen, to give 'em part that han great need; ne they goods shoulden not ben so open to be every man's goods.

Afterward, in getting of your riches, and in using of 'em, ye shuln alway have three things in your heart, that is to say, our Lord God, conscience, and good name. First ye shuln have God in your heart, and for no riches ye shuln do nothing which may in any manner displease God that is your creator and maker; for, after the word of Solomon, it is better to have a little good, with love of God, than to have muckle good and lese the love of his Lord God; and the prophet saith, that better it is to ben a good man and have little good and treasure, than to be holden a shrew and have great riches. And yet I say furthermore, that ye shulden always do your business to get your riches, so that ye get 'em with a good conscience. And the apostle saith, that there nis thing in this world, of which we shulden have so great joy, as when our conscience beareth us good witness; and the wise man saith: The substance of a man is full good when sin is not in a man's conscience. Afterward, in getting of your riches and in using of 'em, ye must have great business and great diligence that your good name be alway kept and conserved; for Solomon saith, that better it is and more it availeth a man to have a good name than for to have great riches; and therefore he saith in another place: Do great diligence (saith he) in keeping of thy friends and of thy good name, for it shall longer abide with thee than any treasure, be it never so precious; and certainly he should not be called a gentleman that, after God and good conscience all things left, ne doth his diligence and business to keepen his good name; and Cassiodore saith, that it is a sign of a gentle heart, when a man loveth and desireth to have a good name. And therfore saith Seint Augustyn, that ther ben two thinges that ben necessarie and needful; and that is good conscience and good loos; that is to sayn, good conscience in thin oughne persone in-ward, and good loos of thin neghebor out-ward. And he that trusteth him so muckle in his good conscience, that he despiseth or setteth at nought his good name or los, and recketh not though he kept not his good name, n'is but a cruel churl.

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Geoffrey Chaucer's essay: Dame Prudence On Riches