THE LORDS OF THE EXCHEQUER, THE DESIRES
Mind must be Fed.—We consider the Lords of the Exchequer, the Desires, after the Intellect, because their office is to do for Mind pretty much what the Appetites do for the Body. It is as necessary that Mind should be fed, should grow and should produce, as that these things should happen to Body; and, just as Body would never take the trouble to feed itself if it never became hungry, so Mind would not take in what it needs, if it, also, had not certain Desires to satisfy. These gather the funds, as it were, for Mind, so we may amuse ourselves by calling them the Lords of the Exchequer.
The Desires of Approbation.—Have you ever watched a baby with his bricks? When he has managed to set one on end, he turns round to his mother for a smile. The little creature is not happy unless his mother or nurse approve of him. When he crawls up to the window, climbs up by the chair-leg, says ‘Mam-mam, dad-dad,’ he wants a smile for all these things, and if his nurse looks grave and says ‘Naughty!’ the little face will fall and tears gather. No one has taught Baby to care that his friends should be pleased with him; it is born in him and is just a part of him as a human being, a little Mansoul.
This Desire of Approbation helps him later to conquer a sum, to climb a hill, to bring home a good report from school; and all the time he is bringing grist to the mill, knowledge to the mind, because the people whose Approbation is worth having care that we should learn and know, conquer our idleness and get habits of steady work, so that our minds may be duly nourished every day as are our bodies.
The Dæmon of Vanity.—This lawful and useful Desire of Approbation has his Dæmons; one of these is known as Vanity. We cannot live and be happy without Approbation, but some boys and girls, men and women, choose to have the approval of the worthless and silly rather than of the wise and good. Some boys would rather talk and show off in a way to make the stable-yard laugh, than work and play in a way to win the approval of their betters. People can be vain and can show off about almost anything—their rich relations, the parties they go to, their clothes, their pocket-knife, their cleverness. But when people show off, like a peacock spreading his tail, it is always in order that somebody whose good opinion is not worth having may think the better of them. Nice boys and girls, nice men and women, think well of us just for doing our best; we know that, and do not think of showing off before them. He is stupid who wants nobody’s approval; he is vain who wants the approval of the unworthy.
Fame and Infamy.—Another danger is that a person may allow the desire of approval so to get possession of him that he thinks of nothing else. All his actions, good or bad, come to be done to win notice from other people. He would rather you spoke ill of him than that you did not speak of him
at all. It is believed that robberies, murders, assassinations, take place at times for the mere sake of infamy, just as deeds of heroism may take place for the sake of fame. Both infamy and fame mean being talked and thought about by a large number of people, and if anyone should allow his natural Desire of Approbation so to possess him that he is always wondering what people will think of him and say of him, he loses that which is far more precious than the respect of others—self-respect, which one can only have when the desires, motives, powers of Mansoul are duly balanced.
The Desire of Excelling.—Another Desire which serves to feed the mind is that of Excelling. If we are learning to skate, we have no peace till we skate as well as a boy we know who learned last winter; then we want to outdo him; then, to skate as well as another better skater; then, to outdo him; and so on, and when we go to bed at night we dream of the day when we shall skate better than anyone in the neighbourhood; nay, we think how glorious it would be to be the very best skater in the whole world. It would seem as if some animals, horses anyway, have this Desire. Do you not know how another horse, in advance, puts yours on his mettle? It is as good as a prick of the spur to quicken his pace. And that is just what this Desire of Excelling does for us; it spurs us on to effort when we are lazy. If another boy read, we choose to read more. If he work at his lessons, we work more; and so, one way or another, the Mind is sustained by the food it needs.
Prizes and Places.—Emulation, or the Desire to Excel has like the Desire of Approbation, two
Dæmons. One is, that people get so much taken up with the Desire of being ahead of some others that they have no time to think of anything else; they do not care two pins about what they learn, it does not interest them; they only want the marks, or prize, the place in class, or what not; and so it happens that his Mind is sometimes so starved by the boy who comes out first that it never afterwards recovers its appetite. History, Literature, Science, cease to interest and cease to be pursued. The whole object of life in such an one is to get ahead of somebody else. In this way Emulation, which was given to us, we may believe, for the nourishment of our Minds and the development of our Bodies, defeats its own ends, and is satisfied only to excel.
Excelling in Things Unworthy.—We may go wrong if we are unduly emulous about things that are right and good in themselves; but also, Emulation, like many another subordinate, may grasp at the whole rule of Mansoul through things unlawful and unworthy. In the old days of hard drinking, the excellence that men desired was, to excel in their power of drinking large quantities of wine at a sitting; to be a ‘three-bottle man’ was a distinction.
Distinctions as little worthy as this are still sought by boys and girls, men and women. We should each do well to think the matter over and see whether we are giving up our lives to the Desire of Excelling in an unworthy pursuit.
The Desire of Wealth.—The Desire of Wealth is another Desire that everybody has, more or less, and that does useful work in making us eager to acquire things useful and necessary for our lives, whether for our Bodies or our Minds. This same Desire
moves a small boy to collect pocket-knives, buttons, string and marbles, and moves one rich man to get together a precious collection of great pictures, and another to become a millionaire, though he may not care to spend his money.
Dæmon of Selfishness.—As before, two Dæmons wait upon this natural Desire; one is the Dæmon of Selfishness: once a boy or man allows himself to be so far possessed by the Desire of getting and keeping, whether it be postage stamps or pictures, ornaments or money; that he thinks of nothing else—that this, of getting and keeping, becomes the ruling Desire of his life—why, he simply cannot part with that which has become his treasure; he cannot be generous, and his mind is so preoccupied that he has no time to be kind. His heart is set upon possessions for himself, and he becomes a selfish person. When the Desire of wealth fills the whole of life it becomes Avarice. The person who is always grasping after more wealth is avaricious; and he may come to such a pass that he cannot part with any of his wealth, even for his own bodily needs; such a man is a miser. On the other hand, he who takes pains to acquire as a part of his life, and not the chief part, may get for himself the means of being generous and helpful to other people.
Worthless Wealth.—Another risk is, that one may set oneself to acquire things of no real worth. In a charming French story a noble pair are introduced who spend their lives in hasty journeys. Now they rush off to Palermo—now, to Moscow—again, to Tokio; and what do you suppose for? Because they hear that in this country or that there is a match-box to be found of a kind they have not already got in their collection—a match-box covered with blue paper, or
with brown or yellow—a match-box three inches long or two and a quarter. They do not stop to ask what the distinction of the ugly little box may be, but it differs a little from the rest; so, at any cost of time and trouble, they hasten to possess it. The novelist is laughing at the craze people have for collections of any sort, worthy or unworthy; and this craze comes of the natural Desire of possessions implanted in Mansoul. But it rests with us that our possessions shall be worthy. Let us begin soon to collect a good library of books that we shall always value, of photographs of the works of the great masters; even of postage stamps, if we take the trouble to interest ourselves in the stamps—ask ourselves, for example, why the present German stamps bear the figure of Germania. No collection which has not an interest for the mind is worth possession. Take this rule, and when you grow up you will not think that silver plate, for instance, is worth owning for its own sake, but for its antiquity, its associations, or for the beauty of its designs.
The Desire of Power.—Another Desire which stirs in all human breasts is the Desire of Power. All children in the nursery have this Desire more or less, but the one who has the most of it rules the rest. They play his games, run his errands, let him lord it over them all day long. The people who love power most, get power; but if they are good-natured and kind, helpful and generous, clever and merry, they use their power to keep the rest happy, interested, and amused. Power is a good thing when it gives us many chances of serving; it is a bad thing when all we care about is to rule.
Ambition, the Desire for power, is not quite the
same thing as Emulation, the Desire to excel. The emulous boy is content to be first; the ambitious boy wishes to lead the rest. I think the ambitions boy is of more use in the world, than the emulous, because, if he wants to lead others, he must make himself worthy to take the lead. He must be best, whether he be captain of the school or of the cricket eleven. But let him remember that ‘pride comes before a fall.’ If he let himself be lifted up because he leads, let him beware! Others care to follow the lead of the dutiful and devoted, but not that of the proud and self-satisfied. The Desire for power, as each of the other Desires, may ruin a life that it is allowed to master. Once man or boy thinks of nothing but taking the lead, he will cease to care whether it be for worthy or unworthy objects. He will as soon head his fellows in riot and disorder as in noble effort in a good cause. Many lives have suffered shipwreck upon the rock of Ambition.
‘Managing’ People.—There is also a special danger attending the love of power—a danger to others rather than to ourselves. If we are bent upon taking the lead, we do not allow others fair play or a fair chance. We cheat our fellows out of a part of their lives, out of that fair share of power which belongs to them. We grow strong at their expense, and they wax feeble in proportion as we wax great. Few characters are more ignoble than those who are always trying to manage others, always manœuvring to get power into their own hands. The best way of watching against this evil is to wait always until we have ‘greatness thrust upon us.’ Let us not take the lead, but wait until it is given to us, and then let us lead for the advancement and help of others rather than for our own.