8 June 2015

A Little Finger Thicker Than Your Loins

From Rudyard Kipling's convocation address to McGill University's class of 1907, reprinted as "Values in Life," Book of Words (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1928):
When, to use a detestable phrase, you go out into “the battle of life”, you will be confronted by an organised conspiracy which will try to make you believe that the world is governed by the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake, and that all means which lead to the acquisition of that wealth are, if not laudable, at least expedient. Those of you who have fitly imbibed the spirit of our University — and it was not a materialistic University which trained a scholar to take both the Craven and the Ireland* in England — will violently resent that thought; but you will live and eat and move and have your being in a world dominated by that thought. Some of you will probably succumb to the poison of it.

Now, I do not ask you not to be carried away by the first rush of the great game of life. That is expecting you to be more than human, But I do ask you, after the first heat of the game, that you draw breath and watch your fellows for a while. Sooner or later, you will see some man to whom the idea of wealth as mere wealth does not appeal, whom the methods of amassing that wealth do not interest, and who will not accept money if you offer it to him at a certain price.

At first you will be inclined to laugh at this man and to think that he is not “smart” in his ideas. I suggest that you watch him closely, for he will presently demonstrate to you that money dominates everybody except the man who does not want money. You may meet that man on your farm, in your village, or in your legislature. But be sure that, whenever or wherever you meet him, as soon as it comes to a direct issue between you, his little finger will be thicker than your loins. You will go in fear of him: he will not go in fear of you. You will do what he wants: he will not do what you want. You will find that you have no weapon in your armoury with which you can attack him; no argument with which you can appeal to him. Whatever you gain, he will gain more.

I would like you to study that man. I would like you better to be that man, because from the lower point of view it doesn’t pay to be obsessed by the desire of wealth for wealth’s sake. If more wealth be necessary to you, for purposes not your own, use your left hand to acquire it, but keep your right for your proper work in life. If you employ both arms in that game you will be in danger of stooping; in danger, also, of losing your soul. But in spite of everything you may succeed, you may be successful, you may acquire enormous wealth. In which case I warn you that you stand in grave danger of being spoken and written of and pointed out as “a smart man”. And that is one of the most terrible calamities that can overtake a sane, civilised, white man in our Empire to-day.
* I assume this is a reference to Herbert Rose, who graduated from McGill in 1904 and went on to win these scholarships at Oxford.