19) The Miser

A story by Ivan Krilov (1768-1844), Russian writer of fables,
from Harper’s Fourth Reader, © 1888, by Harper and Brothers.

     “Is it worthwhile being rich if one is never to enjoy his riches, but only spend his life in heaping up money?  And of what use is great wealth, after all?  We die and then leave it behind.  No, if riches had fallen to me, I would not have hoarded my gains, as some men do, but I would have lived in true enjoyment of my wealth.  My feasts should have been talked about far and near.  And besides, I would have done good to others, and given money to the poor.” 

     So thought a poor man to himself, lying on his hard bed in a wretched hovel.  Just at that moment a wizard came and stood before him.  “You wish to be rich,” said the wizard, “for I have heard you say so.  I am always glad to help a friend, and so here is a purse for you.  There is just one ducat in it, and no more; but as soon as you have taken one coin out of it you will find another in it all ready for you.  So now, my friend, your growing rich depends entirely upon your own wishes.  Take the purse, and freely supply yourself from it until your craving is satisfied.  Only bear this in mind; until you shall have flung the purse into the river, you are forbidden to spend a single ducat.”

   Thus he spoke, and then left the purse with the poor man.  The man was almost beside himself with joy.  As soon as he regained his senses, he began to handle the purse; and with what result?  Scarcely could he believe it was not a dream.  He had hardly taken one ducat out before another was already in the purse.  Our poor friend now said to himself, “I will shake out a thousand ducats.  Then, tomorrow, I shall be rich, and I will begin to live like a nobleman.”

   But the next morning he had changed his mind.  “It is true,” he said, “I am rich now.  But who isn’t glad to get hold of a good thing, and why shouldn’t I become twice as rich?  It surely wouldn’t be wrong for me to spend another day or two over the prize.  Here I have money for a country house, but if I might buy even more properties, wouldn’t it be stupid to lose such an opportunity?  Yes, I will keep the wonderful purse.  So be it.  I will fast one day more; and after that I will have plenty of time for luxurious living.”

   But what happens?  A day goes by, and then a week, a month, a year.  Our poor man has long ago lost all count of the ducats.  Meanwhile he eats scantily and lives sparingly.  Scarcely has the day begun to break before he is back at the purse.  Sometimes he makes up his mind to throw away the purse, but then his heart grows faint within him.  He reaches the bank of the river, and then turns back again.  He has not yet quite as much gold as he would like to have.  He will wait until tomorrow. “How can I possibly part with the purse,” he says, “while it yields so rich a stream of gold.”

     In the course of time our poor man has grown gray and thin and as yellow as his own gold.  He does not even think of luxury now.  He has become faint and feeble; health and rest are unknown to him.  But still, with trembling hand, he goes on taking ducats out of the purse.  He takes and takes, and how does it all end?  On the bench on which he used to sit gloating over his wealth– on that very bench he dies, in the act of counting the last coins of his ninth million.

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more that is poor.” Seneca

Job 20:20 — Surely he will have no respite from his craving; he cannot save himself by his treasure. 

Proverbs 23:4-5 — Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. 

Ecclesiastes 5:10 — Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless. 


Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    –The Book of Common Prayer