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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, (29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs Gaskell, was a English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature. Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte, published in 1857, was the first biography of the eponymous novelist.
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“Mother, I should so like to have a great deal of money,” said little Tom Fletcher one evening, as he sat on a low stool by his mother’s knee. His mother was knitting busily by the firelight, and they had both been silent for some time.
“What would you do with a great deal of money if you had it?”
“Oh! I don’t know — I would do a great many things. But should not you like to have a great deal of money, mother?” persisted he.
“Perhaps I should,” answered Mrs. Fletcher. “I am like you sometimes, dear, and think that I should be very glad of a little more money. But then I don’t think I am like you in one thing, for I have always some little plan in my mind, for which I should want the money. I never wish for it just for its own sake.”
“Why, mother! there are so many things we could do if we had but money; — real good, wise things I mean.”
“And if we have real good, wise things in our head to do, which cannot be done without money, I can quite enter into the wish for money. But you know, my little boy, you did not tell me of any good or wise thing.”
“No! I believe I was not thinking of good or wise things just then, but only how much I should like money to do what I liked,” answered little Tom ingenuously, looking up in his mother’s face. She smiled down upon him, and stroked his head. He knew she was pleased with him for having told her openly what was passing in his mind. Presently he began again.
“Mother, if you wanted to do something very good and wise, and if you could not do it without money, what should you do?”
“There are two ways of obtaining money for such wants; one is by earning; and the other is by saving. Now both are good, because both imply self-denial. Do you understand me, Tom? If you have to earn money, you must steadily go on doing what you do not like perhaps; such as working when you would like to be playing, or in bed, or sitting talking with me over the fire. You deny yourself these little pleasures; and that is a good habit in itself, to say nothing of the industry and energy you have to exert in working. If you save money, you can easily see how you exercise self-denial. You do without something you wish for in order to possess the money it would have cost. Inasmuch as self-denial, energy, and industry are all good things, you do well either to earn or to save. But you see the purpose for which you want the money must be taken into consideration. You say, for ‘something wise and good.’ Either earning or saving becomes holy in this case. I must then think which will be most consistent with my other duties, before I decide whether I will earn or save money.”
“I don’t quite know what you mean, mother.”
“I will try and explain myself. You know I have to keep a little shop, and to try and get employment in knitting stockings, and to clean my house, and to mend our clothes, and many other things. Now, do you think I should be doing my duty if I left you in the evenings, when you come home from school, to go out as a waiter at ladies’ parties? I could earn a good deal of money by it, and I could spend it well among those who are poorer than I am (such as lame Harry), but then I should be leaving you alone in the little time that we have to be together; I do not think I should be doing right even for our ‘good and wise purpose’ to earn money, if it took me away from you at nights: do you, Tom?”
“No, indeed; you never mean to do it, do you, mother?”
“No,” said she, smiling; “at any rate not till you are older. You see at present then, I cannot earn money, if I want a little more than usual to help a sick neighbour. I must then try and save money. Nearly everyone can do that.”
“Can we, mother? We are so careful of everything. Ned Dixon calls us stingy: what could we save?”
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