Selection from “Earning the Capital” By Rev. James W. Cole, 1886

What is capital? Most writers on economics answer, “Capital is surplus; the storage of the labor of the brain and muscle; the overplus from the daily needs and uses of men.” If this general definition be a true one, it can apply only to the outer, material forms of wealth. For one’s wealth does not consist solely in the possession of money, however vast that sum may be. A simple definition of the word will show this. Strength is strongness. Length is longness. Breadth is broadness. Wealth is ” wealness ” or wellness; things that make for one’s well-being.

Is the miser a wealthy man? Do the millions of gold some men get tend to their well-being? Is it not true that the getting of money develops in some the baser elements of their nature, so that occasionally you may see persons whose riches have but served to make them meaner than the meanest poverty could ever make them? Can such persons be truthfully said to be wealthy or well-being persons?

The word, you see, has broken away from its original foundation, and is by many persons regarded as simply synonymous in meaning with money. But money is not an end; it is a means to an end, and that end is nobly to live the life that is given you. If money or any other product of the earth will help you do that, then get it, get all you can of it; but if it would hinder you in your development of true manhood, then avoid it. Earn something else by your brain and muscle, if you would be wealthy.

When that noble man, the late Prof. Louis Agassiz, was asked why he did not use his great talents to gain money, when he was offered three hundred dollars each for a course of six lectures, he replied with lofty scorn, ” I cannot afford to lecture for money.” To him there were far more valuable and wonderful things in this world than money. Alas! that there are but few like him.

The citizens of ancient Rome were wont to place the statues and images of their great ancestors on pedestals, and in the vestibules of their houses, in order to remind themselves and their children of those ancestors’ virtues and glorious deeds, and to inspire them to emulate them; and for one hundred and seventy years they allowed no painted or graven image of a deity among them, with the result, as Plutarch tells us, that for two hundred and thirty years after the founding of Rome no husband deserted his wife, nor any wife her husband, and for six hundred years there was no parricide known, and for forty-three years, during the reign of Numa Pompilius, the temple of Janus, the god of war, continued closed, there being no war, nor sedition, nor conspiracy.

Would that Americans could be diverted long enough from their worship of Mammon to cultivate some of the virtues of those old heathen! Perchance, then, they might, for the peace of their families and the good of the republic, imitate the example of that famous Themistocles of Athens, who, when two suitors, one a poor man and the other rich, sought for the hand of his daughter in marriage, chose the poor man, saying he desired as a son-in-law a man without riches, rather than riches without a man.

But now you are a man, and a man of business desires and wishes to succeed in some particular business. You have virtues and some talents, but, it may be, very little money, perhaps none. Can you succeed without money? Certainly. Some of the richest men in this country began their business life without a dollar. Nature is just as ready to help you to get riches as she was to help them. She will give as good returns today and tomorrow as yesterday.

Money is but one of the numerous and valuable things to be found in her vast storehouses on land, and in the seas, and in the air, and in the sun, and you can get it out if you wish and will. Perhaps you have heard it said that, ” it takes money to get money.” No, it doesn’t. Money is not a loadstone, drawing its kind only. Money is only lumps of matter dug out of the ground, and shaped in certain forms and stamped with a design, and you can get an abundance of it without digging in the earth for it, and trying to catch it with another piece of the same kind.

What! Get money without capital? No, with capital. Why, man, you are a capitalist! Wages are only a form of income. An everyday laborer is a capitalist. Every person to whom God has given brains and a good body is a large capitalist.

Your mind, your muscle, is your capital, and with them you may earn what you will. All the riches of the world are the product of the labor of brain or muscle. Your brain may be a veritable gold mine if you will but develop it.

In 1882, at Christie’s rooms, London, a little daub of matter, only twelve by nine inches, that a brain had put on canvas, sold for thirty thousand dollars. It was Meissonier’s “Napoleon the First in the Campaign of Paris.” The same artist’s “1814” was sold for one hundred and seventy thousand dollars; eight years later, Millet’s “Angelus” brought one hundred and ten thousand dollars, and Murillo’s “Conception of the Virgin” one hundred and seventeen thousand dollars. Great fortunes, you see, that the brain produced.

The musician Paderewski spent a few weeks in this country a year ago, and then carried home with him one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars, as the proceeds of his brain.

Sir Walter Scott was a silent partner in the firm of the publishers of his books. The firm failed, and he was involved in debt six hundred thousand dollars in consequence. He was then fifty-six years of age. Summoning all the energy of his mighty brain to the task, he labored incessantly, by night and day, sending out volume after volume, until in five years he had paid it all by the product of his brain. Yes, brains are great money-getters, if you use them for that purpose.

The son of a farmer in the state of New York, a sickly lad, Samuel J. Tilden, so used his brains as to bring him a fortune, by the practice of law, of five millions of dollars. A Swedish young woman, Jenny Lind, twenty-eight years of age, came to the United States with nothing but her voice, that her brain had cultured, and in ninety-eight nights she had sung out of the pockets of the American people seven hundred and twelve thousand dollars. Another Swede, Ole Bornemann Bull, so manipulated a violin as to draw out of the same American people in a single season more than a hundred thousand dollars; while an American-born lad of English ancestors, Edwin Booth, so used his brains while an actor, that in less than two months’ time he had taken in from the people of San Francisco alone, over ninety-six thousand dollars.

But why multiply instances in literature, art, oratory, music, the drama, all going to prove that your brain is your capital, and that all you need to do if you wish for money is to use it.

Rick Koerber, the Free Capitalist (Image by Jeff Brimley)

Rick Koerber, the Free Capitalist (Image by Jeff Brimley)