Yon are rich, yet unblest, and I envy you not,
Whatever vain babblers may say;
For your wine and your banquets I care not a jot,
They are pleasures which pass with the day.
I have health and contentment, a home and a wife,
And children that play round my knee,
And I envy no monarch his crown nor his life –
I’m as proud and as happy as he.
If happiness came with the weight of the purse
The rich would be happy indeed,
And to cleave to each other “for better for worse”
Man and wife would no longer have need.
For gold would be then elixir of life,
A remedy ’gainst every ill –
The allayer of sorrow, the soother of strife,
The director and guide of the will.
But gold, though a blessing, is often a curse –
The cause and abettor of strife,
And the parent of miseries deeper and worse
Than aught else that embitters our life.
For what hopes have been blasted, what hearts have been torn,
What virtue and happiness sold –
What homes rendered desolate, cheerless, forlorn,
Through the glittering allurements of gold!
Ah! too often ’tis wrenched by injustice and wrong
From the patient, the careworn, the brave,
And true sons of toil, whose forbearance is long
Towards a tyrant to Mammon a slave!
And what slave’s more degraded than he who for gol
Hath polluted and perjur’d his soul –
Hath bartered his freedom, and impiously sold
Life’s hopes for a demon’s control?
When the love of base gain holds the reins of the heart,
It engenders the gross love of self;
And the holier affections so surely depart
As the miser increases his pelf;
Till humanity’s claim are all coldly put by,
And love for his kindred is gone;
Till the fount of affection is withered and gone,
And selfishness lingers alone.
Then give me the joys that are lasting and pure –
The joys that will ne’er pass away –
A love of humanity sacred and sure,
That will live though earth’s pleasures decay;
A heart unpolluted by falsehood or crime,
And free as the glad mountain air;
A soul that delights in the true, the sublime,
The virtuous, the lovely, the fair.
And give me, oh! give me, dear heaven from above,
While life’s onward march I pursue,
The tender delights of affection and love
From such hearts as are kindly and true;
And though poor be my love I will aye be content,
Nor foolishly murmur that fate
Hath denied me of riches, yet happiness lent
That is often denied to the great.

Title:The Poor Rich Man to the Rich Poor Man

Author:Thomas Barlow

Publication:Ashton and Stalybridge Reporter

Published in:Ashton-under-Lyne

Date:July 9th 1864

Keywords:politics, poverty, work


The conceit of suggesting an inverse relationship between monetary wealth and happiness was not uncommon in Victorian poetry, and it can be seen in the context of a social balm, or a reactionary ideological emollient, depending on your point of view. Framed as an address from a poor man to a rich man, and published during the Cotton Famine, this poem arguably serves the function of encouraging the poor to be happy with their lot, and to refrain from being jealous of their better off neighbours. In this case there is both a scepticism about the ability of wealth to bring happiness, and the religious promise of everlasting happiness in the next life for the virtuous poor. – SR