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Living On Your Friends
by [?]

Thackeray devoted a chapter in “Vanity Fair” to the problem “How to Live Well on Nothing a Year.” It was neither a very new nor a very ingenious expedient that “Becky” resorted to when she discounted her husband’s position and connection to fleece the tradespeople and cheat an old family servant out of a year’s rent. The author might more justly have used his clever phrase in describing “Major Pendennis’s” agreeable existence. We have made great progress in this, as in almost every other mode of living, in the latter half of the Victorian era; intelligent individuals of either sex, who know the ropes, can now as easily lead the existence of a multi-millionaire (with as much satisfaction to themselves and their friends) as though the bank account, with all its attendant worries, stood in their own names. This subject is so vast, its ramifications so far-reaching and complicated, that one hesitates before launching into an analysis of it. It will be better simply to give a few interesting examples, and a general rule or two, for the enlightenment and guidance of ingenious souls.

Human nature changes little; all that our educational and social training has accomplished is a smoothing of the surface. One of the most striking proofs of this is, that here in our primitive country, as soon as accumulation of capital allowed certain families to live in great luxury, they returned to the ways of older aristocracies, and, with other wants, felt the necessity of a court about them, ladies and gentlemen in waiting, pages and jesters. Nature abhors a vacuum, so a class of people immediately felt an irresistible impulse to rush in and fill the void. Our aristocrats were not even obliged to send abroad to fill these vacancies, as they were for their footmen and butlers; the native article was quite ready and willing and, considering the little practice it could have had, proved wonderfully adapted to the work.

When the mania for building immense country houses and yachts (the owning of opera boxes goes a little further back) first attacked this country, the builders imagined that, once completed, it would be the easiest, as well as the most delightful task to fill them with the pick of their friends, that they could get all the talented and agreeable people they wanted by simply making a sign. To their astonishment, they discovered that what appeared so simple was a difficult, as well as a thankless labor. I remember asking a lady who had owned a “proscenium” at the old Academy, why she had decided not to take a box in the (then) new opera- house.

“Because, having passed thirty years of my life inviting people to sit in my box, I intend now to rest.” It is very much the same thing with yachts. A couple who had determined to go around the world, in their lately finished boat, were dumbfounded to find their invitations were not eagerly accepted. After exhausting the small list of people they really wanted, they began with others indifferent to them, and even then filled out their number with difficulty. A hostess who counts on a series of house parties through the autumn months, must begin early in the summer if she is to have the guests she desires.

It is just here that the “professional,” if I may be allowed to use such an expression, comes to the front. He is always available. It is indifferent to him if he starts on a tour around the world or for a winter spree to Montreal. He is always amusing, good-humored, and can be counted on at the last moment to fill any vacant place, without being the least offended at the tardy invitation, for he belongs to the class who have discovered “how to live well on nothing a year.” Luxury is as the breath of his nostrils, but his means allow of little beyond necessities. The temptation must be great when everything that he appreciates most (and cannot afford) is urged upon him. We should not pose as too stern moralists, and throw stones at him; for there may enter more “best French plate” into the composition of our own houses than we imagine.