Misers – A Timeless Fascination

Misers – A Timeless Fascination

I frequently reflect on how different our lives are from the lives of those that lived during the Georgian Period, but occasionally, I am reminded in surprising ways that human nature is rather constant.

As a case in point, let’s consider reality television. Back in 2012, there was a reality show called Extreme Cheapskates. It ran for three seasons, and as the name implies, it documented things that a handful of frugal and eccentric individuals did to save money. The individuals featured in the series do not live in abject poverty. In fact, at least two of the stars are reportedly millionaires. I’ve never seen an episode, but my kids mention scenes they have watched on you-tube. They don’t bring up these scenes to offer me any sort of useful tips for reducing costs, but because some lengths the stars of the show go to are shocking. One example is a mother who drove her children around looking for roadkill, which was then prepared and served for dinner. They canceled the show, in part, because measures were so extreme, many viewers questioned if the episodes were staged.

In December 2019, I sent out a newsletter about John Elwes, so I apologize if this part feels redundant. He was a miser that may have been the inspiration for Dickens’ famous Ebenezer Scrooge. Elwes was born in 1714 and inherited the equivalent of $10 million in today’s dollars at the age of ten. He later inherited the equivalent of an additional $23 million. After he died in 1790, they published accounts of his stingy ways in a daily newspaper called The World, and his penny pinching became the subject of many books. Much like the woman featured on Extreme Cheapskates, one of his money-saving techniques was to eat roadkill—including a bird that a rat pulled from a river. Daniel Dancer is another famous and wealthy cheapskate who became the subject of books and magazine articles after his death in 1794. His 1797 biography proved so popular they reissued it for several years. Here is an excerpt that I found shocking:

“It was during the last illness, which terminated his sister’s life, that he was importuned to afford her some medical assistance; to which he shrewdly replied, it would cost him money; and, besides, continued he, ‘Why should I waste my money in wickedly and wantonly trying to oppose the will of God! If the girl is come to her latter end, nothing can save her; and all I may do, will only tend to make me lose my money; and she may as well die now as at any other time.’”

 

It’s not unexpected that misers have existed for over 200 years, but it surprised me to see the similarities in terms of modern and Georgian entertainment. Mr. Elwes and Mr. Dancer are not remembered for their accomplishments but for their avarice. Much like viewers of Extreme Cheapskates, their contemporaries took pleasure from learning about their ridiculous methods to horde wealth. While criticisms of reality television led me to assume the practice of looking into the lives of unnoteworthy strangers to marvel at their eccentricities was relatively new, it is not. Although the delivery method and accessibility have changed, this type of thing has been popular for centuries. Modern research has tried to uncover why we find it appealing. Whatever the reason, it appears to span both cultures and generations.

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11 COMMENTS
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Eliza Shearer
AuAu
September 11, 2021 7:25 AM

A fascinating article, Cinnamon, thanks for sharing!

Mirta Ines Trupp
AuAu
September 8, 2021 11:39 PM

Astonishing history!

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
September 8, 2021 11:17 PM

I agree that we need money to live, but isn’t it disgusting what some people will do for money. And I guarantee that they can’t take it with them, so what good is it in the long haul?

Glynis
Glynis
September 8, 2021 8:33 AM

I suppose that’s why I’m not rich then! We never had a lot of money while growing up but I never remember going without! My Mum made most clothes, either sewn or knitted, and my Dad was the original upcycler and could mend anything.
I brought my children up mostly on my own and they also have very happy childhood memories (although my son, who is a father himself, regrets never having Castle Greyskull for his He Man!)
I really can’t imagine risking our health by eating roadkill or denying medication to a sick family member.
Thank you for sharing this.

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
September 8, 2021 8:06 AM

Hello, Cinnamon! As always, I love your entertaining bits of history! I can relate to this. My dad was super tight with is money! Mostly because he came from a very poor family and had experienced the depression. Then he and my mom had four children. He was very stingy with his money and my mom was the sweetest, most giving person, by nature. Many were the arguments when she wanted to help someone and he only saw how much it would cost him. Great article!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
September 7, 2021 10:22 AM

I don’t overspend but I certainly am not a miser! I help my family if needed. I can’t imagine someone letting another person suffer because they give them a little money. Although you do have to be careful who you help! A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas stories though!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
September 7, 2021 9:37 AM

I’ve heard horror stories where someone drove around looking for a free clinic to care for someone who was ill. Think appendix… or some other extreme that should be at an ER not in a car driving around looking for free medical care. Shudder. I have a feeling you have a miser story perking in that noggin of yours. There could be one lurking around Meryton, of living in Cheapside, or even a distant relation to Mr. Bennet. Oh, what fun we… um… you could have with this. My brain is just bussing with ideas. Carry on, my dear. Thanks for sharing.

Regina Jeffers
Admin
September 7, 2021 7:54 AM

I have told you this previously: I come from a long line of “Misers.” Not the type you mention, however. The German side of my family were not “Geizhals,” but rather “Meisers,” which is actually an occupational name for a fowler, from an agent derivative of Meise 1. topographic name for someone who lived in an area where timber had been felled (see Meiss)—habitational name for someone from a place called Mais in Bavaria.

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