Ease with Dignity…The Rich (are different) List.

My Sunday paper is a mine of abstruse information. Two things struck me. One was an article on Aldborough House, a semi derelict ruin in Dublin’s north inner city. The other was a weighty supplement entitled The Rich List. It fell out of the bale of newsprint and struck me on the foot. I could sue on foot of serious injury or back strain from lifting the entire newspaper from the mailbox. I might be in line for millions, ensuring my place on next year’s edition. There might be millions of people in line to take similar actions as The Sunday Times is famously bulky.  A cursory flick through revealed the dismal news that I was not included in the 2017 rich list, just like previous years. Further dismal news revealed that the subjects of the interviews, in most cases became rich through hard work, ingenuity, entrepreneurial skill and unflagging determination. Very few it appeared became rich through inherited wealth. Some who had reached a great age, ploughed their money into philanthropic causes, helping others less fortunate than themselves. They bore out the theory that success brought on by hard work, is good for the health. Damn!

As for Aldborough House, I remember looking at it every morning from the train, as I made my way to UCD to study, among other things, Latin. I was convinced that there would be untold wealth to be gained from studying and teaching Latin. There it was on the portico in bold Roman letters OTIUM CUM DIGNITATE. I was onto a winner. Edward Augustus Stratford, (I knew a fellow from Stratford) the 2nd Duke of Aldborough, in the 1790s correctly envisaged the aspirations of a gentleman, a life of ease and dignity in a decent house, supported by privilege and inherited wealth. His timing was a bit askew. Within ten years The Act of Union deflected fashionable society away from Dublin to the centre of power in London. The grand town houses of the gentry fell into decay to the point that many became slums, while others became the business premises of professionals engaged in trade…(see above, hard work, ingenuity, entrepreneurial skill and unflagging determination.) No sign of ease and dignity there. How is a gentleman supposed to live? Aldborough House is a sorry remnant of its former self. Perhaps the new owners will redeem it. One of its lowest and ominously symbolic moments came with the discovery of a human skull when the leaking roof was being repaired in the 1950s. The theory was that this macabre occurrence dated to the North Strand bombing in World War II. An inauspicious discovery. The house looks rundown and possibly haunted. I imagine, never having been in it and never having tapped at the plaster work or probed the woodwork for wet and dry rot, that unmentionable horrors await any attempt to restore it.

As for the lucrative business of teaching Latin, the Second Vatican Council, knocked the arse out of that. Latin teachers were summarily turned out of schools and colleges to beg for their bread in the common street. For years I eked out a meagre  living in draughty hedge schools or as the despised tutor to the sons and daughters of decayed and debauched gentry in crumbling mansions. I lived below stairs and sat at table with the under footmen, scullery maids and grooms. The dry rot entered into my soul. My only comfort was a well-thumbed copy of S.P.Q.R. by Mary Beard, an illuminating tome about Roman civilisation. I mined the book, as she appeared to have mined the records and monuments of that faded empire. There were flashes of recognition from my student days, those bright days when I learned that all of Gallia is divisa in partes tres.; that it is dulce et decorum to die for the fatherland; that the chief priest of Rome was the Pontifex Maximus or bridge builder and stuff like that. I didn’t mention any of that to the footmen, the skittish young scullery maids or the grooms. What would they care? I recalled the words of that other great classicist, Frankie Howard, “titter ye not” but I knew that they would.  In S.P.Q.R. I found a harsh truth–the opposite of OTIUM (Ease) is NEGOTIUM (Business). It dawned on me that prosperity and wealth might be derived from business or even busyness. I had been on the wrong track all along. I devised a plan of action, (opposite of ease.)

It came to me on Quasimodo Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. My paper had not arrived. I read in S.P.Q.R. that Rome is a mess. Most of the great buildings are falling down. The Vatican Museum is crammed with old stuff,  statues without limbs or noses, heads without bodies, torsos without heads, old pottery, out of date books, paintings and tapestries so out of fashion that nobody would want them in their own living room. Look at that building, Nero’s Golden House. “At last” says he,after bankrupting the empire and expending the lives of thousands of slaves, “I have a house where I can begin to live like a human being.”  What Rome needs is a Quasimodo, someone to scamper about ringing bells and tidying up. The place has enormous possibilities, tourism, Air b and b. Clear out all the old stuff. Put a lick of paint on all those ruins. Put Mary Beard on a modest retainer. She could do all the hard work. I wrote to the Pontiff, in my best school Latin, outlining my plan. Revive the Latin Mass. Establish a Vatican Latin academy, endorsed by the Latin-American Pope, with low-cost accommodation in the Vatican itself. We could both make a tidy sum out of it. It can’t go wrong. He’s a Latin-American, for God’ sake!. He doesn’t even use the papal apartments. The hallmark of the entrepreneur is to see an opportunity and go for it. Give it a year or two and we could both ascend in glory, with trumpet blasts and angelic choruses, into the glory of The Sunday Times Rich List.

Isn’t that a disgrace?

{My other field of study was Eng. Literature. Brush up your Shakespeare/And the women you will wow/Brush up your Shakespeare/And they’ll all kow- tow. Do you think it would be worth having another crack at impressing those giggling scullery maids?  I might hold on a while until I’m wealthy.}

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