Read A PENNY'S WORTH of Lectures on Popular and Scientific Subjects, free online book, by John Sutherland Sinclair‚ Earl of Caithness, on ReadCentral.com.

Or, "TAKE CARE OF THE PENCE, AND THE POUNDS WILL TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES." ,

A penny seems a small sum to talk about, and with many, I am sorry to say, is looked upon as so insignificant as to be considered almost worthless; but I hope, before I have done, to show you something of the great value of even a penny, and of the effects and products we have been enabled to produce and dispose of with a reasonable profit at the cost of one penny. A much smaller sum than this was looked upon and regarded as of inestimable value by our blessed Saviour, when He saw the rich men and the widow casting their offerings into the treasury, for He said: “All these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.”

Now what did this widow cast in? Two mites, which make one farthing. Though this took place more than eighteen hundred years ago, it shows to us even now the great value of small things when given with the heart and used in the right way.

Money is a most desirable thing, and without it the business of the world would come to a stand-still, but how to spend it aright is a matter of grave thought, for it may with ease be spent in luxury, but it requires a mind to use it profitably. Both pleasure and profit may be gained by prudent and proper expenditure, and to show how even a limited income may enjoy great comfort at home (and there is, I hope you think, no place like home, and one’s own home-fireside), I have ventured to bring before you at this time what can be done for one penny.

The penny itself is a matter which leads one into thought. The vastness of mind which has been brought to bear on the production of the coin is itself worthy of consideration. Before any coin can be sanctioned by the realm, it has to go through the ordeal of Her Majesty’s Government, and after all has been done to the satisfaction of the authorities, a little bit of copper though now, for the good of our pockets, mixed with an alloy is made to minister to our wants in ways which I hope to lay before you as plainly and shortly as possible. First and foremost we must have that great and valuable thing heat, for without heat generated by fire we could have no penny. One of the first things required to produce this heat is wood. Now the wood must be grown, trees attended to with care and at great cost. Years pass before they are either fit for beauty or use, yet, during the time of their growth, the smaller branches that are lopped off form just what is required to set on fire the coal and coke to produce the heat which is necessary for smelting and blast furnaces, for our own domestic fires, and various other uses. A faggot of these lopped branches can be bought for a penny. Having thus found out, as a beginning, one thing which can be obtained for a penny, let us go on to see what has to be attended to and encountered before this valuable coin can be made. Sums of money have to be spent, risks very great have to be entered into, and beautiful machinery constructed before it can be placed in our pockets. The mines of Cornwall have to be reached for both copper and tin a matter of great cost to the pockets of speculators, and of anxiety to the minds of engineers, who lay themselves out to gain the material. Furnaces have to be built to smelt the ore and bring it into a workable condition. The Mint is then, after the metal is ready, called into requisition to produce a coin which, after all this labour and expense, is only a penny.

I come now to tell some of the things which can be accomplished and produced for a penny. One of the earliest publications of any note was the “Penny Magazine,” which is endeared to my memory as having shown me the earliest of George Stephenson’s great works the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. This magazine has now passed away, but it has been amply replaced by others of equal merit, carrying out its principles of giving a sound and cheap literature to the people; it was a boon to all who cared for instruction, and at the same time had to take care of a penny. Now we have our daily papers at a penny, and of the 1711 newspapers issued (1876) in the United Kingdom, 808 are sold at this small price. Look at those papers, the “Telegraph,” “Standard,” and many others; are they not a light that has shone over our world, showing what man has been enabled to do for his fellows, in being able to disseminate the knowledge of what is transpiring over the world to their readers, both near and far off, and all for only one penny! Has this been done without labour? No. What has caused it but the earnest desire to know the events of daily life in as short a time as possible. I do not care to vouch for what I now say, but I should think that about 20,000 copies are thrown off of the “Daily Telegraph” in an hour, and these can be bought for one penny each. This penny’s worth has cost a great amount of thought to bring about. Besides the various manufactures which are required for this result, the daily paper also brings to its aid the agriculturist as regards the paper; for though this was at first only made of rags, we now produce it from straw, and I have made it from thistles, whilst it has also been made from wood and other things. The rags, of course, were derived from agriculture in as far as flax required to be grown, but now the farmer gets his grain from the crop, and the straw left is made into paper the chief agent in distributing through the world the thoughts of the learned in science, arts, literature, and politics. With what eagerness do we look for our paper in the morning, and with what pleasure do we pay our penny for it! A penny’s worth with respect to this material does not stop here. Look at our beautiful and not costly decorations; see what a charming room we can show, produced by a wall-paper at a cost of one penny a yard. Some of these coloured decorations produce an eye-deception that quite, as the Scotch would say, “jumbles the judgment and confounds the understanding.”

We have not done with luxuries, and I will now bring one before you that, like many others, if used aright, there is no harm in, and which I look upon as a means of keeping up social good-fellowship among all. I mean smoking. Now the use of tobacco in itself is harmless, but used in excess is not only dangerous, but acts as a poison. I like a pipe, but I find at the same time it is needful to have a light. The ingenuity of man has supplied my want and wish, and I can now get a light from an article which, to look at, seems only something black tipped with red. The labour required to produce this small box of lights, as it is called, is wonderful the chemist, the wood merchant, the mechanician (and I am sorry to say, also the surgeon, from the deleterious effects of the phosphorus on the human frame), have all to bring their work to bear on the production of this most useful article. Yet, after all, it is sold and bought for one penny a box. Messrs. Bryant & May profess to save your houses from fire for this sum by using their matches, and I think they are right. Fire and heat are among our best friends, but are also dangerous enemies; and I am sure a penny spent on Bryant & May’s matches is well spent. I do not wish to disparage other makers far from it; but a match that will only ignite on the box is an article all householders should procure, not only for their own protection, but also for that of their neighbours.

A very striking instance of the value of a penny is set before us in that most wonderful system the penny-postage, the institution of which was a boon to the kingdom that cannot be too highly appreciated. It enables rich and poor alike to bring their thoughts and desires into communication with each other, and so relieve anxious cares in regard to the health and wealth, the joys and sorrows of friends in an easy manner. A penny stamp can convey all our requirements, whether for good or for evil, and many a large sum is now transmitted under its care. I have been told that as many as 60,000 letters have passed through the travelling post-office of the London and North-Western Railway in one night. How could this great correspondence ever have been carried on but for railways; and but for the foresight of Sir Rowland Hill this system might still have been in the background. It is clearly in my recollection when 1 -1/2 d. was the charge for a letter from London to Edinburgh, and that was for what was then called a single letter; now you may send as much as you like under a certain weight for one penny.

Travelling is now also a thing within the reach of all, for you can travel for one penny a mile, and this at a rate of speed that could not be done a few years ago. So much for railways.

Having begun with matters more especially affecting older people, it would be hard indeed to leave out the younger branches, and the means that are now employed not only for their comfort, but their amusement. Among other requirements for them we may class their toys. They are in a sense most needful, as well as useful, for our children, and from many of the ingenious toys now-a-days we can acquire a great deal of knowledge, useful to ourselves and of advantage to others. The beauty of their manufacture is a striking instance of the ingenuity of man as applied to small things, seeing that toys, so to speak, are only made for a few days’ enjoyment, and are then almost certain to be broken. But for their short and transient existence what an amount of mental energy has been brought to bear the fancy of the child has to be studied and provided for, in a way to please, gratify, and amuse, teaching the young idea how to shoot: all this for one penny. Look at the carts, horses, and other articles innumerable that are to be bought at the bazaars in London for a penny, and do they not bring before us in a striking manner what has been done for the benefit of the young. These toys, which only cost a penny, have caused many hard and anxious thoughts, are the means of giving work to thousands, and enabling these thousands to live an honest and happy life by furnishing a paying living, while at the same time they minister to the acquirements of those who when young require amusement. All this is done for a penny’s worth; but how divided is this before the wonderful toy is produced! We have wood, iron, copper, tin, lead I may say, all the metals, even the most precious (for gold is frequently used in the production of a toy that can be bought for a penny), are employed. Not only have these to be utilised, but they have first to be obtained some by the growth of timber, others by mining, then by the heat of the furnace, then by hammer and workman, then by the chemist and colour-maker, then by the maker of the toy many of these employed at large wages; and yet you receive for your children an article which not only gives instruction, but the greatest amusement, all for one penny.

An old saying, but a very true one, “Cleanliness is next to godliness;” and this brings us to a luxury which, though long known in France, has only been lately introduced here. This is the shoe-black. You come up to him, dirty from the mud of the streets of London, and in a very short time you have your boots shining for a penny. This penny’s worth brings before us a large amount of thought before it can be earned and paid for. We have to begin with the farmer, who feeds the animal that, after we have eaten a good dish from and think no more of, yet furnishes the hair which is made into brushes by the brushmaker; the carpenter has to make the box to hold them; the blacking-maker also comes to the service; and the tailor to give the uniform red coat worn by the Shoeblack Brigade yet after all this, you can get your boots blacked, and that well done, for one penny. Out of their earnings, at some stations the boys so I was told a short time ago have to pay 2d. a day for leave to stand at their station.

I have gone a long way on things that can be obtained for a penny, but I have not yet got to the greatest and most valuable a thing which is to be obtained for even less than the widow’s mite. It is this: “Come ye, buy and eat, without money and without price, for My word is meat indeed, and My word is drink indeed.” Christ says this, and man cannot deny it. I am not going to preach a sermon, but as things have come before me, I have put them down.

Seeing what a penny can do, let us turn to some of the results. A penny a week at a school, and what can be gained? A child is educated to use the talents given him or her, so as to work out an honest living, and is there taught what it can do for the life that now is and that which is to come. The value of education is so great that it cannot be over-estimated. A young man I knew got into a railway workshop. He saved enough to go to Australia, where he has now made a large sum of money. He left this country with less than L50 in his pocket. He knew work and business, thanks to education, and had a determined desire to work his way. I wish it was so all over England, for I know in the Midland Counties every one will not leave home. You must leave home, at least for a season, if you wish to get on in the world. Nothing is to be gained in this world without striving for it. Here is work, but after death there is rest, but not till then. So, in conclusion, let me say, Let us all remember that while on earth it is a season for work. Here is work work for the body, work for the mind, and, above all, work to prepare the soul for eternity. So that when we come to die, we may not only be able to look back on a life in which we have spent a penny aright, but be able to look forward to that life where is everlasting peace and joy, through Christ in God. And may our last words be Here was work, but there is rest, through Christ our Saviour.