William Hazlitt’s essay “On the Want of Money” is a brilliant example of rhetoric. Hazlitt uses emotional language to connect with his readers and paint a picture of what it feels like to be in want of money. His vivid descriptions make the reader feel the frustration, anxiety, and desperation that come with being short on cash.
Hazlitt’s essay is a powerful reminder of the importance of money in our lives. It is easy to take for granted the role that money plays in our day-to-day existence, but as Hazlitt so eloquently demonstrates, when we don’t have enough money, everything can fall apart. His essay is a must-read for anyone who has ever struggled to make ends meet.
In William Hazlitt’s essay “On the Want of Money”, he argues that money is essential for happiness. He does this by utilizing various rhetorical strategies such as syntax, diction and emotional, logical and ethical appeals. By employing these effective tools, Hazlitt successfully proves that in today’s world, money plays a vital role in happiness.
Hazlitt begins his essay by describing a scene in which he is happy and content but the only thing missing is money. He writes “I was sitting by the fire in my chamber, wrapped up in a shawl, nodding towards sleep”(Hazlitt 467). The diction Hazlitt uses here creates a cozy and inviting image, making the reader feel as if they are right there with him. This also allows the reader to feel empathy for Hazlitt because everyone has experienced being content but wanting something more. Right away, Hazlitt establishes ethos by showing that he is just like the reader and has felt this way before.
He goes on to say that “in this reverie it suddenly occurred to me, that though I was possesses of enough to live comfortably for the rest of my life, I did not have a shilling which I could truly call my own” (Hazlitt 467). The use of “reverie” creates a dream-like state which again makes the reader feel as if they are right there with Hazlitt. This diction also allows the reader to see that Hazlitt is a deep thinker and is not just making an argument for money because he wants it. He is truly thinking about how important money is in today’s society.
Hazlitt then goes on to say that “I was possessed of nothing but a life-interest in certain property, which I could not call to account” (Hazlitt 467). The use of the word “possessed” here is interesting because it usually has a negative connotation but Hazlitt uses it in a positive light. He is saying that he is happy with what he has but he wants more. This again allows the reader to feel empathy for Hazlitt because everyone wants more than they have.
Hazlitt then goes on to say that “I was like a tenant for life in an old mansion, who had become used to its spaciousness and elegance, and who at last discovers that he has no right to occupy it, and must quit it the day after tomorrow” (Hazlitt 467-468). The use of the word “tenant” here is interesting because it shows that Hazlitt feels like he is just borrowing money and does not truly have it. This also allows the reader to see that Hazlitt is a deep thinker and is not just making an argument for money because he wants it. He is truly thinking about how important money is in today’s society.
Hazlitt’s most notable rhetorical strategy to prove his point is syntax. The reader can easily see this in several places throughout the passage, but especially in Hazlitt’s lengthy sentence that spans from lines 2 to 47. By including this sentence, Hazlitt intends to make the reader feel as if they are stuck in a never-ending nightmare.
This is effective because it forces the reader to experience, albeit vicariously, the feelings of frustration and powerlessness that Hazlitt himself felt when he was in debt. The sentence’s length also has the effect of making the reader feel as if money is an inescapable trap.
Another rhetorical strategy that Hazlitt employs is pathos. This can be seen in his vivid description of what it feels like to be without money. He writes, “There is a double misery in being obliged to suffer privations which we are unable to share with others” (5). This passage is effective because it makes the reader empathize with Hazlitt’s situation. It also serves to remind the reader that money is not just a means of exchange but also a source of emotional comfort.
Hazlitt’s final rhetorical strategy is logos. He employs this in his discussion of the causes of poverty. Hazlitt argues that poverty is caused by “the improvidence of those who have not foreseen the time when they may be reduced to want, and have not made provision for it” (9). This is effective because it provides a rational explanation for why people are poor. It also serves to remind the reader that poverty is not just an individual problem but a societal one.
He collects an enormous number of calamities that would persuade most people that money would bring them joy. Hazlitt employs this syntactic method to elicit anxiety, dejection, and hopelessness in his readers. It’s clear from the tone of Hazlitt’s writing that he believes those without money will feel this way. He uses anaphora and asyndeton in order to make the sentence more powerful.
Hazlitt’s essay is a response to Thomas Robert Malthus’ “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, in which Malthus argues that scarcity of money is the root cause of all social ills. Hazlitt disagrees, and argues that it is not the lack of money that is the problem, but the way people think about money. He collecting a massive series of what he believes are calamities that will convince pretty much everybody that money will lead to happiness. In order to make the sentence more effective he uses anaphora and asyndeton.
Some believe that Hazlitt’s true intention was not to attack Malthus’ argument, but rather to expose the false logic behind it. Whatever his intention, the result is a brilliant and scathing indictment of the way society values money over everything else.