The Money Master
By Gilbert Parker
Public Domain Books
This book is in a place by itself among the novels I have written. Many critics said that it was a welcome return to Canada, where I had made my first success in the field of fiction. This statement was only meagrely accurate, because since ’The Right of Way’ was published in 1901 I had written, and given to the public, ’Northern Lights’, a book of short stories, ’You Never Know Your Luck’, a short novel, and ’The World for Sale’, though all of these dealt with life in Western Canada, and not with the life of the French Canadians, in which field I had made my first firm impression upon the public. In any case, The Money Master was favourably received by the press and public both in England and America, and my friends were justified in thinking, and in saying, that I was at home in French Canada and gave the impression of mastery of my material. If mastery of material means a knowledge of the life, and a sympathy with it, then my friends are justified; for I have always had an intense sympathy with, and admiration for, French Canadian life. I think the French Canadian one of the most individual, original, and distinctive beings of the modern world. He has kept his place, with his own customs, his own Gallic views of life, and his religious habits, with an assiduity and firmness none too common. He is essentially a man of the home, of the soil, and of the stream; he has by nature instinctive philosophy and temperamental logic. As a lover of the soil of Canada he is not surpassed by any of the other citizens of the country, English or otherwise.
It would almost seem as though the pageantry of past French Canadian history, and the beauty and vigour of the topographical surroundings of French Canadian life, had produced an hereditary pride and exaltation– perhaps an excessive pride and a strenuous exaltation, but, in any case, there it was, and is. The French Canadian lives a more secluded life on the whole than any other citizen of Canada, though the native, adventurous spirit has sent him to the Eastern States of the American Union for work in the mills and factories, or up to the farthest reaches of the St. Lawrence, Ottawa, and their tributaries in the wood and timber trade.
Domestically he is perhaps the most productive son of the North American continent. Families of twenty, or even twenty-five, are not unknown, and, when a man has had more than one wife, it has even exceeded that. Life itself is full of camaraderie and good spirit, marked by religious traits and sacerdotal influence.
The French Canadian is on the whole sober and industrious; but when he breaks away from sobriety and industry he becomes a vicious element in the general organism. Yet his vices are of the surface, and do not destroy the foundations of his social and domestic scheme. A French Canadian pony used to be considered the most virile and lasting stock on the continent, and it is fair to say that the French Canadians themselves are genuinely hardy, long-lived, virile, and enduring.
It was among such people that the hero of The Money Master, Jean Jacques Barbille, lived. He was the symbol or pattern of their virtues and of their weaknesses. By nature a poet, a philosopher, a farmer and an adventurer, his life was a sacrifice to prepossession and race instinct; to temperament more powerful than logic or common sense, though he was almost professionally the exponent of both.
There is no man so simply sincere, or so extraordinarily prejudiced as the French Canadian. He is at once modest and vain; he is even lyrical in his enthusiasms; he is a child in the intrigues and inventions of life; but he has imagination, he has a heart, he has a love of tradition, and is the slave of legend. To him domestic life is the summum bonum of being. His four walls are the best thing which the world has to offer, except the cheerful and sacred communion of the Mass, and his dismissal from life itself under the blessing of his priest and with the promise of a good immortality.
Jean Jacques Barbille had the French Canadian life of pageant, pomp, and place extraordinarily developed. His love of history and tradition was abnormal. A genius, he was, within an inch, a tragedy to the last button. Probably the adventurous spirit of his forefathers played a greater part in his development and in the story of his days than anything else. He was wide-eyed, and he had a big soul. He trained himself to believe in himself and to follow his own judgment; therefore, he invited loss upon loss, he made mistake upon mistake, he heaped financial adventure upon financial adventure, he ran great risks; and it is possible that his vast belief in himself kept him going when other men would have dropped by the wayside. He loved his wife and daughter, and he lost them both. He loved his farms, his mills and his manor, and they disappeared from his control.
It must be remembered that the story of The Money Master really runs for a generation, and it says something for Jean Jacques Barbille that he could travel through scenes, many of them depressing, for long years, and still, in the end, provoke no disparagement, by marrying the woman who had once out of the goodness of her heart offered him everything– herself, her home, her honour; and it was to Jean Jacques’s credit that he took neither until the death of his wife made him free; but the tremendous gift offered him produced a powerful impression upon his mind and heart.
One of the most distinguished men of the world to-day wrote me in praise and protest concerning The Money Master. He declared that the first half of the book was as good as anything that had been done by anybody, and then he bemoaned the fact, which he believed, that the author had sacrificed his two heroines without real cause and because he was tired of them. There he was wrong. In the author’s mind the story was planned exactly as it worked out. He was never tired; he was resolute. He was intent to produce, if possible, a figure which would breed and develop its own disasters, which would suffer profoundly for its own mistakes; but which, in the end, would triumph over the disasters of life and time. It was all deliberate in the main intention and plan. Any failures that exist in the book are due to the faults of the author, and to nothing else.
Some critics have been good enough to call ’The Money Master’ a beautiful book, and there are many who said that it was real, true, and faithful. Personally I think it is real and true, and as time goes on, and we get older, that is what seems to matter to those who love life and wish to see it well harvested.
I do not know what the future of the book may be; what the future of any work of mine will be; but I can say this, that no one has had the pleasure in reading my books which I have had in making them. They have been ground out of the raw material of the soul. I have a hope that they will outlast my brief day, but, in any case, it will not matter. They have given me a chance of showing to the world life as I have seen it, and indirectly, and perhaps indistinctly, my own ideas of that life. ’The Money Master’ is a vivid and somewhat emotional part of it.