Extracts from memoirs and diariesby Ian Irvine / July 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Nero thought a “fortune could only be enjoyed by squandering it”
Suetonius describes the extravagance of Nero (Roman Emperor from 54 to 68AD):
“He thought a magnificent fortune could only be enjoyed by squandering it, claiming that only miserly people kept a close account of their spending, while gentlemen scattered their wealth extravagantly. Nothing so stirred his admiration and envy of Caligula, his uncle, as the way he had run through Tiberius’s vast legacy in such a short space of time. So he showered gifts on people and poured money away.
He spent eight thousand gold pieces a day on King Tiridates though it seems barely believable, and made him a gift on parting of more than a million. He presented Menecrates the lyre-player and Spiculus the gladiator with mansions and property worthy of those who had celebrated triumphs, and gifted the monkey-faced moneylender Paneros town-houses and country estates, burying him with well-nigh regal splendour when he died.”
Captain Gronow recalls his friend Lord Blandford in his memoirs, first published in 1862:
“Blandford, afterwards fifth Duke of Marlborough, with many good and amiable qualities, was by far the most extravagant man I ever remember to have seen. Although supporting himself upon money borrowed at an exorbitant interest, Lord Blandford would give Lee & Kennedy £500 [current value £348,000] for a curious plant or shrub; and I well remember his paying £1800 for a fine edition of Boccaccio; whilst his country-seat, Whiteknights, near Reading, was kept up with a splendour worthy of a royal residence. Lord Blandford’s allowance during his father’s lifetime was insufficient for a person in his position. He was, therefore, obliged to have recourse to the Jews, who eventually ruined him. He was always very kind to me, and I lived a good deal with him and his sons when I was a young man. I remember, in 1816, going down with him to Whiteknights. During our journey, Lord Blandford opened a sort of cupboard, which was fixed on one side of the coach in which we travelled, and which contained a capital luncheon, with different kinds of wine and liqueurs. Another part of this roomy vehicle, on a spring being touched, displayed a sort of secretaire, with writing materials, and a large pocket-book; the latter he opened, and shewed me fifty Bank of England notes for £1000 each, which he told me he had borrowed the day before from a well-known money-lender in the city, named Levy. He stated that he had given in return a post-obit on his father’s death for £150,000; and added, “You see, Gronow, how the immense fortune of my family will be frittered away: but I can’t help it; I must live. My father inherited £500,000 in ready money, and £70,000 a year in land; and, in all probability, when it comes to my turn to live at Blenheim, I shall have nothing left but the annuity of £5000 a year on the Post Office.”