Robert Lynd, an Irishman, is one of the great contemporary essayists of English literature. He was born on 20 April 1879 in Belfast. He received a Protestant education in Belfast and began his literary work with the drawings of Irish life. In 1901 Robert moved to London where he actively participated in various newspapers. He started his profession as a journalist on The Northern Whig in Belfast and later started to write under the pen name Y.Y. (Ys, or wise). His essays, namely “On Holidays”, “The Money Box”, “The Pleasure of Ignorance” and “On Good Resolutions” are few most anthologized, taught, and cited works. Robert Lynd is a celebrated writer of the modern age. He possesses remarkable ability to write on any topic howsoever trivial it may be, and he can discover a wealth of meaning in an object which to a common eye may appear insignificant. This reminds us of Hugh Walker’s remark on his book ‘The English Essay and the Essayists’ when he says, ‘Apparently, there is no subject, from the stars to the dust heap and from the amoeba to man, which may not be dealt with in an essay’.
Lynd was primarily a journalist and the journalistic temperament gets reflected in his writings too. The range of his themes is vast and expression is highly reflective. He can take a sweep from one mood to another, from the joy to the grave, from the apparently frivolous to the sober and thoughtful vein. His ideas are sometimes deliberately whimsical and arguments are equally perverse, but his subject matter is never labored. Though he lacks the urbanity of E.V. Lucas or the wit of G.K. Chesterton, yet he is more delightful than either of the two. He is fond of wit, epigrams, ironies and bathos and they find front place in his essays. His writings give a delightful experience to the readers who find his comments upon men and manners subtle and penetrating. For instance, in his essay “The Money Box” he delightfully reflects on the gift of a money box to child which is given with a view to train him in the art of saving because ‘wisdom lies in saving for the future’. Now, the child who learns well to save carefully at last becomes miser, and he who, every now and then, draws money from that saving to spend, develops the chance to become a perfect spendthrift. In both the cases, the result is the same ‘to end up as a physical wreck either through abstinence or through over-indulgence’.
In humorous yet satirical manner, Lynd appears to say that the gift in the form of a money box is a fatal kindness. He presents his point of view with an urbane persuasiveness, quiet humour, ease and charm of style. Robert Lynd is a humourist but his humour is somber and not boisterous. He is of the view that ‘The world is crying out just now for a return of good humour’, and it is this good humour that is the chief characteristic of all his essays. He also says at one place that ‘Lacking its good humour London would be one of the most uninhabitable of cities. Who would live amid the buzz of eight million spites?’ A. C. Ward too has aptly appreciated Lynd’s treatment of humour in his essay while writing-‘Being more directly and coolly critical in his approach, he has neither the confident urbanity of E. V. Lucas nor the sensitive comprehensiveness of A. G. Gardiner. But he is a skilled phrasemaker, he can describe a cup final with his eye on many things besides the game-or on everything except the games”. He quotes from Lynd’s essay “The Pleasure of Ignorance” to prove this further: ‘There is great danger of a revival of virtue in this country. There are, I know two kinds of Virtue, and only one of them is a vice’. In brief, it may be said that in his prose style these is “use of the most concrete and expressive words and phrases, very homely and appropriate illustrations and weaving of the finest modulations and rhythmic patterns with his easy, simple and natural prose.” Essay “The Money Box” “The Money Box” was written by Robert Wilson Lynd in 1925 under the pseudonym “Y. Y”.
The essay opens with a dialogue between the author and his niece who is trying to discover how to open the money box, before putting a coin in it. The author develops his argument from this very gift to the child in the form of a money box and advances to criticize the materialistic obsession of the people in the modern age. He talks about the ongoing tussle between the desire to save and the desire to spend in human psyche. Lynd believes that the human self consists of two “I”. The first “I” saves, but the second, on the contrary, to spend. In the essay, often the first “I” that is trying to save is contested with the second one that spends. That who spends loves every minute of his life and wants to live it to the fullest. He sees no purpose in sacrificing the joy of the today to be enjoyed in the future. Thus, the struggle between the “I” that saves and the “I” that spends continues. The conscience here acts as a judge. Humour in the essay is generated on various occasions with the help of jokes, suggestions, and references. The money box serves as an instrument to present the author’s opinion on the saving and spending tendencies of people. It is also an attack on the growing materialism in humankind. This essay is full of wit and humour and it vividly examines the problem of human psyche.
The money box is like the delusion of wealth. When the coins get into the box, it seems not quite a pleasant thing. However, opening this box becomes a significant concern of the owner’s mind. It is understood that the desire to spend something overcomes the desire to save, even at such a young age. The writer believes that the money box as a gift is absurd since parents give children a token of their own greed. While talking about the money box, the essayist tends to recall the experiences of his own childhood. He remembers how he used to try everything to turn up his money box and get the coins out of it. The psyche of a child regarding the utility or futility of a money box has been vividly expressed. With a tone of autobiography, Lynd articulates his thesis calmly with the help of diverse images, allusions and comparisons.
While concluding, Lynd suggests that there is an urgent need to learn the art to balance between the saving and spending tendencies in us. He demonstrates that it is good as well as necessary to know the art of saving money in life but it should not be an obsession. People should also be trained in spending it meaningfully without being extravagant. The author at times also humanizes the money box to yield humour. Few mythical figures, such as Tantalus, as well as modern figures such as George Cruikshank, Arnold Bennett, and Balzac have also been referred to in the essay to prove the point and illustrate the ideas.