"The Almighty Dollar"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The third sketch in Wolfert's Roost and Other Papers (a miscellany of pieces published earlier in periodicals) is "The Creole Village," drawn from observations Irving made while traveling by steamboat in Louisiana. He describes the "serene and dilapidated villages" he sees on the river banks and muses in his romantic-satiric manner on their sleepy isolation from the busy world and on the unambitiousness of their Creole inhabitants, in contrast to the get-ahead spirit of Americans elsewhere who destroy the remnants of the past and speculate on profits from "improvements" such as new buildings, real estate developments, and railroads. Irving's American almighty dollar compares well with the British coins "for which," Ben Jonson wrote, "all virtue now is sold/ And almost every vice,–almighty gold" ("Epistle to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland," 1616). John Wolcot ("Peter Pindar") called it "The flattering, mighty, nay, almighty gold" in his fourth ode "To Kien Long" (1782-1785). As for twentieth century American worship of wealth, E. A. Robinson wrote in his poem "Cassandra" (1916): "Your Dollar is your only Word." As Irving puts it:

. . . the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land, seems to have no genuine devotees in these peculiar villages; and unless some of its missionaries penetrate there, and erect banking houses and other pious shrines, there is no knowing how long the inhabitants may remain in their present state of contented poverty.