John Elwes was said to have been so cheap and miserly that he lamented the birds who took hay and straw from his animal stalls to build their nest, that there was nothing he could do to stop them. Another story about Elwes is from a relative who stayed in his large house for a time being awakened one night in bed by rain hitting him in the face from a hole in the ceiling that Elwes refused to spend money to fix. When asked about the hole the next morning, the host remarked that he often slept in that room and actually found the rain in the face quite refreshing.
Man, that’s cheap.
And it wasn’t that he was hurting financially.
In fact, Elwes had been the recipient of not one but rather two large inheritances. He also had lived a fairly interesting life. Part of his education had come from Geneva, Switzerland, where he had become one of Europe’s premier horsemen. It was also during his educational years that Elwes had been introduced to the famous philosopher, Voltaire.
But miserliness ran in the family, apparently. One of his inheritances came from an uncle who gave Elwes a run for his money when it came to being a skinflint. And the approximately £8,000,000 he received from his parents was handed down to him, in part, because his mother’s health suffered severely and she passed away when she refused to spend money on enough food to eat.
Elwes did manage to get elected to Parliament for twelve years, but he retired when he realized that it was costing him money to travel to London so much on parliamentary business. In later years, his reputation for being cheap was cemented by tales spun by his renters in his large real estate holdings who testified that he often forbade fires in his houses in the winters for fear that damage would be done to the rentals. Living on less than most people people spent in a year, upon his death at age 75, his estate was worth almost £75,000,000 in today’s money (approximately just over $90,000,000 in US funds).
At his poorly attended funeral, it was generally agreed that he did no one real harm other than himself for living so cheaply.
The stories of John Elwes were told for several generations. They heavily influenced a writer a couple of generations later. This writer was looking for inspiration for a character who was to be the epitome of miserliness, someone whose name would become synonymous with unbridled thrift. And so, Charles Dickens is said to have chosen John Elwes as his inspiration for his story, A Christmas Carol. Unlike Elwes, however, Dickens’s character learned to be not so stingy in the end.
You know that character as Ebenezer Scrooge.