Can anyone paraphrase the following statement by Samuel Johnson?

The insolence of wealth will creep out.

2 Answers 2


Let's look at the quote in a more illustrative context...

"The insolence of wealth will out" - and on whom more readily than on a poor relation? The very term suggests every idea of contumely and neglect.
(contumely - rudeness or contempt arising from arrogance)

This particular citation doesn't include the word creep - but that doesn't significantly affect the sense, so we can ignore it.

What matters is the idea that a poor relation in particular should feel more insulted than anyone else. That's because the poor relation is more likely than most other poor people to actually know rich people. Specifically, he's probably reasonably well acquainted with his wealthy kinsfolk.

Given the truism that people are the same the world over, it's very likely our typical "poor relation" will feel that his rich cousins are no different to him (except they've got the money, and he hasn't). He doesn't feel insulted because they treat him badly - it's just the pure injustice of the situation.

This interchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway never actually occurred, but...

Fitzgerald: "The rich are different than you and me."
Hemingway: "Yes, they have more money."

...pretty well sums things up from the modern "egalitarian" perspective. If you say the insolence of wealth will [creep] out today, people will probably realise you're quoting some archaic maxim even if they've never heard it before. If you say the rich are different, they'll probably understand exactly the same sentiment, but they won't think your phrasing is "dated/literary".


Wealth frequently brings out the worst in people, and not just in civil suits and in the dividing of the estate among the surviving relatives. The love of money, it is said, is the root of all kinds of evil. (Notice I did not say "money is the root of all evil," but the love of money.)

If insolence is "contemptuously rude or impertinent behavior or speech" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/insolence?db=dictionary), then a wealthy person who has a hang-up about his or her wealth is very likely to communicate that contemptuous attitude in various ways, verbally and/or nonverbally.

An insolent wealthy person (and in fairness, there are many humble, down-to-earth wealthy folks in the world, though I am not one of them) in passing a homeless person on the street might say, "Get a job!" (Check out Bruce Hornsby's song "That's Just the Way It Is"). Or in a conversation with another wealthy person might she might opine,

"The government really must do something about all these entitlement programs. It's creating a generation of do-nothings and beggars living off the public dole! And you just know these people wouldn't do a lick of work if their lives depended on it!"

Or another wealthy dude might say from an apparently egalitarian perspective,

"You know, it doesn't matter what your job is, whether you're a street cleaner or a garbage collector. As long as you do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay is all that really matters. Oh, please pass the champaigne and the caviar, please."

If you were to ask the wealthy dude,

"Hey, by the way, have you ever swept up cigarette butts from a gutter or collected garbage on the poor side of town?"

you can bet he'd say,

"Well, no, but I've worked hard for my money. Just because I inherited a few million from my dad doesn't mean I don't know what a hard day's work is all about!"

Insolence creeps out of the wealthy, yes; but it also creeps out of even modestly "comfortable" middle-class people who are just a little bit ahead of their neighbors, if only because they've maxed out their credit cards to have the accouterments of "success" but are now up to their eyeballs in debt.

Go figure.

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