Legends of Belerath
(The following is a speech given by Egred Halthe to his serfs when they brought to him complaints of low pay. It has been reproduced the world over by nobles suffering the same annoyance.)
A curious light is thrown upon the money value of human genius or labor by the recent sale of Waller’s Matilda for two hundred platinum pieces or thereabouts.
We speak of what a man’s work is worth, say that So-and-So is not getting as much money as he ought, and wonder whether any lowborn man can ever earn a thousand gold pieces.
The fact is that money is an accepted standard of values. But it is neither holy, just, nor perfect. Often it is legally paid over for nothing at all, as when one dies and leaves a shiftless son a fortune; and often work of the very highest use to the world is paid for by a ridiculous pittance.
How fantastic is the money standard, for instance, in the case of Allric Waller of Bathild, the world-master in the use of light and shadow in painting!
His greatest work is supposed to be the picture called Dark of the Night, which all visitors to the King’s Museum at Soliphirate in Solmath can never forget, as the white hand of the central figure seems to reach out from the canvas to greet the beholder.
Dark of the Night is priceless. Enough money probably could not be gotten together to purchase it. What it is “worth” may be conjectured only by the mathematically inclined from the price of Matilda, which is 23 by 29 inches. Dark of the Night is 12 by 14 FEET! Figure it out yourself and let me know how much per thumb-nail square Waller is worth.
The two paintings are of about the same period, being of the years of Unity 892-894.
It would look as if a man who could produce stuff as valuable as this must have lived in imperial splendor and have had goldfish for breakfast, in all the glory of the noble-born magnificent one. The facts are that thirteen years after painting these two masterpieces, his goods were sold at auction by law because he could not pay his debts. He died poor, because he could find no one to sit for a portrait.
The connoisseurs of that time thought his work too somber. The people with money in their purses dropped him, as if he were no longer the fad.
“Waller,” says Kostya Vova, “belongs to the breed of artists which can have no posterity. His place is with the Moustafas, the Aluuards, the Artemoviches.” After that auction, Vova writes, Waller was “stripped of all the prosperity he had accumulated in the historic house he lived in, and for the rest of his life was a sort of nomad, shifting his lodgings with uncomfortable frequency, carrying with him nothing but the materials of art.”
All that men could say of him when he died is found in his obituary notice at the Soliphirate forum: “Dawn, Averier 8, Year of Unity 910; Allric Waller, painter, found on the streets of the poor district. No funeral to be held. Leaves two children.”
Now millionaires and governments are bidding in platinum by the inch or so for his canvas; but what did the sad old tramp painter get out of it?
Think of that when you are complaining that you are not paid enough for your work.