Biography of English Miser Daniel Dancer

About the famous scrooge Daniel Dancer, biography and history of the British miser.

MISERABLE MISERS

The Perfect Miser: DANIEL DANCER (1716-1794)

Though his countryman Elwes was more famous, Daniel Dancer was a more accomplished and thoroughgoing miser, perhaps because his family set him such a good example. His grandfather and father had been noted misers, and his sister and two brothers were almost equally niggardly. After inheriting the whole of his father's estate in 1736, Dancer had an income of over pound 3,000 a year, but his sole occupation was hoarding his wealth.

For 30 years Dancer's sister served as his housekeeper, stretching meager Sunday meals with a handful of hard dumplings, which fed them both for the rest of the week. Occasionally Dancer got lucky, such as the time he found a partly decomposed sheep, which his sister transformed into a two-week supply of meat pies. The stench from such cuisine probably eluded Dancer, for he did not bathe, wash his clothes (which he wore until they disintegrated), or allow his house to be cleaned. He let his fields go fallow while he occupied himself with scrounging the countryside for bits of firewood, bones, and cow dung, with which he stuffed his pockets. No expenditure was too slight to be avoided. He obtained an occasional candle by swapping snuff he mooched a pinch at a time. Once a friend sent him a meal, but it congealed in the cold weather. After agonizing over how to reheat the dish without the use of a fire, Dancer placed the food between pewter plates and sat on the top one like a laying hen. He was also alert to the danger of even potential expenditures. A pet dog was his sole indulgence, but he worried about being sued if the dog should get at neighbors' livestock. He eliminated this danger by having the dog's teeth knocked out.

Despite his reputation for meanness, Dancer was credited with great integrity and an aptitude for showing his gratitude. However, his gratitude did not extend to his sister, whom he allowed to die without benefit of medical treatment, which he reasoned would only be a wicked attempt "to counteract the will of Providence." He filled her place in his household with an old servant he paid 18 pence a week (less than pound 4 a year)--a meager wage but enough for the servant to live more comfortably than Dancer himself.

The classic miser, Dancer lived in constant fear of thieves, who were aware that he hoarded money. Indeed, he was frequently robbed, and he combatted the problem by stashing his money in odd places. After he died, searchers turned up money caches everywhere, even in a dung heap, where they found pound 2,500.

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