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From a Reader’s Bookshelf by Arjuna
More on Thrift and Arthur Alvis

Many people have asked me whether the word "Thrift" smacks of meanness. They had read the extracts of a lecture by Arthur Alvis which was in the column "From a Reader’s bookshelf". To put that right let me quote from Arthur Alvis himself.

"……let us ask ourselves, or rather remind ourselves, "What is Thrift?". There is need to do this, as there have gathered both about the word and the thing many misconceptions which it is desirable to free them from. The word thrift meant at first something rather different from what it means today. It meant a state of well being, of plenty and prosperity; while now it is a synonym for frugality, economy, and the habit of provident carefulness, the avoidance of extravagance and waste. And yet these two distinct and seemingly incompatible meanings have a connection-a connection which furnishes a most striking illustration of the way in which the soundest moral teaching may often be found imbedded in a word.

The connection-and the reconcilement, of the two varying senses is found in the word thrive, which is the verbal form of the substantive thrift.

To thrive, we are told, meant originally to seize, or grasp, or lay hold of something, with the object of course of not letting it go, but rather of keeping it and of making use of it for the advantage of him who seizes and detains. But from this seizing and holding and turning to use arises the state of having. You have what you hold. From saving comes having, as the proverb says. The connection is in fact one of cause and effect. Economy or Thrift is the foundation of prosperity.

Thus you will see at once how foolish and ignorant, as well as reprehensible, is the perversity which would degrade a honourable word by using it as if it were the equivalent of penuriousness, or stinginess, or niggardliness, or parsimoniousness. Thrift has nothing to do with any of these. Rightly used the word has no such connotation, and certainly the virtue we are speaking of has no connection with the despicable qualities named. Thrift is not avariciousness, or greed, or insane hoarding for paltry or selfish or contemptible objects. It is rather the careful and prudent use of things of money and means and opportunity and occasion-so as to make the most of them, to let no fragment be lost, so that after the want of today has been satisfied something shall, if possible, remain to answer a want that may arise tomorrow. It is the opposite-not of liberality, or charity, or of helpfulness to others-but of extravagance, that is of useless, unnecessary, and therefore wasteful expenditure. Very often a word like a quality is best expressed by its contrary. Let us note therefore that the thrifty person is the opposite of him who is known as a spendthrift."

About Arthur Alvis too there were questions. He was mistaken for James D’Alwis.

James D’Alwis was born on the 14th of December 1823. He was a scholar and his writings included Buddhism (1862), The Attanagalu vansa, or the history of the temple of Attanagalla (1866), Buddhist Nirvána (A review of Max Müller's Dhammapada), Sedatsangarawa.

He was among the first students at the Academy together with Frederick Nell and his brother Louis, C.A.Lorensz, John Prins, Charle Ferdinands and Dandris de Silva Gunaratna, who was known as the Macaulay of Ceylon. The Academy was a precursor to Royal College.

James d’Alwis was an unofficial member of the Legislative Council. He is resigned together with George Wall, C.A Lorenz, W. Thompson, John Capper, James D'Alwis and John Eaton on the 15th of November 1864 on a point of principle regarding the fiscal policy of the Government and its strict disregard to respect the procedures of the Legislative Council.

He was a first a Procter and then an Advocate and acted as a District Judge and Police Magistrate. Among his clients was Jeronis de Soysa, father of C.H. de Soysa, Arunasalam Ponnambalam Mudliyar, father of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and S.Edirimanasingham, Mudaliyar of the Governor’s gate and grand uncle of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. D’Alwis memoirs makes interesting reading of life. Though he achieved a certain measure of success at the Bar, James D’Alwis is remembered as a scholar.

Arthur Alvis was born on the 16th of June 1856. He was an outstanding student at St Thomas College under Warden Bacon. In 1878, he was enrolled as a Procter and served in the District Court and subsequently in the Supreme Court. He was a Municipal Councillor for several years first in the Kollupitiya Ward and then in the Fort Ward. Subsequently, he was made the Burgher representative to the Legislative Council.

He was married to Madeleine Cecilia Daniel, the sister of A.Y.Daniel. One of his daughters Madeleine Louise Alvis married Thomas Forrest Garvin, who was a senior Puisne Judge and King’s Counsel who was knighted in 1933.

The other daughter Gertie married Adolf Thalman, a Swiss director of A.Baur and Company.

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