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In this quote, Richard Burton is drawing a comparison between someone who accumulates wealth but does not use it to enjoy life, and a donkey that carries valuable gold coins yet can only eat thistles, a spiky weed with little nutritional value.
The best interpretation is that Burton believes amassing riches just for the sake of hoarding them, without taking time to experience and benefit from the financial security provided, is a foolish waste akin to a beast of burden nurturing only on thorns while hauling around treasure it cannot access.
Overall, Burton appears to be saying that the purpose of earning or having money is to improve one’s quality of living and ability to find enjoyment or fulfillment. Merely stockpiling wealth without using it for personal gain or pleasure is as nonsensical as a donkey filled with gold yet subsisting on vegetation that brings it no benefit.