by Arthur Train
Being the Confessions af a Successful Man
[Illustration: Arthur Train from the drawing by S.J. Woolf]
CHAPTER II. MY
CHAPTER III. MY
CHAPTER IV. MY
CHAPTER V. MY
CHAPTER VI. MY
“They're like 'goldfish' swimming round and round in a big bowl.
They can look through, sort of dimly; but they can't get out?”—
Hastings, p. 315.
“We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who
elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. We have
lost the power of even imagining what the ancient idealization of
poverty could have meant—the liberation from material attachments; the
unbribed soul; the manlier indifference; the paying our way by what we
are or do, and not by what we have; the right to fling away our life at
any moment irresponsibly—the more athletic trim, in short the moral
fighting shape.... It is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty
among the educated class is the worst moral disease from which our
William James, p. 313.
CHAPTER I. MYSELF
“My house, my affairs, my ache and my religion—”
I was fifty years old to-day. Half a century has hurried by since I
first lay in my mother's wondering arms. To be sure, I am not old; but
I can no longer deceive myself into believing that I am still young.
After all, the illusion of youth is a mental habit consciously
encouraged to defy and face down the reality of age. If, at twenty, one
feels that he has reached man's estate he, nevertheless, tests his
strength and abilities, his early successes or failures, by the
temporary and fictitious standards of youth.
At thirty a professional man is younger than the business man of
twenty-five. Less is expected of him; his work is less responsible; he
has not been so long on his job. At forty the doctor or lawyer may
still achieve an unexpected success. He has hardly won his spurs,
though in his heart he well knows his own limitations. He can still
say: “I am young yet!” And he is.
But at fifty! Ah, then he must face the facts! He either has or has
not lived up to his expectations and he never can begin over again. A
creature of physical and mental habit, he must for the rest of his life
trudge along in the same path, eating the same food, thinking the same
thoughts, seeking the same pleasures—until he acknowledges with grim
reluctance that he is an old man.
I confess that I had so far deliberately tried to forget my
approaching fiftieth milestone, or at least to dodge it with closed
eyes as I passed it by, that my daughter's polite congratulation on my
demicentennial anniversary gave me an unexpected and most unpleasant
“You really ought to be ashamed of yourself!” she remarked as she
joined me at breakfast.
“Why?” I asked, somewhat resenting being thus definitely proclaimed
as having crossed into the valley of the shadows.
“To be so old and yet to look so young!” she answered, with charming
Then I knew the reason of my resentment against fate. It was because
I was labeled as old while, in fact, I was still young. Of course that
was it. Old? Ridiculous! When my daughter was gone I gazed searchingly
at myself in the mirror. Old? Nonsense!
I saw a man with no wrinkles and only a few crow's-feet such as
anybody might have had; with hardly a gray hair on my temples and with
not even a suggestion of a bald spot. My complexion and color were good
and denoted vigorous health; my flesh was firm and hard on my cheeks;
my teeth were sound, even and white; and my eyes were clear save for a
slight cloudiness round the iris.
The only physical defect to which I was frankly willing to plead
guilty was a flabbiness of the neck under the chin, which might by a
hostile eye have been regarded as slightly double. For the rest I was
strong and fairly well—not much inclined to exercise, to be sure, but
able, if occasion offered, to wield a tennis racket or a driver with a
vigor and accuracy that placed me well out of the duffer class.
Yes; I flattered myself that I looked like a boy of thirty, and I
felt like one—except for things to be hereinafter noted—and yet
middle-aged men called me “sir” and waited for me to sit down before
doing so themselves; and my contemporaries were accustomed to inquire
jocularly after my arteries. I was fifty! Another similar stretch of
time and there would be no I. Twenty years more—with ten years of
physical effectiveness if I were lucky! Thirty, and I would be useless
to everybody. Forty—I shuddered. Fifty, I would not be there. My room
would be vacant. Another face would be looking into the mirror.
Unexpectedly on this legitimate festival of my birth a profound
melancholy began to possess my spirit. I had lived. I had succeeded in
the eyes of my fellows and of the general public. I was married to a
charming woman. I had two marriageable daughters and a son who had
already entered on his career as a lawyer. I was prosperous. I had
amassed more than a comfortable fortune. And yet—
These things had all come, with a moderate amount of striving, as a
matter of course. Without them, undoubtedly I should be miserable; but
with them—with reputation, money, comfort, affection—was I really
happy? I was obliged to confess I was not. Some remark in Charles
Reade's Christie Johnstone came into my mind—not accurately, for I
find that I can no longer remember literally—to the effect that the
only happy man is he who, having from nothing achieved money, fame and
power, dies before discovering that they were not worth striving for.
I put to myself the question: Were they worth striving for?
Really, I did not seem to be getting much satisfaction out of them. I
began to be worried. Was not this an attitude of age? Was I not an old
man, perhaps, regardless of my youthful face?
At any rate, it occurred to me sharply, as I had but a few more
years of effective life, did it not behoove me to pause and see, if I
could, in what direction I was going?—to “stop, look and listen”?—to
take account of stock?—to form an idea of just what I was worth
physically, mentally and morally?—to compute my assets and
liabilities?—to find out for myself by a calm and dispassionate
examination whether or not I was spiritually a bankrupt? That was the
hideous thought which like a deathmask suddenly leered at me from
behind the arras of my mind—that I counted for nothing—cared really
for nothing! That when I died I should have been but a hole in the
The previous evening I had taken my two distinctly blase daughters
to see a popular melodrama. The great audience that packed the theater
to the roof went wild, and my young ladies, infected in spite of
themselves with the same enthusiasm, gave evidences of a quite ordinary
variety of excitement; but I felt no thrill. To me the heroine was but
a painted dummy mechanically repeating the lines that some Jew had
written for her as he puffed a reeking cigar in his rear office, and
the villain but a popinjay with a black whisker stuck on with a bit of
pitch. Yet I grinned and clapped to deceive them, and agreed that it
was the most inspiriting performance I had seen in years.
In the last act there was a horserace cleverly devised to produce a
convincing impression of reality. A rear section of the stage was made
to revolve from left to right at such a rate that the horses were
obliged to gallop at their utmost speed in order to avoid being swept
behind the scenes. To enhance the realistic effect the scenery itself
was made to move in the same direction. Thus, amid a whirlwind of
excitement and the wild banging of the orchestra, the scenery flew by,
and the horses, neck and neck, raced across the stage—without
progressing a single foot.
And the thought came to me as I watched them that, after all, this
horserace was very much like the life we all of us were living here in
the city. The scenery was rushing by, time was flying, the band was
playing—while we, like the animals on the stage, were in a breathless
struggle to attain some goal to which we never got any nearer.
Now as I smoked my cigarette after breakfast I asked myself what I
had to show for my fifty years. What goal or goals had I attained? Had
anything happened except that the scenery had gone by? What would be
the result should I stop and go with the scenery? Was the race
profiting me anything? Had it profited anything to me or anybody else?
And how far was I typical of a class?
A moment's thought convinced me that I was the prototype of
thousands all over the United States. “A certain rich man!” That was
me. I had yawned for years at dozens of sermons about men exactly like
myself. I had called them twaddle. I had rather resented them. I was
not a sinner—that is, I was not a sinner in the ordinary sense at all.
I was a good man—a very good man. I kept all the commandments and I
acted in accordance with the requirements of every standard laid down
by other men exactly like myself. Between us, I now suddenly saw, we
made the law and the prophets. We were all judging ourselves by
self-made tests. I was just like all the rest. What was true of me was
true of them.
And what were we, the crowning achievement of American civilization,
like? I had not thought of it before. Here, then, was a question the
answer to which might benefit others as well as myself. I resolved to
answer it if I could—to write down in plain words and cold figures a
truthful statement of what I was and what they were.
I had been a fairly wide reader in my youth, and yet I did not
recall anywhere precisely this sort of self-analysis. Confessions, so
called, were usually amatory episodes in the lives of the authors,
highly spiced and colored by emotions often not felt at the time, but
rather inspired by memory. Other analyses were the contented,
narratives of supposedly poverty-stricken people who pretended they had
no desires in the world save to milk the cows and watch the grass grow.
“Adventures in contentment” interested me no more than adventures in
I was going to try and see myself as I was—naked. To be of the
slightest value, everything I set down must be absolutely accurate and
the result of faithful observation. I believed I was a good observer. I
had heard myself described as a “cold proposition,” and coldness was a
sine qua non of my enterprise. I must brief my case as if I were an
attorney in an action at law. Or rather, I must make an analytical
statement of fact like that which usually prefaces a judicial opinion.
I must not act as a pleader, but first as a keen and truthful witness
and then as an impartial judge. And at the end I must either declare
myself innocent or guilty of a breach of trust—pronounce myself a
faithful or an unworthy servant.
I must dispassionately examine and set forth the actual conditions
of my home life, my business career, my social pleasures, the motives
animating myself, my family, my professional associates, and my friends
—weigh our comparative influence for good or evil on the community and
diagnose the general mental, moral and physical condition of the class
to which I belonged.
To do this aright, I must see clearly things as they were without
regard to popular approval or prejudice, and must not hesitate to call
them by their right names. I must spare neither myself nor anybody
else. It would not be altogether pleasant. The disclosures of the
microscope are often more terrifying than the amputations of the knife;
but by thus studying both myself and my contemporaries I might perhaps
arrive at the solution of the problem that was troubling me—that is to
say, why I, with every ostensible reason in the world for being happy,
was not! This, then, was to be my task.
* * * * *
I have already indicated that I am a sound, moderately healthy,
vigorous man, with a slight tendency to run to fat. I am five feet ten
inches tall, weigh a hundred and sixty-two pounds, have gray eyes, a
rather aquiline nose, and a close-clipped dark-brown mustache, with
enough gray hairs in it to give it dignity. My movements are quick; I
walk with a spring. I usually sleep, except when worried over business.
I do not wear glasses and I have no organic trouble of which I am
aware. The New York Life Insurance Company has just reinsured me after
a thorough physical examination. My appetite for food is not
particularly good, and my other appetites, in spite of my vigor, are by
no means keen. Eating is about the most active pleasure that I can
experience; but in order to enjoy my dinner I have to drink a cocktail,
and my doctor says that is very bad for my health.
My personal habits are careful, regular and somewhat luxurious. I
bathe always once and generally twice a day. Incidentally I am
accustomed to scatter a spoonful of scented powder in the water for the
sake of the odor. I like hot baths and spend a good deal of time in the
Turkish bath at my club. After steaming myself for half an hour and
taking a cold plunge, an alcohol rub and a cocktail, I feel younger
than ever; but the sight of my fellow men in the bath revolts me.
Almost without exception they have flabby, pendulous stomachs out of
all proportion to the rest of their bodies. Most of them are bald and
their feet are excessively ugly, so that, as they lie stretched out on
glass slabs to be rubbed down with salt and scrubbed, they appear to be
deformed. I speak now of the men of my age. Sometimes a boy comes in
that looks like a Greek god; but generally the boys are as
weird-looking as the men. I am rambling, however. Anyhow I am less
repulsive than most of them. Yet, unless the human race has steadily
deteriorated, I am surprised that the Creator was not discouraged after
his first attempt.
I clothe my body in the choicest apparel that my purse can buy, but
am careful to avoid the expressions of fancy against which Polonius
warns us. My coats and trousers are made in London, and so are my
underclothes, which are woven to order of silk and cotton. My shoes
cost me fourteen dollars a pair; my silk socks, six dollars; my
ordinary shirts, five dollars; and my dress shirts, fifteen dollars
each. On brisk evenings I wear to dinner and the opera a mink-lined
overcoat, for which my wife recently paid seven hundred and fifty
dollars. The storage and insurance on this coat come to twenty-five
dollars annually and the repairs to about forty-five. I am rather fond
of overcoats and own half a dozen of them, all made in Inverness.
I wear silk pajamas—pearl-gray, pink, buff and blue, with frogs,
cuffs and monograms—which by the set cost me forty dollars. I also
have a pair of pearl evening studs to wear with my dress suit, for
which my wife paid five hundred and fifty dollars, and my cuff buttons
cost me a hundred and seventy-five. Thus, if I am not an
exquisite—which I distinctly am not—I am exceedingly well dressed,
and I am glad to be so. If I did not have a fur coat to wear to the
opera I should feel embarrassed, out of place and shabby. All the men
who sit in the boxes at the Metropolitan Opera House have fur
As a boy I had very few clothes indeed, and those I had were made to
last a long time. But now without fine raiment I am sure I should be
miserable. I cannot imagine myself shabby. Yet I can imagine any one of
my friends being shabby without feeling any uneasiness about it—that
is to say, I am the first to profess a democracy of spirit in which
clothes cut no figure at all. I assert that it is the man, and not his
clothes, that I value; but in my own case my silk-and-cotton undershirt
is a necessity, and if deprived of it I should, I know, lose some
attribute of self.
At any rate, my bluff, easy, confident manner among my fellow men,
which has played so important a part in my success, would be
impossible. I could never patronize anybody if my necktie were frayed
or my sleeves too short. I know that my clothes are as much a part of
my entity as my hair, eyes and voice—more than any of the rest of me.
Based on the figures given above I am worth—the material part of
me—as I step out of my front door to go forth to dinner, something
over fifteen hundred dollars. If I were killed in a railroad accident
all these things would be packed carefully in a box, inventoried, and
given a much greater degree of attention than my mere body. I saw
Napoleon's boots and waistcoat the other day in Paris and I felt that
he himself must be there in the glass case beside me.
Any one who at Abbotsford has felt of the white beaver hat of Sir
Walter Scott knows that he has touched part—and a very considerable
part—of Sir Walter. The hat, the boots, the waistcoat are far less
ephemeral than the body they protect, and indicate almost as much of
the wearer's character as his hands and face. So I am not ashamed of my
silk pajamas or of the geranium powder I throw in my bath. They are
part of me.
But is this “me” limited to my body and my clothes? I drink a cup of
coffee or a cocktail: after they are consumed they are part of me; are
they not part of me as I hold the cup or the glass in my hand? Is my
coat more characteristic of me than my house—my sleeve-links than my
wife or my collie dog? I know a gentlewoman whose sensitive, quivering,
aristocratic nature is expressed far more in the Russian wolfhound that
shrinks always beside her than in the aloof, though charming,
expression of her face. No; not only my body and my personal effects
but everything that is mine is part of me—my chair with the rubbed
arm; my book, with its marked pages; my office; my bank account, and in
some measure my friend himself.
Let us agree that in the widest sense all that I have, feel or think
is part of me—either of my physical or mental being; for surely my
thoughts are more so than the books that suggest them, and my
sensations of pleasure or satisfaction equally so with the dinner I
have eaten or the cigar I have smoked. My ego is the sum total of all
these things. And if the cigar is consumed, the dinner digested, the
pleasure flown, the thought forgotten, the waistcoat or shirt
discarded—so, too, do the tissues of the body dissolve, disintegrate
and change. I can no more retain permanently the physical elements of
my personality than I can the mental or spiritual.
What, then, am I—who, the Scriptures assert, am made in the image
of God? Who and what is this being that has gradually been evolved
during fifty years of life and which I call Myself? For whom my father
and my mother, their fathers and mothers, and all my ancestors back
through the gray mists of the forgotten past, struggled, starved,
labored, suffered, and at last died. To what end did they do these
things? To produce me? God forbid!
Would the vision of me as I am to-day have inspired my grandfather
to undergo, as cheerfully as he did, the privations and austerities of
his long and arduous service as a country clergyman—or my father to
die at the head of his regiment at Little Round Top? What am I—what
have I ever done, now that I come to think of it, to deserve those
sacrifices? Have I ever even inconvenienced myself for others in any
way? Have I ever repaid this debt? Have I in turn advanced the flag
that they and hundreds of thousands of others, equally unselfish,
Have I ever considered my obligation to those who by their patient
labors in the field of scientific discovery have contributed toward my
well-being and the very continuance of my life? Or have I been content
for all these years to reap where I have not sown? To accept, as a
matter of course and as my due, the benefits others gave years of labor
to secure for me? It is easy enough for me to say: No—that I have
thought of them and am grateful to them. Perhaps I am, in a vague
fashion. But has whatever feeling of obligation I may possess been
evidenced in my conduct toward my fellows?
I am proud of my father's heroic death at Gettysburg; in fact I am a
member, by virtue of his rank in the Union Army, of what is called The
Loyal Legion. But have I ever fully considered that he died for me?
Have I been loyal to him? Would he be proud or otherwise—is he
proud or otherwise of me, his son? That is a question I can only answer
after I have ascertained just what I am.
Now for over quarter of a century I have worked hard—harder, I
believe, than most men. From a child I was ambitious. As a boy, people
would point to me and say that I would get ahead. Well, I have got
ahead. Back in the town where I was born I am spoken of as a “big man.”
Old men and women stop me on the main street and murmur: “If only your
father could see you now!” They all seem tremendously proud of me and
feel confident that if he could see me he would be happy for evermore.
And I know they are quite honest about it all. For they assume in their
simple hearts that my success is a real success. Yet I have no such
assurance about it.
Every year I go back and address the graduating class in the high
school—the high school I attended as a boy. And I am “Exhibit A”—the
tangible personification of all that the fathers and mothers hope their
children will become. It is the same way with the Faculty of my
college. They have given me an honorary degree and I have given them a
drinking fountain for the campus. We are a mutual-admiration society.
I am always picked by my classmates to preside at our reunions, for
I am the conspicuous, shining example of success among them. They are
proud of me, without envy. “Well, old man,” they say, “you've certainly
made a name for yourself!” They take it for granted that, because I
have made money and they read my wife's name in the society columns of
the New York papers, I must be completely satisfied.
And in a way I am satisfied with having achieved that
material success which argues the possession of brains and industry;
but the encomiums of the high-school principal and the congratulations
of my college mates, sincere and well-meaning as they are, no longer
quicken my blood; for I know that they are based on a total ignorance
of the person they seek to honor. They see a heavily built,
well-groomed, shrewd-looking man, with clear-cut features, a ready
smile, and a sort of brusque frankness that seems to them the index of
an honest heart. They hear him speak in a straightforward, direct way
about the “Old Home,” and the “Dear Old College,” and “All Our
Friends”—quite touching at times, I assure you—and they nod and say,
“Good fellow, this! No frills—straight from the heart! No wonder he
has got on in the city! Sterling chap! Hurrah!”
Perhaps, after all, the best part of me comes out on these
occasions. But it is not the me that I have worked for half a
century to build up; it is rather what is left of the me that
knelt at my mother's side forty years ago. Yet I have no doubt that,
should these good parents of mine see how I live in New York, they
would only be the more convinced of the greatness of my success—the
success to achieve which I have given the unremitting toil of thirty
* * * * *
And as I now clearly see that the results of this striving and the
objects of my ambition have been largely, if not entirely, material, I
shall take the space to set forth in full detail just what this
material success amounts to, in order that I may the better determine
whether it has been worth struggling for. Not only are the figures that
follow accurate and honest, but I am inclined to believe that they
represent the very minimum of expenditure in the class of New York
families to which mine belongs. They may at first sight seem
extravagant; but if the reader takes the trouble to verify them—as I
have done, alas! many times to my own dismay and discouragement—he
will find them economically sound. This, then, is the catalogue of my
I possess securities worth about seven hundred and fifty thousand
dollars and I earn at my profession from thirty to forty thousand
dollars a year. This gives me an annual income of from sixty-five
thousand to seventy-five thousand dollars. In addition I own a house on
the sunny side of an uptown cross street near Central Park which cost
me, fifteen years ago, one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, and is
now worth two hundred and fifty thousand. I could sell it for that. The
taxes alone amount to thirty-two hundred dollars—the repairs and
annual improvements to about twenty-five hundred. As the interest on
the value of the property would be twelve thousand five hundred dollars
it will be seen that merely to have a roof over my head costs me
annually over eighteen thousand dollars.
My electric-light bills are over one hundred dollars a month. My
coal and wood cost me even more, for I have two furnaces to heat the
house, an engine to pump the water, and a second range in the laundry.
One man is kept busy all the time attending to these matters and
cleaning the windows. I pay my butler eighty dollars a month; my second
man fifty-five; my valet sixty; my cook seventy; the two kitchen maids
twenty-five each; the head laundress forty-five; the two second
laundresses thirty-five each; the parlor maid thirty; the two
housemaids twenty-five each; my wife's maid thirty-five; my daughter's
maid thirty; the useful man fifty; the pantry maid twenty-five. My
house payroll is, therefore, six hundred and fifty dollars a month, or
seventy-eight hundred a year.
We could not possibly get along without every one of these servants.
To discharge one of them would mean that the work would have to be done
in some other way at a vastly greater expense. Add this to the yearly
sum represented by the house itself, together with the cost of heating
and lighting, and you have twenty-eight thousand four hundred dollars.
Unforeseen extras make this, in fact, nearer thirty thousand
dollars. There is usually some alteration under way, a partition to be
taken out, a hall to be paneled, a parquet floor to be relaid, a new
sort of heating apparatus to be installed, and always plumbing.
Generally, also, at least one room has to be done over and refurnished
every year, and this is an expensive matter. The guest room, recently
refurnished in this way at my daughter's request, cost thirty-seven
hundred dollars. Since we average not more than two guests for a single
night annually, their visits from one point of view will cost me this
year eighteen hundred and fifty dollars apiece.
Then, too, styles change. There is always new furniture, new
carpets, new hangings—pictures to be bought. Last season my wife
changed the drawing room from Empire to Louis Seize at a very
Our food, largely on account of the number of our servants, costs us
from a thousand to twelve hundred dollars a month. In the spring and
autumn it is a trifle less—in winter it is frequently more; but it
averages, with wine, cigars, ice, spring water and sundries, over
fifteen thousand dollars a year.
We rent a house at the seashore or in the country in summer at from
five to eight thousand dollars, and usually find it necessary to employ
a couple of men about the place.
Our three saddle-horses cost us about two thousand dollars for
stabling, shoeing and incidentals; but they save me at least that in
Since my wife and daughters are fond of society, and have different
friends and different nightly engagements, we are forced to keep two
motors and two chauffeurs, one of them exclusively for night-work. I
pay these men one hundred and twenty-five dollars each a month, and the
garage bill is usually two hundred and fifty more, not counting tires.
At least one car has to be overhauled every year at an average expense
of from two hundred and fifty to five hundred dollars. Both cars have
to be painted annually. My motor service winter and summer costs on a
conservative estimate at least eight thousand dollars.
I allow my wife five thousand dollars; my daughters three thousand
each; and my son, who is not entirely independent, twenty-five hundred.
This is supposed to cover everything; but it does not—it barely covers
their bodies. I myself expend, having no vices, only about twenty-five
The bills of our family doctor, the specialists and the dentist are
never less than a thousand dollars, and that is a minimum. They would
probably average more than double that.
Our spring trip to Paris, for rest and clothing, has never cost me
less than thirty-five hundred dollars, and when it comes to less than
five thousand it is inevitably a matter of mutual congratulation.
Our special entertaining, our opera box, the theater and social
frivolities aggregate no inconsiderable sum, which I will not
overestimate at thirty-five hundred dollars.
Our miscellaneous subscriptions to charity and the like come to
about fifteen hundred dollars.
The expenses already recited total nearly seventy-five thousand
dollars, or as much as my maximum income. And this annual budget
contains no allowance for insurance, books, losses at cards,
transportation, sundries, the purchase of new furniture, horses,
automobiles, or for any of that class of expenditure usually referred
to as “principal” or “plant.” I inevitably am obliged to purchase a new
motor every two or three years—usually for about six thousand dollars;
and, as I have said, the furnishing of our city house is never
It is a fact that for the last ten years I have found it an absolute
impossibility to get along on seventy-five thousand dollars a year,
even living without apparent extravagance. I do not run a yacht or keep
hunters or polo ponies. My wife does not appear to be particularly
lavish and continually complains of the insufficiency of her allowance.
Our table is not Lucullan, by any means; and we rarely have game out of
season, hothouse fruit or many flowers. Indeed, there is an elaborate
fiction maintained by my wife, cook and butler that our establishment
is run economically and strictly on a business basis. Perhaps it is. I
hope so. I do not know anything about it. Anyhow, here is the smallest
budget on which I can possibly maintain my household of five adults:
ANNUAL BUDGET—MINIMUM—FOR FAMILY OF FIVE PERSONS
Taxes on city house $ 3,200
Repairs, improvements and minor alterations 2,500
Rent of country house—average 7,000
Gardeners and stablemen, and so on 800
Servants' payroll 7,800
Food supplies 15,000
Light and heat—gas, electricity, coal and wood 2,400
Saddle-horses—board and so on 2,000
Automobile expenses 8,000
Wife's allowance—emphatically insufficient 5,000
Daughters' allowance—two 6,000
Son's allowance 2,500
Self—clubs, clothes, and so on 2,500
Medical attendance—including dentist 1,000
Travel—wife's annual spring trip to Paris 3,500
Opera, theater, music, entertaining at restaurants,
and so on 3,500
A fortune in itself, you may say! Yet judged by the standards of
expenditure among even the unostentatiously wealthy in New York it is
moderate indeed. A friend of mine who has only recently married glanced
over my schedule and said, “Why, it's ridiculous, old man! No one could
live in New York on any such sum.”
Any attempt to “keep house” in the old-fashioned meaning of the
phrase would result in domestic disruption. No cook who was not allowed
to do the ordering would stay with us. It is hopeless to try to save
money in our domestic arrangements. I have endeavored to do so once or
twice and repented of my rashness. One cannot live in the city without
motors, and there is no object in living at all if one cannot keep up a
scale of living that means comfort and lack of worry in one's
The result is that I am always pressed for money even on an income
of seventy-five thousand dollars. And every year I draw a little on my
capital. Sometimes a lucky stroke on the market or an unexpected fee
evens things up or sets me a little ahead; but usually January first
sees me selling a few bonds to meet an annual deficit. Needless to say,
I pay no personal taxes. If I did I might as well give up the struggle
at once. When I write it all down in cold words I confess it seems
ridiculous. Yet my family could not be happy living in any other way.
It may be remarked that the item for charity on the preceding
schedule is somewhat disproportionate to the amount of the total
expenditure. I offer no excuse or justification for this. I am engaged
in an honest exposition of fact—for my own personal satisfaction and
profit, and for what lessons others may be able to draw from it. My
charities are negligible.
The only explanation which suggests itself to my mind is that I lead
so circumscribed and guarded a life that these matters do not obtrude
themselves on me. I am not brought into contact with the maimed, the
halt and the blind; if I were I should probably behave toward them like
a gentleman. The people I am thrown with are all sleek and well fed;
but even among those of my friends who make a fad of charity I have
never observed any disposition to deprive themselves of luxuries for
the sake of others.
Outside of the really poor, is there such a thing as genuine charity
among us? The church certainly does not demand anything approximating
self-sacrifice. A few dollars will suffice for any appeal. I am not a
professing Christian, but the church regards me tolerantly and takes my
money when it can get it. But how little it gets! I give
frequently—almost constantly—but in most instances my giving is less
an act of benevolence than the payment of a tax upon my social
standing. I am compelled to give. If I could not be relied upon to take
tickets to charity entertainments and to add my name to the
subscription lists for hospitals and relief funds I should lose my
caste. One cannot be too cold a proposition. I give to these
things grudgingly and because I cannot avoid it.
Of course the aggregate amount thus disposed of is really not large
and I never feel the loss of it. Frankly, people of my class rarely
inconvenience themselves for the sake of anybody, whether their own
immediate friends or the sick, suffering and sorrowful. It is trite to
say that the clerk earning one thousand dollars deprives himself of
more in giving away fifty than the man with an income of twenty
thousand dollars in giving away five thousand. It really costs the
clerk more to go down into his pocket for that sum than the rich man to
draw his check for those thousands.
Where there is necessity for generous and immediate relief I
occasionally, but very rarely, contribute two hundred and fifty or five
hundred dollars. My donation is always known and usually is noticed
with others of like amount in the daily papers. I am glad to give the
money and I have a sensation of making a substantial sacrifice in doing
so. Obviously, however, it has cost me really nothing! I spend two
hundred and fifty dollars or more every week or so on an evening's
entertainment for fifteen or twenty of my friends and think nothing of
it. It is part of my manner of living, and my manner of living is an
advertisement of my success—and advertising in various subtle ways is
a business necessity. Yet if I give two hundred and fifty dollars to a
relief fund I have an inflation of the heart and feel conscious of my
I can frankly say, therefore, that so far as I am concerned my
response to the ordinary appeal for charity is purely perfunctory and
largely, if not entirely, dictated by policy; and the sum total of my
charities on an income of seventy-five thousand dollars a year is
probably less than fifteen hundred dollars, or about two per cent.
Yet, thinking it over dispassionately, I do not conclude from this
that I am an exceptionally selfish man. I believe I represent the
average in this respect. I always respond to minor calls in a way that
pleases the recipient and causes a genuine flow of satisfaction in my
own breast. I toss away nickels, dimes and quarters with prodigality;
and if one of the office boys feels out of sorts I send him off for a
week's vacation on full pay. I make small loans to seedy fellows who
have known better days and I treat the servants handsomely at
I once sent a boy to college—that is, I promised him fifty dollars
a year. He died in his junior term, however. Sisters of Mercy, the
postman, a beggar selling pencils or shoelaces—almost anybody, in
short, that actually comes within range—can pretty surely count on
something from me. But I confess I never go out of my way to look for
people in need of help. I have not the time.
Several of the items in my budget, however, are absurdly low, for
the opera-box which, as it is, we share with several friends and which
is ours but once in two weeks, alone costs us twelve hundred dollars;
and my bill at the Ritz—where we usually dine before going to the
theater or sup afterward—is apt to be not less than one hundred
dollars a month. Besides, twenty-five hundred dollars does not begin to
cover my actual personal expenses; but as I am accustomed to draw
checks against my office account and thrust the money in my pocket, it
is difficult to say just what I do cost myself.
Moreover, a New York family like mine would have to keep
surprisingly well in order to get along with but two thousand dollars a
year for doctors. Even our dentist bills are often more than that. We
do not go to the most fashionable operators either. There does not seem
to be any particular way of finding out who the good ones are except by
experiment. I go to a comparatively cheap one. Last month he looked me
over, put in two tiny fillings, cleansed my teeth and treated my gums.
He only required my presence once for half an hour, once for twenty
minutes, and twice for ten minutes—on the last two occasions he
filched the time from the occupant of his other chair. My bill was
forty-two dollars. As he claims to charge a maximum rate of ten dollars
an hour—which is about the rate for ordinary legal services—I have
spent several hundred dollars' worth of my own time trying to figure it
all out. But this is nothing to the expense incident to the
straightening of children's teeth.
When I was a child teeth seemed to take care of themselves, but my
boy and girls were all obliged to spend several years with their small
mouths full of plates, wires and elastic bands. In each case the cost
was from eighteen hundred to two thousand dollars. A friend of mine
with a large family was compelled to lay out during the tooth-growing
period of his offspring over five thousand dollars a year for several
years. Their teeth are not straight at that.
Then, semioccasionally, weird cures arise and seize hold of the
female imagination and send our wives and daughters scurrying to the
parlors of fashionable specialists, who prescribe long periods of rest
at expensive hotels—a room in one's own house will not do—and strange
diets of mush and hot water, with periodical search parties, lighted by
electricity, through the alimentary canal.
One distinguished medico's discovery of the terra incognita of the
stomach has netted him, I am sure, a princely fortune. There seems to
be something peculiarly fascinating about the human interior. One of
our acquaintances became so interested in hers that she issued engraved
invitations for a fashionable party at which her pet doctor delivered a
lecture on the gastro-intestinal tract. All this comes high, and I have
not ventured to include the cost of such extravagances in my budget,
though my wife has taken cures six times in the last ten years, either
at home or abroad.
And who can prophesy the cost of the annual spring jaunt to Europe?
I have estimated it at thirty-five hundred dollars; but, frankly, I
never get off with any such trifling sum. Our passage alone costs us
from seven hundred to a thousand dollars, or even more and our
ten-days' motor trip—the invariable climax of the expedition rendered
necessary by the fatigue incident to shopping—at least five hundred
Our hotel bills in Paris, our taxicabs, theater tickets, and dinners
at expensive restaurants cost us at least a thousand dollars, without
estimating the total of those invariable purchases that are paid for
out of the letter of credit and not charged to my wife's regular
allowance. Even in Paris she will, without a thought, spend fifty
dollars at Reboux' for a simple spring hat—and this is not regarded as
expensive. Her dresses cost as much as if purchased on Fifth Avenue and
I am obliged to pay a sixty per cent duty on them besides.
The restaurants of Paris—the chic ones—charge as much as those in
New York; in fact, chic Paris exists very largely for the exploitation
of the wives of rich Americans. The smart French woman buys no such
dresses and pays no such prices. She knows a clever little modiste down
some alley leading off the Rue St. Honore who will saunter into
Worth's, sweep the group of models with her eye, and go back to her own
shop and turn out the latest fashions at a quarter of the money.
A French woman in society will have the same dress made for her by
her own dressmaker for seventy dollars for which an American will
cheerfully pay three hundred and fifty. And the reason is, that she has
been taught from girlhood the relative values of things. She knows that
mere clothes can never really take the place of charm and breeding;
that expensive entertainments, no matter how costly and choice the
viands, can never give equal pleasure with a cup of tea served with
vivacity and wit; and that the best things of Paris are, in fact, free
to all alike—the sunshine of the boulevards, the ever-changing
spectacle of the crowds, the glamour of the evening glow beyond the
Hotel des Invalides, and the lure of the lamp-strewn twilight of the
So she gets a new dress or two and, after the three months of her
season in the Capital are over, is content to lead a more or less
simple family life in the country for the rest of the year. One rarely
sees a real Parisian at one of the highly advertised all-night resorts
of Paris. No Frenchman would pay the price.
An acquaintance of mine took his wife and a couple of friends one
evening to what is known as L'Abbaye, in Montmartre. Knowing that it
had a reputation for being expensive, he resisted, somewhat
self-consciously, the delicate suggestions of the head waiter and
ordered only one bottle of champagne, caviar for four, and a couple of
cigars. After watching the dancing for an hour he called for his bill
and found that the amount was two hundred and fifty francs. Rather than
be conspicuous he paid it—foolishly. But the American who takes his
wife abroad must have at least one vicarious taste of fast life, no
matter what it costs, and he is a lucky fellow who can save anything
out of a bill of exchange that has cost him five thousand dollars.
After dispassionate consideration of the matter I hazard the sincere
opinion that my actual disbursements during the last ten years have
averaged not less than one hundred thousand dollars a year. However,
let us be conservative and stick to our original figure of seventy-five
thousand dollars. It costs me, therefore, almost exactly two hundred
dollars a day to support five persons. We all of us complain of what is
called the high cost of living, but men of my class have no real
knowledge of what it costs them to live.
The necessaries are only a drop in the bucket. It is hardly worth
while to bother over the price of rib roast a pound, or fresh eggs a
dozen, when one is smoking fifty-cent cigars. Essentially it costs me
as much to lunch off a boiled egg, served in my dining room at home, as
to carve the breast off a canvasback. At the end of the month my bills
would not show the difference. It is the overhead—or, rather, in
housekeeping, the underground—charge that counts. That boiled egg or
the canvasback represents a running expense of at least a hundred
dollars a day. Slight variations in the cost of foodstuffs or servants'
wages amount to practically nothing.
And what do I get for my two hundred dollars a day and my
seventy-five thousand dollars a year that the other fellow does not
enjoy for, let us say, half the money? Let us readjust the budget with
an idea to ascertaining on what a family of five could live in luxury
in the city of New York a year. I could rent a good house for five
thousand dollars and one in the country for two thousand dollars; and I
would have no real-estate taxes. I could keep eight trained servants
for three thousand dollars and reduce the cost of my supplies to five
thousand almost without knowing it. Of course my light and heat would
cost me twelve hundred dollars and my automobile twenty-five hundred.
My wife, daughters and son ought to be able to manage to dress on five
thousand dollars, among them. I could give away fifteen hundred dollars
and allow one thousand for doctors' bills, fifteen hundred for my own
expenses, and still have twenty-three hundred for pleasure—and be
living on thirty thousand dollars a year in luxury.
I could even then entertain, go to the theater, and occasionally
take my friends to a restaurant. And what would I surrender? My
saddle-horses, my extra motor, my pretentious houses, my opera box, my
wife's annual spending bout in Paris—that is about all. And I would
have a cash balance of forty-five thousand dollars.
Rent—City and country $7,000 Servants 3,000 Supplies 5,000 Light
and heat 1,200 Motor 2,500 Allowance to family 5,000 Charity 1,500
Medical attendance 1,000 Self 1,500 Travel, pleasure, music and
___ Total $30,000
In a smaller city I could do the same thing for half the
money—fifteen thousand dollars; in Rome, Florence or Munich I could
live like a prince on half the sum. I am paying apparently forty-five
thousand dollars each year for the veriest frills of existence—for
geranium powder in my bath, for fifteen extra feet in the width of my
drawing room, for a seat in the parterre instead of the parquet at the
opera, for the privilege of having a second motor roll up to the door
when it is needed, and that my wife may have seven new evening dresses
each winter instead of two. And in reality these luxuries mean nothing
to me. I do not want them. I am not a whit more comfortable with than
If an income tax should suddenly cut my bank account in half it
would not seriously inconvenience me. No financial cataclasm, however
dire, could deprive me of the genuine luxuries of my existence. Yet in
my revised schedule of expenditure I would still be paying nearly a
hundred dollars a day for the privilege of living. What would I be
getting for my money—even then? What would I receive as a quid pro
quo for my thirty thousand dollars?
I am not enough of a materialist to argue that my advantage over my
less successful fellow man lies in having a bigger house, men servants
instead of maid servants, and smoking cigars alleged to be from Havana
instead of from Tampa; but I believe I am right in asserting that my
social opportunities—in the broader sense—are vastly greater than
his. I am meeting bigger men and have my fingers in bigger things. I
give orders and he takes them.
My opinion has considerable weight in important matters, some of
which vitally affect large communities. My astuteness has put millions
into totally unexpected pockets and defeated the faultily expressed
intentions of many a testator. I can go to the White House and get an
immediate hearing, and I can do more than that with judges of the
Supreme Court in their private chambers.
In other words I am an active man of affairs, a man among men, a man
of force and influence, who, as we say, “cuts ice” in the metropolis.
But the economic weakness in the situation lies in the fact that a
boiled egg only costs the ordinary citizen ten cents and it costs me
almost its weight in gold.
Compare this de-luxe existence of mine with that of my forebears. We
are assured by most biographers that the subject of their eulogies was
born of poor but honest parents. My own parents were honest, but my
father was in comfortable circumstances and was able to give me the
advantages incident to an education, first at the local high school and
later at college. I did not as a boy get up while it was still dark and
break the ice in the horsetrough in order to perform my ablutions. I
was, to be sure, given to understand—and always when a child
religiously believed—that this was my father's unhappy fate. It may
have been so, but I have a lingering doubt on the subject that refuses
to be dissipated. I can hardly credit the idea that the son of the
village clergyman was obliged to go through any such rigorous physical
discipline as a child.
Even in 1820 there were such things as hired men and tradition
declares that the one in my grandparents' employ was known as Jonas,
had but one good eye and was half-witted. It modestly refrains from
asserting that he had only one arm and one leg. My grandmother did the
cooking—her children the housework; but Jonas was their only servant,
if servant he can be called. It is said that he could perform wonders
with an ax and could whistle the very birds off the trees.
Some time ago I came upon a trunkful of letters written by my
grandfather to my father in 1835, when the latter was in college. They
were closely written with a fine pen in a small, delicate hand, and the
lines of ink, though faded, were like steel engraving. They were
stilted, godly—in an ingenuous fashion—at times ponderously humorous,
full of a mild self-satisfaction, and inscribed under the obvious
impression that only the writer could save my father's soul from hell
or his kidneys from destruction. The goodness of the Almighty, as
exemplified by His personal attention to my grandfather, the efficacy
of oil distilled from the liver of the cod, and the wisdom of Solomon,
came in for an equal share of attention. How the good old gentleman
must have enjoyed writing those letters! And, though I have never
written my own son three letters in my life, I suppose the desire of
self-expression is stirring in me now these seventy-eight years later.
I wonder what he would have said could he read these confessions of
mine—he who married my grandmother on a capital of twenty-five dollars
and enough bleached cotton to make half a dozen shirts! My annual
income would have bought the entire county in which he lived. My son
scraped through Harvard on twenty-five hundred dollars a year. I have
no doubt that he left undisclosed liabilities behind him. Most of this
allowance was spent on clothes, private commons and amusement. Lying
before me is my father's term bill at college for the first half year
of 1835. The items are:
To tuition $12.00 Room rent 3.00 Use of University Library 1.00
Servants' hire, printing, and so on 2.00 Repairs .80 Damage for glass
.09 Commons bill, 15-1/2 weeks at $1.62 a week 25.11 Steward's salary
2.00 Public fuel .50 Absent from recitation without excuse—once .03
———- Total $46.53
The glass damage at nine cents and the three cents for absence
without excuse give me joy. Father was human, after all!
Economically speaking, I do not think that his clothes cost him
anything. He wore my grandfather's old ones. There were no amusements
in those days, except going to see the pickled curios in the old Boston
Museum. I have no doubt he drove to college in the family chaise—if
there was one. I do not think that, in fact, there was.
On a conservative estimate he could not have cost my grandfather
much, if anything, over a hundred dollars a year. On this basis I
could, on my present income, send seven hundred and fifty fathers to
college annually! A curious thought, is it not?
Undoubtedly my grandfather went barefoot and trudged many a weary
mile, winter and summer, to and from the district school. He worked his
way through college. He married and reared a family. He educated my
father. He watched over his flock in sickness and in health, and he
died at a ripe old age, mourned by the entire countryside.
My father, in his turn, was obliged to carve out his own fate. He
left the old home, moved to the town where I was born, and by untiring
industry built up a law practice which for those days was astonishingly
lucrative. Then, as I have said, the war broke out and, enlisting as a
matter of course, he met death on the battlefield. During his
comparatively short life he followed the frugal habits acquired in his
youth. He was a simple man.
Yet I am his son! What would he say could he see my valet, my
butler, my French cook? Would he admire and appreciate my paintings, my
objets d'art, my rugs and tapestries, my rare old furniture? As an
intelligent man he would undoubtedly have the good taste to realize
their value and take satisfaction in their beauty; but would he be glad
that I possessed them? That is a question. Until I began to pen these
confessions I should have unhesitatingly answered it in the
affirmative. Now I am inclined to wonder a little. I think it would
depend on how far he believed that my treasures indicated on my own
part a genuine love of art, and how far they were but the evidences of
pomp and vainglory.
Let me be honest in the matter. I own some masterpieces of great
value. At the time of their purchase I thought I had a keen admiration
for them. I begin to suspect that I acquired them less because I really
cared for such things than because I wished to be considered a
connoisseur. There they hang—my Corots, my Romneys, my Teniers, my
Daubignys. But they might as well be the merest chromos. I never look
at them. I have forgotten that they exist. So have the rest of my
It is the same way with my porcelains and tapestries. Of course they
go to make up the tout ensemble of a harmonious and luxurious
home, but individually they mean nothing to me. I should not miss them
if they were all swept out of existence tomorrow by a fire. I am no
happier in my own house than in a hotel. My pictures are nothing but so
much furniture requiring heavy insurance.
It is somewhat the same with our cuisine. My food supply costs me
forty dollars a day. We use the choicest teas, the costliest caviar and
relishes, the richest sterilized milk and cream, the freshest eggs, the
choicest cuts of meat. We have course after course at lunch and dinner;
yet I go to the table without an appetite and my food gives me little
pleasure. But this style of living is the concrete expression of my
success. Because I have risen above my fellows I must be surrounded by
these tangible evidences of prosperity.
I get up about nine o'clock in the morning unless I have been out
very late the night before, in which case I rest until ten or later. I
step into a porcelain tub in which my servant has drawn a warm bath of
water filtered by an expensive process which makes it as clear and blue
as crystal. When I leave my bath my valet hands me one by one the
garments that have been carefully laid out in order. He is always
hovering round me, and I rather pride myself on the fact that I lace my
own shoes and brush my own hair. Then he gives me a silk handkerchief
and I stroll into my upstairs sitting room ready for breakfast.
My daughters are still sleeping. They rarely get up before eleven in
the morning, and my wife and I do not, as a rule, breakfast together.
We have tried that arrangement and found it wanting, for we are
slightly irritable at this hour. My son has already gone downtown. So I
enter the chintz-furnished room alone and sit down by myself before a
bright wood fire and glance at the paper, which the valet has ironed,
while I nibble an egg, drink a glass of orange juice, swallow a few
pieces of toast and quaff a great cup of fragrant coffee.
Coffee! Goddess of the nerve-exhausted! Sweet invigorator of tired
manhood! Savior of the American race! I could not live without you! One
draft at your Pyrenean fountain and I am young again! For a moment the
sun shines as it used to do in my boyhood's days; my blood quickens; I
am eager to be off to business—to do, no matter what.
I enter the elevator and sink to the ground floor. My valet and
butler are waiting, the former with my coat over his arm, ready to help
me into it. Then he hands me my hat and stick, while the butler opens
the front door and escorts me to my motor. The chauffeur touches his
hat. I light a small and excellent Havana cigar and sink back among the
cushions. The interior of the car smells faintly of rich upholstery and
violet perfume. My daughters have been to a ball the night before. If
it is fine I have the landaulette hood thrown open and take the air as
far as Washington Square—if not, I am deposited at the Subway.
Ten o'clock sees me at my office. The effect of the coffee has begun
to wear off slightly. I am a little peevish with my secretary, who has
opened and arranged all my letters on my desk. There are a pile of
dividend checks, a dozen appeals for charity and a score of letters
relating to my business. I throw the begging circulars into the
waste-basket and dictate most of my answers in a little over half an
hour. Then come a stream of appointments until lunchtime.
On the top floor of a twenty-story building, its windows commanding
a view of all the waters surrounding the end of Manhattan Island, is my
lunch club. Here gather daily at one o'clock most of the men with whom
I am associated—bankers, railroad promoters and other lawyers. I lunch
with one or more of them. A cocktail starts my appetite, for I have no
desire for food; and for the sake of appearances I manage to consume an
egg Benedictine and a ragout of lamb, with a dessert.
Then we wander into the smoking room and drink black coffee and
smoke long black cigars. I have smoked a cigar or two in my office
already and am beginning, as usual, to feel a trifle seedy. Here we
plan some piece of business or devise a method of escaping the
necessity of fulfilling some corporate obligation.
Two or half-past finds me in my office again. The back of the day is
broken. I take things more easily. Later on I smoke another cigar. I
discuss general matters with my junior partners. At half-past four I
enter my motor, which is waiting at the Wall Street entrance of the
building. At my uptown club the men are already dropping in and
gathering round the big windows. We all call each other by our first
names, yet few of us know anything of one another's real character. We
have a bluff heartiness, a cheerful cynicism that serves in place of
sincerity, and we ask no questions.
Our subjects of conversation are politics, the stock market, “big"
business, and the more fashionable sports. There is no talk of art or
books, no discussion of subjects of civic interest. After our cocktails
we usually arrange a game of bridge and play until it is time to go
home to dress for dinner.
Until this time, usually, I have not met my wife and daughters since
the night before. They have had their own individual engagements for
luncheon and in the afternoon, and perhaps have not seen each other
before during the day. But we generally meet at least two or three
times a week on the stairs or in the hall as we are going out.
Sometimes, also, I see my son at this time.
It will be observed that our family life is not burdensome to any of
us:—not that we do not wish to see one another, but we are too busy to
do so. My daughters seem to be fond of me. They are proud of my success
and their own position; in fact they go out in the smartest circles.
They are smarter, indeed, than their mother and myself; for, though we
know everybody in society, we have never formed a part of the intimate
inner Newport circle. But my daughters are inside and in the very
center of the ring. You can read their names as present at every smart
function that takes place.
From Friday until Monday they are always in the country at week-end
parties. They are invited to go to Bermuda, Palm Beach, California,
Aiken and the Glacier National Park. They live on yachts and in private
cars and automobiles. They know all the patter of society and
everything about everybody. They also talk surprisingly well about art,
music and international politics. They are as much at home in Rome,
Paris and London as they are in New York, and are as familiar with
Scotland as Long Island. They constantly amaze me by the apparent scope
of their information.
They are women of the world in a sense unheard of by my father's
generation. They have been presented at court in London, Berlin and
Rome, and have had a social season at Cairo; in fact I feel at a great
personal disadvantage in talking with them. They are respectful, very
sweet in a self-controlled and capable sort of way, and, so far as I
can see, need no assistance in looking out for themselves. They seem to
be quite satisfied with their mode of life. They do as they choose, and
ask for no advice from either their mother or myself.
My boy also leads his own life. He is rarely at home except to
sleep. I see less of him than of my daughters. During the day he is at
the office, where he is learning to be a lawyer. At wide intervals we
lunch together; but I find that he is interested in things which do not
appeal to me at all. Just at present he has become an expert—almost a
professional—dancer to syncopated music. I hear of him as dancing for
charity at public entertainments, and he is in continual demand for
private theatricals and parties. He is astonishingly clever at it.
Yet I cannot imagine Daniel Webster or Rufus Choate dancing in
public even in their leisure moments. Perhaps, however, it is better
for him to dance than to do some other things. It is good exercise;
and, to be fair with him, I cannot imagine Choate or Webster playing
bridge or taking scented baths. But, frankly, it is a far cry from my
clergyman grandfather to my ragtime dancing offspring. Perhaps,
however, the latter will serve his generation in his own way.
It may seem incredible that a father can be such a stranger to his
children, but it is none the less a fact. I do not suppose we dine
together as a family fifteen times in the course of the winter. When we
do so we get along together very nicely, but I find myself conversing
with my daughters much as if they were women I had met casually out at
dinner. They are literally “perfect ladies.”
When they were little I was permitted a certain amount of decorous
informality, but now I have to be very careful how I kiss them on
account of the amount of powder they use. They have, both of them,
excellent natural complexions, but they are not satisfied unless their
noses have an artificial whiteness like that of marble. I suspect,
also, that their lips have a heightened color. At all events I am
careful to “mind the paint.” But they are—either because of these
things or in spite of them—extraordinarily pretty girls—prettier, I
am forced to admit, than their mother was at their age. Now, as I
write, I wonder to what end these children of mine have been born into
the world—how they will assist in the development of the race to a
For years I slaved at the office—early, late, in the evenings,
often working Sundays and holidays, and foregoing my vacation in the
Then came the period of expansion. My accumulations doubled and
trebled. In one year I earned a fee in a railroad reorganization of two
hundred thousand dollars. I found myself on Easy Street. I had
arrived—achieved my success. During all those years I had devoted
myself exclusively to the making of money. Now I simply had to spend it
and go through the motions of continuing to work at my profession.
My wife and I became socially ambitious. She gave herself to this
end eventually with the same assiduity I had displayed at the law. It
is surprising at the present time to recall that it was not always easy
to explain the ultimate purpose in view. Alas! What is it now? Is it
other than that expressed by my wife on the occasion when our youngest
daughter rebelled at having to go to a children's party?
“Why must I go to parties?” she insisted.
“In order,” replied her mother, “that you may be invited to other
It was the unconscious epitome of my consort's theory of the whole
duty of man.
CHAPTER II. MY FRIENDS
By virtue of my being a successful man my family has an established
position in New York society. We are not, to be sure—at least, my wife
and I are not—a part of the sacrosanct fifty or sixty who run the show
and perform in the big ring; but we are well up in the front of the
procession and occasionally do a turn or so in one of the side rings.
We give a couple of dinners each week during the season and a ball or
two, besides a continuous succession of opera and theater parties.
Our less desirable acquaintances, and those toward whom we have
minor social obligations, my wife disposes of by means of an elaborate
“at home,” where the inadequacies of the orchestra are drowned in the
roar of conversation, and which a sufficient number of well-known
people are good-natured enough to attend in order to make the others
feel that the occasion is really smart and that they are not being
trifled with. This method of getting rid of one's shabby friends and
their claims is, I am informed, known as “killing them off with a tea.”
We have a slaughter of this kind about once in two years. In return
for these courtesies we are invited yearly by the elite to some two
hundred dinners, about fifty balls and dances, and a large number of
miscellaneous entertainments such as musicales, private theatricals,
costume affairs, bridge, poker, and gambling parties; as well as in the
summer to clambakes—where champagne and terrapin are served by
footmen—and other elegant rusticities.
Besides these chic functions we are, of course, deluged with
invitations to informal meals with old and new friends, studio parties,
afternoon teas, highbrow receptions and conversaziones,
reformers' lunch parties, and similar festivities. We have cut out all
these long ago. Keeping up with our smart acquaintances takes all our
energy and available time. There are several old friends of mine on the
next block to ours whom I have not met socially for nearly ten years.
We have definitely arrived however. There is no question about that.
We are in society and entitled to all the privileges pertaining
thereto. What are they? you ask. Why, the privilege of going to all
these balls, concerts and dinners, of course; of calling the men and
women one reads about in the paper by their first names; of having the
satisfaction of knowing that everybody who knows anything knows we are
in society; and of giving our daughters and son the chance to enjoy,
without any effort on their part, these same privileges that their
parents have spent a life of effort to secure.
Incidentally, I may add, our offspring will, each of them—if I am
not very much mistaken—marry money, since I have observed a certain
frankness on their part in this regard, which seems to point that way
and which, if not admirable in itself, at least does credit to their
Now it is undubitably the truth that my wife regards our place among
the socially elect as the crowning achievement—the great
desideratum—of our joint career. It is what we have always been
striving for. Without it we—both of us—would have unquestionably
acknowledged failure. My future, my reputation, my place at the bar and
my domestic life would have meant nothing at all to us, had not the
grand cordon of success been thrown across our shoulders by society.
* * * * *
As I have achieved my ambition in this respect it is no small part
of my self-imposed task to somewhat analyze this, the chief reward of
my devotion to my profession, my years of industrious application, my
careful following of the paths that other successful Americans have
blazed for me.
I must confess at the outset that it is ofttimes difficult to
determine where the pleasure ends and work begins. Even putting it in
this way, I fear I am guilty of a euphemism; for, now that I consider
the matter honestly, I recall no real pleasure or satisfaction derived
from the various entertainments I have attended during the last five or
In the first place I am invariably tired when I come home at
night—less perhaps from the actual work I have done at my office than
from the amount of tobacco I have consumed and the nervous strain
attendant on hurrying from one engagement to another and keeping up the
affectation of hearty good-nature which is part of my stock in trade.
At any rate, even if my body is not tired, my head, nerves and eyes are
I often feel, when my valet tells me that the motor is ordered at
ten minutes to eight, that I would greatly enjoy having him slip into
the dress-clothes he has so carefully laid out on my bed and go out to
dinner in my place. He would doubtless make himself quite as agreeable
as I. And then—let me see—what would I do? I sit with one of my
accordion-plaited silk socks half on and surrender myself to all the
delights of the most reckless imagination!
Yes, what would I choose if I could do anything in the world for the
next three hours? First, I think, I would like an egg—a poached egg,
done just right, like a little snowball, balanced nicely in the exact
center of a hot piece of toast! My mouth waters. Aunt Jane used to do
them like that. And then I would like a crisp piece of gingerbread and
a glass of milk. Dress? Not on your life! Where is that old
smoking-jacket of mine? Not the one with Japanese embroidery on it—no;
the old one. Given away? I groan aloud.
Well, the silk one will have to do—and a pair of comfortable
slippers! Where is that old brier pipe I keep to go a-fishing? Now I
want a book—full of the sea and ships—of pirates and coral
reefs—yes, Treasure Island; of course that's it—and Long John Silver
and the Black Spot.
“Beg pardon, sir, but madam has sent me up to say the motor is
waiting,” admonishes my English footman respectfully.
Gone—gone is my poached egg, my pipe, my dream of the Southern
Seas! I dash into my evening clothes under the solicitous guidance of
my valet and hastily descend in the electric elevator to the front
hall. My wife has already taken her seat in the motor, with an air of
righteous annoyance, of courteously suppressed irritation. The butler
is standing on the doorstep. The valet is holding up my fur coat
expectantly. I am sensible of an atmosphere of sad reproachfulness.
Oh, well! I thrust my arms into my coat, grasp my white gloves and
cane, receive my hat and wearily start forth on my evening's task of
being entertained; conscious as I climb into the motor that this
curious form of so-called amusement has certain rather obvious
For what is its raison d'etre? It is obvious that if I know
any persons whose society and conversation are likely to give me
pleasure I can invite them to my own home and be sure of an evening's
quiet enjoyment. But, so far as I can see, my wife does not invite to
our house the people who are likely to give either her or myself any
pleasure at all, and neither am I likely to meet such people at the
homes of my friends.
The whole thing is a mystery governed by strange laws and curious
considerations of which I am kept in utter ignorance; in fact, I rarely
know where I am going to dine until I arrive at the house. On several
occasions I have come away without having any very clear idea as to
where I have been.
“The Hobby-Smiths,” my wife will whisper as we go up the steps. “Of
course you've heard of her! She is a great friend of Marie Van Duser,
and her husband is something in Wall Street.”
That is a comparatively illuminating description. At all events it
insures some remote social connection with ourselves, if only through
Miss Van Duser and Wall Street. Most of our hosts are something in Wall
Street. Occasionally they are something in coal, iron, oil or politics.
I find a small envelope bearing my name on a silver tray by the
hatstand and open it suspiciously as my wife is divested of her wraps.
Inside is a card bearing in an almost illegible scrawl the words: Mrs.
Jones. I hastily refresh my recollection as to all the Joneses of my
acquaintance, whether in coal, oil or otherwise; but no likely
candidate for the distinction of being the husband of my future dinner
companion comes to my mind. Yet there is undoubtedly a Jones. But, no!
The lady may be a divorcee or a widow. I recall no Mrs. Jones, but I
visualize various possible Miss Joneses—ladies very fat and bursting;
ladies scrawny, lean and sardonic; facetious ladies; heavy, intelligent
ladies; aggressive, militant ladies.
My spouse has turned away from the mirror and the butler has pulled
back the portieres leading into the drawing room. I follow my wife's
composed figure as she sweeps toward our much-beplumed hostess and find
myself in a roomful of heterogeneous people, most of whom I have never
seen before and whose personal appearance is anything but encouraging.
“This is very nice!” says our hostess—accent on the nice.
“So nice of you to think of us!” answers my wife.
We shake hands and smile vaguely. The butler rattles the portieres
and two more people come in.
“This is very nice!” says the hostess again—accent on the
It may be here noted that at the conclusion of the evening each
guest murmurs in a simpering, half-persuasive yet consciously
deprecatory manner—as if apologizing for the necessity of so bald a
prevarication—“Good-night! We have had such a good time! So
good of you to ask us!” This epilogue never changes. Its phrase is cast
and set. The words may vary slightly, but the tone, emphasis and
substance are inviolable. Yet, disregarding the invocation good-night!
the fact remains that neither have you had a good time nor was your
host in any way good or kind in asking you.
Returning to the moment at which you have made your entrance and
been received and passed along, you gaze vaguely round you at the other
guests, greeting those you know with exaggerated enthusiasm and being
the conscious subject of whispered criticism and inquiry on the part of
the others. You make your way to the side of a lady whom you have
previously encountered at a similar entertainment and assert your
delight at revamping the fatuous acquaintanceship. Her facetiousness is
elephantine, but the relief of conversation is such that you laugh
loudly at her witticisms and simper knowingly at her platitudes—both
of which have now been current for several months.
The edge of your delight is, however, somewhat dulled by the
discovery that she is the lady whom fate has ordained that you shall
take in to dinner—a matter of which you were sublimely unconscious
owing to the fact that you had entirely forgotten her name. As the
couples pair off to march to the dining room and the combinations of
which you may form a possible part are reduced to a scattering two or
three, you realize with a shudder that the lady beside you is none
other than Mrs. Jones—and that for the last ten minutes you have been
recklessly using up the evening's conversational ammunition.
With a sinking heart you proffer your arm, wondering whether it will
be possible to get through the meal and preserve the fiction of
interest. You wish savagely that you could turn on her and exclaim
“Look here, my good woman, you are all right enough in your own way,
but we have nothing in common; and this proposed evening of enforced
companionship will leave us both exhausted and ill-tempered. We shall
grin and shout meaningless phrases over the fish, entree and salad
about life, death and the eternal verities; but we shall be sick to
death of each other in ten minutes. Let's cut it out and go home!”
You are obliged, however, to escort your middle-aged comrade
downstairs and take your seat beside her with a flourish, as if you
were playing Rudolph to her Flavia. Then for two hours, with your eyes
blinded by candlelight and electricity, you eat recklessly as you
grimace first over your left shoulder and then over your right. It is a
foregone conclusion that you will have a headache by the time you have
turned, with a sensation of momentary relief, to your “fair companion"
on the other side.
Have you enjoyed yourself? Have you been entertained? Have you
profited? The questions are utterly absurd. You have suffered.
You have strained your eyes, overloaded your stomach, and wasted three
hours during which you might have been recuperating from your day's
work or really amusing yourself with people you like.
This entirely conventional form of amusement is, I am told, quite
unknown in Europe. There are, to be sure, occasional formal banquets,
which do not pretend to be anything but formal. A formal banquet would
be an intense relief, after the heat, noise, confusion and
pseudo-informality of a New York dinner. The European is puzzled and
baffled by one of our combined talk-and-eating bouts.
A nobleman from Florence recently said to me:
“At home, when we go to other people's houses it is for the purpose
of meeting our own friends or our friend's friends. We go after our
evening meal and stay as long as we choose. Some light refreshment is
served, and those who wish to do so smoke or play cards. The old and
the young mingle together. It is proper for each guest to make himself
agreeable to all the others. We do not desire to spend money or to make
a fete. At the proper times we have our balls and festas.
“But here in New York each night I have been pressed to go to a
grand entertainment and eat a huge dinner cooked by a French chef and
served by several men servants, where I am given one lady to talk to
for several hours. I must converse with no one else, even if there is a
witty, beautiful and charming woman directly opposite me; and as I talk
and listen I must consume some ten or twelve courses or fail to do
justice to my host's hospitality. I am given four or five costly wines,
caviar, turtle soup, fish, mousse, a roast, partridge, pate de fois
gras, glaces, fruits, bonbons, and cigars costing two francs each. Not
to eat and drink would be to insult the friend who is paying at least
forty or fifty francs for my dinner. But I cannot enjoy a meal eaten in
such haste and I cannot enjoy talking to one strange lady for so long.
“Then the men retire to a chamber from which the ladies are
excluded. I must talk to some man. Perhaps I have seen an attractive
woman I wish to meet. It is hopeless. I must talk to her husband! At
the end of three-quarters of an hour the men march to the drawing room,
and again I talk to some one lady for half an hour and then must go
home! It may be only half-past ten o'clock, but I have no choice. Away
I must go. I say good-night. I have eaten a huge dinner; I have talked
to one man and three ladies; I have drunk a great deal of wine and my
head is very tired.
“Nineteen other people have had the same experience, and it has cost
my host from five hundred to a thousand francs—or, as you say here,
from one hundred to two hundred dollars. And why has he spent this sum
of money? Pardon me, my friend, if I say that it could be disbursed to
much better advantage. Should my host come to Florence I should not
dare to ask him to dinner, for we cannot afford to have these
elaborate functions. If he came to my house he would have to dine en
famille. Here you feast every night in the winter. Why? Every day
is not a feast day!”
I devote space and time to this subject commensurate with what seems
to me to be its importance. Dining out is the metropolitan form of
social entertainment for the well-to-do. I go to such affairs at least
one hundred nights each year. That is a large proportion of my whole
life and at least one-half of all the time at my disposal for
recreation. So far as I can see, it is totally useless and a severe
drain on one's nervous centers. It has sapped and is sapping my
vitality. During the winter I am constantly tired. My head aches a
large part of the time. I can do only a half—and on some days only a
third—as much work as I could at thirty-five.
I wake with a thin, fine line of pain over my right eye, and a heavy
head. A strong cup of coffee sets me up and I feel better; but as the
morning wears on, especially if I am nervous, the weariness in my head
returns. By luncheon time I am cross and upset. Often by six o'clock I
have a severe sick headache. When I do not have a headache I am usually
depressed; my brain feels like a lump of lead. And I know precisely the
cause: It is that I do not give my nerve-centers sufficient rest. If I
could spend the evenings—or half of them—quietly I should be well
enough; but after I am tired out by a day's work I come home only to
array myself to go out to saw social wood.
I never get rested! My head gets heavier and heavier and finally
gives way. There is no immediate cause. It is the fact that my nervous
system gets more and more tired without any adequate relief. The
feeling of complete restedness, so far as my brain is concerned, is one
I almost never experience. When I do wake up with my head clear and
light my heart sings for joy. My effectiveness is impaired by weariness
and overeating, through a false effort at recuperation. I have known
this for a long time, but I have seen no escape from it.
Social life is one of the objects of living in New York; and social
life to ninety per cent of society people means nothing but eating one
another's dinners. Men never pay calls or go to teas. The dinner, which
has come to mean a heavy, elaborate meal, eaten amid noise, laughter
and chatter, at great expense, is the expression of our highest social
aspirations. Thus it would seem, though I had not thought of it before,
that I work seven or eight hours every day in order to make myself
rather miserable for the rest of the time.
“I am going to lie down and rest this afternoon,” my wife will
sometimes say. “We're dining with the Robinsons.”
Extraordinary that pleasure should be so exhausting as to require
rest in anticipation! Dining with these particular and other in-general
Robinsons has actually become a physical feat of endurance—a tour
de force, like climbing the Matterhorn or eating thirteen pounds of
beefsteak at a sitting. Is it a reminiscence of those dim centuries
when our ancestors in the forests of the Elbe sat under the moss-hung
oaks and stuffed themselves with roast ox washed down with huge skins
of wine? Or is it a custom born of those later days when, round the
blazing logs of Canadian campfires, our Indian allies gorged themselves
into insensibility to the sound of the tom-tom and the chant of the
medicine-man—the latter quite as indispensable now as then?
If I should be called on to explain for what reason I am accustomed
to eat not wisely but too well on these joyous occasions, I should be
somewhat at a loss for any adequate reply. Perhaps the simplest answer
would be that I have just imbibed a cocktail and created an artificial
appetite. It is also probable that, in my efforts to appear happy and
at ease, to play my part as a connoisseur of good things, and to keep
the conversational ball in the air, I unconsciously lose track of the
number of courses I have consumed.
It is also a matter of habit. As a boy I was compelled to eat
everything on my plate; and as I grew older I discovered that in our
home town it was good manners to leave nothing undevoured and thus pay
a concrete tribute to the culinary ability of the hostess. Be that as
it may, I have always liked to eat. It is almost the only thing left
that I enjoy; but, even so, my palate requires the stimulus of gin. I
know that I am getting fat. My waistcoats have to be let out a little
more every five or six months. Anyhow, if the men did not do their part
there would be little object for giving dinner parties in these days
when slender women are the fashion.
After the long straight front and the habit back, social usage is
frowning on the stomach, hips and other heretofore not unadmired
evidences of robust nutrition. Temperance, not to say total abstinence,
has become de rigueur among the ladies. My dinner companion
nibbles her celery, tastes the soup, waves away fish, entree and roast,
pecks once or twice at the salad, and at last consumes her ration of
ice-cream with obvious satisfaction. If there is a duck—well, she
makes an exception in the case of duck—at six dollars and a half a
pair. A couple of hothouse grapes and she is done.
It will be observed that this gives her all the more opportunity for
conversation—a doubtful blessing. On the other hand, there is an
equivalent economic waste. I have no doubt each guest would prefer to
have set before her a chop, a baked potato and a ten-dollar goldpiece.
It would amount to the same thing, so far as the host is concerned.
* * * * *
I had, until recently, assumed with some bitterness that my dancing
days were over. My wife and I went to balls, to be sure, but not to
dance. We left that to the younger generation, for the reason that my
wife did not care to jeopardize her attire or her complexion. She was
also conscious of the fact that the variety of waltz popular thirty
years ago was an oddity, and that a middle-aged woman who went hopping
and twirling about a ballroom must be callous to the amusement that
followed her gyrations.
With the advent of the turkey trot and the tango, things have
changed however. No one is too stout, too old or too clumsy to go
walking solemnly round, in or out of time to the music. I confess to a
consciousness of absurdity when, to the exciting rhythm of Tres
Moutard, I back Mrs. Jones slowly down the room and up again.
“Do you grapevine?” she inquires ardently. Yes; I admit the soft
impeachment, and at once she begins some astonishing convolutions with
the lower part of her body, which I attempt to follow. After several
entanglements we move triumphantly across the hall.
“How beautifully you dance!” she pants.
Aged roisterer that I am, I fall for the compliment. She is a nice
old thing, after all!
“Fish walk?” asks she.
I retort with total abandon.
So, grabbing her tightly and keeping my legs entirely stiff—as per
instructions from my son—I stalk swiftly along the floor, while she
backs with prodigious velocity. Away we go, an odd four hundred pounds
of us, until, exhausted, we collapse against the table where the
champagne is being distributed.
Though I have carefully followed the directions of my preceptor, I
am aware that the effect produced by our efforts is somehow not the
same as his. I observe him in a close embrace with a willowy young
thing, dipping gracefully in the distance. They pause, sway, run a few
steps, stop dead and suddenly sink to the floor—only to rise and
repeat the performance.
So the evening wears gaily on. I caper round—now sedately, now
deliriously—knowing that, however big a fool I am making of myself, we
are all in the same boat. My wife is doing it, too, to the obvious
annoyance of our daughters. But this is the smartest ball of the
season. When all the world is dancing it would be conspicuous to loiter
in the doorway. Society has ruled that I must dance—if what I am doing
can be so called.
I am aware that I should not care to allow my clients to catch an
unexpected glimpse of my antics with Mrs. Jones; yet to be permitted to
dance with her is one of the privileges of our success. I might dance
elsewhere but it would not be the same thing. Is not my hostess'
hoarse, good-natured, rather vulgar voice the clarion of society? Did
not my wife scheme and plot for years before she managed to get our
names on the sacred list of invitations?
To be sure, I used to go to dances enough as a lad; and good times I
had too. The High School Auditorium had a splendid floor; and the
girls, even though they were unacquainted with all these newfangled
steps, could waltz and polka, and do Sir Roger de Coverley. Good old
days! I remember my wife—met her in that old hall. She wore a white
muslin dress trimmed with artificial roses. I wonder if I properly
appreciate the distinction of being asked to Mrs. Jones'
turkey-trotting parties! My butler and the kitchen-maid are probably
doing the same thing in the basement at home to the notes of the
usefulman's accordion—and having a better time than I am.
It is a pleasure to watch my son or my daughters glide through the
intricacies of these modern dances, which the natural elasticity and
suppleness of youth render charming in spite of their grotesqueness.
But why should I seek to copy them? In spite of the fact that I am
still rather athletic I cannot do so. With my utmost endeavor I fail to
imitate their grace. I am getting old. My muscles are stiff and out of
training. My wind has suffered. Mrs. Jones probably never had any.
And if I am ridiculous, what of her and the other women of her age
who, for some unknown reason, fatuously suppose they can renew their
lost youth? Occasionally luck gives me a debutante for a partner when I
go out to dinner. I do my best to entertain her—trot out all my old
jokes and stories, pay her delicate compliments, and do frank homage to
her youth and beauty. But her attention wanders. My tongue is stiff,
like my legs. It can wag through the old motions, but it has lost its
spontaneity. One glance from the eye of the boy down the long table and
she is oblivious of my existence. Should I try to dance with her I
should quickly find that crabbed middle-age and youth cannot step in
time. My place is with Mrs. Jones—or, better, at home and in bed.
Apart, however, from the dubious delight of dancing, all is not gold
that glitters socially. The first time my wife and I were invited to a
week-end party at the country-house of a widely known New York hostess
we were both much excited. At last we were to be received on a footing
of real intimacy by one of the inner circle. Even my valet, an
imperturbable Englishman who would have announced that the house was on
fire in the same tone as that my breakfast was ready, showed clearly
that he was fully aware of the significance of the coming event. For
several days he exhibited signs of intense nervous anxiety, and when at
last the time of my departure arrived I found that he had filled two
steamer trunks with the things he regarded as indispensable for my
comfort and well-being.
My wife's maid had been equally assiduous. Both she and the valet
had no intention of learning on our return that any feature of our
respective wardrobes had been forgotten; since we had decided not to
take either of our personal servants, for the reason that we thought to
do so might possibly be regarded as an ostentation.
I made an early getaway from my office on Friday afternoon, met my
wife at the ferry, and in due course, but by no means with comfort,
managed to board the train and secure our seats in the parlor car
before it started. We reached our destination at about half-past four
and were met by a footman in livery, who piloted us to a limousine
driven by a French chauffeur. We were the only arrivals.
In my confusion I forgot to do anything about our trunks, which
contained our evening apparel. During the run to the house we were both
on the verge of hysteria owing to the speed at which we were
driven—seventy miles an hour at the least. And at one corner we were
thrown forward, clear of the seats and against the partition, by an
unexpected stop. An interchange of French profanity tinted the
atmosphere for a few moments and then we resumed the trajectory of our
We had expected to be welcomed by our hostess; but instead we were
informed by the butler that she and the other guests had driven over to
watch a polo game and would probably not be back before six. As we had
nothing to do we strolled round the grounds and looked at the shrubbery
for a couple of hours, at the end of which period we had tea alone in
the library. We had, of course, no sooner finished than the belated
party entered, the hostess full of vociferous apologies.
I remember this occasion vividly because it was my first
introduction to that artificially enforced merriment which is the
inevitable concomitant of smart gatherings in America. The men
invariably addressed each other as Old Man and the women as My Dear. No
one was mentioned except by his or her first name or by some intimate
diminutive or abbreviation. It seemed to be assumed that the guests
were only interested in personal gossip relating to the marital
infelicities of the neighboring countryside, who lost most at cards,
and the theater. Every remark relating to these absorbing subjects was
given a feebly humorous twist and greeted with a burst of hilarity.
Even the mere suggestion of going upstairs to dress for dinner was a
sufficient reason for an explosion of merriment. If noise was an
evidence of having a good time these people were having the time of
their lives. Personally I felt a little out of my element. I had still
a lingering disinclination to pretend to a ubiquity of social
acquaintance that I did not really possess, and I had never learned to
laugh in a properly boisterous manner. But my wife appeared highly
Delay in sending to the depot for our trunks—the fault of the
butler, to whom we turned over our keys—prevented, as we supposed, our
getting ready in time for dinner. Everybody else had gone up to dress;
so we also went to our rooms, which consisted of two huge apartments
connected by a bathroom of similar acreage. The furniture was dainty
and chintz-covered. There was an abundance of writing paper, envelopes,
magazines and French novels. Superficially the arrangements were wholly
The baggage arrived at about ten minutes to eight, after we had sat
helplessly waiting for nearly an hour. The rooms were plentifully
supplied with buttons marked: Maid; Valet; Butler's Pantry—and so on.
But, though we pressed these anxiously, there was no response. I
concluded that the valet was hunting or sleeping or otherwise occupied.
I unpacked my trunks without assistance; my wife unpacked hers. But
before I could find and assemble my evening garments I had to unwrap
the contents of every tray and fill the room knee-high with
Unable to secure any response to her repeated calls for the maid, my
wife was nearly reduced to tears. However, in those days I was not
unskillful in hooking up a dress, and we managed to get downstairs,
with ready apologies on our lips, by twenty minutes of nine. We were
the first ones down however.
The party assembled in a happy-go-lucky manner and, after the
cocktails had been served, gathered round the festive board at five
minutes past nine. The dinner was the regulation heavy, expensive New
York meal, eaten to the accompaniment of the same noisy mirth I have
already described. Afterward the host conducted the men to his “den,” a
luxurious paneled library filled with rare prints, and we listened for
an hour to the jokes and anecdotes of a semiprofessional jester who
took it on himself to act as the life of the party. It was after eleven
o'clock when we rejoined the ladies, but the evening apparently had
only just begun; the serious business of the day—bridge—was at hand.
But in those days my wife and I did not play bridge; and as there was
nothing else for us to do we retired, after a polite interval, to our
While getting ready for the night we shouted cheerfully to one
another through the open doors of the bathroom and, I remember, became
quite jolly; but when my wife had gone to bed and I tried to close the
blinds I discovered that there were none. Now neither of us had
acquired the art of sleeping after daylight unless the daylight was
excluded. With grave apprehension I arranged a series of makeshift
screens and extinguished the lights, wandering round the room and
turning off the key of each one separately, since the architect had
apparently forgotten to put in a central switch.
If there had been no servants in evidence when we wanted them before
dinner, no such complaint could be entered now. There seemed to be a
bowling party going on upstairs. We could also hear plainly the rattle
of dishes and a lively interchange of informalities from the kitchen
end of the establishment. We lay awake tensely. Shortly after one
o'clock these particular sounds died away, but there was a steady tramp
of feet over our heads until three. About this hour, also, the bridge
party broke up and the guests came upstairs.
There were no outside doors to our rooms. Bells rang, water ran, and
there was that curious vibration which even hairbrushing seems to set
going in a country house. Then with a final bang, comparative silence
descended. Occasionally still, to be sure, the floor squeaked over our
heads. Once somebody got up and closed a window. I could hear two
distant snorings in major and minor keys. I managed to snatch a few
winks and then an alarm-clock went off. At no great distance the
scrubbing maid was getting up. I could hear her every move.
The sun also rose and threw fire-pointed darts at us through the
windowshades. By five o'clock I was ready to scream with nerves; and,
having dug a lounge suit out of the gentlemen's furnishing store in my
trunk, I cautiously descended into the lower regions. There was a rich
smell of cigarettes everywhere. In the hall I stumbled over the feet of
the sleeping night-watchman. But the birds were twittering in the
bushes; the grassblades threw back a million flashes to the sun.
Not before a quarter to ten could I secure a cup of coffee, though
several footmen, in answer to my insistent bell, had been running round
apparently for hours in a vain endeavor to get it for me. At eleven a
couple of languid younger men made their appearance and conversed
apathetically with one another over the papers. The hours drew on.
Lunch came at two o'clock, bursting like a thunder-storm out of a
sunlit sky. Afterward the guests sat round and talked. People were
coming to tea at five, and there was hardly any use in doing anything
before that time. A few took naps. A young lady and gentleman played an
impersonal game of tennis; but at five an avalanche of social leaders
poured out of a dozen shrieking motors and stormed the castle with
salvos of strident laughter. The cannonade continued, with one brief
truce in which to dress for dinner, until long after midnight. Vox,
et praeterea nihil!
I look back on that house party with vivid horror. Yet it was one of
the most valuable of my social experiences. We were guests invited for
the first time to one of the smartest houses on Long Island; yet we
were neglected by male and female servants alike, deprived of all
possibility of sleep, and not the slightest effort was made to look
after our personal comfort and enjoyment by either our host or hostess.
Incidentally on my departure I distributed about forty dollars among
various dignitaries who then made their appearance.
It is probable that time has somewhat exaggerated my recollections
of the miseries of this our first adventure into ultrasmart society,
but its salient characteristics have since repeated themselves in
countless others. I no longer accept week-end invitations;—for me the
quiet of my library or the Turkish bath at my club; for they are all
essentially alike. Surrounded by luxury, the guests yet know no
After a couple of days of ennui and an equal number of sleepless
nights, his brain foggy with innumerable drinks, his eyes dizzy with
the pips of playing cards, and his ears still echoing with senseless
hilarity, the guest rises while it is not yet dawn, and, fortified by a
lukewarm cup of faint coffee boiled by the kitchen maid and a slice of
leatherlike toast left over from Sunday's breakfast, presses ten
dollars on the butler and five on the chauffeur—and boards the train
for the city, nervous, disgruntled, his digestion upset and his head
totally out of kilter for the day's work.
Since my first experience in house parties I have yielded weakly to
my wife's importunities on several hundred similar occasions. Some of
these visits have been fairly enjoyable. Sleep is sometimes possible.
Servants are not always neglectful. Discretion in the matter of food
and drink is conceivable, even if not probable, and occasionally one
meets congenial persons.
As a rule, however, all the hypocrisies of society are intensified
threefold when heterogeneous people are thrown into the enforced
contact of a Sunday together in the country; but the artificiality and
insincerity of smart society is far less offensive than the
pretentiousness of mere wealth.
* * * * *
Not long ago I attended a dinner given on Fifth Avenue the
invitation to which had been eagerly awaited by my wife. We were asked
to dine informally with a middle-aged couple who for no obvious reason
have been accepted as fashionable desirables. He is the retired head of
a great combination of capital usually described as a trust. A canopy
and a carpet covered the sidewalk outside the house. Two flunkies in
cockaded hats stood beside the door, and in the hall was a line of six
liveried lackeys. Three maids helped my wife remove her wraps and
adjust her hair.
In the salon where our hostess received us were hung pictures
representing an outlay of nearly two million dollars—part of a
collection the balance of which they keep in their house in Paris; for
these people are not content with one mansion on Fifth Avenue and a
country house on Long Island, but own a palace overlooking the Bois de
Boulogne and an enormous estate in Scotland. They spend less than ten
weeks in New York, six in the country, and the rest of the year abroad.
The other male guests had all amassed huge fortunes and had given up
active work. They had been, in their time, in the thick of the fray.
Yet these men, who had swayed the destinies of the industrial world,
stood about awkwardly discussing the most trivial of banalities, as if
they had never had a vital interest in anything.
Then the doors leading into the dining room were thrown open,
disclosing a table covered with rosetrees in full bloom five feet in
height and a concealed orchestra began to play. There were twenty-four
seats and a footman for each two chairs, besides two butlers, who
directed the service. The dinner consisted of hors-d'oeuvre and
grapefruit, turtle soup, fish of all sorts, elaborate entrees, roasts,
breasts of plover served separately with salad, and a riot of ices and
Throughout the meal the host discoursed learnedly on the relative
excellence of various vintages of champagne and the difficulty of
procuring cigars suitable for a gentleman to smoke. It appeared that
there was no longer any wine—except a few bottles in his own
cellar—which was palatable or healthful. Even coffee was not fit for
use unless it had been kept for six years! His own cigars were made to
order from a selected crop of tobacco he had bought up entire. His
cigarettes, which were the size of small sausages, were prepared from
specially cured leaves of plants grown on “sunny corners of the walls
of Smyrna.” His Rembrandts, his Botticellis, his Sir Joshuas, his
Hoppners, were little things he had picked up here and there, but
which, he admitted, were said to be rather good.
Soon all the others were talking wine, tobacco and Botticelli as
well as they could, though most of them knew more about coal, cotton or
creosote than the subjects they were affecting to discuss.
This, then, was success! To flounder helplessly in a mire of
artificiality and deception to Tales of Hoffmann!
If I were asked what was the object of our going to such a dinner I
could only answer that it was in order to be invited to others of the
same kind. Is it for this we labor and worry—that we scheme and
conspire—that we debase ourselves and lose our self-respect? Is there
no wine good enough for my host? Will God let such arrogance be without
a blast of fire from heaven?
* * * * *
There was a time not so very long ago when this same man was
thankful enough for a slice of meat and a chunk of bread carried in a
tin pail—content with the comfort of an old brier pipe filled with cut
plug and smoked in a sunny corner of the factory yard. “Sunny corners
of the walls of Smyrna!”
It is a fine thing to assert that here in America we have “out of a
democracy of opportunity” created “an aristocracy of achievement.” The
phrase is stimulating and perhaps truly expresses the spirit of our
energetic and ambitious country; but an aristocracy of achievement is
truly noble only when the achievements themselves are fine. What are
the achievements that win our applause, for which we bestow our
decorations in America? Do we honor most the men who truly serve their
generation and their country? Or do we fawn, rather, on those who
merely serve themselves?
It is a matter of pride with us—frequently expressed in
disparagement of our European contemporaries—that we are a nation of
workers; that to hold any position in the community every man must have
a job or otherwise lose caste; that we tolerate no loafing. We do not
conceal our contempt for the chap who fails to go down every day to the
office or business. Often, of course, our ostentatious workers go down,
but do very little work. We feel somehow that every man owes it to the
community to put in from six to ten hours' time below the residential
Young men who have inherited wealth are as chary of losing one hour
as their clerks. The busy millionaire sits at his desk all day—his ear
to the telephone. We assume that these men are useful because they are
busy; but in what does their usefulness consist? What are they busy
about? They are setting an example of mere industry, perhaps—but to
what end? Simply, in seven cases out of ten, in order to get a few
dollars or a few millions more than they have already. Their exertions
have no result except to enable their families to live in even greater
I know at least fifty men, fathers of families, whose homes might
radiate kindliness and sympathy and set an example of wise, generous
and broad-minded living, who, already rich beyond their needs, rush
downtown before their children have gone to school, pass hectic,
nerve-racking days in the amassing of more money, and return after
their little ones have gone to bed, too utterly exhausted to take the
slightest interest in what their wives have been doing or in the
pleasure and welfare of their friends.
These men doubtless give liberally to charity, but they give
impersonally, not generously; they are in reality utterly selfish,
engrossed in the enthralling game of becoming successful or more
successful men, sacrificing their homes, their families and their
health—for what? To get on; to better their position; to push in among
those others who, simply because they have outstripped the rest in the
matter of filling their own pockets, are hailed with acclamation.
It is pathetic to see intelligent, capable men bending their
energies not to leading wholesome, well-rounded, serviceable lives but
to gaining a slender foothold among those who are far less worthy of
emulation than themselves and with whom they have nothing whatsoever in
common except a despicable ambition to display their wealth and to
demonstrate that they have “social position.”
In what we call the Old World a man's social position is a matter of
fixed classification—that is to say, his presumptive ability and
qualifications to amuse and be amused; to hunt, fish and shoot; to
ride, dance, and make himself generally agreeable—are known from the
start. And, based on the premise that what is known as society exists
simply for the purpose of enabling people to have a good time, there is
far more reason to suppose that one who comes of a family which has
made a specialty of this pursuit for several hundred years is better
endowed by Nature for that purpose than one who has made a million
dollars out of a patent medicine or a lucky speculation in industrial
The great manufacturer or chemist in England, France, Italy, or
Germany, the clever inventor, the astute banker, the successful
merchant, have their due rewards; but, except in obvious instances,
they are not presumed to have acquired incidentally to their material
prosperity the arts of playing billiards, making love, shooting game on
the wing, entertaining a house party or riding to hounds. Occasionally
one of them becomes by special favor of the sovereign a baronet; but,
as a rule his so-called social position is little affected by his
business success, and there is no reason why it should be. He may make
a fortune out of a new process, but he invites the same people to
dinner, frequents the same club and enjoys himself in just about the
same way as he did before. His newly acquired wealth is not regarded as
in itself likely to make him a more congenial dinner-table companion or
any more delightful at five-o'clock tea.
The aristocracy of England and the Continent is not an aristocracy
of achievement but of the polite art of killing time pleasantly. As
such it has a reason for existence. Yet it can at least be said for it
that its founders, however their descendants may have deteriorated,
gained their original titles and positions by virtue of their services
to their king and country.
However, with a strange perversity—due perhaps to our having the
Declaration of Independence crammed down our throats as children—we in
America seem obsessed with an ambition to create a social aristocracy,
loudly proclaimed as founded on achievement, which, in point of fact,
is based on nothing but the possession of money. The achievement that
most certainly lands one among the crowned heads of the American
nobility is admittedly the achievement of having acquired in some way
or other about five million dollars; and it is immaterial whether its
possessor got it by hard work, inheritance, marriage or the invention
of a porous plaster.
In the wider circle of New York society are to be found a
considerable number of amiable persons who have bought their position
by the lavish expenditure of money amassed through the clever
advertising and sale of table relishes, throat emollients, fireside
novels, canned edibles, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. The money was
no doubt legitimately earned. The patent-medicine man and the
millionaire tailor have my entire respect. I do not sneer at honest
wealth acquired by these humble means. The rise—if it be a rise—of
these and others like them is superficial evidence, perhaps, that ours
is a democracy. Looking deeper, we see that it is, in fact, proof of
our utter and shameless snobbery.
Most of these people are in society not on account of their personal
qualities, or even by virtue of the excellence of their cut plug or
throat wash which, in truth, may be a real boon to mankind—but because
they have that most imperative of all necessities—money. The
achievement by which they have become aristocrats is not the kind of
achievement that should have entitled them to the distinction which is
theirs. They are received and entertained for no other reason whatever
save that they can receive and entertain in return. Their bank accounts
are at the disposal of the other aristocrats—and so are their houses,
automobiles and yachts. The brevet of nobility—by achievement—is
conferred on them, and the American people read of their comings and
goings, their balls, dinners and other festivities with consuming and
reverent interest. Most dangerously significant of all is the fact
that, so long as the applicant for social honors has the money, the
method by which he got it, however reprehensible, is usually
overlooked. That a man is a thief, so long as he has stolen enough,
does not impair his desirability. The achievement of wealth is
sufficient in itself to entitle him to a seat in the American House of
A substantial portion of the entertaining that takes place on Fifth
Avenue is paid for out of pilfered money. Ten years ago this rhetorical
remark would have been sneered at as demagogic. To-day everybody knows
that it is simply the fact. Yet we continue to eat with entire
unconcern the dinners that have, as it were, been abstracted from the
dinner-pails of the poor. I cannot conduct an investigation into the
business history of every man who asks me to his house. And even if I
know he has been a crook, I cannot afford to stir up an unpleasantness
by attempting in my humble way to make him feel sorrow for his
misdeeds. If I did I might find myself alone—deserted by the rest of
the aristocracy who are concerned less with his morality than with the
vintage of his wine and the dot he is going to give his
The methods by which a newly rich American purchases a place among
our nobility are simple and direct. He does not storm the inner citadel
of society but at the start ingratiates himself with its lazy and
easy-going outposts. He rents a house in a fashionable country suburb
of New York and goes in and out of town on the “dude” train. He soon
learns what professional people mingle in smart society and these he
bribes to receive him and his family. He buys land and retains a
“smart” lawyer to draw his deeds and attend to the transfer of title.
He engages a fashionable architect to build his house, and a society
young lady who has gone into landscape gardening to lay out his
grounds. He cannot work the game through his dentist or plumber, but he
establishes friendly relations with the swell local medical man and
lets him treat an imaginary illness or two. He has his wife's portrait
painted by an artist who makes a living off similar aspirants, and in
exchange gets an invitation to drop in to tea at the studio. He buys
broken-winded hunters from the hunting set, decrepit ponies from the
polo players, and stone griffins for the garden from the social
A couple of hundred here, a couple of thousand there, and he and his
wife are dining out among the people who run things. Once he gets a
foothold, the rest is by comparison easy. The bribes merely become
bigger and more direct. He gives a landing to the yacht club, a silver
mug for the horse show, and an altar rail to the church. He entertains
wisely—gracefully discarding the doctor, lawyer, architect and artist
as soon as they are no longer necessary. He has, of course, already
opened an account with the fashionable broker who lives near him, and
insured his life with the well-known insurance man, his neighbor. He
also plays poker daily with them on the train.
This is the period during which he becomes a willing, almost eager,
mark for the decayed sport who purveys bad champagne and vends his own
brand of noxious cigarettes. He achieves the Stock Exchange Crowd
without difficulty and moves on up into the Banking Set composed of
trust company presidents, millionaires who have nothing but money, and
the elite of the stockbrokers and bond men who handle their private
The family are by this time “going almost everywhere”; and in a year
or two, if the money holds out, they can buy themselves into the inner
circles. It is only necessary to take a villa at Newport and spend
about one hundred thousand dollars in the course of the season. The
walls of the city will fall down flat if the golden trumpet blows but
mildly. And then, there they are—right in the middle of the champagne,
clambakes and everything else!—invited to sit with the choicest of
America's nobility on golden chairs—supplied from New York at one
dollar per—and to dance to the strains of the most expensive music
amid the subdued popping of distant corks.
In this social Arabian Nights' dream, however, you will find no
sailors or soldiers, no great actors or writers, no real poets or
artists, no genuine statesmen. The nearest you will get to any of these
is the millionaire senator, or the amateur decorators and portrait
painters who, by making capital of their acquaintance, get a living out
of society. You will find few real people among this crowd of
The time has not yet come in America when a leader of smart society
dares to invite to her table men and women whose only merit is that
they have done something worth while. She is not sufficiently sure of
her own place. She must continue all her social life to be seen only
with the “right people.” In England her position would be secure and
she could summon whom she would to dine with her; but in New York we
have to be careful lest, by asking to our houses some distinguished
actor or novelist, people might think we did not know we should select
our friends—not for what they are, but for what they have.
In a word, the viciousness of our social hierarchy lies in the fact
that it is based solely upon material success. We have no titles of
nobility; but we have Coal Barons, Merchant Princes and Kings of
Finance. The very catchwords of our slang tell the story. The
achievement of which we boast as the foundation of our aristocracy is
indeed ignoble; but, since there is no other, we and our sons, and
their sons after them, will doubtless continue to struggle—and perhaps
steal—to prove, to the satisfaction of ourselves and the world at
large, that we are entitled to be received into the nobility of America
not by virtue of our good deeds, but of our so-called success.
We would not have it otherwise. We should cry out against any
serious attempt, outside of the pulpit, to alter or readjust an order
that enables us to buy for money a position of which we would be
otherwise undeserving. It would be most discouraging to us to have
substituted for the present arrangement a society in which the only
qualifications for admittance were those of charm, wit, culture, good
breeding and good sportsmanship.
CHAPTER III. MY CHILDREN
I pride myself on being a man of the world—in the better sense of
the phrase. I feel no regret over the passing of those romantic days
when maidens swooned at the sight of a drop of blood or took refuge in
the “vapors” at the approach of a strange young man; in point of fact I
do not believe they ever did. I imagine that our popular idea of the
fragility and sensitiveness of the weaker sex, based on the accounts of
novelists of the eighteenth century, is largely a literary convention.
Heroines were endowed, as a matter of course, with the possession of
all the female virtues, intensified to such a degree that they were
covered with burning blushes most of the time. Languor, hysteria and
general debility were regarded as the outward indications of a sweet
and gentle character. Woman was a tendril clinging to the strong oak of
masculinity. Modesty was her cardinal virtue. One is, of course,
entitled to speculate on the probable contemporary causes for the
seeming overemphasis placed on this admirable characteristic. Perhaps
feminine honesty was so rare as to be at a premium and modesty was a
sort of electric sign of virtue.
I am not squeamish. I have always let my children read what they
would. I have never made a mystery of the relations of the sexes, for I
know the call of the unseen—the fascination lent by concealment, of
discovery. I believe frankness to be a good thing. A mind that is
startled or shocked by the exposure of an ankle or the sight of a
stocking must be essentially impure. Nor do I quarrel with woman's
natural desire to adorn herself for the allurement of man. That is as
inevitable as springtime.
But unquestionably the general tone of social intercourse in
America, at least in fashionable centers, has recently undergone a
marked and striking change. The athletic girl of the last twenty years,
the girl who invited tan and freckles, wielded the tennis bat in the
morning and lay basking in a bathing suit on the sand at noon, is
gradually giving way to an entirely different type—a type modeled, it
would seem, at least so far as dress and outward characteristics are
concerned, on the French demimondaine. There are plenty of athletic
girls to be found on the golf links and tennis courts; but a growing
and large minority of maidens at the present time are too chary of
their complexions to brave the sun. Big hats, cloudlike veils, high
heels, paint and powder mark the passing of the vain hope that woman
can attract the male sex by virtue of her eugenic possibilities alone.
It is but another and unpleasantly suggestive indication that the
simplicity of an older generation—the rugged virtue of a more frugal
time—has given place to the sophistication of the Continent. When I
was a lad, going abroad was a rare and costly privilege. A youth who
had been to Rome, London and Paris, and had the unusual opportunity of
studying the treasures of the Vatican, the Louvre and the National
Gallery, was regarded with envy. Americans went abroad for culture; to
study the glories of the past.
Now the family that does not invade Europe at least every other
summer is looked on as hopelessly old-fashioned. No clerk can find a
job on the Rue de Rivoli or the Rue de la Paix unless he speaks
fluently the dialect of the customers on whose trade his employer
chiefly relies—those from Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois. The
American no longer goes abroad for improvement, but to amuse himself.
The college Freshman knows, at least by name, the latest beauty who
haunts the Folies Bergeres, and his father probably has a refined and
intimate familiarity with the special attractions of Ciro's and the
I do not deny that we have learned valuable lessons from the
Parisians. At any rate our cooking has vastly improved. Epicurus would
have difficulty in choosing between the delights of New York and
Paris—for, after all, New York is Paris and Paris is New York. The
chef of yesterday at Voisin's rules the kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton or
the Plaza to-day; and he cannot have traveled much who does not find a
dozen European acquaintances among the head waiters of Broadway. Not to
know Paris nowadays is felt to be as great a humiliation as it was
fifty years ago not to know one's Bible.
Beyond the larger number of Americans who visit Paris for legitimate
or semilegitimate purposes, there is a substantial fraction who go to
do things they either cannot or dare not do at home. And as those who
have not the time or the money to cross the Atlantic and who still itch
for the boulevards must be kept contented, Broadway is turned into
Montmartre. The result is that we cannot take our daughters to the
theater without risking familiarizing them with vice in one form or
another. I do not think I am overstating the situation when I say that
it would be reasonably inferred from most of our so-called musical
shows and farces that the natural, customary and excusable amusement of
the modern man after working hours—whether the father of a family or a
youth of twenty—is a promiscuous adventuring into sexual immorality.
I do not regard as particularly dangerous the vulgar French farce
where papa is caught in some extraordinary and buffoonlike situation
with the washerwoman. Safety lies in exaggeration. But it is a
different matter with the ordinary Broadway show, where virtue is
made—at least inferentially—the object of ridicule, and sexuality is
the underlying purpose of the production. During the present New York
theatrical season several plays have been already censored by the
authorities, and either been taken off entirely or so altered as to be
still within the bounds of legal pruriency.
Whether I am right in attributing it to the influence of the French
music halls or not, it is the fact that the tone of our theatergoing
public is essentially low. Boys and girls who are taken in their
Christmas holidays to see plays at which their parents applaud
questionable songs and suggestive dances, cannot be blamed for assuming
that there is not one set of morals for the stage and another for
ordinary social intercourse.
Hence the college boy who has kept straight for eight months in the
year is apt to wonder: What is the use? And the debutante who is
curious for all the experiences her new liberty makes possible takes it
for granted that an amorous trifling is the ordinary incident to
This is far from being mere theory. It is a matter of common
knowledge that recently the most prominent restaurateur in New York
found it necessary to lock up, or place a couple of uniformed maids in,
every unoccupied room in his establishment whenever a private dance was
given there for young people. Boys and girls of eighteen would leave
these dances by dozens and, hiring taxicabs, go on slumming expeditions
and excursions to the remoter corners of Central Park. In several
instances parties of two or four went to the Tenderloin and had supper
served in private rooms.
This is the childish expression of a demoralization that is not
confined simply to smart society, but is gradually permeating the
community in general. From the ordinary dinner-table conversation one
hears at many of the country houses on Long Island it would be inferred
that marriage was an institution of value only for legitimatizing
concubinage; that an old-fashioned love affair was something to be
rather ashamed of; and that morality in the young was hardly to be
expected. Of course a great deal of this is mere talk and bombast, but
the maid-servants hear it.
I believe, fortunately—and my belief is based on a fairly wide
range of observation—that the Continental influence I have described
has produced its ultimate effect chiefly among the rich; yet its
operation is distinctly observable throughout American life. Nowhere is
this more patent than in much of our current magazine literature and
light fiction. These stories, under the guise of teaching some moral
lesson, are frequently designed to stimulate all the emotions that
could be excited by the most vicious French novel. Some of them, of
course, throw off all pretense and openly ape the petit histoire
d'un amour; but essentially all are alike. The heroine is a
demimondaine in everything but her alleged virtue—the hero a young
bounder whose better self restrains him just in time. A conventional
marriage on the last page legalizes what would otherwise have been a
liaison or a degenerate flirtation.
The astonishingly unsophisticated and impossibly innocent shopgirl
who—in the story—just escapes the loss of her honor; the noble young
man who heroically “marries the girl”; the adventures of the debonaire
actress, who turns out most surprisingly to be an angel of sweetness
and light; and the Johnny whose heart is really pure gold, and who, to
the reader's utter bewilderment, proves himself to be a Saint
George—these are the leading characters in a great deal of our
A friend of mine who edits one of the more successful magazines
tells me there are at least half a dozen writers who are paid
guaranteed salaries of from twelve thousand dollars to eighteen
thousand dollars a year for turning out each month from five thousand
to ten thousand words of what is euphemistically termed “hot stuff.” An
erotic writer can earn yearly at the present time more than the salary
of the president of the United States. What the physical result of all
this is going to be does not seem to me to matter much. If the words of
Jesus Christ have any significance we are already debased by our
* * * * *
We are dangerously near an epoch of intellectual if not carnal
debauchery. The prevailing tendency on the part of the young girls of
to-day to imitate the dress and makeup of the Parisian cocotte is
unconsciously due to this general lowering of the social moral tone.
Young women in good society seem to feel that they must enter into open
competition with their less fortunate sisters. And in this struggle for
survival they are apparently determined to yield no advantage. Herein
lies the popularity of the hobble skirt, the transparent fabric that
hides nothing and follows the move of every muscle, and the otherwise
senseless peculiarities and indecencies of the more extreme of the
And here, too, is to be found the reason for the popularity of the
current style of dancing, which offers no real attraction except the
opportunity for a closeness of contact otherwise not permissible.
“It's all in the way it is done,” says Mrs. Jones, making the
customary defense. “The tango and the turkey trot can be danced as
unobjectionably as the waltz.”
Exactly! Only the waltz is not danced that way; and if it were the
offending couple would probably be put off the floor. Moreover, their
origin and history demonstrates their essentially vicious character. Is
there any sensible reason why one's daughter should be encouraged to
imitate the dances of the Apache and the negro debauchee? Perhaps,
after all, the pendulum has merely swung just a little too far and is
knocking against the case. The feet of modern progress cannot be
hampered by too much of the dead underbrush of convention.
The old-fashioned prudery that in former days practically prevented
rational conversation between men and women is fortunately a thing of
the past, and the fact that it is no longer regarded as unbecoming for
women to take an interest in all the vital problems of the
day—municipal, political and hygienic—provided they can assist in
their solution, marks several milestones on the highroad of advance.
On the other hand the widespread familiarity with these problems,
which has been engendered simply for pecuniary profit by magazine
literature in the form of essays, fiction and even verse, is by no
means an undiluted blessing—particularly if the accentuation of the
author is on the roses lining the path of dalliance quite as much as on
the destruction to which it leads. The very warning against evil may
turn out to be in effect only a hint that it is readily accessible. One
does not leave the candy box open beside the baby even if the infant
has received the most explicit instructions as to the probable effect
of too much sugar upon its tiny kidneys. Moreover, the knowledge of the
prevalence of certain vices suggests to the youthful mind that what is
so universal must also be rather excusable, or at least natural.
It seems to me that, while there is at present a greater popular
knowledge of the high cost of sinning, there is at the same time a
greater tolerance for sin itself. Certainly this is true among the
people who make up the circle of my friends. “Wild oats” are regarded
as entirely a matter of course. No anecdote is too broad to be told
openly at the dinner table; in point of fact the stories that used to
be whispered only very discreetly in the smoking room are now told
freely as the natural relishes to polite conversation. In that respect
things are pretty bad.
One cannot help wondering what goes on inside the villa on Rhode
Island Avenue when the eighteen-year-old daughter of the house remarks
to the circle of young men and women about her at a dance: “Well, I'm
going to bed—seule!” The listener furtively speculates about
mama. He feels quite sure about papa. Anyhow this particular mot
attracted no comment. Doubtless the young lady was as far above
suspicion as the wife of Caesar; but she and her companions in this
particular set have an appalling frankness of speech and a callousness
in regard to discussing the more personal facts of human existence that
is startling to a middle-aged man like myself.
I happened recently to overhear a bit of casual dinner-table
conversation between two of the gilded ornaments of the junior set. He
was a boy of twenty-five, well known for his dissipations, but,
nevertheless, regarded by most mothers as a highly desirable parti.
“Oh, yes!” he remarked easily. “They asked me if I wanted to go into
a bughouse, and I said I hadn't any particular objection. I was there a
month. Rum place! I should worry!”
“What ward?” she inquired with polite interest.
“Inebriates', of course,” said he.
I am inclined to attribute much of the questionable taste and
conduct of the younger members of the fast set to neglect on the part
of their mothers. Women who are busy all day and every evening with
social engagements have little time to cultivate the friendship of
their daughters. Hence the girl just coming out is left to shift for
herself, and she soon discovers that a certain risque freedom in
manner and conversation, and a disregard of convention, will win her a
superficial popularity which she is apt to mistake for success.
Totally ignorant of what she is doing or the essential character of
the means she is employing, she runs wild and soon earns an unenviable
reputation, which she either cannot live down or which she feels
obliged to live up to in order to satisfy her craving for attention.
Many a girl has gone wrong simply because she felt that it was up to
her to make good her reputation for caring nothing for the proprieties.
As against an increasing looseness in talk and conduct, it is
interesting to note that heavy drinking is clearly going out of fashion
in smart society. There can be no question as to that. My champagne
bills are not more than a third of what they were ten years ago. I do
not attribute this particularly to the temperance movement. But, as
against eight quarts of champagne for a dinner of twenty—which used to
be about my average when we first began entertaining in New York—three
are now frequently enough. I have watched the butler repeatedly at
large dinner parties as he passed the wine and seen him fill only four
or five glasses.
Women rarely drink at all. About one man in three takes champagne.
Of course he is apt to drink whisky instead, but by no means the same
amount as formerly. If it were not for the convention requiring sherry,
hock, champagne and liquors to be served the modern host could satisfy
practically all the serious liquid requirements of his guests with a
quart bottle of Scotch and a siphon of soda. Claret, Madeira, sparkling
Moselles and Burgundies went out long ago. The fashion that has taught
women self-control in eating has shown their husbands the value of
abstinence. Unfortunately I do not see in this a betterment in morals,
but mere self-interest—which may or may not be the same thing,
according to one's philosophy. If a man drinks nowadays he drinks
because he wants to and not to be a good fellow. A total abstainer
finds himself perfectly at home anywhere.
Of course the fashionables, if they are going to set the pace, have
to hit it up in order to head the procession. The fastness of the smart
set in England is notorious, and it is the same way in France, Russia,
Italy, Germany, Scandinavia—the world over; and as society tends to
become unified mere national boundaries have less significance. The
number of Americans who rent houses in London and Paris, and shooting
boxes in Scotland, is large.
Hence the moral tone of Continental society and of the English
aristocracy is gradually becoming more and more our own. But with this
difference—that, as the aristocracy in England and Continental Europe
is a separate caste, a well-defined order, having set metes and bounds,
which considers itself superior to the rest of the population and views
it with indifference, so its morals are regarded as more or less its
own affair, and they do not have a wide influence on the community at
Even if he drinks champagne every night at dinner the Liverpool
pickle merchant knows he cannot get into the king's set; but here the
pickle man can not only break into the sacred circle, but he and his
fat wife may themselves become the king and queen. So that a knowledge
of how smart society conducts itself is an important matter to every
man and woman living in the United States, since each hopes eventually
to make a million dollars and move to New York. With us the fast crowd
sets the example for society at large; whereas in England looseness in
morals is a recognized privilege of the aristocracy to which the
commoner may not aspire.
The worst feature of our situation is that the quasi-genteel working
class, of whom our modern complex life supports hundreds of
thousands—telephone operators, stenographers, and the like—greedily
devour the newspaper accounts of the American aristocracy and model
themselves, so far as possible, after it. It is almost unbelievable how
intimate a knowledge these young women possess of the domestic life,
manner of speech and dress of the conspicuous people in New York
I once stepped into the Waldorf with a friend of mine who wished to
send a telephone message. He is a quiet, unassuming man of fifty, who
inherited a large fortune and who is compelled, rather against his
will, to do a large amount of entertaining by virtue of the position in
society which Fate has thrust on him. It was a long-distance call.
“Who shall I say wants to talk?” asked the goddess with fillet-bound
yellow hair in a patronizingly indifferent tone.
“Mr.——,” answered my companion.
Instantly the girl's face was suffused with a smile of excited
“Are you Mr.——, the big swell who gives all the dinners and
dances?” she inquired.
“I suppose I'm the man,” he answered, rather amused than otherwise.
“Gee!” she cried, “ain't this luck! Look here, Mame!” she whispered
hoarsely. “I've got Mr. ——here on a long distance. What do you think
One cannot doubt that this telephone girl would unhesitatingly
regard as above criticism anything said or done by a woman who moved in
Mr. ——'s circle. Unfortunately what this circle does is heralded in
exaggerated terms. The influence of these partially true and often
totally false reports is far-reaching and demoralizing.
The other day the young governess of a friend of my wife gave up her
position, saying she was to be married. Her employer expressed an
interest in the matter and asked who was going to perform the ceremony.
She was surprised to learn that the functionary was to be the local
country justice of the peace.
“But why aren't you going to have a clergyman marry you?” asked our
“Because I don't want it too binding!” answered the girl calmly.
So far has the prevalence of divorce cast its enlightening beams.
* * * * *
I have had a shooting box in Scotland on several different
occasions; and my wife has conducted successful social campaigns, as I
have said before, in London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. I did not go
along, but I read about it all in the papers and received weekly from
the scene of conflict a pound or so of mail matter, consisting of
hundreds of diaphanous sheets of paper, each covered with my daughters'
fashionable humpbacked handwriting. Hastings, my stenographer, became
very expert at deciphering and transcribing it on the machine for my
I was quite confused at the number and variety of the titles of
nobility with which my family seemed constantly to be surrounded. They
had a wonderful time, met everybody, and returned home perfected
cosmopolitans. What their ethical standards are I confess I do not know
exactly, for the reason that I see so little of them. They lead totally
On rare occasions we are invited to the same houses at the same
time, and on Christmas Eve we still make it a point always to stay at
home together. Really I have no idea how they dispose of their time.
They are always away, making visits in other cities or taking trips.
They chatter fluently about literature, the theater, music, art, and
know a surprising number of celebrities in this and other
countries—particularly in London. They are good linguists and
marvelous dancers. They are respectful, well mannered, modest, and
mildly affectionate; but somehow they do not seem to belong to me. They
have no troubles of which I am the confidant.
If they have any definite opinions or principles I am unaware of
them; but they have the most exquisite taste. Perhaps with them this
takes the place of morals. I cannot imagine my girls doing or saying
anything vulgar, yet what they are like when away from home I have no
means of finding out. I am quite sure that when they eventually select
their husbands I shall not be consulted in the matter. My formal
blessing will be all that is asked, and if that blessing is not
forthcoming no doubt they will get along well enough without it.
However, I am the constant recipient of congratulations on being the
parent of such charming creatures. I have succeeded—apparently—in
this direction as in others. Succeeded in what? I cannot imagine these
girls of mine being any particular solace to my old age.
Recently, since writing these confessions of mine, I have often
wondered why my children were not more to me. I do not think they are
much more to my wife. I suppose it could just as well be put the other
way. Why are we not more to them? It is because, I fancy,
this modern existence of ours, where every function and duty of
maternity—except the actual giving of birth—is performed vicariously
for us, destroys any interdependence between parents and their
offspring. “Smart” American mothers no longer, I am informed, nurse
their babies. I know that my wife did not nurse hers. And thereafter
each child had its own particular French bonne and governess
Our nursery was a model of dainty comfort. All the superficial
elegancies were provided for. It was a sunny, dustless apartment, with
snow-white muslins, white enamel, and a frieze of grotesque Noah's Ark
animals perambulating round the wall. There were huge dolls' houses,
with electric lights; big closets of toys. From the earliest moment
possible these three infants began to have private lessons in
everything, including drawing, music and German. Their little days were
as crowded with engagements then as now. Every hour was provided for;
but among these multifarious occupations there was no engagement with
Even if their mother had not been overwhelmed with social duties
herself my babies would, I am confident, have had no time for their
parent except at serious inconvenience and a tremendous sacrifice of
time. To be sure, I used occasionally to watch them decorously eating
their strictly supervised suppers in the presence of the governess; but
the perfect arrangements made possible by my financial success rendered
parents a superfluity. They never bumped their heads, or soiled their
clothes, or dirtied their little faces—so far as I knew. They never
cried—at least I was never permitted to hear them.
When the time came for them to go to bed each raised a rosy little
cheek and said sweetly: “Good night, papa.” They had, I think, the
usual children's diseases—exactly which ones I am not sure of; but
they had them in the hospital room at the top of the house, from which
I was excluded, and the diseases progressed with medical propriety in
due course and under the efficient management of starchy trained
Their outdoor life consisted in walking the asphalt pavements of
Central Park, varied with occasional visits to the roller-skating rink;
but their social life began at the age of four or five. I remember
these functions vividly, because they were so different from those of
my own childhood. The first of these was when my eldest daughter
attained the age of six years. Similar events in my private history had
been characterized by violent games of blind man's buff, hide and seek,
hunt the slipper, going to Jerusalem, ring-round-a-rosy, and so on,
followed by a dish of ice-cream and hairpulling.
Not so with my offspring. Ten little ladies and gentlemen,
accompanied by their maids, having been rearranged in the dressing room
downstairs, were received by my daughter with due form in the drawing
room. They were all flounced, ruffled and beribboned. Two little boys
of seven had on Eton suits. Their behavior was impeccable.
Almost immediately a professor of legerdemain made his appearance
and, with the customary facility of his brotherhood, proceeded to
remove tons of debris from presumably empty hats, rabbits from
handkerchiefs, and hard-boiled eggs from childish noses and ears. The
assembled group watched him with polite tolerance. At intervals there
was a squeal of surprise, but it soon developed that most of them had
already seen the same trickman half a dozen times. However, they kindly
consented to be amused, and the professor gave way to a Punch and Judy
show of a sublimated variety, which the youthful audience viewed with
The entertainment concluded with a stereopticon exhibition of
supposedly humorous events, which obviously did not strike the children
as funny at all. Supper was laid in the dining room, where the table
had been arranged as if for a banquet of diplomats. There were flowers
in abundance and a life-size swan of icing at each end. Each child was
assisted by its own nurse, and our butler and a footman served, in
stolid dignity, a meal consisting of rice pudding, cereals, cocoa,
bread and butter, and ice-cream.
It was by all odds the most decorous affair ever held in our house.
At the end the gifts were distributed—Parisian dolls, toy
baby-carriages and paint boxes for the girls; steam engines, magic
lanterns and miniature circuses for the boys. My bill for these trifles
came to one hundred and twelve dollars. At half-past six the carriages
arrived and our guests were hurried away.
I instance this affair because it struck the note of elegant
propriety that has always been the tone of our family and social life.
The children invited to the party were the little boys and girls whose
fathers and mothers we thought most likely to advance their social
interests later on.
Of these children two of the girls have married members of the
foreign nobility—one a jaded English lord, the other a worthless and
dissipated French count; another married—fifteen years later—one of
these same little boys and divorced him within eighteen months; while
two of the girls—our own—have not married.
Of the boys one wedded an actress; another lives in Paris and
studies “art”; one has been already accounted for; and two have given
their lives to playing polo, the stock market, and elevating the
* * * * *
Beginning at this early period, my two daughters, and later on my
son, met only the most select young people of their own age in New York
and on Long Island. I remember being surprised at the amount of
theatergoing they did by the time the eldest was nine years old. My
wife made a practice of giving a children's theater party every
Saturday and taking her small guests to the matinee. As the theaters
were more limited in number then than now these comparative infants
sooner or later saw practically everything that was on the
boards—good, bad and indifferent; and they displayed a precocity of
criticism that quite astounded me.
Their real social career began with children's dinners and dancing
parties by the time they were twelve, and their later coming out
changed little the mode of life to which they had been accustomed for
several years before it. The result of their mother's watchful care and
self-sacrifice is that these two young ladies could not possibly be
happy, or even comfortable, if they married men unable to furnish them
with French maids, motors, constant amusement, gay society, travel and
Without these things they would wither away and die like flowers
deprived of the sun. They are physically unfit to be anything but the
wives of millionaires—and they will be the wives of millionaires or
assuredly die unmarried. But, as the circle of rich young men of their
acquaintance is more or less limited their chances of matrimony are by
no means bright, albeit that they are the pivots of a furious whirl of
gaiety which never stops.
No young man with an income of less than twenty thousand a year
would have the temerity to propose to either of them. Even on twenty
thousand they would have a hard struggle to get along; it would mean
the most rigid economy—and, if there were babies, almost poverty.
Besides, when girls are living in the luxury to which mine are
accustomed they think twice before essaying matrimony at all. The
prospects of changing Newport, Palm Beach, Paris, Rome, Nice and
Biarritz for the privilege of bearing children in a New York apartment
house does not allure, as in the case of less cosmopolitan young
ladies. There must be love—plus all present advantages! Present
advantages withdrawn, love becomes cautious.
Even though the rich girl herself is of finer clay than her parents
and, in spite of her artificial environment and the false standards by
which she is surrounded, would like to meet and perhaps eventually
marry some young man who is more worth while than the “pet cats” of her
acquaintance, she is practically powerless to do so. She is cut off by
the impenetrable artificial barrier of her own exclusiveness. She may
hear of such young men—young fellows of ambition, of adventurous
spirit, of genius, who have already achieved something in the world,
but they are outside the wall of money and she is inside it, and there
is no way for them to get in or for her to get out. She is permitted to
know only the jeunesse doree—the fops, the sports, the
club-window men, whose antecedents are vouched for by the Social
She has no way of meeting others. She does not know what the others
are like. She is only aware of an instinctive distaste for most of the
young fellows among whom she is thrown. At best they are merely
innocuous when they are not offensive. They do nothing; they intend
never to do anything. If she is the American girl of our plays and
novels she wants something better; and in the plays and novels she
always gets him—the dashing young ranchman, the heroic naval
lieutenant, the fearless Alaskan explorer, the tireless prospector or
daring civil engineer. But in real life she does not get him—except by
the merest fluke of fortune. She does not know the real thing when she
meets it, and she is just as likely to marry a dissipated groom or
chauffeur as the young Stanley of her dreams.
The saddest class in our social life is that of the thoroughbred
American girl who is a thousand times too good for her de-luxe
surroundings and the crew of vacuous la-de-da Willies hanging about
her, yet who, absolutely cut off from contact with any others, either
gradually fades into a peripatetic old maid, wandering over Europe, or
marries an eligible, turkey-trotting nondescript—“a mimmini-pimmini,
Francesca da Rimini, je-ne-sais-quoi young man.”
The Atlantic seaboard swarms in summertime with broad-shouldered,
well-bred, highly educated and charming boys, who have had every
advantage except that of being waited on by liveried footmen. They camp
in the woods; tutor the feeble-minded sons of the rich; tramp and
bicycle over Swiss mountain passes; sail their catboats through the
island-studded reaches and thoroughfares of the Maine coast, and grow
brown and hard under the burning sun. They are the hope of America.
They can carry a canoe or a hundred-pound pack over a forest trail; and
in the winter they set the pace in the scientific, law and medical
schools. Their heads are clear, their eyes are bright, and there is a
hollow instead of a bow window beneath the buttons of their waistcoats.
The feet of these young men carry them to strange places; they cope
with many and strange monsters. They are our Knights of the Round
Table. They find the Grail of Achievement in lives of hard work, simple
pleasures and high ideals—in college and factory towns; in law courts
and hospitals; in the mountains of Colorado and the plains of the
Dakotas. They are the best we have; but the poor rich girl rarely, if
ever, meets them. The barrier of wealth completely hems her in. She
must take one of those inside or nothing.
When, in a desperate revolt against the artificiality of her
existence, she breaks through the wall she is easy game for anybody—as
likely to marry a jockey or a professional forger as one of the young
men of her desire. One should not blame a rich girl too much for
marrying a titled and perhaps attractive foreigner. The would-be critic
has only to step into a Fifth Avenue ballroom and see what she is
offered in his place to sympathize with and perhaps applaud her
selection. Better a year of Europe than a cycle of—shall we say,
Narragansett? After all, why not take the real thing, such as it is,
instead of an imitation?
I believe that one of the most cruel results of modern social life
is the cutting off of young girls from acquaintanceship with youths of
the sturdy, intelligent and hardworking type—and the unfitting of such
girls for anything except the marriage mart of the millionaire.
I would give half of all I possess to see my daughters happily
married; but I now realize that their education renders such a marriage
highly difficult of satisfactory achievement. Their mother and I have
honestly tried to bring them up in such a way that they can do their
duty in that state of life to which it hath pleased God to call them.
But unfortunately, unless some man happens to call them also, they will
have to keep on going round and round as they are going now.
We did not anticipate the possibility of their becoming old maids,
and they cannot become brides of the church. I should honestly be glad
to have either of them marry almost anybody, provided he is a decent
fellow. I should not even object to their marrying foreigners, but the
difficulty is that it is almost impossible to find out whether a
foreigner is really decent or not. It is true that the number of
foreign noblemen who marry American girls for love is negligible. There
is undoubtedly a small and distinguished minority who do so; but the
transaction is usually a matter of bargain and sale, and the man
regards himself as having lived up to his contract by merely conferring
his title on the woman he thus deigns to honor.
I should prefer to have them marry Americans, of course; but I no
longer wish them to marry Americans of their own class. Yet,
unfortunately, they would be unwilling to marry out of it. A curious
situation! I have given up my life to buying a place for my children
that is supposed to give them certain privileges, and I now am loath to
have them take advantage of those privileges.
The situation has its amusing as well as its pathetic side—for my
son, now that I come to think of it, is one of the eligibles. He knows
everybody and is on the road to money. He is one of the opportunities
that society is offering to the daughters of other successful men.
Should I wish my own girls to marry a youth like him? Far from it! Yet
he is exactly the kind of fellow that my success has enabled them to
meet and know, and whom Fate decrees that they shall eventually marry
if they marry at all.
When I frankly face the question of how much happiness I get out of
my children I am constrained to admit that it is very little. The sense
of proprietorship in three such finished products is something, to be
sure; and, after all, I suppose they have—concealed somewhere—a real
affection for their old dad. At times they are facetious—almost
playful—as on my birthday; but I fancy that arises from a feeling of
embarrassment at not knowing how to be intimate with a parent who
crosses their path only twice a week, and then on the stairs.
My son has attended to his own career now for some fourteen years;
in fact I lost him completely before he was out of knickerbockers. Up
to the time when he was sent away to boarding school he spent a rather
disconsolate childhood, playing with mechanical toys, roller skating in
the Mall, going occasionally to the theater, and taking music lessons;
but he showed so plainly the debilitating effect of life in the city
for eight months in the year that at twelve he was bundled off to a
country school. Since then he has grown to manhood without our
assistance. He went away undersized, pale, with a meager little neck
and a sort of wistful Nicholas Nickelby expression. When he returned at
the Christmas vacation he had gained ten pounds, was brown and
freckled, and looked like a small giraffe in pantalets.
Moreover, he had entirely lost the power of speech, owing to a fear
of making a fool of himself. During the vacation in question he was
reoutfitted and sent three times a week to the theater. On one or two
occasions I endeavored to ascertain how he liked school, but all I
could get out of him was the vague admission that it was “all right"
and that he liked it “well enough.” This process of outgrowing his
clothes and being put through a course of theaters at each
vacation—there was nothing else to do with him—continued for seven
years, during which time he grew to be six feet two inches in height
and gradually filled out to man's size. He managed to hold a place in
the lower third of his class, with the aid of constant and expensive
tutoring in the summer vacations, and he finally was graduated with the
rest and went to Harvard.
By this time he preferred to enjoy himself in his own way during his
leisure and we saw less of him than ever. But, whatever his
intellectual achievements may be, there is no doubt as to his being a
man of the world, entirely at ease anywhere, with perfect manners and
all the social graces. I do not think he was particularly dissipated at
Harvard; on the other hand, I am assured by the dean that he was no
student. He “made” a select club early in his course and from that time
was occupied, I suspect, in playing poker and bridge, discussing deep
philosophical questions and acquiring the art of living. He never went
in for athletics; but by doing nothing in a highly artistic manner, and
by dancing with the most startling agility, he became a prominent
social figure and a headliner in college theatricals.
From his sophomore year he has been in constant demand for
cotillions, house parties and yachting trips. His intimate pals seem to
be middle-aged millionaires who are known to me in only the most casual
way; and he is a sort of gentleman-in-waiting—I believe the accepted
term is “pet cat”—to several society women, for whom he devises new
cotillion figures, arranges original after-dinner entertainments and
makes himself generally useful.
Like my two daughters he has arrived—absolutely; but, though we are
members of the same learned profession, he is almost a stranger to me.
I had no difficulty in getting him a clerkship in a gilt-edged law firm
immediately after he was admitted to the bar and he is apparently doing
marvelously well, though what he can possibly know of law will always
remain a mystery to me. Yet he is already, at the age of twenty-eight,
a director in three important concerns whose securities are listed on
the stock exchange, and he spends a great deal of money, which he must
gather somehow. I know that his allowance cannot do much more than meet
his accounts at the smart clubs to which he belongs.
He is a pleasant fellow and I enjoy the rare occasions when I catch
a glimpse of him. I do not think he has any conspicuous vices—or
virtues. He has simply had sense enough to take advantage of his social
opportunities and bids fair to be equally successful with myself. He
has really never done a stroke of work in his life, but has managed to
make himself agreeable to those who could help him along. I have no
doubt those rich friends of his throw enough business in his way to net
him ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year, but I should hesitate to
retain him to defend me if I were arrested for speeding.
Nevertheless at dinner I have seen him bullyrag and browbeat a judge
of our Supreme Court in a way that made me shudder, though I admit that
the judge in question owed his appointment entirely to the friend of my
son who happened to be giving the dinner; and he will contradict in a
loud tone men and women older than myself, no matter what happens to be
the subject under discussion. They seem to like it—why, I do not
pretend to understand. They admire his assurance and good nature, and
are rather afraid of him!
I cannot imagine what he would find to do in my own law office; he
would doubtless regard it as a dull place and too narrow a sphere for
his splendid capabilities. He is a clever chap, this son of mine; and
though neither he nor his sisters seem to have any particular fondness
for one another, he is astute at playing into their hands and they into
his. He also keeps a watchful eye on our dinner invitations, so they
will not fall below the properly exclusive standard.
“What are you asking old Washburn for?” he will ask. “He's been a
dead one these five years!” Or: “I'd cut out the Becketts—at least if
you're asking the Thompsons. They don't go with the same crowd.” Or:
“Why don't you ask the Peyton-Smiths? They're nothing to be afraid of
if they do cut a dash at Newport. The old girl is rather a pal of
So we drop old Washburn, cut out the Becketts, and take courage and
invite the hyphenated Smiths. A hint from him pays handsome dividends!
and he is distinctly proud of the family and anxious to push it along
to still greater success.
However, he has never asked my help or assistance—except in a
financial way. He has never come to me for advice; never confided any
of his perplexities or troubles to me. Perhaps he has none. He seems
quite sufficient unto himself. And he certainly is not my friend. It
seems strange that these three children of mine, whose upbringing has
been the source of so much thought and planning on the part of my wife
and myself, and for whose ultimate benefit we have shaped our own
lives, should be the merest, almost impersonal, acquaintances.
The Italian fruit-vender on the corner, whose dirty offspring crawl
among the empty barrels behind the stand, knows far more of his
children than do we of ours, will have far more influence on the
shaping of their future lives. They do not need us now and they never
have needed us. A trust company could have performed all the offices of
parenthood with which we have been burdened. We have paid others to be
father and mother in our stead—or rather, as I now see, have had hired
servants to go through the motions for us; and they have done it well,
so far as the mere physical side of the matter is concerned. We have
been almost entirely relieved of care.
We have never been annoyed by our children's presence at any time.
We have never been bothered with them at meals. We have never had to
sit up with them when they could not go to sleep, or watch at their
bedsides during the night when they were sick. Competent nurses—far
more competent than we—washed their little dirty hands, mended the
torn dresses and kissed their wounds to make them well. And when five
o'clock came three dainty little Dresden figures in pink and blue
ribbons were brought down to the drawing room to be admired by our
guests. Then, after being paraded, they were carried back to the
nursery to resume the even tenor of their independent existences.
No one of us has ever needed the other members of the family. My
wife has never called on either of our daughters to perform any of
those trifling intimate services that bring a mother and her children
together. There has always been a maid standing ready to hook up her
dress, fetch her book or her hat, or a footman to spring upstairs after
the forgotten gloves. And the girls have never needed their mother—the
governess could read aloud ever so much better, and they always had
their own maid to look after their clothes. When they needed new gowns
they simply went downtown and bought them—and the bill was sent to my
office. Neither of them was ever forced to stay at home that her sister
might have some pleasure instead. No; our wealth has made it possible
for each of my children to enjoy every luxury without any sacrifice on
another's part. They owe nothing to each other, and they really owe
nothing to their mother or myself—except perhaps a monetary
But there is one person, technically not one of our family, for whom
my girls have the deepest and most sincere affection—that is old Jane,
their Irish nurse, who came to them just after they were weaned and
stayed with us until the period of maids and governesses arrived. I
paid her twenty-five dollars a month, and for nearly ten years she
never let them out of her sight—crooning over them at night; trudging
after them during the daytime; mending their clothes; brushing their
teeth; cutting their nails; and teaching them strange Irish legends of
the banshee. When I called her into the library and told her the
children were now too old for her and that they must have a governess,
the look that came into her face haunted me for days.
“Ye'll be after taking my darlin's away from me?” she muttered in a
dead tone. “'T will be hard for me!” She stood as if the heart had died
within her, and the hundred-dollar bill I shoved into her hand fell to
the floor. Then she turned quickly and hurried out of the room without
a sob. I heard afterward that she cried for a week.
Now I always know when one of their birthdays has arrived by the
queer package, addressed in old Jane's quaint half-printed writing,
that always comes. She has cared for many dozens of children since
then, but loves none like my girls, for she came to them in her young
womanhood and they were her first charges.
And they are just as fond of her. Indeed it is their loyalty to this
old Irish nurse that gives me faith that they are not the cold
propositions they sometimes seem to be. For once when, after much
careless delay, a fragmentary message came to us that she was ill and
in a hospital my two daughters, who were just starting for a ball, flew
to her bedside, sat with her all through the night and never left her
until she was out of danger.
“They brought me back—my darlin's!” she whispered to us when later
we called to see how she was getting on; and my wife looked at me
across the rumpled cot and her lips trembled. I knew what was in her
mind. Would her daughters have rushed to her with the same
forgetfulness of self as to this prematurely gray and wrinkled woman
whose shrunken form lay between us?
Poor old Jane! Alone in an alien land, giving your life and your
love to the children of others, only to have them torn from your arms
just as the tiny fingers have entwined themselves like tendrils round
your heart! We have tossed you the choicest blessings of our lives and
shouldered you with the heavy responsibilities that should rightfully
have been our load. Your cup has run over with both joy and sorrow but
you have drunk of the cup, while we are still thirsty! Our hearts are
dry, while yours is green—nourished with the love that should belong
to us. Poor old Jane? Lucky old Jane! Anyhow God bless you!
CHAPTER IV. MY MIND
I come of a family that prides itself on its culture and
intellectuality. We have always been professional people, for my
grandfather was, as I have said, a clergyman; and among my uncles are a
lawyer, a physician and a professor. My sisters, also, have
intermarried with professional men. I received a fairly good primary
and secondary education, and graduated from my university with
honors—whatever that may have meant. I was distinctly of a literary
turn of mind; and during my four years of study I imbibed some slight
information concerning the English classics, music, modern history and
metaphysics. I could talk quite wisely about Chaucer, Beaumont and
Fletcher, Thomas Love Peacock and Ann Radcliffe, or Kant, Fichte and
I can see now that my smattering of culture was neither deep nor
broad. I acquired no definite knowledge of underlying principles, of
general history, of economics, of languages, of mathematics, of physics
or of chemistry. To biology and its allies I paid scarcely any
attention at all, except to take a few snap courses. I really secured
only a surface acquaintance with polite English literature, mostly very
modern. The main part of my time I spent reading Stevenson and Kipling.
I did well in English composition and I pronounced my words neatly and
in a refined manner. At the end of my course, when twenty-two years
old, I was handed an imitation-parchment degree and proclaimed by the
president of the college as belonging to the Brotherhood of Educated
I did not. I was an imitation educated man; but, though spurious, I
was a sufficiently good counterfeit to pass current for what I had been
declared to be. Apart from a little Latin, a considerable training in
writing the English language, and a great deal of miscellaneous reading
of an extremely light variety, I really had no culture at all. I could
not speak an idiomatic sentence in French or German; I had the vaguest
ideas about applied mechanics and science; and no thorough knowledge
about anything; but I was supposed to be an educated man, and on this
stock in trade I have done business ever since—with, to be sure, the
added capital of a degree of bachelor of laws.
Now since my graduation, twenty-eight years ago, I have given no
time to the systematic study of any subject except law. I have read no
serious works dealing with either history, sociology, economics, art or
philosophy. I am supposed to know enough about these subjects already.
I have rarely read over again any of the masterpieces of English
literature with which I had at least a bowing acquaintance when at
college. Even this last sentence I must qualify to the extent of
admitting that I now see that this acquaintance was largely vicarious,
and that I frequently read more criticism than literature.
It is characteristic of modern education that it is satisfied with
the semblance and not the substance of learning. I was taught about
Shakspere, but not Shakspere. I was instructed in the history of
literature, but not in literature itself. I knew the names of the works
of numerous English authors and I knew what Taine and others thought
about them, but I knew comparatively little of what was between the
covers of the books themselves. I was, I find, a student of letters by
proxy. As time went on I gradually forgot that I had not, in fact,
actually perused these volumes; and to-day I am accustomed to refer
familiarly to works I never have read at all—not a difficult task in
these days of handbook knowledge and literary varnish.
It is this patent superficiality that so bores me with the affected
culture of modern social intercourse. We all constantly attempt to
discuss abstruse subjects in philosophy and art, and pretend to a
familiarity with minor historical characters and events. Now why try to
talk about Bergson's theories if you have not the most elementary
knowledge of philosophy or metaphysics? Or why attempt to analyze the
success or failure of a modern post-impressionist painter when you are
totally ignorant of the principles of perspective or of the complex
problems of light and shade? You might as properly presume to discuss a
mastoid operation with a surgeon or the doctrine of cypres with
a lawyer. You are equally qualified.
I frankly confess that my own ignorance is abysmal. In the last
twenty-eight years what information I have acquired has been picked up
principally from newspapers and magazines; yet my library table is
littered with books on modern art and philosophy, and with essays on
literary and historical subjects. I do not read them. They are my
intellectual window dressings. I talk about them with others who, I
suspect, have not read them either; and we confine ourselves to
generalities, with a careful qualification of all expressed opinions,
no matter how vague and elusive. For example—a safe conversational
“Of course there is a great deal to be said in favor of Bergson's
general point of view, but to me his reasoning is inconclusive. Don't
you feel the same way—somehow?”
You can try this on almost anybody. It will work in ninety-nine
cases out of a hundred; for, of course, there is a great deal to be
said in favor of the views of anybody who is not an absolute fool, and
most reasoning is open to attack at least for being inconclusive. It is
also inevitable that your cultured friend—or acquaintance—should feel
the same way—somehow. Most people do—in a way.
The real truth of the matter is, all I know about Bergson is that he
is a Frenchman—is he actually by birth a Frenchman or a Belgian?—who
as a philosopher has a great reputation on the Continent, and who
recently visited America to deliver some lectures. I have not the
faintest idea what his theories are, and I should not if I heard him
explain them. Moreover, I cannot discuss philosophy or metaphysics
intelligently, because I have not to-day the rudimentary knowledge
necessary to understand what it is all about.
It is the same with art. On the one or two isolated varnishing days
when we go to a gallery we criticize the pictures quite fiercely. “We
know what we like.” Yes, perhaps we do. I am not sure even of that. But
in eighty-five cases out of a hundred none of us have any knowledge of
the history of painting or any intelligent idea of why Velasquez is
regarded as a master; yet we acquire a glib familiarity with the names
of half a dozen cubists or futurists, and bandy them about much as my
office boy does the names of his favorite pugilists or baseball
It is even worse with history and biography. We cannot afford or
have not the decency to admit that we are uninformed. We speak casually
of, say, Henry of Navarre, or Beatrice D'Este, or Charles the Fifth. I
select my names intentionally from among the most celebrated in
history; yet how many of us know within two hundred years of when any
one of them lived—or much about them? How much definite historical
information have we, even about matters of genuine importance?
* * * * *
Let us take a shot at a few dates. I will make it childishly easy.
Give me, if you can, even approximately, the year of Caesar's
Conquest of Gaul; the Invasion of Europe by the Huns; the Sack of Rome;
the Battle of Chalons-sur-Marne; the Battle of Tours; the Crowning of
Charlemagne; the Great Crusade; the Fall of Constantinople; Magna
Charta; the Battle of Crecy; the Field of the Cloth of Gold; the
Massacre of St. Bartholomew; the Spanish Armada; the Execution of King
Charles I; the Fall of the Bastile; the Inauguration of George
Washington; the Battle of Waterloo; the Louisiana Purchase; the Indian
Mutiny; the Siege of Paris.
I will look out of the window while you go through the mental agony
of trying to remember. It looks easy, does it not? Almost an affront to
ask the date of Waterloo! Well, I wanted to be fair and even things up;
but, honestly, can you answer correctly five out of these twenty
elementary questions? I doubt it. Yet you have, no doubt, lying on your
table at the present time, intimate studies of past happenings and
persons that presuppose and demand a rough general knowledge of
American, French or English history.
The dean of Radcliffe College, who happened to be sitting behind two
of her recent graduates while attending a performance of Parker's
deservedly popular play “Disraeli” last winter, overheard one of them
say to the other: “You know, I couldn't remember whether Disraeli was
in the Old or the New Testament; and I looked in both and couldn't find
him in either!”
I still pass socially as an exceptionally cultured man—one who is
well up on these things; yet I confess to knowing to-day absolutely
nothing of history, either ancient, medieval or modern. It is not a
matter of mere dates, by any means, though I believe dates to be of
some general importance. My ignorance is deeper than that. I do not
remember the events themselves or their significance. I do not now
recall any of the facts connected with the great epoch-making events of
classic times; I cannot tell as I write, for example, who fought in the
battle of the Allia; why Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or why Cicero
delivered an oration against Catiline.
As to what subsequently happened on the Italian peninsula my mind is
a blank until the appearance of Garibaldi during the last century. I
really never knew just who Garibaldi was until I read Trevelyan's three
books on the Resorgimento last winter, and those I perused because I
had taken a motor trip through Italy the summer before. I know
practically nothing of Spanish history, and my mind is a blank as to
Russia, Poland, Turkey, Sweden, Germany, Austria, and Holland.
Of course I know that the Dutch Republic rose—assisted by one
Motley, of Boston—and that William of Orange was a Hollander—or at
least I suppose he was born there. But how Holland came to rise I know
not—or whether William was named after an orange or oranges were named
As for central Europe, it is a shocking fact that I never knew there
was not some interdependency between Austria and Germany until last
summer. I only found out the contrary when I started to motor through
the Austrian Tyrol and was held up by the custom officers on the
frontier. I knew that an old emperor named William somehow founded the
German Empire out of little states, with the aid of Bismarck and Von
Moltke; but that is all I know about it. I do not know when the war
between Prussia and Austria took place or what battles were fought in
The only battle in the Franco-Prussian War I am sure of is Sedan,
which I remember because I was once told that Phil Sheridan was present
as a spectator. I know Gustavus Adolphus was a king of Sweden, but I do
not know when; and apart from their names I know nothing of Theodoric,
Charles Martel, Peter the Hermit, Lodovico Moro, the Emperor
Maximilian, Catherine of Aragon, Catherine de' Medici, Richelieu,
Frederick Barbarossa, Cardinal Wolsey, Prince Rupert—I do not refer to
Anthony Hope's hero, Rupert of Hentzau—Saint Louis, Admiral Coligny,
or the thousands of other illustrious personages that crowd the pages
I do not know when or why the Seven Years' War, the Thirty Years'
War, the Hundred Years' War or the Massacre of St. Bartholomew took
place, why the Edict of Nantes was revoked or what it was, or who
fought at Malplaquet, Tours, Soissons, Marengo, Plassey, Oudenarde,
Fontenoy or Borodino—or when they occurred. I probably did know most
if not all of these things, but I have entirely forgotten them.
Unfortunately I manage to act as if I had not. The result is that,
having no foundation to build on, any information I do acquire is
immediately swept away. People are constantly giving me books on
special topics, such as Horace Walpole and his Friends, France in the
Thirteenth Century, The Holland House Circle, or Memoires of Madame du
Barry; but of what use can they be to me when I do not know, or at
least have forgotten, even the salient facts of French and English
We are undoubtedly the most superficial people in the world about
matters of this sort. Any bluff goes. I recall being at a dinner not
long ago when somebody mentioned Conrad II. One of the guests hazarded
the opinion that he had died in the year 1330. This would undoubtedly
have passed muster but for a learned-looking person farther down the
table who deprecatingly remarked: “I do not like to correct you, but I
think Conrad the Second died in 1337!” The impression created on the
assembled company cannot be overstated. Later on in the smoking room I
ventured to compliment the gentleman on his fund of information,
“Why, I never even heard of Conrad the Second!”
“Nor I either,” he answered shamelessly.
It is the same with everything—music, poetry, politics. I go night
after night to hear the best music in the world given at fabulous cost
in the Metropolitan Opera House and am content to murmur vague
ecstasies over Caruso, without being aware of who wrote the opera or
what it is all about. Most of us know nothing of orchestration or even
the names of the different instruments. We may not even be sure of what
is meant by counterpoint or the difference between a fugue and an
A handbook would give us these minor details in an hour's reading;
but we prefer to sit vacuously making feeble jokes about the singers or
the occupants of the neighboring boxes, without a single intelligent
thought as to why the composer attempted to write precisely this sort
of an opera, when he did it, or how far he succeeded. We are content to
take our opinions and criticisms ready made, no matter from whose mouth
they fall; and one hears everywhere phrases that, once let loose from
the Pandora's Box of some foolish brain, never cease from troubling.
In science I am in even a more parlous state. I know nothing of
applied electricity in its simplest forms. I could not explain the
theory of the gas engine, and plumbing is to me one of the great
Last, but even more lamentable, I really know nothing about
politics, though I am rather a strong party man and my name always
appears on important citizens' committees about election time. I do not
know anything about the city departments or its fiscal administration.
I should not have the remotest idea where to direct a poor person who
applied to me for relief. Neither have I ever taken the trouble to
familiarize myself with even the more important city buildings.
Of course I know the City Hall by sight, but I have never been
inside it; I have never visited the Tombs or any one of our criminal
courts; I have never been in a police station, a fire house, or
inspected a single one of our prisons or reformatory institutions. I do
not know whether police magistrates are elected or appointed and I
could not tell you in what congressional district I reside. I do not
know the name of my alderman, assemblyman, state senator or
representative in Congress.
I do not know who is at the head of the Fire Department, the Street
Cleaning Department, the Health Department, the Park Department or the
Water Department; and I could not tell, except for the Police
Department, what other departments there are. Even so, I do not know
what police precinct I am living in, the name of the captain in
command, or where the nearest fixed post is at which an officer is
supposed to be on duty.
As I write I can name only five members of the United States Supreme
Court, three members of the Cabinet, and only one of the congressmen
from the state of New York. This in cold type seems almost
preposterous, but it is, nevertheless, a fact—and I am an active
practicing lawyer besides. I am shocked to realize these things. Yet I
am supposed to be an exceptionally intelligent member of the community
and my opinion is frequently sought on questions of municipal politics.
Needless to say, the same indifference has prevented my
studying—except in the most superficial manner—the single tax, free
trade and protection, the minimum wage, the recall, referendum, or any
other of the present much-mooted questions. How is this possible? The
only answer I can give is that I have confined my mental activities
entirely to making my legal practice as lucrative as possible. I have
taken things as I found them and put up with abuses rather than go to
the trouble to do away with them. I have no leisure to try to reform
the universe. I leave that task to others whose time is less valuable
than mine and who have something to gain by getting into the public
The mere fact, however, that I am not interested in local politics
would not ordinarily, in a normal state of civilization, explain my
ignorance of these things. In most societies they would be the usual
subjects of conversation. People naturally discuss what interests them
most. Uneducated people talk about the weather, their work, their
ailments and their domestic affairs. With more enlightened folk the
conversation turns on broader topics—the state of the country,
politics, trade, or art.
It is only among the so-called society people that the subjects
selected for discussion do not interest anybody. Usually the talk that
goes on at dinners or other entertainments relates only to what plays
the conversationalists in question have seen or which of the best
sellers they have read. For the rest the conversation is dexterously
devoted to the avoidance of the disclosure of ignorance. Even among
those who would like to discuss the questions of the day intelligently
and to ascertain other people's views pertaining to them, there is such
a fundamental lack of elementary information that it is a hopeless
undertaking. They are reduced to the commonplaces of vulgar and
“'Tis plain,” cry they, “our mayor's a noddy; and as for the
The mayor may be and probably is a noddy, but his critics do not
know why. The average woman who dines out hardly knows what she is
saying or what is being said to her. She will usually agree with any
proposition that is put to her—if she has heard it. Generally she does
I know a minister's wife who never pays the slightest attention to
anything that is being said to her, being engrossed in a torrent of
explanation regarding her children's education and minor diseases. Once
a bored companion in a momentary pause fixed her sternly with his eye
and said distinctly: “But I don't give a —-about your children!” At
which the lady smiled brightly and replied: “Yes. Quite so. Exactly! As
I was saying, Johnny got a—”
But, apart from such hectic people, who run quite amuck whenever
they open their mouths, there are large numbers of men and women of
some intelligence who never make the effort to express conscientiously
any ideas or opinions. They find it irksome to think. They are
completely indifferent as to whether a play is really good or bad or
who is elected mayor of the city. In any event they will have their
coffee, rolls and honey served in bed the next morning; and they know
that, come what will—flood, tempest, fire or famine—there will be
forty-six quarts of extra xxx milk left at their area door. They are
secure. The stock market may rise and fall, presidents come and go, but
they will remain safe in the security of fifty thousand a year. And,
since they really do not care about anything, they are as likely to
praise as to blame, and to agree with everybody about everything. Their
world is all cakes and ale—why should they bother as to whether the
pothouse beer is bad?
I confess, with something of a shock, that essentially I am like the
rest of these people. The reason I am not interested in my country and
my city is because, by reason of my financial and social independence,
they have ceased to be my city and country. I should be just as
comfortable if our Government were a monarchy. It really is nothing to
me whether my tax rate is six one-hundredths of one per cent higher or
lower, or what mayor rules in City Hall.
So long as Fifth Avenue is decently paved, so that my motor runs
smoothly when I go to the opera, I do not care whether we have a
Reform, Tammany or Republican administration in the city. So far as I
am concerned, my valet will still come into my bedroom at exactly nine
o'clock every morning, turn on the heat and pull back the curtains. His
low, modulated “Your bath is ready, sir,” will steal through my dreams,
and he will assist me to rise and put on my embroidered dressing gown
of wadded silk in preparation for another day's hard labor in the
service of my fellowmen. Times have changed since my father's frugal
college days. Have they changed for better or for worse?
Of one thing I am certain—my father was a better-educated man than
I am. I admit that, under the circumstances, this does not imply very
much; but my parent had, at least, some solid ground beneath his
intellectual feet on which he could stand. His mind was thoroughly
disciplined by rigid application to certain serious studies that were
not selected by himself. From the day he entered college he was in
active competition with his classmates in all his studies, and if he
had been a shirker they would all have known it.
In my own case, after I had once matriculated, the elective system
left me free to choose my own subjects and to pursue them faithfully or
not, so long as I could manage to squeak through my examinations. My
friends were not necessarily among those who elected the same courses,
and whether I did well or ill was nobody's business but my own and the
dean's. It was all very pleasant and exceedingly lackadaisical, and by
the time I graduated I had lost whatever power of concentration I had
acquired in my preparatory schooling. At the law school I was at an
obvious disadvantage with the men from the smaller colleges which still
followed the old-fashioned curriculum and insisted on the mental
discipline entailed by advanced Greek, Latin, the higher mathematics,
science and biology.
In point of fact I loafed delightfully for four years and let my
mind run absolutely to seed, while I smoked pipe after pipe under the
elms, watching the squirrels and dreaming dreams. I selected
elementary—almost childlike—courses in a large variety of subjects;
and as soon as I had progressed sufficiently to find them difficult I
cast about for other snaps to take their places. My bookcase exhibited
a collection of primers on botany, zooelogy and geology, the fine arts,
music, elementary French and German, philosophy, ethics, methaphysics,
architecture, English composition, Shakspere, the English poets and
novelists, oral debating and modern history.
I took nothing that was not easy and about which I did not already
know a little something. I attended the minimum number of lectures
required, did the smallest amount of reading possible and, by cramming
vigorously for three weeks at the end of the year, managed to pass all
examinations creditably. I averaged, I suppose, outside of the lecture
room, about a single hour's desultory work a day. I really need not
have done that.
When, for example, it came time to take the examination in French
composition I discovered that I had read but two out of the fifteen
plays and novels required, the plots of any one of which I might be
asked to give on my paper. Rather than read these various volumes, I
prepared a skeleton digest in French, sufficiently vague, which could
by slight transpositions be made to do service in every case. I
committed it to memory. It ran somewhat as follows:
“The play”—or novel—“entitled ——is generally conceded to be one
of the most carefully constructed and artistically developed of all
——'s”—here insert name of author—“many masterly productions. The
genius of the author has enabled him skilfully to portray the
atmosphere and characters of the period. The scene is laid in ——and
the time roughly is that of the —th century. The hero is ——; the
heroine, ——; and after numerous obstacles and ingenious complications
they eventually marry. The character of the old ——”—here insert
father, mother, uncle or grandparent, gardener or family servant—“is
delightfully whimsical and humorous, and full of subtle touches. The
tragic element is furnished by ——, the ——. The author touches with
keen satire on the follies and vices of the time, while the interest in
the principal love affair is sustained until the final denouement.
Altogether it would be difficult to imagine a more brilliant example of
I give this rather shocking example of sophomoric shiftlessness for
the purpose of illustrating my attitude toward my educational
opportunities and what was possible in the way of dexterously avoiding
them. All I had to do was to learn the names of the chief characters in
the various plays and novels prescribed. If I could acquire a brief
scenario of each so much the better. Invariably they had heroes and
heroines, good old servants or grandparents, and merry jesters. At the
examination I successfully simulated familiarity with a book I had
never read and received a commendatory mark.
This happy-go-lucky frame of mind was by no means peculiar to
myself. Indeed I believe it to have been shared by the great majority
of my classmates. The result was that we were sent forth into the world
without having mastered any subject whatsoever, or even followed it for
a sufficient length of time to become sincerely interested in it. The
only study I pursued more than one year was English composition, which
came easily to me, and which in one form or another I followed
throughout my course. Had I adopted the same tactics with any other of
the various branches open to me, such as history, chemistry or
languages, I should not be what I am to-day—a hopelessly superficial
Mind you, I do not mean to assert that I got nothing out of it at
all. Undoubtedly I absorbed a smattering of a variety of subjects that
might on a pinch pass for education. I observed how men with greater
social advantages than myself brushed their hair, wore their clothes
and took off their hats to their women friends. Frankly that was about
everything I took away with me. I was a victim of that liberality of
opportunity which may be a heavenly gift to a post-graduate in a
university, but which is intellectual damnation to an undergraduate
The chief fault that I have to find with my own education, however,
is that at no time was I encouraged to think for myself. No older man
ever invited me to his study, there quietly and frankly to discuss the
problems of human existence. I was left entirely vague as to what it
was all about, and the relative values of things were never indicated.
The same emphasis was placed on everything—whether it happened to be
the Darwinian Theory, the Fall of Jerusalem or the character of
I had no philosophy, no theory of morals, and no one ever even
attempted to explain to me what religion or the religious instinct was
supposed to be. I was like a child trying to build a house and
gathering materials of any substance, shape or color without regard to
the character of the intended edifice. I was like a man trying to get
somewhere and taking whatever paths suited his fancy—first one and
then another, irrespective of where they led. The Why and the Wherefore
were unknown questions to me, and I left the university without any
idea as to how I came to be in the world or what my duties toward my
fellowmen might be.
In a word the two chief factors in education passed me by
entirely—(a) my mind received no discipline; (b) and the fundamental
propositions of natural philosophy were neither brought to my attention
nor explained to me. These deficiencies have never been made up.
Indeed, as to the first, my mind, instead of being developed by my
going to college, was seriously injured. My memory has never been good
since and my methods of reading and thinking are hurried and slipshod,
but this is a small thing compared with the lack of any philosophy of
life. I acquired none as a youth and I have never had any since. For
fifty years I have existed without any guiding purpose except blindly
to get ahead—without any religion, either natural or dogmatic. I am
one of a type—a pretty good, perfectly aimless man, without any
principles at all.
They tell me that things have changed at the universities since my
day and that the elective system is no longer in favor. Judging by my
own case, the sooner it is abolished entirely, the better for the
undergraduate. I should, however, suggest one important
qualification—namely, that a boy be given the choice in his Freshman
year of three or four general subjects, such as philosophy, art,
history, music, science, languages or literature, and that he should be
compelled to follow the subjects he elects throughout his course.
In addition I believe the relation of every study to the whole realm
of knowledge should be carefully explained. Art cannot be taught apart
from history; history cannot be grasped independently of literature.
Religion, ethics, science and philosophy are inextricably involved one
But mere learning or culture, a knowledge of facts or of arts, is
unimportant as compared with a realization of the significance of life.
The one is superficial—the other is fundamental; the one is
temporal—the other is spiritual. There is no more wretched human being
than a highly trained but utterly purposeless man—which, after all, is
only saying that there is no use in having an education without a
religion; that unless someone is going to live in the house there is
not much use in elaborately furnishing it.
I am not attempting to write a treatise on pedagogy; but, when all
is said, I am inclined to the belief that my unfortunate present
condition, whatever my material success may have been, is due to lack
of education—in philosophy in its broadest sense; in mental
discipline; and in actual acquirement.
It is in this last field that my deficiencies and those of my class
are superficially most apparent. A wide fund of information may be less
important than a knowledge of general principles, but it is none the
less valuable; and all of us ought to be equipped with the kind of
education that will enable us to understand the world of men as well as
the world of nature.
It is, of course, essential for us to realize that the physical
characteristics of a continent may have more influence on the history
of nations than mere wars or battles, however far-reaching the foreign
policies of their rulers; but, in addition to an appreciation of this
and similar underlying propositions governing the development of
civilization, the educated man who desires to study the problems of his
own time and country, to follow the progress of science and philosophy,
and to enjoy music, literature and art, must have a certain elementary
equipment of mere facts.
The Oriental attitude of mind that enabled the Shah of Persia calmly
to decline the invitation of the Prince of Wales to attend the Derby,
on the ground that “he knew one horse could run faster than another,”
is foreign to that of Western civilization. The Battle of Waterloo is a
flyspeck in importance contrasted with the problem of future existence;
but the man who never heard of Napoleon would make a dull companion in
this world or the next.
We live in direct proportion to the keenness of our interest in
life; and the wider and broader this interest is, the richer and
happier we are. A man is as big as his sympathies, as small as his
selfishness. The yokel thinks only of his dinner and his snooze under
the hedge, but the man of education rejoices in every new production of
the human brain.
Advantageous intercourse between civilized human beings requires a
working knowledge of the elementary facts of history, of the
achievements in art, music and letters, as well as of the principles of
science and philosophy. When people go to quarreling over the
importance of a particular phase of knowledge or education they are apt
to forget that, after all, it is a purely relative matter, and that no
one can reasonably belittle the value of any sort of information. But
furious arguments arise over the question as to how history should be
taught, and “whether a boy's head should be crammed full of dates.”
Nobody in his senses would want a boy's head crammed full of dates any
more than he would wish his stomach stuffed with bananas; but both the
head and the stomach need some nourishment—better dates than nothing.
If a knowledge of a certain historical event is of any value
whatsoever, the greater and more detailed our knowledge the
better—including perhaps, but not necessarily, its date. The question
is not essentially whether the dates are of value, but how much
emphasis should be placed on them to the exclusion of other facts of
“There is no use trying to remember dates,” is a familiar cry. There
is about as much sense in such a statement as the announcement: “There
is no use trying to remember who wrote Henry Esmond, composed the Fifth
Symphony, or painted the Last Supper.” There is a lot of use in trying
to remember anything. The people who argue to the contrary are too lazy
* * * * *
I suppose it may be conceded, for the sake of argument, that every
American, educated or not, should know the date of the Declaration of
Independence, and have some sort of acquaintance with the character and
deeds of Washington. If we add to this the date of the discovery of
America and the first English settlement; the inauguration of the first
president; the Louisiana Purchase; the Naval War with England; the War
with Mexico; the Missouri Compromise, and the firing on Fort Sumter, we
cannot be accused of pedantry. It certainly could not do any one of us
harm to know these dates or a little about the events themselves.
This is equally true, only in a lesser degree, in regard to the
history of foreign nations. Any accurate knowledge is worth while. It
is harder, in the long run, to remember a date slightly wrong than with
accuracy. The dateless man, who is as vague as I am about the League of
Cambray or Philip II, will loudly assert that the trouble incident to
remembering a date in history is a pure waste of time. He will allege
that “a general idea”—a very favorite phrase—is all that is
necessary. In the case of such a person you can safely gamble that his
so-called “general idea” is no idea at all. Pin him down and he will
not be able to tell you within five hundred years the dates of
some of the cardinal events of European history—the invasion of Europe
by the Huns, for instance. Was it before or after Christ? He might just
as well try to tell you that it was quite enough to know that our Civil
War occurred somewhere in the nineteenth century.
I have personally no hesitation in advancing the claim that there
are a few elementary principles and fundamental facts in all
departments of human knowledge which every person who expects to derive
any advantage from intelligent society should not only once learn but
should forever remember. Not to know them is practically the same thing
as being without ordinary means of communication. One may not find it
necessary to remember the binomial theorem or the algebraic formula for
the contents of a circle, but he should at least have a formal
acquaintance with Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Charlemagne, Martin Luther,
Francis I, Queen Elizabeth, Louis XIV, Napoleon I—and a dozen or so
others. An educated man must speak the language of educated men.
I do not think it too much to demand that in history he should have
in mind, at least approximately, one important date in each century in
the chronicles of France, England, Italy and Germany. That is not much,
but it is a good start. And shall we say ten dates in American history?
He should, in addition, have a rough working knowledge of the chief
personages who lived in these centuries and were famous in war,
diplomacy, art, religion and literature. His one little date will at
least give him some notion of the relation the events in one country
bore to those in another.
I boldly assert that in a half hour you can learn by heart all the
essential dates in American history. I assume that you once knew, and
perhaps still know, something about the events themselves with which
they are connected. Ten minutes a day for the rest of the week and you
will have them at your fingers' ends. It is no trick at all. It is as
easy as learning the names of the more important parts of the mechanism
of your motor. There is nothing impossible or difficult, or even
tedious, about it; but it seems Herculean because you have never taken
the trouble to try to remember anything. It is the same attitude that
renders it almost physically painful for one of us to read over the
scenario of an opera or a column biography of its composer before
hearing a performance at the Metropolitan. Yet fifteen minutes or half
an hour invested in this way pays about five hundred per cent.
And the main thing, after you have learned anything, is not to
forget it. Knowledge forgotten is no knowledge at all. That is the
trouble with the elective system as usually administered in our
universities. At the end of the college year the student tosses aside
his Elements of Geology and forgets everything between its covers. What
he has learned should be made the basis for other and more detailed
knowledge. The instructor should go on building a superstructure on the
foundation he has laid, and at the end of his course the aspirant for a
diploma should be required to pass an examination on his entire college
work. Had I been compelled to do that, I should probably be able to
tell now—what I do not know—whether Melancthon was a painter, a
warrior, a diplomat, a theologian or a dramatic poet.
I have instanced the study of dates because they are apt to be the
storm center of discussions concerning education. It is fashionable to
scoff at them in a superior manner. We all of us loathe them; yet they
are as indispensable—a certain number of them—as the bones of a body.
They make up the skeleton of history. They are the orderly pegs on
which we can hang later acquired information. If the pegs are not there
the information will fall to the ground.
For example, our entire conception of the Reformation, or of any
intellectual or religious movement, might easily turn on whether it
preceded or followed the discovery of printing; and our mental picture
of any great battle, as well as our opinion of the strategy of the
opposing armies, would depend on whether or not gunpowder had been
invented at the time. Hence the importance of a knowledge of the dates
of the invention of printing and of gunpowder in Europe.
It is ridiculous to allege that there is no minimum of education, to
say nothing of culture, which should be required of every intelligent
human being if he is to be but a journeyman in society. In an
unconvincing defense of our own ignorance we loudly insist that
detailed knowledge of any subject is mere pedagogy, a hindrance to
clear thinking, a superfluity. We do not say so, to be sure, with
respect to knowledge in general; but that is our attitude in regard to
any particular subject that may be brought up. Yet to deny the value of
special information is tantamount to an assertion of the desirability
of general ignorance. It is only the politician who can afford to say:
“Wide knowledge is a fatal handicap to forcible expression.”
This is not true of the older countries. In Germany, for instance, a
knowledge of natural philosophy, languages and history is insisted on.
To the German schoolboy, George Washington is almost as familiar a
character as Columbus; but how many American children know anything of
Bismarck? The ordinary educated foreigner speaks at least two languages
and usually three, is fairly well grounded in science, and is perfectly
familiar with ancient and modern history. The American college graduate
seems like a child beside him so far as these things are concerned.
We are content to live a hand-to-mouth mental existence on a
haphazard diet of newspapers and the lightest novels. We are too lazy
to take the trouble either to discipline our minds or to acquire, as
adults, the elementary knowledge necessary to enable us to read
intelligently even rather superficial books on important questions
vitally affecting our own social, physical intellectual or moral
If somebody refers to Huss or Wyclif ten to one we do not know of
whom he is talking; the same thing is apt to be true about the draft of
the hot-water furnace or the ball and cock of the tank in the bathroom.
Inertia and ignorance are the handmaidens of futility. Heaven forbid
that we should let anybody discover this aridity of our minds!
My wife admits privately that she has forgotten all the French she
ever knew—could not even order a meal from a carte de jour; yet
she is a never-failing source of revenue to the counts and marquises
who yearly rush over to New York to replenish their bank accounts by
giving parlor lectures in their native tongue on Le XIIIme Siecle
or Madame Lebrun. No one would ever guess that she understands no more
than one word out of twenty and that she has no idea whether Talleyrand
lived in the fifteenth or the eighteenth century, or whether Calvin was
a Frenchman or a Scotchman.
Our clever people are content merely with being clever. They will
talk Tolstoi or Turgenieff with you, but they are quite vague about
Catherine II or Peter the Great. They are up on D'Annunczio, but not on
Garibaldi or Cavour. Our ladies wear a false front of culture, but they
are quite bald underneath.
* * * * *
Being educated, however, does not consist, by any means, in knowing
who fought and won certain battles or who wrote the Novum Organum. It
lies rather in a knowledge of life based on the experience of mankind.
Hence our study of history. But a study of history in the abstract is
valueless. It must be concrete, real and living to have any
significance for us. The schoolboy who learns by rote imagines the
Greeks as outline figures of one dimension, clad in helmets and tunics,
and brandishing little swords. That is like thinking of Jeanne d'Arc as
a suit of armor or of Theodore Roosevelt as a pair of spectacles.
If the boy is to gain anything by his acquaintance with the Greeks
he must know what they ate and drank, how they amused themselves, what
they talked about, and what they believed as to the nature and origin
of the universe and the probability of a future life. I hold that it is
as important to know how the Romans told time as that Nero fiddled
while his capital was burning. William the Silent was once just as much
alive as P.T. Barnum, and a great deal more worth while. It is fatal to
regard historical personages as lay figures and not as human beings.
We are equally vague with respect to the ordinary processes of our
daily lives. I have not the remotest idea of how to make a cup of
coffee or disconnect the gas or water mains in my own house. If my
sliding door sticks I send for the carpenter, and if water trickles in
the tank I telephone for the plumber. I am a helpless infant in the
stable and my motor is the creation of a Frankenstein that has me at
its mercy. My wife may recall something of cookery—which she would not
admit, of course, before the butler—but my daughters have never been
inside a kitchen. None of my family knows anything about housekeeping
or the prices of foodstuffs or house-furnishings. My coal and wood are
delivered and paid for without my inquiring as to the correctness of
the bills, and I offer the same temptations to dishonest tradesmen that
a drunken man does to pickpockets. Yet I complain of the high cost of
My family has never had the slightest training in practical affairs.
If we were cast away on a fertile tropical island we should be forced
to subsist on bananas and clams, and clothe ourselves with
leaves,—provided the foliage was ready made and came in regulation
These things are vastly more important from an educational point of
view than a knowledge of the relationship of Mary Stuart to the Duke of
Guise, however interesting that may be to a reader of French history of
the sixteenth century. A knowledge of the composition of gunpowder is
more valuable than of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot. If we know nothing
about household economies we can hardly be expected to take an interest
in the problems of the proletariat. If we are ignorant of the
fundamental data of sociology and politics we can have no real opinions
on questions affecting the welfare of the people.
The classic phrase “The public be damned!” expresses our true
feeling about the matter. We cannot become excited about the wrongs and
hardships of the working class when we do not know and do not care how
they live. One of my daughters—aged seven—once essayed a short story,
of which the heroine was an orphan child in direst want. It began:
“Corrine was starving. 'Alas! What shall we do for food?' she asked her
French nurse as they entered the carriage for their afternoon drive in
the park.” I have no doubt that even to-day this same young lady
supposes that there are porcelain baths in every tenement house.
I myself have no explanation as to why I pay eighty dollars for a
business suit any my bookkeepers seems to be equally well turned out
for eighteen dollars and fifty cents. That is essentially why the
people have an honest and well-founded distrust of those enthusiastic
society ladies who rush into charity and frantically engage in the
elevation of the masses. The poor working girl is apt to know a good
deal more about her own affairs than the Fifth Avenue matron with an
annual income of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
If I were doing it all over again—and how I wish I could!—I should
insist on my girls being taught not only music and languages but
cooking, sewing, household economy and stenography. They should at
least be able to clothe and feed themselves and their children if
somebody supplied them with the materials, and to earn a living if the
time came when they had to do it. They have now no conception of the
relative values of even material things, what the things are made of or
how they are put together. For them hats, shoes, French novels and
roast chicken can be picked off the trees.
* * * * *
This utter ignorance of actual life not only keeps us at a distance
from the people of our own time but renders our ideas of history
equally vague, abstract and unprofitable. I believe it would be an
excellent thing if, beginning with the age of about ten years, no child
were allowed to eat anything until he was able to tell where it was
produced, what it cost and how it was prepared. If this were carried
out in every department of the child's existence he would have small
need of the superficial education furnished by most of our institutions
of learning. Our children are taught about the famines of history when
they cannot recognize a blade of wheat or tell the price of a loaf of
bread, or how it is made.
I would begin the education of my boy—him of the tango and balkline
billiards—with a study of himself, in the broad use of the term,
before I allowed him to study about other people or the history of
nations. I would seat him in a chair by the fire and begin with his
feet. I would inquire what he knew about his shoes—what they were made
of, where the substance came from, the cost of its production, the duty
on leather, the process of manufacture, the method of transportation of
goods, freight rates, retailing, wages, repairs, how shoes were
polished—this would begin, if desired, a new line of inquiry as to the
composition of said polish, cost, and so on—comparative durability of
hand and machine work, introduction of machines into England and its
effect on industrial conditions. I say I would do all this; but, of
course, I could not. I would have to be an educated man in the first
place. Why, beginning with that dusty little pair of shoes, my boy and
I might soon be deep in Interstate Commerce and the Theory of
Malthus—on familiar terms with Thomas A. Edison and Henry George!
And the next time my son read about a Tammany politician giving away
a pair of shoes to each of his adherents it would mean something to
him—as much as any other master stroke of diplomacy.
I would instruct every boy in a practical knowledge of the house in
which he lives, give him a familiarity with simple tools and a
knowledge of how to make small repairs and to tinker with the water
pipes. I would teach him all those things I now do not know
myself—where the homeless man can find a night's lodging; how to get a
disorderly person arrested; why bottled milk costs fifteen cents a
quart; how one gets his name on the ballot if he wants to run for
alderman; where the Health Department is located, and how to get
vaccinated for nothing.
By the time we had finished we would be in a position to understand
the various editorials in the morning papers which now we do not read.
Far more than that, my son would be brought to a realization that
everything in the world is full of interest for the man who has the
knowledge to appreciate its significance. “A primrose by a river's
brim” should be no more suggestive, even to a lake-poet, than a Persian
rug or a rubber shoe. Instead of the rug he will have a vision of the
patient Afghan in his mountain village working for years with
unrequited industry; instead of the shoe he will see King Leopold and
hear the lamentations of the Congo.
My ignorance of everything beyond my own private bank account and
stomach is due to the fact that I have selfishly and foolishly regarded
these two departments as the most important features of my existence. I
now find that my financial and gastronomical satisfaction has been
purchased at the cost of an infinite delight in other things. I am
mentally out of condition.
Apart from this brake on the wheel of my intelligence, however, I
suffer an even greater impediment by reason of the fact that, never
having acquired a thorough groundwork of elementary knowledge, I find I
cannot read with either pleasure or profit. Most adult essays or
histories presuppose some such foundation.
Recently I have begun to buy primers—such as are used in the
elementary schools—in order to acquire the information that should
have been mine at twenty years of age. And I have resolved that in my
daily reading of the newspapers I will endeavor to look up on the map
and remember the various places concerning which I read any news item
of importance, and to assimilate the facts themselves. It is my
intention also to study, at least half an hour each day, some simple
treatise on science, politics, art, letters or history. In this way I
hope to regain some of my interest in the activities of mankind. If I
cannot do this I realize now that it will go hard with me in the years
that are drawing nigh. I shall, indeed, then lament that “I have no
pleasure in them.”
* * * * *
It is the common practice of business men to say that when they
reach a certain age they are going to quit work and enjoy themselves.
How this enjoyment is proposed to be attained varies in the individual
case. One man intends to travel or live abroad—usually, he believes,
in Paris. Another is going into ranching or farming. Still another
expects to give himself up to art, music and books. We all have visions
of the time when we shall no longer have to go downtown every day and
can indulge in those pleasures that are now beyond our reach.
Unfortunately the experience of humanity demonstrates the
inevitability of the law of Nature which prescribes that after a
certain age it is practically impossible to change our habits, either
of work or of play, without physical and mental misery.
Most of us take some form of exercise throughout our lives—riding,
tennis, golf or walking. This we can continue to enjoy in moderation
after our more strenuous days are over; but the manufacturer, stock
broker or lawyer who thinks that after his sixtieth birthday he is
going to be able to find permanent happiness on a farm, loafing round
Paris or reading in his library will be sadly disappointed. His habit
of work will drive him back, after a year or so of wretchedness, to the
factory, the ticker or the law office; and his habit of play will send
him as usual to the races, the club or the variety show.
One cannot acquire an interest by mere volition. It is a matter of
training and of years. The pleasures of to-day will eventually prove to
be the pleasures of our old age—provided they continue to be pleasures
at all, which is more than doubtful.
As we lose the capacity for hard work we shall find that we need
something to take its place—something more substantial and less
unsatisfactory than sitting in the club window or taking in the
Broadway shows. But, at least, the seeds of these interests must be
sown now if we expect to gather a harvest this side of the grave.
What is more natural than to believe that in our declining years we
shall avail ourselves of the world's choicest literature and pass at
least a substantial portion of our days in the delightful companionship
of the wisest and wittiest of mankind? That would seem to be one of the
happiest uses to which good books could be put; but the hope is vain.
The fellow who does not read at fifty will take no pleasure in books at
My club is full of dozens of melancholy examples of men who have
forgotten how to read. They have spent their entire lives perfecting
the purely mechanical aspects of their existences. The mind has
practically ceased to exist, so far as they are concerned. They have
built marvelous mansions, where every comfort is instantly furnished by
contrivances as complicated and accurate as the machinery of a modern
warship. The doors and windows open and close, the lights are turned on
and off, and the elevator stops—all automatically. If the temperature
of a room rises above a certain degree the heating apparatus shuts
itself off; if it drops too low something else happens to put it right
again. The servants are swift, silent and decorous. The food is
perfection. Their motors glide noiselessly to and fro. Their
establishments run like fine watches.
They have had to make money to achieve this mechanical perfection;
they have had no time for anything else during their active years. And,
now that those years are over, they have nothing to do. Their minds are
almost as undeveloped as those of professional pugilists. Dinners and
drinks, backgammon and billiards, the lightest opera, the trashiest
novels, the most sensational melodrama are the most elevating of their
leisure's activities. Read? Hunt? Farm? Not much! They sit behind the
plate-glass windows and bet on whether more limousines will go north
than south in the next ten minutes.
If you should ask one of them whether he had read some book that was
exciting discussion among educated people at the moment, he would
probably look at you blankly and, after remarking that he had never
cared for economics or history—as the case might be—inquire whether
you preferred a “Blossom” or a “Tornado.” Poor vacuous old cocks! They
might be having a green and hearty old age, surrounded by a group of
the choicest spirits of all time.
Upstairs in the library there are easy-chairs within arm's reach of
the best fellows who ever lived—adventurers, story-tellers, novelists,
explorers, historians, rhymers, fighters, essayists, vagabonds and
general liars—Immortals, all of them.
You can take your pick and if he bores you send him packing without
a word of apology. They are good friends to grow old with—friends who
in hours of weariness, of depression or of gladness may be summoned at
will by those of us who belong to the Brotherhood of Educated Men—of
which, alas! I and my associates are no longer members.
CHAPTER V. MY MORALS
The concrete evidence of my success as represented by my accumulated
capital—outside of my uptown dwelling house—amounts, as I have
previously said, to about seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
This is invested principally in railroad and mining stocks, both of
which are subject to considerable fluctuation; and I have also
substantial holdings in industrial corporations. Some of these
companies I represent professionally. As a whole, however, my
investments may be regarded as fairly conservative. At any rate they
cause me little uneasiness.
My professional income is regular and comes with surprisingly little
effort. I have as clients six manufacturing corporations that pay me
retainers of twenty-five hundred dollars each, besides my regular fees
for services rendered. I also represent two banks and a trust company.
All this is fixed business and most of it is attended to by younger
men, whom I employ at moderate salaries. I do almost no detail work
myself, and my junior partners relieve me of the drawing of even
important papers; so that, though I am constantly at my office, my time
is spent in advising and consulting.
I dictate all my letters and rarely take a pen in my hand. Writing
has become laborious and irksome. I even sign my correspondence with an
ingenious rubber stamp that imitates my scrawling signature beyond
discovery. If I wish to know the law on some given point I press a
button and tell my managing clerk what I want. In an hour or two he
hands me the authorities covering the issue in question in typewritten
form. It is extraordinarily simple and easy. Yet only yesterday I heard
of a middle-aged man, whom I knew to be a peculiarly well-equipped
all-around lawyer, who was ready to give up his private practice and
take a place in any reputable office at a salary of thirty-five hundred
Most of my own time is spent in untangling mixed puzzles of law and
fact, and my clients are comparatively few in number, though their
interests are large. Thus I see the same faces over and over again. I
lunch daily at a most respectable eating club; and here, too, I meet
the same men over and over again. I rarely make a new acquaintance
downtown; in fact I rarely leave my office during the day. If I need to
confer with any other attorney I telephone. There are dozens of lawyers
in New York whose voices I know well—yet whose faces I have never
My office is on the nineteenth floor of a white marble building, and
I can look down the harbor to the south and up the Hudson to the north.
I sit there in my window like a cliffdweller at the mouth of his cave.
When I walk along Wall Street I can look up at many other hundreds of
these caves, each with its human occupant. We leave our houses uptown,
clamber down into a tunnel called the Subway, are shot five miles or so
through the earth, and debouch into an elevator that rushes us up to
our caves. Only between my house and the entrance to the Subway am I
obliged to step into the open air at all. A curious life! And I sit in
my chair and talk to people in multitudes of other caves near by, or
caves in New Jersey, Washington or Chicago.
Louis XI used to be called “the human spider” by reason of his
industry, but we modern office men are far more like human spiders than
he, as we sit in the center of our webs of invisible wires. We wait and
wait, and our lines run out across the length and breadth of the
land—sometimes getting tangled, to be sure, so that it is frequently
difficult to decide just which spider owns the web; but we sit
patiently doing nothing save devising the throwing out of other lines.
We weave, but we do not build; we manipulate, buy, sell and lend,
quarrel over the proceeds, and cover the world with our nets, while the
ants and the bees of mankind labor, construct and manufacture, and
struggle to harness the forces of Nature. We plan and others execute.
We dicker, arrange, consult, cajole, bribe, pull our wires and extort;
but we do it all in one place—the center of our webs and the webs are
woven in our caves.
I figure that I spend about six hours each day in my office; that I
sleep nearly nine hours; that I am in transit on surface cars and in
subways at least one hour and a half more; that I occupy another hour
and a half in bathing, shaving and dressing, and an hour lunching at
midday. This leaves a margin of five hours a day for all other
Could even a small portion of this time be spent consecutively in
reading in the evening, I could keep pace with current thought and
literature much better than I do; or if I spent it with my son and
daughters I should know considerably more about them than I do now,
which is practically nothing. But the fact is that every evening from
the first of November to the first of May the motor comes to the door
at five minutes to eight and my wife and I are whirled up or down town
to a dinner party—that is, save on those occasions when eighteen or
twenty people are whirled to us.
* * * * *
This short recital of my daily activities is sufficient to
demonstrate that I lead an exceedingly narrow and limited existence. I
do not know any poor men, and even the charities in which I am
nominally interested are managed by little groups of rich ones. The
truth is, I learned thirty years ago that if one wants to make money
one must go where money is and cultivate the people who have it. I have
no petty legal business—there is nothing in it. If I cannot have
millionaires for clients I do not want any. The old idea that the young
country lawyer could shove a pair of socks into his carpetbag, come to
the great city, hang out his shingle and build up a practice has long
since been completely exploded. The best he can do now is to find a
clerkship at twelve hundred dollars a year.
Big business gravitates to the big offices; and when the big firms
look round for junior partners they do not choose the struggling though
brilliant young attorney from the country, no matter how large his
general practice may have become; but they go after the youth whose
father is a director in forty corporations or the president of a trust.
In the same way what time I have at my disposal to cultivate new
acquaintances I devote not to the merely rich and prosperous but to the
multi-millionaire—if I can find him—who does not even know the size
of his income. I have no time to waste on the man who is simply earning
enough to live quietly and educate his family. He cannot throw anything
worth while in my direction; but a single crumb from the magnate's
table may net me twenty or thirty thousand dollars. Thus, not only for
social but for business reasons, successful men affiliate habitually
only with rich people. I concede that is a rather sordid admission, but
it is none the truth.
* * * * *
Money is the symbol of success; it is what we are all striving to
get, and we naturally select the ways and means best adapted for the
purpose. One of the simplest is to get as near it as possible and stay
there. If I make a friend of a struggling doctor or professor he may
invite me to draw his will, which I shall either have to do for nothing
or else charge him fifty dollars for; but the railroad president with
whom I often lunch, and who is just as agreeable personally, may
perhaps ask me to reorganize a railroad. I submit that, selfish as it
all seems when I write it down, it would be hard to do otherwise.
I do not deliberately examine each new candidate for my friendship
and select or reject him in accordance with a financial test; but what
I do is to lead a social and business life that will constantly throw
me only with rich and powerful men. I join only rich men's clubs; I go
to resorts in the summer frequented only by rich people; and I play
only with those who can, if they will, be of advantage to me. I do not
do this deliberately; I do it instinctively—now. I suppose at one time
it was deliberate enough, but to-day it comes as natural as using my
automobile instead of a street car.
We have heard a great deal recently about a so-called Money Trust.
The truth of the matter is that the Money Trust is something vastly
greater than any mere aggregation of banks; it consists in our
fundamental trust in money. It is based on our instinctive and
ineradicable belief that money rules the destinies of mankind.
Everything is estimated by us in money. A man is worth so and so
much—in dollars. The millionaire takes precedence of everybody, except
at the White House. The rich have things their own way—and every one
knows it. Ashamed of it? Not at all. We are the greatest snobs in the
civilized world, and frankly so. We worship wealth because at present
we desire only the things wealth can buy.
The sea, the sky, the mountains, the clear air of autumn, the simple
sports and amusements of our youth and of the comparatively poor,
pleasures in books, in birds, in trees and flowers, are disregarded for
the fierce joys of acquisition, of the ownership in stocks and bonds,
or for the no less keen delight in the display of our own financial
superiority over our fellows.
We know that money is the key to the door of society. Without it our
sons will not get into the polo-playing set or our daughters figure in
the Sunday supplements. We want money to buy ourselves a position and
to maintain it after we have bought it.
We want house on the sunny side of the street, with facades of
graven marble; we want servants in livery and in buttons—or in powder
and breeches if possible; we want French chefs and the best wine and
tobacco, twenty people to dinner on an hour's notice, supper parties
and a little dance afterward at Sherry's or Delmonico's, a box at the
opera and for first nights at the theaters, two men in livery for our
motors, yachts and thirty-footers, shooting boxes in South Carolina,
salmon water in New Brunswick, and regular vacations, besides, at Hot
Springs, Aiken and Palm Beach; we want money to throw away freely and
like gentlemen at Canfield's, Bradley's and Monte Carlo; we want clubs,
country houses, saddle-horses, fine clothes and gorgeously dressed
women; we want leisure and laughter, and a trip or so to Europe every
year, our names at the top of the society column, a smile from the
grand dame in the tiara and a seat at her dinner table—these are the
things we want, and since we cannot have them without money we go after
the money first, as the sine qua non.
We want these things for ourselves and we want them for our
children. We hope our grandchildren will have them also, though about
that we do not care so much. We want ease and security and the relief
of not thinking whether we can afford to do things. We want to be lords
of creation and to pass creation on to our descendants, exactly as did
the nobility of the Ancien Regime.
At the present time money will buy anything, from a place in the
vestry of a swell church to a seat in the United States Senate—an
election to Congress, a judgeship or a post in the diplomatic service.
It will buy the favor of the old families or a decision in the courts.
Money is the controlling factor in municipal politics in New York. The
moneyed group of Wall Street wants an amenable mayor—a Tammany mayor
preferred—so that it can put through its contracts. You always know
where to find a regular politician. One always knew where to find Dick
Croker. So the Traction people pour the contents of their coffers into
the campaign bags.
Until very recently the Supreme Court judges of New York bought
their positions by making substantial contributions to the Tammany
treasury. The inferior judgeships went considerably cheaper. A man who
stood in with the Big Boss might get a bargain. I have done business
with politicians all my life and I have never found it necessary to
mince my words. If I wanted a favor I always asked exactly what it was
going to cost—and I always got the favor.
No one needs to hunt very far for cases where the power of money has
influenced the bench in recent times. The rich man can buy his son a
place in any corporation or manufacturing company. The young man may go
in at the bottom, but he will shoot up to the top in a year or two,
with surprising agility, over the heads of a couple of thousand other
and better men. The rich man can defy the law and scoff at justice;
while the poor man, who cannot pay lawyers for delay, goes to prison.
These are the veriest platitudes of demagogy, but they are
true—absolutely and undeniably true.
We know all this and we act accordingly, and our children imbibe a
like knowledge with their mother's or whatever other properly
sterilized milk we give them as a substitute. We, they and everybody
else know that if enough money can be accumulated the possessor will be
on Easy Street for the rest of his life—not merely the Easy Street of
luxury and comfort, but of security, privilege and power; and because
we like Easy Street rather than the Narrow Path we devote ourselves to
getting there in the quickest possible way.
We take no chances on getting our reward in the next world. We want
it here and now, while we are sure of it—on Broadway, at Newport or in
Paris. We do not fool ourselves any longer into thinking that by
self-sacrifice here we shall win happiness in the hereafter. That is
all right for the poor, wretched and disgruntled. Even the clergy are
prone to find heaven and hell in this world rather than in the life
after death; and the decay of faith leads us to feel that a purse of
gold in the hand is better than a crown of the same metal in the
by-and-by. We are after happiness, and to most of us money spells it.
The man of wealth is protected on every side from the dangers that
beset the poor. He can buy health and immunity from anxiety, and he can
install his children in the same impregnable position. The dust of his
motor chokes the citizen trudging home from work. He soars through life
on a cushioned seat, with shock absorbers to alleviate all the bumps.
No wonder we trust in money! We worship the golden calf far more than
ever did the Israelites beneath the crags of Sinai. The real Money
Trust is the tacit conspiracy by which those who have the money
endeavor to hang on to it and keep it among themselves. Neither at the
present time do great fortunes tend to dissolve as inevitably as
Oliver Wendell Holmes somewhere analyzes the rapid disintegration of
the substantial fortunes of his day and shows how it is, in fact, but
“three generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.” A fortune of two
hundred thousand dollars divided among four children, each of whose
share is divided among four grandchildren, becomes practically nothing
at all—in only two. But could the good doctor have observed the
tendencies of to-day he would have commented on a new phenomenon, which
almost counteracts the other.
It may be, and probably is, the fact that comparatively small
fortunes still tend to disintegrate. This was certainly the rule during
the first half of the nineteenth century in New England, when there was
no such thing as a distinctly moneyed class, and when the millionaire
was a creature only of romance. But when, as to-day, fortunes are so
large that it is impossible to spend or even successfully give away the
income from them, a new element is introduced that did not exist when
Doctor Holmes used to meditate in his study on the Back Bay overlooking
the placid Charles.
At the present time big fortunes are apt to gain by mere accretion
what they lose by division; and the owner of great wealth has
opportunities for investment undreamed of by the ordinary citizen who
must be content with interest at four per cent and no unearned
increment on his capital. This fact might of itself negative the
tendency of which he speaks; but there is a much more potent force
working against it as well. That is the absolute necessity, induced by
the demands of modern metropolitan life, of keeping a big fortune
together—or, if it must be divided, of rehabilitating it by marriage.
There was a time not very long ago when one rarely heard of a young
man or young woman of great wealth marrying anybody with an equal
fortune. To do so was regarded with disapproval, and still is in some
communities. To-day it is the rule instead of the exception. Now we
habitually speak in America of the “alliances of great families.” There
are two reasons for this—first, that being a multi-millionaire is
becoming, as it were, a sort of recognized profession, having its own
sports, its own methods of business and its own interests; second, that
the luxury of to-day is so enervating and insidious that a girl or
youth reared in what is called society cannot be comfortable, much less
happy, on the income of less than a couple of million dollars.
As seems to be demonstrated by the table of my own modest
expenditure in a preceding article, the income of but a million dollars
will not support any ordinary New York family in anything like the
luxury to which the majority of our young people—even the sons and
daughters of men in moderate circumstances—are accustomed.
Our young girls are reared on the choicest varieties of food, served
with piquant sauces to tempt their appetites; they are permitted to
pick and choose, and to refuse what they think they do not like; they
are carried to and from their schools, music and dancing lessons in
motors, and are taught to regard public conveyances as unhealthful and
inconvenient; they never walk; they are given clothes only a trifle
less fantastic and bizarre than those of their mothers, and command the
services of maids from their earliest years; they are taken to the
theater and the hippodrome, and for the natural pleasures of childhood
are given the excitement of the footlights and the arena.
As they grow older they are allowed to attend late dances that
necessitate remaining in bed the next morning until eleven or twelve
o'clock; they are told that their future happiness depends on their
ability to attract the right kind of man; they are instructed in every
art save that of being useful members of society; and in the ease,
luxury and vacuity with which they are surrounded their lives parallel
those of demi-mondaines. Indeed, save for the marriage ceremony, there
is small difference between them. The social butterfly flutters to the
millionaire as naturally as the night moth of the Tenderloin. Hence the
tendency to marry money is greater than ever before in the history of
Frugal, thrifty lives are entirely out of fashion. The solid,
self-respecting class, which wishes to associate with people of equal
means, is becoming smaller and smaller. If an ambitious mother cannot
afford to rent a cottage at Newport or Bar Harbor she takes her
daughter to a hotel or boarding house there, in the hope that she will
be thrown in contact with young men of wealth. The young girl in
question, whose father is perhaps a hardworking doctor or business man,
at home lives simply enough; but sacrifices are made to send her to a
fashionable school, where her companions fill her ears with stories of
their motors, trips to Europe, and the balls they attend during the
vacations. She becomes inoculated with the poison of social ambition
before she comes out.
Unable by reason of the paucity of the family resources to buy
luxuries for herself, she becomes a parasite and hanger-on of rich
girls. If she is attractive and vivacious so much the better. Like the
shopgirl blinded by the glare of Broadway, she flutters round the
drawing rooms and country houses of the ultra-rich seeking to make a
match that will put luxury within her grasp; but her chances are not so
good as formerly.
To-day the number of large fortunes has increased so rapidly that
the wealthy young man has no difficulty in choosing an equally wealthy
mate whose mental and physical attractions appear, and doubtless are,
quite as desirable as those of the daughter of poorer parents. The same
instinct to which I have confessed myself, as a professional man, is at
work among our daughters and sons. They may not actually judge
individuals by the sordid test of their ability to purchase ease and
luxury, but they take care to meet and associate with only those who
can do so.
In this their parents are their ofttimes unconscious accomplices.
The worthy young man of chance acquaintance is not invited to call—or,
if he is, is not pressed to stay to dinner. “Oh, he does not know our
crowd!” explains the girl to herself. The crowd, on analysis, will
probably be found to contain only the sons and daughters of fathers and
mothers who can entertain lavishly and settle a million or so on their
offspring at marriage.
There is a constant attraction of wealth for wealth. Poverty never
attracted anything. If our children have money of their own that is a
good reason to us why they should marry more money. We snarl angrily at
the penniless youth, no matter how capable and intelligent, who dares
cast his eyes on our daughter. We make it quite unambiguous that we
have other plans for her—plans that usually include a steam yacht and
a shooting box north of Inverness.
There is nothing more vicious than the commonly expressed desire of
parents in merely moderate circumstances to give their children what
are ordinarily spoken of as “opportunities.” “We wish our daughters to
have every opportunity—the best opportunities,” they say, meaning an
equal chance with richer girls of qualifying themselves for attracting
wealthy men and of placing themselves in their way. In reality
opportunities for what?—of being utterly miserable for the rest of
their lives unless they marry out of their own class.
The desire to get ahead that is transmitted from the American
business man to his daughter is the source of untold bitterness—for,
though he himself may fail in his own struggle, he has nevertheless had
the interest of the game; but she, an old maid, may linger miserably
on, unwilling to share the domestic life of some young man more than
her equal in every respect.
There is a subtle freemasonry among those who have to do with money.
Young men of family are given sinecures in banks and trust companies,
and paid many times the salaries their services are worth. The
inconspicuous lad who graduates from college the same year as one who
comes from a socially prominent family will slave in a downtown office
eight hours a day for a thousand dollars a year, while his classmate is
bowing in the ladies at the Fifth Avenue Branch—from ten to three
o'clock—at a salary of five thousand dollars. Why? Because he knows
people who have money and in one way or another may be useful sometime
to the president in a social way.
The remuneration of those of the privileged class who do any work at
all is on an entirely different basis from that of those who need it.
The poor boy is kept on as a clerk, while the rich one is taken into
the firm. The old adage says that “Kissing goes by favor”; and favors,
financial and otherwise, are given only to those who can offer
something in return. The tendency to concentrate power and wealth
extends even to the outer rim of the circle. It is an intangible
conspiracy to corner the good things and send the poor away empty. As I
see it going on round me, it is a heartless business.
Society is like an immense swarm of black bees settled on a
honey-pot. The leaders, who flew there first, are at the top, gorged
and distended. Round, beneath and on them crawl thousands of others
thirsting to feed on the sweet, liquid gold. The pot is covered with
them, layer on layer—buzzing hungrily; eager to get as near as
possible to the honey, even if they may not taste it. A drop falls on
one and a hundred fly on him and lick it off. The air is alive with
those who are circling about waiting for an advantageous chance to
wedge in between their comrades. They will, with one accord, sting to
death any hapless creature who draws near.
* * * * *
Frankly I should not be enough of a man to say these things if my
identity were disclosed, however much they ought to be said. Neither
should I make the confessions concerning my own career that are to
follow; for, though they may evidence a certain shrewdness on my own
part, I do not altogether feel that they are to my credit.
When my wife and I first came to New York our aims and ideals were
simple enough. I had letters to the head of a rather well-known firm on
Wall Street and soon found myself its managing clerk at one hundred
dollars a month. The business transacted in the office was big
business—corporation work, the handling of large estates, and so on.
During three years I was practically in charge of and responsible for
the details of their litigations; the net profit divided by the two
actual members of the firm was about one hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. The gross was about one hundred and eighty thousand, of which
twenty thousand went to defray the regular office expenses—including
rent, stenographers and ordinary law clerks—while ten thousand was
divided among the three men who actually did most of the work.
The first of these was a highly trained lawyer about forty-five
years of age, who could handle anything from a dog-license matter
before a police justice to the argument of a rebate case in the United
States Supreme Court. He was paid forty-five hundred dollars a year and
was glad to get it. He was the active man of the office. The second man
received thirty-five hundred dollars, and for that sum furnished all
the special knowledge needed in drafting railroad mortgages and
intricate legal documents of all sorts. The third was a chap of about
thirty who tried the smaller cases and ran the less important
The two heads of the firm devoted most of their time to mixing with
bankers, railroad officials and politicians, and spent comparatively
little of it at the office; but they got the business—somehow. I
suppose they found it because they went out after it. It was doubtless
quite legitimate. Somebody must track down the game before the hunter
can do the shooting. At any rate they managed to find plenty of it and
furnished the work for the other lawyers to do.
I soon made up my mind that in New York brains were a pretty cheap
commodity. I was anxious to get ahead; but there was no opening in the
firm and there were others ready to take my place the moment it should
become vacant. I was a pretty fair lawyer and had laid by in the bank
nearly a thousand dollars; so I went to the head of the firm and made
the proposition that I should work at the office each day until one
o'clock and be paid half of what I was then getting—that is, fifty
dollars a month. In the afternoons an understudy should sit at my desk,
while I should be free.
I then suggested that the firm might divide with me the proceeds of
any business I should bring in. My offer was accepted; and the same
afternoon I went to the office of a young stockbroker I knew and stayed
there until three o'clock. The next day I did the same thing, and the
day after. I did not buy any stocks, but I made myself agreeable to the
group about the ticker and formed the acquaintance of an elderly
German, who was in the chewing-gum business and who amused himself
playing the market.
It was not long before he invited me to lunch with him and I took
every opportunity to impress him with my legal acumen. He had a lawyer
of his own already, but I soon saw that the impression I was making
would have the effect I desired; and presently, as I had confidently
expected, he gave me a small legal matter to attend to. Needless to say
it was accomplished with care, celerity and success. He gave me
another. For six months I dogged that old German's steps every day from
one o'clock in the afternoon until twelve at night. I walked, talked,
drank beer and played pinochle with him, sat in his library in the
evenings, and took him and his wife to the theater.
At the end of that period he discharged his former attorney and
retained me. The business was easily worth thirty-five hundred dollars
a year, and within a short time the Chicle Trust bought out his
interests and I became a director in it and one of its attorneys.
I had already severed my connection with the firm and had opened an
office of my own. Among the directors in the trust with whom I was
thrown were a couple of rich young men whose fathers had put them on
the board merely for purposes of representation. These I cultivated
with the same assiduity as I had used with the German. I spent my
entire time gunning for big game. I went after the elephants and let
the sparrows go. It was only a month or so before my acquaintance with
these two boys—for they were little else—had ripened into friendship.
My wife and I were invited to visit at their houses and I was placed in
contact with their fathers. From these I soon began to get business. I
have kept it—kept it to myself. I have no real partners to steal it
away from me.
I am now the same kind of lawyer as the two men who composed the
firm for which I slaved at a hundred dollars a month. I find the work
for my employees to do. I am now an exploiter of labor. It is hardly
necessary for me to detail the steps by which I gradually acquired what
is known as a gilt-edged practice; but it was not by virtue of my legal
abilities, though they are as good as the average. I got it by putting
myself in the eye of rich people in every way open to me. I even joined
a fashionable church—it pains me to write this—for the sole purpose
of becoming a member of the vestry and thus meeting on an intimate
footing the half-dozen millionaire merchants who composed it. One of
them gave me his business, made me his trustee and executor; and then I
resigned from the vestry.
I always made myself persona grata to those who could help me
along, wore the best clothes I could buy, never associated with shabby
people, and appeared as much as possible in the company of my financial
betters. It was the easier for me to do this because my name was not
Irish, German or Hebraic. I had a good appearance, manners and an
agreeable gloss of culture and refinement. I was tactful, considerate,
and tried to strike a personal note in my intercourse with people who
were worth while; in fact I made it a practice—and still do so—to
send little mementos to my newer acquaintances—a book or some such
trifle—with a line expressing my pleasure at having met them.
I know a considerable number of doctors, as well as lawyers, who
have built up lucrative practices by making love to their female
clients and patients. That I never did; but I always made it a point to
flatter any women I took in to dinner, and I am now the trustee or
business adviser for at least half a dozen wealthy widows as a direct
One reason for my success is, I discovered very early in the game
that no woman believes she really needs a lawyer. She consults an
attorney not for the purpose of getting his advice, but for sympathy
and his approval of some course she has already decided on and perhaps
already followed. A lawyer who tells a woman the truth thereby loses a
client. He has only to agree with her and compliment her on her
astuteness and sagacity to intrench himself forever in her confidence.
A woman will do what she wants to do—every time. She goes to a
lawyer to explain why she intends to do it. She wants to have a man
about on whom she can put the blame if necessary, and is willing to
pay—moderately—for the privilege. She talks to a lawyer when no one
else is willing to listen to her, and thoroughly enjoys herself. He is
the one man who—unless he is a fool—cannot talk back.
Another fact to which I attribute a good deal of my professional
eclat is, that I never let any of my social friends forget that I was a
lawyer as well as a good fellow; and I always threw a hearty bluff at
being prosperous, even when a thousand or two was needed to cover the
overdraft in my bank account. It took me about ten years to land myself
firmly among the class to which I aspired, and ten years more to make
that place impregnable.
To-day we are regarded as one of the older if not one of the old
families in New York. I no longer have to lick anybody's boots, and
until I began to pen these memoirs I had really forgotten that I ever
had. Things come my way now almost of themselves. All I have to do is
to be on hand in my office—cheerful, hospitable, with a good story or
so always on tap. My junior force does the law work. Yet I challenge
anybody to point out anything dishonorable in those tactics by which I
first got my feet on the lower rungs of the ladder of success.
It may perhaps be that I should prefer to write down here the story
of how, simply by my assiduity and learning, I acquired such a
reputation for a knowledge of the law that I was eagerly sought out by
a horde of clamoring clients who forced important litigations on me.
Things do not happen that way in New York to-day.
Should a young man be blamed for getting on by the easiest way he
can? Life is too complex; the population too big. People have no
accurate means of finding out who the really good lawyers or doctors
are. If you tell them you are at the head of your profession they are
apt to believe you, particularly if you wear a beard and are surrounded
by an atmosphere of solemnity. Only a man's intimate circle knows where
he is or what he is doing at any particular time.
I remember a friend of mine who was an exceedingly popular member of
one of the exclusive Fifth Avenue clubs, and who, after going to Europe
for a short vacation, decided to remain abroad for a couple of years.
At the end of that time he returned to New York hungry for his old life
and almost crazy with delight at seeing his former friends. Entering
the club about five o'clock he happened to observe one of them sitting
by the window. He approached him enthusiastically, slapped him on the
shoulder, extended his hand and cried:
“Hello, old man! It's good to see you again!”
The other man looked at him in a puzzled sort of way without moving.
“Hello, yourself!” he remarked languidly. “It's good to see you, all
right—but why make so much damned fuss about it?”
The next sentence interchanged between the two developed the fact
that he was totally ignorant that his friend had been away at all. This
is by no means a fantastic illustration. It happens every day. That is
one of the joys of living in New York. You can get drunk, steal a
million or so, or run off with another man's wife—and no one will hear
about it until you are ready for something else. In such a community it
is not extraordinary that most people are taken at their face value.
Life moves at too rapid a pace to allow us to find out much about
anybody—even our friends. One asks other people to dinner simply
because one has seen them at somebody's else house.
I found it at first very difficult—in fact almost impossible—to
spur my wife on to a satisfactory cooperation with my efforts to make
the hand of friendship feed the mouth of business. She rather
indignantly refused to meet my chewing-gum client or call on his wife.
She said she preferred to keep her self-respect and stay in the
boarding-house where we had resided since we moved to the city; but I
demonstrated to her by much argument that it was worse than snobbish
not to be decently polite to one's business friends. It was not their
fault if they were vulgar. One might even help them to enlarge their
lives. Gradually she came round; and as soon as the old German had
given me his business she was the first to suggest moving to an
apartment hotel uptown.
For a long time, however, she declined to make any genuine social
effort. She knew two or three women from our neighborhood who were
living in the city, and she used to go and sit with them in the
afternoons and sew and help take care of the children. She said they
and their husbands were good enough for her and that she had no
aspirations toward society. An evening at the theater—in the
balcony—every two weeks or so, and a rubber of whist on Saturday
night, with a chafing-dish supper afterward, was all the excitement she
needed. That was twenty-five years ago. To-day it is I who would put on
the brakes, while she insists on shoveling soft coal into the social
Her metamorphosis was gradual but complete. I imagine that her first
reluctance to essay an acquaintance with society arose out of
embarrassment and bashfulness. At any rate she no sooner discovered how
small a bluff was necessary for success than she easily outdid me in
the ingenuity and finesse of her social strategy. It seemed to be
instinctive with her. She was always revising her calling lists and
cutting out people who were no longer socially useful; and having got
what she could out of a new acquaintance, she would forget her as
completely as if she had never made her the confidante of her inmost
thoughts about other and less socially desirable people.
It seems a bit cold-blooded—this criticism of one's wife; but I
know that, however much of a sycophant I may have been in my younger
days, my wife has outdone me since then. Presently we were both in the
swim, swept off our feet by the current and carried down the river of
success, willy-nilly, toward its mouth—to a safe haven, I wonder, or
the deluge of a devouring cataract?
* * * * *
The methods I adopted are those in general use, either consciously
or unconsciously, among people striving for success in business,
politics or society in New York. It is a struggle for existence,
precisely like that which goes on in the animal world. Only those who
have strength or cunning survive to achieve success. Might makes right
to an extent little dreamed of by most of us. Nobody dares to censure
or even mildly criticize one who has influence enough to do him harm.
We are interested only in safeguarding or adding to the possessions we
have already secured. We are wise enough to “play safe.” To antagonize
one who might assist in depriving us of some of them is contrary to the
laws of Nature.
Our thoughts are for ourselves and our children alone. The devil
take everybody else! We are safe, warm and comfortable ourselves; we
exist without actual labor; and we desire our offspring to enjoy the
same ease and safety. The rest of mankind is nothing to us, except a
few people it is worth our while to be kind to—personal servants and
employees. We should not hesitate to break all ten of the Commandments
rather than that we and our children should lose a few material
comforts. Anything, save that we should have really to work for a
There are essentially two sorts of work: first—genuine labor, which
requires all a man's concentrated physical or mental effort; and
second—that work which takes the laborer to his office at ten o'clock
and, after an easy-going administrative morning, sets him at liberty at
three or four.
The officer of an uptown trust company or bank is apt to belong to
the latter class. Or perhaps one is in real estate and does business at
the dinner tables of his friends. He makes love and money at the same
time. His salary and commissions correspond somewhat to the unearned
increment on the freeholds in which he deals. These are minor
illustrations, but a majority of the administrative positions in our
big corporations carry salaries out of all proportion to the services
These are the places my friends are all looking for—for themselves
or their children. The small stockholder would not vote the president
of his company a salary of one hundred thousand dollars a year, or the
vice-president fifty thousand dollars; but the rich man who controls
the stock is willing to give his brother or his nephew a soft snap.
From what I know of corporate enterprise in these United States, God
save the minority stockholder! But we and our brothers and sons and
nephews must live—on Easy Street. We must be able to give expensive
dinners and go to the theater and opera, and take our families to
Europe—and we can't do it without money.
We must be able to keep up our end without working too hard, to be
safe and warm, well fed and smartly turned out, and able to call in a
specialist and a couple of trained nurses if one of the children falls
ill; we want thirty-five feet of southerly exposure instead of
seventeen, menservants instead of maid-servants, and a new motor every
We do not object to working—that is to say, we pride ourselves on
having a job. We like to be moderately busy. We would not have enough
to amuse us all day if we did not go to the office in the morning; but
what we do is not work! It is occupation perhaps—but there is
no labor about it, either of mind or body. It is a sinecure—a “cinch.”
We could stay at home and most of us would not be missed. It is not the
seventy-five-hundred-dollar-a-year vice-president but the
eight-hundred-and-fifty-dollar clerk for want of whom the machine would
stop if he were sick. Our labor is a kind of masculine light housework.
We probably have private incomes, thanks to our fathers or great
uncles—not large enough to enable us to cut much of a dash, to be
sure, but sufficient to give us confidence—and the proceeds of our
daily toil, such as it is, go toward the purchase of luxuries merely.
Because we are in business we are able to give bigger and more elegant
dinner parties, go to Palm Beach in February, and keep saddle-horses;
but we should be perfectly secure without working at all.
Hence we have a sense of independence about it. We feel as if it
were rather a favor on our part to be willing to go into an office; and
we expect to be paid vastly more proportionately than the fellow who
needs the place in order to live: so we cut him out of it at a salary
three times what he would have been paid had he got the job, while he
keeps on grinding at the books as a subordinate. We come down late and
go home early, drop in at the club and go out to dinner, take in the
opera, wear furs, ride in automobiles, and generally boss the show—for
the sole reason that we belong to the crowd who have the money. Very
likely if we had not been born with it we should die from malnutrition,
or go to Ward's Island suffering from some variety of melancholia
brought on by worry over our inability to make a living.
I read the other day the true story of a little East Side tailor who
could not earn enough to support himself and his wife. He became
half-crazed from lack of food and together they resolved to commit
suicide. Somehow he secured a small 22-caliber rook rifle and a couple
of cartridges. The wife knelt down on the bed in her nightgown, with
her face to the wall, and repeated a prayer while he shot her in the
back. When he saw her sink to the floor dead he became so unnerved
that, instead of turning the rifle on himself, he ran out into the
street, with chattering teeth, calling for help.
This tragedy was absolutely the result of economic conditions, for
the man was a hardworking and intelligent fellow, who could not find
employment and who went off his head from lack of nourishment.
Now “I put it to you,” as they say in the English law courts, how
much of a personal sacrifice would you have made to prevent this
tragedy? What would that little East Side Jewess' life have been worth
to you? She is dead. Her soul may or may not be with God. As a suicide
the Church would say it must be in hell. Well, how much would you have
done to preserve her life or keep her soul out of hell?
Frankly, would you have parted with five hundred dollars to save
that woman's life? Five hundred dollars? Let me tell you that you would
not voluntarily have given up smoking cigars for one year to avoid that
tragedy! Of course you would have if challenged to do so. If the fact
that the killing could be avoided in some such way or at a certain
price, and the discrepancy between the cost and the value of the life
were squarely brought to your particular attention, you might and
probably would do something. How much is problematical.
Let us do you the credit of saying that you would give five hundred
dollars—and take it out of some other charity. But what if you were
given another chance to save a life for five hundred dollars?
All right; you will save that too. Now a third! You hesitate. That will
be spending fifteen hundred dollars—a good deal. Still you decide to
do it. Yet how embarrassing! You find an opportunity to save a fourth,
a fifth—a hundred lives at the same price! What are you going to do?
We all of us have such a chance in one way or another. The answer is
that, in spite of the admonition of Christ to sell our all and give to
the poor, and others of His teachings as contained in the Sermon on the
Mount, you probably, in order to save the lives of persons unknown to
you, would not sacrifice a single substantial material comfort for one
year; and that your impulse to save the lives of persons actually
brought to your knowledge would diminish, fade away and die in direct
proportion to the necessity involved of changing your present luxurious
mode of life.
Do you know any rich woman who would sacrifice her automobile in
order to send convalescents to the country? She may be a very
charitable person and in the habit of sending such people to places
where they are likely to recover health; but, no matter how many she
actually sends, there would always be eight or ten more who could share
in that blessed privilege if she gave up her motor and used the money
for the purpose. Yet she does not do so and you do not do so; and, to
be quite honest, you would think her a fool if she did.
What an interesting thing it would be if we could see the mental
processes of some one of our friends who, unaware of our knowledge of
his thoughts, was confronted with the opportunity of saving a life or
accomplishing a vast good at a great sacrifice of his worldly
Suppose, for instance, he could save his own child by spending fifty
thousand dollars in doctors, hospitals and nurses. Of course he would
do so without a moment's hesitation, even if that was his entire
fortune. But suppose the child were a nephew? We see him waver a
little. A cousin—there is a distinct pause. Shall he pauperize himself
just for a cousin? How about a mere social acquaintance? Not much! He
might in a moment of excitement jump overboard to save somebody from
drowning; but it would have to be a dear friend or close relative to
induce him to go to the bank and draw out all the money he had in the
world to save that same life.
The cities are full of lives that can be saved simply by spending a
little money; but we close our eyes and, with our pocket-books clasped
tight in our hands, pass by on the other side. Why? Not because we do
not wish to deprive ourselves of the necessaries of life or even of its
solid comforts, but because we are not willing to surrender our
amusements. We want to play and not to work. That is what we are
doing, what we intend to keep on doing, and what we plan to have our
children do after us.
Brotherly love? How can there be such a thing when there is a single
sick baby dying for lack of nutrition—a single convalescent
suffocating for want of country air—a single family without fire or
blankets? Suggest to your wife that she give up a dinner gown and use
the money to send a tubercular office boy to the Adirondacks—and
listen to her excuses! Is there not some charitable organization that
does such things? Has not his family the money? How do you know he
really has consumption? Is he a good boy? And finally: “Well,
one can't send every sick boy to the country; if one did there would be
no money left to bring up one's own children.” She hesitates—and the
boy dies perhaps! So long as we do not see them dying, we do not really
care how many people die.
Our altruism, such as it is, has nothing abstract about it. The
successful man does not bother himself about things he cannot see. Do
not talk about foreign missions to him. Try his less successful
brother—the man who is not successful because you can talk over
with him foreign missions or even more idealistic matters; who is a
failure because he will make sacrifices for a principle.
It is all a part of our materialism. Real sympathy costs too much
money; so we try not to see the miserable creatures who might be
restored to health for a couple of hundred dollars. A couple of hundred
dollars? Why, you could take your wife to the theater forty times—once
a week during the entire season—for that sum!
Poor people make sacrifices; rich ones do not. There is very little
real charity among successful people. A man who wasted his time helping
others would never get on himself.
* * * * *
It will, of course, be said in reply that the world is full of
charitable institutions supported entirely by the prosperous and
successful. That is quite true; but it must be remembered that they are
small proof in themselves of the amount of real self-sacrifice and
genuine charity existing among us.
Philanthropy is largely the occupation of otherwise ineffective
people, or persons who have nothing else to do, or of retired
capitalists who like the notoriety and laudation they can get in no
other way. But, even with philanthropy to amuse him, an idle
multi-millionaire in these United States has a pretty hard time of it.
He is generally too old to enjoy society and is not qualified to make
himself a particularly agreeable companion, even if his manners would
pass muster at Newport. Politics is too strenuous. Desirable diplomatic
posts are few and the choicer ones still require some dignity or
educational qualification in the holders. There is almost nothing left
but to haunt the picture sales or buy a city block and order the
construction of a French chateau in the middle of it.
I know one of these men intimately; in fact I am his attorney and
helped him make a part of his money. At sixty-four he retired—that is,
he ceased endeavoring to increase his fortune by putting up the price
of foodstuffs and other commodities, or by driving competitors out of
business. Since then he has been utterly wretched. He would like to be
in society and dispense a lavish hospitality, but he cannot speak the
language of the drawing room. His opera box stands stark and empty. His
house, filled with priceless treasures fit for the Metropolitan Museum,
is closed nine months in the year.
His own wants are few. His wife is a plain woman, who used to do her
own cooking and, in her heart, would like to do it still. He knows
nothing of the esthetic side of life and is too old to learn. Once a
month, in the season, we dine at his house, with a mixed company, in a
desert of dining room at a vast table loaded with masses of gold plate.
The peaches are from South Africa; the strawberries from the Riviera.
His chef ransacks the markets for pheasants, snipe, woodcock, Egyptian
quail and canvasbacks. And at enormous distances from each other—so
that the table may be decently full—sit, with their wives, his family
doctor, his clergyman, his broker, his secretary, his lawyer, and a few
of the more presentable relatives—a merry party! And that is what he
has striven, fought and lied for for fifty years.
Often he has told me of the early days, when he worked from seven
until six, and then studied in night school until eleven; and of the
later ones when he and his wife lived, like ourselves, in a Fourteenth
Street lodging house and saved up to go to the theater once a month. As
a young man he swore he would have a million before he died. Sunday
afternoons he would go up to the Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue and,
shaking his fist before the ornamental iron railing, whisper savagely
that he would own just such a house himself some day. When he got his
million he was going to retire. But he got his million at the age of
forty-five, and it looked too small and mean; he would have ten—then
he would stop!
By fifty-five he had his ten millions. It was comparatively easy, I
believe, for him to get it. But still he was not satisfied. Now he has
twenty. But apart from his millions, his house and his pictures, which
are bought for him by an agent on a salary of ten thousand dollars a
year, he has nothing! I dine with him out of charity.
Well, recently Johnson has gone into charity himself. I am told he
has given away two millions! That is an exact tenth of his fortune. He
is a religious man—in this respect he has outdone most of his brother
millionaires. However, he still has an income of over a million a
year—enough to satisfy most of his modest needs. Yet the frugality of
a lifetime is hard to overcome, and I have seen Johnson walk
home—seven blocks—in the rain from his club rather than take a cab,
when the same evening he was giving his dinner guests peaches that
cost—in December—two dollars and seventy-five cents apiece.
The question is: How far have Johnson's two millions made him a
charitable man? I confess that, so far as I can see, giving them up did
not cost him the slightest inconvenience. He merely bought a few
hundred dollars' worth of reputation—as a charitable millionaire—at a
cost of two thousand thousand dollars. It was—commercially—a
miserable bargain. Only a comparatively few people of the five million
inhabitants of the city of New York ever heard of Johnson or his
hospital. Now that it has been built, he is no longer interested. I do
not believe he actually got as much satisfaction out of his
two-million-dollar investment as he would get out of an evening at the
Hippodrome; but who can say that he is not charitable?
* * * * *
I lay stress on this matter of charity because essentially the
charitable man is the good man. And by good we mean one who is of value
to others as contrasted with one who is working, as most of us are,
only for his own pocket all the time. He is the man who is such an
egoist that he looks on himself as a part of the whole world and a
brother to the rest of mankind. He has really got an exaggerated ego
and everybody else profits by it in consequence.
He believes in abstract principles of virtue and would die for them;
he recognizes duties and will struggle along, until he is a worn-out,
penniless old man, to perform them. He goes out searching for those who
need help and takes a chance on their not being deserving. Many a poor
chap has died miserably because some rich man has judged that he was
not deserving of help. I forget what Lazarus did about the thirsty
gentleman in Hades—probably he did not regard him as deserving either.
With most of us a charitable impulse is like the wave made by a
stone thrown into a pool—it gets fainter and fainter the farther it
has to go. Generally it does not go the length of a city block. It is
not enough that there is a starving cripple across the way—he must be
on your own doorstep to rouse any interest. When we invest any of our
money in charity we want twenty per cent interest, and we want it
quarterly. We also wish to have a list of the stockholders made public.
A man who habitually smokes two thirty-cent cigars after dinner will
drop a quarter into the plate on Sunday and think he is a good
The truth of the matter is that whatever instinct leads us to
contribute toward the alleviation of the obvious miseries of the poor
should compel us to go further and prevent those miseries—or as many
of them as we can—from ever arising at all.
So far as I am concerned, the division of goodness into seven or
more specific virtues is purely arbitrary. Virtue is generic. A man is
either generous or mean—unselfish or selfish. The unselfish man is the
one who is willing to inconvenience or embarrass himself, or to deprive
himself of some pleasure or profit for the benefit of others, either
now or hereafter.
By the same token, now that I have given thought to the matter, I
confess that I am a selfish man—at bottom. Whatever generosity I
possess is surface generosity. It would not stand the acid test of
self-interest for a moment. I am generous where it is worth my
while—that is all; but, like everybody else in my class, I have no
generosity so far as my social and business life is concerned. I am
willing to inconvenience myself somewhat in my intimate relations with
my family or friends, because they are really a part of me—and,
anyway, not to do so would result, one way or another, in even greater
inconvenience to me.
Once outside my own house, however, I am out for myself and nobody
else, however much I may protest that I have all the civic virtues and
deceive the public into thinking I have. What would become of me if I
did not look out for my own interests in the same way my associates
look out for theirs? I should be lost in the shuffle. The Christian
virtues may be proclaimed from every pulpit and the Banner of the Cross
fly from every housetop; but in business it is the law of evolution and
not the Sermon on the Mount that controls.
The rules of the big game are the same as those of the Roman
amphitheater. There is not even a pretense that the same code of morals
can obtain among corporations and nations as among private individuals.
Then why blame the individuals? It is just a question of dog eat dog.
We are all after the bone.
No corporation would shorten the working day except by reason of
self-interest or legal compulsion. No business man would attack an
abuse that would take money out of his own pocket. And no one of us,
except out of revenge or pique, would publicly criticize or condemn a
man influential enough to do us harm. The political Saint George
usually hopes to jump from the back of the dead dragon of municipal
corruption into the governor's chair.
We have two standards of conduct—the ostensible and the actual. The
first is a convention—largely literary. It is essentially merely a
matter of manners—to lubricate the wheels of life. The genuine sphere
of its influence extends only to those with whom we have actual
contact; so that a breach of it would be embarrassing to us. Within
this qualified circle we do business as “Christians &Company, Limited.”
Outside this circle we make a bluff at idealistic standards, but are
guided only by the dictates of self-interest, judged almost entirely by
I admit, however, that, though I usually act from selfish motives, I
would prefer to act generously if I could do so without financial loss.
That is about the extent of my altruism, though I concede an
omnipresent consciousness of what is abstractly right and what is
wrong. Occasionally, but very rarely, I even blindly follow this
instinct irrespective of consequences.
There have been times when I have been genuinely self-sacrificing.
Indeed I should unhesitatingly die for my son, my daughters—and
probably for my wife. I have frequently suffered financial loss rather
than commit perjury or violate my sense of what is right. I have called
this sense an instinct, but I do not pretend to know what it is.
Neither can I explain its origin. If it is anything it is probably
utilitarian; but it does not go very far. I have manners rather than
Fundamentally I am honest, because to be honest is one of the rules
of the game I play. If I were caught cheating I should not be allowed
to participate. Honesty from this point of view is so obviously the
best policy that I have never yet met a big man in business who was
crooked. Mind you, they were most of them pirates—frankly flying the
black flag and each trying to scuttle the other's ships; but their word
was as good as their bond and they played the game squarely, according
to the rules. Men of my class would no more stoop to petty dishonesties
than they would wear soiled linen. The word lie is not in their mutual
language. They may lie to the outside public—I do not deny that they
do—but they do not lie to each other.
There has got to be some basis on which they can do business with
one another—some stability. The spoils must be divided evenly. Good
morals, like good manners, are a necessity in our social relations.
They are the uncodified rules of conduct among gentlemen. Being
uncodified, they are exceedingly vague; and the court of Public Opinion
that administers them is apt to be not altogether impartial. It is a
“respecter of persons.”
One man can get away with things that another man will hang for. A
Jean Valjean will steal a banana and go to the Island, while some rich
fellow will put a bank in his pocket and everybody will treat it as a
joke. A popular man may get drunk and not be criticized for it; but the
sour chap who does the same thing is flung out of the club. There is
little justice in the arbitrary decisions of society at large.
In a word we exact a degree of morality from our fellowmen precisely
in proportion to its apparent importance to ourselves. It is a purely
practical and even a rather shortsighted matter with us. Our friend's
private conduct, so far as it does not concern us, is an affair of
small moment. He can be as much of a roue as he chooses, so long as he
respects our wives and daughters. He can put through a gigantic
commercial robbery and we will acclaim his nerve and audacity, provided
he is on the level with ourselves. That is the reason why cheating
one's club members at cards is regarded as worse than stealing the
funds belonging to widows and orphans.
So long as a man conducts himself agreeably in his daily intercourse
with his fellows they are not going to put themselves out very greatly
to punish him for wrongdoing that does not touch their own bank
accounts or which merely violates their private ethical standards.
Society is crowded with people who have been guilty of one detestable
act, have got thereby on Easy Street and are living happily ever after.
I meet constantly fifteen or twenty men who have deliberately
married women for their money—of course without telling them so.
According to our professed principles this is—to say the
least—obtaining money under false pretenses—a crime under the
statutes. These men are now millionaires. They are crooks and swindlers
of the meanest sort. Had they not married in this fashion they could
not have earned fifteen hundred dollars a year; but everybody goes to
their houses and eats their dinners.
There are others, equally numerous, who acquired fortunes by
blackmailing corporations or by some deal that at the time of its
accomplishment was known to be crooked. To-day they are received on the
same terms as men who have been honest all their lives. Society is not
particular as to the origin of its food supply. Though we might refuse
to steal money ourselves we are not unwilling to let the thief spend it
on us. We are too busy and too selfish to bother about trying to punish
those who deserve punishment.
On the contrary we are likely to discover surprising virtues in the
most unpromising people. There are always extenuating circumstances.
Indeed, in those rare instances where, in the case of a rich man, the
social chickens come home to roost, the reason his fault is not
overlooked is usually so arbitrary or fortuitous that it almost seems
an injustice that he should suffer when so many others go scot-free for
Society has no conscience, and whatever it has as a substitute is
usually stimulated only by motives of personal vengeance. It is easier
to gloss over an offense than to make ourselves disagreeable and
We have not even the public spirit to have a thief arrested and
appear against him in court if he has taken from us only a small amount
of money. It is too much trouble. Only when our pride is hurt do we
call loudly on justice and honor.
Even revenge is out of fashion. It requires too much effort. Few of
us have enough principle to make ourselves uncomfortable in attempting
to show disapproval toward wrongdoers. Were this not so, the wicked
would not be still flourishing like green bay trees. So long as one
steals enough he can easily buy our forgiveness. Honesty is not the
best policy—except in trifles.
CHAPTER VI. MY FUTURE
When I began to pen these wandering confessions—or whatever they
may properly be called—it was with the rather hazy purpose of
endeavoring to ascertain why it was that I, universally conceded to be
a successful man, was not happy. As I reread what I have written I
realize that, instead of being a successful man in any way, I am an
The preceding pages need no comment. The facts speak for themselves.
I had everything in my favor at the start. I had youth, health, natural
ability, a good wife, friends and opportunity; but I blindly accepted
the standards of the men I saw about me and devoted my energies to the
achievement of the single object that was theirs—the getting of money.
Thirty years have gone by. I have been a leader in the race and I
have secured a prize. But at what cost? I am old—a bundle of
undesirable habits; my health is impaired; my wife has become a
frivolous and extravagant woman; I have no real friends: my children
are strangers to me, and I have no home. I have no interest in my
family, my social acquaintances, or in the affairs of the city or
nation. I take no sincere pleasure in art or books or outdoor life. The
only genuine satisfaction that is mine is in the first fifteen-minutes'
flush after my afternoon cocktail and the preliminary course or two of
my dinner. I have nothing to look forward to. No matter how much money
I make, there is no use to which I can put it that will increase my
From a material standpoint I have achieved everything I can possibly
desire. No king or emperor ever approximated the actual luxury of my
daily life. No one ever accomplished more apparent work with less
actual personal effort. I am a master at the exploitation of
I have motors, saddle-horses, and a beautiful summer cottage at a
cool and fashionable resort. I travel abroad when the spirit moves me;
I entertain lavishly and am entertained in return; I smoke the
costliest cigars; I have a reputation at the bar, and I have an
established income large enough to sustain at least sixty intelligent
people and their families in moderate comfort. This must be true, for
on the one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month I pay my chauffeur
he supports a wife and two children, sends them to school and on a
three-months' vacation into the country during the summer. And, instead
of all these things giving me any satisfaction, I am miserable and
The fact that I now realize the selfishness of my life led me to-day
to resolve to do something for others—and this resolve had an
unexpected and surprising consequence.
Heretofore I had been engaged in an introspective study of my own
attitude toward my fellows. I had not sought the evidence of outside
parties. What has just occurred has opened my eyes to the fact that
others have not been nearly so blind as I have been myself.
James Hastings, my private secretary, is a man of about forty-five
years of age. He has been in my employ fifteen years. He is a fine type
of man and deserves the greatest credit for what he has accomplished.
Beginning life as an office boy at three dollars a week, he educated
himself by attending school at night, learned stenography and
typewriting, and has become one of the most expert law stenographers in
Wall Street. I believe that, without being a lawyer, he knows almost as
much law as I do.
Gradually I have raised his wages until he is now getting fifty
dollars a week. In addition to this he does night-work at the Bar
Association at double rates, acts as stenographer at legal references,
and does, I understand, some trifling literary work besides. I suppose
he earns from thirty-five hundred to five thousand dollars a year.
About thirteen years ago he married one of the woman stenographers in
the office—a nice girl she was too—and now they have a couple of
children. He lives somewhere in the country and spends an
unconscionable time on the train daily, yet he is always on hand at an
What happened to-day was this: A peculiarly careful piece of work
had been done in the way of looking up a point of corporation law, and
I inquired who was responsible for briefing it. Hastings smiled and
said he had done so. As I looked at him it suddenly dawned on me that
this man might make real money if he studied for the bar and started in
practice for himself. He had brains and an enormous capacity for work.
I should dislike losing so capable a secretary, but it would be doing
him a good turn to let him know what I thought; and it was time that I
did somebody a good turn from an unselfish motive.
“Hastings,” I said, “you're too good to be merely a stenographer.
Why don't you study law and make some money? I'll keep you here in my
office, throw things in your way and push you along. What do you say?”
He flushed with gratification, but, after a moment's respectful
hesitation, shook his head.
“Thank you very much, sir,” he replied, “but I wouldn't care to do
it. I really wouldn't!”
Though I am fond of the man, his obstinacy nettled me.
“Look here!” I cried. “I'm offering you an unusual chance. You had
better think twice before you decline such an opportunity to make
something of yourself. If you don't take it you'll probably remain what
you are as long as you live. Seize it and you may do as well as I
Hastings smiled faintly.
“I'm very sorry, sir,” he repeated. “I'm grateful to you for your
interest; but—I hope you'll excuse me—I wouldn't change places with
you for a million dollars! No—not for ten million!”
He blurted out the last two sentences like a schoolboy, standing and
twisting his notebook between his fingers.
There was something in his tone that dashed my spirits like a bucket
of cold water. He had not meant to be impertinent. He was the most
truthful man alive. What did he mean? Not willing to change places with
me! It was my turn to flush.
“Oh, very well!” I answered in as indifferent a manner as I could
assume. “It's up to you. I merely meant to do you a good turn. We'll
think no more about it.”
I continued to think about it, however. Would not change places with
me—a fifty-dollar-a-week clerk!
Hastings' pointblank refusal of my good offices, coming as it did
hard on the heels of my own realization of failure, left me sick at
heart. What sort of an opinion could this honest fellow, my mere
employee—dependent on my favor for his very bread—have of me, his
master? Clearly not a very high one! I was stung to the
* * * * *
It was Saturday morning. The week's work was practically over. All
of my clients were out of town—golfing, motoring, or playing poker at
Cedarhurst. There was nothing for me to do at the office but to indorse
half a dozen checks for deposit. I lit a cigar and looked out the
window of my cave down on the hurrying throng below. A resolute,
never-pausing stream of men plodded in each direction. Now and then
others dashed out of the doors of marble buildings and joined the
On the river ferryboats were darting here and there from shore to
shore. There was a bedlam of whistles, the thunder of steam winches,
the clang of surface cars, the rattle of typewriters. To what end? Down
at the curb my motor car was in waiting. I picked up my hat and passed
into the outer office.
“By the way, Hastings,” I said casually as I went by his desk,
“where are you living now?”
He looked up smilingly.
“Pleasantdale—up Kensico way,” he answered.
I shifted my feet and pulled once or twice on my cigar. I had taken
a strange resolve.
“Er—going to be in this afternoon?” I asked. “I'm off for a run and
I might drop in for a cup of tea about five o'clock.”
“Oh, will you, sir!” he exclaimed with pleasure. “We shall be
delighted. Mine is the house at the crossroads—with the red roof.”
“Well,” said I, “you may see me—but don't keep your tea waiting.”
As I shot uptown in my car I had almost the feeling of a coming
adventure. Hastings was a good sort! I respected him for his bluntness
of speech. At the cigar counter in the club I replenished my case.
Then I went into the reception room, where I found a bunch of
acquaintances sitting round the window. They hailed me boisterously.
What would I have to drink? I ordered a “Hannah Elias” and sank into a
chair. One of them was telling about the newest scandal in the divorce
line: The president of one of our largest trust companies had been
discovered to have been leading a double life—running an apartment on
the West Side for a haggard and passee showgirl.
“You just tell me—I'd like to know—why a fellow like that makes
such a damned fool of himself! Salary of fifty thousand dollars a year!
Big house; high-class wife and family; yacht—everything anybody wants.
Not a drinking man either. It defeats me!” he said.
None of the group seemed able to suggest an answer. I had just
tossed off my “Hannah Elias.”
“I think I know,” I hazarded meditatively. They turned with one
accord and stared at me. “There was nothing else for him to do,” I
continued, “except to blow his brains out.”
The raconteur grunted.
“I don't just know the meaning of that!” he remarked. “I thought he
was a friend of yours!”
“Oh, I like him well enough,” I answered, getting up. “Thanks for
the drink. I've got to be getting home. My wife is giving a little
luncheon to thirty valuable members of society.”
I was delayed on Fifth Avenue and when the butler opened the front
door the luncheon party was already seated at the table. A confused din
emanated from behind the portieres of the dining room, punctuated by
shouts of female laughter. The idea of going in and overloading my
stomach for an hour, while strenuously attempting to produce light
conversation, sickened me. I shook my head.
“Just tell your mistress that I've been suddenly called away on
business,” I directed the butler and climbed back into my motor.
“Up the river!” I said to my chauffeur.
We spun up the Riverside Drive, past rows of rococo apartment
houses, along the Lafayette Boulevard and through Yonkers. It was a
glorious autumn day. The Palisades shone red and yellow with turning
foliage. There was a fresh breeze down the river and a thousand
whitecaps gleamed in the sunlight. Overhead great white clouds moved
majestically athwart the blue. But I took no pleasure in it all. I was
suffering from an acute mental and physical depression. Like Hamlet I
had lost all my mirth—whatever I ever had—and the clouds seemed but a
“pestilent congregation of vapors.” I sat in a sort of trance as I was
whirled farther and farther away from the city.
At last I noticed that my silver motor clock was pointing to
half-past two, and I realized that neither the chauffeur nor myself had
had anything to eat since breakfast. We were entering a tiny village.
Just beyond the main square a sign swinging above the sidewalk invited
wayfarers to a “quick lunch.” I pressed the button and we pulled to the
“Lunch!” I said, and opened the wire-netted door. Inside there were
half a dozen oilcloth-covered tables and a red-cheeked young woman was
sewing in a corner.
“What have you got?” I asked, inspecting the layout.
“Tea, coffee, milk—eggs any style you want,” she answered cheerily.
Then she laughed in a good-natured way. “There's a real hotel at
Poughkeepsie—five miles along,” she added.
“I don't want a real hotel,” I replied. “What are you laughing at?”
Then I realized that I must look rather civilized for a motorist.
“You don't look as you'd care for eggs,” she said.
“That's where you're wrong,” I retorted. “I want three of the
biggest, yellowest, roundest poached eggs your fattest hen ever
laid—and a schooner of milk.”
The girl vanished into the back of the shop and presently I could
smell toast. I discovered I was extremely hungry. In about eight
minutes she came back with a tray on which was a large glass of creamy
milk and the triple eggs for which I had prayed. They were spherical,
white and wabbly.
“You're a prize poacher,” I remarked, my spirits reviving.
She smiled appreciatively.
“Going far?” she inquired, sitting down quite at ease at one of the
I looked pensively at her pleasant face across the eggs.
“That's a question,” I answered. “I can't make out whether I've been
moving on or just going round and round in a circle.”
She looked puzzled for an instant. Then she said shrewdly:
“Perhaps you've really been going back.”
“Perhaps,” I admitted.
I have never tasted anything quite so good as those eggs and that
milk. From where I sat I could look far up the Hudson; the wind from
the river swayed the red maples round the door of the quick lunch; and
from the kitchen came the homely smells of my lost youth. I had a
fleeting vision of the party at my house, now playing bridge for ten
cents a point; and my soul lifted its head for the first time in weeks.
“How far is it to Pleasantdale?”
“A long way,” answered the girl; “but you can make a connection by
trolley that will get you there in about two hours.”
“Suits me!” I said and stepped to the door. “You can go, James; I'll
get myself home.”
He cast on me a scandalized look.
“Very good, sir!” he answered and touched his cap.
He must have thought me either a raving lunatic or an unabashed
adventurer. A moment more and the car disappeared in the direction of
the city. I was free! The girl made no attempt to conceal her
Behind the door was a gray felt hat. I took it down and looked at
the size. It was within a quarter of my own.
“Look here,” I suggested, holding out a five-dollar bill, “I want a
Wishing Cap. Let me take this, will you?”
“The house is yours!” she laughed.
Over on the candy counter was a tray of corncob pipes. I helped
myself to one, to a package of tobacco and a box of matches. I hung my
derby on the vacant peg behind the door. Then I turned to my hostess.
“You're a good girl,” I said. “Good luck to you.”
For a moment something softer came into her eyes.
“And good luck to you, sir!” she replied. As I passed down the steps
she threw after me: “I hope you'll find—what you're looking for!”
* * * * *
In my old felt hat and smoking my corncob I trudged along the road
in the mellow sunlight, almost happy. By and by I reached the trolley
line; and for five cents, in company with a heterogeneous lot of
country folks, Italian laborers and others, was transported an absurdly
long distance across the state of New York to a wayside station.
There I sat on a truck on the platform and chatted with a husky,
broad-shouldered youth, who said he was the “baggage smasher,” until
finally a little smoky train appeared and bore me southward. It was the
best holiday I had had in years—and I was sorry when we pulled into
Pleasantdale and I took to my legs again.
In the fading afternoon light it indeed seemed a pleasant, restful
place. Comfortable cottages, each in its own yard, stood in neighborly
rows along the shaded street. Small boys were playing football in a
field adjoining a schoolhouse.
Presently the buildings became more scattered and I found myself
following a real country road, though still less than half a mile from
the station. Ahead it divided and in the resulting triangle, behind a
well-clipped hedge, stood a pretty cottage with a red roof—Hastings',
I was sure.
I tossed away my pipe and opened the gate. A rather pretty woman of
about thirty-five was reading in a red hammock; there were half a dozen
straw easy chairs and near by a teatable, with the kettle steaming.
Mrs. Hastings looked up at my step on the gravel path and smiled a
“Jim has been playing golf over at the club—he didn't expect you
until five,” she said, coming to meet me.
“I don't care whether he comes or not,” I returned gallantly. “I
want to see you. Besides, I'm as hungry as a bear.” She raised her
eyebrows. “I had only an egg or so and a glass of milk for luncheon,
and I have walked—miles!”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. I could see she had had quite a different idea
of her erstwhile employer; but my statement seemed to put us on a more
friendly footing from the start.
“I love walking too,” she hastened to say. “Isn't it wonderful
to-day? We get weeks of such weather as this every autumn.” She busied
herself over the teacups and then, stepping inside the door for a
moment, returned with a plate piled high with buttered toast, and
another with sandwiches of grape jelly.
“Carmen is out,” she remarked; “otherwise you should be served in
“Carmen is our maid, butler and valet,” she explained. “It's such a
relief to get her out of the way once in a while and have the house all
to oneself. That's one of the reasons I enjoy our two-weeks' camping
trip so much every summer.”
“You like the woods?”
“Better than anything, I think—except just being at home here. And
the children have the time of their lives—fishing and climbing trees,
and watching for deer in the boguns.”
The gate clicked at that moment and Hastings, golf bag on shoulders,
came up the path. He looked lean, brown, hard and happy.
“Just like me to be late!” he apologized. “I had no idea it would
take me so long to beat Colonel Bogey.”
“Your excuses are quite unnecessary. Mrs. Hastings and I have
discovered that we are natural affinities,” said I.
My stenographer, quite at ease, leaned his sticks in a corner and
helped himself to a cup of tea and a couple of sandwiches, which in my
opinion rivaled my eggs and milk of the early afternoon. My walk had
made me comfortably tired; my lungs were distended with cool country
air; my head was clear, and this domestic scene warmed the cockles of
“How is the Chicopee &Shamrock reorganization coming on?” asked
Hastings, striving to be polite by suggesting a congenial subject for
“I don't know,” I retorted. “I've forgotten all about it until
Monday morning. On the other hand, how are your children coming on?”
“Sylvia is out gathering chestnuts,” answered Mrs. Hastings, “and
Tom is playing football. They'll be home directly. I wonder if you
wouldn't like Jim to show you round our place?”
“Just the thing,” I answered, for I guessed she had household duties
“Of course you'll stay to supper?” she pressed me.
I hesitated, though I knew I should stay, all the time.
“Well—if it really won't put you out,” I replied. “I suppose there
are evening trains?”
“One every hour. We'll get you home by ten o'clock.”
“I'll have to telephone,” I said, remembering my wife's regular
Saturday-night bridge party.
“That's easily managed,” said Hastings. “You can speak to your own
house right from my library.”
Again I barefacedly excused myself to my butler on the ground of
important business. As we strolled through the gateway we were met by a
sturdy little boy with tousled hair. He had on an enormous gray sweater
and was hugging a pigskin.
“We beat 'em!” he shouted, unabashed by my obviously friendly
presence. “Eighteen to nothing!”
“Tom is twelve,” said Hastings with a shade of pride in his voice.
“Yes, the schools here are good. I expect to have him ready for college
in five years more.”
“What are you going to make of him?” I asked.
“A civil engineer, I think,” he answered. “You see, I'm a crank on
fresh air and building things—and he seems to be like me. This
cooped-up city life is pretty narrowing, don't you think?”
“It's fierce!” I returned heartily, with more warmth than elegance.
“Sometimes I wish I could chuck the whole business and go to farming.”
“Why not?” he asked as we climbed a small rise behind the house.
“Here's my farm—fifteen acres. We raise most of our own truck.”
Below the hill a cornfield, now yellow with pumpkins, stretched to
the farther road. Nearer the house was a kitchen garden, with an apple
orchard beyond. A man in shirtsleeves was milking a cow behind a tiny
“I bought this place three years ago for thirty-nine hundred
dollars,” said my stenographer. “They say it is worth nearer six
thousand now. Anyhow it is worth a hundred thousand to me!”
A little girl, with bulging apron, appeared at the edge of the
orchard and came running toward us.
“What have you got there?” called her father.
“Oh, daddy! Such lovely chestnuts!” cried the child. “And there are
millions more of them!”
“We'll roast 'em after supper,” said her father. “Toddle along now
and wash up.”
She put up a rosy, beaming face to be kissed and dashed away toward
the house. I tried to remember what either of my two girls had been
like at her age, but for some strange reason I could not.
Across the road the fertile countryside sloped away into a distant
valley, hemmed in by dim blue hills, below which the sun had already
sunk, leaving only a gilded edge behind. The air was filled with a
soft, smoky haze. A church bell in the village struck six o'clock.
“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,”
“For 'plowman' read 'golfer,'“ smiled my host. “By George,
though—it is pretty good to be alive!” The air had turned crisp and we
both instinctively took a couple of deep breaths. “Makes the city look
like thirty cents!” he ejaculated. “Of course it isn't like New York or
“No, thank God! It isn't!” I muttered as we wandered toward the
“I hope you don't mind an early supper,” apologized Mrs. Hastings as
we entered; “but Jim gets absolutely ravenous. You see, on weekdays his
lunch is at best a movable feast.”
Our promptly served meal consisted of soup, scrambled eggs and
bacon, broiled chops, fried potatoes, peas, salad, apple pie, cheese,
grapes plucked fresh from the garden wall, and black coffee, distilled
from a shining coffee machine. Mrs. Hastings brought the things hot
from the kitchen and dished them herself. Tom and Sylvia, carefully
spruced up, ate prodigiously and then helped clear away the dishes,
while I produced my cigar case.
Then Hastings led me across the hall to a room about twelve feet
square, the walls of which were lined with books, where a wood fire was
already crackling cozily. Motioning me to an old leather armchair, he
pulled up a wooden rocker before the mantel and, leaning over, laid a
regiment of chestnuts before the blazing logs.
I stretched out my legs and took a long pull on one of my
Carona-Caronas. It all seemed too good to be true. Only six hours
before in my marble entrance hall I had listened disgustedly to the
cackle of my wife's luncheon party behind the tapestry of my own dining
After all, how easy it was to be happy! Here was Hastings, jolly as
a clam and living like a prince on—what? I wondered.
“Hastings,” I said, “do you mind telling me how much it costs you to
live like this?”
“Not at all,” he replied—“though I never figured it out exactly.
Let's see. Five per cent on the cost of the place—say, two hundred
dollars. Repairs and insurance a hundred. That's three hundred, isn't
it? We pay the hired man thirty-five dollars and Carmen eighteen
dollars a month, and give 'em their board—about six hundred and fifty
more. So far nine hundred and fifty. Our vegetables and milk cost us
practically nothing—meat and groceries about seventy-five a
month—nine hundred a year.
“We have one horse; but in good weather I use my bicycle to go to
the station. We cut our own ice in the pond back of the orchard. The
schools are free. I cut quite a lot of wood myself, but my coal comes
high—must cost me at least a hundred and fifty a year. I don't have
many doctors' bills, living out here; but the dentist hits us for about
twenty-five dollars every six months—that's fifty more. My wife spends
about three hundred and the children as much more. Of course that's
fairly liberal. One doesn't need ballgowns in our village.
“My own expenses are, railroad fare, lunches, tobacco—I smoke a
pipe mostly—and clothes—probably about five hundred in all. We go on
a big bat once a month and dine at a table-d'hote restaurant, and take
in the opera or the play. That costs some—about ten dollars a
clip—say, eighty for the season; and, of course, I blow the kids to a
camping trip every summer, which sets me back a good hundred and fifty.
How does that come out?”
I had jotted the items down, as he went along, on the back of an
“Thirty-three hundred and eighty dollars,” I said, adding them up.
“It seems a good deal,” he commented, turning and gazing into the
fire; “but I have usually managed to lay up about fifteen hundred every
year—besides, of course, the little I give away.”
I sat stunned. Thirty-three hundred dollars!—I spent seventy-two
thousand!—and the man lived as well as I did! What did I have that he
had not? But Hastings was saying something, still with his back toward
“I suppose you thought I must be an ungrateful dog not to jump at
the offer you made me this morning,” he remarked in an embarrassed
manner. “It's worried me a lot all day. I'm really tremendously
gratified at your kindness. I couldn't very well explain myself, and I
don't know what possessed me to say what I did about my not being
willing to exchange places with you. But, you see, I'm over forty. That
makes a heap of difference. I'm as good a stenographer as you can find,
and so long as my health holds out I can be sure of at least fifty
dollars a week, besides what I earn outside.
“I've never had any kink for the law. I don't think I'd be a success
at it; and frankly, saving your presence, I don't like it. A lot of it
is easy money and a lot of it is money earned in the meanest way there
is—playing dirty tricks; putting in the wrong a fellow that's really
right; aggravating misunderstandings and profiting by the quarrels
people get into. You're a high-class, honorable man, and you don't see
the things I see.” I winced. If he only knew, I had seen a good deal!
“But I go round among the other law offices, and I tell you it's a
“It's all right to reorganize a railroad; but in general litigation
it seems to me as if the lawyers spend most of their time trying to
make the judge and jury believe the witnesses are all criminals.
Everything a man says on the stand or has ever done in his life is made
the subject of a false inference—an innuendo. The law isn't
constructive—it's destructive; and that's why I want my boy to be a
He paused, abashed at his own heat.
“Well,” I interjected, “it's a harsh arraignment; but there's a
great deal of truth in what you say. Wouldn't you like to make big
“Big money! I do make big money—for a man of my class,” he replied
with a gentle smile. “I wouldn't know what to do with much more. I've
got health and a comfortable home, the affection of an honest woman and
two fine children. I work hard, sleep like a log, and get a couple of
sets of tennis or a round of golf on Saturdays and Sundays. I have the
satisfaction of knowing I give you your money's worth for the salary
you pay me. My kids have as good teachers as there are anywhere. We see
plenty of people and I belong to a club or two. I bear a good
reputation in the town and try to keep things going in the right
direction. We have all the books and magazines we want to read. What's
more, I don't worry about trying to be something I'm not.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, feeling that his talk was money in my
“Oh, I've seen a heap of misery in New York due to just wanting to
get ahead—I don't know where; fellows that are just crazy to make 'big
money' as you call it, in order to ride in motors and get into some
sort of society. All the clerks, office boys and stenographers seem to
want to become stockbrokers. Personally I don't see what there is in it
for them. I don't figure out that my boy would be any happier with two
million dollars than without. If he had it he would be worrying all the
time for fear he wasn't getting enough fun for his money. And as for my
girl I want her to learn to do something! I want her to have the
discipline that comes from knowing how to earn her own living. Of
course that's one of the greatest satisfactions there is in life
anyway—doing some one thing as well as it can be done.”
“Wouldn't you like your daughter to marry?” I demanded.
“Certainly—if she can find a clean man who wants her. Why, it goes
without saying, that is life's greatest happiness—that and having
“Certainly!” I echoed with an inward qualm.
“Suppose she doesn't marry though? That's the point. She doesn't
want to hang round a boarding house all her life when everybody is busy
doing interesting things. I've got a theory that the reason rich
people—especially rich women—get bored is because they don't know
anything about real life. Put one of 'em in a law office, hitting a
typewriter at fifteen dollars a week, and in a month she'd wake up to
what was really going on—she'd be alive!”
“'The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings!'“
said I. “What's Sylvia going to do?”
“Oh, she's quite a clever little artist.” He handed me some charming
sketches in pencil that were lying on the table. “I think she may make
an illustrator. Heaven knows we need 'em! I'll give her a course at
Pratt Institute and then at the Academy of Design; and after that, if
they think she is good enough, I'll send her to Paris.”
“I wish I'd done the same thing with my girls!” I sighed. “But the
trouble is—the trouble is—You see, if I had they wouldn't have been
doing what their friends were doing. They'd have been out of it.”
“No; they wouldn't like that, of course,” agreed Hastings
respectfully. “They would want to be 'in it'“
I looked at him quickly to see whether his remark had a double
“I don't see very much of my daughters,” I continued. “They've got
away from me somehow.”
“That's the tough part of it,” he said thoughtfully. “I suppose rich
people are so busy with all the things they have to do that they
haven't much time for fooling round with their children. I have a good
time with mine though. They're too young to get away anyhow. We read
French history aloud every evening after supper. Sylvia is almost an
expert on the Duke of Guise and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.”
We smoked silently for some moments. Hastings' ideas interested me,
but I felt that he could give me something more personal—of more value
to myself. The fellow was really a philosopher in his quiet way.
“After all, you haven't told me what you meant by saying you
wouldn't change places with me,” I said abruptly. “What did you mean by
that? I want to know.”
“I wish you would forget I ever said it, sir,” he murmured.
“No,” I retorted, “I can't forget it. You needn't spare me. This
talk is not ex cathedra—it's just between ourselves. When
you've told me why, then I will forget it. This is man to man.”
“Well,” he answered slowly, “it would take me a long time to put it
in just the right way. There was nothing personal in what I said this
morning. I was thinking about conditions in general—the whole thing.
It can't go on!”
“What can't go on?”
“The terrible burden of money,” he said.
“Terrible burden of money!” I repeated. What did he mean?
“The weight of it—that's bowing people down and choking them up.
It's like a ball and chain. I meant I wouldn't change places with any
man in the millionaire class—I couldn't stand the complexities and
responsibilities. I believe the time is coming when no citizen will be
permitted to receive an income from his inherited or accumulated
possessions greater than is good for him. You may say that's the
wildest sort of socialism. Perhaps it is. But it's socialism looked at
from a different angle from the platform orators—the angle of the
“I don't believe a man's money should be taken away from him and
distributed round for the sake of other people—but for the protection
of the man himself. There's got to be a pecuniary safety valve. Every
dollar over a certain amount, just like every extra pound of steam in a
boiler, is a thing of danger. We want health in the individual and in
the state—not disease.
“Let the amount of a man's income be five, ten, fifteen or twenty
thousand dollars—the exact figure doesn't matter; but there is a limit
at which wealth becomes a drag and a detriment instead of a benefit!
I'd base the legality of a confiscatory income tax on the
constitutionality of any health regulation or police ordinance. People
shouldn't be permitted to injure themselves—or have poison lying
round. Certainly it's a lesson that history teaches on every page.
“Besides everybody needs something to work for—to keep him fit—at
least that's the way it looks to me. Nations—let alone mere
individuals—have simply gone to seed, died of dry rot because they no
longer had any stimulus. A fellow has got to have some idea in the back
of his head as to what he's after—and the harder it is for him to get
it, the better, as a rule, it is for him. Good luck is the worst enemy
a heap of people have. Misfortune spurs a man on, tries him out and
develops him—makes him more human.”
“Ever played in hard luck?” I queried.
“I? Sure, I have,” answered Hastings cheerfully. “And I wouldn't
worry much if it came my way again. I could manage to get along pretty
comfortably on less than half I've got. I like my home; but we could be
happy anywhere so long as we had ourselves and our health and a few
books. However, I wasn't thinking of myself. I've got a friend in the
brokering business who says it's the millionaires that do most of the
worrying anyhow. Naturally a man with a pile of money has to look after
it; but what puzzles me is why anybody should want it in the first
He searched along a well-filled and disordered shelf of shabby
“Here's what William James says about it:
“'We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who
elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. We have
lost the power of even imagining what the ancient idealization of
poverty could have meant—the liberation from material attachments; the
unbribed soul; the manlier indifference; the paying our way by what we
are or do, and not by what we have; the right to fling away our life at
any moment irresponsibly—the more athletic trim, in short the moral
fighting shape.... It is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty
among the educated class is the worst moral disease from which our
“I guess he's about right,” I agreed.
“That's my idea exactly,” answered Hastings. “As I look at it the
curse of most of the people living on Fifth Avenue is that they're
perfectly safe. You could take away nine-tenths of what they've got and
they'd still have about a hundred times more money than they needed to
be comfortable. They're like a whole lot of fat animals in an
inclosure—they're fed three or four times a day, but the wire fence
that protects them from harm deprives them of any real liberty. Or
they're like goldfish swimming round and round in a big bowl. They can
look through sort of dimly; but they can't get out! If they really
knew, they'd trade their security for their freedom any time.
“Perfect safety isn't an unmixed blessing by any means. Look at the
photographs of the wild Indians—the ones that carried their lives in
their hands every minute—and there's something stern and noble about
their faces. Put an Indian on a reservation and he takes to drinking
whisky. It was the same way with the chaps that lived in the Middle
Ages and had to wear shirts of chainmail. It kept 'em guessing. That's
merely one phase of it.
“The real thing to put the bite into life is having a Cause. People
forget how to make sacrifices—or become afraid to. After all, even
dying isn't such a tremendous trick. Plenty of people have done it just
for an idea—wanted to pray in their own way. But this modern way of
living takes all the sap out of folks. They get an entirely false
impression of the relative values of things. It takes a failure or a
death in the family to wake them up to the comparative triviality of
the worth of money as compared, for instance, to human affection—any
of the real things of life.
“I don't object to inequality of mere wealth in itself, because I
wouldn't dignify money to that extent. Of course I do object to a
situation where the rich man can buy life and health for his sick child
and the poor man can't. Too many sick babies! That'll be attended to,
all right, in time. I wouldn't take away one man's money for the sake
of giving it to others—not a bit of it. But what I would do would be
to put it out of a man's power to poison himself with money.
“Suicide is made a crime under the law. How about moral and
intellectual suicide? It ought to be prevented for the sake of the
state. No citizen should be allowed to stultify himself with luxury any
more than he should be permitted to cut off his right hand. Excuse me
for being didactic—but you said you'd like to get my point of view and
I've tried to give it to you in a disjointed sort of way. I'd sooner my
son would have to work for his living than not, and I'd rather he'd
spend his life contending with the forces of nature and developing the
country than in quarreling over the division of profits that other men
I had listened attentively to what Hastings had to say; and, though
I did not agree with all of it, I was forced to admit the truth of a
large part. He certainly seemed to have come nearer to solving the
problem than I had even been able to. Yet it appeared to my
conservative mind shockingly socialistic and chimerical.
“So you really think,” I retorted, “that the state ought to pass
laws which should prevent the accumulation—or at least the
retention—of large fortunes?”
Hastings smiled apologetically.
“Well,” he answered, “I don't know just how far I should advocate
active governmental interference, though it's a serious question.
You're a thousand times better qualified to express an opinion on that
than I am.
“When I spoke about health and police regulations I was talking
metaphorically. I suppose my real idea is that the moral force of the
community—public opinion—ought to be strong enough to compel a man to
live so that such laws would be unnecessary. His own public spirit, his
conscience, or whatever you call it, should influence him to use
whatever he has above a certain amount for the common good—to turn it
back where he got it, or somebody else got it, instead of demoralizing
the whole country and setting an example of waste and extravagance.
That kind of thing does an awful lot of harm. I see it all round me.
But, of course, the worst sufferer is the man himself, and his own good
sense ought to jack him up.
“Still you can't force people to keep healthy. If a man is bound to
sacrifice everything for money and make himself sick with it, perhaps
he ought to be prevented.”
“Jim!” cried Mrs. Hastings, coming in with a pitcher of cider and
some glasses. “I could hear you talking all the way out in the kitchen.
I'm sure you've bored our guest to death. Why, the chestnuts are burned
to a crisp!”
“He hasn't bored me a bit,” I answered; “in fact we are agreed on a
great many things. However, after I've had a glass of that cider I must
start back to town.”
“We'd love to have you spend the night,” she urged. “We've a nice
little guestroom over the library.”
The invitation was tempting, but I wanted to get away and think.
Also it was my duty to look in on the bridge party before it became too
sleepy to recognize my presence. I drank my cider, bade my hostess good
night and walked to the station with Hastings. As we crossed the square
to the train he said:
“It was mighty good of you to come out here to see us and we both
appreciate it. Hope you'll forgive my bluntness this morning and for
shooting off my mouth so much this evening.”
“My dear fellow,” I returned, “that was what I came out for. You've
given me something to think about. I'm thinking already. You're quite
right. You'd be a fool to change places with anybody—let alone a
* * * * *
In the smoker of the accommodation, to which I retired, I sat
oblivious of my surroundings until we entered the tunnel. So far as I
could see, Hastings had it on me at every turn—at thirty-three hundred
a year—considerably less than half of what I paid out annually in
servants' wages. And the exasperating part of it all was that, though I
spent seventy-two thousand a year, I did not begin to be as happy as he
was! Not by a jugful. Face to face with the simple comfort of the
cottage I had just left, its sincerity and affection, its thrifty
self-respect, its wide interests, I confessed that I had not been
myself genuinely contented since I left my mother's house for college,
thirty odd years before. I had become the willing victim of a
I had squandered my life in a vain effort to purchase happiness with
money—an utter impossibility, as I now only too plainly saw. I was
poisoned with it, as Hastings had said—sick with it and sick
of it. I was one of Hastings' chaingangs of prosperous
prisoners—millionaires shackled together and walking in lockstep; one
of his school of goldfish bumping their noses against the glass of the
bowl in which they were confined by virtue of their inability to live
outside the medium to which they were accustomed.
I was through with it! From that moment I resolved to become a free
man; living my own life; finding happiness in things that were worth
while. I would chuck the whole nauseating business of valets and
scented baths; of cocktails, clubs and cards; of an unwieldy and
tiresome household of lazy servants; of the ennui of heavy dinners; and
of a family the members of which were strangers to each other. I could
and would easily cut down my expenditures to not more than thirty
thousand a year; and with the balance of my income I would look after
some of those sick babies Hastings had mentioned.
I would begin by taking a much smaller house and letting half the
servants go, including my French cook. I had for a long time realized
that we all ate too much. I would give up one of my motors and
entertain more simply. We would omit the spring dash to Paris, and I
would insist on a certain number of evenings each week which the family
should spend together, reading aloud or talking over their various
plans and interests. It did not seem by any means impossible in the
prospect and I got a considerable amount of satisfaction from planning
it all out. My life was to be that of a sort of glorified Hastings.
After my healthy, peaceful day in the quiet country I felt quite
light-hearted—as nearly happy as I could remember having been for
It was raining when I got out at the Grand Central Station, and as I
hurried along the platform to get a taxi I overtook an acquaintance of
mine—a social climber. He gave me a queer look in response to my
greeting and I remembered that I had on the old gray hat I had taken
from the quick lunch.
“I've been off for a tramp in the country,” I explained, resenting
my own instinctive embarrassment.
“Ah! Don't say! Didn't know you went in for that sort of thing!
Well, good night!”
He sprang into the only remaining taxi without asking me to share it
and vanished in a cloud of gasoline smoke. I was in no mood for
waiting; besides I was going to be democratic. I took a surface car up
Lexington Avenue and stood between the distended knees of a fat and
somnolent Italian gentleman for thirty blocks. The car was intolerably
stuffy and smelled strongly of wet umbrellas and garlic. By the time I
reached the cross-street on which I lived it had begun to pour. I
turned up my coat collar and ran to my house.
Somehow I felt like a small boy as I threw myself panting inside my
own marble portal. My butler expressed great sympathy for my condition
and smuggled me quickly upstairs. I fancy he suspected there was
something discreditable about my absence. A pungent aroma floated up
from the drawing room, where the bridge players were steadily at work.
I confess to feeling rather dirty, wet and disreputable.
“I'm sorry, sir,” said my butler as he turned on the electric switch
in my bedroom, “but I didn't expect you back this evening, and so I
told Martin he might go out.”
A wave of irritation, almost of anger, swept over me. Martin was my
“What the devil did you do that for!” I snapped.
Then, realizing my inconsistency, I was ashamed, utterly humiliated
and disgusted with myself. This, then, was all that my resolution
amounted to after all!
“I am very sorry, sir,” repeated my butler. “Very sorry, sir,
indeed. Shall I help you off with your things?”
“Oh, that's all right!” I exclaimed, somewhat to his surprise.
“Don't bother about me. I'll take care of myself.”
“Can't I bring you something?” he asked solicitously.
“No, thanks!” said I. “I don't need anything that you can give me!”
“Very good, sir,” he replied. “Good night, sir.”
“Good night,” I answered, and he closed the door noiselessly.
I lit a cigarette and, tossing off my coat, sank into a chair. My
mere return to that ordered elegance seemed to have benumbed my
individuality. Downstairs thirty of our most intimate friends were
amusing themselves at the cardtables, confident that at eleven-thirty
they would be served with supper consisting of salads, ice-cream and
champagne. They would not hope in vain. If they did not get
it—speaking broadly—they would not come again. They wanted us as we
were—house, food, trappings—the whole layout. They meant well enough.
They simply had to have certain things. If we changed our scale of
living we should lose the acquaintance of these people, and we should
have nobody in their place.
We had grown into a highly complicated system, in which we had a
settled orbit. This orbit was not susceptible of change unless we were
willing to turn everything topsy-turvy. Everybody would suppose we had
lost our money. And, not being brilliant or clever people, who paid
their way as they went by making themselves lively and attractive, it
would be assumed that we could not keep up our end; so we should be
gradually left out.
I said to myself that I ought not to care—that being left out was
what I wanted; but, all the same, I knew I did care. You cannot tear
yourself up by the roots at fifty unless you are prepared to go to a
far country. I was not prepared to do that at a moment's notice. I,
too, was used to a whole lot of things—was solidly imbedded in them.
My very house was an overwhelming incubus. I was like a miserable
snail, forever lugging my house round on my back—unable to shake it
off. A change in our mode of life would not necessarily in itself bring
my children any nearer to me; it would, on the contrary, probably
antagonize them. I had sowed the seed and I was reaping the harvest. My
professional life I could not alter. I had my private clients—my
regular business. Besides there was no reason for altering it. I
conducted it honorably and well enough.
Yet the calm consideration of those very difficulties in the end
only demonstrated the clearer to me the perilous state in which I was.
The deeper the bog, the more my spirit writhed to be free. Better, I
thought, to die struggling than gradually to sink down and be
suffocated beneath the mire of apathy and self-indulgence.
Hastings' little home—or something—had wrought a change in me. I
had gone through some sort of genuine emotional experience. It seemed
impossible to reform my mode of life and thought, but it was equally
incredible that I should fall back into my old indifference. Sitting
there alone in my chamber I felt like a man in a nightmare, who would
give his all to be able to rise, yet whose limbs were immovable, held
by some subtle and cruel power. I had read in novels about men agonized
by remorse and indecision. I now experienced those sensations myself. I
discovered they were not imaginary states.
My meditations were interrupted by the entrance of my wife, who,
with an anxious look on her face, inquired what was the matter. The
butler had said I seemed indisposed; so she had slipped away from our
guests and come up to see for herself. She was in full
regalia—elaborate gown, pearls, aigret.
“There's nothing the matter with me,” I answered, though I know full
well I lied—I was poisoned.
“Well, that's a comfort, at any rate!” she replied, amiably enough.
“Where's Tom?” I asked wearily.
“I haven't any idea,” she said frankly. “You know he almost never
“And the girls?”
“Visiting the Devereuxs at Staatsburg,” she answered. “Aren't you
coming down for some bridge?”
“No,” I said. “To tell you the truth I never want to see a pack of
cards again. I want to cut the game. I'm sick of our life and the
useless extravagance. I want a change. Let's get rid of the whole
thing—take a smaller house—have fewer servants. Think of the relief!”
“What's the matter?” she cried sharply. “Have you lost money?”
“No,” I said, “I haven't lost money—I've lost heart!”
She eyed me distrustfully.
“Are you crazy?” she demanded.
“No,” I answered. “I don't think I am.”
“You act that way,” she retorted. “It's a funny time to talk about
changing your mode of life—right in the middle of a bridge party! What
have you been working for all these years? And where do I come in? You
can go to your clubs and your office—anywhere; but all I've got is the
life you have taught me to enjoy! Tom is grown up and never comes near
me. And the girls—why, what do you think would happen to them if you
suddenly gave up your place in society? They'd never get married so
long as they lived. People would think you'd gone bankrupt!
Really”—her eyes filled and she dabbed at them with a Valenciennes
handkerchief—“I think it too heartless of you to come in this
way—like a skeleton at the feast—and spoil my evening!”
I felt a slight touch of remorse. I had broached the matter rather
roughly. I laid my hand on her shoulder—now so round and matronly,
once so slender.
“Anna,” I said as tenderly as I could, “suppose I did give it
She rose indignantly to her feet and shook off my hand.
“You'd have to get along without me!” she retorted; then, seeing the
anguish on my face, she added less harshly: “Take a brandy-and-soda and
go to bed. I'm sure you're not quite yourself.”
I was struck by the chance significance of her phrase—“Not quite
yourself.” No; ever since I had left the house that morning I had not
been quite myself. I had had a momentary glimpse—had for an instant
caught the glint of an angel's wing—but it was gone. I was almost
myself—my old self; yet not quite.
“I didn't mean to be unkind,” I muttered. “Don't worry about me.
I've merely had a vision of what might have been, and it's disgusted
me. Go on down to the bridge fiends. I'll be along shortly—if you'll
excuse my clothes.”
“Poor boy!” she sighed. “You're tired out! No; don't come down—in
* * * * *
I laughed a hollow laugh when she had gone. Really there was
something humorous about it all. What was the use even of trying? I did
not seem even to belong in my own house unless my clothes matched the
wall paper! I lit cigarette after cigarette, staring blankly at my silk
pajamas laid out on the bed.
I could not change things! It was too late. I had brought up my son
and daughters to live in a certain kind of way, had taught them that
luxuries were necessities, had neglected them—had ruined them perhaps;
but I had no moral right now to annihilate that life—and their
mother's—without their consent. They might be poor things; but, after
all, they were my own. They were free, white and twenty-one. And I knew
they would simply think me mad!
I had a fixed place in a complicated system, with responsibilities
and duties I was morally bound to recognize. I could not chuck the
whole business without doing a great deal of harm. My life was not so
simple as all that. Any change—if it could be accomplished at
all—would have to be a gradual one and be brought about largely by
persuasion. Could it be accomplished?
It now seemed insuperably difficult. I was bound to the wheel—and
the habits of a lifetime, the moral pressure of my wife and children,
the example of society, and the force of superficial public opinion and
expectation were spinning it round and round in the direction of least
resistance. As well attempt to alter my course as to steer a locomotive
off the track! I could not ditch the locomotive, for I had a trainload
of passengers! And yet—
I groaned and buried my face in my hands. I—successful? Yes,
success had been mine; but success was failure—naught else—failure,
absolute and unmitigated! I had lost my wife and family, and my home
had become the resort of a crew of empty-headed coxcombs.
I wondered whether they were gone. I looked at the clock. It was
half-past twelve—Sunday morning. I opened my bedroom door and crept
downstairs. No; they were not gone—they had merely moved on to supper.
My library was in the front of the house, across the hall from the
drawing room, and I went in there and sank into an armchair by the
fire. The bridge party was making a great to-do and its strident
laughter floated up from below. By contrast the quiet library seemed a
haven of refuge. Here were the books I might have read—which might
have been my friends. Poor fool that I was!
I put out my hand and took down the first it encountered—John
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. It was a funny old volume—a priceless
early edition given me by a grateful client whom I had extricated from
some embarrassment. I had never read it, but I knew its general trend.
It was about some imaginary miserable who, like myself, wanted to do
things differently. I took a cigar out of my pocket, lit it and,
opening the book haphazard, glanced over the pages in a desultory
“That is that which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy
Burden; but get it off myself, I cannot; nor is there any man in our
country that can take it off my shoulders—”
So the Pilgrim had a burden too! I turned back to the beginning and
read how Christian, the hero, had been made aware of his perilous
“In this plight therefore he went home, and refrained himself as
long as he could, that his Wife and Children should not perceive his
distress, but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble
increased: Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his Wife and
Children; and thus he began to talk to them: 'Oh, my dear Wife,' said
he, 'and you the Children of my bowels, I, your dear Friend, am in
myself undone by reason of a Burden that lieth hard upon me.' ... At
this his Relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed
that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought that
some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing
toward night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with
all haste they got him to bed: But the night was as troublesome to him
as the day; wherefore, instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and
Surely this Pilgrim was strangely like myself! And, though sorely
beset, he had struggled on his way.
“Hast thou a Wife and Children?
“Yes, but I am so laden with this Burden that I cannot take that
pleasure in them as formerly; methinks I am as if I had none.”
Tears filled my eyes and I laid down the book. The bridge party was
going home. I could hear them shouting good-bys in the front hall and
my wife's shrill voice answering Good night! From outside came the toot
of horns and the whir of the motors as they drew up at the curb. One by
one the doors slammed, the glass rattled and they thundered off. The
noise got on my nerves and, taking my book, I crossed to the deserted
drawing room, the scene of the night's social carnage. The sight was
enough to sicken any man! Eight tables covered with half-filled
glasses; cards everywhere—the floor littered with them; chairs pushed
helter-skelter and one overturned; and from a dozen ash-receivers the
slowly ascending columns of incense to the great God of Chance. On the
middle table lay a score card and pencil, a roll of bills, a pile of
silver, and my wife's vanity box, with its chain of pearls and
Fiercely I resolved again to end it all—at any cost. I threw open
one of the windows, sat myself down by a lamp in a corner, and found
the place where I had been reading. Christian had just encountered
Charity. In the midst of their discussion I heard my wife's footsteps
in the hall; the portieres rustled and she entered.
“Well!” she exclaimed. “I thought you had gone to bed long ago. I
had good luck to-night. I won eight hundred dollars! How are you
“Anna,” I answered, “sit down a minute. I want to read you
“Go ahead!” she said, lighting a cigarette, and throwing herself
into one of the vacant chairs.
“Then said Charity to Christian: Have you a family? Are you a
“CHRISTIAN: I have a Wife and ... Children.”
“CHARITY: And why did you not bring them along with you?”
“Then Christian wept and said: Oh, how willingly would I have
done it, but they were all of them utterly averse to my going on
“CHARITY: But you should have talked to them, and have
endeavored to have shown them the danger of being behind.
“CHRISTIAN: So I did, and told them also what God had shewed to
me of the destruction of our City; but I seemed to them as one that
mocked, and they believed me not.
“CHARITY: And did you pray to God that He would bless your
counsel to them?
“CHRISTIAN: Yes, and that with much affection; for you must think
that my Wife and poor Children were very dear unto me.
“CHARITY: But did you tell them of your own sorrow and fear of
destruction?—for I suppose that destruction was visible enough to you.
“CHRISTIAN: Yes, over and over, and over. They might also see my
fears in my countenance, in my tears, and also in my trembling under
the apprehension of the Judgment that did hang over our heads; but all
was not sufficient to prevail with them to come with me.
“CHARITY: But what could they say for themselves, why they come
“CHRISTIAN: Why, my Wife was afraid of losing this World, and my
Children were given to the foolish Delights of youth; so, what by one
thing and what by another, they left me to wander in this manner alone.”
An unusual sound made me look up. My wife was weeping, her head on
her arms among the money and debris of the card-table.
“I—I didn't know,” she said in a choked, half-stifled voice, “that
you really meant what you said upstairs.”
“I mean it as I never have meant anything since I told you that I
loved you, dear,” I answered gently.
She raised her face, wet with tears.
“That was such a long time ago!” she sobbed. “And I thought that all
this was what you wanted.” She glanced round the room.
“I did—once,” I replied; “but I don't want it any longer. We can't
live our lives over again; but”—and I went over to her—“we can try to
do a little better from now on.”
She laid her head on my arm and took my hand in hers.
“What shall we do?” she asked.
“We must free ourselves from our Burden,” said I; “break down the
wall of money that shuts us in from other people, and try to pay our
way in the world by what we are and do rather than by what we have. It
may be hard at first; but it's worth while—for all of us.”
She disengaged one hand and wiped her eyes.
“I'll help all I can,” she whispered.
“That's what I want!” cried I, and my heart leaped.
Again I saw the glint of the angel's wing!