A Traveler from Altruria, by William Dean Howells

VIII

Young Camp carried out the plate of victuals to the tramp, and Mrs. Makely said to his mother: “I suppose you would make the tramp do some sort of work to earn his breakfast on week-days?”

“Not always,” Mrs. Camp replied. “Do the boarders at the hotel always work to earn their breakfast?”

“No, certainly not,” said Mrs. Makely, with the sharpness of offence. “But they always pay for it.”

“I don’t think that paying for a thing is earning it. Perhaps some one else earned the money that pays for it. But I believe there is too much work in the world. If I were to live my life over again, I should not work half so hard. My husband and I took this place when we were young married people, and began working to pay for it. We wanted to feel that it was ours, that we owned it, and that our children should own it afterward. We both worked all day long like slaves, and many a moonlight night we were up till morning, almost, gathering the stones from our fields and burying them in deep graves that we had dug for them. But we buried our youth and strength and health in those graves, too, and what for? I don’t own the farm that we worked so hard to pay for, and my children won’t. That is what it has all come to. We were rightly punished for our greed, I suppose. Perhaps no one has a right to own any portion of the earth. Sometimes I think so, but my husband and I earned this farm, and now the savings-bank owns it. That seems strange, doesn’t it? I suppose you’ll say that the bank paid for it. Well, perhaps so; but the bank didn’t earn it. When I think of that I don’t always think that a person who pays for his breakfast has the best right to a breakfast.”

I could see the sophistry of all this, but I had not the heart to point it out; I felt the pathos of it, too. Mrs. Makely seemed not to see the one nor to feel the other very distinctly. “Yes, but surely,” she said, “if you give a tramp his breakfast without making him work for it, you must see that it is encouraging idleness. And idleness is very corrupting — the sight of it.”

“You mean to the country people? Well, they have to stand a good deal of that. The summer folks that spend four or five months of the year here don’t seem to do anything from morning till night.”

“Ah, but you must recollect that they are resting! You have no idea how hard they all work in town during the winter,” Mrs. Makely urged, with an air of argument.

“Perhaps the tramps are resting, too. At any rate, I don’t think the sight of idleness in rags, and begging at back doors, is very corrupting to the country people; I never heard of a single tramp who had started from the country; they all come from the cities. It’s the other kind of idleness that tempts our young people. The only tramps that my son says he ever envies are the well-dressed, strong young fellows from town that go tramping through the mountains for exercise every summer.”

The ladies both paused. They seemed to have got to the end of their tether; at least, Mrs. Makely had apparently nothing else to advance, and I said, lightly: “But that is just the kind of tramps that Mr. Homos would most disapprove of. He says that in Altruria they would consider exercise for exercise’ sake a wicked waste of force and little short of lunacy.”

I thought my exaggeration might provoke him to denial, but he seemed not to have found it unjust. “Why, you know,” he said to Mrs. Camp, “in Altruria every one works with his hands, so that the hard work shall not all fall to any one class; and this manual labor of each is sufficient to keep the body in health, as well as to earn a living. After the three, hours’ work, which constitutes a day’s work with us, is done, the young people have all sorts of games and sports, and they carry them as late into life as the temperament of each demands. But what I was saying to Mr. Twelvemough — perhaps I did not make myself clear — was that we should regard the sterile putting forth of strength in exercise, if others were each day worn out with hard manual labor, as insane or immoral. But I can account for it differently with you, because I understand that in your conditions a person of leisure could not do any manual labor without taking away the work of some one who needed it to live by; and could not even relieve an overworked laborer, and give him the money for the work, without teaching him habits of idleness. In Altruria we can all keep ourselves well by doing each his share of hard work, and we can help those who are exhausted, when such a thing happens, without injuring them materially or morally.”

Young Camp entered at this moment, and the Altrurian hesitated. “Oh, do go on!” Mrs. Makely entreated. She added to Camp: “We’ve got him to talking about Altruria at last, and we wouldn’t have him stopped for worlds.”

The Altrurian looked around at all our faces, and no doubt read our eager curiosity in them. He smiled and said: “I shall be very glad, I’m sure. But I do not think you will find anything so remarkable in our civilization, if you will conceive of it as the outgrowth of the neighborly instinct. In fact, neighborliness is the essence of Altrurianism. If you will imagine having the same feeling toward all,” he explained to Mrs. Makely, “as you have toward your next-door neighbor —”

“My next-door neighbor!” she cried. “But I don’t know the people next door! We live in a large apartment house, some forty families, and I assure you I do not know a soul among them.”

He looked at her with a puzzled air, and she continued: “Sometimes it does seem rather hard. One day the people on the same landing with us lost one of their children, and I should never have been a whit the wiser if my cook hadn’t happened to mention it. The servants all know each other; they meet in the back elevator, and get acquainted. I don’t encourage it. You can’t tell what kind of families they belong to.”

“But surely,” the Altrurian persisted, “you have friends in the city whom you think of as your neighbors?”

“No, I can’t say that I have,” said Mrs. Makely. “I have my visiting-list, but I shouldn’t think of anybody on that as a neighbor.”

The Altrurian looked so blank and baffled that I could hardly help laughing. “Then I should not know how to explain Altruria to you, I’m afraid.”

“Well,” she returned, lightly, “if it’s anything like neighborliness as I’ve seen it in small places, deliver me from it! I like being independent. That’s why I like the city. You’re let alone.”

“I was down in New York once, and I went through some of the streets and houses where the poor people live,” said young Camp, “and they seemed to know each other and to be quite neighborly.”

“And would you like to be all messed in with one another that way?” demanded the lady.

“Well, I thought it was better than living as we do in the country, so far apart that we never see one another, hardly. And it seems to me better than not having any neighbors at all.”

“Well, every one to his taste,” said Mrs. Makely. “I wish you would tell us how people manage with you socially, Mr. Homos.”

“Why, you know,” he began, “we have neither city nor country in your sense, and so we are neither so isolated nor so crowded together. You feel that you lose a great deal in not seeing one another oftener?” he asked Camp.

“Yes. Folks rust out living alone. It’s Human nature to want to get together.”

“And I understand Mrs. Makely that it is human nature to want to keep apart?”

“Oh no, but to come together independently,” she answered.

“Well, that is what we have contrived in our life at home. I should have to say, in the first place, that —”

“Excuse me just one moment, Mr. Homos,” said Mrs. Makely. This perverse woman was as anxious to hear about Altruria as any of us, but she was a woman who would rather hear the sound of her own voice than any other, even if she were dying, as she would call it, to hear the other. The Altrurian stopped politely, and Mrs. Makely went on: “I have been thinking of what Mr. Camp was saying about the blacklisted men, and their all turning into tramps —”

“But I didn’t say that, Mrs. Makely,” the young fellow protested, in astonishment.

“Well, it stands to reason that if the tramps have all been blacklisted men —”

“But I didn’t say that, either.”

“No matter! What I am trying to get at is this: if a workman has made himself a nuisance to the employers, haven’t they a right to punish him in any way they can?”

“I believe there’s no law yet against blacklisting,” said Camp.

“Very well, then, I don’t see what they’ve got to complain of. The employers surely know their own business.”

“They claim to know the men’s, too. That’s what they’re always saying; they will manage their own affairs in their own way. But no man, or company, that does business on a large scale has any affairs that are not partly other folks’ affairs, too. All the saying in the world won’t make it different.”

“Very well, then,” said Mrs. Makely, with a force of argument which she seemed to think was irresistible, “I think the workmen had better leave things to the employers, and then they won’t get blacklisted. It’s as broad as it’s long.”

I confess that, although I agreed with Mrs. Makely in regard to what the workmen had better do, her position had been arrived at by such extraordinary reasoning that I blushed for her; at the same time, I wanted to laugh. She continued, triumphantly: “You see, the employers have ever so much more at stake.”

“Then men have everything at stake — the work of their hands,” said the young fellow.

“Oh, but surely,” said Mrs. Makely, “you wouldn’t set that against capital? You wouldn’t compare the two?”

“Yes, I should,” said Camp, and I could see his eye kindle and his jaw stiffen.

“Then I suppose you would say that a man ought to get as much for his work as an employer gets for his capital. If you think one has as much at stake as the other, you must think they ought to be paid alike.”

“That is just what I think,” said Camp, and Mrs. Makely burst into a peal of amiable laughter.

“Now, that is too preposterous!”

“Why is it preposterous?” he demanded, with a quivering nostril.

“Why, simply because it is” said the lady, but she did not say why, and although I thought so, too, I was glad she did not attempt to do it, for her conclusions seemed to me much better than her reasons.

The old wooden clock in the kitchen began to strike, and she rose briskly to her feet and went and laid the books she had been holding in her lap on the table beside Mrs. Camp’s bed. “We must really be going,” she said, as she leaned over and kissed the invalid. “It is your dinner-time, and we shall barely get back for lunch if we go by the Loop road; and I want very much to have Mr. Homos see the Witch’s Falls on the way. I have got two or three of the books here that Mr. Makely brought me last night — I sha’n’t have time to read them at once — and I’m smuggling in one of Mr. Twelvemough’s, that he’s too modest to present for himself.” She turned a gay glance upon me, and Mrs. Camp thanked me, and a number of civilities followed from all sides. In the process of their exchange, Mrs. Makely’s spirits perceptibly rose, and she came away in high good-humor with the whole Camp family. “Well, now, I am sure,” she said to the Altrurian, as we began the long ascent of the Loop road, “you must allow that you have seen some very original characters. But how warped people get living alone so much! That is the great drawback of the country. Mrs. Camp thinks the savings-bank did her a real injury in taking a mortgage on her place, and Reuben seems to have seen just enough of the outside world to get it all wrong. But they are the best-hearted creatures in the world, and I know you won’t misunderstand them. That unsparing country bluntness — don’t you think it’s perfectly delightful? I do like to stir poor Reuben up, and get him talking. He is a good boy, if he is so wrong-headed, and he’s the most devoted son and brother in the world. Very few young fellows would waste their lives on an old farm like that; I suppose, when his mother dies, he will marry and strike out for himself in some growing place.”

“He did not seem to think the world held out any very bright inducements for him to leave home,” the Altrurian suggested.

“Oh, let him get one of these lively, pushing Yankee girls for a wife, and he will think very differently,” said Mrs. Makely.

The Altrurian disappeared that afternoon, and I saw little or nothing of him till the next day at supper. Then he said he had been spending the time with young Camp, who had shown him something of the farm-work, and introduced him to several of the neighbors; he was very much interested in it all, because at home he was, at present, engaged in farm-work himself, and he was curious to contrast the American and Altrurian methods. We began to talk of the farming interest again, later in the day, when the members of our little group came together, and I told them what the Altrurian had been doing. The doctor had been suddenly called back to town; but the minister was there, and the lawyer and the professor and the banker and the manufacturer.

It was the banker who began to comment on what I said, and he seemed to be in the frank humor of the Saturday night before. “Yes,” he said, “it’s a hard life, and they have to look sharp if they expect to make both ends meet. I would not like to undertake it myself with their resources.”

The professor smiled, in asking the Altrurian: “Did your agricultural friends tell you anything of the little rural traffic in votes that they carry on about election time? That is one of the side means they have of making both ends meet.”

“I don’t understand,” said the Altrurian.

“Why, you know, you can buy votes among our virtuous yeomen from two dollars up at the ordinary elections. When party feeling runs high, and there are vital questions at stake, the votes cost more.”

The Altrurian looked round at us all aghast. “Do, you mean that Americans buy votes?”

The professor smiled again. “Oh no; I only mean that they sell them. Well, I don’t wonder that they rather prefer to blink the fact; but it is a fact, nevertheless, and pretty notorious.”

“Good heavens!” cried the Altrurian. “And what defence have they for such treason? I don’t mean those who sell; from what I have seen of the bareness and hardship of their lives, I could well imagine that there might sometimes come a pinch when they would be glad of the few dollars that they could get in that way; but what have those who buy to say?”

“Well,” said the professor, “it isn’t a transaction that’s apt to be talked about much on either side.”

“I think,” the banker interposed, “that there is some exaggeration about that business; but it certainly exists, and I suppose it is a growing evil in the country. I fancy it arises, somewhat, from a want of, clear thinking on the subject. Then there is no doubt but it comes, sometimes, from poverty. A man sells his vote, as a woman sells her person, for money, when neither can turn virtue into cash. They feel that they must live, and neither of them would be satisfied if Dr. Johnson told them he didn’t see the necessity. In fact, I shouldn’t myself, if I were in their places. You can’t have the good of a civilization like ours without having the bad; but I am not going to deny that the bad is bad. Some people like to do that; but I don’t find my account in it. In either case, I confess that I think the buyer is worse than the seller — incomparably worse. I suppose you are not troubled with either case in Altruria?”

“Oh no!” said the Altrurian, with an utter horror, which no repetition of his words can give the sense of. “It would be unimaginable.”

“Still,” the banker suggested, “you have cakes and ale, and at times the ginger is hot in the mouth?”

“I don’t pretend that we have immunity from error; but upon such terms as you have described we have none. It would be impossible.”

The Altrurian’s voice expressed no contempt, but only a sad patience, a melancholy surprise, such as a celestial angel might feel in being suddenly confronted with some secret shame and horror of the Pit.

“Well,” said the banker, “with us the only way is to take the business view and try to strike an average somewhere.”

“Talking of business,” said the professor, turning to the manufacturer, who had been quietly smoking, “why don’t some of you capitalists take hold of farming here in the East, and make a business of it as they do in the West?”

“Thank you,” said the other; “if you mean me, I would rather not invest.” He was silent a moment, and then he went on, as if the notion were beginning to win upon him: “It may come to something like that, though. If it does, the natural course, I should think, would he through the railroads. It would he a very easy matter for them to buy up all the good farms along their lines and put tenants on them, and run them in their own interest. Really, it isn’t a bad scheme. The waste in the present method is enormous, and there is no reason why the roads should not own the farms, as they are beginning to own the mines. They could manage them better than the small farmers do in every way. I wonder the thing hasn’t occurred to some smart railroad man.”

We all laughed a little, perceiving the semi-ironical spirit of his talk; but the Altrurian must have taken it in dead earnest: “But, in that case, the number of people thrown out of work would be very great, wouldn’t it? And what would become of them?”

“Well, they would have whatever their farms brought to make a new start with somewhere else; and, besides, that question of what would become of people thrown out of work by a given improvement is something that capital cannot consider. We used to introduce a bit of machinery in the mill, every now and then, that threw out a dozen or a hundred people; but we couldn’t stop for that.”

“And you never knew what became of them?”

“Sometimes. Generally not. We took it for granted that they would light on their feet somehow.”

“And the state — the whole people — the government — did nothing for them?”

“If it became a question of the poor-house, yes.”

“Or the jail,” the lawyer suggested.

“Speaking of the poor-house,” said the professor, “did our exemplary rural friends tell you how they sell out their paupers to the lowest bidder, and get them boarded sometimes as low as a dollar and a quarter a week?”

“Yes, young Mr. Camp told me of that. He seemed to think it was terrible.”

“Did he? Well, I’m glad to hear that of young Mr. Camp. From all that I’ve been told before, he seems to reserve his conscience for the use of capitalists. What does he propose to do about it?”

“He seems to think the state ought to find work for them.”

“Oh, paternalism! Well, I guess the state won’t.”

“That was his opinion, too.”

“It seems a hard fate,” said the minister, “that the only provision the law makes for people who are worn out by sickness or a life of work should be something that assorts them with idiots and lunatics, and brings such shame upon them that it is almost as terrible as death.”

“It is the only way to encourage independence and individuality,” said the professor. “Of course, it has its dark side. But anything else would be sentimental and unbusinesslike, and, in fact, unAmerican.”

“I am not so sure that it would be unChristian,” the minister timidly ventured, in the face of such an authority on political economy.

“Oh, as to that, I must leave the question to the reverend clergy,” said the professor.

A very unpleasant little silence followed. It was broken by the lawyer, who put his feet together, and, after a glance down at them, began to say: “I was very much interested this afternoon by a conversation I had with some of the young fellows in the hotel. You know most of them are graduates, and they are taking a sort of supernumerary vacation this summer before they plunge into the battle of life in the autumn. They were talking of some other fellows, classmates of theirs, who were not so lucky, but had been obliged to begin the fight at once. It seems that our fellows here are all going in for some sort of profession: medicine or law or engineering or teaching or the church, and they were commiserating those other fellows not only because they were not having the supernumerary vacation, but because they were going into business. That struck me as rather odd, and I tried to find out what it meant, and, as nearly as I could find out, it meant that most college graduates would not go into business if they could help it. They seemed to feel a sort of incongruity between their education and the business life. They pitied the fellows that had to go in for it, and apparently the fellows that had to go in for it pitied themselves, for the talk seemed to have begun about a letter that one of the chaps here had got from poor Jack or Jim somebody, who had been obliged to go into his father’s business, and was groaning over it. The fellows who were going to study professions were hugging themselves at the contrast between their fate and his, and were making remarks about business that were, to say the least, unbusinesslike. A few years ago we should have made a summary disposition of the matter, and I believe some of the newspapers still are in doubt about the value of a college education to men who have got to make their way. What do you think?”

The lawyer addressed his question to the manufacturer, who answered, with a comfortable satisfaction, that he did not think those young men if they went into business would find that they knew too much.

“But they pointed out,” said the lawyer, “that the great American fortunes had been made by men who had never had their educational advantages, and they seemed to think that what we call the education of a gentleman was a little too good for money-making purposes.”

“Well,” said the other, “they can console themselves with the reflection that going into business isn’t necessarily making money; it isn’t necessarily making a living, even.”

“Some of them seem to have caught on to that fact; and they pitied Jack or Jim partly because the chances were so much against him. But they pitied him mostly because in the life before him he would have no use for his academic training, and he had better not gone to college at all. They said he would be none the better for it, and would always be miserable when he looked back to it.”

The manufacturer did not reply, and the professor, after a preliminary hemming, held his peace. It was the banker who took the word: “Well, so far as business is concerned, they were right. It is no use to pretend that there is any relation between business and the higher education. There is no business man who will pretend that there is not often an actual incompatibility if he is honest. I know that when we get together at a commercial or financial dinner we talk as if great merchants and great financiers were beneficent geniuses, who evoked the prosperity of mankind by their schemes from the conditions that would otherwise have remained barren. Well, very likely they are, but we must all confess that they do not know it at the time. What they are consciously looking out for then is the main chance. If general prosperity follows, all well and good; they are willing to be given the credit for it. But, as I said, with business as business, the ‘education of a gentleman’ has nothing to do. That education is always putting the old Ciceronian question: whether the fellow arriving at a starving city with a cargo of grain is bound to tell the people before he squeezes them that there are half a dozen other fellows with grain just below the horizon. As a gentleman he would have to tell them, because he could not take advantage of their necessities; but, as a business man, he would think it bad business to tell them, or no business at all. The principle goes all through; I say, business is business; and I am not going to pretend that business will ever be anything else. In our business battles we don’t take off our hats to the other side and say, ‘Gentlemen of the French Guard, have the goodness to fire.’ That may be war, but it is not business. We seize all the advantages we can; very few of us would actually deceive; but if a fellow believes a thing, and we know he is wrong, we do not usually take the trouble to set him right, if we are going to lose anything by undeceiving him. That would not be business. I suppose you think that is dreadful?” He turned smilingly to the minister.

“I wish — I wish,” said the minister, gently, “it could be otherwise.”

“Well, I wish so, too,” returned the banker. “But it isn’t. Am I right or am I wrong?” he demanded of the manufacturer, who laughed.

“I am not conducting this discussion. I will not deprive you of the floor.”

“What you say,” I ventured to put in, “reminds me of the experience of a friend of mine, a brother novelist. He wrote a story where the failure of a business man turned on a point just like that you have instanced. The man could have retrieved himself if he had let some people believe that what was so was not so, but his conscience stepped in and obliged him to own the truth. There was a good deal of talk about the case, I suppose, because it was not in real life, and my friend heard divers criticisms. He heard of a group of ministers who blamed him for exalting a case of common honesty, as if it were something extraordinary; and he heard of some business men who talked it over and said he had worked the case up splendidly, but he was all wrong in the outcome — the fellow would never have told the other fellows. They said it would not have been business.”

We all laughed except the minister and the Altrurian; the manufacturer said: “Twenty-five years hence, the fellow who is going into business may pity the fellows who are pitying him for his hard fate now.”

“Very possibly, but not necessarily,” said the banker. “Of course, the business man is on top, as far as money goes; he is the fellow who makes the big fortunes; the millionaire lawyers and doctors and ministers are exceptional. But his risks are tremendous. Ninety-five times out of a hundred he fails. To be sure, he picks up and goes on, but he seldom gets there, after all.”

“Then in your system,” said the Altrurian, “the great majority of those who go into what you call the battle of life are defeated?”

“The killed, wounded, and missing sum up a frightful total,” the banker admitted. “But whatever the end is, there is a great deal of prosperity on the way. The statistics are correct, but they do not tell the whole truth. It is not so bad as it seems. Still, simply looking at the material chances, I don’t blame those young fellows for not wanting to go into business. And when you come to other considerations! We used to cut the knot of the difficulty pretty sharply; we said a college education was wrong, or the hot and hot American spread-eaglers did. Business is the national ideal, and the successful business man is the American type. It is a business man’s country.”

“Then, if I understand you,” said the Altrurian, “and I am very anxious to have a clear understanding of the matter, the effect of the university with you is to unfit a youth for business life.”

“Oh no. It may give him great advantages in it, and that is the theory and expectation of most fathers who send their sons to the university. But, undoubtedly, the effect is to render business life distasteful. The university nurtures all sorts of lofty ideals, which business has no use for.”

“Then the effect is undemocratic?”

“No, it is simply unbusinesslike. The boy is a better democrat when he leaves college than he will be later, if he goes into business. The university has taught him and equipped him to use his own gifts and powers for his advancement; but the first lesson of business, and the last, is to use other men’s gifts and powers. If he looks about him at all, he sees that no man gets rich simply by his own labor, no matter how mighty a genius he is, and that, if you want to get rich, you must make other men work for you, and pay you for the privilege of doing so. Isn’t that true?”

The banker turned to the manufacturer with this question, and the other said: “The theory is, that we give people work,” and they both laughed.

The minister said: “I believe that in Altruria no man works for the profit of another?”

“No; each works for the profit of all,” replied the Altrurian.

“Well,” said the banker, “you seem to have made it go. Nobody can deny that. But we couldn’t make it go here.”

“Why? I am very curious to know why our system seems so impossible to you.”

“Well, it is contrary to the American spirit. It is alien to our love of individuality.”

“But we prize individuality, too, and we think we secure it under our system. Under yours, it seems to me that while the individuality of the man who makes other men work for him is safe, except from itself, the individuality of the workers —”

“Well, that is their lookout. We have found that, upon the whole, it is best to let every man look out for himself. I know that, in a certain light, the result has an ugly aspect; but, nevertheless, in spite of all, the country is enormously prosperous. The pursuit of happiness, which is one of the inalienable rights secured to us by the Declaration, is, and always has been, a dream; but the pursuit of the dollar yields tangible proceeds, and we get a good deal of excitement out of it as it goes on. You can’t deny that we are the richest nation in the world. Do you call Altruria a rich country?”

I could not quite make out whether the banker was serious or not in all this talk; sometimes I suspected him of a fine mockery, but the Altrurian took him upon the surface of his words.

“I hardly know whether it is or not. The question of wealth does not enter into our scheme. I can say that we all have enough, and that no one is even in the fear of want.”

“Yes, that is very well. But we should think it was paying too much for it if we had to give up the hope of ever having more than we wanted,” and at this point the banker uttered his jolly laugh, and I perceived that he had been trying to draw the Altrurian out and practise upon his patriotism. It was a great relief to find that he had been joking in so much that seemed a dead give-away of our economical position. “In Altruria,” he asked, “who is your ideal great man? I don’t mean personally, but abstractly.”

The Altrurian thought a moment. “With us there is so little ambition for distinction, as you understand it, that your question is hard to answer. But I should say, speaking largely, that it was some man who had been able for the time being to give the greatest happiness to the greatest number — some artist or poet or inventor or physician.”

I was somewhat surprised to have the banker take this preposterous statement seriously, respectfully. “Well, that is quite conceivable with your system. What should you say,” he demanded of the rest of us generally, “was our ideal of greatness?”

No one replied at once, or at all, till the manufacturer said: “We will let you continue to run it.”

“Well, it is a very curious inquiry, and I have thought it over a good deal. I should say that within a generation our ideal has changed twice. Before the war, and during all the time from the Revolution onward, it was undoubtedly the great politician, the publicist, the statesman. As we grew older and began to have an intellectual life of our own, I think the literary fellows had a pretty good share of the honors that were going — that is, such a man as Longfellow was popularly considered a type of greatness. When the war came, it brought the soldier to the front, and there was a period of ten or fifteen years when he dominated the national imagination. That period passed, and the great era of material prosperity set in. The big fortunes began to tower up, and heroes of another sort began to appeal to our admiration. I don’t think there is any doubt but the millionaire is now the American ideal. It isn’t very pleasant to think so, even for people who have got on, but it can’t very hopefully be denied. It is the man with the most money who now takes the prize in our national cake-walk.”

The Altrurian turned curiously toward me, and I did my best to tell him what a cake-walk was. When I had finished, the banker resumed, only to say, as he rose from his chair to bid us good-night: “In any average assembly of Americans the greatest millionaire would take the eyes of all from the greatest statesman, the greatest poet, or the greatest soldier we ever had. That,” he added to the Altrurian, “will account to you for many things as you travel through our country.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/howells/william_dean/h859tr/chapter8.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38