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Letters and More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
George Horace Lorimer
Published by Enhanced Media, 2017.
Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer. First published in 1903. More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer. First published as Old Gorgon Graham - More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by Lorimer, in 1903.
Letters and More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer - cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 Enhanced Media Publishing. All rights reserved.
First e-book edition 2017.
Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to his Son | By George Horace Lorimer
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More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son | By George Horace Lorimer
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Further Reading: British Mystery Multipack Vol. 15
Being the Letters written by John Graham, Head of the House of Graham & Company, Pork-Packers in Chicago, familiarly known on ’Change as “Old Gorgon Graham,” to his Son, Pierrepont, facetiously known to his intimates as “Piggy.”
To Cyrus Curtis, a self-made man.
From John Graham, at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Pierrepont has just been settled by his mother as a member, in good and regular standing, of the Freshman class.
Chicago, October 1, 189—
YOUR MA GOT BACK SAFE this morning and she wants me to be sure to tell you not to over-study, and I want to tell you to be sure not to under-study. What we’re really sending you to Harvard for is to get a little of the education that’s so good and plenty there. When it’s passed around you don’t want to be bashful, but reach right out and take a big helping every time, for I want you to get your share. You’ll find that education’s about the only thing lying around loose in this world, and that it’s about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he’s willing to haul away. Everything else is screwed down tight and the screw-driver lost.
I didn’t have your advantages when I was a boy, and you can’t have mine. Some men learn the value of money by not having any and starting out to pry a few dollars loose from the odd millions that are lying around; and some learn it by having fifty thousand or so left to them and starting out to spend it as if it were fifty thousand a year. Some men learn the value of truth by having to do business with liars; and some by going to Sunday School. Some men learn the cussedness of whiskey by having a drunken father; and some by having a good mother. Some men get an education from other men and newspapers and public libraries; and some get it from professors and parchments—it doesn’t make any special difference how you get a half-nelson on the right thing, just so you get it and freeze on to it. The package doesn’t count after the eye’s been attracted by it, and in the end it finds its way to the ash heap. It’s the quality of the goods inside which tells, when they once get into the kitchen and up to the cook.
You can cure a ham in dry salt and you can cure it in sweet pickle, and when you’re through you’ve got pretty good eating either way, provided you started in with a sound ham. If you didn’t, it doesn’t make any special difference how you cured it—the ham-tryer’s going to strike the sour spot around the bone. And it doesn’t make any difference how much sugar and fancy pickle you soak into a fellow, he’s no good unless he’s sound and sweet at the core.
The first thing that any education ought to give a man is character, and the second thing is education. That is where I’m a little skittish about this college business. I’m not starting in to preach to you, because I know a young fellow with the right sort of stuff in him preaches to himself harder than anyone else can, and that he’s mighty often switched off the right path by having it pointed out to him in the wrong way.
I remember when I was a boy, and I wasn’t a very bad boy, as boys go, old Doc Hoover got a notion in his head that I ought to join the church, and he scared me out of it for five years by asking me right out loud in Sunday School if I didn’t want to be saved, and then laying for me after the service and praying with me. Of course I wanted to be saved, but I didn’t want to be saved quite so publicly.
When a boy’s had a good mother he’s got a good conscience, and when he’s got a good conscience he don’t need to have right and wrong labeled for him. Now that your Ma’s left and the apron strings are cut, you’re naturally running up against a new sensation every minute, but if you’ll simply use a little conscience as a tryer, and probe into a thing which looks sweet and sound on the skin, to see if you can’t fetch up a sour smell from around the bone, you’ll be all right.
I’m anxious that you should be a good scholar, but I’m more anxious that you should be a good clean man. And if you graduate with a sound conscience, I shan’t care so much if there are a few holes in your Latin. There are two parts of a college education—the part that you get in the schoolroom from the professors, and the part that you get outside of it from the boys. That’s the really important part. For the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man.
Education’s a good deal like eating—a fellow can’t always tell which particular thing did him good, but he can usually tell which one did him harm. After a square meal of roast beef and vegetables, and mince pie and watermelon, you can’t say just which ingredient is going into muscle, but you don’t have to be very bright to figure out which one started the demand for painkiller in your insides, or to guess, next morning, which one made you believe in a personal devil the night before. And so, while a fellow can’t figure out to an ounce whether it’s Latin or algebra or history or what among the solids that is building him up in this place or that, he can go right along feeding them in and betting that they’re not the things that turn his tongue fuzzy. It’s down among the sweets, among his amusements and recreations, that he’s going to find his stomach-ache, and it’s there that he wants to go slow and to pick and choose.
It’s not the first half, but the second half of a college education which merchants mean when they ask if a college education pays. It’s the Willie and the Bertie boys; the chocolate eclair and tutti-frutti boys; the la-de-dah and the baa-baa-billy-goat boys; the high cock-a-lo-rum and the cock-a-doodle-do boys; the Bah Jove!, hair-parted-in-the-middle, cigaroot-smoking, Champagne-Charlie, up-all-night-and-in-all-day boys that make ’em doubt the cash value of the college output, and overlook the roast-beef and blood-gravy boys, the shirt-sleeves and high-water-pants boys, who take their college education and make some fellow’s business hum with it.
Does a College education pay? Does it pay to feed in pork trimmings at five cents a pound at the hopper and draw out nice, cunning, little “country” sausages at twenty cents a pound at the other end? Does it pay to take a steer that’s been running loose on the range and living on cactus and petrified wood till he’s just a bunch of barb-wire and sole-leather, and feed him corn till he’s just a solid hunk of porterhouse steak and oleo oil?
You bet it pays. Anything that trains a boy to think and to think quick pays; anything that teaches a boy to get the answer before the other fellow gets through biting the pencil, pays.
College doesn’t make fools; it develops them. It doesn’t make bright men; it develops them. A fool will turn out a fool, whether he goes to college or not, though he’ll probably turn out a different sort of a fool. And a good, strong boy will turn out a bright, strong man whether he’s worn smooth in the grab-what-you-want-and-eat-standing-with-one-eye-skinned-for-the-dog school of the streets and stores, or polished up and slicked down in the give-your-order-to-the-waiter-and-get-a-sixteen-course-dinner school of the professors. But while the lack of a college education can’t keep No. 1 down, having it boosts No. 2 up.
It’s simply the difference between jump in, rough-and-tumble, kick-with-the-heels-and-butt-with-the-head nigger fighting, and this grin-and-look-pleasant, dodge-and-save-your-wind-till-you-see-a-chance-to-land-on-the-solar-plexus style of the trained athlete. Both styles win fights, but the fellow with a little science is the better man, providing he’s kept his muscle hard. If he hasn’t, he’s in a bad way, for his fancy sparring is just going to aggravate the other fellow so that he’ll eat him up.
Of course, some men are like pigs, the more you educate them, the more amusing little cusses they become, and the funnier capers they cut when they show off their tricks. Naturally, the place to send a boy of that breed is to the circus, not to college.
Speaking of educated pigs, naturally calls to mind the case of old man Whitaker and his son, Stanley. I used to know the old man mighty well ten years ago. He was one of those men whom business narrows, instead of broadens. Didn’t get any special fun out of his work, but kept right along at it because he didn’t know anything else. Told me he’d had to root for a living all his life and that he proposed to have Stan’s brought to him in a pail. Sent him to private schools and dancing schools and colleges and universities, and then shipped him to Oxford to soak in a little “atmosphere,” as he put it. I never could quite lay hold of that atmosphere dodge by the tail, but so far as I could make out, the idea was that there was something in the air of the Oxford ham-house that gave a fellow an extra fancy smoke.
Well, about the time Stan was through, the undertaker called by for the old man, and when his assets were boiled down and the water drawn off, there wasn’t enough left to furnish Stan with a really nourishing meal. I had a talk with Stan about what he was going to do, but some ways he didn’t strike me as having the making of a good private of industry, let alone a captain, so I started in to get him a job that would suit his talents. Got him in a bank, but while he knew more about the history of banking than the president, and more about political economy than the board of directors, he couldn’t learn the difference between a fiver that the Government turned out and one that was run off on a hand press in a Halsted Street basement. Got him a job on a paper, but while he knew six different languages and all the facts about the Arctic regions, and the history of dancing from the days of Old Adam down to those of Old Nick, he couldn’t write up a satisfactory account of the Ice-Men’s Ball. Could prove that two and two made four by trigonometry and geometry, but couldn’t learn to keep books; was thick as thieves with all the high-toned poets, but couldn’t write a good, snappy, merchantable street-car ad.; knew a thousand diseases that would take a man off before he could blink, but couldn’t sell a thousand-dollar tontine policy; knew the lives of our Presidents as well as if he’d been raised with them, but couldn’t place a set of the Library of the Fathers of the Republic, though they were offered on little easy payments that made them come as easy as borrowing them from a friend. Finally I hit on what seemed to be just the right thing. I figured out that any fellow who had such a heavy stock of information on hand, ought to be able to job it out to good advantage, and so I got him a place teaching. But it seemed that he’d learned so much about the best way of teaching boys, that he told his principal right on the jump that he was doing it all wrong, and that made him sore; and he knew so much about the dead languages, which was what he was hired to teach, that he forgot he was handling live boys, and as he couldn’t tell it all to them in the regular time, he kept them after hours, and that made them sore and put Stan out of a job again. The last I heard of him he was writing articles on Why Young Men Fail, and making a success of it, because failing was the one subject on which he was practical.
I simply mention Stan in passing as an example of the fact that it isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.
YOUR AFFECTIONATE FATHER,
From John Graham, at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont, at Harvard University. Mr. Pierrepont’s expense account has just passed under his father’s eye, and has furnished him with a text for some plain particularities.
Chicago, May 4, 189—
THE CASHIER HAS JUST handed me your expense account for the month, and it fairly makes a fellow hump-shouldered to look it over. When I told you that I wished you to get a liberal education, I didn’t mean that I wanted to buy Cambridge. Of course the bills won’t break me, but they will break you unless you are very, very careful.
I have noticed for the last two years that your accounts have been growing heavier every month, but I haven’t seen any signs of your taking honors to justify the increased operating expenses; and that is bad business—a good deal like feeding his weight in corn to a scalawag steer that won’t fat up.
I haven’t said anything about this before, as I trusted a good deal to your native common-sense to keep you from making a fool of yourself in the way that some of these young fellows who haven’t had to work for it do. But because I have sat tight, I don’t want you to get it into your head that the old man’s rich, and that he can stand it, because he won’t stand it after you leave college. The sooner you adjust your spending to what your earning capacity will be, the easier they will find it to live together.
The only sure way that a man can get rich quick is to have it given to him or to inherit it. You are not going to get rich that way—at least, not until after you have proved your ability to hold a pretty important position with the firm; and, of course, there is just one place from which a man can start for that position with Graham & Co. It doesn’t make any difference whether he is the son of the old man or of the cellar boss—that place is the bottom. And the bottom in the office end of this business is a seat at the mailing-desk, with eight dollars every Saturday night.
I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm. There is plenty of room at the top here, but there is no elevator in the building. Starting, as you do, with a good education, you should be able to climb quicker than the fellow who hasn’t got it; but there’s going to be a time when you begin at the factory when you won’t be able to lick stamps so fast as the other boys at the desk. Yet the man who hasn’t licked stamps isn’t fit to write letters. Naturally, that is the time when knowing whether the pie comes before the ice-cream, and how to run an automobile isn’t going to be of any real use to you.
I simply mention these things because I am afraid your ideas as to the basis on which you are coming with the house have swelled up a little in the East. I can give you a start, but after that you will have to dynamite your way to the front by yourself. It is all with the man. If you gave some fellows a talent wrapped in a napkin to start with in business, they would swap the talent for a gold brick and lose the napkin; and there are others that you could start out with just a napkin, who would set up with it in the dry-goods business in a small way, and then coax the other fellow’s talent into it.
I have pride enough to believe that you have the right sort of stuff in you, but I want to see some of it come out. You will never make a good merchant of yourself by reversing the order in which the Lord decreed that we should proceed—learning the spending before the earning end of business. Pay day is always a month off for the spend-thrift, and he is never able to realize more than sixty cents on any dollar that comes to him. But a dollar is worth one hundred and six cents to a good business man, and he never spends the dollar. It’s the man who keeps saving up and expenses down that buys an interest in the concern. That is where you are going to find yourself weak if your expense accounts don’t lie; and they generally don’t lie in that particular way, though Baron Munchausen was the first traveling man, and my drummers’ bills still show his influence.
I know that when a lot of young men get off by themselves, some of them think that recklessness with money brands them as good fellows, and that carefulness is meanness. That is the one end of a college education which is pure cussedness; and that is the one thing which makes nine business men out of ten hesitate to send their boys off to school. But on the other hand, that is the spot where a young man has the chance to show that he is not a light-weight. I know that a good many people say I am a pretty close proposition; that I make every hog which goes through my packing-house give up more lard than the Lord gave him gross weight; that I have improved on Nature to the extent of getting four hams out of an animal which began life with two; but you have lived with me long enough to know that my hand is usually in my pocket at the right time.
Now I want to say right here that the meanest man alive is the one who is generous with money that he has not had to sweat for, and that the boy who is a good fellow at someone else’s expense would not work up into first-class fertilizer. That same ambition to be known as a good fellow has crowded my office with second-rate clerks, and they always will be second-rate clerks. If you have it, hold it down until you have worked for a year. Then, if your ambition runs to hunching up all week over a desk, to earn eight dollars to blow on a few rounds of drinks for the boys on Saturday night, there is no objection to your gratifying it; for I will know that the Lord didn’t intend you to be your own boss.
You know how I began—I was started off with a kick, but that proved a kick up, and in the end everyone since has lifted me a little bit higher. I got two dollars a week, and slept under the counter, and you can bet I knew just how many pennies there were in each of those dollars, and how hard the floor was. That is what you have got to learn.
I remember when I was on the Lakes, our schooner was passing out through the draw at Buffalo when I saw little Bill Riggs, the butcher, standing up above me on the end of the bridge with a big roast of beef in his basket. They were a little short in the galley on that trip, so I called up to Bill and he threw the roast down to me. I asked him how much, and he yelled back, “about a dollar.” That was mighty good beef, and when we struck Buffalo again on the return trip, I thought I would like a little more of it. So I went up to Bill’s shop and asked him for a piece of the same. But this time he gave me a little roast, not near so big as the other, and it was pretty tough and stringy. But when I asked him how much, he answered “about a dollar.” He simply didn’t have any sense of values, and that’s the business man’s sixth sense. Bill has always been a big, healthy, hard-working man, but to-day he is very, very poor.
The Bills ain’t all in the butcher business. I’ve got some of them right now in my office, but they will never climb over the railing that separates the clerks from the executives. Yet if they would put in half the time thinking for the house that they give up to hatching out reasons why they ought to be allowed to overdraw their salary accounts, I couldn’t keep them out of our private offices with a pole-ax, and I wouldn’t want to; for they could double their salaries and my profits in a year. But I always lay it down as a safe proposition that the fellow who has to break open the baby’s bank toward the last of the week for car-fare isn’t going to be any Russell Sage when it comes to trading with the old man’s money. He’d punch my bank account as full of holes as a carload of wild Texans would a fool stockman that they’d got in a corner.
Now I know you’ll say that I don’t understand how it is; that you’ve got to do as the other fellows do; and that things have changed since I was a boy. There’s nothing in it. Adam invented all the different ways in which a young man can make a fool of himself, and the college yell at the end of them is just a frill that doesn’t change essentials. The boy who does anything just because the other fellows do it is apt to scratch a poor man’s back all his life. He’s the chap that’s buying wheat at ninety-seven cents the day before the market breaks. They call him “the country” in the market reports, but the city’s full of him. It’s the fellow who has the spunk to think and act for himself, and sells short when prices hit the high C and the house is standing on its hind legs yelling for more, that sits in the directors’ meetings when he gets on toward forty.
We’ve got an old steer out at the packing-house that stands around at the foot of the runway leading up to the killing pens, looking for all the world like one of the village fathers sitting on the cracker box before the grocery—sort of sad-eyed, dreamy old cuss—always has two or three straws from his cud sticking out of the corner of his mouth. You never saw a steer that looked as if he took less interest in things. But by and by the boys drive a bunch of steers toward him, or cows maybe, if we’re canning, and then you’ll see Old Abe move off up that runway, sort of beckoning the bunch after him with that wicked old stump of a tail of his, as if there was something mighty interesting to steers at the top, and something that every Texan and Colorado, raw from the prairies, ought to have a look at to put a metropolitan finish on him. Those steers just naturally follow along on up that runway and into the killing pens. But just as they get to the top, Old Abe, someways, gets lost in the crowd, and he isn’t among those present when the gates are closed and the real trouble begins for his new friends.
I never saw a dozen boys together that there wasn’t an Old Abe among them. If you find your crowd following him, keep away from it. There are times when it’s safest to be lonesome. Use a little common-sense, caution and conscience. You can stock a store with those three commodities, when you get enough of them. But you’ve got to begin getting them young. They ain’t catching after you toughen up a bit.
You needn’t write me if you feel yourself getting them. The symptoms will show in your expense account. Good-by; life’s too short to write letters and New York’s calling me on the wire.
YOUR AFFECTIONATE FATHER,
From John Graham, at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont, at Harvard University. Mr. Pierrepont finds Cambridge to his liking, and has suggested that he take a post-graduate course to fill up some gaps which he has found in his education.
JUNE 1, 189—
NO, I CAN’T SAY THAT I think anything of your post-graduate course idea. You’re not going to be a poet or a professor, but a packer, and the place to take a post-graduate course for that calling is in the packing-house. Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice. It’s the fellow who knows enough about practice to test his theories for blow-holes that gives the world a shove ahead, and finds a fair margin of profit in shoving it.
There’s a chance for everything you have learned, from Latin to poetry, in the packing business, though we don’t use much poetry here except in our street-car ads., and about the only time our products are given Latin names is when the State Board of Health condemns them. So I think you’ll find it safe to go short a little on the frills of education; if you want them bad enough you’ll find a way to pick them up later, after business hours.
The main thing is to get a start along right lines, and that is what I sent you to college for. I didn’t expect you to carry off all the education in sight—I knew you’d leave a little for the next fellow. But I wanted you to form good mental habits, just as I want you to have clean, straight physical ones. Because I was run through a threshing machine when I was a boy, and didn’t begin to get the straw out of my hair till I was past thirty, I haven’t any sympathy with a lot of these old fellows who go around bragging of their ignorance and saying that boys don’t need to know anything except addition and the “best policy” brand of honesty.
We started in a mighty different world, and we were all ignorant together. The Lord let us in on the ground floor, gave us corner lots, and then started in to improve the adjacent property. We didn’t have to know fractions to figure out our profits. Now a merchant needs astronomy to see them, and when he locates them they are out somewhere near the fifth decimal place. There are sixteen ounces to the pound still, but two of them are wrapping paper in a good many stores. And there’re just as many chances for a fellow as ever, but they’re a little gun shy, and you can’t catch them by any such coarse method as putting salt on their tails.
Thirty years ago, you could take an old muzzle-loader and knock over plenty of ducks in the city limits, and Chicago wasn’t Cook County then, either. You can get them still, but you’ve got to go to Kankakee and take a hammerless along. And when I started in the packing business it was all straight sailing—no frills—just turning hogs into hog meat—dry salt for the niggers down South and sugar-cured for the white folks up North. Everything else was sausage, or thrown away. But when we get through with a hog nowadays, he’s scattered through a hundred different cans and packages, and he’s all accounted for. What we used to throw away is our profit. It takes doctors, lawyers, engineers, poets, and I don’t know what, to run the business, and I reckon that improvements which call for parsons will be creeping in next. Naturally, a young man who expects to hold his own when he is thrown in with a lot of men like these must be as clean and sharp as a hound’s tooth, or some other fellow’s simply going to eat him up.
The first college man I ever hired was old John Durham’s son, Jim. That was a good many years ago when the house was a much smaller affair. Jim’s father had a lot of money till he started out to buck the universe and corner wheat. And the boy took all the fancy courses and trimmings at college. The old man was mighty proud of Jim. Wanted him to be a literary fellow. But old Durham found out what every one learns who gets his ambitions mixed up with number two red—that there’s a heap of it lying around loose in the country. The bears did quick work and kept the cash wheat coming in so lively that one settling day half a dozen of us had to get under the market to keep it from going to everlasting smash.
That day made young Jim a candidate for a job. It didn’t take him long to decide that the Lord would attend to keeping up the visible supply of poetry, and that he had better turn his attention to the stocks of mess pork. Next morning he was laying for me with a letter of introduction when I got to the office, and when he found that I wouldn’t have a private secretary at any price, he applied for every other position on the premises right down to office boy. I told him I was sorry, but I couldn’t do anything for him then; that we were letting men go, but I’d keep him in mind, and so on. The fact was that I didn’t think a fellow with Jim’s training would be much good, anyhow. But Jim hung on—said he’d taken a fancy to the house, and wanted to work for it. Used to call by about twice a week to find out if anything had turned up.
Finally, after about a month of this, he wore me down so that I stopped him one day as he was passing me on the street. I thought I’d find out if he really was so red-hot to work as he pretended to be; besides, I felt that perhaps I hadn’t treated the boy just right, as I had delivered quite a jag of that wheat to his father myself.
“Hello, Jim,” I called; “do you still want that job?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, quick as lightning.
“Well, I tell you how it is, Jim,” I said, looking up at him—he was one of those husky, lazy-moving six-footers—“I don’t see any chance in the office, but I understand they can use another good, strong man in one of the loading gangs.”
I thought that would settle Jim and let me out, for it’s no joke lugging beef, or rolling barrels and tierces a hundred yards or so to the cars. But Jim came right back at me with, “Done. Who’ll I report to?”
That sporty way of answering, as if he was closing a bet, made me surer than ever that he was not cut out for a butcher. But I told him, and off he started hot-foot to find the foreman. I sent word by another route to see that he got plenty to do.
I forgot all about Jim until about three months later, when his name was handed up to me for a new place and a raise in pay. It seemed that he had sort of abolished his job. After he had been rolling barrels a while, and the sport had ground down one of his shoulders a couple of inches lower than the other, he got to scheming around for a way to make the work easier, and he hit on an idea for a sort of overhead railroad system, by which the barrels could be swung out of the storerooms and run right along into the cars, and two or three men do the work of a gang. It was just as I thought. Jim was lazy, but he had put the house in the way of saving so much money that I couldn’t fire him. So I raised his salary, and made him an assistant timekeeper and checker. Jim kept at this for three or four months, until his feet began to hurt him, I guess, and then he was out of a job again. It seems he had heard something of a new machine for registering the men, that did away with most of the timekeepers except the fellows who watched the machines, and he kept after the Superintendent until he got him to put them in. Of course he claimed a raise again for effecting such a saving, and we just had to allow it.
I was beginning to take an interest in Jim, so I brought him up into the office and set him to copying circular letters. We used to send out a raft of them to the trade. That was just before the general adoption of typewriters, when they were still in the experimental stage. But Jim hadn’t been in the office plugging away at the letters for a month before he had the writer’s cramp, and began nosing around again. The first thing I knew he was sticking the agents for the new typewriting machine on to me, and he kept them pounding away until they had made me give them a trial. Then it was all up with Mister Jim’s job again. I raised his salary without his asking for it this time, and put him out on the road to introduce a new product that we were making—beef extract.
Jim made two trips without selling enough to keep them working overtime at the factory, and then he came into my office with a long story about how we were doing it all wrong. Said we ought to go for the consumer by advertising, and make the trade come to us, instead of chasing it up.
That was so like Jim that I just laughed at first; besides, that sort of advertising was a pretty new thing then, and I was one of the old-timers who didn’t take any stock in it. But Jim just kept plugging away at me between trips, until finally I took him off the road and told him to go ahead and try it in a small way.
Jim pretty nearly scared me to death that first year. At last he had got into something that he took an interest in—spending money—and he just fairly wallowed in it. Used to lay awake nights, thinking up new ways of getting rid of the old man’s profits. And he found them. Seemed as if I couldn’t get away from Graham’s Extract, and whenever I saw it I gagged, for I knew it was costing me money that wasn’t coming back; but every time I started to draw in my horns Jim talked to me, and showed me where there was a fortune waiting for me just around the corner.
Graham’s Extract started out by being something that you could make beef-tea out of—that was all. But before Jim had been fooling with it a month he had got his girl to think up a hundred different ways in which it could be used, and had advertised them all. It seemed there was nothing you could cook that didn’t need a dash of it. He kept me between a chill and a sweat all the time. Sometimes, but not often, I just had to grin at his foolishness. I remember one picture he got out showing sixteen cows standing between something that looked like a letter-press, and telling how every pound or so of Graham’s Extract contained the juice squeezed from a herd of steers. If an explorer started for the North Pole, Jim would send him a case of Extract, and then advertise that it was the great heat-maker for cold climates; and if some other fellow started across Africa he sent him a case, too, and advertised what a bully drink it was served up with a little ice.
He broke out in a new place every day, and every time he broke out it cost the house money. Finally, I made up my mind to swallow the loss, and Mister Jim was just about to lose his job sure enough, when the orders for Extract began to look up, and he got a reprieve; then he began to make expenses, and he got a pardon; and finally a rush came that left him high and dry in a permanent place. Jim was all right in his way, but it was a new way, and I hadn’t been broad-gauged enough to see that it was a better way.
That was where I caught the connection between a college education and business. I’ve always made it a rule to buy brains, and I’ve learned now that the better trained they are the faster they find reasons for getting their salaries raised. The fellow who hasn’t had the training may be just as smart, but he’s apt to paw the air when he’s reaching for ideas.
I suppose you’re asking why, if I’m so hot for education, I’m against this post-graduate course. But habits of thought ain’t the only thing a fellow picks up at college.
I see you’ve been elected President of your class. I’m glad the boys aren’t down on you, but while the most popular man in his class isn’t always a failure in business, being as popular as that takes up a heap of time. I noticed, too, when you were home Easter, that you were running to sporty clothes and cigarettes. There’s nothing criminal about either, but I don’t hire sporty clerks at all, and the only part of the premises on which cigarette smoking is allowed is the fertilizer factory.
I simply mention this in passing. I have every confidence in your ultimate good sense, and I guess you’ll see the point without my elaborating with a meat ax my reasons for thinking that you’ve had enough college for the present.
YOUR AFFECTIONATE FATHER,
From John Graham, head of the house of Graham & Co., at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont Graham, at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York. Mr. Pierrepont has suggested the grand tour as a proper finish to his education.
June 25, 189—
YOUR LETTER OF THE seventh twists around the point a good deal like a setter pup chasing his tail. But I gather from it that you want to spend a couple of months in Europe before coming on here and getting your nose in the bull-ring. Of course, you are your own boss now and you ought to be able to judge better than anyone else how much time you have to waste, but it seems to me, on general principles, that a young man of twenty-two, who is physically and mentally sound, and who hasn’t got a dollar and has never earned one, can’t be getting on somebody’s pay-roll too quick. And in this connection it is only fair to tell you that I have instructed the cashier to discontinue your allowance after July 15. That gives you two weeks for a vacation—enough to make a sick boy well, or a lazy one lazier.
I hear a good deal about men who won’t take vacations, and who kill themselves by overwork, but it’s usually worry or whiskey. It’s not what a man does during working-hours, but after them, that breaks down his health. A fellow and his business should be bosom friends in the office and sworn enemies out of it. A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o’clock every night and isn’t opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.
Some fellows leave the office at night and start out to whoop it up with the boys, and some go home to sit up with their troubles—they’re both in bad company. They’re the men who are always needing vacations, and never getting any good out of them. What every man does need once a year is a change of work—that is, if he has been curved up over a desk for fifty weeks and subsisting on birds and burgundy, he ought to take to fishing for a living and try bacon and eggs, with a little spring water, for dinner. But coming from Harvard to the packing-house will give you change enough this year to keep you in good trim, even if you didn’t have a fortnight’s leeway to run loose.
You will always find it a safe rule to take a thing just as quick as it is offered—especially a job. It is never easy to get one except when you don’t want it; but when you have to get work, and go after it with a gun, you’ll find it as shy as an old crow that every farmer in the county has had a shot at.
When I was a young fellow and out of a place, I always made it a rule to take the first job that offered, and to use it for bait. You can catch a minnow with a worm, and a bass will take your minnow. A good fat bass will tempt an otter, and then you’ve got something worth skinning. Of course, there’s no danger of your not being able to get a job with the house—in fact, there is no real way in which you can escape getting one; but I don’t like to see you shy off every time the old man gets close to you with the halter.
I want you to learn right at the outset not to play with the spoon before you take the medicine. Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible. Procrastination is the longest word in the language, but there’s only one letter between its ends when they occupy their proper places in the alphabet.
Old Dick Stover, for whom I once clerked in Indiana, was the worst hand at procrastinating that I ever saw. Dick was a powerful hearty eater, and no one ever loved meal-time better, but he used to keep turning over in bed mornings for just another wink and staving off getting up, until finally his wife combined breakfast and dinner on him, and he only got two meals a day. He was a mighty religious man, too, but he got to putting off saying his prayers until after he was in bed, and then he would keep passing them along until his mind was clear of worldly things, and in the end he would drop off to sleep without saying them at all. What between missing the Sunday morning service and never being seen on his knees, the first thing Dick knew he was turned out of the church. He had a pretty good business when I first went with him, but he would keep putting off firing his bad clerks until they had lit out with the petty cash; and he would keep putting off raising the salaries of his good ones until his competitor had hired them away. Finally, he got so that he wouldn’t discount his bills, even when he had the money; and when they came due he would give notes so as to keep from paying out his cash a little longer. Running a business on those lines is, of course, equivalent to making a will in favor of the sheriff and committing suicide so that he can inherit. The last I heard of Dick he was ninety-three years old and just about to die. That was ten years ago, and I’ll bet he’s living yet. I simply mention Dick in passing as an instance of how habits rule a man’s life.
There is one excuse for every mistake a man can make, but only one. When a fellow makes the same mistake twice he’s got to throw up both hands and own up to carelessness or cussedness. Of course, I knew that you would make a fool of yourself pretty often when I sent you to college, and I haven’t been disappointed. But I expected you to narrow down the number of combinations possible by making a different sort of a fool of yourself every time. That is the important thing, unless a fellow has too lively an imagination, or has none at all. You are bound to try this European foolishness sooner or later, but if you will wait a few years, you will approach it in an entirely different spirit—and you will come back with a good deal of respect for the people who have sense enough to stay at home.
I piece out from your letter that you expect a few months on the other side will sort of put a polish on you. I don’t want to seem pessimistic, but I have seen hundreds of boys graduate from college and go over with the same idea, and they didn’t bring back a great deal except a few trunks of badly fitting clothes. Seeing the world is like charity—it covers a multitude of sins, and, like charity, it ought to begin at home.
Culture is not a matter of a change of climate. You’ll hear more about Browning to the square foot in the Mississippi Valley than you will in England. And there’s as much Art talk on the Lake front as in the Latin Quarter. It may be a little different, but it’s there.
I went to Europe once myself. I was pretty raw when I left Chicago, and I was pretty sore when I got back. Coming and going I was simply sick. In London, for the first time in my life, I was taken for an easy thing. Every time I went into a store there was a bull movement. The clerks all knocked off their regular work and started in to mark up prices.
They used to tell me that they didn’t have any gold-brick men over there. So they don’t. They deal in pictures—old masters, they call them. I bought two—you know the ones—those hanging in the waiting-room at the stock yards; and when I got back I found out that they had been painted by a measly little fellow who went to Paris to study art, after Bill Harris had found out that he was no good as a settling clerk. I keep ’em to remind myself that there’s no fool like an old American fool when he gets this picture paresis.
The fellow who tried to fit me out with a coat-of-arms didn’t find me so easy. I picked mine when I first went into business for myself—a charging steer—and it’s registered at Washington. It’s my trade-mark, of course, and that’s the only coat-of-arms an American merchant has any business with. It’s penetrated to every quarter of the globe in the last twenty years, and every soldier in the world has carried it—in his knapsack.
I take just as much pride in it as the fellow who inherits his and can’t find any place to put it, except on his carriage door and his letter-head—and it’s a heap more profitable. It’s got so now that every jobber in the trade knows that it stands for good quality, and that’s all any Englishman’s coat-of-arms can stand for. Of course, an American’s can’t stand for anything much—generally it’s the burned-in-the-skin brand of a snob.
After the way some of the descendants of the old New York Dutchmen with the hoe and the English general storekeepers have turned out, I sometimes feel a little uneasy about what my great-grandchildren may do, but we’ll just stick to the trade-mark and try to live up to it while the old man’s in the saddle.
I simply mention these things in a general way. I have no fears for you after you’ve been at work for a few years, and have struck an average between the packing-house and Harvard; then if you want to graze over a wider range it can’t hurt you. But for the present you will find yourself pretty busy trying to get into the winning class.
YOUR AFFECTIONATE FATHER,
From John Graham, head of the house of Graham & Co., at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont Graham, at Lake Moosgatchemawamuc, in the Maine woods. Mr. Pierrepont has written to his father withdrawing his suggestion.
JULY 7, 189—
YOURS OF THE FOURTH has the right ring, and it says more to the number of words used than any letter that I have ever received from you. I remember reading once that some fellows use language to conceal thought; but it’s been my experience that a good many more use it instead of thought.
A business man’s conversation should be regulated by fewer and simpler rules than any other function of the human animal. They are:
Have something to say. Say it. Stop talking.
Beginning before you know what you want to say and keeping on after you have said it lands a merchant in a lawsuit or the poorhouse, and the first is a short cut to the second. I maintain a legal department here, and it costs a lot of money, but it’s to keep me from going to law.
It’s all right when you are calling on a girl or talking with friends after dinner to run a conversation like a Sunday-school excursion, with stops to pick flowers; but in the office your sentences should be the shortest distance possible between periods. Cut out the introduction and the peroration, and stop before you get to secondly. You’ve got to preach short sermons to catch sinners; and deacons won’t believe they need long ones themselves. Give fools the first and women the last word. The meat’s always in the middle of the sandwich. Of course, a little butter on either side of it doesn’t do any harm if it’s intended for a man who likes butter.
Remember, too, that it’s easier to look wise than to talk wisdom. Say less than the other fellow and listen more than you talk; for when a man’s listening he isn’t telling on himself and he’s flattering the fellow who is. Give most men a good listener and most women enough note-paper and they’ll tell all they know. Money talks—but not unless its owner has a loose tongue, and then its remarks are always offensive. Poverty talks, too, but nobody wants to hear what it has to say.
I simply mention these things in passing because I’m afraid you’re apt to be the fellow who’s doing the talking; just as I’m a little afraid that you’re sometimes like the hungry drummer at the dollar-a-day house—inclined to kill your appetite by eating the cake in the center of the table before the soup comes on.
Of course, I’m glad to see you swing into line and show the proper spirit about coming on here and going to work; but you mustn’t get yourself all “het up” before you take the plunge, because you’re bound to find the water pretty cold at first. I’ve seen a good many young fellows pass through and out of this office. The first week a lot of them go to work they’re in a sweat for fear they’ll be fired; and the second week for fear they won’t be. By the third, a boy that’s no good has learned just how little work he can do and keep his job; while the fellow who’s got the right stuff in him is holding down his own place with one hand and beginning to reach for the job just ahead of him with the other. I don’t mean that he’s neglecting his work; but he’s beginning to take notice, and that’s a mighty hopeful sign in either a young clerk or a young widow.