( Originally Published 1879 )
IN every community there are men who are deter-mined not to work if work can be shirked. Without avowing this determination to themselves, or reflecting that they are fighting against a law of nature, they begin life with a resolution to enjoy all the good things that are accumulated by the labor of man, without contributing their own share of labor to the common stock. Hence the endless schemes for getting rich in a day—for reaching the goal of wealth by a few gigantic bounds, instead of by slow and plodding steps. It matters not in what such men deal, whether in oroide watches or in watered stock; whether they make "corners" in wheat or in gold; whether they gamble in oats or at roulette; whether they steal a railway or a man's money by "gift-concerts"—the principle is in all cases the same, namely, to obtain something for nothing, to get values without parting with anything in exchange. Everybody knows the history of such men, the vicissitudes they experience — vicissitudes rendering the millionaire of today a beggar tomorrow.
Firms are constantly changing. Splendid mansions change hands suddenly. A brilliant party is held in an up-town house, the sidewalk is carpeted, and the papers are full of the brilliant reception. The next season the house will be dismantled, and a family, "going into the country," or "to Europe," will offer their imported furniture to the public under the hammer. A brilliant equipage is seen in the parks in the early part of the season, holding gaily dressed ladies and some successful speculators. Before the season closes some government officer or sporting man will drive that team on his own account, while the gay party that called the outfit their own in the early part of the season have passed away forever. This grows out of the manner in which business is done. There is no thrift, no forecast, no thought for the morrow. A man who makes fifty thousand dollars, instead of settling half of it on his wife and children, throws the whole into a speculation with the expectation of making it a hundred thousand. A successful dry goods jobber, who has a balance of seventy-five thousand dollars to his credit in the bank, instead of holding it for a wet day or a tight time, goes into a little stock speculation and hopes to make a fortune at a strike. Men who have a good season launch out into extravagancies and luxuries, and these, with the gambling mania, invariably carry people under.
A gentleman, who had a very successful trade, built him an extraordinary country seat in Westchester county, which was the wonder of the age. His house was more costly than the palace of the Duke of Buccleuch. His estate comprised several acres laid out in the most expensive manner, and the whole was encircled with gas lights, several hundred in number, which were lit every evening. As might have been expected, with the first ,reverse, (and it comes sooner or later to all,) the merchant was crushed, and as he thought disgraced; and he was soon carried to his sepulchre, the wife obliged to leave her luxurious home, and by the kindness of creditors was allowed, with her children, to find temporary refuge in the coachman's loft in her stable.
Americans are always in a hurry when they have an object to accomplish; but if there is any vocation or pursuit in which gradual, slow-coach processes are scouted with peculiar detestation, it is that of acquiring riches. Especially is this true at the present day, when fortunes are continually changing hands; and men are so often, by a lucky turn of the wheel, lifted from the lowest depths of poverty to the loftiest pinnacle of wealth and affluence. Exceptional persons there are, who are content with slow gains—willing to accumulate riches by adding penny to penny, dollar to dollar; but the mass of business men are too apt to despise such a tedious, laborious ascent of the steep of fortune, and to rush headlong into schemes for the sudden acquisition of wealth. Hence honorable labor is too often despised; a man of parts is expected to be above hard work.
There is, with a great majority of men, a want of constancy in whatever plans they undertake. They toil as though they doubted that life had earnest and decided pathways; as though there was no compass but the shifting winds, with each of which they must change their course. Thus they beat about on the ocean of time, but never cross it, to rest on delightful islands or mainlands.