( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The club has become a national institution. We have among us clubs and clubs—of every conceivable name and pretext for organization. In the heat and hate of political controversy men form clubs to advance the interests of their party or candidate. For the sake of social enjoyment and sometimes as a cloak for social dissipation, clubs are formed of a select and con-genial company. For literary advancement and intellectual improvement, we have recourse again to the club as the most natural and efficient means of accomplishing our purpose. Men of capital meet together in clubs and there lay plans to enhance the power of capital and heap millions together. The laborer in turn meets his fellow-laborer in the club room, there to discuss his real and fancied wrongs, and organize to resist the encroachments of capital. In both cases this is too often done in a narrow spirit of dishonest gain or in the weak impulsiveness of blinded ignorance. The club thus becomes or may become an instrument of evil. That state of society which once existed where different classes of individuals were irrevocably separated by caste seems to be well nigh realized again in the club life of our American cities. No one with ordinary observation and a modicum of forecast can fail to see a growing tendency of select and narrow exclusion in the clubs of the present day. We think this tendency bodes ill to the best interests of our society. Men no longer meet in the Agora of Athens, under the blue sky and calm heavens, to discuss the latest complications in politics, but in the gas-lit hall with elegant furnishings, with boon companions to converse together in the fumes of tobacco, under the inspiration of cognac and champagne. To the club, night by night, to smoke and loaf and drink and play, and consume the leisure of life in the wastefulness of idleness and bestiality. Wife and family left in cold neglect at home, perhaps denied some of the necessaries of life to furnish means for the elegant extravagance of the husband and father in the club among joyful companions. We cannot look upon this custom of the time with approval. View it as you will, there is an abiding conviction that the best elements of our society are being slowly undermined by the snobism and evil associations of the club. At its best it is an institution calculated to bring out and foster a narrow, selfish view of life and duty. Men gather in them from some preconceived purpose, which generally appeals to a sordid or selfish motive. Once in, the members of the club are looked upon as better than those outside, and the result is to narrow one's intercourse down to the select few and draw rigid lines about one's conduct and friendships.
It is not intended to enter into a tirade against secret societies, nor that tendency among men to form congenial associations. No doubt there are societies organized upon broad and catholic principles, that are of great and lasting benefit to those who belong to them. And, no doubt, as long as the world stands, men will fall into cliques and parties, drawn together by the congenialities of their natures. But these facts do not remove nor atone for the alarming abuse of club associations in this country. Men throw away time, money and health in reckless waste. Men whose meagre incomes are only sufficient to support their families in the plainest way are high up among the degrees of our oldest fraternities. Indeed, the writer has heard of a number of instances in which men have gone in debt to raise funds to pay for another degree in some favorite lodge. Under the novelty of secret signs, grips and regalia, poor men are led to emulate their richer companions, and often incur unwarrantable expense to keep up the tinsel and flash of club life.