Club Life From A Financial Point Of View
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The worst feature, perhaps, of clubs and club-life is the expense connected therewith. To establish and maintain a club-house of any sort requires a large outlay of money. This falls, of course, at after capita rate upon the members of the club. Aside from the necessary expenses for the maintenance of the club-house, there are many other expenses which need not here be particularized. One of the most notable features of the organized societies, as well as convivial clubs and political clubs, is the large expense which falls upon the members. The assessments, dues, fees, etc., are laid upon the members equally, without any reference to their ability to pay. These financial burdens can easily be carried by the wealthy and well-to-do, but there are generally, if not always, a number of men in a lodge or club for whom it is an actual sacrifice to meet the fees and assessments of the society to which they belong. This form of expenditure is known in political economy as non-productive capital. It is so much wealth paid into the treasury of an organization for which adequate returns are never realized, The money, therefore, that is used so freely in this country in the maintenance of clubs may be designated as waste. We do not forget that organized societies bestow certain benefits upon their members. For instance; an organized society may use a portion of its funds to relieve its members in the event of sickness or to relieve the widow and orphan in the case of death. Another such society may grant benefits to its members in the way of organized assistance of various kinds that cannot here be mentioned. It is claimed, of course, that the benefits are an adequate return in one way and another for the capital invested in fees, dues and assessments.
But let us examine a little into the benefits of club life. It is assumed that the benefits of a club organization shall accrue to all the members equally ; but to a man who has had any experience with organized societies, this assumption will be recognized at once as the veriest nonsense. The benefits of organized socities, the real benefits we mean, are divided among the members about as equally as wealth is divided among the members of the human race. The fact is, that these benefits are enjoyed principally by a few men. They are furnished by per capita taxes. They are manipulated and enjoyed by the men who "know the ropes" as the expression goes. There are men in every organization of this kind upon whom naturally fall the greater proportion of the honors and benefits of that organization. It cannot be otherwise as long as human nature is human nature. The result is there-fore, that the emoluments and benefits are furnished by the many and enjoyed by the few. The conclusion of the argument therefore is this: that men pay their treasure into the organization upon equal terms, and receive the benefits of the organization on very unequal terms. If a man well versed in club life experience will give the subject a moment's reflection he will quickly give assent to this statement. There will occur to his mind a hundred instances in which, from one cause and another, men have been disappointed in obtaining the benefit and advancement which they had every reason to anticipate. This is not spoken unadvisedly. The author is not a novice in club life nor a disgruntled lodge man, who wishes to complain of any of the workings of the clubs to which he has belonged or of the uniformly courteous treatment he has received in a number of clubs and orders. Indeed I am keenly sensible of great benefits and favors received from club and society affiliations. The author does not wish to shut up all clubs nor to argue against the tendency of humanity to form cliques and fraternal associations. But the fact remains that club life is a very expensive luxury and that in the great majority of cases the money, time and effort which is expended upon club life must be posted to the debit side of profit and loss, and far too often does it happen that no entry will occur on the credit side.
Then again men do not always exercise sound business discretion in club life. They often join expensive clubs when their salaries do not warrant the expense and, when once a member, the temptation is strong for them to pass along into the higher degrees of the order or in some other manner to continually increase their expenses. The result is that men are often financially embarrassed or even ruined by their senseless expenditure upon their clubs. This of course is an evil for which the society or club is not directly responsible. The club cannot be expected to look after the personal finances of all its members. But while the club, as such, is not responsible for the financial ruin of this or that individual, it is as certain as fate that the club furnishes an opportunity and a strong temptation for men to waste their money. The author knew, a few years ago, a man of a genial, good heart. He was a laboring man with a devoted wife and family. His trade gave him an ample support. Happiness and peace rested upon his little home. He was as happy and prosperous and joyful as a man could well be. He was induced by fellow workmen to join one of the older organized orders. He became, at once, infatuated with its splendid ritual. The good fellowship and fraternal feeling which prevailed in the lodge room was like a new revelation to him. He entered heart and soul into the spirit as well as the letter of the lodge work. He became ambitious to rise to the higher degrees and to learn all he could of the order and its workings. He was held in high esteem by his fellows in the lodge. He was honored by them and advanced to high positions. But all this made inroads upon his time. He was obliged to neglect his work to some degree. Then, too, the expenses incurred by fees of initiation and other expenses connected with the lodge work played havoc with his small income. His noble wife feeling, of course, the burden of economy which was now much increased, bore her lot patiently, had fewer dresses, less holidays than formerly, and actually felt pleased that her husband could find so much enjoyment in the order to which he was devoted. She felt a little touched perhaps that the devotion of her husband had been transferred from his happy home to the lodge, yet she bore the change bravely and never once murmured. In the course of time the uniformed order of which this man was a prominent officer was summoned to a distant city to show an exhibition drill. The poor man's money was exhausted. The expense of the trip would not be regarded great to a man of means, but our friend's finances had fallen into that condition where the spending of a hundred dollars meant financial ruin. The man must go or lose his prestige in the lodge. He was too proud to ask assistance of the men who were under his command, and who perhaps were envious of him, and so after a discussion lasting far into the night, after tears and prayers, and the consent of that noble wife, he put a mortgage on that happy home for the paltry sum he needed to pay his expenses. He attended that exhibition drill and his comrades said he never behaved so well, but we know that he carried a lump of lead in his breast. He went into the drill with a stern-set face and his little company won a much coveted prize. They bore it home in triumph and hung it in the lodge room. The author has heard him say since that that gay banner represented the price of his home and his happiness. The expenses of his lodge life did not decrease after this. He labored hard and struggled bravely and more than once he received some assistance from his comrades in the lodge; but in a few years the home was gone, under the terrible grip of foreclosure. For five years he has lived in the old home and paid yearly rent. He is a broken-spirited, unhappy man. The wife is only a shade sadder, and a little older and tries now to cheer a life that has grown weary with bearing its burden of sorrow. The club has been given up, prestige in the lodge is lost and his active connection with the order has ceased. He is treated by his former comrades with a kind of forced fraternal greeting, they look upon him as a poor fool who did not have discretion enough to manage his own finances. Some of them will never know the bitterness of that heart so terribly blasted through his associations with club-life. We suspect that this experience is that of thousands in this land.