Fugitives From Labor

YOUNG America in on the anxious-seat. An imploring cry comes up from the hearts of thousands, “What shall we do to be saved − from work ?”

In the happy days of the Adamses, as Professor Agassiz has taught us to say, when every vine was a lodging rent-free, and the fig-trees furnished ready-made clothing, life was a pleasant pastime. But this is an age of cash or barter. The old common-law maxim concerning pains and penalties is the rule of modern society: Qui non habet in crumena, luat in corpore, − “He who cannot pay his fare must work his passage.” To evade this law, to shirk the forecastle, and to devise some means of climbing into the cabin-windows, is the problem that the youth of this generation are trying to solve.

The United States offer so many unprospected or half-worked placers to sharp eyes, that we must look for a great deal of vagabondry. Gold-miners do not settle themselves down to crushing quartz, so long as there are nuggets to be picked up. Rare chances lie hidden in the by-paths of this broad country, to tempt men to straggle from the ranks of the steady workers and turn foragers and bummers.

And in this generation money has attained an extraordinary value. Since Dr. Johnson announced, in his Tour to the Hebrides, that the feudal system was giving way to wealth, most other social distinctions have yielded to it,− particularly in America, where there were few barriers to break down, −and money has become the chief good. Our standard of position in society is financial worth. Our patents of nobility are railway bonds, stock certificates, and mortgages. The income-return list of the United States Internal Revenue Department is the Libro d'Oro of the American Venice. In this age of scepticism, the excellence of accumulated capital is the one thing no man doubts; and when 1 take off my hat to a rich man, which I always do when I meet him, I feel that I cannot be mistaken in paying respect to something demonstrable, tangible, real.

Money furnishes all the blessings of life in this Western World,−health, beauty, wisdom, virtue, consideration; and some theologians have held that even the eye of the needle may expand to admit the camel who has dropped enough of his precious burden upon their premises.

If wealth cannot always give health, it can help to preserve it; it is the best of physicians.

There is nothing so becoming as property. “Handsome is who handsome has,” is the accepted modern version of the old saw.

If a rich man does not pass for sensible and good, it is his own fault. Wisdom can be bought, generally at low prices ; and virtue is always assumed to be an attribute of Fortune except in moral didactic treatises. A cubic ounce of gold can be beaten to cover fourteen hundred and sixty-six square feet; and a skilful capitalist can make it hide quite as large an area of meanness.

What weight an income adds to a man’s sayings and doings ! Your lucky broker, who has just turned a corner in stocks with a fortune, thinks Two Shillings has no right to an opinion when Half a Dollar is in the room. Although a man with a threadbare coat may say anything now-a-days, in spite of the Roman satirist, he can get no one to listen to him. Even genuine wit, like a good picture, shows better in a gilt frame with the varnish of success upon it.

It is not surprising that young men want money, and much of it, and quickly.

There is another stumbling-block in the path of steady work. Politically our progress in democracy is complete; but socially we hang back. The aristocracies ot Europe despised trade ; with us trade is an aristocracy that looks down upon manual labor,−an aristocracy with its gradations of rank and of titles, from merchant-prince to pedler. All who buy and sell consider themselves as belonging to the peerage of business. And as the petite noblesse of France liked to take a better title and gayer armorials than belonged to them, so our lesser nobility and gentry are fond of using a brevet business-title considerably above the position they really fill. They are ashamed of the old English words that have designated their callings for centuries. We all know that shops and shopkeepers are not to be found in the United States. Even thead-and-needle establishments and apple-stands are stores. Within sight of where I write, a maker of false calves, and other cotton or sawdust contrivances to supply the padding which careless Nature often forgets to furnish, calls his workshop a studio. If I were to use the word “ slops ” in a “ready-made clothing depot,” the Sir Piercie Shafton who keeps it would summarily expel me for my lack of euphemism. As a general rule, everybody is above his business, and thinks manual labor mean, and only fit for emigrants.

It is said that our mechanics are nearly all foreigners, and that an American apprentice is an extinct species, like the cave bear or the dodo. Farmers’ sons prefer any way of getting their bread to working with their hands. The pedler’s caste ranks higher than the manly independence of the plough. A country store is an object of ambition, where the only toil is to deal out a glass of wretched tipple to the village sots who haunt those castles of indolence to drink, to smoke, and to twaddle over stale village news. Some young fellows solicit subscriptions for maps or for great American works, or drum for fruit nurseries, patent clothes-wringers, or baby-jumpers. Others aspire to enter the religious mendicant orders of America as paid brethren. They are too proud to work, but not ashamed to beg. Beg is perhaps a hard word ; but solicitation is begging when the solicitor personally profits by it.

The sons of trading fathers despise the old tiresome roads to wealth of their class. Ledgers and law-books are too slow. All are in search of the short cut to fortune. They believe in the philosopher’s stone as implicitly as the alchemists ; they seek for it as earnestly. It is a jewel that will last forever, but its composition varies with each generation.

We of the press get scores of letters from young men, who spread out therein what they imagine to be their qualifications and accomplishments,−and plenty of them, for self-satisfaction is really the first law of Nature. Then follow their hopes and wishes and askings for advice, which, stripped of the flimsy rhetorical wrappers they feel obliged to use in deference to the old prejudice in favor of steady industry, come simply to this: “What is the minimum of work on which a clever creature like myself can live ? And what kind of work is the least irksome and the most respectable ?”

My colleague Tarbox, justly celebrated as a local reporter, belongs to the earnest school, and wishes me to take high ground, and write a sermon on the holiness and dignity of labor. He is always ready with his laborare est orare, and has by heart a passage from a German professor, who, writing of the manners of the Romans in an epoch of their history not unlike this of ours, says : “When a man works merely in order to attain as quickly as possible to enjoyment, it is a mere accident that he does not become a criminal.”

But I tell Tarbox that these foreigners never understand the working of our institutions, nor the genius of our people. As to the dignity of labor, I have written a good deal on that text, particularly just before elections. The phrase sounds well in leading articles and on the stump, and may carry some comfort to a hard-working man. But I doubt if he believes it in his heart. I certainly do not. It is not true. There is no dignity in labor. Honesty, wisdom, manliness, there may be in labor, but not dignity. Dignity is in repose ; the proverb is as old as Julius Cæsar. I might perhaps serve out some cut-and-dried bits of morality that have been prescribed as specifics for such complaints since the days of the Seven Wise Men. We keep them “set up” and ready for use. The only fault of these excellent old remedies is, that they never cure chronic cases of inefficiency, whether it be constitutional or contracted. They are good for nothing unless as a mild tonic for people who could do well enough without them. Now the cases we have to deal with are generally constitutional. When a young man writes to a stranger to ask upon what career in life he shall enter, he sends a diagnosis of his character in his letter. You know at once to what subdivision of the species he belongs. The hunting British squire recognizes only three orders of animals,− game, vermin, and stock. The human race may be divided in the same way. Game men take care of themselves ; the vermin make others take care of them ; and the stock, useful, harmless, and insignificant, except as an aggregate, furnish the first class with tools and the second with victims, and hitherto have done most of the drudgery of the world. Our correspondents belong to a sluggish but ambitious variety of the stock, that is seeking for some respectable or semi-respectable method of avoiding the primeval labor curse. Their own ingenuity failing them, they apply for the use of ours. The robust men, who have “the wrestling thews that throw the world,” know how to get what they want, and ask no one to teach them. Indeed, to ask advice at any time is an indication of weakness. We feel kindly to those who consult us. It is a compliment that we were chosen, and not another; but I do not think that we respect them the more for it.

It is evident that the heroic remedies recommended by my colleague are likely to do harm rather than good to young persons who have outgrown their moral strength. It would be more humane to prescribe a treatment which, though it cannot cure, may alleviate their most distressing symptoms, and enable them to bear the burden of life without too much suffering. I shall, therefore, exhibit some of the methods by which young fellows of tolerable education and address may get along without undue exertion,—Disce puer fortunam ex me, verumque laborem ex aliis. For a youngster of good nerves and hopeful temperament there is nothing better than speculation,−as gambling without pasteboard and ivory is called. Up to-day and down to-morrow is as pleasant and exciting to men of that mould as seesaws and swings to children with strong stomachs. But let those made of feebler stuff bewareBetween the two millstones of winning and losing they will be ground into despair, or into shameless roguery. "Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”

There is no simpler way of “achieving honorable maintenance” than to marry an heiress. But to seek fortune in matrimony is almost like looking for it in a lottery. By some mysterious law of Providence, rich people draw the high prizes. Money is apt to fall in love with money. The female dollar prefers the attentions of her own kind. Cupid, “once a god,” as Tennyson writes, “is now a lawyer’s clerk,” with sharp eves wide open; and suits in forma pauperis are as little likely to succeed in courts of love as in courts of law.

Politics being a subject everybody understands by instinct, young men will naturally turn their attention that way. The number of offices with salaries make this country almost that Frenchman’s Utopia imagined by Madame de Staël, where every adult male was to be a public officer paid by the state. We have even more than this. When all other hopes break down, there is the custom-house,—that last infirmary of noble minds who have failed in every attempt to cure the aches that empty pockets are heirs to. No doubt the profession of politics is generally remunerative ; but where I live, a foreign order of nature’s nobility rules us. We Saxons have fought our battle of Hastings at the polls, and have lost it ; and no one can hope to hold office here, unless he came over with Murphy the Conqueror. Even should he combine in his person that profitable conjunction of knavery, impudence, and laziness which we call a politician, with the physical requisites described by a philosopher of the last century, −Vox stentoria, sempiterna, cum cerebello vacuo, −it would profit him nothing.

The poet Gray makes Jemmy Twitcher marry Divinity, after being refused by Law and Physic. These two smile only upon serious admirers. They who follow the law −at a distance, as some one remarks, never pick up a living. And in medicine, unless the indolent practitioner can invent a pill or a syrup, and can borrow enough to publish lying certificates from country clergymen, and to hire bill-stickers to dirty the face of Nature with the names of his specifics and the wonders they work, he will never earn his daily bread. But Divinity is more easily pleased. It was usual in the generation now passing away to recommend the Church to young gentlemen of moderate energy without capital. And indeed the path seemed easy, and the prospect pleasant.

A year or two in a seminary, a white cravat, a “call” made audible by a salary, Paley’s advice in the matter of sermons,−to make one and to steal three,−all the young women of the parish sitting at his feet, working worsted slippers for them, and swinging their intoxicating little censers of flattery under his nose,−such was the imaginary programme of his career. Certainly a tolerable existence while it lasted. But it seldom did last. The “young probationer and candidate for heaven” married. He selected − destiny always seemed to impel him to it− a “sweet woman,” who overstocked his parsonage, and, like the magician’s apprentice in the ballad, could not rule the young spirits she had evoked. The salary did not increase with the family, and sweet women are never good housekeepers. The congregation began to criticise the old sermons ; a jury of stern matrons, who spoke what minds they had, sat in perpetual session on his doctrines, his wife’s dress, and his children’s behavior ; − and the end of that man was dreary, if he was only a drone in the hive of the Lord. In our day the Church is militant, and needs her ministers in the field. Those who are not able to fight will be sent to garrison some remote post, where there is no danger and little pay.

Art offers many more inducements to our young friends. If they have a knack for sketching and a “feeling for color,”as the slang goes, they need not waste much time in preparatory study. Let them devote themselves to landscape. It is easy to draw a tree that will not shock the eye of an ordinary observer. Little outlay is needed to hire a room ; none whatever to call it a studio. This magical word furnishes it at once, and covers every deficiency in chairs, tables, and carpet. Studio, Artist, − excellent, well-sounding names ! In them is often the secret of the whole business.

An artist has this advantage over other men, − he may indulge i n whatever amusements his means can afford him, and no one will find fault. Every class has its own standard of manners and conduct. The measure and rule for artists have come over the sea, condensed from French feuilletons and Vies de Bohéme. They are supposed to belong, by right of profession, to a reckless, witty, singing, and carousing guild. It is almost needless to say that the real life of the hard-working men who have earned fame by the brush is as unlike all this as possible. But these vague, ultramarine notions of fun and revelry have taken possession of the American mind, just opening to art, and established the standard for artists here. It exists In fact only in the imagination ; for, excepting a few ebullitions in the way of hair, beards, and black sombreros, our artists are as saturnine as the rest of us, and not as good company around the mahogany as a judicious combination of clergymen and lawyers. Nevertheless, so powerful is the conventional, when it has once taken root in the imagination, that some of our younger artists believe themselves to be wild, rollicking fellows, who despise the humdrum existence of the rest of us, although they are sober and economical, pay their bills weekly, and talk their morning paper like other people. Young correspondents ! you will perceive what a chance is here for you. If a kind public, in its youthful enthusiasm for art, invests these steady-going citizens with such delightful romantic qualities, it will of course wink at any irregularities of conduct on your part, as in strict keeping with the character.

In addition, you will always find us of the press your trusty friends. Although behind the scenes myself, the peculiar connection that exists between items-men and artists is as inexplicable to me as the partnership of the owl and the prairie-dog in their dwellings on the plains. Why, when we make every other calling pay roundly for a notice, we puff the artists gratis in the most conspicuous columns of the paper, is a puzzle to me. But the fact exists. Hire your studio, nail up your name on the door, and we will make a pet of you at once, and pat you encouragingly on the back. You shall have little paragraphs of this kind: “Salvator Smith is studying atmospheric effects in the Brooklyn Mountains” ; or, “Smith, our own Salvator, is making studies from nature near Roxbury” ; or, “ He has a grand classical picture on his easel in Green Street, representing a celebrated American in the character of the infant Hercules, strangling the British lion with one hand and the Gallic cock with the other.” Few of our readers may have heard of Smith, but they read these iterated notices, and soon believe Smith to be somebody. And he has the sweet sensation of seeing his name in print at no expense to himself, and the rare luck of fame before it is earned. In the circle he adorns he will be looked upon as a judge in all matters, æsthetical. It is only necessary to have painted a poor picture in order to be an authority in architecture, music, poetry, dress, decoration, furniture, private theatricals, and fancy balls.

At this moment the fashionable world is an oyster, which with his spatula an artist may open. A picture mania rages. Good works bring enormous prices, and any discoloration of canvas in a gilt frame finds a ready purchaser, if signed by a known name. We are a commercial people, and are satisfied with a firstrate indorsement. The patron of art can soon educate himself for the position. The pet little phrases−“chalky,” “sketchy,” “tone,” “repose,” “opaque coloring,” and all the rest of the technical vocabulary−are soon learned; and then if Lorenzo is able and willing to give ten thousand dollars for a picture, he may hold a court of artists and be sure of having a number of pleasant fellows about him. They, too, will be sure of champagne and oysters. All the schools, however different their theories of art may be, agree, I believe, that both of these compositions are excellent.

Lastly, I should like to say a few words in favor of my own noble profession, newspaper editing. Mr. Carlyle may spitefully call it “the California of the spiritually vagabond,” but there is a proud pleasure in knowing that we gentlemen of the press furnish the great American people with their ideas and their phrases ready made, just as Brooks Brothers and Oak Hall provide them with their clothes. All very much alike, it is true,−“our spring style,”−and often ill-fitting and graceless ; but we seem to fill a national want. Our names may be unknown outside of our offices, but the great planets are perceptibly influenced in their courses by little asteroids invisible to the naked eye, and many a celebrity who appears daily in large type is moved by the strings we pull, and knows it not. My comrade Tarbox says: "The oracles that became dumb in the year of our Lord were re-

ally a necessity to mankind, and consequently were made vocal again by the agency of Renaudot, who invented newspapers. The Delphis and Dodonas of the nineteenth century are newspaper offices.” This may explain why young men in search of a profitable career write to us instead of applying to rich merchants or to dashing brokers. How fortunate that those who consult us never see the shrine or the priests ! No gold or silver glitters in the modern adytum, or editor’s room, and the tripod from which we distribute our afflatus to the compositors is a wooden three-legged stool, unpainted and uncushioned. That great oracle, Tarbox himself, was not long ago a noble savage who ran wild in the woods near some country college. Caught and caged in that institution, he devoted three years to pipes, and one to belles lettres, and receiving from a goodnatured Faculty some sort of a degree, probably that of tobacco-laureate, came thence to town ; where, inspired by a salary of ten dollars a week, he enlightens the public on finance and politics, art and literature, manners and taste, and writes those brilliant articles the world willingly lets die. When the California gold mines were first discovered, a clever fellow said that he knew of no opening for a young man like the Southwest Pass. That is still true for rough, coarse, self-asserting characters; but for delicate, refined, stay-at-home natures, who have wishes without wills, there are many ways of getting their porridge without selling their birthright of doing as little as possible. If they cannot float buoyantly on the surface, at least they need not sink far beneath it, but may enjoy a quiet, water-logged kind of existence, not devoid of comfort.