A Man From Maine
by Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1923. 8vo. xv+ 278 pp. $3.00.. New York:
HAVING been much occupied recently with the excellent life of P. T. Barnum, by Mr. M. R. Werner, I was impressed with the resemblances and differences between Barnum’s career and that of Mr. Curtis, as narrated by Mr. Bok in A Man From Maine.
Barnum and Mr. Curtis both belonged to the average sturdy type of native New Englander of the middle of the nineteenth century, Barnum coming from Connecticut, and Curtis from Portland. Both started with practically nothing and made their way up by unceasing, determined struggle and effort. Both practised a magnificent, unfaltering self-control, a firm, far-sighted thrift, which was always ready to sacrifice immediate pleasure to future profit. Both had the keenest business instinct, and played the game for the love of it, always alertly awake to a good bargain, yet too intelligent to be small or narrow in their traffic. Both were indifferent to money in itself, and largely to what it would bring. Above all, both frankly admitted that they owed their progress in the world to advertising, to telling the public aptly and insistently what they had to offer it. And both earned the same immense material reward, had the excitement of success, the full intoxication of what Mr. Bok justly calls the romance of business.
But then the difference. With Mr. Curtis you seem to move in an altogether finer atmosphere, purer, clearer. The oppressive, blatant vulgarity that haunted Barnum is absent. And the difference in honesty. Certainly Barnum was not intentionally or consciously dishonest. But he touched things that Mr. Curtis would not go near for any fortune. And one asks oneself whether the difference was wholly in the men, or partly in the improvement of the public attitude. The men were different, no doubt; but one likes to think with Mr. Bok that the business world is higher in tone than it was in 1860 and 1870.
Both these books are stimulating to American youth, though Mr. Bok’s in a much nobler way. Be thrifty, intelligent, healthy, self-controlled, — or. as Mr. Bok puts it, have character, — and all these good things of the golden world will be yours. Which is very enticing and delightful. Only, when one is of a perverse disposition, one is apt to think of those who have not character, of the millions of wrecks and failures and outcasts and weaklings, who never get the good things of the golden world at all, never devise any moneymaking schemes, but only money-losing ones, never drive any successful bargains, but only the other kind. Their own fault, you say. Well, perhaps it is. But the world is lamentably full of them, and the thought of them somewhat dulls the flavor of even Mr. Bok’s pæan.
All the same, A Man From Maine is a triumphant, dream-compelling book, I wonder just how Mr. Curtis feels when he reads it, if he reads it, and I will bet a good deal that he does. GAMALIEL BRADFORD.