Three Men of Business
FRIENDLY circumstances enabled me to read in manuscript Arthur Pound’s able biography of Johnson of the Mohawks, which is to be published on April 15. This early American, so adventurous, so enterprising, is in fetching contrast to the more tired business men to-day.
IT is not far-fetched to sec a likeness in Rathenau, John Wanamaker, and Sir William Johnson. In the first place all three were men of boundless energy; all three succeeded greatly in affairs; all three combined commerce and statecraft; and all three were idealists, in the sense that they sought ideal principles of justice and general good as the foundation of their immense business activities.
Count Kessler, the biographer of Walther Rathenau (Harcourt, Brace, $3.75), somewhat surprisingly makes the fact that Rathenau was a Jew the keynote of his book. We are asked to study the psychology of the Jew as contrasted with the Prussian atmosphere that surrounded him; more, stress is laid on Rathenau’s spiritual problem as a dark ‘fear-man,’ faced by blond ‘couragemen,’ and we are told again and again that Rathenau bowed down and worshiped the ‘blond beast’ of Nietzsche, which turned ferociously upon him and assassinated him. We are further asked to see in Rathenau a man of genuine spirituality, a religious soul, who showed the purity of his inspiration by a kind of transcendental communism. We remain unconvinced. Rathenau’s kingdom of heaven, exalted in earlier chapters, shrinks to a ‘German earthly paradise’ later on, an immense heer garden with pretzels hanging on the trees. In the field of statesmanship we are met with a like limitation. As we read, it becomes quite clear that Rathenau advocated and followed the policy of Fulfillment. not from any true sense of moral obligation, but because it would pay, and pay well. Stresemann was clever enough to piek up the broken thread when Rathenau was murdered. Let us add that one of the valuable elements in this life is the sequence of letters from Walther Rathenau to his friend. That friend remains as impalpable as a wraith, for the reason that Rathenau is eternally writing about himself.
The business biography of John Wanamaker, by Joseph H. Appel (Macmillan, $5.00), is an excellent piece of work, compiled rather than composed. One admires the tireless accuracy with which speeches and adages and planks are laid end to end, A figure of considerable solidity is the result. One is inclined to think that something of perspective would be gained if the biographer could stand back and look at his subject from a distance. Truer proportions might come out. For example, Wanamaker’s fight against the Quay machine is a far more real piece of statesmanship than his accomplishments as Postmaster-General in President Harrison’s administration. If it were possible to take that section of the sturdy Philadelphian’s life and write it again with really complete details, — as to the elements of corruption involved, the ways in which they were made effective and riveted on the city, and the means taken by Wanamaker to break Philadelphia’s fetters,—we should have a work of immense interest and high value. Another problem in perspective: one is inclined to think that the life of John Wanamaker is here treated too much as though it were an isolated phenomenon. In reality, it was one symptom of an age of concentration, the movement from cottage industries to factories, which began about the year 1860. Take two distinguished men, Wanamaker’s neighbor, John B. Stetson, the hatter, and Douglas, the shoemaker. Both built edifices comparable to Wanamaker’s; and both, as it happened, had in their lives a chapter of Wild West adventure, exceedingly picturesque. It would be easy to name a dozen men among Wanamaker’s contemporaries, to make clear that the Philadelphian’s creative endeavor was but one stream among many which made an epoch of American history.
Here is an immediate contrast with Sir William Johnson, The burly baronet, Johnson of the Mohawks, by Arthur Pound and R. E. Day (Macmillan, $6.00). stands alone. There is no figure in American history like him, and it is not too much to say that, when he died in 1774, he was a greater figure than George Washington then was. Arthur Pound deserves our warmest thanks for accomplishing what one had thought well-nigh impossible. Even at this late date he has added a great organic figure to American history, one who stands out not only as a most notable American, but also as a noble, courageous, and highly successful man, a genuine addition to the gallery of the world’s worthies. Our biographer errs when he calls a baronetcy a ‘patent of nobility,’ and implies that it confers ‘baronial rank.’ Sir Wilfrid Lawson once wittily described a baronet as ‘an unfortunate being, who ceased to be a gentleman without becoming a nobleman.’ and the characterization is technically correct. But our author makes no mistake when he insists on the genuine greatness of Sir William Johnson, his essential nobility, his splendid protect ion of the aboriginal Americans — protection against their own weaknesses as well as the avarice, cruelty, and cunning of unscrupulous whites. Arthur Pound exhibits concerning Sir William Johnson’s conjugal relationships a penetrating curiosity that would have done credit to a Victorian old maid; yet the result of his prying is all to the credit of his somewhat unconventional hero, and casts no shadow on his devoted womankind. The figure of Miss Molly, who earned the title of ‘brown Lady Johnson,’ is admirably understood and admirably drawn. One would like to see a drama grow out of this splendid story; there are abundant scenes and situations that reveal character dramatically and vigorously. In recommending this fine book with enthusiastic conviction, one should add well-merited praise of the years of patient work by which Richard E. Day has accurately and lucidly arranged the immense mass of records that make this admirable history so real.