Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son/Letter 4
|From John Graham, head of the house of Graham & Co., at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago, to his son, Pierrepont Graham, at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York. Mr. Pierrepont has suggested the grand tour as a proper finish to his education.|
June 25, 189—
Dear Pierrepont: Your letter of the seventh twists around the point a good deal like a setter pup chasing his tail. But I gather from it that you want to spend a couple of months in Europe before coming on here and getting your nose in the bullring. Of course, you are your own boss now and you ought to be able to judge better than any one else how much time you have to waste, but it seems to me, on general principles, that a young man of twenty-two, who is physically and mentally sound, and who hasn't got a dollar and has never earned one, can't be getting on somebody's pay-roll too quick. And in this connection it is only fair to tell you that I have instructed the cashier to discontinue your allowance after July 15. That gives you two weeks for a vacation—enough to make a sick boy well, or a lazy one lazier.
I hear a good deal about men who won't take vacations, and who kill themselves by overwork, but it's usually worry or whiskey. It's not what a man does during working-hours, but after them, that breaks down his health. A fellow and his business should be bosom friends in the office and sworn enemies out of it. A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o'clock every night and isn't opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.
Some fellows leave the office at night and start out to whoop it up with the boys, and some go home to sit up with their troubles—they're both in bad company. They're the men who are always needing vacations, and never getting any good out of them. What every man does need once a year is a change of work—that is, if he has been curved up over a desk for fifty weeks and subsisting on birds and burgundy, he ought to take to fishing for a living and try bacon and eggs, with a little spring water, for dinner. But coming from Harvard to the packinghouse will give you change enough this year to keep you in good trim, even if you didn't have a fortnight's leeway to run loose.
You will always find it a safe rule to take a thing just as quick as it is offered—especially a job. It is never easy to get one except when you don't want it; but when you have to get work, and go after it with a gun, you'll find it as shy as an old crow that every farmer in the county has had a shot at.
When I was a young fellow and out of a place, I always made it a rule to take the first job that offered, and to use it for bait. You can catch a minnow with a worm, and a bass will take your minnow. A good fat bass will tempt an otter, and then you've got something worth skinning. Of course, there's no danger of your not being able to get a job with the house—in fact, there is no real way in which you can escape getting one; but I don't like to see you shy off every time the old man gets close to you with the halter.
I want you to learn right at the outset not to play with the spoon before you take the medicine. Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible. Procrastination is the longest word in the language, but there's only one letter between its ends when they occupy their proper places in the alphabet.
Old Dick Stover, for whom I once clerked in Indiana, was the worst hand at procrastinating that I ever saw. Dick was a powerful hearty eater, and no one ever loved meal-time better, but he used to keep turning over in bed mornings for just another wink and staving off getting up, until finally his wife combined breakfast and dinner on him, and he only got two meals a day. He was a mighty religious man, too, but he got to putting off saying his prayers until after he was in bed, and then he would keep passing them along until his mind was clear of worldly things, and in the end he would drop off to sleep without saying them at all. What between missing the Sunday morning service and never being seen on his knees, the first thing Dick knew he was turned out of the church. He had a pretty good business when I first went with him, but he would keep putting off firing his bad clerks until they had lit out with the petty cash; and he would keep putting off raising the salaries of his good ones until his competitor had hired them away. Finally, he got so that he wouldn't discount his bills, even when he had the money; and when they came due he would give notes so as to keep from paying out his cash a little longer. Running a business on those lines is, of course, equivalent to making a will in favor of the sheriff and committing suicide so that he can inherit. The last I heard of Dick he was ninety-three years old and just about to die. That was ten years ago, and I'll bet he's living yet. I simply mention Dick in passing as an instance of how habits rule a man's life.
There is one excuse for every mistake a man can make, but only one. When a fellow makes the same mistake twice he's got to throw up both hands and own up to carelessness or cussedness. Of course, I knew that you would make a fool of yourself pretty often when I sent you to college, and I haven't been disappointed. But I expected you to narrow down the number of combinations possible by making a different sort of a fool of yourself every time. That is the important thing, unless a fellow has too lively an imagination, or has none at all. You are bound to try this European foolishness sooner or later, but if you will wait a few years, you will approach it in an entirely different spirit—and you will come back with a good deal of respect for the people who have sense enough to stay at home.
|"Old Dick Stover was the worst hand at procrastinating that I ever saw."|
Culture is not a matter of a change of climate. You'll hear more about Browning to the square foot in the Mississippi Valley than you will in England. And there's as much Art talk on the Lake front as in the Latin Quarter. It may be a little different, but it's there.
I went to Europe once myself. I was pretty raw when I left Chicago, and I was pretty sore when I got back. Coming and going I was simply sick. In London, for the first time in my life, I was taken for an easy thing. Every time I went into a store there was a bull movement. The clerks all knocked off their regular work and started in to mark up prices.
They used to tell me that they didn't have any gold-brick men over there. So they don't. They deal in pictures—old masters, they call them. I bought two—you know the ones—those hanging in the waiting-room at the stock yards; and when I got back I found out that they had been painted by a measly little fellow who went to Paris to study art, after Bill Harris had found out that he was no good as a settling clerk. I keep 'em to remind myself that there's no fool like an old American fool when he gets this picture paresis.
The fellow who tried to fit me out with a coat-of-arms didn't find me so easy. I picked mine when I first went into business for myself—a charging steer—and it's registered at Washington. It's my trademark, of course, and that's the only coat-of-arms an American merchant has any business with. It's penetrated to every quarter of the globe in the last twenty years, and every soldier in the world has carried it—in his knapsack.
I take just as much pride in it as the fellow who inherits his and can't find any place to put it, except on his carriage door and his letter-head—and it's a heap more profitable. It's got so now that every jobber in the trade knows that it stands for good quality, and that's all any Englishman's coat-of-arms can stand for. Of course, an American's can't stand for anything much—generally it's the burned-in-the skin brand of a snob.
After the way some of the descendants of the old New York Dutchmen with the hoe and the English general storekeepers have turned out, I sometimes feel a little uneasy about what my great-grandchildren may do, but we'll just stick to the trade-mark and try to live up to it while the old man's in the saddle.
I simply mention these things in a general way. I have no fears for you after you've been at work for a few years, and have struck an average between the packinghouse and Harvard; then if you want to graze over a wider range it can't hurt you. But for the present you will find yourself pretty busy trying to get into the winning class.
Your affectionate father,