Beveridge, a Study of the Self-made Man.


Beveridge, a Study of the Self-made Man.


THE best judge did not die with Brutus, but the impartial friend has not yet been born. For one to tell a friend’s faults would be ungenerous; to recount his virtues superfluous. As surely as a man’s sin will find him out, a man’s strength will be found out, If his light can be hidden under a bushel, we may be sure it is but a one candle power light. The divine fire is not lit by the hand of friendship, nor quenched by the breath of enmity. Every man must serve his own gods and guard his own altars.

We may write around the living, but our shrewdest analysis will fail to reach that inner man—that subconscious self, so subtle that we cannot understand its reasonings in our friends, nor fathom its motives in our enemies; so elusive that we cannot follow its working's even in ourselves. It is only when the disembodied spirits some trooping back to people the pages of history that we begin to know men as they were and are.

This, then, is not to be an article on “The Real” Albert J. Beveridge —a chronicle of human weakness that lifts us to fellowship with a man in one anecdote; and of superhuman strength that exalts him far above us in the next. Rather it will be a little sermon on The Self-made Man, with Beveridge’s name as a text to tie to, and only so much of him in it as I may need for my firstly, secondly, and lastly. For there is nothing that we cannot best get at by expressing it in terms of some one man. To know whether the Panama Canal will be dug, we need not look over the ground, but we should hunt up Shonts. If he is a strong man, then the canal is an accomplished fact. If he is the right man for the work, then Roosevelt has added another force to those working for his own fame.

Around every great figure in history is grouped a company of the great.. Napoleon found not only the crown of France lying in the dust, but swords for the men who helped him hold it against all Europe. He knew military genius wherever he saw it, and in its hands he placed the baton of a marshal. A strong man lets out his strength at usury when he joins strong men to his fortunes.

The tree of life still springs from the same parent stock as in the beginning. Unpruned and unrestrained it still bears the same bitter fruit. Like the wild apple by the roadside, it kills itself by the very exuberance of its growth. And the dominant strain in every boy tends down and back to the primal savage. So life must be a ceaseless pruning back of the bad and a careful grafting on of the good. Every man must be a Burbank, working patiently through repeated failures to fix the good and the true in himself.

The natural man is simply selfishness raised to the nth power. But that is the seedling stock which, properly grafted, brings forth the fruits of unselfishness in the end. It is from this natural man that we get our useful variations. It is in the acquired man that we see how any individual has fixed and developed them. And so it is that the acquired, not the natural, man is peculiarly significant.

We know as much about keeping the human body sound as about the care of trees; as much about training a boy as about developing fruits; as much about shaping the mind as about changing the colors of flowers. But we shall not use that knowledge to the full until we really believe that Nature plays no favorites; that she recognizes but one law—obedience. And Success is the science of obedience. It is only because we do not more fully apply our knowledge that we have the anomaly of the self-made man succeeding in almost any given thing out of all proportion to the number who start with the world to choose from for their equipment. For from the first the self-made man has had to obey in order to live.

The law of averages applies to men as well as to trees. There is just as much potential energy and ability cradled in Fifth Avenue as on the farms along the Wabash. But the news of what the old man’s son has been doing appears oftenest in the society columns, while the second generation from the Wabash figures in the big political story on the first page.

It is of no significance that Beveridge began life on a farm, became a logger, a book agent working his way through college, a plainsman, a law clerk; but it is significant that by these steps he mounted to the Senate. It is significant that by this process, or its equivalent, so many men win the greatest prizes of life; so few, comparatively, by other and easier ways. The necessity for the old struggle as a means to bread may be removed, but not. apparently, as a means to development. Life is not yet a game for the gentleman amateur.

It must be that in this familiar American process there is something that develops character, that vitalizes education. And if we can make that thing a part of the home and the college life of the boy who starts out with every material advantage, we shall take a step toward replacing natural with intelligent selection in the making of men.

That we are coming more and more to appreciate the importance of starting a boy right is shown in the steadily increasing drift toward country life. For a part of the year, at least, we take our children to the fields. But just when their city pallor has given way to country tan, we hurry them back to town, that they may develop their minds in its schools and their bodies in its streets. As yet we have only half-convictions and the half-courage that goes with them.

When our boys go to the country they play; when they return to the city they study and play; but the real country boys study, play, and work—not the stunting, stupefyingwork of the town, but the wholesome work of the fields. They are unconsciously, often unwillingly, obeying the simplest and most important of natural laws.

Beveridge and boys like him add pennies to the world’s wealth from the day when they first drive home the cows; they are disciplined by duty from the hour when they first grasp the plow handles; they are grounded in health, summer and winter, through the years when one builds the body in which one lives and works through a lifetime; they are at school both in and out of doors, and the lessons of the fields more than equalize the difference between the little red schoolhouse and the big stone grammar school. For here in the country wealth is created: there in the city it is only marketed. The city is simply the business agent of the country. These fields are the basis of every trade, of every business, of every profession. Their lessons we must learn. Of course the city has its lessons, too, but few that cannot better wait. No man can be a great constructive merchant, or an understanding writer, or a wise ruler, who does not know the basic facts of agriculture. And yet there is a curious sort of educated snob who takes a pitiful pride in not knowing these things, as if, in some way, this homely knowledge might jostle rudely against his well-bred culture. Verily, the pride of ignorance transcends the pride of learning.

When you take the son of the average, hard-working, plain-living, Godfearing American farmer, and to the average country boy’s education In study, play, and work add a little more than the average country boy’s brain, you have about the best stock for making a man that America has yet produced. If anything is holding that boy down, it has got to give. If he wants to go to college, he will go. And usually he does go under the best possible circumstances for his fullest development, because he has to pay his own way.

He goes too, as a general thing, to a small college, in a country town, where for four years he lives in an atmosphere of work, of sacrifice, of wholesome ambition, with play enough to leaven the whole. His president may not be so able a man as the head of a great university, but he knows his sheep, both white and black; his professors may not be so “cultured,” but they teach small classes, and so they can concentrate and burn into the boy’s brain what they have to give; the laboratory equipment may be poorer, but it is enough for the youngster who is willing to add to it the best that is in him; campus, buildings, surroundings, all may be shabbier and meaner, but at least a spirit of friendliness and true democracy pervades them. Last and most important, the boy must work at other things than books. Given a college that is fighting for existence, and a student that is fighting for a chance, and you have a fine combination for producing militant alumni.

I may lay too much stress on the importance of a young man’s working at some manual or mental moneymaking pursuit while he is at school, but it does seem rather foolish to graduate bachelors of arts into the primary grade of the working world. It should, for instance, be impossible for a university to turn out men unacquainted with the simple, fundamental things of business. But we meet them daily in the kindergarten departments of practical life, timid in trying, bungling in doing, all for the lack of a little of the lower education with which to quicken the higher. Yet, ounce for ounce of gray matter, these more favored fellows should beat out the self-made man, if we could utilize our knowledge of the secret, which is not a secret, of their strength.

Beveridge had to support himself straight through his college course. He did that and helped the old folks. Yet he found time to join the debating society, to take an active part in fraternity affairs, to exercise regularly, and to get his share of the college fun. To do all this he had to make things fit together tight. But in doing it, he mastered the greatest secret of efficiency—to waste no time. Most men of seventy have lived only thirty-five years. They have frittered away the other thirty-five.

The ability to economize time implies self-mastery, and that in turn breeds self-reliance. These essentials are simply moral courage, trained and disciplined; and that must be the parent stock of any boy who is going to succeed in this world. There is a good deal to be said in favor of conditions that force a boy to fix in himself at twenty those qualities which so many more favored individuals do not acquire until they are thirty.

Beveridge had taken his course in elementary agriculture while he was going through the public schools; he was now to learn the principles of business along with his Latin and literature. He became a book agent and spotted the marble-topped tables of Iowa with a portly compendium on the pursuit of health, happiness, and liberty. He did not want to be a book agent, but it offered, and he was not getting money from home; he was sending it there. It was a living, and more —experience.

And experience, like matter, is never lost. To approach the guardian mastiff of the gate with the due-guard and pass-word of a master; to make friends with the baby; to be properly solicitous about the grandmother’s rheumatism; and gradually to beguile the wife from her preserving to an inspection of a volume containing 1,001 choice, new receipts—these things are trivialities, but they are the primer of politics. To sell books; to make out five-dollar contracts; and to collect the money from the husband —all that is petty, but it is the first lesson in business.

When a man does a thing well, it does well by him. During his first vacation Beveridge made so much money that, for the second, he was appointed a special agent by the book concern. So he drilled half the college in the mysteries of health, happiness, and liberty during the spring, and took this squad along with him the next summer. Again he did so well that the publishers offered him a large salary to take a permanent position with them. But he would not accept, because he did not want to stay a book agent at any price. He had already heard his call, and it was to the bar.

The small colleges turn out few men that support themselves, either wholly or in part, who do not know just what they are driving at. A man who wants an education as bad as that knows what he wants it for. Necessity develops aptitudes quickly. A man learns early to know himself, and so to “find himself” and his life’s work, where, under easier conditions, he might be hemming and hawing over it all through his college years. He does not take courses because they are snaps, but because he needs them in his business. There is no “perhaps” in his lexicon, but “must” is on every page. And there is no alternative for must.

So we find Beveridge in college determined to be a lawyer, and hoping to get into politics, studying elocution, reading the great orators, and trying his raw powers wherever he found a little assemblage that he could get the drop on. When coveys were scarce and shy, he would go off and declaim to himself. Most doctors, when they are sure they are right, go ahead—on a dog; but Beveridge tried it on himself.

Amusing enough this in its way, but when we have had our laugh, ft is worth while stopping to think it over. The school in which Beveridge was educated had taught him the three great lessons—self-support, self-mastery, and self-reliance. From these he was progressing naturally to the fourth—self-advancement. He knew that he was working under a master who had no favorites; that no matter what exceptions there are to man’s law, there is none to Nature’s; he could win only if he were the fittest. There was no place for him on the team because his daddy had been on it; no class presidency because the old man was a leading citizen. When he went into the law he would get no clients because he belonged to the clubs, and had influential relatives; but only because he could win cases hands down. When he got into politics he would be heard only if he could compel attention. He must first conquer indifference and then fight enmity. For the halfway men, the don’t-care men, and the what’s-the-use men do not like the self-made man. They are discontented, with the discontent that does poor work and sinks; he is discontented, with the discontent that does good work and rises. He makes the judicious snob grieve and the lazy incompetent sneer. Then, too, the self-made man usually has what Sudermann calls “the joy of living,” which is Nature’s compensation for self-restraint; and than this there is nothing more irritating to the bored, who are paying Nature’s penalty for self-indulgence.

We are often called on to express sympathy for these country boys who have to work about the farm. Myself, I am more inclined to pity the youngster whose education in pleasure begins when he leaves off pinafores; for an easy youth means a jaded manhood and a hard old age.

The country boy is apt to start with health—in itself a pleasure and the basis of all happiness—and, if he is ambitious, to conserve it. Beveridge came to college from the farm and the logging camp as hard as nails; he kept his muscles taut by manual labor and his body sound by walking, Nature’s system of exercise, that cures all the ills advertised by the schools of physical culture. He had little time for college athletics. Few men that go to college for an education have. Football, baseball, and all the rest, as they are played in the great colleges to-day, are a profession in themselves. Under different conditions, they would have great play value, but when we begin to justify them, as so many enthusiasts do, purely on educational and utilitarian grounds, we must logically go a step farther and see if we cannot find something better to take their place.

Football, as it is played, is urged because it develops the manly qualities—courage, aggressiveness, self-reliance—in short, as some sort of a substitute for the primitive struggle —with the always implied and often outspoken idea that it fits a man to shoulder himself into a place in the world, grab what he wants from the weaker, and make the front rank in life as he would a touchdown. Yesterday, I talked with one of the old gods of football, a splendid fellow, who, by forgetting much that he should never have learned, and by learning much that should have been the commonplace of his boyhood, is rapidly achieving a position for himself. He spent a delirious senior year at college, with his picture in the paper every day, and columns about him on the sporting pages. In the early autumn, just before he began to hunt for a position, he received a six-hundred-dollar check for writing a signed column on the chances of the big teams in the coming games. He spent the next year doing a boy’s work in an office, and he got a trifle over a hundred dollars for it.

Sometimes, we see and hear things that make us doubt the value of these too strenuous games as a preparation for good health in the thirties and forties. Within the year I have met two captains of great elevens, one under, one over thirty, who walked out of college with the tread of gladiators. One is in the Texas Panhandle now, hunting for his lost health ; the other is living on milk and broths, trying to forget his newly discovered stomach. He explained that when he left college and the training table he found it impossible, under the changed conditions, to keep both his health and his place. A turn in his father’s fortunes had made it necessary for him to keep his place. Yet we must believe in football, as play—that is, football less the absurdly severe training, less the excessive amount of time wasted on it, less the maimings and homicides that seem to be inseparable from the game of to-day.

We forget that athletics is an artificial way of trying to comply with natural law; that athletics is simply a stimulant for the muscles. Like every other stimulant, it may be abused, and then it may not be discontinued without a violent reaction. At fifty the man whose body has been kept sound by a moderate amount of work and walking in the open air can usually throw his college chum who went in hard for athletics, if he has not already acted as pallbearer for him.

Beveridge, by natural and rational methods of exercise, has conserved the physical capital of his boyhood practically untouched, and reached forty-three with his muscles in shape for a twenty-mile tramp or a day’s tree felling. The young man who hoards health has created a trust fund for his old age. Sickness and slackness breed about all the want in the world.

Again, Beveridge had to follow the natural method when he left college. He had to get his living and his law at the same time. But while he was missing much excellent theory which he might have learned from professors, he was getting much useful practice in the office where he had found a place. And in the end he had the theory, too. He was simply learning his profession as children learn to talk—speech and its practical uses first, grammar afterwards. I have often wondered why some one has not stood up to advocate teaching the babies to parse their words as fast as they learn them. Probably some one has.

It is, though, a pleasant sign of the times to note that there are vague stirrings toward a mingling of practical with academic training. That here and there schools of commerce are being added to colleges, even though they are as yet kepi separate from the sacred departments that manufacture "cultured men." It is, too, a good sign to see the schools of agriculture springing up, even though few of them are as yet affiliated with the colleges and some course in them made compulsory on the student body. There would be more virtue, perhaps, in making the freshmen class spend a few hours of the week learning something about scientific agriculture than in giving up the same amount of time to graphic algebra; more health and usefulness in a daily hour of work in the fields than at club swinging in the gymnasium. A course in business for the country boys and a course in agriculture for the city boys might not come amiss in after-life.

Here we can leave Beveridge, as we should be able to leave any man who has obtained an education and learned a profession, to shift for himself. He is yet less a man of achievements than of possibilities, but he has acquired the habit of “making good.”

The self-made man we have always had with us, and always will, until that day when our ingenuity shall have found a way of evading the last of Nature’s laws, as it has of man’s. We find him in the Old Testament and again in the New, in Rome, in Greece, in the Middle Ages, springing from the loins of the people, from slavery even, fighting up with bare firsts through ignorance, prejudice, and oppression, grasping wealth and power and kingdoms by the sheer strength of his indomitable will and purpose. Sometimes he is a man of violence, sometimes a philosopher, a poet, or a priest; but always he it is who brings hope to man.

All this, if you like, is the doctrine of materialism; but materialism is the soil from which mankind has sprung, in which it grows and flowers into finer things. Man is not yet emancipated from Nature. He must still work under the lash. Much of the old bloodshed and brutality of the primal struggle has been stopped, not by suspending the operation of the law, but by obeying it more intelligently. We may, I venture to believe, develop stronger men when we recognize more clearly that work, as well as books, is a vital factor in the education of the sons of the well-to-do. There are no substitutes for the struggle, nothing “just as good” in developing strong men, self-reliant, “cultured” men, in the true and not snobbish sense of the word. Culture for culture’s sake, like art for art’s sake, is a cry that covers a multitude of sins and much tommy-rot. The library life, the placid, dark-oak, stained-glass, and vellum-scented existence, in which nobody gets sweaty or excited, and everyone approves the good, the beautiful, and the true, without doing anything to bring them home to men, is as useless as the society life. Like the latter, it produces nothing more than a sense of personal satisfaction and superiority. What the world needs is not the culture that patronizes—it has too much of that already—but the culture that understands, that sympathizes and helps. And you cannot get that, or any other right result, by disobeying natural law. The world is full of ready-made successes, second-hand statesmen, and marked-down reformers, but their clothes do not fit them. Fruit that falls into the lap is already half rotten. We cannot develop great merchants or poets or artists or doctors, unless, somewhere in the background, has been the shadow of the old bread fear, unless some devil of necessity has driven while the talent or aptitude was being developed and the habit of doing good work fixed. The greatest potential engineer, the greatest potential lawyer I have ever met were the sons of millionaires. They simply went to leaves; then rotted where they stood. The soil in which they grew was too rich. Had they been the sons of Indiana farmers, they would have been forced to their best development. Gray’s Elegy is good poetry, but poor philosophy, as the world goes to-day. You cannot find a “mute, inglorious Milton” on a farm in Indiana. They are all in the little colleges, learning to scan, and working after recitations to pay their board bills.

The individual is nothing to Nature; he must be everything to the man trainer. That is the vital point of difference between natural and intelligent selection.

The self-made man of the centuries is succeeding to-day in every walk of life out of any proper proportion to the number of parent supported and education-thrown-in Americans who are equally successful in the same lines of activity. There must then be certain useful principles of training and education embodied in him which, if we can separate them from the waste and lost motion of purely natural processes, and apply them intelligently, as Burbank does his knowledge of natural laws to fruits and flowers, will make for a larger number of useful and efficient men among the sons of well-to-do Americans—in short, among the sons of self-made men. For it is a curious thing that the self-made man usually fails to read the lesson of his own life aright, and begins the training of his boy by ignoring every principle that contributed to his own success.

He seems utterly unable to draw the obvious inference from himself that right education for his boy does not begin in sending him to a fashionable school that he may make “desirable acquaintances;" that it is not furthered by entering him at this college “because all the other boys are going there,” or to that university because all its graduates have “such a manner.” It is so easy to turn out cads and bounders and snobs that it is hardly worth while to specialize a boy in those lines.

Then, too, the self-made man, more than any other, fails to understand that there is no virtue in a diploma and no sense at all in a college education for a boy who has not , at nineteen or twenty, proved his fitness to receive one, and some knowledge of what lie is going to do with it when he gets one. Napoleon “found the crown of France lying in the dust and picked it up on the point of his sword.” “Good for Napoleon,” we say; “let us give the boy a sword.” So we hand him a sword that trips him up when he tries to step out. Yet he could do good work if we equipped him with the only weapon that he could handle—a pick.

That is what he would have been given had he been the son of a poor farmer. For under the operation of natural law the unfit have no chance to ride on the shoulders of the strong, and hamper human progress with their dead weight. They stay right in the place where God put them, and serve the world usefully, if humbly.

Much more important than the sort of college to which we send a young man is the sort of young man that we send to college. But though the self-made man usually believes that the sons of other men should not receive all through their formative years, without giving some return in effort and labor, he lets his own boy grow up hit or miss, without a stem necessity for hitting, and then throws him into the university with the assurance that four final years of hit or miss will in some way bring him around all right. That is why he so often misses—altogether, unless there is more latent strength beneath the rubbish than the father himself had; some enormously valuable years, in any event.

So long as the opportunities for men to work out their own salvation in this country continue and broaden, we shall be fulfilling its material mission. But until we can conserve more surely the good of the first generation in the second, and force it in turn to develop to the limit of its capacity, we shall not be realizing its higher ideals. To approach them we need more self-made sons of self-made fathers, men who have fixed in themselves the strength, the resourcefulness, the courage of the first generation, and developed with these qualities a still higher ideal of life and duty.

Many people, I know, use the words self-made and money as synonyms, but the right kind of self-made man is only rich or poor as his lines in life are laid, as the world pays much or little for the work that he loves to do. In all our criticism of wealth we must not forget that a man may win inches and the right kind of success at the same time. Brains are usually well paid, even when they are used to make the world better; it is unfortunate that they are often paid still more when they are used to make it worse. But there is no implied merit in being poor.

We do not need more men who cannot make money, more who profess to despise money, or more who live on the interest of somebody else’s money; but we do need more men who will not make or take money that is the fruit of blood and tears and dishonesty; who will not argue that precedent sanctions doubtful methods or that a good cause sanctifies bad money, but will hold fast to the law that all money made by dishonesty and oppression and brutality is a stench not only to God, but to man. The world can wait for justice tempered with mercy, if it can only get justice. And that will not come through kings and legislatures or judges, but only through breeding it in the blood and bone of new generations.