In this volume are presented examples of men who shed lustre upon ordinary pursuits, either by the superior manner in which they exercised them or by the noble use they made of the leisure which success in them usually gives. Such men are the nobility of republics. The American people were fortunate in having at an early period an ideal man of this kind in Benjamin Franklin, who, at the age of forty-two, just mid-way in his life, deliberately relinquished the most profitable business of its kind in the colonies for the sole purpose of developing electrical science. In this, as in other respects, his example has had great influence with his countrymen.
A distinguished author, who lived some years at Newport, has expressed the opinion that the men who occupy the villas of that emerald isle exert very little power compared with that of an orator or a writer. To be, he adds, at the head of a normal school, or to be a professor in a college, is to have a sway over the destinies of America which reduces to nothingness the power of successful men of business.
Being myself a member of the fraternity of writers, I suppose I ought to yield a joyful assent to such remarks. It is flattering to the self-love of those who drive along Bellevue Avenue in a shabby hired vehicle to be told that they are personages of much more consequence than the heavy capitalist who swings by in a resplendent curricle, drawn by two matched and matchless steeds, in a six-hundred dollar harness. Perhaps they are. But I advise young men who aspire to serve their generation effectively not to undervalue the importance of the gentleman in the curricle.
One of the individuals who has figured lately in the society of Newport is the proprietor of an important newspaper. He is not a writer, nor a teacher in a normal school, but he wields a considerable power in this country. Fifty men write for the journal which he conducts, some of whom write to admiration, for they are animated by a humane and patriotic spirit. The late lamented Ivory Chamberlain was a writer whose leading editorials were of national value. But, mark: a telegram of ten words from that young man at Newport, written with perspiring hand in a pause of the game of polo, determines without appeal the course of the paper in any crisis of business or politics.
I do not complain of this arrangement of things. I think it is just; I know it is unalterable.
It is then of the greatest possible importance that the men who control during their lifetime, and create endowments when they are dead, should share the best civilization of their age and country. It is also of the greatest importance that young men whom nature has fitted to be leaders should, at the beginning of life, take to the steep and thorny path which leads at length to mastership.
Most of these chapters were published originally in „The Ledger” of New York, and a few of them in „The Youths’ Companion” of Boston, the largest two circulations in the country. I have occasionally had reason to think that they were of some service to young readers, and I may add that they represent more labor and research than would be naturally supposed from their brevity. Perhaps in this new form they may reach and influence the minds of future leaders in the great and growing realm of business. I should pity any young man who could read the briefest account of what has been done in manufacturing towns by such men as John Smedley and Robert Owen without forming a secret resolve to do something similar if ever he should win the opportunity.