The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
By George Horace Lorimer (18691937)
From Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
JULY 7, 189.
DEAR PIERREPONT: Yours of the fourth has the right ring, and it says more to the number of words used than any letter that I have ever received from you. I remember reading once that some fellows use language to conceal thought; but its been my experience that a good many more use it instead of thought.
Beginning before you know what you want to say and keeping on after you have said it lands a merchant in a lawsuit or the poorhouse, and the first is a short cut to the second. I maintain a legal department here, and it costs a lot of money, but its to keep me from going to law.
Its all right when you are calling on a girl or talking with friends after dinner to run a conversation like a Sunday-school excursion, with stops to pick flowers; but in the office your sentences should be the shortest distance possible between periods. Cut out the introduction and the peroration, and stop before you get to secondly. Youve got to preach short sermons to catch sinners; and deacons wont believe they need long ones themselves. Give fools the first and women the last word. The meats always in the middle of the sandwich. Of course a little butter on either side of it doesnt do any harm if its intended for a man who likes butter.
Remember, too, that its easier to look wise than to talk wisdom. Say less than the other fellow and listen more than you talk; for when a mans listening he isnt telling on himself and hes flattering the fellow who is. Give most men a good listener and most women enough note-paper and theyll tell all they know. Money talksbut not unless its owner has a loose tongue, and then its remarks are always offensive. Poverty talks, too, but nobody wants to hear what it has to say.
I simply mention these things in passing because Im afraid youre apt to be the fellow whos doing the talking; just as Im a little afraid that youre sometimes like the hungry drummer at the dollar-a-day houseinclined to kill your appetite by eating the cake in the center of the table before the soup comes on.
Of course Im glad to see you swing into line and show the proper spirit about coming on here and going to work; but you mustnt get yourself all het up before you take the plunge, because youre bound to find the water pretty cold at first. Ive seen a good many young fellows pass through and out of this office. The first week a lot of them go to work theyre in a sweat for fear theyll be fired; and the second week for fear they wont be. By the third, a boy thats no good has learned just how little work he can do and keep his job; while the fellow whos got the right stuff in him is holding down his own place with one hand and beginning to reach for the job just ahead of him with the other. I dont mean that hes neglecting his work; but hes beginning to take notice, and thats a mighty hopeful sign in either a young clerk or a young widow.
Youve got to handle the first year of your business life about the way you would a trotting horse. Warm up a little before going to the postnot enough to be in a sweat, but just enough to be limber and eager. Never start off at a gait that you cant improve on, but move along strong and well in hand to the quarter. Let out a notch there, but take it calm enough up to the half not to break, and hard enough not to fall back into the ruck. At the three-quarters you ought to be going fast enough to poke your nose out of the other fellows dust, and running like the Limited in the stretch. Keep your eyes to the front all the time, and you wont be so apt to shy at the little things by the side of the track. Head up, tail over the dashboardthats the way the winners look in the old pictures of Maud S. and Dexter and Jay-Eye-See. And thats the way I want to see you swing by the old man at the end of the year, when we hoist the numbers of the fellows who are good enough to promote and pick out the salaries which need a little sweetening.
Ive always taken a good deal of stock in what you call Blood-will-tell if youre a Methodist, or Heredity if youre a Unitarian; and I dont want you to come along at this late day and disturb my religious beliefs. A mans love for his children and his pride are pretty badly snarled up in this world, and he cant always pick them apart. I think a heap of you and a heap of the house, and I want to see you get along well together. To do that you must start right. Its just as necessary to make a good first impression in business as in courting. Youll read a good deal about love at first sight in novels, and there may be something in it for all I know; but Im dead certain theres no such thing as love at first sight in business. A mans got to keep company a long time, and come early and stay late and sit close, before he can get a girl or a job worth having. Theres nothing comes without calling in this world, and after youve called youve generally got to go and fetch it yourself.
Our bright young men have discovered how to make a pretty good article of potted chicken, and they dont need any help from hens, either; and you can smell the clover in our butterine if youve developed the poetic side of your nose; but none of the boys have been able to discover anything that will pass as a substitute for work, even in a boarding-house, though Ill give some of them credit for having tried pretty hard.
I remember when I was selling goods for old Josh Jennings, back in the sixties, and had rounded up about a thousand in a savings-banka mighty hard thousand, that came a dollar or so at a time, and every dollar with a little bright mark where I had bit itI roomed with a dry-goods clerk named Charlie Chase. Charlie had a hankering to be a rich man; but somehow he could never see any connection between that hankering and his counter, except that hed hint to me sometimes about an heiress who used to squander her fathers money shamefully for the sake of having Charlie wait on her. But when it came to getting rich outside the dry-goods business and getting rich in a hurry, Charlie was the man.
Along about Tuesday nighthe was paid on Saturdayhed stay at home and begin to scheme. Hed commence at eight oclock and start a magazine, maybe, and before midnight hed be turning away subscribers because his presses couldnt print a big enough edition. Or perhaps he wouldnt feel literary that night, and so hed invent a system for speculating in wheat and go on pyramiding his purchases till hed made the best that Cheops did look like a five-cent plate of ice-cream. All he ever needed was a few hundred for a starter, and to get that hed decide to let me in on the ground floor. I want to say right here that whenever any one offers to let you in on the ground floor, its a pretty safe rule to take the elevator to the roof-garden. I never exactly refused to lend Charlie the capital he needed, but we generally compromised on half a dollar next morning, when he was in a hurry to make the store to keep from getting docked.
He dropped by the office last week, a little bent and seedy, but all in a glow and trembling with excitement in the old way. Told me he was President of the Klondike Exploring, Gold Prospecting and Immigration Company, with a capital of ten millions. I guessed that he was the board of directors and the capital stock and the exploring and the prospecting and the immigrating tooeverything, in fact, except the business card hed sent in; for Charlie always had a gift for nosing out printers whod trust him. Said that for the sake of old times hed let me have a few thousand shares at fifty cents, though they would go to par in a year. In the end we compromised on a loan of ten dollars, and Charlie went away happy.
The swamps are full of razor-backs like Charlie, fellows whod rather make a million a night in their heads than five dollars a day in cash. I have always found it cheaper to lend a man of that build a little money than to hire him. As a matter of fact, I have never known a fellow who was smart enough to think for the house days and for himself nights. A man who tries that is usually a pretty poor thinker, and he isnt much good to either; but if theres any choice the house gets the worst of it.
I simply mention these little things in a general way. If you can take my word for some of them you are going to save yourself a whole lot of trouble. There are others which I dont speak of because life is too short and because it seems to afford a fellow a heap of satisfaction to pull the trigger for himself to see if it is loaded; and a lesson learned at the muzzle has the virtue of never being forgotten.
You report to Milligan at the yards at eight sharp on the fifteenth. Youd better figure on being here on the fourteenth, because Milligans a pretty touchy Irishman, and I may be able to give you a point or two that will help you to keep on his mellow side. Hes apt to feel a little sore at taking on in his department a man whom he hasnt passed on.