Tuesday, March 3, 2009

THE BIG MEN

The big men dare, and the big men do.
They dream great dreams, which they make come true:
They bridge the rivers and link the plains,
And gird the land with their railway trains;
They make the desert break forth in bloom,
They send the cataract through a flume
To turn the wheels of a thousand mills,
And bring the coin to a nation's tills.
The big men work, and the big men plan,
And, helping themselves, help their fellowman.
And the cheap men yelp at their carriage wheels,
As the small dogs bark at the big dogs' heels.
The big men sow while the cheap men sleep,
And when they go to their fields to reap,
The cheap men cry, "We must have a share
Of all the grain that they harvest there!
These men are pirates who sow and reap,
And plan and build while we are asleep!
We'll legislate till they lose their hair!
We'll pass new laws that will strip them bare!
We'll tax them right and we'll tax them left,
Till of their plunder they are bereft;
We'll show these men that we all despise
Their skill, their courage, and enterprise!"
So the small men yap at the big men's heels,
The fake reformer with the uplift spiels;
The four-eyed dreamers with theories fine,
Which bring them maybe three cents a line;
The tin-horn grafters who always yearn
To collar coin that they do not earn.
And the big men sigh as they go their way:
"They'll balk at the whole blamed thing some day!"

-Walt Mason, c. 1910


The American spirit never ceases to amaze me. Throughout world history, at what time and in what place do you ever witness a celebration of individualism, self-reliance, and a spirit of optimism? I found this link with an article from 1918 discussing Walt Mason. Quoting Mason:

I was born at Columbus, Ontario, April 4, 1862. My parents were poor. I was the fifth of a series of six sons. My father was a dyer in a woolen mill and was accidentally killed in that establishment when I was four years old. He was of Welsh and my mother of Scotch descent. My mother was fond of books and poetry and old songs, and knew many of the latter. She died when I was fifteen years old.

Today, these facts alone would qualify Mr. Mason for government assistance and an after school special documentary sympathizing with his pain and rationalizing the resultant psychosis and life of crime. Instead:

Meanwhile, during my childhood, I had been going to a country school and working for farmers, and also in the woolen mill. After my mother's death I went to Fort Hope, Ontario, and worked in a hardware store for a year and a half, drawing the princely salary of two and a half dollars a week and boarding myself. When I was nine or ten years old I was nearly drowned and was hauled out of the water unconscious by an older brother. I have had defective hearing ever since, and it was probably due to this that I never became a merchant prince. Anyhow, I was not a success in a hardware store and when I told my employer I was going to leave, he said it was the proudest and happiest moment of his life.
Having severed my diplomatic relations with the hardware man, I crossed Lake Ontario in 1880, going to New York State, where I hoed beans for a summer. It was the poorest fun I ever struck. The soil was stony and the hoe was dull, and the sun was hot as blazes, and there didn't seem to be any sense in hoeing beans, anyhow. From New York I took my way westward, arm in arm with the star of empire. I stopped awhile in Ohio, then in Illinois, and finally reached St. Louis, where I went to work in a printing establishment and 'kicked' a job press through the hottest summer ever invented. There was a humorous weekly called Hornet in St. Louis and I sent some stuff to it. The Hornet printed it and the editor wrote to me and asked me to call. He offered me five dollars a week to go to work in the office, writing gems of thought, reading proof, sweeping the floors and otherwise making myself useful. I took the job and remained with the Hornet until it went broke.

What is amazing is that this was commonplace in the 19th century. His parents die young, he nearly drowns at nine, he begins supporting himself at fifteen, yet there is no hint of pain or requests for sympathy. There is more in the article but one of my favorite lines comes at the end when Mason is discussing why he decided to become fat:

I am writing optimism all the time, and the people wouldn't have faith in a lean optimist.

3 comments:

Beth said...

Another gem. Where do you find them?
It feels so good to smile.

Doug Reich said...

Beth,

Thanks - so glad you enjoyed -
we need to keep our spirits up (and many need to discover the American spirit in the first place!) Plus, I really enjoy writing positive...

I got this one from an old book published in 1919 called "A Capitalists View of Socialism" by Spencer Kellogg - surely out of print - I found it in a used book store probably 20 years ago. It's not that good from a technical standpoint but it has some great gems like the Walt Mason poem and a few others that I am going to post.

Thanks again!

Doug Reich said...

p.s. if anybody finds the "Business Prose" book by Walt Mason referred to in the link let me know - would love to see a whole book of his stuff!