George Horace Lorimer.

Old Gorgon Graham More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son online

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fishing for a living and try bacon and eggs, with a little spring
water, for dinner. But coming from Harvard to the packing-house 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.

[Illustration: "_Old Dick Stover was the worst hand at procrastinating
that I ever saw._"]

I piece out from your letter that you expect a few months on the other
side will sort of put a polish on you. I don't want to seem pessimistic,
but I have seen hundreds of boys graduate from college and go over with
the same idea, and they didn't bring back a great deal except a few
trunks of badly fitting clothes. Seeing the world is like charity - it
covers a multitude of sins, and, like charity, it ought to begin at

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

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 trade-mark,
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

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 packing-house 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,

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| No. 5 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| From John Graham, head |
| of the house of Graham & |
| Co., at the Union Stock |
| Yards in Chicago, to his |
| son, Pierrepont Graham, |
| at Lake Moosgatchemawamuc, |
| in the Maine woods. Mr. |
| Pierrepont has written to |
| his father withdrawing |
| his suggestion. |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +


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 it's been my experience that a good
many more use it _instead_ of thought.

A business man's conversation should be regulated by fewer and simpler
rules than any other function of the human animal. They are:

Have something to say.

Say it.

Stop talking.

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 it's to keep me from going to law.

It's 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. You've got to
preach short sermons to catch sinners; and deacons won't believe they
need long ones themselves. Give fools the first and women the last word.
The meat's always in the middle of the sandwich. Of course, a little
butter on either side of it doesn't do any harm if it's intended for a
man who likes butter.

Remember, too, that it's easier to look wise than to talk wisdom. Say
less than the other fellow and listen more than you talk; for when a
man's listening he isn't telling on himself and he's flattering the
fellow who is. Give most men a good listener and most women enough
note-paper and they'll tell all they know. Money talks - but 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 I'm afraid you're apt
to be the fellow who's doing the talking; just as I'm a little afraid
that you're sometimes like the hungry drummer at the dollar-a-day
house - inclined to kill your appetite by eating the cake in the centre
of the table before the soup comes on.

Of course, I'm glad to see you swing into line and show the proper
spirit about coming on here and going to work; but you mustn't get
yourself all "het up" before you take the plunge, because you're bound
to find the water pretty cold at first. I've seen a good many young
fellows pass through and out of this office. The first week a lot of
them go to work they're in a sweat for fear they'll be fired; and the
second week for fear they won't be. By the third, a boy that's no good
has learned just how little work he can do and keep his job; while the
fellow who's 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 don't mean that he's neglecting his work; but he's
beginning to take notice, and that's a mighty hopeful sign in either a
young clerk or a young widow.

You've 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
post - not enough to be in a sweat, but just enough to be limber and
eager. Never start off at a gait that you can't 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 fellow's dust, and
running like the Limited in the stretch. Keep your eyes to the front all
the time, and you won't be so apt to shy at the little things by the
side of the track. Head up, tail over the dashboard - that's the way the
winners look in the old pictures of Maud S. and Dexter and Jay-Eye-See.
And that's 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.

I've always taken a good deal of stock in what you call "Blood-will-tell"
if you're a Methodist, or "Heredity" if you're a Unitarian; and I don't
want you to come along at this late day and disturb my religious beliefs.
A man's love for his children and his pride are pretty badly snarled up
in this world, and he can't 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. It's just as necessary to make a good
first impression in business as in courting. You'll read a good deal about
"love at first sight" in novels, and there may be something in it for all
I know; but I'm dead certain there's no such thing as love at first sight
in business. A man's 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.
There's nothing comes without calling in this world, and after you've
called you've 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 don't need any help from hens, either; and
you can smell the clover in our butterine if you've 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 I'll give some of them credit for having tried
pretty hard.

[Illustration: "_Charlie Chase told me he was President of the Klondike
Exploring, Gold Prospecting and Immigration Company._"]

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-bank - a mighty
hard thousand, that came a dollar or so at a time, and every dollar with
a little bright mark where I had bit it - I 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 he'd hint to me sometimes about an heiress who used
to squander her father's 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 night - he was paid on Saturday - he'd stay at home
and begin to scheme. He'd commence at eight o'clock and start a
magazine, maybe, and before midnight he'd be turning away subscribers
because his presses couldn't print a big enough edition. Or perhaps he
wouldn't feel literary that night, and so he'd invent a system for
speculating in wheat and go on pyramiding his purchases till he'd 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 he'd
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 it's 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, too - everything, in fact, except the business card
he'd sent in; for Charlie always had a gift for nosing out printers
who'd trust him. Said that for the sake of old times he'd 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 who'd 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 isn't much
good to either; but if there's any choice the house gets the worst of

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 don't 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.
You'd better figure on being here on the fourteenth, because Milligan's
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. He's apt to feel a little
sore at taking on in his department a man whom he hasn't passed on.

Your affectionate father,

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+
| No. 6 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+
| From John Graham, en route |
| to Texas, to Pierrepont |
| Graham, care of Graham & |
| Co., Union Stock Yards, |
| Chicago. Mr. Pierrepont |
| has, entirely without |
| intention, caused a little |
| confusion in the mails, |
| and it has come to his |
| father's notice in the |
| course of business. |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+



_Dear Pierrepont:_ Perhaps it's just as well that I had to hurry last
night to make my train, and so had no time to tell you some things that
are laying mighty heavy on my mind this morning.

Jim Donnelly, of the Donnelly Provision Company, came into the office in
the afternoon, with a fool grin on his fat face, to tell me that while
he appreciated a note which he had just received in one of the firm's
envelopes, beginning "Dearest," and containing an invitation to the
theatre to-morrow night, it didn't seem to have any real bearing on his
claim for shortage on the last carload of sweet pickled hams he had
bought from us.

Of course, I sent for Milligan and went for him pretty rough for having
a mailing clerk so no-account as to be writing personal letters in
office hours, and such a blunderer as to mix them up with the firm's
correspondence. Milligan just stood there like a dumb Irishman and let
me get through and go back and cuss him out all over again, with some
trimmings that I had forgotten the first time, before he told me that
you were the fellow who had made the bull. Naturally, I felt pretty
foolish, and, while I tried to pass it off with something about your
still being green and raw, the ice was mighty thin, and you had the
old man running tiddledies.

It didn't make me feel any sweeter about the matter to hear that when
Milligan went for you, and asked what you supposed Donnelly would think
of that sort of business, you told him to "consider the feelings of the
girl who got our brutal refusal to allow a claim for a few hundredweight
of hams."

I haven't any special objection to your writing to girls and telling
them that they are the real sugar-cured article, for, after all, if you
overdo it, it's your breach-of-promise suit, but you must write before
eight or after six. I have bought the stretch between those hours. Your
time is money - my money - and when you take half an hour of it for your
own purposes, that is just a petty form of petty larceny.

Milligan tells me that you are quick to learn, and that you can do a
powerful lot of work when you've a mind to; but he adds that it's mighty
seldom your mind takes that particular turn. Your attention may be on
the letters you are addressing, or you may be in a comatose condition
mentally; he never quite knows until the returns come from the
dead-letter office.

A man can't have his head pumped out like a vacuum pan, or stuffed full
of odds and ends like a bologna sausage, and do his work right. It
doesn't make any difference how mean and trifling the thing he's doing
may seem, that's the big thing and the only thing for him just then.
Business is like oil - it won't mix with anything but business.

You can resolve everything in the world, even a great fortune, into
atoms. And the fundamental principles which govern the handling of
postage stamps and of millions are exactly the same. They are the common
law of business, and the whole practice of commerce is founded on them.
They are so simple that a fool can't learn them; so hard that a lazy man

Boys are constantly writing me for advice about how to succeed, and when
I send them my receipt they say that I am dealing out commonplace
generalities. Of course I am, but that's what the receipt calls for, and
if a boy will take these commonplace generalities and knead them into
his job, the mixture'll be cake.

[Illustration: "_Jim Donnelly of the Donnelly Provision Company came
into my office with a fool grin on his fat face._"]

Once a fellow's got the primary business virtues cemented into his
character, he's safe to build on. But when a clerk crawls into the
office in the morning like a sick setter pup, and leaps from his stool
at night with the spring of a tiger, I'm a little afraid that if I sent
him off to take charge of a branch house he wouldn't always be around
when customers were. He's the sort of a chap who would hold back the sun
an hour every morning and have it gain two every afternoon if the Lord
would give him the same discretionary powers that He gave Joshua. And I
have noticed that he's the fellow who invariably takes a timekeeper as an
insult. He's pretty numerous in business offices; in fact, if the glance
of the human eye could affect a clockface in the same way that a man's
country cousins affect their city welcome, I should have to buy a new
timepiece for the office every morning.

I remember when I was a boy, we used to have a pretty lively
camp-meeting every summer, and Elder Hoover, who was accounted a
powerful exhorter in our parts, would wrastle with the sinners and the
backsliders. There was one old chap in the town - Bill Budlong - who took
a heap of pride in being the simon pure cuss. Bill was always the last
man to come up to the mourners' bench at the camp-meeting and the first
one to backslide when it was over. Used to brag around about what a
hold Satan had on him and how his sin was the original brand, direct
from Adam, put up in cans to keep, and the can-opener lost. Doc Hoover
would get the whole town safe in the fold and then have to hold extra
meetings for a couple of days to snake in that miserable Bill; but, in
the end, he always got religion and got it hard. For a month or two
afterward, he'd make the chills run down the backs of us children in
prayer-meeting, telling how he had probably been the triflingest and
orneriest man alive before he was converted. Then, along toward
hog-killing time, he'd backslide, and go around bragging that he was
standing so close to the mouth of the pit that his whiskers smelt of

He kept this up for about ten years, getting vainer and vainer of his
staying qualities, until one summer, when the Elder had rounded up all
the likeliest sinners in the bunch, he announced that the meetings were
over for that year.

You never saw a sicker-looking man than Bill when he heard that there
wasn't going to be any extra session for him. He got up and said he
reckoned another meeting would fetch him; that he sort of felt the
clutch of old Satan loosening; but Doc Hoover was firm. Then Bill begged
to have a special deacon told off to wrastle with him, but Doc wouldn't
listen to that. Said he'd been wasting time enough on him for ten years
to save a county, and he had just about made up his mind to let him try

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Online LibraryGeorge Horace LorimerOld Gorgon Graham More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son → online text (page 3 of 12)