Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds: a moving-picture of democracy online

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to find in every city of considerable size at least one imperious
capable baffling clergyman. If one is strictly honest and fair
toward him, to say nothing of being a well-meant and hopeful
human being who is living in the same world with him and who
feels very imperfect too, finding any serious and honest fault with
the sermon,, or at least laying one's finger upon what the fault

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is, seems to be almost impossible. One simply comes out of
the church in a nice, neat little glow of good-will and admiration,
and with a strange, soothing, happy sense of new, fresh, con-
venient wisdom.

The only fair way to criticise the preacher who belongs in
this class seems to be to take ten years for it, go in regularly
and get a little practice every Sunday. There are preachers
who preach so well that the only way one can ever find what is
the matter with their sermons is to sit quietly while they are
preaching them, and look around at the people. One thinks
as one looks around, "These peopleare what this man has done."

They are the same people they were ten years ago.

I often hear other sermons that are far easier to criticise.
They are one-sided or narrow, but they make new people.

I might not always like to be in a congregation when a man
is preaching a sermon that makes new people, because he may
be making people or kinds of people that at the time at least
I do not need to be. But I naturally prefer, at least part of
the time, a preacher who puts in, before he is through, some

good work on me. There is a preacher in B who always

arouses in me, whenever I am in the city, the same old, curious,
hopeful feeling about him that this next one more time he is
going to get to me, that I am going to be attended to. I cannot
say how many times I have dropped in upon him in his big
plain church, seen him with his hushed congregation all about
him, all listening to him up to the last minute, each of them
sitting all alone with his own soul, and with him, and with the
ticking of the clock. And the sermon is always about the same.
You see him narrowing the truth down wonderfully, ruthlessly,
to You. You begin to see everything — to see all the argu-
ments, all the circumstances, all the principles. You see them
narrowing you down grimly, closing in upon you, converging
you and all your little, mean life, driving you apparently at last
into one helpless beautiful corner of doing right. You feel while
you listen the old sermon-thrill you have felt before, a kind of

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intellectual joy in God, in the very brains of God; you think
of how He has arranged right and wrong so cunningly, laid them
all out so plain and so close beside each other for you to choose
to be good. Then the benediction is pronounced over you,
the sevenfold amen dies away over you, and you go home and
do as you like.

One sees the sermon for days afterward lying out there in
calm and orderly memory, all so complete and perfect by
itself. There does not really seem to be any need of doing
anything more to it. It is what people mean probably by
a "finished sermon." It is as if goodness had been put under
a glass globe in a parlour. You go home proud to think of it,
and proud of course to have such a sermon by you. But you
would never think of touching such a complete and perfect
thing during the week the way you would a poorer sermon,
disturbing it hopefully or mussing it over, trying to work some
of it into your own life.

So much for the first two types of preachers: the preachers
who stand before us Sunday morning with goodness placed be-
side them in a dense darkness while they talk, and who tease us
to look at it in the darkness and to take some; and those who
stand, a cold white hght all about them, and use pointers and
blackboards and things — maps of goodness, great charts of what
people ought to be like — and who make one see each virtue
just where it belongs as a kind of dot, like cities in a geography,
and who leave us with the pleasant feeUng of how sweet and
reasonable God is, or rather would be if anybody would pay
any attention to Him.

I have already hinted at the qualities of the third class of
preachers — those who make me want to be good. They seem to
throw goodness as upon a screen, some vast screen of the world.

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of this real world about me. They turn theu* souls, like still
stereopticons, upon the faces of men — men who are like the
men and women I know. I go about afterward all the week
seeing their sermons in the street. Everybody I see, every-
thing that comes up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, the very
patterns of the days and nights, of my duties and failures, keep
coming up, reminding me to be good. I may start in — I often
do — with such a preacher, criticising him, but he soon gets
me so occupied criticising myself and so lost in wondering how
this something that he has and sees just beyond us, just beyond
him, just beyond me, can be had for other people, and how I
can have some of it for myself, that I forget to criticise. He
searches my soul, makes me a new being in my presence before
my eyes — that is, a new being toward some one subject, or
some one possibility in the world. He helps me while in his
presence to accomplish the supreme thing that one man can
ever do for another. He helps me to get my own attention.
He makes me see a set of particular things that I immediately,
before his next sentence, am trying to find means to do. He
does not attract my attention toward what he wants, like a
preacher who teases; nor does he attract my attention to what
God wants, like the preacher with the charts of goodness. He
succeeds in attracting and holding down my attention to what
I really want for myself or others, and to what I propose to get.
The imagination of crowds is convinced only by men who
have real genius for expression, for making word-pictures of
real things, men who have what might be called moving-
picture minds, and who are so picturesque and vivid that
when they talk to people about goodness they have seen,
everybody feels as if they had been there. It has to be admitted
that this type of preacher, who has a kind of genius, and has
developed an art form for expressing goodness in words, is
necessarily an exceptional man. And it is unreasonable and
unfair in the public to expect a man to get up in the pulpit and,
with no costume and no accessories, merely with a kind of

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shrewd holiness or divination into human nature, present good-
ness so that we seem to be there. It is small wonder that a
man who finds he is expected to be a kind of combination of bio-
graph, brother, spiritual detective, and angel all in one, in order
to do his work successfully has days of feeling that he has
joined the ranks of The Impossible Profession.

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PERHAPS it has leaked out to those who have been following
these pages thus far, that I am merely at best, if the truth were
known, a kind of reformed preacher.

I admit it. Many other people are. We began, owing to
circumstances, with the idea of getting people to take up good-
ness by talking about it.

But we have grown discouraged in talking to people about
goodness. More and more, year by year, we have made up
our minds, as I have hinted, to he low and to keep still and
show them some.

And I can only say it again, as I have said it before, if every-
body in the world could know my plumber or pay a bill to him,
the world would soon begin, slowly but surely, to be a very
diflFerent place.

The first time I saw B 1 had asked him to come over

to arrange with regard to putting in new waterpipes from the
street to my house. The old ones had been put in no one could
remember how many years before, and the pressure of water
in the house, apparently from rust in the pipes, had become
very weak. After a minute's conversation! at once engaged

B to put in the new and larger pipes, and he agreed to

dig open the trench (about two hundred feet long, and three
feet deep) and put the pipes in the next day for thirty-five
dollars. The next morning he appeared as promised, but,
instead of going to work, he came into my study, stood there a
moment before my eyes, and quietly but firmly threw himself
outof his job!


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There was no use, in spending thirty-five dollars, he said.
He had gone to the City Water Works OflSce and told them to
look into the matter and see if the connection they had put
in at the junction of my pipe with the main in the street did not
need attention. They had found that a new connection was
necessary. They would see that a new one was put in at once.
They were obliged to do it for nothing, he said; and then,
slipping (figuratively speaking) thirty-five dollars into my
pocket, he bowed gravely and was gone.

B knew absolutely and conclusively (as any one would

with a look) that I was not the sort of person who would ever
have heard of that blessed Uttle joint out in the street, or who '
ever would hear of it — or who would know what to do with it
if he did.

Sometimes I sit and think of B in church, or at least

I used to, especially when his bill had just come in. It was

always a pleasure to think of paying one of B 's bills —

even if it was sometimes a postponed one. You always knew,

with B , that he had made that bill out to you as if he had

been making out a bill to himself.

Not such a bad thing to think about during a sermon.

I do not deny that I do lose a sentence now and then in ser-
mons; and while, as every one knows, the sermons I have been
provided with in the old stone church have been of a rare and
high order, there have, I do acknowledge, been bad moments —
little sudden bare spots or streaks of abstraction — and I do
not deny that there have been times when I could not help
feeUng, as I sat listening, like sending around Monday morning
to the parsonage — my plumber. One could not help thinking

what Dr. if he once got started on a plumber like B

(had had him around working all the week during a sermon)
could do with him.

I have a shoemaker, too, who would help most ministers.

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I imagine he would point up their sermons a good deal — if
they had his shoes on.

Perhaps shoes and pipes and things like these will be looked
upon soon to-day as constituting the great, slow, modest, im-
placable spiritual forces of our time.

At all events, this is the most economical, sensible, thorough
way (when one thinks of it) that goodness can be advertised.

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A MAN'S success in business to-day turns upon his power of
getting people to believe he has something that they want.

Success in business, in the last analysis, turns upon touching
the imagination of crowds. The reason that preachers in this
present generation are less successful in getting people to want
goodness than business men are in getting them to want motor-
cars, hats, and pianolas, is that business men as a class are more
close and desperate students of human nature, and have boned
down harder to the art of touching the imaginations of crowds.

When one considers what it is that touches a crowd's imagina-
tion and how it does it, one is bound is admit that there is not a
city anywhere which has not hundreds of men in it who could
do more to touch the imagination of crowds with goodness
than any clergyman could. A man of Very great gifts in the
pulpit, a man of genius, even an immortal clergyman, could be
outwitted in the art of touching the imagination of crowds with
goodness by a comparatively ordinary man in any one of several
hundred of our modem business occupations.

There is a certain nation I have in mind as I write, which I do
not like to call by name, because it is struggling with its faults
as the rest of us are with ours. But I do not think it would be
too much to say that this particular nation I have in mind —
and I leave the reader to fill in one for himself, has been deter-
mined in its national character for hundreds of years, and is
being determined to-day — every day, nearly every minute of
every day, except when all the people are asleep — by a certain
personal habit that the people have. I am persuaded that this


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habit of itself alone would have been enough to determine the
fate of the nation as a third-rate power, that it would have made
it always do things with small pullings and haulings, in short
breaths, and hand-to-mouth insights — a Uttle jerk of idealism
one day, and a little jerk of materialism the next — a kind of
national palavering, and see-sawing and gesturing, and talking
excitedly and with Uttle flourishes. It is a nation that is always
shrugging its shoulders, that almost never seems to be capable
of doing a thing with fine directness, with long rhythms of pur-
pose or sustained feeUng; and all because every man, woman,
and child in the country — scores of generations of them for
hundreds of years — has been taught that the great spiritual
truth or principle at the bottom of correctly and beautifully
buying a turnip is to begin by saying that you do not want a
turnip at all, that you never eat turnips, and none of your
family, and that they never would. The other man begins by
pointing out that he is never going to sell another turnip as
long as he Uves, if he can help it. Gradually the facts are allowed
to edge in until at last, and when each man has taken off God
knows how much from the value of his soul, and spent two
shillings' worth of time on keeping a halfpenny in his pocket,
both parties separate courteously, only to carry out the same
spiritual truth on a radish perhaps or a spool of thread, or it
may be even a house and lot, or a battleship, or a war, or a
rumour of a war, with somebody.

The United States, speaking broadly, is not like this. But
it might have been.

In the United States some forty years ago, being a new
country, and being a country where everything a man did was
in the nature of things, felt to be a first experiment, everybody
felt democratic and independent, and as if he were making the
laws of the universe just for himself as he went along.

There was a period of ten years or so in which every spool of
thread and bit of dress goods — everything that people wore
on their bodies or put in their mouths, and everything that

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they read, came up and had to be considered as an origmal first
proposition, as if there never had been a spool of thread before,
as if each bit of dress goods was, or was capable of being, a new
fresh experiment, with an adventurous price on it; and before
we knew it a moral nagging and edging and hitching had set
in, and was fast becoming in America an American trait, and
fixing itself by daily repetition upon the imagination of the

The shopping of a coimtry is, on the whole, from a psycholo-
gist's point of view, the most spiritual energy, the most irrevo-
cable, most implacable meter there can ever be of the religion
a country really has.

There was no clergyman in America who could have made the
slightest impression on this great national list or trend of always
getting things for less than they were worth — this rut of never
doing as one would be done by. What was there that could
be done with an obstinate, pervasive, imceasing habit of the
people like this?

What was there that could be done to touch the imagination
of the crowd?

Six thousand women a day were going in and out of A. T.
Stewart's great store on Broadway at that time. A. T. Stewart
announced to New York suddenly in huge letters one day, that
from that day forward there would be one price for everything
sold in his store, and that that price would be paid for it by

A. T. Stewart's store was the largest, most successful,
original, and most closely watched store in America.

The six thousand women became one thousand.

Then two thousand. Some of them had found that they
finished their shopping sooner; the better class of women, those
whose time was worth the most, and whose custom was the
largest, gradually found they did not want to shop anywhere
else. The two thousand became three thousand, four thousand,
six thousand, ten thousand, twelve thousand.

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Other department stores wanted the twelve thousand to
come to them. They annoimced the one price.

Hardware stores did it. Groceries announced one price.
Then everybody.

Not all the clergymen in America, preaching every Sun-
day for months, could have done very much in the way of
seriously touching the imagination of the crowd on the moral
imworthiness, the intellectual degradation, the national danger
of picking out the one thing that nearly all the people all do,
and had to do, all day, every day, and making that thing mean,
incompetent, and small. No one had thought out what it would
lead to, and how monstrous and absurd it was and would always
be to have a nation have all its people taking every Uttle thing
all day, every day, that they were buying, or that they
were seUing — taking a spool of thread, for instance — and
packing it, or packing their action with it, as full of adulterated
motives and of fresh and original ways of not doing as they
would be done by as they could think up — a Uttle innocent
spool of thread — wreaking all their sins and kinds of sins on it,
breaking every one of the ten commandments on it as an
offering . . .

It was A. T. Stewart, a very ordinary-looking, practical man
in a plain, everyday business, who arrested the attention of a
nation and changed the habit of thought and trend of mind
of a great people, and made them a candid, direct people, a
people that went with great sunny prairies and highmoimtains,
a yea and nay people, straightforward, and free from palavering
forever. A. T. Stewart was accustomed, in his own personal
dealings from day to day, to cut people short when they tried to
heckle with him. He liked to take things for granted, drive
through to the point, and go on to the next one. This might
have ended, of course, in a kind of ciU de sac of being a merely
personal trait in a clean-cut, manful, straightforward American
gentleman; and if Stewart had been a snob or a Puritan, or had
felt superior, or if he had thought other people — the great

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crowds of them who flocked through his store — could never
expect to be as good as he was, nothing would ever have come
of it.

It is not likely that he was conscious of the long train of
spiritual results he had set in motion; of the way he had taken
the habit of mind, the daily, hourly psychology of a great people,
and had wrought it through with his own spirit; or of the way
he had saved up, and set where it could be used, everyday
religion in America, and had freed the business genius of a
nation for its most characteristic and- most eflfective self-

He merely was conscious that he could not endure palavering
in doing business himself, and that he would not submit to being
obliged to endure it, and he believed millions of people in
America were as clean-cut and straightforward as he was.

And the millions of people stood by him.

Perhaps A. T. Stewart touched the imagination of the crowd
because he had let the crowd touch his and had seen what
crowds, in spite of appearances, were really like.

The enterprise of touching the imagination of the crowd with
goodness, which is being conducted every day on an enormous
scale around us, has to be carried on, like all huge enterprises,
by men who are in a large degree unconscious of it. There are
few department stores in England or America that would
expect to be called pious, but if one is deeply and obstinately
interested in the Golden Rule, and in getting crowds of people
to believe in it at a time, it is impossible not to think what
sweeps of opportunity department stores would have with
it — with the Golden Rule. With thousands of people flowing
in and out all the week, and with hundreds of clerks to attend
to it, eight hours a day, there would hardly seem to be any limit
to what such a store could do in making the Golden Rule a
direct, a pointed and personal thing, a thing that could not be
evaded and could not be forgotten by thousands of people.
The same people all going in and out of department stores, vast

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congregations of them, eight hours a day, which ministers can
only get at in small lots, three hundred or so, twenty minutes
a week, and can only get at with words even then — all of them
being convinced in terms they understand, and in terms they
keenly feel, convinced in hats that they will see over and over
again, convinced in velvets that they are going to put on and
oflf for years, in laces, in waistcoats, shoes, in dining-room chairs,
convinced in the very underclothes next to their skins, the
clothes they sleep in all night, in the very plates on which they
eat, while all the time they keep remembering, or being re-
minded, just how the things were bought, and just what was
claimed for them and what was not claimed for them, and think-
ing how the claims came true or how they did not.

I just saw lying on the table as I came through the hall a
moment ago a hat which (out of all the long rows of hats I can
see faintly reaching across the years) will always be to me a
memorable hat. I am free to say that, after all the ladies it
has been taken oflf to, my great memory of that hat is now and
always will be, as long as I live, the department store at which
I bought it, and the things the department store, before I got
through with it, managed to make the hat say.

I had been in the store the day before and selected, in broad
daylight, with a big mirror staring me out of countenance, a hat
which was a quarter of a size too large. To chnch the matter,
I had ordered four ventilating holes to be punched in it, and
had it sent to my rooms to be my hat — implacably my hat as
I supposed, for better for worse, for richer for poorer — always.
The next morning, after standing before a mirror and trying
hopefully for a few minutes to see if I could not look more
intelligent in the hat, I returned to the store firmly. I had
made up my mind that I would keep from looking the way that
that hat made me look, at any cost. The store was not
responsible according to the letter either for the hat or for the

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way I looked in it. I had deliberately chosen it, looked at mj •
self in cold blood in it, had those dreadful, irremovable, eternal
air-holes dug into it. I would buy a new one. I jumped into
a cab, and a moment after I arrived I foimd myself before the
clerk from whom I had bought it, with a new one on my head,
and was just teaching into my pocket for my purse when, to my
astonishment, I heard, or seemed to hear, the great Department
Store Itself, in the gentle accents of a young man with a yellow
moustache, saying: "I'm sorry" — all seven storys of it
gathering itself up softly, apparently, and saying "I'm sorry!"
The young man explained that he was afraid the hat was wrong
the day before, and thought he ought to have told me so, that
the store would not want me to pay for the mistake.

I came home a changed man. I had been hit by the Golden
Rule before in department stores, but always rather subtly —
never with such a broad, beautiful flourish! I made some
faint acknowledgment, I have forgotten what, and rushed out
of the store.

But I have never gone past the store since, on a 'bus, or in
a taxi, or sliding through the walkers on the street, but I have
looked up to it — to its big, quiet windows, its broad, honest
pillars fronting a world.

I take oflf my hat to it.

But it gave me more than a hat.

I think what a thousand department stores, stationed in a
thousand places on this old planet, could do in touching the
imagination of the world — every day, day by day, cityfuls
at a time.

I had found a department store that had absolutely identified
itself with my interests, that could act about a hat the way a

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds: a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 10 of 44)