The Menace of Privilege Chapter Five second part
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr.
Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.
end of CHAPTER 5, HOW OUR PRINCES LIVE
And as with the splendid habitations of the princes living, so with those of princes dead. Note the simple and impressive Vanderbilt tomb at New Dorp, Staten Island; the Rockefeller tomb at Cleveland, Ohio, overlooking Lake Erie; the Mackay tomb on Ocean Hill, in Greenwood, Brooklyn. A man ever watches the latter, lest graveyard vampires steal away the poor dead bodies to demand ransom from the living relatives, as was done with the body of the dead merchant prince, Mr. A. T. Stewart, from the graveyard of St. Mark’s church, New York City. Massed granite and riveted steel, polished porphyry, glistening onyx, chiseled marble, molded bronze, embossed brass and glass stained with a myriad hues combine in durability and art in these habitations of our Princes of Power. Parsimony stays not the hand of expense. One window from the tomb of the railroad prince Lamont — a marvel of richness and beauty — would go far toward meeting the arrears of house rent, for non-payment of which 20,000 evictions occur on the average each year in the Borough of Manhattan, New York City!
Thus our princes are surrounded by monuments of their great wealth even to the grave.
How can this run with the current of common thought and action? Just as privilege is not normal, so the preeminence to which it raises its owners is not normal. Indeed, there is something abnormal about the lives of the owners of privilege at every turn, to wit: One multimillionaire has a telephone at his bedside, and before rising each morning he receives from his office all important telegrams and cable messages, and gives preliminary orders and directions. He is the veriest slave to business.
Another lives like an outlawed man. He seldom ventures upon the streets unless closely followed by protecting detectives. Another prefers hotel residence to that of a private house. But he changes his hotel frequently, lest his address become generally known, and he be beset by beggars and petitioners. This kind of pestering and badgering engenders at times an almost incredible hardness of heart and meanness of spirit. So far have the springs of generosity been dried up in one of our richest and widest-known princes, that he threatened ruinous proceedings against a poor, struggling, lifelong friend in order to compel that friend to make summary payment of $8o remaining on a personal loan of $300 from the prince.
Other of our superabundantly rich have opposite propensities for ostentatious public gifts, one having a penchant for erecting innumerable library buildings with his name inscribed thereon. From his reference in speeches and writings to the Roman patron of letters, it is obvious that Mr. Carnegie would like to be regarded as the English-speaking Maecenas of this age. (In an address at the dedication of the new library building of Beloit College, wisconsin, on January 5, 1905, Mr. Horace White said, using figures supplied by Mr. Bertram, Mr. Carnegie’s private secretary, that Mr. Carnegie had up to that time given, or pledged himself to give, 1290 libraries to the English-speaking people. Of these 779 are in the United States. The aggregate cost of these buildings was $39,325,240, of which $29,094,080 were spent in this country, about $6,ooo,ooo in England, about $2,000,000 in Scotland and $1,475,500 in Canada.) And how many of our citizen-princes have built churches or contributed largely toward the building or the maintenance of them!
A type suggesting the style of the Florentine prince of the Middle Ages, Cosimo de’ Medici, or of his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was patron of Greek learning and of the liberal arts, is Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan. He is president of the corporation of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts of New York, and has long loaned to that finest permanent public exhibition on the western hemisphere splendid collections of porcelains and various canvases by the Dutch and Italian masters. The American Museum of Natural History in New York likewise is enriched by a splendid Morgan collection of precious stones, so valuable as to require special inclosure and the presence of an attendant. These are but part of Mr. Morgan’s art treasures. Much of his diversion from Wall and Lombard Street affairs is found in collecting paintings, tapestries, porcelains, chinas, first prints and other kinds of antiques. Judges of such matters have expressed the belief that he owns art treasures worth between ten and fifteen millions. He has one set of Dickens’s works valued at $130,000; the manuscript of Book I. of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” valued at $25,000; the Mazarin Tapestry, valued at $500,000; and in bringing some fine china through the customhouse, he is said to have placed a value of $10,000 on a single plate. A newspaper cable message not long since announced that Mr. Morgan had vainly offered $400,000 for the single Rembrandt canvas of “Saul and David,” which is part of the Mauritshuis collection at The Hague.
Mr. Morgan is accounted an art lover, and to some extent is esteemed an expert. This cannot be said of all who buy masterpieces, however. The competition among our Princes of Privilege has been one of the main factors in the extraordinary rise in value of masterpieces in recent years. To have a number of masterpieces in one’s gallery is the fashion, whether the art in them be appreciated by the owner or not. Hence demand for them at any price. Men raised to great power through privilege pay a king’s ransom for the right to hang upon their walls a few square feet, or even inches, of canvas covered with pigments, which may mean nothing to them as art, but will serve as an ensign of their power.
With others the sign of power is to be revealed only through the luxury of the table. And where cannot expense there lead? The cost of mere menu at a single formal dinner may be $50 or $1000 a plate, with wines and cigars mounting to fanciful figures. The cloth covering the board may be of lace, many of the dishes of solid gold, and the orchids alone used in the floral decorations cost as much as the Republic pays a Congressman for a year’s services. The striving for novelty entails much expense. A hostess may offer her guests peaches and apples artificially sun-marked with her monogram; muskmelons raised in slings; grapes ripened in bags; tomatoes cut from vines, the roots of which have grown potatoes. Though it be the dead of winter, she may have growing strawberry plants, or dwarfed cherry trees, amid flowers and ferns, as the centerpiece of her table, each guest picking the ripe fruit at pleasure.
When he was worth sixty or seventy millions, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt related with pride to a friend that his household establishment did not cost him $10,000 a year. Would $10,000 pay a year’s salaries of the chef and kitchen force of the commodore’s great-grandson, Mr. Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt?
There may be ambition among the ultra-rich to shine with particular luster in other ways, as, for instance, through social functions. At one of these — the Leiter ball at Washington — the jewels worn were roundly valued at $15,000,000. What could be closer to regal pomp than the marriage ceremony of Miss Elsie French to Mr. Alfred G. Vanderbilt, or the more recent Goelet-Whelen nuptials? A peculiar feature at one of the later great weddings, indicating — what shall we say, craving for display? — was the exhibition, among the gifts, of the bride’s exquisite lingerie!
If “apparel makes the man,” then are our rich very kings and queens and princelings. A young New Yorker, now taking up his permanent residence in Great Britain, spent, by common report, $40,000 on a wedding outfit. Mr. Cleveland Moffett estimates that there are 6000 women in New York who spend yearly something more than $6000 each on their bodily garments, making an aggregate of close to $36,000,000 per annum!
I am not condemning great private riches as riches, nor do I wish for a moment to be thought to censure the in some respects commendable use of them. I refer to the enormous sums spent by individuals in architecture, literature, the arts and in other ways merely to point to the great distance the nation has traveled since, less than a century and a quarter ago, John Hancock won the deep disfavor of many in New England for his “show and extravagance of living.” (In “John Hancock, His Book,” by A. E. Brown, p.203, will be seen a letter from Hancock to the lady he was about to marry, Miss Dorothy Quincy. The letter is dated Philadelphia, June 10, 1775, and enumerates some articles he is sending her. Imagine a “showy” rich young man of our time confining himself to this simplicity toward his affianced: -
“2 pairs white silk, 4 prs. white thread, Stockings, which I think will fit you.
I pr. black satin shoes;
I pr. black Calern Co. shoes; the other shall be sent when done.
I very pretty light hat.
I neat airy summer cloak.
“I wish these may please you. I shall be gratified if they do. Pray write me. I will attend to all your commands.”)
But what did it all amount to — his French and English furniture, his equipages, his clothes, his wines, his dinners, his gay company, his parties, his dances, his musicals and his other festivities? Great as the expense of all this may have seemed then, it is doubtful if Hancock’s average yearly expenses equaled half the sum our contemporary, young Mr. James H. Hyde, spent on the single “Louis XV Revel,” and for that matter it is likely that the whole of Hancock’s fortune did not equal the sum spent by young Mr. Howard Gould on his stone cow house, and his stone chicken house!
Things have, indeed, changed! The earth must now be ransacked for fabrics with which to clothe some of the daughters of the Republic; whereas Martha Washington, when her husband was President of the nation, wore gowns spun under her own roof.
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