**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The False Start
by [?]

Having had, during a wandering existence, many opportunities of observing my compatriots away from home and familiar surroundings in various circles of cosmopolitan society, at foreign courts, in diplomatic life, or unofficial capacities, I am forced to acknowledge that whereas my countrywoman invariably assumed her new position with grace and dignity, my countryman, in the majority of cases, appeared at a disadvantage.

I take particular pleasure in making this tribute to my “sisters” tact and wit, as I have been accused of being “hard” on American women, and some half-humorous criticisms have been taken seriously by over-susceptible women–doubtless troubled with guilty consciences for nothing is more exact than the old French proverb, “It is only the truth that wounds.”

The fact remains clear, however, that American men, as regards polish, facility in expressing themselves in foreign languages, the arts of pleasing and entertaining, in short, the thousand and one nothings composing that agreeable whole, a cultivated member of society, are inferior to their womankind. I feel sure that all Americans who have travelled and have seen their compatriot in his social relations with foreigners, will agree with this, reluctant as I am to acknowledge it.

That a sister and brother brought up together, under the same influences, should later differ to this extent seems incredible. It is just this that convinces me we have made a false start as regards the education and ambitions of our young men.

To find the reasons one has only to glance back at our past. After the struggle that insured our existence as a united nation, came a period of great prosperity. When both seemed secure, we did not pause and take breath, as it were, before entering a new epoch of development, but dashed ahead on the old lines. It is here that we got on the wrong road. Naturally enough too, for our peculiar position on this continent, far away from the centres of cultivation and art, surrounded only by less successful states with which to compare ourselves, has led us into forming erroneous ideas as to the proportions of things, causing us to exaggerate the value of material prosperity and undervalue matters of infinitely greater importance, which have been neglected in consequence.

A man who, after fighting through our late war, had succeeded in amassing a fortune, naturally wished his son to follow him on the only road in which it had ever occurred to him that success was of any importance. So beyond giving the boy a college education, which he had not enjoyed, his ambition rarely went; his idea being to make a practical business man of him, or a lawyer, that he could keep the estate together more intelligently. In thousands of cases, of course, individual taste and bent over-ruled this influence, and a career of science or art was chosen; but in the mass of the American people, it was firmly implanted that the pursuit of wealth was the only occupation to which a reasonable human being could devote himself. A young man who was not in some way engaged in increasing his income was looked upon as a very undesirable member of society, and sure, sooner or later, to come to harm.

Millionaires declined to send their sons to college, saying they would get ideas there that would unfit them for business, to Paterfamilias the one object of life. Under such fostering influences, the ambitions in our country have gradually given way to money standards and the false start has been made! Leaving aside at once the question of money in its relation to our politics (although it would be a fruitful subject for moralizing), and confining ourselves strictly to the social side of life, we soon see the results of this mammon worship.

In England (although Englishmen have been contemptuously called the shop- keepers of the world) the extension and maintenance of their vast empire is the mainspring which keeps the great machine in movement. And one sees tens of thousands of well-born and delicately-bred men cheerfully entering the many branches of public service where the hope of wealth can never come, and retiring on pensions or half-pay in the strength of their middle age, apparently without a regret or a thought beyond their country’s well-being.