(Taken from the notes of the late John Paradiso)
I HAVE lived now to my fortieth year, and have seen a good deal of life. Just now, because of a stretch of poverty, I am living across the river from New York, in New Jersey, in sight of a splendid tower, the Woolworth Building on the lower end of Manhattan, which lifts its defiant spear of clay into the very maw of heaven. And although I am by no means as far from it as is Fifth Avenue, still I am a dweller in one of the shabbiest, most forlorn neighborhoods which the great metropolis affords. About me dwell principally Poles and Hun- garians, who palaver in a lingo of which I know nothing and who live as I would despise to live, poor as I am. For, after all, in my hall-bedroom, which commands the river over the lumberyard, there is some attempt at intellectual adornment, whereas outside and around me there is little more than dull and to a certain extent aggrieved drudgery.
Not so very far from me is a church, a great yellow struc- ture which lifts its walls out of a ruck of cheap frame houses, and those muddy, unpaved streets which are the pride of Jersey City and Hoboken. Here, if I will, I can hear splendid masses intoned, see bright altars and stained glass windows and people going to confession and burning votive candles before images. And if I go of a Sunday, which I rarely do, I can hear regularly that there is a Christ who died for men, and that He was the son of the living God who liveth and reigneth world without end.
I have no quarrel with this doctrine. I can hear it in a hundred thousand churches throughout the world. But I am one of those curious persons who cannot make up their minds about anything. I read and read, almost everything that I can lay hands on history, politics, philosophy, art. But I find that one history contradicts another, one philosopher drives out another. Essayists, in the main, point out flaws and para- doxes in the current conception of things; novelists, dramatists and biographers spread tales of endless disasters, or silly illusions concerning life, duty, love, opportunity and the like. And I sit here and read and read, when I have time, wondering.
For friends, I am a scrivener by trade or try to be. Be- times, trying to make up my mind what to say about life, I am a motorman on a street-car at three dollars and twenty cents a day. I have been a handy man in a junk shop, and wagon driver, anything you will, so long as thereby I could keep body and soul together. I am not handsome, and therefore not attractive to women probably at any rate I appear not to be and in consequence am very much alone. Indeed, I am a great coward when it comes to women. Their least frown or mood of indifference frightens me and makes me turn inward to myself, where dwell innumerable beautiful women who smile and nod and hang on my arm and tell me they love me. Indeed, they whisper of scenes so beautiful and so comforting that I know they are not, and never could be, true. And so, in my best moments, I sit at my table and try to write stories which no doubt equally necessitous editors find wholly unavail- able.
The things which keep me thinking and thinking are, first, my social and financial state; second, the difference between my point of view and that of thousands of other respectable citizens, who, being able to make up their minds, seem to find me queer, dull, recessive, or at any rate unsuited to their tastes and pleasures. I look at them, and while I say, "Well, thank heaven I am not like that," still I immediately ask myself, "Am I not all wrong? Should I not be happier if I, too, were like John Spitovesky, or Jacob Feilchenfeld, or Vaclav Melka?" some of my present neighbors. For Spitovesky, to grow a little personal, is a small dusty man who has a tobacco store around the corner, and who would, I earnestly believe, run if he were threatened with a bath. He smokes his own three-for- fives (Flor de Sissel Grass), and deposits much of the ashes between his waistcoat and his gray striped cotton shirt. His hair, sticking bushily out over his ears, looks as though it were heavily peppered with golden snuff.
"Mr. Spitovesky," I said to him one day not long since, "have you been reading anything about the Colorado mining troubles?"
"I never read de papers," he said with a shrug of his shoulder.
"No? Not at all?" I pursued.
"Dere is nodding in dem lies mosdly. Somedimes I look ad de baseball news in sommer."
"Oh, I see," I said hopelessly. Then, apropos of nothing, or because I was curious as to my neighbors, "Are you a Catholic?"
"I doaned belong to no church. I doaned mix in no politics, neider. Some hof de men aboud here get excided aboud poli- tics; I got no time. I 'tend to mine store."
Seeing him stand for hours against his doorpost, or sitting out front smoking while his darksome little wife peels pota- toes or sews or fusses with the children, I could never under- stand his "I got no time."
In a related sense there are my friends Jacob Feichenfeld and Vaclav Melka, whom I sometimes envy because they are so different. The former, the butcher to whom I run for chops and pigs' feet for my landlady, Mrs. Wscrinkuus; the latter the keeper of a spirituous emporium whose windows read "Vynas, Scnapas." Jacob, like every other honest butcher worthy the name, is broad and beefy. He turns on me a friendly eye as he inquires, "About so thick?" or suggests that he has some nice fresh liver or beef tongue, things which he knows Mrs. Wscrin- kuus likes. I can sum up Mr. Feilchenf eld's philosophy of life when I report that to every intellectual advance I make he ex- claims in a friendly enough way, "I dunno," or "I ain't never heard about dot."
My pride in a sturdy, passive acceptance of things, how- ever, is nearly realized in Vaclav Melka, the happy dispenser of "Vynas, Scnapsas." He also is frequently to be found lean- ing in his doorway in summer, business being not too brisk during the daytime, surveying the world with a reflective eye. He is dark, stocky, black-haired, black-eyed, a good Pole with a head like a wooden peg, almost flat at the top, and driven firmly albeit not ungracefully into his shoulders. He has a wife who is a slattern and nearly a slave, and three children who seem to take no noticeable harm from this saloon life. Leaning in coatless ease against his sticky bar of an evening, he has laid down the law concerning morals and ethics, thus: no lying or stealing among friends; no brawling or assaults or murdering for any save tremendous reasons of passion; no truckling to priests or sisters who should mind their own business.
"Did you ever read a book, Melka?" I once asked him. It was apropos of a discussion as to a local brawl.
"Once. It was about a feller wot killed a woman. Mostly I ain't got no time to read. Once I was a bath-rubber, and I had time then, but that was long ago. Books ain't nutting for me."
Melka states, however, that he was a fool to come here. "A feller wanted me to take dis saloon, and here I am. I make a living. If my wife died I would go back to my old job, I think." He does not want his wife to die, I am sure. It does not make that much difference.
But over the river from all this is another picture which disturbs me even more than my present surroundings, because, as seen from here, it is seemingly beautiful and invit- ing. Its tall walls are those of a fabled city. I can almost hear the tinkle of endless wealth in banks, the honks of automobiles, the fanfare of a great constructive trade life. At night all its myriad lights seem to wink at me and exclaim, "Why so incompetent? Why so idle, so poor? Why live in such a wretched neighborhood? Why not cross over and join the great gay throng, make a successful way for yourself? Why sit aside from this great game of materiality and pretend to ignore it or to feel superior?"
And as I sit and think, so it seems to me. But, alas, I haven't the least faculty for making money, not the least. Plainly beyond are all these wonderful things which are being done and made by men with that kind of ability which I appear to lack. I have no material, constructive sense. I can only think and write, in a way. I see these vast institutions (there are great warehouses on this side, too) filled to overflowing apparently with the financially interested and capable, but I I have not the least idea how to do anything likewise. Yet I am not lazy. I toil over my stories or bounce out of bed and hurry to my work of a morning. But I have never earned more than thirty-five dollars a week in my whole life. No, I am not brilliant financially.
But the thing that troubles me most is the constant palaver going on in the papers and everywhere concerning right, truth, duty, justice, mercy and the like, things which I do not find expressed very clearly in my own motives nor in the motives of those immediately about me; and also the apparently earn- est belief on the part of ever so many editors, authors, social reformers, et cetera, that every person, however weak or dull- appearing externally, contains within himself the seed or the mechanism for producing endless energy and ability, providing he can only be made to realize that he has it. In other words we are all Napoleons, only we don't know it. We are lazy Napoleons, idle Hannibals, wasteful and indifferent John D. Rockefellers. Turn the pages of any magazine are there not advertisements of and treatises on How To Be Successful, with the authors thereof offering to impart their knowledge of how so to be for a comparative song?
Well, I am not one who can believe that. In my very humble estimation people are not so. They are, in the main, as I see it, weak and limited, exceedingly so, like Vaclav Melka or Mrs. Wscrinkuus, and to fill their humble brains with notions of an impossible supremacy, if it could be done, would be to send them forth to breast the ocean in a cockleshell. And, yet, here on my table, borrowed from the local library for purposes of idle or critical examination, is a silly book entitled "Take It!" "It" meaning "the world!" '; and another "It's Yours!" the "It" in this case meaning that same great world! All you have to do is to decide so to do and to try! Am I a fool to smile at this very stout doctrine, to doubt whether you can get more than four quarts out of any four-quart measure, if so much?
But to return to this same matter of right, truth, justice, mercy, so freely advertised in these days and so clearly defined, apparently, in every one's mind as open paths by which they may proceed. In the main, it seems to me that peopl< are not concerned about right, or truth, or justice, or mercy,] or duty, as abstract principles or working rules, nor do II believe that the average man knows clearly or even semi- clearly what is meant by fcKe words. His only relation to them. so far as I can see, is tEat he finds them used in a certain reckless, thoughtless way to represent some method of ad- justment by which he would like to think he is protected from assault or saved from misery, and so uses them himself. His concern for them as related to the other individual is that the other individual should not infringe on him, and I am now speaking of the common unsuccessful mass as well as of the successful.
Mrs. Wscrinkuus, poor woman, is stingy and slightly sus- picious, although she goes to church Sundays and believes that Christ's Sermon on the Mount is the living truth. She does not want any one to be mean to her; she does not do anything mean to other people, largely because she has no particular taste or capacity in that direction. Supposing I should advise her to "Take It!" assure her that "It" was hers by right of capability! What would become of right, truth, jus- tice, mercy in that case?
Or, once more, let us take Jacob Feilchenfeld and John Spitovesky, who care for no man beyond their trade and whose attitude toward right, truth, mercy, justice is as above. Sup- pose I should tell them to take "It," or assure them that "It" was theirs? Of what import would the message be? Vaclav Melka does favors only in return for favors. He does not like priests because they are always taking up collections. If you told him to take "It" he would proceed to take something away from the very good priests first of all. Everywhere I find the common man imbued with this feeling for self-protection and self-advancement. Truth is something that must be told to him; justice is what he deserves al- though if it costs him nothing he will gladly see it extended to the other fellow.
But do not think for one moment because I say this that I think myself better or more deserving or wiser than any of these. As I said before, I do not understand life, although I like it; I may even say that I like this sharp, grasping scheme of things, and find that it works well. Plainly it produces all the fine spectacles I see. If it had not been for a certain hard, seeking ambition in Mr. Woolworth to get up and be superior to his fellows, where would his splendid tower have come from? It is only because I cannot understand why people cling so fatuitously to the idea that there is some fixed idyllic scheme or moral order handed down from on high, which is tender and charitable, punishes so-called evil and always rewards so-called good, that I write this. If it punishes evil, it is not all of the evil that I see. If it rewards good, then much of the good that I admire goes wholly unrewarded, on this earth at least.
But to return. The Catholics believe that Christ died on the Cross for them, and that unless the Buddhists, Shintoists, Mohammedans, et cetera, reform or find Christ they will be lost. Three hundred million Mohammedans believe quite otherwise. Two hundred and fifty million Buddhists believe some- thing else. The Christian Scientists and Hicksites believe still differently. Then there are historians who doubt the authenticity of Christ (Gibbon; Vol. i, Chapters 15, 16). Where is a moral order which puts a false interpretation on history as in the case of sectarian literature (lists furnished on application), or allows fetiches to flourish like the grass of the new year?
I will admit that in cases such as lying, stealing and the like there is always a so-called moral thing to do or say when these so-called moral principles or beatitudes are inveighed against. You have ridden on a street-car; pay your fare. You have- received five dollars from a given man; return it. You have had endless favors from a given individual; do not maligni him. Such are the obvious and commonplace things with which these great words are concerned; and in these prima facie cases these so-called principles work well enough.
But take a case where temperament or body-needs or appetites fly in the face of man-made order, where a great spirit- thirst stands out against a life-made conviction. Here is man-made law, and here is dire necessity. On which side is Right? On which side God?
(1) A girl falls in love with a boy to whom the father takes an instant dislike. The father is not better than the lover, just different. The girl and boy are aflame (no chemical law of their invention, mind you), and when the father opposes them they wed secretly. Result, rage. A weak temperament on the part of the father (no invention of his own) causes him to drink. On sight, in liquor, he kills the youth. The law says he must be hung unless justified. A lie on the part of the girl defaming the lover-husband will save the father. On which side now do right, truth, justice, mercy stand?
(2) A man has a great trade idea. He sees where by com- bining fourteen companies he can reduce cost of manufacture and sell a very necessary product to the public at a reduced rate, the while he makes himself rich. In the matter of prin- ciple and procedure (right, truth, justice, etc.), since his competitors will not sell out, he is confronted by the following propositions: (a) forming a joint stock company and permit- ting them all to share in the profits; (b) giving them the idea, asking nothing, and allowing them to form a company of their own, so helping humanity; (c) making a secret combination with four or five and underselling the others and so compel them to sell or quit; (d) doing nothing, letting time and chance work and the public wait. Now it so happens that the second and fourth are the only things that can be done without opposition. He is a man of brains and ideals. What are his rights, duties, privileges? Where do justice, mercy, truth, fit in here, and how?
(3) A man's son has committed a crime. The man realizes that owing to deficiencies of his own he has never been able to give the boy a right training or a fair chance. The law de- mands that he give up his son, even though he loves him dearly and feels himself responsible. Where do right, justice, mercy work here, and can they be made harmonious and conso- nant?
These are but three of fifty instances out of the current papers which I daily read. I have cited them to show how topsy-turvy the world seems to me, how impossible of a fixed explanation or rule. Scarcely any two individuals but will be at variance on these propositions. Yet the religionists, the moralists, the editorial writers preach a faith and an obvious line of duty which they label grandiosely "right" or "true," "just" or "merciful." My observation and experience lead me to believe that there is scarcely a so-called "sane," right, merciful, true, just, solution to anything. I know that many will cry in answer "Look at all this great world! Look at all the interesting things made, the beautiful things, the pleasures provided. Are not these the intelligent directive product of a superior governing being, who is kind and merciful into the bargain and who has our interests at heart? Can you doubt, when you observe the exact laws that govern in mathematics, chemistry, physics, that there is an intelligent, kindly ruling power, truthful, merciful, etc?" My answer is: I can and do, for these things can be used as readily against right, truth, justice, mercy, as we understand those things, as they can for or with them. If you don't believe this, and are anti- German or anti- Japanese, or anti-anything else, see how those; or any other so-called inimical powers can use all these mag nificent forces or arts in its behalf and against the powers o light and worth such as you understand and approve of. And when justice and mercy are tacked on as attributes of this intelligence there is no possible appeal to human reason.
"But only look," some one is sure to cry, "at some of the beautiful, wonderful, helpful things which Divine Providence or Life, or Force, or Energy has provided now and here fo) man! Railroads; telegraphy; the telephone; theaters; gas electricity; clothing of all sorts; newspapers; books; hotels stores; fire departments; hospitals; plumbing; the pleasures of love and sex; muic." An admirable list, truly, and all pro- vided by one struggling genius or another or by the slow, cataclysmic processes of nature: fires, deaths and painful births. Aside from the fact that all of these things can be and are used for evil as well as good purposes (trust oppres- sion, enemy wars and the like), still it might as well be sup- plemented by such things as jails, detectives, penitentiaries, courts of law good or evil things, as you choose to look at them. All of these things are good in the hands of good people, evil in the hands of the evil, and nature seems not to care which group uses them. A hospital will aid a scoundrel as readily as a good man, and vice versa.
Common dust swept into our atmosphere makes our beauti- ful sunsets and blue sky. Sidereal space, as we know it, is said to be one welter of strangely flowing streams of rock and dust, a wretched mass made attractive only by some vast com- pulsory coalition into a star. Stars clash and blaze, and the whole great complicated system seems one erosive, chaffering, bickering effort, with here and there a tendency to stillness and petrifaction. This world as we know it, the human race and the accompanying welter of animals and insects, do they not, aside from momentary phases of delight and beauty, often strike you as dull, aimless, cruel, useless? Are not the processes by which they are produced or those by which they live (the Chicago slaughter-houses, for instance), stark, relentless, brutal, shameful even? life living on life, the preying of one on another, the compulsory aging of all, the hungers, thirsts, destroying losses and pains. . . .
But I was talking of Jersey City and my difficulty in ad- justing myself to the life about me, thinking as I do. Yet such facts as I can gather only confound me the more. Take the daily papers which I have been reading to beguile my loneliness, and note that:
(1) Two old people who lived near me. after working hard for years to supply themselves with a competence, were ruined by the failure of a bank and were therefore forced to seek work. Not finding it, they were compelled to make a choice between subsisting on charity and dying. Desiring to be as agreeable to the world as possible and not to be a burden to it, they chose death by gas, locking the doors of their bare little home, stuffing paper and clothing into chinks and under doors and windows, and turning on the gas, seated side-by-side and hand-in-hand. Naturally the end came quickly enough, for Divine Mind has no objection to ordinary illuminating gas killing any one. It did not inform any one of their predicament. Impartial gas choked them as quickly as it would have lighted the room, and yet at the same time, accord- ing to the same papers, in this very same world
(2) The sixteen-year-old son of a multi-millionaire real estate holder was left over fifty million dollars by his fond father, who did not know what else to do with it, the same son having not as yet exhibited any capacity for handling the money wisely or having done anything to deserve it save be the son of the aforesaid father.
(3) A somewhat bored group of Newport millionairesses give a dinner for the pet dogs of their equally wealthy friends, one particular dog or doggess being host or hostess.
(4) A Staten Island brewer worth twenty millions died of heart failure, induced by undue joy over the fact that he had been elected snare drummer of a shriners' lodge, after spending thousands upon thousands in organizing a band of his own and developing sufficient influence to cause a shriners' organi- zation to tolerate him.
(5) A millionaire politician and horse-racer erected a fif- teen-thousand-dollar monument to a horse.
(6) An uneducated darkey, trying to make his way North, climbed upon the carriage trucks of a Pullman attached to a
fast express and was swept North into a blizzard, where he was finally found dving of exhaustion, and did die arms and legs frozen a victim of an effort to better his condition.
Puzzle: locate Divine Mind, Light, Wisdom, Truth, Justice, Mercy in these items.
By these same papers, covering several months or more, I saw where:
(1) Several people died waiting in line on bundle day for bundles of cast-off clothing given by those who could not use the clothes any longer not such people as you and I, perhaps, but those who were sick, or old, or weak.
(2) Mr. Ford, manufacturer of automobiles, was convinced that he could reform any criminal or bad character by giving him or her plenty of work to do at good wages and with the prospect of advancement; also that he was earning too much and wished to divide with his fellow man.
(3) August Belmont and J. P. Morgan, Jr., noting this item, concluded that they could not do anything for any one, intellectually, financially or otherwise.
(4) An attendant in an Odd Fellows Home, having tired of some old patients, chloroformed them all a purely pagan event and not possible in an enlightened age and a Christian country.
(5) A priest, having murdered a girl and confessed to it, no way was found to electrocute him because of his cloth. Men whose services and aid he contemned insisted that he must be proved insane and not be electrocuted, though he did not agree with them.
(6) A young soldier and his bride, but one day married, walk out to buy furniture for their new home; a street fight in which three toughs assail each other with pistols breaks out and before they can take to cover a stray bullet instantly kills the soldier-husband. Subsequently the bride becomes morbid and goes insane.
(7) In nearly all the countries of the late great war a day of prayer for Divine intervention was indulged in, but prayer having been made and not answered the combatants proceeded to make more and worse war Divine prohibition of combat, according to the Christian dogma, being no bar nor of any avail.
(8) A well-known Western financier and promoter of strong religious and moralistic leanings, having projected and built a well-known railroad and made it immensely prosperous by re- ducing the rates to the people of his region was thereupon set upon by other financiers who wished to secure his property for little or nothing, and being attacked by false charges brought by a suborned stockholder and his road thrown into the hands of a receiver by a compliant judge, was so injured financially thereby as never to be able to recover his property. And those who attacked him justified themselves on the ground that he was a "rate-cutter" and so a disturbing element a disturber of the peace and profits of other railroads adjacent and elsewhere. His dying statement (years later) was that American history would yet justify him and that God governed for good, if one could wait long enough!
(9) One man was given one year for a cold, brutal man- slaughter in New York, whereas a whole family of colored peo- ple in the South was strilng up and riddled with bullets for so little as that one of them fought with a deputy sheriff; while a woman who had shot another woman through a window because of jealousy (aroused by her husband's assumed atten- tions to said woman) was acquitted and then went on the stage, the general sentiment being that "one could not elec- trocute a woman."
(10) The principal charities aid society of New York had spent and was spending one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year on running expenses, and something over ninety thou- sand dollars in actual relief work, though it was explained that the hundred and fifty thousand brought about much refer- ence of worthy cases to other agencies and private charities, a thing which could not otherwise have been done.
(n) It is immoral, un-Christian and illegitimate to have a child without a husband, yet when six hundred thousand men are withdrawn from England to fight the Germans and twenty thousand virgins become war-brides it is proposed to legalize the children on the ground that it is nevertheless moral to pre- serve the nation from extinction.
(12) A doctor may advise against child-birth when that experience would endanger a woman or threaten her perma- nent disability, but if he gives information or furnishes contra- ceptal means which would prevent the trying situation he is guilty of a misdemeanor, subject to fine and the ruin of his career.
(13) The president of one of the largest street railway cor- porations in the world finds it wrong to fail to rise and give your seat to a woman, but right to run so few cars as to make available seats for only one- third of the traffic; wrong not to take extreme precaution in stepping off or on a car or crossing the tracks, but right to leave the cars without heat, the win- dows and floors dirty and the doors broken, making anger, delay and haste contribute to inattention and unfairness; wrong to read a newspaper wide open, to cross your legs or protrude your feet too far, thereby inconveniencing your fellow-pas- senger, but right to mulct the city, composed of these same passengers, of millions via stolen franchises, watered stock, avoided taxes, the refusal of transfers at principal intersec- tions, to say nothing of the prevention of fair competition via the jitney bus and other means which would relieve traffic pressure, and all with no excuse save that the corporation desires the money; and a tame public endures it with a little ineffectual murmuring.
(14) A man has been found in a Western penitentiary who had been there for twenty years and who had been sent there because of erroneous circumstantial evidence, the real offender having confessed on his death-bed.
(15) A certain landlord in New York compelled a certain family to move, because, not they, but some of their visitors, wore shabby, hence undesirable, clothes, thus lowering the social and material tone of the apartment house in question and causing their distant but still watchful fellow-tenants much distress of mind in being compelled to live in such an atmosphere. This was a Riverside Drive apartment.
But need I cite more, really?
It is because of these things that I sit in my hall-bedroom, a great panorama of beauty spread out before* me, and hi attempting to write of this thing, life, find myself confused. I do not know how to work right, truth, justice, mercy, etc., into these things, nor am I sure that life would be as fascinat- ing without them, as driving or forceful. The scenes that I look upon here and everywhere are beautiful enough, sun, moon and stars swinging in their courses, seemingly mathematically and with great art or charm. I am wiling to assume that their courses are calculated and intelligent, but no more and no further. And the river at this moment is begemmed with thousands of lights a truly artistic and poetic spectacle and one not to be gainsaid. By day it is gray, or blue, or green, wondrous shades by turns; by night a jewel world. Gulls wheel over it; tugs strain cheerily to and fro, emitting gor- geous plumes of smoke. Snows, rains, warmths, colds come in endless variety, the endless fillip which gives force and color to our days.
Still I am confused. For, on the one hand, here is Vaclav Melka, who does not care much for this alleged charm; nor John Spitovesky; nor Jacob Feilchenf eld ; nor many, many others like them. On the other hand, myself and many others like me, sitting and meditating on it, are so spellbound that we have scarcely any thought wherewith to earn a living. Life seems to prove but one thing to me, and that is that the various statements concerning right, truth, justice, mercy are palaver merely, an earnest and necessitous attempt, perhaps, at balance and equation where all things are so very much unbalanced, paradoxical and contradictory the small-change names for a thing or things of which we have not yet caught the meaning. History teaches me little save that nothing is really dependable or assured, but all inexplicable and all shot through with a great desire on the part of many to do or say something by which they may escape the unutterable con- fusion of time and the feebleness of earthly memory. Cur- rent action, it appears, demonstrates much the same thing. Kings and emperors have risen and gone. Generals and cap- tains have warred and departed. Philosophers have dreamed, poets have written; and I, mussing around among religions, philosophies, fictions and facts can find nothing wherewith to solve my vaulting egoism, no light, and no way to be any- thing more than the humblest servitor.
Among so much that is tempestuous and glittering I merely occasionally scrub and make bright my room. I look out at the river flowing by now, after hundreds of millions of years of loneliness where there was nothing but silence and waste (past so much now that is vivid, colorful, human), and say to myself: Well, where there is so much order and love of order in every one and everywhere there must be some great elemental spirit holding for order of sorts, at any rate. Stars do not swing in given orbits for nothing surely, or at least I might have faith to that extent. But when I step out and encounter, as I daily do, lust and greed, plotting and trapping, and envy and all uncharitableness, including murder all severely con- demned by the social code, the Bible and a thousand wise saws and laws and also see, as I daily do, vast schemes of chicane grinding the faces of the poor, and wars brutally involving the death of millions whose lives are precious to them be/- cause of the love of power on the part of some one or many, I am not so sure. Illusions hold too many; lust and greed, vast and bleary-eyed, dominate too many more. Ignorance, vast and almost unconquerable, hugs and licks its chains in reverence. Brute strength sits empurpled and laughs a throaty laugh.
Yet here is the great river that is beautiful; and Mr. Wool- worth's tower, a strange attempt on the part of man to seem more than he is; and a thousand other evidences of hopes and dreams, all too frail perhaps against the endless drag toward nothingness, but still lovely and comforting. And^yet here also is Vaclav Melka, who wants to be a bath-rubber again! John Spitovesky, who doesn't care; Jacob Feilchenfeld, who never heard; and millions of others like them, and I I think and grow confused, and earn nineteen-twenty a week or less never more, apparently.
Come to think of it, is it not a wonder, holding such impossi- ble views as I do, that I earn anything at all?
Return to the Theodore Dreiser library , or . . . Read the next essay; The Dream