Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XX.

A DISCOURSE ON BRAINS.

Boston, September 5, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Mr. De Demain and I were looking through his old scrap-book of newspaper clippings, to which I have before referred, a few days ago, when I noticed a short article from the New York “Herald” of 1885 entitled “Brains.” I was interested and read it. When I had finished, Mr. De Demain said: “You can see, looking back from today, that that little article is wonderfully suggestive.” Then he proceeded to comment on it at length. As you may not nave noticed the article when it was printed in the “Herald,” I copy it here:

When asked to give his opinion as to the cause of business depression in America, a gentleman replied, with considerable emphasis, “too much brains, sir.” It is barely possible that there may be something in this rather original solution of a difficult problem. When one man in a crowd has brains, he becomes the leader of the others. They work with their hands, and so save themselves the responsibility of thinking. He gets pretty nearly all there is, and they have what is left. He is the aristocrat, and they are the common people. When, however, the whole crowd have brains, and know how to use them, they are unwilling to serve, because they all wish to be masters. Whatever good is to be had, each will contrive to get his share.

It is the peculiarity of every free-born American citizen that he believes in his right to the possession of a corner lot and an ample fortune. He disdains service and spends his time in contriving. With our public schools behind us, with every possibility round about us, we are a nation of brigadier generals. No people on the earth are so unwilling to do merely manual work, and none are so capable of doing brain work. Not a boy on the continent but expects to be a millionaire; not one who is not looking forward and reaching forward.

This brings the unhappiness of numerous disappointments. Certainly, but it averages up the whole people’s ability to do and be in a very wonderful way. It makes us restless, without doubt; it creates competitions of the fiercest kind; it involves commercial risks which too frequently end in disaster; but it makes a people who have a tremendous impetus for great achievements. Brains are a good thing to have, if we have enough to get out of a difficulty after we have fallen into it. The American people have never yet been “stumped,” and it will go hard but they will find a way through this commercial crisis to booming times. Brains will do it.

Said Mr. De Demain: “The gentleman referred to as having given the reason for the business depression of that time as ‘too much brains’ was right. He who had brains, not only in the time of Caesar,—who said that because Cassius thought too much he was dangerous,—but always, was a bad man for the State. If he were rich and consequently powerful, he held the State in his grasp; if he were poor, he saw that the State was the cause, in great measure, of his poverty. Before the people had become possessed of much brains—brains here meaning deep thinking power—there was little business depression. The reasons were these: They did not know their rights; they did not realize that the result of their labor belonged to themselves; they were satisfied to take what their employers gave them, never asking if they were getting their fair share of the world’s bounty. They looked upon the rich and employing classes as the lords of the earth; the rightful owners of the land and all upon it; the masters of themselves and their children; the anointed of God to rule. They worked on and on, taking what fell from the hands of their masters and complaining not, or, if at all, so faintly that the great busy world did not hear it.

“But somehow, in spite of all these disadvantages, their brains grew bigger and bigger, and they began to think more. Then they began to grow dangerous,—dangerous to the State, to the robbers, to the stealers of the fruits of their labor. This is why they were called the dangerous classes. This is why there was business depression, strikes, lower rates of interest, small profits, depreciated stocks, unremunerative bonds, broken banks, and failures of business houses. It was brains. It was thought. It was a dawning of the light of Anarchy. It was the beginning of the appreciation of the fact that the world is not for any select few, but for all. It was the realization of the truth that labor was the producer and should be the consumer.

“Before brains began to show themselves among the workers, there were no spells of business depression. Business was always good—for the employer. Money would always bring good interest. Rents were always high. Bonds and stocks were better money-earners than labor. Mills ran from early morning until late, at night, year in and year out. Employees always busy. Employers were always prosperous. Men worked ten and twelve hours six days in every week in the year and just kept themselves and their wives and children on the bright side of starvation. Then came brains. Not all at once; but, when they got started, they developed rapidly. Then came business depression. Idle mills, broken banks, ruined merchants and manufacturers, showed that the people were thinking, showed that brains were developing.

“The latter part of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries stand out upon the background of history like a mountain. The people passed over it into the beautiful valley of Liberty,—not they, but their children. They only, like Moses, saw the promised land, but to see it was worth dying for.

“It is brains that alone make Anarchy possible; Anarchy alone makes brains worth possessing. Anarchy without brains would not continue for a day; brains without Anarchy would make men—at least such as had ever tasted of true Liberty—miserable.”

Of course, I can’t argue against history. I can simply console myself with the reflection that one, to be entirely happy, must have something besides brains.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.