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




Boston, December 12, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

You may judge from what I have written you, I think, that the people today are not great money-getters,—that their ambition does not lead them to desire immense wealth. I think a few quotations from Mr. De Demain may give you a letter conception of the matter than you have yet had.

“Ambition is energy. It is something more than desire; it has in it the element of action. It is, besides, imitative. Those who, in any age, achieve a success which is called either great or glorious set the standard of ambition which is followed by the rank and file of humanity. In the time of Alexander every boy desired to become a conqueror; so in the days of Caesar and Napoleon. In your own time, two hundred years ago, every boy desired to be a millionaire. Poor young men were encouraged by being told that Jay Gould was once a poor young man. Almost every man, until his hair was white and his steps faltering, cherished the hope that some morning he would awake and find himself possessed of a fortune. All looked upon money secured as the proof of success. Fame was desired simply as a means of gold-getting. Religion was affected because it gave an air of respectability which paved the way to wealth. Learning was sought for because through it money might be made. Wealth was the goal, and, no matter how miasmic the meadows, how high the hills, how rugged the roads, that lay between, the journey must be that way. There were pleasant paths in other directions, but there were no pots of gold at the end of the beautiful rainbows which lay in the direction of their termini.

“Ah, what terrible tracts those were over which men toiled for the sake of gasping with their last breath: ‘I am rich!’ Light burdens only could be carried across that dreary desert. Men, to lighten their load, threw away love, friendship, honor, health. Where one reached the journey’s end, a thousand sank by the wayside. Perhaps a passer-by would say ‘poor fellow,’ as he saw an old-time friend sink exhausted, dying, but there was no time for more. To stop, with that mad, endless procession pushing on from behind, meant death.

“That path, marked with the whitened skulls of millions, is no longer travelled. There is no one thing today, except happiness, after which all are striving. There are little merry parties on all the pleasant paths. Those whose burdens are heavy loiter behind; those who are fleet are at the front. A weak or tired one may stop, and not fear being trampled to death by a madly-rushing herd.

“Ambition today is individual. The people’s desires are for things that money will buy, and not for the money. The desire for money simply is unnatural. Whenever it shows itself today, we look upon it as a sure sign of lunacy. The desire for things which add to the comfort and convenience, and consequently the happiness, of the individual is natural. To satisfy such a desire is a healthy ambition, and the result is all sorts of labor-saving contrivances and all sorts of pleasant pastimes.

“It is not natural for man to be idle. Because humanity today is not struggling for money, it is not to be supposed that there is any less energy leavening human action. I must repeat what I have already told you,—and not only told you, but shown you by many examples,—that ambition is as strong as ever, but it is thrown, by means of the different and far superior conditions under which men and women live, into other paths.

“The chief aim of the people is to enjoy, and the inventive genius which is natural to humanity—I say natural, because in your time it was supposed to be an outgrowth of patent laws—works itself out in contrivances which add to this enjoyment. The question is not, ‘Will this make me richer?’ but, ‘Will this make me more happy?’ Happiness is surely a more worthy ambition than wealth, even if the struggle of humanity be not so feverish.”

From what I have myself seen, I think that Mr. De Demain is right. I believe that the people of today do strive more for happiness than for wealth. They all appear prosperous, but there are none who are so very much richer than others. The contrivances for amusement which Mr. De Demain mentions are of countless number. I should much like to describe for you some of the most ingenious of them, but I can tell you better than I can write, and I may possibly see you soon.


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