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Our Rich Young Men An Evil To Be Reformed 1854

 English vs. American
The son of a wealthy Englishman, whether noble or not, is trained for service. He is regarded, and taught to regard himself, as inheriting great responsibilities with his great advantages; and special pains are taken to prepare him for their discharge. He is early sent to school, subjected to a rigid discipline, physically hardened by athletic exercise, and educated in all manly arts as well as in Latin and Greek. At a later stage, no matter what may be his "expectations," he is subjected to the routine of business. He either studies a profession, or goes into a counting-house; and is compelled to perform the labor, and shoulder the responsibilities which belong to the place. He thus acquires business habits; and whatever may be his future fortune or position, he is always able, and in nine cases out of ten he is disposed, to bear a hand in the practical business of life. Thus it comes that in England the sons of the rich fill all places of trust and of honor; not simply because it is an aristocratic country and showers its prizes on the well-born, but because, having the best opportunities and the largest means to qualify themselves for high duties, they have availed themselves of them. The best lawyers, the best merchants, the most thriving manufacturers, the ablest judges, the most promising members of Parliament in England, are the sons of the rich.

How is it in this country, and especially in this City? Is it not notorious that the ranks of business of the professions of public life, are filled up from every other class but that? How many of the sons of our rich men will be found among the most promising young men of the day, in any department of activity? How many of them are struggle for preeminence at the bar, or preparing themselves to carry into still wider fields and to greater heights the commercial enterprise, which has made their fathers rich and respected, or fitting themselves to be legislators, writers, the leaders and guides of public opinion, and the pillars of the State in public life? No one thinks of looking to them for such services as these. Recruits for all these departments come from other ranks. It is the children of the poorer classes who struggle upward into honor and usefulness, and the children of the rich become mere idle spectators of a busy scene in which they have no part.

These are lamentable but indisputable facts. The very class of young men which should furnish the brightest ornaments and most useful members of society, contributes at best but useless drones men who live only to dissipate the fruits of ancestral industry, and who become mere hangers on, in a state where intelligent activity is the sole condition of honor and of self-respect.

It is scarcely necessary to say that this result is wholly due to the defective training they receive in early life. Their fathers are the parties responsible for so empty a conclusion of what might have been a brilliant career. The radical difficulty grows out of the fact that acquiring money is regarded and treated as the great end of life; and these young men, knowing that their fortune is already secured, naturally enough see nothing left worth laboring for. Their fathers inspire and cherish the mistake, not in words, but by their acts and the whole tenor of their lives. They teach their children, by their daily actions, by their social habits, by the tone of their conversation, by that general bearing and demeanor which exerts more influence in a family than special inculcations, that to be rich is the great object of life and that to be useful, to be honored, to be worthy of public trusts, and to aid in the advancement of society, and the enlightenment or guidance of our fellows, are secondary matters, to be left to those whose poverty compels them into some field of active exertion. Such lessons must inevitably produce the empty results which those who receive them, and society at large, have so much reason to deplore.

But worse results than these are often seen to follow. The training which a great proportion of our young men receive, yields still more deplorable fruits. It leads them, or at least leaves them, to become spend-thrifts, devotees of cice and pests to society. Their fathers, with little personal attention and taking no pains to secure for them a rigid discipline, go through the form of sending them to a fashionable City School, until they are twelve or thirteen, supplying them even at that early age with plenty of money, without teaching them how to use it.

At an incredibly early age they find their way to bar-rooms, and learn to smoke cigars, and drink brandy. At the mature age of sixteen they burst all bonds if ever there were such things and appear in mannish attire, show themselves at parties, and stay out late at night. About this time their fathers, thinking probably that their education is completed, place them in some business not difficult of performance, and requiring probably only punctual attendance of mornings. To do our young men all possible justice, they fulfill this portion of their world duty punctually enough. No matter how late he has been up the previous night, no matter what species of debauchery or riot he has been engaged in, the young man about town will always find his way, with aching head and trembling hand, to his office by a good business hour. And this is all that his father seems to require. He never asks how the night was spent, or in what company, or how came those bleared eyes and shaky hands. He knows that his son does not spend his evenings at home, but he is too busy or too heedless to ask beyond, Why should the boy spend his evenings at home? What is there to charm him in that great mansion that pulses with alternate fever and gloom? one night a hot, crowded party of rouged women and silly men; the next a dull, desolate array of empty chambers, with the tired master of the house, snoring on a sofa, and his untiring lady and daughters up-stairs dressing for another ball. No fireside comfort to tempt the young man to his home. Everything is huge, and splendid, and dismal; and in self-defense he has to fly. He has not been taught to love reading, and his frame has been too artificially reared to render him a willing gymnast. No, the billiard-room for him, where he plays, and drinks, and swears with precocious glibness when he makes an ill stroke. From that to the gambling-house, where he devours a luxurious supper, drinks champagne gratis, and loses his twenty, fifty, or it may be thousand dollars, at faro. From thence to places even more unworthy of mention, where the multiplication of cice in a thousand costly mirrors is dwelt on as an attraction, and where the youth learns the degradation of manhood long before he has become a man.

All this is very sad, but it is very true. It is a faithful, but a feeble picture of the influences, the neglects of duty, the false training which are converting into adepts in vice, and useless, where they are not hurtful, members of society, thousands and tens of thousands whose position and opportunities would designate them as shining lights, as pillars of the State, guides and selected rulers of the busy millions, the sure reliance and foremost champions of every good and noble cause.


Website: The History
Article Name: Our Rich Young Men An Evil To Be Reformed 1854
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


 The New York Times April 5, 1854
Time & Date Stamp:  


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