American Literature and Culture: 1850-1930
Money and Morality,
Class, Culture and Conscience
The Antebellum Period
ODE INSCRIBED TO W. H. CHANNING, Ralph Waldo Emerson
What boots thy zeal,
O glowing friend,
That would indignant rend
The northland from the south?
Wherefore? to what good end?
Boston Bay and Bunker Hill
Would serve things still;--
Things are of the snake.
The horseman serves the horse,
The neatherd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse,
The eater serves his meat;
'T is the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.
There are two laws discrete,
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.
For the complete text of this poem and notes on the circumstances surrounding the composition of this poem see this Ode inscribed to Channing at the American Verse Project, a University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative.
"That so many are ready to get their living by the lottery of gold-digging without contributing any value to society, and that the great majority who stay at home justify them in this both by precept and example!"--Henry David Thoreau, Journal, February 1, 1852.
Thoreau's complaint on the "disgrace" of the California gold-rush was an attack on the popular interest in pursuing large-scale economic rewards quickly (as in a lottery) by depending on luck or the labor of others, and a concomitant disregard for earlier beliefs that value was produced by labor.
"Is moderation all gone by? Will the fast Californians trample us down utterly? Is a man good for nothing, if he win no coat of gold? Is steam to drive our quiet coaching to the wall? Must ships tear their rent through ocean at fifteen knots the hour, or be condemned? ..."The terrible glitter of the mines has crept into every fashion of life; tables glitter with galvanized plate; hotels glitter with vanity-teaching mirrors; boats glitter with chandeliers and stained glass; churches glitter with guilt crosses, and guilty clergy . . . .""--"Editor's Easy Chair," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April, 1853
In what railroad shall I invest the proceeds and copyright of my lst volume of poems?" cried a young poet, as he rushed into our room the other morning, almost disturbing the equilibrium of our Chair. "Proceeds--poetry--railroads!" we exclaimed, for when we were young, the three words were never in such close connection."My friend, romance has gone out as railroads have come in!"--"Editor's Easy Chair," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1854
The Gilded Age
The Gilded Age Page from the American Experience (PBS)
"During the "Gilded Age," every man was a potential Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before. In New York, the opera, the theatre, and lavish parties consumed the ruling class' leisure hours. Sherry's Restaurant hosted formal horseback dinners for the New York Riding Club. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish once threw a dinner party to honor her dog who arrived sporting a $15,000 diamond collar."
"We ought to be rich because money has power." Acres of Diamonds
Professor Joseph C. Carter's "Acres of Diamonds" was arguably the most popular speech of the early twentieth century. For more information on Carter, the founder of Temple University, see Temple's Joseph Russell Carter page.
The January 11, 1896 cover of The Rams Horn, a magazine devoted to the "social gospel." For more cartoons on the relationship between rich and poor, see The Ram's Horn page, a project of the Ohio State University Department of History.
Take a moment to see if you can develop your own interpretation of this cartoon from early in the twentieth century, and then visit Jim Zwick's Mark Twain in Political Cartoons. (The barrel of the skeleton's gun is labeled "For Him Who Sits in Darkness," a reference to an anti-imperialist essay written by Twain.)
The "Jazz Age" and the Crash
"I'm In The Market For You"
I'll have to see my broker
Find out what he can do.
'Cause I'm in the market for you.
There won't be any joker,
With margin I'm all through.
'Cause I want you outright it's true.
You're going up, up ,up in my estimation.
I want a thousand shares of your caresses too.
We'll count the hugs and kisses,
When dividends are due,
'Cause I'm in the market for you.
--a song by George Olsen and his Orchestra
From an analysis of the 1929 stock market crash, available at the Jazz Age Page. See also The Jazz Age, Flapper Life and Style constructed by the Louise Brooks Society.
Selected Quotations from F. Scott Fitzgerald
"But do not get the impression, because his winter dreams happened to be concerned at first with musings on the rich, that there was anything shoddy in the boy. He wanted not association with the glittering things and glittering people--he wanted the glittering things themselves. Often he reached out for the best without knowing why he wanted it--and sometimes he ran u p against the mysterious denials and prohibitions in which life indulges."
--"Winter Dreams," American Shorter Anthology of American Literature, 2128
"The dark street lightened, the dwellings of the rich loomed up around them, he stoped his coupe in front of the great white bulk of the Mortimer Jones' house, somnolent, gorgeous drenched with the splendor of the damp moonlight. Its solidity startled him. The strong walls, the fine steel of the girders, the breadth and beam and pomp of it were there only to bring out the constrast with the young beauty beside him. It was sturdy to accentuate her slightness--as if to show what a breeze could be generated by a butterfly's wing."
--"Winter Dreams," 2138.
"At dinner he couldn't decide whether Honoria was most like him or her mother. Fortunate if she didn't combine the traits of both that had brought them to disaster. A great wave of protectiveness went over him. He thought he knew what to do for her. He believed in character; he wanted to jump back a whole generation and trust in character again as the eternally valuable element. Everything else wore out."
--"Babylon Revisited," 2143
"He remembered thousand-franc notes given to an orchestra for playing a single number, hundred-franc notes tossed to a doorman for calling a cab.
But it hadn't been given for nothing.
It had been given, even the most wildly squandered sum, as an offering to destiny that he might not remember the things most worth remembering, the things that now he would always remember--his child taken from his control, his wife escaped to a grave in Vermont."
--"Babylon Revisited," 2144
"'While you and Helen were tearing around Europe throwing money away, we were just getting along. I didn't touch any of the prosperity because I never got ahead enough to carry anything but my insurance. I think Marioon felt there was some kind of injustice in it--you not even working toward the end, and getting richer and richer.'"
"Babylon Revisited," 2151
"'I heard that you lost a lot in the crash.'
'I did,' and he added grimly, 'but I lost everything I wanted in the boom'
'Something like that.'"
--"Babylon Revisited," 2154
"--The men who locked their wives out in the snow, because the snow of twenty-nine wasn't real snow. If you didn't want it to be snow, you just paid some money."
--"Babylon Revisited," 2155
Selected Quotations from Willliam Faulkner's "Barn Burning"
"Presently he could see the grove of oaks and cedars and the other flowering trees and shrubs where the house would be, though not the house yet. They walked beside a fence massed with honeysuckle and Cherokee roses and came to a gate swinging open between two brick pillars, and now, beyond a sweep of drive, he saw the house for the first time and at that instant he forgot his father and the terror and despair both, and even when he remembered his father again (who had not stopped) the terror and despair did not return. Because, for all the twelve movings, they had sojourned until now in a poor country, a land of small farms and fields and houses, and he had never seen a house like this before. Hit's big as a courthouse he thought quietly, with a surge of peace and joy whose reason he could not have thought into words, being too young for that: They are safe from him. People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are beyond his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little moment but that's all: the spell of this peace and dignity rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive.... (2179)
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