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Flower petals shrivel up and the buds and leaves drop, which obviously shortens the vase life expectation of cut flowers and the shelf life of potted plants. The book quickly found a readership among Americans eager to take advantage of the exploding economic opportunities in the new republic. A great story of self-making had arrived at precisely the moment when Americans were primed to hear it. And the books really did inspire. Wyllie notes that Thomas Mellon, the founder of the eponymous banking fortune, was encouraged to leave his family farm by the Autobiography , which he read in , at age Franklin was undoubtedly proud of his rise from obscurity.
Franklin, Printer. One of the 13 virtues Franklin had aspired to was humility though, by his own admission, he struggled with this one mightily ; as Wood notes, Franklin took pains in his memoirs to describe his rise to prominence in unassuming terms. Franklin the industrious printer and self-made man had became a figure of American adoration.
Though Lawrence is not well-remembered today, the dry goods merchant was a fixture of the success literature of the mid th century, when authors sought to satisfy the growing demand for stories about self-made men. Lawrence apprenticed with a merchant whose clerks were in the habit of drinking, each forenoon, a mixture of rum, raisins, sugar, and nutmeg.
As for food, Lawrence took only bread and water, the quantities of which he measured on a scale he kept on his desk. His popularity among antebellum success writers was also a function of his religious rectitude. Here, Franklin had posed a challenge for the promoters of the self-made ideal: Though virtuous, Franklin was a youthful skeptic, a Deist, and never one for churchgoing. Weems wrote a highly fictionalized life of Franklin , which transformed him into a loyal disciple of Christ. Even by the standards of the time it was a devastating toll.
Yet Lawrence begins with a remarkable diary entry, in which he interprets the losses as a test of his faith and a challenge for the new year. For all the opportunity it afforded young men, the economic boom also brought temptation, especially for those ingenuous boys leaving behind the purity of the country for the fleshpots of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
Only a man as righteous as Amos Lawrence could withstand such temptations. And withstand them he did—or at least avoided them. Thayer admiringly quotes a delicately worded letter in which Lawrence recalled his first days in the city. By the middle of the 19 th century, the self-made man often was less a paragon of entrepreneurial ambition than a bulwark of virtue. Lawrence worked hard, kept good books, and was trustworthy, so naturally his business thrived.
As Scott A. But here, too, the self-made ideal proved useful: It functioned in this period as an explanation for success and for failure. Even a man as charitable as Amos Lawrence had little sympathy for those who lacked his moral fiber, drawing a straight line from their spiritual failing to their worldly destitution. When he first moved to Boston, he asked the widow with whom he boarded to declare an hour of silence after supper for those who chose to study.
The widow agreed. In the 19 th century, the self-made man had an evil twin: the confidence man. Americans had to be on guard against those who sought to enrich themselves by preying upon the gullibility and greed of others. If any man promised to enrich himself or others minus the hard-work part of the equation, he was in all likelihood a charlatan. As the ship chugs down river, he appears in guise after guise, relieving his fellow passengers of their money while decrying the sad decline of trust among men.
Melville offers a nightmare vision of the self-made success story.
Unlike Benjamin Franklin, the runaway who reinvents himself as a printer, scientist, and statesman, or Amos Lawrence, the farm boy turned merchant prince, the confidence man remakes himself to fleece his next target. Melville turned the promise of American capitalism into a threat. Horatio Alger Jr.
But the man whose name would become synonymous with the rags-to-riches story did reinvent himself as a means to leave behind a sordid past. Neither the man nor his fiction are what they seem to be.
Alger was born in and grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His father was the minister of the First Congregational Church, a parish that had been organized by Cotton Mather. Alger moved to New York to seek his new life.
No reports of evil deeds surfaced from these boys; on the contrary, they felt a strong allegiance to their patron. Alger and his wards formed a symbiotic relationship.
He provided them a refuge from the streets, and they offered up the details of their difficult lives, which Alger turned into the fiction that brought him the publishing success that had earlier eluded him. In , he published Ragged Dick , the first novel to follow what would soon be recognized as the Horatio Alger formula and undoubtedly his best. The title character is a wise-cracking bootblack who, despite some bad habits smoking, swearing, theatergoing is in essence a reputable boy stuck in disreputable circumstances. We think we know what comes next: Through hard work and perseverance, Ragged Dick emerges from destitution into a well-deserved fortune.
What is surprising is that the books remained popular for as long as they did. But it was nothing compared to what was to come.
Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Lynn A. Coleman is an award-winning and bestselling author of Key West and other books. She began her writing and. Isabella's parents are traditional, conservative Cubans. They would never dream of letting their daughter speak privately with a man; they would be furious to.
There are various theories as to why Alger enjoyed such posthumous regard. Whereas in his own time Alger was credited with inventing a moral hero who becomes modestly successful, during the early years [of the 20 th century] he seemed to have invented a successful hero who is modestly moral. It was only later still, when readers stopped reading Alger altogether and moved on to new avatars of the self-made man, that a hazy memory of his adumbrated fictions led Americans to make his name a shorthand for a rags-to-riches story that Alger neither lived nor told.
About 25 at the time, Carnegie was working as an assistant to Tom Scott , who would eventually rise to the presidency of the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad and was currently serving as its superintendent. The farmer-looking man, who was carrying a mysterious green bag, had been told that Carnegie worked for the railroad, and he asked the young man for a moment of his time.
Carnegie assented, and the man produced from his green bag a small model of his invention: the sleeper car.
Scott at once upon my return. I could not get that sleeping-car idea out of my mind. T Woodruff, the inventor, who was so overjoyed with the news that he offered the young man an eighth interest in his company. The young man having proven his kindness, and his ability to recognize and facilitate a promising venture, the older gentleman rewards him with an act of largesse. Carnegie, the immigrant son of a failed weaver, was set on the path to prosperity by the sturdy Alger formula: luck and pluck.
Edgar Thomson demanded a kickback, in the form of partial ownership of the company. For his troubles, Andy was given a few shares himself. Throughout the Gilded Age, the lofty ideals of self-made manhood would sit uncomfortably beside the realities of an industrial economy that threatened to expose economic mobility as a myth.
On the one hand, the two richest men in America, Carnegie and John D. They have but to master the knack of economy, thrift, honesty, and perseverance, and success is theirs.
Carnegie goes on in his lecture to inveigh against the practice of speculation. In this climate, the self-made man started to look more villainous than heroic. John Cawelti points to T. In terms of financial accumulation, the former are infinitely more successful. Other men turned to the self-made captains of industry for help.
Thousands of men and women, though they were usually writing on behalf of their husbands wrote to Rockefeller and Carnegie seeking a job or financial assistance, and their letters reveal a mounting ambivalence about the self-made mythology. Neither Raymond nor Osborne had given up on the values that supposedly led to self-made success, but they argued that those values alone were proving insufficient to get ahead.
The triumphant narrative of the self-made man needed to adapt its message to these more parlous times. A new self-made man emerged, one whom Benjamin Franklin and Amos Lawrence might have been frightened to behold. John Graham was an exemplar of the new bootstrapping industrialist, no less so for being the invention of George Horace Lorimer, the editor of the Saturday Evening Post.
In just the first few letters, Graham is forced to disabuse his son of the idea of attending graduate school, embarking on a European tour, and writing letters to young women.