Making Haste to Be Rich
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Adding cent to cent, and dollar to dollar, slowly and steadily, like the progress of a mole in the earth! That may suit some, but it will never do for Sidney Lawrence. There is a quicker road to fortune than that, and I am the man to walk in it. 'Enterprise' is the word. Yes, enterprise, enterprise, enterprise! Nothing ventured — nothing gained, is my motto."
"Slow and sure is the safer motto, my young friend, and if you will take my advice, you will be content to creep before you walk, and to walk before you run. The cent to cent and dollar to dollar system is the only sure one."
This was the language of an old merchant, who had made his fortune by the system he recommended, and was addressed to a young man just entering business with a capital of ten thousand dollars, the joint property of himself and an only sister.
Sidney Lawrence had been raised in a large mercantile establishment which was doing an immense business and making heavy profits. But all its operations were based upon adequate capital and enlarged experience. When he commenced for himself, he could not brook the idea of keeping near the shore, like a little boat, and following its safer windings; he felt like launching out boldly into the ocean and reaching the desired haven by the quickest course. He wished to accumulate money rapidly, and believed that, on the capital he possessed, five or six thousand dollars a year might as easily be made as one thousand, if a man only had sufficient enterprise to push business vigorously. The careful, plodding course pursued by some, and strongly recommended to him — he despised. It was beneath a man of true business capacity.
"As I said before, Nothing ventured — nothing gained," replied Lawrence to the old merchant's good advice. "I am not content to eke out a thousand or two dollars every year, and, at the age of fifty or sixty, retire from business on a paltry twenty or thirty thousand dollars. I must get rich fast, or not at all."
"Remember the words of Solomon, my young friend," returned the merchant. 'He who hastens to be rich, will not go unpunished.' Among all the sayings of the wise man, there is not one truer than that. I have been in business for thirty years, and have seen the rise and fall of a good many 'enterprising' men, who were in a hurry to get rich. Their history is an instructive lesson to all who will read it. Some got rich, or at least appeared to get rich, in a very short space of time. They grew up like mushrooms in a night. But they were gone as quickly. I can point you to at least twenty elegant mansions, built by such men in their heyday of prosperity, which soon passed into other hands. And I can name to you half a dozen and more, who, when reverses came, were subjected to trials for alleged fraudulent practices, resorted to in extremity as a means of sustaining their tottering credit and escaping the ruin that threatened to engulf them.
"One of these, in particular, was a young man whom I took in, and who had always acted with the most scrupulous honesty while in my store. But he was ardent, ambitious, and anxious to get rich. His father started him in business with ten thousand dollars capital. In a little while, he was trading high, and pushing his business to the utmost of its capacity. At the end of a couple of years, his father had to advance him ten thousand dollars more to keep him from failing. During the next five years, he expanded with wonderful rapidity, built himself a splendid house, and took his place at the affluent end of the town, as one of our wealthy citizens. It was said of him that he had made a hundred thousand dollars. But the downfall came at last, as come I knew it must. He toppled over and fell down headlong. Then it was discovered that he had been making fictitious notes, purporting to be the bills payable of country merchants, which his own credit had carried through a number of the banks, as well as made pass freely to money-brokers. He had to stand a long and painful trial for forgery, and came within an ace of being sent to the State's prison. As soon as the trial closed, he left the city, and I have never heard of him since."
"But you don't mean to insinuate," said Lawrence, rather sternly, "that I would be guilty of forgery in any extremity?"
"Sidney Lawrence!" replied the merchant, speaking in a firm, serious voice, "I am a plain-spoken man, and always tell my real mind when I feel it my duty to do so, whether I give offence or not. That Solomon spoke truly, when he said, 'He who hastens to be rich, will not go unpunished,' I fully believe, because I am satisfied, from what I have seen and know of business, that whoever follows it with an eager desire to make money rapidly, will be subjected to daily temptations, and it will be almost impossible for him not to seek advantages over his neighbor in trade, and trample under foot the interests of others to gain his own. If this is done in little matters unscrupulously, it will in the end be done in great matters.
"What is the real difference, I would like to know, between taking advantage of a man in bargaining, and getting his money by passing upon him a forged note? The principle is undoubtedly the same — only one is a legal offence and the other is not. And therefore, I hold that he who takes an undue advantage of his fellow man in trade, will not in the end hesitate about committing a greater wrong, if he has a fair chance of escape from penalty. The motto of most business men is, 'Every man for himself, and the devil take the remains!' I hear this too often unblushingly avowed, but see it much oftener acted out, all around me. My young friend, if you wish to keep a clear conscience, do not adopt this motto, but regard, in every transaction, the good of others as well as your own good. And let me most seriously and earnestly warn you against making haste to be rich. The least evil that can overtake you, in such an effort, will be the almost certain wreck of all your worldly hopes, some five or ten years hence, and your fall will be so low, that to rise again will be almost impossible."
This well-meant, but plainly uttered advice, more than half offended Lawrence. He replied, coldly, that he thought he knew what he was about, and would try, at least, to "steer clear of the penitentiary."
With shrewdness, tact, untiring industry, and a spirit which knew no discouragement — the young man pressed forward in business. The warning of the merchant, if it did not repress his desire to get rich in haste, caused him to look more closely than he would otherwise have done into every transaction he was about to make. This saved him from many serious losses.
The need of more capital soon began to be felt. He saw good operations every day, which might be made if he had capital enough to enter into them.
"A man deserves no credit for getting rich, if he has capital enough to work with," was a favorite remark. "There is plenty of business to be done, and ways of making money in abundance, if only the means are at hand."
One week, if he had only been in the possession of means, he would have purchased a cotton-factory; the next week become possessor of a ship, and entered into the East India trade; and, the next week after that, purchased an interest in a lead-mine on the Upper Mississippi.
Money, money, more money, was ever his cry, for he saw golden opportunities constantly passing unimproved. A neighbor, to whom he was expressing his desire for the use of larger capital, said to him, one day —
"I'll tell you how you can get more money!"
"How?" was the eager question.
"Get into the direction of some bank, push through the notes of a business friend, in whom you have confidence, who will do the same for you in another bank of which he is one of the managers. There are wheels within wheels in those moneyed institutions, from which the few and not the many reap the most benefit. Connect yourself with as many as you can of them, and make the most of the opportunities such connections will afford. You know Balmier?"
"And what a rushing business he does?"
"He dragged heavily enough, and was always flying about for money, until he took a hint and got elected into the Citizens and Traders' Bank. Since then he has been as easy as an old shoe, and has done five times as much business as before."
"Is it possible?"
"Oh, yes! You are not fully up to the tricks of trade yet, I see, as shrewd as you are."
"I know well enough how to use money, but I have not yet learned how to get it."
"That will all come in good time. We are just now getting up a petition for the charter of a new bank in which I am to be a director, and I can easily manage to get you in, if you will subscribe pretty liberally to the stock. It is to be called the People's Bank."
"But I have no money to invest in stock. That would be taking away instead of adding to my capital in trade, which is light enough already."
"There will be no trouble about that. Only an instalment of twenty cents in the dollar will be necessary to set the institution going. And not more than ten cents in the dollar will be called in at a time. After two or three instalments have been paid, you can draw out two-thirds of the amount on stock notes."
"Indeed! That's the way it's done?"
"Yes. You ought to take about a hundred shares, which will make it easy for us to have you put into the Board of Directors."
"I'll do it," was the prompt response to this.
"And take my word for it, you will not be many months a bank director, if you improve the opportunities that will be thrown in your way, without having a good deal more money at your command than at present."
The charter for the People's Bank was obtained, and when an election was held, Lawrence went in as a director. He had not held that position many months, before, by favoring certain paper that was presented from certain quarters, he got paper favored that came from certain other quarters; and in this was individually benefitted by getting the use of about fifteen thousand dollars additional capital, which came to him really but not apparently from the bank in which he held a hundred shares of stock. For the sake of appearances, he did not borrow back his instalments on stock notes. It was a little matter, and would have looked as if he were pressed for money.
From this time Sidney Lawrence became a financier, and plunged deep into all the mysteries of money-raising. His business operations became daily more and more extended, and he never appeared to be much pressed for money. At the end of a couple of years, he held the office of director in two banking institutions, and was president of an insurance company that issued post-notes on which three percent was charged. These notes, as the institution was in good credit, could readily be passed through almost any bank in the city. They were loaned pretty freely on individual credit, and also freely on real estate and other collateral security.
It is hard to serve two masters. The mind of man is so constituted, and the influences bearing upon it are so peculiar in their orderly arrangements, that the more it is concentered upon one object and pursuit — the more perfection and certainty attend its action. But if it be divided between two objects and pursuits, and especially if both of these require much thought, its action will be imperfect to a certain degree in both, or one will suffer while the other absorbs the most attention.
Thus it happened with Lawrence. While ardently engaged in financiering, his business received less attention. Instead of using to the best possible advantage the money already obtained in his financiering operations, he strove eagerly after more. In fact, too reckless an investment, in many instances, of borrowed capital, from which no return could be obtained perhaps for years, made his needs still as great as before, and kept in constant activity all the resources of his mind in order to meet his accommodations and steadily to increase them.
Ten years from the time when Sidney Lawrence started in business have passed. He is living in handsome style and keeps his carriage. Five or six years previously, he was married to a beautiful and lovely-minded woman, connected with some of the best families of the city. He has three children.
"Are you not well, dear?" asked his wife, one day about this period. They were sitting at the dinner-table, and Mr. Lawrence was hardly tasting his food.
"I haven't much appetite," he replied indifferently.
"You eat scarcely anything; hardly enough to keep you alive. I am afraid you give yourself too much up to business."
Mr. Lawrence did not reply. He had evidently not heard more than half of his wife's last remark. In a little while he left the table, saying, as he rose, that he had some business requiring his immediate attention. Mrs. Lawrence glanced toward the door that closed after her husband with a troubled look, and sighed.
From his dwelling Mr. Lawrence hurried to his store, and spent an hour there in examining his account books, and in making calculations. At five o'clock he met the directors of the insurance company, of which he was still president, at an extra meeting. All had grave faces. There was a statement of the affairs of the company upon the table around which they were gathered. It showed that in the next two weeks post-notes, amounting in all to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, would fall due; while not over fifty thousand dollars in bills receivable, maturing within that time, were on hand, and the available cash resources of the company were not over five thousand dollars. The time was, when by an extra effort the sum needed could have been easily raised. But extra efforts had been put forth so often of late, that the company had exhausted nearly all its resources.
"I do not understand," remarked one of the directors, looking up from the statement he had been carefully examining, "how there can be a hundred and fifty thousand dollars of post-notes due so soon, and only fifty thousand dollars in bills receivable maturing in the same time. If I am not mistaken, the post-notes were never issued except against bills having a few days shorter time to run. How is this, Mr. Lawrence?"
"All that is plain enough," the president replied promptly. "A large portion of these bills have been at various times discounted for us in the People's Bank, and in other banks, when we have needed money."
"But why should we be in such need of money?" inquired the director earnestly. He had been half asleep in his place for over a year, and was just beginning to get his eyes open. "I believe we have had no serious losses of late. There have been but few fires that have touched us."
"But there have been a good many failures in the last six months, most of which have affected us, and some to quite a heavy amount," returned the president. "Our post-note business has proved most unfortunate."
"So I would think if it has lost us a hundred thousand dollars, as appears from this statement."
"It is useless to look at that now," said Mr. Lawrence. "The great business to be attended to is the raising of means to meet this trying emergency. How is it to be done?"
There was a deep silence and looks of concern.
"Can it be raised at all? Is there any hope of saving the institution?" asked one of the board, at length.
"In my opinion, none in the world," was replied by another. "I have thought of little else but the affairs of the company since yesterday, and I am satisfied that all hope is gone. There are thirty thousand dollars to be provided tomorrow. Our balance is but five thousand, even if all the bills maturing today have been paid."
"Which they have, I presume, as no protests have come in," remarked the president.
"But what is the sum of five thousand dollars set off against thirty thousand? It is as nothing."
"Surely, you gentlemen are not prepared to give up in this way," said the president, earnestly. "A failure will be a most disastrous thing, and we shall all be deeply sufferers in the community if it takes place. We must make efforts and sacrifices to carry it through. Here are twelve of us; can we not, on our individual credit, raise the sum required? I, for one, will issue my notes tomorrow for twenty thousand dollars. If the other directors will come forward in the same spirit, we may exchange the bills among each other, and by endorsing them mutually, get them through the various banks where we have friends or influence, and thus save the institution. Gentlemen, are you prepared to meet me in this thing?"
Two or three responded affirmatively. Some positively declined; and others wanted time to think of it.
"If we pause to think, all is ruined," said Mr. Lawrence, excited. "We must act at once, and promptly."
But each member of the board remained firm to the first expression. Nothing could be forced, and reflection only tended to confirm those who opposed the president's views in their opposition to the plan suggested. The meeting closed, after two hours' perplexing deliberation, without determining upon any course of action. At ten o'clock on the next day the directors were to meet again.
Mr. Lawrence walked the floor for half of that night, and lay awake for the other half. To sleep was impossible. Thus far, in the many difficulties he had encountered, a way of escape from them had opened either on the right hand or on the left — but now no way of escape presented itself. A hundred plans were suggested to his mind, rehearsed, and then put aside. He saw but one measure of relief, if it could be carried out; but that he had proposed already, and it was not approved.
The unhappy state in which she saw her husband deeply distressed Mrs. Lawrence. Earnestly did she beg of him to tell her all that troubled him, and let her bear a part of the burden that was upon him. At first he evaded her questions; but, to her oft-repeated and tenderly urged petition to be a sharer in his pains as well as his pleasures — he mentioned the desperate state of affairs in the company of which he was president.
"But, my dear husband," she replied to this, "you cannot be held responsible for the losses the institution has sustained."
"True, Florence; but the odium, the censure, the distress that must follow its failure — I cannot bear to think of these. My credit, too, will suffer, for I shall lose all I have invested in the stock, and this fact, when known, will impair confidence."
"All this is painful and deeply to be regretted, Sidney," said the wife, speaking in as firm a voice as she could assume. "But as it is a calamity that cannot now be avoided, and is not the result of any wrong act of yours, let a clear conscience sustain you in this severe trial. Let the public censure, let odium be attached to your name — so long as your conscience is clear and your integrity unsullied, these cannot really hurt you."
But this appeal had little or no effect. The mind of the unhappy man could not take hold of it, nor feel its force. It was repeated again and again, and with as little effect. Finally he begged to be left to his own reflections. In tears his wife complied with his request. That night she slept as little as her miserable husband.
On the next day the Boston Insurance Company was dishonored, and "went into liquidation." On the day following, Sidney Lawrence suspended payment. Trustees were appointed to take charge of the effects of the company, who immediately commenced a rigid examination into its affairs. Lawrence made an assignment at the same time for the benefit of his creditors.
One evening, about a week after his failure, Mr. Lawrence came home paler and more disturbed than ever. There was something wild in the expression of his countenance.
"Florence," said he, as soon as he was alone with her, "I must leave for Cincinnati in the morning."
"Why?" eagerly asked the wife, her face instantly blanching.
"Business requires me to go. I have seen your father, and have made arrangements with him for you to go to his house, with the children, while I am away. This property, as I have before told you, has to be sold, and the sale will probably take place while I am gone."
"How soon will you return?"
"I cannot tell exactly; but I will come back as quickly as possible."
There was something in the manner of her husband, as he made this announcement, that startled and alarmed Mrs. Lawrence. She tried to ask many questions, but her voice failed her. Leaning her head down upon her husband's bosom, she sobbed and wept for a long time. Lawrence was much affected, and kissed the wet cheek of his wife with great fervor.
On the next morning, early, the unhappy man parted with his family. His wife clung to him with an instinctive dread of the separation. Tears were in his eyes, as he took his children one after another in his arms and kissed them tenderly.
"God bless you all, and grant that we may meet again right early, and under brighter skies!" he said, as he clasped his wife to his bosom in a long embrace, and then tore himself away.
On the third day after Mr. Lawrence left, one of the city newspapers contained the following paragraph:
"The Boston Insurance Company. — We understand that in the investigation of the affairs of this concern, it has been discovered that Mr. Lawrence, the president, proves to be a defaulter in the sum of nearly a hundred thousand dollars. The public are aware that post-notes were issued by the company to a large amount, and loaned to individuals on good collateral security. These bore only the signature of the president. It now appears that Mr. Lawrence used this paper without the knowledge of the directors. He signed what he wanted for his own use, and when these came due, signed others and negotiated them, managing through the principal clerk in the institution, who it seems was an accomplice, to keep the whole matter a secret. This was continued until he had used the credit of the concern up to a hundred thousand dollars, when it sank under the load. Preparations were made, immediately on the discovery of this, to have him arrested and tried for swindling, but he got wind of it and has left the city. We presume, however, that he will be apprehended and brought back. His own private affairs are said to be in a most deplorable condition. It is thought that not over twenty cents in the dollar will be realized at the final settlement."
Here we drop a veil over the history of the man who made haste to be rich, and was not innocent. His poor wife waited vainly for him to return, and his children asked often for their father, and wondered why he stayed so long away. Years passed before they again met, and then it was in sorrow and deep humiliation.