The family are by this time “going almost everywhere”; and in a year or two, if the money holds out, they can buy themselves into the inner circles. It is only necessary to take a villa at Newport and spend about one hundred thousand dollars in the course of the season. The walls of the city will fall down flat if the golden trumpet blows but mildly. And then, there they are—right in the middle of the champagne, clambakes and everything else!—invited to sit with the choicest of America’s nobility on golden chairs—supplied from New York at one dollar per—and to dance to the strains of the most expensive music amid the subdued popping of distant corks.
In this social Arabian Nights’ dream, however, you will find no sailors or soldiers, no great actors or writers, no real poets or artists, no genuine statesmen. The nearest you will get to any of these is the millionaire senator, or the amateur decorators and portrait painters who, by making capital of their acquaintance, get a living out of society. You will find few real people among this crowd of intellectual children.
The time has not yet come in America when a leader of smart society dares to invite to her table men and women whose only merit is that they have done something worth while. She is not sufficiently sure of her own place. She must continue all her social life to be seen only with the “right people.” In England her position would be secure and she could summon whom she would to dine with her; but in New York we have to be careful lest, by asking to our houses some distinguished actor or novelist, people might think we did not know we should select our friends—not for what they are, but for what they have.
In a word, the viciousness of our social hierarchy lies in the fact that it is based solely upon material success. We have no titles of nobility; but we have Coal Barons, Merchant Princes and Kings of Finance. The very catchwords of our slang tell the story. The achievement of which we boast as the foundation of our aristocracy is indeed ignoble; but, since there is no other, we and our sons, and their sons after them, will doubtless continue to struggle—and perhaps steal—to prove, to the satisfaction of ourselves and the world at large, that we are entitled to be received into the nobility of America not by virtue of our good deeds, but of our so-called success.
We would not have it otherwise. We should cry out against any serious attempt, outside of the pulpit, to alter or readjust an order that enables us to buy for money a position of which we would be otherwise undeserving. It would be most discouraging to us to have substituted for the present arrangement a society in which the only qualifications for admittance were those of charm, wit, culture, good breeding and good sportsmanship.