Read CROWDS AND HEROES - CHAPTER IV of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


One keeps turning back every now and then, in reading the “Life of Pierpont Morgan,” to the portrait which Carl Hovey has placed at the beginning of the book.  If one were to look at the portrait long enough, one would not need to read the book.  The portrait puts into a few square inches of space what Mr. Hovey takes half an acre of paper for.  And all that he really does on the half-acre of paper is to bring back to one again and again that set and focused look one sees in Mr. Morgan’s eyes-the remoteness, the silence, the amazing, dogged, implacable concentration, and, when all is said, a certain terrible, inexplicable blindness.

The blindness keeps one looking again.  One cannot quite believe it.  The portrait has something so strong, so almost noble and commanding, about it that one cannot but stand back with one’s little judgments and give the man who can hurl together out of the bewilderment of the world a personality like this, and fix it here-all in one small human face-the benefit of the doubt.  This is the way the crowd has always taken Pierpont Morgan at first.  The bare spectacle of a man so magnificently set, so imperiously preoccupied, silences our judgments.  It seems as if, of course, he must be seeing things-things that we and others possibly do not and cannot see.  The blindness in the eyes is so complete and set in such a full array that it acts at first on one almost like a kind of vision.  The eyes hold themselves like pictures of eyes, like little walls, as if real eyes were in behind them.  One wonders if there is any one who could ever manage to break through them, fleck up little ordinary human things-personality, for instance, atmosphere, or light-against them.  If Shakespeare, whose folios he has, and Keats, whose “Endymion” he owns, or Milton, whose “Paradise Lost” he keeps in his safe, were all to assail him at once, were to bear down upon that set look in Pierpont Morgan’s eyes-try to get them to turn one side a second and notice that they-Shakespeare and Milton and Keats-were there, there would not be a flicker or shadow of movement.  They are eyes that are set like jaws, like magnificent spiritual muscles, on Something.  Neither do they reveal light or receive it.

It will be some time before the crowd will find it possible to hand in an account and render a full estimate of the value of the service that Pierpont Morgan has rendered to our modern world; but the service has been for the most part rendered now and while the world, in its mingled dismay and gratitude at the way he has hammered it together, is distributing its praise and blame, there are some of us who would like to step one side a little and think quietly, if we may, not about what Pierpont Morgan has done, which we admit duly, but about the blindness in his eyes.  It is Pierpont Morgan’s blindness that interests the crowd more than anything else about him interests them now.  It is his blindness-and the chance to find out just what it is that is making people read his book.  His blindness (if we can fix just what it is) is the thing that we are going to make our next Pierpont Morgan out of.  The next Pierpont Morgan-the one the crowd is getting ready now-will be made out of the things that this Pierpont Morgan did not see.  What are these things?  We have been looking for the things in Carl Hovey’s book, peering in between the lines on every page, and turning up his adjectives and looking under them, his adverbs and qualifications, his shrewdness and carefulness for the things that Pierpont Morgan did not see.  Pierpont Morgan himself would not have tried to hide them, and neither has his biographer.  His whole book breathes throughout with a just-mindedness, a spirit of truth, a necessary and inevitable honesty, which of itself is not the least testimony to the essential validity and soundness of Morgan’s career.  Pierpont Morgan’s attitude toward his biography (if, in spite of his reticence, it became one of the necessities-even one of the industrial necessities, of the world that he should have one) was probably a good deal the attitude of Walt Whitman when he told Traubel, “Whatever you do with me, don’t prettify me”; and if there were things in Mr. Morgan’s career which he imperturbably failed to see, Mr. Morgan himself would be the last man not to try to help people to find out what they are.  But living has been to Mr. Morgan as it is to us (as I write these lines he is seventy-four years old) a serious, bottomless business.  He does not know which the things are he has not seen.  His eyes are magnificently set.  They cannot help us.  We must do our own looking.

If I were called upon to speak very quickly and without warning; if any one suddenly expected me in my first sentence to hit the bull’s-eye of Mr. Morgan’s blindness, I think I would try socialism.  When the Emperor William was giving himself the treat of talking with the man who runs, or is supposed to run, the economics of a world, he found that he was talking with a man who had not noticed socialism yet, and who was not interested in it.  Most people would probably have said that Morgan was not interested in socialism enough; but there are very few people who would not be as surprised as Emperor William was to know that he, Pierpont Morgan, was not informed about the greatest and, to some of us, the most threatening, omnipresent, and significant spectre in modern industrial life.

But when one thinks of it, and, when more particularly, one looks again at that set look in his eyes, I cannot see how it could possibly have been otherwise.  If Morgan’s eyes had suddenly begun seeing all sorts of human things-the bewildering welter of the individual minds, the tragedy of the individual interests around him; if he had lost his imperious sense of a whole-had tried to potter over and piece together, like the good people and the wonderers, the innumerable entangled wires of the world, his eyes might have been filled perhaps with the beautiful and helpless light of the philosophers, with the fire of the prophets, or with the gentle paralysis of the poets, but he never would have had the courage to do the great work of his life-to turn down forever those iron shutters on his eyes and smite a world together.

There was one thing this poor, dizzied, scattered planet needed.  With its quarrelling and its peevish industries, its sick poets and its tired religions, the one thing this planet needed was a Blow; it needed a man that could hammer it together.  To find fault with this man for not being a seer, or to feel superior to him for not being an idealist, or to heckle him for not being a sociologist, when here he was all the time with this mighty frenzy or heat in him that could melt down the chaos of a world while we looked, weld it to his will, and then lift his arm and smite it, though all men said him nay-back into a world again-to heckle over this man’s not being a complete sociologist or professor is not worthy of thoughtful and manful men.

I cannot express it, but I can only declare, living as I do in a day like this, that to me there is a kind of colossal naked poetry in what Pierpont Morgan has done which I cannot but acknowledge with gratitude and hope.  Though there be in it, as in all massive things, a brutality perhaps like that of the moving glaciers, like the making and boiling of coal in the earth, like death, like childbirth, like the impersonality of the sea, my imagination can never get past a kind of elemental, almost heathen poetry or heathen-god poetry in Pierpont Morgan’s Blow or shock upon our world.  There may be reason to doubt as to whether it is to be called a heaven-poetry or a hell-poetry-something so gaunt and simple is there about it; but here we are with all our machines around us, with our young, rough, fresh nations in the act of starting a great civilization once more on this old and gentle earth, and I can only say that poetry (though it be new, or different, or even a little terrible) is the one thing that now, or in any other age, men begin great civilizations with.

I have tried to express the spirit of what Morgan’s genius seized unconsciously by the grim, resistless will of his age, has wrought into his career.

But in the background of my mind as I see Pierpont Morgan, there is always the man who will take his place, and if I did not see the man coming, and coming rapidly, who is to take Mr. Morgan’s place, I admit that Mr. Morgan himself would be a failure, a disaster, a closed wall at the end of the world.

No one man will take Mr. Morgan’s place, but the typical man in the group of men that will take his place will justify Mr. Morgan’s work, by taking this world in his hand and riveting his vision on where Morgan’s vision leaves off.  As Morgan has fused railroads, iron, coal, steamships, seas, and cities, the next industrial genius shall fuse the spirits and the wills of men.  The Individualists and the Socialists, the aristocracies and democracies, the capitalists and the labourers shall be welded together, shall be fused and transfused by the next Morgan into their ultimate, inevitable, inextricable, mutual interests.

The chief characteristic of the new industrial leader is coming to be social imagination or the power of seeing the larger industrial values in human gifts and efficiencies, the more human and intellectual energies of workmen, the market value of their spirits, their imaginations, and their good-will.  The underpinning and Morganizing work has been done; the power of instant decision which Mr. Morgan has had, has been very often based on a lack of imagination about the things that got in his way; but the things that get in the way now, the big, little-looking things-are the things on which the new and inspired millionaires’ imagination will find its skill and accumulate its power.  It is men’s spirits that are now in the way; they have been piling up and accumulating under Morgan’s regime long enough, and it is now their turn.  Perhaps men’s spirits have always been beyond Mr. Morgan, and perhaps his imagination has been worked largely as a kind of cerebellum imagination:  it is a kind of imagination that sees related and articulated the physical body of things, the grip on the material tools, on the gigantic limbs of a world.  The man who succeeds Mr. Morgan, and for whom Mr. Morgan has made the world ready, is the man who has his imagination in the upper part of his brain, and instead of doing things by not seeing, and by not being seen, he will swing a light.  He will be himself in his own personality, a little of the nature of a searchlight, and he will work the way a searchlight works, and will have his will with things by seeing and lighting, by X-raying his way through them and not by a kind of colossal world-butting, which is Morgan’s way, both eyes imperiously, implacably shut, his whole being all bent, all crowded into his vast machine of men, his huge will lifted ... and excavating blindly, furiously, as through some groping force he knew not, great sub-cellars for a new heaven and new earth.

The Crowd gets its heroes one at a time.  Heroes are the Crowd’s tools.  Some are dredges, some are telescopes.  The Crowd, by a kind of instinct-an oversoul or undersoul of which it knows not until afterward, takes up each tool gropingly-sometimes even against its will and against its conscience, uses it and drops it.

Then it sees why, suddenly, it has used it.

Then God hands it Another One.