Sunday, February 25, 2018

Etiquette and What Money Can’t Buy

 The papers wanted to remind Vanderbilt of his “Poverty of Riches”... That his money could not buy friends, love, social acceptance or class, and that his family had not yet become included in Mrs. Astor’s New York Society “400.” 
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 “The price of flowers, of the caterer's bills, of the dresses to be worn, etc..., are as much a part of the Vanderbilt balls as the balls themselves; and the rather intelligent public that Mr. Vanderbilt sometimes hastily consigns to damnation, is not in any degree misled by the sorry spectacle of a man who possesses only great riches, trying to buy social esteem—about the only commodity that is never in the market.”


Vanderbilt's Poverty of Riches

The public journals are embellished now and then with reports in advance of a hundred thousand dollar ball to be given by Mr. William H. Vanderbilt, and a detailed account of the occasion is furnished in the newspapers after the fact. Indeed, public notice in advance of the cost of the Vanderbilt balls, with details of the price of flowers, of the caterer's bills, of the dresses to be worn, etc., are as much a part of the Vanderbilt balls as the balls themselves; and the rather intelligent public that Mr. Vanderbilt sometimes hastily consigns to damnation, is not in any degree misled by the sorry spectacle of a man who possesses only great riches, trying to buy social esteem—about the only commodity that is never in the market. 


The Vanderbilt balls come along as regularly as do seasons, but the same medley of speculators, politicians, shoddyites and social stragglers come and go all the time. It must be evident to a sensible, practical business man like Mr. Vanderbilt that no measure of extravagant expenditure in flowers, suppers, silks, satins and diamonds, will make the New York social public regard him as any other than William H. Vanderbilt, the son of his father, with much clustering about the family name and fortune that it would be generously charitable to forget. 

He knows how to buy or wreck a railroad, and how to draw the ribbons on the fastest horses, and how to compel Wall Street to pay homage to his financial power; but he can neither drive nor lead that often obstinate and ever capricious element of humanity that assumes to be the society of the period. It will smile or frown at will, and even the wealth of a Vanderbilt knocks at its doors, clad in all the trappings of the old and the new world, without responsive welcome. Mr. Vanderbilt is the richest private citizen of any nation in the world. His annual income reaches him a score of millions, and he has houses and lands and railways and horses and paintings and statuary and fine raiment until they must pall upon his taste; but what good? He will die just as other men die, and who will keep his memory green? We have yet to hear of a church, a school, a library or a charity that owes its existence to his generosity, and the poor and friendless do not lisp his name with the gratitude that cheers the benefactor. 

Hard by his grand palace is the unfinished cathedral, that if completed by the donation of half of his legitimate income a twelvemonth, would be a perpetual monument of the usefulness of his life, and it would stand aa a faithful sentinel against tho mob that sometimes turns to destruction in the fruitless hunt for bread. There are a thousand channels in which the rapidly accumulating wealth of Vanderbilt could be made to pay a much larger and better interest to its owner. It would not be in added millions to the already unneeded millions of the richest citizen of the world; but it would brighten the evening of his life with consolation and gather about him the only sincerity he can find to bless his name while living aud embalm it in grateful memories when dead. 

Mr. Vanderbilt can well afford his hundred thousand dollar balls to gratify the love of display that usurps the better social attainments of life, as that would be wasting not more than three days’ income; but if he would make the shadows of the gathering night resplendent with golden lining, let him make the world better and happier because of his existence, and leave at least some few of the poor and friendless to keep his memory green, when those who revel in his shoddy gifts shall have speeded his departure into forgetfulness. – Los Angeles Herald, 1884

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia