The coat of arms of the human race ought to consist of a man with an axe on his shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone. Or, it ought to represent the several members of the human race holding out the hat to each other. For we are all beggars. Each in his own way. One beggar is too proud to beg for pennies but will beg a loan of dollars, knowing he can’t repay; another will not beg a loan but will beg for a postmastership; another will not do that but will beg for an introduction to “society”; one, being rich, will not beg a hod of coal of the railway company but will beg a pass; his neighbor will not beg coal, nor pass, but in social converse with a lawyer will place before him a supposititious case in the hope of getting an opinion out of him for nothing; one who would disdain to beg for any of these things will beg frankly for the presidency. None of the lot is ashamed of himself, but he despises the rest of the mendicants. Each admires his own dignity, and carefully guards it, but in his opinion the others haven’t any.
Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but certainly no human being is without a form of it. I know my own form, you know yours; let us curtain it from view and abuse the others. To every man cometh, at intervals, a man with an axe to grind. To you, reader, among the rest. By and by that axe’s aspect becomes familiar to you—when you are the proprietor of the grindstone—and the moment you catch sight of it, you perceive that it is the same old axe; then you withdraw within yourself, and stick out your spines. If you are the governor, you know that this stranger wants a position. The first six times the axe came, you were deceived—after that, humiliated. The bearer of it poured out such noble praises of you and of your political record that your lips trembled, the moisture dimmed your eyes, there was a lump in your throat, and you were thankful that you had lived to have this happiness; then the stranger disclosed his axe and his real motive in coming and in applauding, and you were ashamed of yourself and of your race, recognizing that you had been coarsely affronted by this person whom you had treated hospitably. Six repetitions are sure to cure you. After that (if you are not a candidate for reelection), you interrupt the compliments and say, “Yes, yes, that is all right, never mind about that; come down to business—what is it you want?”
No matter how big or how little your place in life may be, you have a grindstone, and people will bring axes to you. None escapes.
Also, you are in the business yourself. You privately rage at the man who brings his axe to you, but every now and then you carry yours to somebody and ask a whet. I don’t carry mine to strangers; I draw the line there—perhaps that is your way. This is bound to set us up on a high and holy pinnacle and make us look down in cold rebuke upon persons who carry their axes to strangers.
Now then, since we all carry axes, and must, and cannot break ourselves of it, why has not a best way to do it been invented by some wise and thoughtful person? There can be no reason but one: from the beginning of time each member of the human race, while recognizing with shame and angry disapproval that everybody else is an axe bearer and beggar, has all the while deceived himself with the superstition that he is free of the taint. And so it would never occur to him to plan out for the help and benefit of the race a scheme which could not advantage himself. For that is human nature.
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