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Harper’s Monthly & The Self-Made Man – Still Learning…

By natural inclination, I spend a fair amount of my spare time delving into the “women’s publications” within the Rare & Early Newspapers [1] collection.  Consequently, the title of the Editor’s Table of an 19th century issue of Harper’s New Monthly [2] dragged me in, and in the spirit of fair play I decided to dissect and disseminate the contents, using the writer’s three questions.

Who is the Self-Made Man?  In the author’s view, this is not the man who achieved much because of education, as education is an outside influence that detracts credit from the man.  However, a self-made man can be educated.  The one who is not educated, but rises to success in spite of the lack, is not necessarily self-made, as success does not equal the morality required in a self-made man.

What is the Self-Made Man?  Again, this is not the one who commits good deeds, although a self-made man will be characterized by them.  “The difference between the two characters is a moral one.  It springs from the presence or absence of the humanitarian spirit.  It is all the difference between the pure love of truth and the love of opinion.”

What is his true position for good or for evil among the powers of the age?  Finally, all the negatives are set aside and the author clearly promotes a man who is driven to find truth — not in new discoveries or insights, but in the wisdom of the ages that has been tested by time, and continues to be trustworthy.  Ultimately, the author highly esteems the members of the Protestant Reformation, and the things they accomplished.  “It was an age where old truths were brought to light and re-established as old truths.  It was a most serious age; it was a modest age; and in all these respects, especially in the latter, it differed widely from our own.”

The final condemnation of the modern era, male and female, is contained in the author’s closing remarks:

All the writings of every kind during that remarkable period, and, we may even say, the century that followed it, would not present so much of this frothy self-laudation, as may be heard in one Hope Chapel meeting of ‘strong-minded women’ and ‘self made’ men.