When I returned to Mr. Hubbard he again convinced me, and I would have made the investment, except that Mr. Orton called at my house that night and said to me: "I know you cannot afford to lose ten thousand dollars, which you certainly will if you put it in the Bell patent. I have been so worried about it that contrary to my usual custom I have come, if possible, to make you promise to drop it." This I did.
The Bell patent was sustained in the courts against the Gray, and the telephone system became immediately popular and profitable. It spread rapidly all over the country, and innumerable local companies were organized, and with large interests for the privilege to the parent company.
I rarely ever part with anything, and I may say that principle has brought me so many losses and so many gains that I am as yet, in my eighty-eighth year, undecided whether it is a good rule or not. However, if I had accepted my friend Mr. Hubbard's offer, it would have changed my whole course of life. With the dividends, year after year, and the increasing capital, I would have netted by to-day at least one hundred million dollars. I have no regrets. I know my make-up, with its love for the social side of life and its good things, and for good times with good fellows. I also know the necessity of activity and work. I am quite sure that with this necessity removed and ambition smothered, I should long ago have been in my grave and lost many years of a life which has been full of happiness and satisfaction.
My great weakness has been indorsing notes. A friend comes and appeals to you. If you are of a sympathetic nature and very fond of him, if you have no money to loan him, it is so easy to put your name on the back of a note. Of course, it is rarely paid at maturity, because your friend's judgment was wrong, and so the note is renewed and the amount increased. When finally you wake up to the fact that if you do not stop you are certain to be ruined, your friend fails when the notes mature, and you have lost the results of many years of thrift and saving, and also your friend.
I declined to marry until I had fifty thousand dollars. The happy day arrived, and I felt the fortunes of my family secure. My father-in-law and his son became embarrassed in their business, and, naturally, I indorsed their notes. A few years afterwards my father-in-law died, his business went bankrupt, I lost my fifty thousand dollars and found myself considerably in debt. As an illustration of my dear mother's belief that all misfortunes are sent for one's good, it so happened that the necessity of meeting and recovering from this disaster led to extraordinary exertions, which probably, except under the necessity, I never would have made. The efforts were successful.
Horace Greeley never could resist an appeal to indorse a note. They were hardly ever paid, and Mr. Greeley was the loser. I met him one time, soon after he had been a very severe sufferer from his mistaken kindness. He said to me with great emphasis: "Chauncey, I want you to do me a great favor. I want you to have a bill put through the legislature, and see that it becomes a law, making it a felony and punishable with imprisonment for life for any man to put his name by way of indorsement on the back of another man's paper."
Dear old Greeley kept the practice up until he died, and the law was never passed. There was one instance, which I had something to do with, where the father of a young man, through whom Mr. Greeley lost a great deal of money by indorsing notes, arranged after Mr. Greeley's death to have the full amount of the loss paid to Mr. Greeley's heirs.
XXIII. ACTORS AND MEN OF LETTERS