A message to Garcia

Elbert Hubbard

We look back on a short homily that struck a chord with tens of millions worldwide at the beginning of this century. 40 million copies, in 17 languages, including Russian and Japanese, sold in a relatively short period of  time. Read what touched a nerve and moved the feelings of your forebears a hundred years ago.


         In 1895, Garcia Y'iniguez Calixto, a lawyer and general in the Cuban army, took command of the insurrection against Spanish rule. Three years later, the sinking of the Main in Havana harbor started the Spanish-American war. President McKinley composed a message of support to Garcia, and was advised that US Army leftenant Andrew S. Rowan could be relied upon to deliver the message. Rowan accepted with a 'consider-it-done' attitude, completing the mission that arguably was key to the eventual outcome of Spain's defeat.

          The story was written in less than an hour after the author's son, Bert, commented at the diner table on Washington's birthday 1899, that Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban War, having "gone alone and done the thing--carried the message to Garcia."

          A Message to Garcia

         by Elbert Hubbard

          In all this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.  When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain forrests of Cuba--no one knew where. No mail or  telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

          What to do!

          Some one said to the President, "There is a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can."

          Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How the "fellow by the name of Rowan" took the letter,  sealed it up in an oil skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an  open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia--are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The   point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not  ask, "Where is he at?"

          By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of   the land. It is not book learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae  which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing -- "Carry a message to Garcia."

          General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias. No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise  where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man--the  inability or willingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

          Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His  goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

          You reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office--six clerks are within call. Summon any one and  make this request: "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio."

          Will the clerk say, "Yes, sir," and go do the task? On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask  one or more of the following questions: Who was he? Which encyclopedia?

          Where is the encyclopedia? I was hired for that? Don't you mean Bismarck? What's the matter with Charlie doing it?

          Is he dead? Is there any hurry? Sha'n't I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

          What do you want to know for?

          And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him to try to find Garcia--and then come   back and tell you there is no such man. Of course, I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average I will not.   Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your "assistant" that Correggio is indexed under Cs, not in the Ks, but you will smile very sweetly and say, "Never mind," and go look it up yourself. And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift--these are the things that put Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their  effort is for all?

          A first mate with knotted club seems necessary: and the dread of getting the "bounce" Saturday night holds many a  worker in his place. Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell nor punctuate--and do not think it necessary to.

          Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

          "You see that bookkeeper," said the foreman to me in a large factory. "Yes; what about him?"

          "Well, he's a fine accountant, but if I'd send him uptown on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on  the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forget what he had been sent for."

          Can such a man be trusted to carry a message to Garcia?

          We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the "downtrodden denizens of the sweat-shop"  and the "homeless wanderer searching for honest employment," and with it all often go many hard words for the men in  power. Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne'er-do-wells  to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving after "help" that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on.

          The employer is constantly sending away "help" that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the  business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer--but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best--those who can carry a message to Garcia.

          I know of one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is  oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He cannot give orders, and he will not receive them. Should a message be  given him to take to Garcia, his answer would be, "Take it yourself!"

          Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows  him dare employ him, for he is a regular firebrand and discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that  can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled Number Nine boot.

          Of course, I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying let us  drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility,   and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

          Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds--the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and,  having succeeded, there's nothing in it but bare board and clothes.

          I have carried a dinner-pail and worked for day's wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all  employers are not rapacious and high handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man  who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for  Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets "laid off," nor has to go on a strike for higher wages.

         Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is  wanted in every city, town and village--in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly--the man who can "Carry a Message to Garcia."


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