"'Boy, bring me the "Register."' The waiter answers, 'Sir, we have no library, but you may see it in the New Exchange Coffee House.' 'Then I will see it there,' answers the disappointed politician, and he goes to the New Exchange Coffee House, and calls for the 'Register'; upon which the waiter tells him he cannot have it, as he is not a subscriber; or presents him with the 'Court and City Register,' the 'Old Annual Register,' or the 'New Annual Register.'"
John Walter was not what is commonly called an educated man. He was a brave and honest Englishman, instinctively opposed to jobbery, and to all the other modes by which a corrupt government plunders a laborious people. The consequence was that during the first years of his editorial life he was frequently in very hot water. When "The Times" had been in existence little more than a year, he took the liberty of making a remark upon the Duke of York, one of the king's dissolute sons, saying that the conduct of his Royal Highness had been such as to incur His Majesty's just disapprobation.
For this offense he was arrested and put on trial for libel. Being convicted, he was sentenced to pay a fine of fifty pounds, to undergo a year's imprisonment in Newgate, to stand in the pillory for one hour, and give bonds for his good behavior for the next seven years. While he was still in prison, he was convicted of two libels: first for saying that both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York had incurred the just disapprobation of the king; and secondly, for saying that the Duke of Clarence, another son of George III., an officer in the navy, had left his station without the permission of his commanding officer. For these offenses he was condemned to pay fines amounting to two hundred pounds, and to suffer a second year's imprisonment. His first year he served out fully, and four months of the second, when by the intercession of the Prince of Wales he was released.
From this period the newspaper appears to have gone forward, without any interruption, to the present day. In due time John Walter withdrew from the management, and gave it up to his eldest son, John Walter the second, who seems to have possessed his father's resolution and energy, with more knowledge of the world and a better education. It was he who took the first decisive step toward placing "The Times" at the head of journalism. For many years the Walters had been printers to the custom house, a post of considerable profit. In 1810 the newspaper discovered and exposed corrupt practices in the Navy Department,—practices which were subsequently condemned by an investigating commission. The administration deprived the fearless editor of the custom house business. As this was not in accordance with the usages of English politics, it made a great outcry, and the editor was given to understand that, if he would wink at similar abuses in future, the public printing should be restored to him. This offer he declined, saying that he would enter into no engagements and accept no favors which would diminish, in any degree whatever, the independence of the paper.
This was an immense point gained. It was, as I have said, the first step toward greatness. Nor do I believe that any newspaper has ever attained a genuine and permanent standing in a community until it has first conquered a substantial independence. The administration then tried to accomplish its purpose in another way. During the gigantic wars of Napoleon Bonaparte, extending over most of the first fifteen years of the present century, "The Times" surpassed all newspapers in procuring early intelligence from the seat of war. The government stooped to the pettiness of stopping at the outposts all packages addressed to "The Times," while allowing dispatches for the ministerial journals to pass. Foreign ships bound to London were boarded at Gravesend, and papers addressed to "The Times" were taken from the captain. The editor remonstrated to the Home Secretary. He was informed that he might receive his foreign papers as a favor from government. Knowing that this would be granted in the expectation of its modifying the spirit and tone of the newspaper, he declined to accept as a favor that which he claimed as a right. The consequence was that the paper suffered much inconvenience from the loss or delay of imported packages. But this inconvenience was of small account compared with the prestige which such complimentary persecution conferred.
Another remarkable feature of the system upon which "The Times" has been conducted is the liberality with which it has compensated those who served it. Writing is a peculiar kind of industry, and demands so strenuous and intense an exertion of the vital forces, that no one will ever get good writing done who compensates it on ordinary commercial principles. The rule of supply and demand can never apply to this case. There are two things which the purchaser of literary labor can do towards getting a high quality of writing. One is, to give the writer the amplest motive to do his best; and the other is, to prevent his writing too much. Both these things the conductors of "The Times" have systematically done. It is their rule to pay more for literary labor than any one else pays for the same labor, more than the writer himself would think of demanding, and also to afford intervals of repose after periods of severe exertion.
Until the year 1814, all the printing in the world was done by hand, and "The Times" could only be struck off at the rate of four hundred and fifty copies an hour. Hence the circulation of the paper, when it had reached three or four thousand copies a day, had attained the utmost development then supposed to be possible; and when such news came as that of the battle of Austerlitz, Trafalgar, or Waterloo, the edition was exhausted long before the demand was supplied. There was a compositor in the office of "The Times," named Thomas Martyn, who, as early as 1804, conceived the idea of applying Watt's improved steam-engine to a printing press. He showed his model to John Walter, who furnished him with money and room in which to continue his experiments, and perfect his machine. But the pressmen pursued the inventor with such blind, infuriate hate, that the man was in terror of his life from day to day, and the scheme was given up.
Ten years later another ingenious inventor, named Koenig, procured a patent for a steam-press, and Mr. Walter determined to give his invention a trial at all hazards. The press was secretly set up in another building, and a few men, pledged to secrecy, were hired and put in training to work it. On the night of the trial the pressmen in "The Times" building were told that the paper would not go to press until very late, as important news was expected from the Continent. At six in the morning John Walter went into the press-room, and announced to the men that the whole edition of "The Times" had been printed by steam during the night, and that thenceforward the steam-press would be regularly used. He told the men that if they attempted violence there was a force at hand to suppress it, but if they behaved well no man should be a loser by the invention. They should either remain in their situations, or receive full wages until they could procure others. This conduct in a rich and powerful man was no more than decent. The men accepted his terms with alacrity.
A great secret of "The Times'" popularity has been its occasional advocacy of the public interest to its own temporary loss. Early in its history it ridiculed the advertisers of quack medicines, and has never hesitated to expose unsound projects though ever so profusely advertised. During the railroad mania of 1845, when the railroad advertisements in "The Times" averaged sixty thousand dollars a week, it earnestly, eloquently, and every day, week after week, exposed the empty and ruinous nature of the railway schemes. It continued this course until the mighty collapse came which fulfilled its own prophecies, and paralyzed for a time the business of the country.
Was this pure philanthropy? It was something much rarer than that—it was good sense. It was sound judgment. It was not killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Old readers of the London "Times" were a little surprised, perhaps, to see the honors paid by that journal to its late editor-in-chief. An obituary notice of several columns was surrounded by black lines; a mark of respect which the paper would pay only to members of the royal family, or to some public man of universal renown. Never before, I believe, did this newspaper avow to the world that its editor had a name; and the editor himself usually affected to conceal his professional character. Former editors, in fact, would flatly deny their connection with the paper, and made a great secret of a fact which was no secret at all.
Mr. Carlyle, in his "Life of Sterling," gives a curious illustration of this. Sir Robert Peel, in 1835, upon resigning his ministry, wrote a letter to the editor of "The Times," thanking him for the powerful support which his administration had received from that journal. Sir Robert Peel did not presume to address this letter to any individual by name, and he declared in this letter that the editor was unknown to him even by sight. Edward Sterling replied in a lofty tone, very much as one king might reply to another, and signed the letter simply "The Editor of 'The Times.'"
But all this is changed. The affectation of secrecy, long felt to be ridiculous, has been abandoned, and the editor now circulates freely among his countrymen in his true character, as the conductor of the first journal in Europe. At his death he receives the honors due to the office he holds and the power he exerts, and his funeral is publicly attended by his associates. This is as it should be. Journalism has now taken its place as one of the most important of the liberal professions. Next to statesmanship, next to the actual conduct of public affairs, the editor of a leading newspaper fills, perhaps, the most important place in the practical daily life of the community in which he lives; and the influence of the office is likely to increase, rather than diminish.
Mr. Delane was probably the first individual who was ever educated with a distinct view to his becoming an editor. While he was still a boy, his father, a solicitor by profession, received an appointment in the office of "The Times," which led to young Delane's acquaintance with the proprietors of the journal. It seems they took a fancy to the lad. They perceived that he had the editorial cast of character, since, in addition to uncommon industry and intelligence, he had a certain eagerness for information, an aptitude for acquiring it, and a discrimination in weighing it, which marks the journalistic mind. The proprietors, noting these traits, encouraged, and, I believe, assisted him to a university education, in the expectation that he would fit himself for the life editorial.
Having begun this course of preparation early, he entered the office of "The Times" as editorial assistant soon after he came of age, and acquitted himself so well that, in 1841, when he was not yet twenty-five, he became editor-in-chief. He was probably the youngest man who ever filled such a post in a daily paper of anything like equal importance. This rapid promotion will be thought the more remarkable when it is mentioned that he never wrote an editorial in his life. "The Times" itself says of him:—
"He never was a writer. He never even attempted to write anything, except reports and letters. These he had to do, and he did them well. He had a large staff of writers, and it was not necessary he should write, except to communicate with them."
His not being a writer was one of his strongest points. Writing is a career by itself. The composition of one editorial of the first class is a very hard day's work, and one that leaves to the writer but a small residue of vital force. Writing for the public is the most arduous and exhausting of all industries, and cannot properly be combined with any other. Nor can a man average more than two or three editorial articles a week such as "The Times" prints every day. It was an immense advantage to the paper to have an editor who was never tempted to waste any of his strength upon the toil of composition. "The Times" prints daily three editorial articles, which cost the paper on an average fifty dollars each. Mr. Delane himself mentioned this during his visit to this country.
There was one quality of his editorship which we ought not to overlook. It was totally free from personalities. I have been in the habit for a long time of reading "The Times"—not regularly but very frequently, and sometimes every day for a considerable period; but I have never seen an individual disrespectfully mentioned in the paper. An opinion may be denounced; but the individual holding that opinion is invariably spoken of with decency. "The Times" has frequently objected to the course pursued by Mr. Gladstone; but the man himself is treated with precisely the same respect as he would be if he were an invited guest at the editor's table.
"The Times," being a human institution, has plenty of faults, and has made its ample share of mistakes; but it owes its eminent position chiefly to its good qualities, its business ability, its patriotism, its liberal enterprise, and wise treatment of those who serve it. The paper is still chiefly owned and conducted by John Walter, the grandson of the founder.
The story of this stalwart and skillful Scotch farmer, George Hope, enables us to understand what agitators mean by the term "landlordism." It is a very striking case, as the reader will admit.
George Hope, born in 1811, was the son of a tenant farmer of the county of East Lothian, now represented in Parliament by Mr. Gladstone. The farm on which he was born, on which his ancestors had lived, and upon which he spent the greater part of his own life, was called Fenton Barns. With other lands adjacent, it made a farm of about eight hundred acres. Two thirds of it were of a stiff, retentive clay, extremely hard to work, and the rest was little better than sand, of a yellow color and incapable of producing grain.
Two or three generations of Hopes had spent life and toil unspeakable upon this unproductive tract, without making the least profit by it; being just able to pay their rent, and keep their heads above water. They subsisted, reared families, and died, worn out with hard work, leaving to their sons, besides an honest name, only the same inheritance of struggle and despair. George Hope's mother tried for years to squeeze out of her butter and eggs the price of a table large enough for all her family to sit round at once, but died without obtaining it.
At the age of eighteen years, George Hope took hold of this unpromising farm, his parents being in declining health, nearly exhausted by their long struggle with it. He brought to his task an intelligent and cultivated mind. He had been for four years in a lawyer's office. He had read with great admiration the writings of the American Channing; and he now used his intelligence in putting new life into this old land.
The first thing was to acquire more capital; and the only way of accomplishing this was to do much of the work himself. Mere manual labor, however, would not have sufficed; for he found himself baffled by the soil. Part of the land being wet, cold clay, and part yellow sand, he improved both by mixing them together. He spread sand upon his clay, and clay upon his sand, as well as abundant manure, and he established a kiln for converting some of the clay into tiles, with which he drained his own farm, besides selling large quantities of tiles to the neighboring farmers. For a time, he was in the habit of burning a kiln of eleven thousand tiles every week, and he was thus enabled to expend in draining his own farms about thirteen thousand dollars, without going in debt for it.
He believed in what is called "high farming," and spent enormous sums in fertilizing the soil. For a mere top-dressing of guano, bones, nitrate of soda, or sulphate of ammonia, he spent one spring eight thousand dollars. These large expenditures, directed as they were by a man who thoroughly understood his business, produced wonderful results. He gained a large fortune, and his farm became so celebrated, that travelers arrived from all parts of Europe, and even from the United States, to see it. An American called one day to inspect the farm, when Mr. Hope began, as usual, to express his warm admiration for Dr. Channing. The visitor was a nephew of the distinguished preacher, and he was exceedingly surprised to find his uncle so keenly appreciated in that remote spot.
It is difficult to say which of his two kinds of land improved the most under his vigorous treatment. His sandy soil, the crop of which in former years was sometimes blown out of the ground, was so strengthened by its dressing of clay as to produce excellent crops of wheat; and his clay fields were made among the most productive in Scotland by his system of combined sanding, draining and fertilizing.
One of his secrets was that he treated his laborers with justice and consideration. His harvest-homes were famous in their day. When he found that certain old-fashioned games caused some of his weak teetotalers to fall from grace, he changed them for others; and, instead of beer and toddy, provided abundance of tea, coffee, strawberries, and other dainties. When the time came for dancing, he took the lead, and could sometimes boast that he had not missed one dance the whole evening. In addressing a public meeting of farmers and landlords in 1861, he spoke on the subject of improving the cottages of farm laborers. These were some of the sentences which fell from his lips:—
"Treat your laborers with respect, as men; encourage their self-respect. Never enter a poor man's house any more than a rich man's unless invited, and then go not to find fault, but as a friend. If you can render him or his family a service, by advice or otherwise, let it be more delicately done than to your most intimate associate. Remember how hard it is for a poor man to respect himself. He hears the wealthy styled the respectable, and the poor, the lower classes; but never call a man low. His being a man dwarfs, and renders as nothing, all the distinctions of an earthly estate."
The reader sees what kind of person this George Hope was. He was as nearly a perfect character as our very imperfect race can ordinarily exhibit. He was a great farmer, a true captain of industry, an honest, intelligent, just, and benevolent man. He was, moreover, a good citizen, and this led him to take an interest in public matters, and to do his utmost in aid of several reasonable reforms. He was what is called a Liberal in politics. He did what he could to promote the reform bill of Lord John Russell, and he was a conspicuous ally of Cobden and Bright in their efforts to break down the old corn laws. He remembered that there were about five thousand convictions in Great Britain every year under the game laws, and he strove in all moderate and proper ways to have those laws repealed.
And now we come to the point. A certain person named R. A. Dundas Christopher Nisbet Hamilton married the heiress of the estate to which the farm of George Hope belonged. He thus acquired the power, when a tenant's lease expired, to refuse a renewal. This person was a Tory, who delighted in the slaughter of birds and beasts, and who thought it highly impertinent in the tenant of a farm to express political opinions contrary to those of his landlord. George Hope, toward the end of his long lease, offered to take the farm again, at a higher rent than he had ever before paid, though it was himself who had made the farm more valuable. His offer was coldly declined, and he was obliged, after expending the labor and skill of fifty-three years upon that land, to leave it, and find another home for his old age.
He had fortunately made money enough to buy a very good farm for himself, and he had often said that he would rather farm fifty acres of his own than to be the tenant of the best farm in Europe. This "eviction," as it was called, of a farmer so celebrated attracted universal comment, and excited general indignation. He left his farm like a conqueror. Public dinners and services of plate were presented to him, and his landlord of many names acquired a notoriety throughout Europe which no doubt he enjoyed. He certainly did a very bold action, and one which casts a perfect glare of light upon the nature of landlordism.
George Hope died in 1876, universally honored in Scotland. He lies buried in the parish of his old farm, not far from the home of his fathers. On his tombstone is inscribed:—
"To the memory of George Hope, for many years tenant of Fenton Barns. He was the devoted supporter of every movement which tended to the advancement of civil and religious liberty, and to the moral and social elevation of mankind."
SIR HENRY COLE.
He was an "Old Public Functionary" in the service of the British people.
When President Buchanan spoke of himself as an Old Public Functionary he was a good deal laughed at by some of the newspapers, and the phrase has since been frequently used in an opprobrious or satirical sense. This is to be regretted, for there is no character more respectable, and there are few so useful, as an intelligent and patriotic man of long standing in the public service. What one such man can do is shown by the example of Sir Henry Cole, who died a few months ago in London after half a century of public life.
The son of an officer in the British army, he was educated at that famous Blue-Coat School which is interesting to Americans because Lamb and Coleridge attended it. At the age of fifteen he received an appointment as clerk in the office of Public Records. In due time, having proved his capacity and peculiar fitness, he was promoted to the post of Assistant Keeper, which gave him a respectable position and some leisure.
He proved to be in an eminent sense the right man in the right place. Besides publishing, from time to time, curious and interesting documents which he discovered in his office, he called attention, by a series of vigorous pamphlets, to the chaotic condition in which the public records of Great Britain were kept. Gradually these pamphlets made an impression, and they led at length to a reform in the office. The records were rearranged, catalogued, rendered safe, and made accessible to students. This has already led to important corrections in history, and to a great increase in the sum of historical knowledge.
When the subject of cheap postage came up in 1840, the government offered four prizes of a hundred pounds each for suggestions in aid of Sir Rowland Hill's plan. One of these prizes was assigned to Henry Cole. He was one of the persons who first became converts to the idea of penny postage, and he lent the aid of his pen and influence to its adoption.
At length, about the year 1845, he entered upon the course of proceedings which rendered him one of the most influential and useful persons of his time. He had long lamented the backward condition of arts of design in England, and the consequent ugliness of the various objects in the sight and use of which human beings pass their lives. English furniture, wall-papers, carpets, curtains, cutlery, garments, upholstery, ranged from the tolerable to the hideous, and were inferior to the manufactures of France and Germany. He organized a series of exhibitions on a small scale, somewhat similar to those of the American Institute in New York, which has held a competitive exhibition of natural and manufactured objects every autumn for the last fifty years.
His exhibitions attracted attention, and they led at length to the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. The merit of that scheme must be shared between Henry Cole and Prince Albert. Cole suggested that his small exhibitions should, once in five years, assume a national character, and invite contributions from all parts of the empire. Yes, said Prince Albert, and let us also invite competition from foreign countries on equal terms with native products.
The Exhibition of 1851 was admirably managed, and had every kind of success. It benefited England more than all other nations put together, because it revealed to her people their inferiority in many branches both of workmanship and design. We all know how conceited people are apt to become who have no opportunity to compare themselves with superiors. John Bull, never over-modest, surveyed the Exhibition of 1851, and discovered, to his great surprise, that he was not the unapproachable Bull of the universe which he had fondly supposed. He saw himself beaten in some things by the French, in some by the Germans, in others by the Italians, and in a few (O wonder!) by the Yankees.
Happily he had the candor to admit this humiliating fact to himself, and he put forth earnest and steadfast exertions to bring himself up to the level of modern times.
Henry Cole was the life and soul of the movement. It was he who called attention to the obstacles placed in the way of improvement by the patent laws, and some of those obstacles, through him, were speedily removed.
During this series of services to his country, he remained in the office of Public Records. The government now invited him to another sphere of labor. They asked him to undertake the reconstruction of the schools of design, and they gave him an office which placed him practically at the head of the various institutions designed to promote the application of art to manufacture. The chief of these now is the Museum of South Kensington, which is to many Americans the most interesting object in London. The creation of this wonderful museum was due more to him than to any other individual.
It came to pass in this way: After the close of the Crystal Palace in 1851, Parliament gave five thousand pounds for the purchase of the objects exhibited which were thought best calculated to raise the standard of taste in the nation. These objects, chiefly selected by Cole, were arranged by him for exhibition in temporary buildings of such extreme and repulsive inconvenience as to bring opprobrium and ridicule upon the undertaking. It was one of the most difficult things in the world to excite public interest in the exhibition. But by that energy which comes of strong conviction and patriotic feeling, and of the opportunity given him by his public employment, Henry Cole wrung from a reluctant Parliament the annual grants necessary to make South Kensington Museum what it now is.
Magnificent buildings, filled with a vast collection of precious and interesting objects, greet the visitor. There are collections of armor, relics, porcelain, enamel, fabrics, paintings, statues, carvings in wood and ivory, machines, models, and every conceivable object of use or beauty. Some of the most celebrated pictures in the world are there, and there is an art library of thirty thousand volumes. There are schools for instruction in every branch of art and science which can be supposed to enter into the products of industry. The prizes which are offered for excellence in design and invention have attracted, in some years, as many as two hundred thousand objects. During three days of every week admission to this superb assemblage of exhibitions is free, and on the other three days sixpence is charged.
The influence of this institution upon British manufactures has been in many branches revolutionary. As the London "Times" said some time ago:—
"There is hardly a household in the country that is not the better for the change; there is certainly no manufacture in which design has any place which has not felt its influence."
The formation of this Museum, the chief work of Sir Henry Cole's useful life, was far from exhausting his energies. He has borne a leading part in all the industrial exhibitions held in London during the last quarter of a century, and served as English commissioner at the Paris exhibitions of 1855 and 1867.
This man was enabled to render all this service to his country, to Europe, and to us, because he was not obliged to waste any of his energies in efforts to keep his place. Administrations might change, and Parliaments might dissolve; but he was a fixture as long as he did his duty. When his duty was fairly done, and he had completed the fortieth year of his public service, he retired on his full salary, and he was granted an honorable title; for a title is honorable when it is won by good service. Henceforth he was called Sir Henry Cole, K. C. B.
To the end of his life he continued to labor in all sorts of good works—a Training School for Music, a Training School for Cookery, guilds for the promotion of health, and many others. He died in April, 1882, aged seventy-four years.
Strangers visiting Melbourne, the chief city of Australia, will not be allowed to overlook four great marble statues which adorn the public library. They are the gift of Mr. W. J. Clark, one of the distinguished public men of that growing empire. These statues represent, in a sitting posture, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, and the Princess of Wales. They are larger than life, and, according to the Australian press, they are admirable works in every respect.
They were executed by Charles Summers, a sculptor long resident in that colony, where he practiced his art with great success, as the public buildings and private houses of Melbourne attest. Many of his works remain in the colony, and he may be said to be the founder of his form of art in that part of the world. The history of this man's life is so remarkable that I think it will interest the reader.
Sixty years ago, Charles Summers was a little, hungry, ragged boy in English Somersetshire, who earned four cents a day by scaring the crows from the wheat fields. I have seen myself such little fellows engaged in this work, coming on duty before four in the morning, and remaining till eight in the evening, frightening away the birds by beating a tin pan with a stick, not unfrequently chasing them and throwing stones at them. He was the son of a mason, who had eight children, and squandered half his time and money in the tap-room. Hence, this boy, from the age of eight or nine years, smart, intelligent, and ambitious, was constantly at work at some such employment; and often, during his father's drunken fits, he was the chief support of the family.
Besides serving as scare-crow, he assisted his father in his mason's work, and became a hod-carrier as soon as he was able to carry a hod. Sometimes he accompanied his father to a distant place in search of employment, and he was often seen on the high-road, in charge of the drunkard, struggling to get him home before he had spent their united earnings in drink. In these deplorable circumstances, he acquired a dexterity and patience which were most extraordinary. Before he was twelve years old he began to handle the chisel and the mallet, and his work in squaring and facing a stone soon surpassed that of boys much older than himself. He was observed to have a strong propensity to do fancy stone-work. He obtained, as a boy, some local celebrity for his carved gate posts, and other ornamental objects in stone. So great was his skill and industry, that, by the time he was nineteen years of age, besides having maintained a large family for years, he had saved a sum equal to a hundred dollars.
Then a piece of good fortune happened to him. A man came from London to set up in a parish church near by a monumental figure, and looked about for a skillful mason to assist him. Charles Summers was mentioned as the best hand in the neighborhood, and upon him the choice fell. Thus he was introduced to the world of art, for this figure had been executed by Henry Weekes, a distinguished London sculptor. The hardships of his childhood had made a man of him at this early age, a thoughtful and prudent man. Taking with him ten of his twenty pounds, he went to London and applied for employment in the studio of Henry Weekes. This artist employed several men, but he had no vacant place except the humble one of stone polisher, which required little skill. He accepted the place with alacrity and delight, at a salary of five dollars a week.
He was now in his element. The lowliest employments of the studio were pleasing to him. He loved to polish the marble; the sight of the numerous models was a pleasure to him; even wetting the cloths and cleaning the model tools were pleasant tasks. His cheerfulness and industry soon made him a favorite; and when his work was done, he employed his leisure in gaining skill in carving and cutting marble. In this he had such success, that, when in after life he became himself an artist, he would sometimes execute his idea in marble without modeling it in clay.
When he had been in this studio about a year, his employer was commissioned to execute two colossal figures in bronze, and the young man was obliged to spend much of his time in erecting the foundry, and other duties which he felt to be foreign to his art. Impatient at this, he resigned his place, and visited his home, where he executed medallion portraits, first of his own relations, and afterwards of public men, such as the Mayor of Bristol, and the member of Parliament for his county. These medallions gave him some reputation, and it was a favorite branch with him as long as he lived.
Returning to London, he had no difficulty in gaining employment at good wages in a studio of a sculptor. Soon we find him competing for the prizes offered by the Royal Academy of London to young sculptors; the chief of which is a gold medal given every two years for the best group in clay of an historical character. A silver medal is also given every year for the best model from life.
At the exhibition of 1851, when he was twenty-four years of age, he was a competitor for both these prizes. For the gold medal he executed a group which he called Mercy interceding for the Vanquished. For the silver medal he offered a bust of a living person. He had the singular good fortune of winning both, and he received them in public from the hands of the President of the Academy, Sir Charles Eastlake. Cheer upon cheer greeted the modest student when he rose and went forward for the purpose. He was a young man of great self-control. Instead of joining in the usual festivities of his fellow-students after the award, he walked quietly to his lodgings, where his father and brother were anxiously waiting to hear the result of the competition. He threw himself into a chair without a word, and they began to console him for the supposed disappointment. In a few minutes they sat down to supper; whereupon, with a knowing smile, he took his medals out of his pocket, and laid one of them on each side of his plate.
From this time he had no difficulties except those inherent in the nature of his work, and in his own constitution. His early struggle with life had made him too intense. He had scarcely known what play was, and he did not know how to recreate himself. He had little taste for reading or society. He loved art alone. The consequence was that he worked with an intensity and continuity that no human constitution could long endure. Soon after winning his two medals his health was so completely prostrated that he made a voyage to Australia to visit a brother who had settled there. The voyage restored him, and he soon resumed the practice of his art at Melbourne. The people were just building their Houses of Parliament, and he was employed to execute the artistic work of the interior. He lived many years in Australia, and filled the colony with his works in marble and bronze.
In due time he made the tour of Europe, and lingered nine years in Rome, where he labored with suicidal assiduity. He did far more manual labor himself than is usual with artists of his standing, and yet, during his residence in Rome he had twenty men in his service. It was in Rome, in 1876, that he received from Melbourne the commission to execute in marble the four colossal statues mentioned above. These works he completed in something less than eighteen months, besides doing several other minor works previously ordered.
It was too much, and Nature resented the affront. After he had packed the statues, and sent them on their way to the other side of the globe, he set out for Melbourne himself, intending to take England by the way for medical advice. At Paris he visited the Exhibition, and the next day, at his hotel, he fell senseless to the floor. In three weeks he was dead, at the age of fifty-one years, in the very midst of his career.
"For him," writes one of his friends, "life consisted of but one thing—art. For that he lived; and, almost in the midst of it, died. He could not have conceived existence without it. Always and under every circumstance, he was thinking of his work, and gathering from whatever surrounded him such information as he thought would prove of service. In omnibuses, in railway carriages, and elsewhere, he found opportunities of study, and could always reproduce a likeness from memory of the individuals so observed."
I do not copy these words as commendation, but as warning. Like so many other gifted men of this age, he lived too fast and attempted too much. He died when his greatest and best life would naturally have been just beginning. He died at the beginning of the period when the capacity for high enjoyment of life is naturally the greatest. He died when he could have ceased to be a manufacturer and become an artist.
WILLIAM B. ASTOR.
In estimating the character and merits of such a man as the late Mr. Astor, we are apt to leave out of view the enormous harm he might have done if he had chosen to do it.
The rich fool who tosses a dollar to a waiter for some trifling service, debases the waiter, injures himself, and wrongs the public. By acting in that manner in all the transactions of life, a rich man diffuses around him an atmosphere of corruption, and raises the scale of expense to a point which is oppressive to many, ruinous to some, and inconvenient to all. The late Mr. Astor, with an income from invested property of nearly two millions a year, could have made life more difficult than it was to the whole body of people in New York who are able to live in a liberal manner. He refrained from doing so. He paid for everything which he consumed the market price—no more, no less—and he made his purchases with prudence and forethought. As he lived for many years next door to the Astor Library, the frequenters of that noble institution had an opportunity of observing that he laid in his year's supply of coal in the month of June, when coal is cheapest.
There was nothing which he so much abhorred as waste. It was both an instinct and a principle with him to avoid waste. He did not have the gas turned down low in a temporarily vacated room because he would save two cents by doing so, but because he justly regarded waste as wicked. His example in this particular, in a city so given to careless and ostentatious profusion as New York, was most useful. We needed such an example. Nor did he appear to carry this principle to an extreme. He was very far from being miserly, though keenly intent upon accumulation.
In the life of the Old World there is nothing so shocking to a republicanized mind as the awful contrast between the abodes of the poor and the establishments of the rich. A magnificent park of a thousand acres of the richest land set apart and walled in for the exclusive use of one family, while all about it are the squalid hovels of the peasants to whom the use of a single acre to a family would be ease and comfort, is the most painful and shameful spectacle upon which the sun looks down this day. Nothing can make it right. It is monstrous. It curses equally the few who ride in the park and the many who look over its walls; for the great lord who can submit to be the agent of such injustice is as much its victim as the degraded laborer who drowns the sense of his misery in pot-house beer. The mere fact that the lord can look upon such a scene and not stir to mend it, is proof positive of a profound vulgarity.
Nor is it lords alone who thus waste the hard earned wealth of the toiling sons of men. I read some time ago of a wedding in Paris. A thriving banker there, who is styled the Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, having a daughter of seventeen to marry, appears to have set seriously to work to find out how much money a wedding could be made to cost. In pursuing this inquiry, he caused the wedding festivals of Louis XIV's court, once so famous, to seem poverty-stricken and threadbare. He began by a burst of ostentatious charity. He subscribed money for the relief of the victims of recent inundations, and dowered a number of portionless girls; expending in these ways a quarter of a million francs. He gave his daughter a portion of five millions of francs. One of her painted fans cost five thousand francs. He provided such enormous quantities of clothing for her little body, that his house, if it had not been exceedingly large, would not have conveniently held them. For the conveyance of the wedding party from the house to the synagogue, he caused twenty-five magnificent carriages to be made, such as monarchs use when they are going to be crowned, and these vehicles were drawn by horses imported from England for the purpose. The bridal veil was composed of ineffable lace, made from an original design expressly for this bride.
And then what doings in the synagogue! A choir of one hundred and ten trained voices, led by the best conductor in Europe—the first tenor of this generation engaged, who sang the prayer from "Moses in Egypt"—a crowd of rabbis, and assistant-rabbis, with the grand rabbi of Paris at their head. To complete the histrionic performance, eight young girls, each bearing a beautiful gold-embroidered bag, and attended by a young gentleman, "took up a collection" for the poor, which yielded seven thousand francs.
Mr. Astor could, if he had chosen, have thrown his millions about in this style. He was one of a score or two of men in North America who could have maintained establishments in town and country on the dastardly scale so common among rich people in Europe. He, too, could have had his park, his half a dozen mansions, his thirty carriages, his hundred horses and his yacht as big as a man-of-war. That he was above such atrocious vulgarity as this, was much to his credit and more to our advantage. What he could have done safely, other men would have attempted to whom the attempt would have been destruction. Some discredit also would have been cast upon those who live in moderate and modest ways.
Every quarter day Mr. Astor had nearly half a million dollars to invest in the industries of the country. To invest his surplus income in the best and safest manner was the study of his life. His business was to take care of and increase his estate; and that being his business, he was right in giving the necessary attention to it. "William will never make money," his father used to say; "but he will take good care of what he has." And so it proved. The consequence was, that all his life he invested money in the way that was at once best for himself and best for the country. No useless or premature scheme had had any encouragement from him. He invariably, and by a certainty of judgment that resembled an instinct, "put his money where it would do most good." Political economists demonstrate that an investment which is the best for the investor must of necessity be the best for the public. Here, again, we were lucky. When we wanted houses more than we wanted coal, he built houses for us; and when we wanted coal more than we wanted houses, he set his money to digging coal; charging nothing for his trouble but the mere cost of his subsistence.
One fault he had as a public servant—for we may fairly regard in that light a man who wields so large a portion of our common estate. He was one of the most timid of men. He was even timorous. His timidity was constitutional and physical. He would take a great deal of trouble to avoid crossing a temporary bridge or scaffolding, though assured by an engineer that it was strong enough to bear ten elephants. Nor can it be said that he was morally brave. Year after year he saw a gang of thieves in the City Hall stealing his revenues under the name of taxes and assessments, but he never led an assault upon them nor gave the aid he ought to those who did. Unless he is grossly belied, he preferred to compromise than fight, and did not always disdain to court the ruffians who plundered him.
This was a grave fault. He who had the most immediate and the most obvious interest in exposing and resisting the scoundrels, ought to have taken the lead in putting them down. This he could not do. Nature had denied him the qualities required for such a contest. He had his enormous estate, and he had mind enough to take care of it in ordinary ways; but he had nothing more. We must therefore praise him less for the good he did in his life, than for the evil which he refrained from doing.
On an April morning in 1883 I was seated at breakfast in a room which commanded a view of the tall flag-staff in Gramercy Park in the city of New York. I noticed some men unfolding the flag and raising it on the mast. The flag stopped mid-way and dropped motionless in the still spring morning. The newspapers which were scattered about the room made no mention of the death of any person of note and yet this sign of mourning needed no explanation. For half a lifetime Peter Cooper had lived in a great, square, handsome house just round the corner, and the condition of the aged philanthropist had been reported about the neighborhood from hour to hour during the previous days; so that almost every one who saw the flag uttered words similar to those which I heard at the moment:—
"He is gone, then! The good old man is gone. We shall never see his snowy locks again, nor his placid countenance, nor his old horse and gig jogging by. Peter Cooper is dead!"
He had breathed his last about three o'clock that morning, after the newspapers had gone to press; but the tidings spread with strange rapidity. When I went out of the house two hours later, the whole city seemed hung with flags at half-mast; for there is probably no city in the world which has so much patriotic bunting at command as New York. Passengers going north and west observed the same tokens of regard all along the lines of railroad. By mid-day the great State of New York, from the Narrows to the lakes, and from the lakes to the Pennsylvania line, exhibited everywhere the same mark of respect for the character of the departed. A tribute so sincere, so spontaneous and so universal, has seldom been paid to a private individual.
It was richly deserved. Peter Cooper was a man quite out of the common order even of good men. His munificent gift to the public, so strikingly and widely useful, has somewhat veiled from public view his eminent executive qualities, which were only less exceptional than his moral.
I once had the pleasure of hearing the story of his life related with some minuteness by a member of his own family, now honorably conspicuous in public life, and I will briefly repeat it here. More than ninety years ago, when John Jacob Astor kept a fur store in Water Street, and used to go round himself buying his furs of the Hudson River boatmen and the western Indians, he had a neighbor who bought beaver skins of him, and made them into hats in a little shop near by, in the same street. This hat-maker, despite his peaceful occupation, was called by his friends Captain Cooper, for he had been a good soldier of the Revolution, and had retired, after honorable service to the very end of the war, with a captain's rank. Captain Cooper was a better soldier than man of business. Indeed, New York was then a town of but twenty-seven thousand inhabitants, and the field for business was restricted. He was an amiable, not very energetic man; but he had had the good fortune to marry a woman who supplied all his deficiencies. The daughter of one of the colonial mayors of New York, she was born on the very spot which is now the site of St. Paul's Church at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, and her memory ran back to the time when the stockade was still standing which had been erected in the early day as a defense against the Indians.
There is a vivid tradition in the surviving family of Peter Cooper of the admirable traits of his mother. She was educated among the Moravians in Pennsylvania, who have had particular success in forming and developing the female character. She was a woman in whom were blended the diverse qualities of her eminent son, energy and tenderness, mental force and moral elevation. She was the mother of two daughters and seven sons, her fifth child being Peter, who was born in 1791.
To the end of his life, Peter Cooper had a clear recollection of many interesting events which occurred before the beginning of the present century.
"I remember," he used to say, "that I was about nine years old at the time when Washington was buried. That is, he was buried at Mount Vernon; but we had a funeral service in old St. Paul's. I stood in front of the church, and I recall the event well, on account of his old white horse and its trappings."
A poor hatter, with a family of nine children, must needs turn his children to account, and the consequence was that Peter Cooper enjoyed an education which gave him at least great manual dexterity. He learned how to use both his hands and a portion of his brain. He learned how to do things. His earliest recollection was his working for his father in pulling, picking, and cleaning the wool used in making hat-bodies, and he was kept at this work during his whole boyhood, except that one year he went to school half of every day, learning a little arithmetic, as well as reading and writing. By the time he was fifteen years old he had learned to make a good beaver hat throughout, and a good beaver hat of that period was an elaborate and imposing structure.
Then his father abandoned his hat shop and removed to Peekskill on the Hudson, where he set up a brewery, and where Peter learned the whole art and mystery of making beer. He was quick to learn every kind of work, and even as a boy he was apt to suggest improvements in tools and methods. At the age of seventeen, he was still working in the brewery, a poor man's son, and engaged in an employment which for many and good reasons he disliked. Brewing beer is a repulsive occupation.
Then, with his father's consent, he came alone to New York, intending to apprentice himself to any trade that should fake his fancy. He visited shop after shop, and at last applied for employment at a carriage factory near the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. He remembered, to his ninetieth year, the substance of the conversation which passed between him and one of the partners in this business.
"Have you room for an apprentice?" asked Peter.
"Do you know anything about the business?" was the rejoinder.
The lad was obliged to answer that he did not.
"Have you been brought up to work?"
He replied by giving a brief history of his previous life.
"Is your father willing that you should learn this trade?"
"He has given me my choice of trades."
"If I take you, will you stay with me and work out your time?"
He gave his word that he would, and a bargain was made—twenty-five dollars a year, and his board. He kept his promise and served out his time. To use his own language:—
"In my seventeenth year I entered as apprentice to the coach-making business, in which I remained four years, till I became 'of age.' I made for my employer a machine for mortising the hubs of carriages, which proved very profitable to him, and was, perhaps, the first of its kind used in this country. When I was twenty-one years old my employer offered to build me a shop and set me up in business, but as I always had a horror of being burdened with debt, and having no capital of my own, I declined his kind offer. He himself became a bankrupt. I have made it a rule to pay everything as I go. If, in the course of business, anything is due from me to any one, and the money is not called for, I make it my business oh the last Saturday before Christmas to take it to his business place."
It was during this period of his life, from seventeen to twenty-one, that he felt most painfully the defects of his education. He had acquired manual skill, but he felt acutely that this quality alone was rather that of a beaver than of a man. He had an inquisitive, energetic understanding, which could not be content without knowledge far beyond that of the most advanced beaver. Hungering for such knowledge, he bought some books: but in those days there were few books of an elementary kind adapted to the needs of a lonely, uninstructed boy. His books puzzled more than they enlightened him; and so, when his work was done, he looked about the little bustling city to see if there was not some kind of evening school in which he could get the kind of help he needed. There was nothing of the kind, either in New York or in any city then. Nor were there free schools of any kind. He found a teacher, however, who, for a small compensation, gave him instruction in the evening in arithmetic and other branches. It was at this time that he formed the resolution which he carried out forty-five years later. He said to himself:—
"If ever I prosper in business so as to acquire more property than I need, I will try to found an institution in the city of New York, wherein apprentice boys and young mechanics shall have a chance to get knowledge in the evening."
This purpose was not the dream of a sentimental youth. It was a clear and positive intention, which he kept steadily in view through all vicissitudes until he was able to enter upon its accomplishment.
He was twenty-one years of age when the war of 1812 began, which closed for the time every carriage manufactory in the country. He was therefore fortunate in not having accepted the proposition of his employer. During the first months of the war business was dead; but as the supply of foreign merchandise gave out an impulse was given to home manufacture, especially of the fabrics used in clothing. There was a sudden demand for cloth-making machinery of all kinds, and now Peter Cooper put to good use his inventive faculty. He contrived a machine for cutting away the nap on the surface of cloth, which answered so well that he soon had a bustling shop for making the machines, which he sold faster than he could produce. He found himself all at once in an excellent business, and in December, 1813, he married Miss Sarah Bedel of Hempstead, Long Island; he being then twenty-two and she twenty-one.
There never was a happier marriage than this. To old age, he never sat near her without holding her hand in his. He never spoke to her nor of her without some tender epithet. He attributed the great happiness of his life and most of his success to her admirable qualities. He used to say that she was "the day-star, the solace, and the inspiration" of his life. She seconded every good impulse of his benevolence, and made the fulfillment of his great scheme possible by her wise and resolute economy. They began their married life on a scale of extreme frugality, both laboring together for the common good of the family.
"In early life," he used to say, "when I was first married, I found it necessary to rock the cradle, while my wife prepared our frugal meals. This was not always convenient in my busy life, and I conceived the idea of making a cradle that would be made to rock by mechanism. I did so, and enlarging upon my first idea, I arranged the mechanism for keeping off the flies, and playing a music-box for the amusement of the baby! This cradle was bought of me afterwards by a delighted peddler, who gave me his 'whole stock in trade' for the exchange and the privilege of selling the patent in the State of Connecticut."
This device in various forms and modifications is still familiar in our households. They had six children, of whom two survive, Mr. Edward Cooper, recently mayor of New York, and Sarah, wife of Hon. Abram S. Hewitt, member of Congress from the city of New York. For nearly sixty-five years this couple lived together in happy marriage.
In 1815 the peace with Great Britain, which gave such ecstasies of joy to the whole country, ruined Peter Cooper's business; as it was no longer possible to make cloth in the United States with profit. With three trades at his finger ends, he now tried a fourth, cabinet-making, in which he did not succeed. He moved out of town, and bought the stock of a grocer, whose store stood on the very site of the present Cooper Institute, at that time surrounded by fields and vacant lots. But even then he thought that, by the time he was ready to begin his evening school, that angle of land would probably be an excellent central spot on which to build it.
He did very well with his grocery store; but it never would have enabled him to endow his Institute. One day when he had kept his grocery about a year, and used his new cradle at intervals in the rooms above, an old friend of his accosted him, as he stood at the door of the grocery.
"I have been building," said his visitor, "a glue factory for my son; but I don't think that either he or I can make it pay. But you are the very man to do it."
"I'll go and see it," said Peter Cooper.
He got into his friend's wagon and they drove to the spot, which was near the corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street, almost on the very spot now occupied by an edifice of much note called "The Little Church Round the Corner." He liked the look of the new factory, and he saw no reason why the people of New York should send all the way to Russia for good glue. His friend asked two thousand dollars for the establishment as it stood, and Peter Cooper chanced to have that sum of money, and no more. He bought the factory on the spot, sold his grocery soon, and plunged into the manufacture of glue, of which he knew nothing except that Russian glue was very good and American very bad.
Now he studied the composition of glue, and gradually learned the secret of making the best possible article which brought the highest price in the market. He worked for twenty years without a book-keeper, clerk, salesman, or agent. He rose with the dawn. When his men came at seven o'clock to work, they found the factory fires lighted, and it was the master who had lighted them. He watched closely and always the boiling of his glue, and at mid-day, when the critical operation was over, he drove into the city and went the round of his customers, selling them glue and isinglass, and passed the evening in posting his books and reading to his family.
He developed the glue business until it yielded him a profit of thirty thousand dollars a year. He soon began to feel himself a capitalist, and to count the years until he would be able to begin the erection of the institution he had in his mind. But men who are known to have capital are continually solicited to embark in enterprises, and he was under a strong temptation to yield to such solicitations, for the scheme which he had projected would involve a larger expenditure than could be ordinarily made from one business in one lifetime. He used to tell the story of his getting into the business of making iron, which was finally a source of great profit to him.
"In 1828," he would say, "I bought three thousand acres of land within the city limits of Baltimore for $105,000. When I first purchased the property it was in the midst of a great excitement created by a promise of the rapid completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had been commenced by a subscription of five dollars per share. In the course of the first year's operations they had spent more than the five dollars per share. But the road had to make so many short turns in going around points of rocks that they found they could not complete the road without a much larger sum than they had supposed would be necessary; while the many short turns in the road seemed to render it entirely useless for locomotive purposes. The principal stockholders had become so discouraged that they said they would not pay any more, and would lose all they had already paid in. After conversing with them, I told them that if they would hold on a little while I would put a small locomotive on the road, which I thought would demonstrate the practicability of using steam-engines on the road, even with all the short turns in it. I got up a small engine for that purpose, and put it upon the road, and invited the stockholders to witness the experiment. After a good deal of trouble and difficulty in accomplishing the work, the stockholders came, and thirty-six men were taken into a car, and, with six men on the locomotive, which carried its own fuel and water, and having to go up hill eighteen feet to a mile, and turn all the short turns around the points of rocks, we succeeded in making the thirteen miles, on the first passage out, in one hour and twelve minutes, and we returned from Ellicott's Mills to Baltimore in fifty-seven minutes. This locomotive was built to demonstrate that cars could be drawn around short curves, beyond anything believed at that time to be possible. The success of this locomotive also answered the question of the possibility of building railroads in a country scarce of capital, and with immense stretches of very rough country to pass, in order to connect commercial centres, without the deep cuts, the tunneling and leveling which short curves might avoid. My contrivance saved this road from bankruptcy."
He still had his tract of Baltimore land upon his hands, which the check to the prosperity of the city rendered for the time almost valueless; so he determined to build ironworks upon it, and a rolling-mill. In his zeal to acquire knowledge at first hand, he had a narrow escape from destruction in Baltimore.
"In my efforts to make iron," he said, "I had to begin by burning the wood growing upon the spot into charcoal, and in order to do that, I erected large kilns, twenty-five feet in diameter, twelve feet high, circular in form, hooped around with iron at the top, arched over so as to make a tight place in which to put the wood, with single bricks left out in different places in order to smother the fire out when the wood was sufficiently burned. After having burned the coal in one of these kilns perfectly, and believing the fire entirely smothered out, we attempted to take the coal out of the kiln; but when we had got it about half-way out, the coal itself took fire, and the men, after carrying water some time to extinguish it, gave up in despair. I then went myself to the door of the kiln to see if anything more could be done, and just as I entered the door the gas itself took fire and enveloped me in a sheet of flame. I had to run some ten feet to get out, and in doing so my eyebrows and whiskers were burned, and my fur hat was scorched down to the body of the fur. How I escaped I know not. I seemed to be literally blown out by the explosion, and I narrowly escaped with my life."
The ironworks were finally removed to Trenton, New Jersey, where to this day, under the vigorous management of Mr. Hewitt and his partners, they are very successful.
During these active years Peter Cooper never for a moment lost sight of the great object of his life. We have a new proof of this, if proof were needed, in the Autobiography recently published of the eloquent Orville Dewey, pastor of the Unitarian Church of the Messiah, which Peter Cooper attended for many years.
"There were two men," says Dr. Dewey, "who came to our church whose coming seemed to be by chance, but was of great interest to me, for I valued them greatly. They were Peter Cooper and Joseph Curtis. Neither of them then belonged to any religious society, or regularly attended any church. They happened to be walking down Broadway one Sunday evening, as the congregation were entering Stuyvesant Hall, where we then temporarily worshiped, and they said:—
"'Let us go in here and see what this is.'
"When they came out, as they both told me, they said to one another:—
"'This is the place for us!'
"And they immediately connected themselves with the congregation, to be among its most valued members. Peter Cooper was even then meditating that plan of a grand educational institute which he afterwards carried out. He was engaged in a large and successful business, and his one idea—which he often discussed with me—was to obtain the means of building that institute. A man of the gentlest nature and the simplest habits; yet his religious nature was his most remarkable quality. It seemed to breathe through his life as fresh and tender as if it were in some holy retreat, instead of a life of business."
Indeed there are several aged New Yorkers who can well remember hearing Mr. Cooper speak of his project at that period.
After forty years of successful business life, he found, upon estimating his resources, that he possessed about seven hundred thousand dollars over and above the capital invested in his glue and iron works. Already he had become the owner of portions of the ground he had selected so long ago for the site of his school. The first lot he bought, as Mr. Hewitt informs me, about thirty years before he began to build, and from that time onward he continued to buy pieces of the ground as often as they were for sale, if he could spare the money; until in 1854 the whole block was his own.
At first his intention was merely to establish and endow just such an evening school as he had felt the need of when he was an apprentice boy in New York. But long before he was ready to begin, there were free evening schools as well as day schools in every ward of the city, and he therefore resolved to found something, he knew not what, which should impart to apprentices and young mechanics a knowledge of the arts and sciences underlying the ordinary trades, such as drawing, chemistry, mechanics, and various branches of natural philosophy.
While he was revolving this scheme in his mind he happened to meet in the street a highly accomplished physician who had just returned from a tour in Europe, and who began at once to describe in glowing words the Polytechnic School of Paris, wherein mechanics and engineers receive the instruction which their professions require. The doctor said that young men came from all parts of France and lived on dry bread, just to attend the Polytechnic.
He was no longer in doubt; he entered at once upon the realization of his project. Beginning to build in 1854, he erected a massive structure of brick, stone, and iron, six stories in height, and fire-proof in every part, at a cost of seven hundred thousand dollars, the savings of his lifetime up to that period. Five years after, he delivered the complete structure, with the hearty consent of his wife, his children, and his son-in-law, into the hands of trustees, thus placing it beyond his own control forever. Two thousand pupils at once applied for admission. From that day to this the Institute has continued from year to year to enlarge its scope and improve its methods. Mr. Cooper added something every year to its resources, until his entire gift to the public amounted to about two millions of dollars.
Peter Cooper lived to the great age of ninety-two. No face in New York was more familiar to the people, and surely none was so welcome to them as the benign, placid, beaming countenance of "Old Peter Cooper." The roughest cartman, the most reckless hack driver would draw up his horses and wait without a word of impatience, if it was Peter Cooper's quaint old gig that blocked the way. He was one of the most uniformly happy persons I have ever met, and he retained his cheerfulness to the very end. Being asked one day in his ninetieth year, how he had preserved so well his bodily and mental vigor, he replied:—
"I always find something to keep me busy; and to be doing something for the good of man, or to keep the wheels in motion, is the best medicine one can take. I run up and down stairs here almost as easily as I did years ago, when I never expected that my term would run into the nineties. I have occasional twinges from the nervous shock and physical injury sustained from an explosion that occurred while I was conducting some experiments with nitrogen gas years ago. In other respects my days pass as painlessly as they did when I was a boy carrying a grocer's basket about the streets. It is very curious, but somehow, though I have none, of the pains and troubles that old men talk about, I have not the same luxury of life—the same relish in the mere act of living—that I had then. Age is like babyhood come back again in a certain way. Even the memories of baby-life come back—the tricks, the pranks, the boyish dreams; and things that I did not remember at forty or fifty years old I recollect vividly now. But a boy of ninety and a boy of nine are very different things, none the less. I never felt better in my life except for twinges occasioned by my nitrogen experiment. But still I hear a voice calling to me, as my mother often did, when I was a boy 'Peter, Peter, it is about bed-time,' and I have an old man's presentiment that I shall be taken soon."
He loved the Institute he had founded to the last hour of his consciousness. A few weeks before his death he said to Reverend Robert Collyer:—
"I would be glad to have four more years of life given me, for I am anxious to make some additional improvements in Cooper Union, and then part of my life-work would be complete. If I could only live four years longer I would die content."
Dr. Collyer adds this pleasing anecdote:—
"I remember a talk I had with him not long before his death, in which he said that a Presbyterian minister of great reputation and ability, but who has since died, had called upon him one day and among other things discussed the future life. They were old and tried friends, the minister and Mr. Cooper, and when the clergyman began to question Mr. Cooper's belief, he said: 'I sometimes think that if one has too good a time here below, there is less reason for him to go to heaven. I have had a very good time, but I know poor creatures whose lives have been spent in a constant struggle for existence. They should have some reward hereafter. They have worked here; they should be rewarded after death. The only doubts that I have about the future are whether I have not had too good a time on earth.'"
He died in April, 1883, from a severe cold which he had not the strength to throw off. His end was as peaceful and painless as his life had been innocent and beneficial.
 A noted philanthropist of that day, devoted to the improvement of the public schools of the city.
Some one has remarked that the old French monarchy was a despotism tempered by epigrams. I take the liberty of adding that if the despotism of the later French kings had not been frequently tempered by something more effectual than epigrams, it would not have lasted as long as it did.
What tempered and saved it was, that, occasionally, by hook or by crook, men of sterling sense and ability rose from the ordinary walks of life to positions of influence and power, which enabled them to counteract the folly of the ruling class.
About the year 1691 there was an inn at the foot of the Alps, near the border line that divided France from Switzerland, bearing the sign, St. Francis of the Mountain. There was no village near. The inn stood alone among the mountains, being supported in part by travelers going from France to Geneva, and in part by the sale of wine to the farmers who lived in the neighborhood. The landlord, named Paris, was a man of intelligence and ability, who, besides keeping his inn, cultivated a farm; assisted in both by energetic, capable sons, of whom he had four: Antoine, aged twenty-three; Claude, twenty-one; Joseph, seven; and Jean, an infant. It was a strong, able family, who loved and confided in one another, having no thought but to live and die near the spot upon which they were born, and in about the same sphere of life.
But such was not their destiny. An intrigue of the French ministry drew these four sons from obscurity, and led them to the high places of the world. Pontchartrain, whose name is still borne by a lake in Louisiana, was then minister of finance to Louis XIV. To facilitate the movements of the army in the war then going on between France and Savoy, he proposed to the king the formation of a company which should contract to supply the army with provisions; and, the king accepting his suggestion, the company was formed, and began operations. But the secretary of war took this movement of his colleague in high dudgeon, as the supply of the army, he thought, belonged to the war department. To frustrate and disgrace the new company of contractors, he ordered the army destined to operate in Italy to take the field on the first of May, several weeks before it was possible for the contractors by the ordinary methods to collect and move the requisite supplies. The company explained the impossibility of their feeding the army so early in the season; but the minister of war, not ill-pleased to see his rival embarrassed, held to his purpose, and informed the contractors' agent that he must have thirty thousand sacks of flour at a certain post by a certain day, or his head should answer it.
The agent, alarmed, and at his wits' end, consulted the innkeeper of the Alps, whom he knew to be an energetic spirit, and perfectly well acquainted with the men, the animals, the resources, and the roads of the region in which he lived, and through which the provisions would have to pass. The elder sons of the landlord were in the field at the time at work, and he told the agent he must wait a few hours till he could talk the matter over with them. At the close of the day there was a family consultation, and the result was that they undertook the task. Antoine, the eldest son, went to Lyons, the nearest large city, and induced the magistrates to lend the king the grain preserved in the public depositories against famine, engaging to replace it as soon as the navigation opened in the spring. The magistrates, full of zeal for the king's service, yielded willingly; and meanwhile, Claude, the second of the brothers, bought a thousand mules; and, in a very few days, in spite of the rigor of the season, long lines of mules, each laden with a sack of flour, were winding their way through the defiles of the Alps, guided by peasants whom the father of these boys had selected.
This operation being insufficient, hundreds of laborers were set to work breaking the ice in the night, and in constructing barges, so as to be in readiness the moment navigation was practicable.
Early in the spring two hundred barge loads were set floating down toward the seat of war; and by the time the general in command was ready to take the field, there was an abundance of tents, provisions, ammunition, and artillery within easy reach.
The innkeeper and his sons were liberally recompensed; and their talents thus being made known to the company of contractors, they were employed again a year or two after in collecting the means required in a siege, and in forwarding provisions to a province threatened with famine. These large operations gave the brothers a certain distaste for their country life, and they removed to Paris in quest of a more stirring and brilliant career than an Alpine inn with farm adjacent could afford. One of them enlisted at first in the king's guards, and the rest obtained clerkships in the office of the company of contractors. By the time they were all grown to manhood, the eldest, a man over forty, and the youngest, eighteen or twenty, they had themselves become army contractors and capitalists, noted in army circles for the tact, the fidelity, and the indomitable energy with which they carried on their business.
The reader is aware that during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV., France suffered a series of most disastrous defeats from the allied armies, commanded by the great English general, the Duke of Marlborough. It was these four able brothers who supplied the French army with provisions during that terrible time; and I do not hesitate to say, that, on two or three critical occasions, it was their energy and intelligence that saved the independence of their country. Often the king's government could not give them a single louis-d'or in money when a famishing army was to be supplied. On several occasions they spent their whole capital in the work and risked their credit. There was one period of five months, as they used afterwards to say, when they never once went to bed sure of being able to feed the army the next day. During those years of trial they were sustained in a great degree by the confidence which they inspired in their honesty, as well as in their ability. The great French banker and capitalist then was Samuel Bernard. On more than one occasion Bernard saved them by lending them, on their personal security, immense sums; in one crisis as much as three million francs.
We can judge of the extent of their operations, when we learn that, during the last two years of the war, they had to supply a hundred and eighty thousand men in the field, and twenty thousand men in garrison, while receiving from the government little besides depreciated paper.
Peace came at last; and it came at a moment when the whole capital of the four brothers was in the king's paper, and when the finances were in a state of inconceivable confusion. The old king died in 1715, leaving as heir to the throne a sickly boy five years of age. The royal paper was so much depreciated that the king's promise to pay one hundred francs sold in the street for twenty-five francs. Then came the Scotch inflator, John Law, who gave France a brief delirium of paper prosperity, ending with the most woful and widespread collapse ever known. It was these four brothers, but especially the third brother, Joseph Paris, known in French history as Paris-Duverney, who, by labors almost without example, restored the finances of the country, funded the debt at a reasonable interest, and enabled France to profit by the twenty years of peace that lay before her.
There is nothing in the whole history of finance more remarkable than the five years' labors of these brothers after the Law-mania of 1719; and it is hardly possible to overstate the value of their services at a time when the kingdom was governed by an idle and dissolute regent, and when there was not a nobleman about the court capable of grappling with the situation. The regent died of his debaucheries in the midst of their work. The Duke of Bourbon succeeded him; he was governed by Madame de Prie; and between them they concocted a nice scheme for getting the young king married, who had then reached the mature age of fifteen. The idea was to rule the king through a queen of their own choosing, and who would be grateful to them for her elevation.
But it turned out quite otherwise. The king, indeed, was married, and he was very fond of his wife, and she tried to carry out the desires of those who had made her queen of France. But there was an obstacle in the way; and that obstacle was the king's unbounded confidence in his tutor, the Abbe de Fleury, a serene and extremely agreeable old gentleman past seventy. A struggle arose between the old tutor and Madame de Prie for the possession of the young king. The tutor won the victory. The Duke of Bourbon was exiled to his country-seat, and Madame de Prie was sent packing. Paris-Duverney and his first clerk were put into the Bastille, where they were detained for two years in unusually rigorous imprisonment, and his three brothers were exiled to their native province.
Another intrigue of court set them free again, and the four brothers were once more in Paris, where they continued their career as bankers, contractors, and capitalists as long as they lived, each of them acquiring and leaving a colossal fortune, which their heirs were considerate enough to dissipate. It was Paris-Duverney who suggested and managed the great military school at Paris, which still exists. It was he also who helped make the fortunes of the most celebrated literary men of his time, Voltaire and Beaumarchais. He did this by admitting them to a share in army contracts, one of which yielded Voltaire a profit of seven hundred thousand francs, which, with good nursing, made him at last the richest literary man that ever lived.
Paris-Duverney was as good a man and patriot as a man could well be who had to work with and under such persons as Louis XV. and Madame de Pompadour. By way of showing what difficulties men had to overcome who then desired to serve their country, I will mention a single incident of his later career.
His favorite work, the Ecole Militaire, of which he was the first superintendent, shared the unpopularity of its early patron, Madame de Pompadour, and long he strove in vain to bring it into favor. To use the narrative of M. de Lomenie, the biographer of Beaumarchais:—
"He was constantly at court, laboring without cessation on behalf of the military school, and soliciting the king in vain to visit it in state, which would have given a sort of prestige. Coldly received by the dauphin, the queen, and the princesses, he could not, as the friend of Madame de Pompadour, obtain from the nonchalance of Louis XV. the visit which he so much desired, when the idea struck him, in his despair, of having recourse to the young harpist, who appeared to be so assiduous in his attendance on the princesses, and who directed their concert every week. Beaumarchais understood at once the advantage he might derive from rendering an important service to a clever, rich, old financier, who had still a number of affairs in hand, and who was capable of bringing him both wealth and advancement. But how could a musician without importance hope to obtain from the king what had already been refused to solicitations of much more influence than his own? Beaumarchais went to work like a man who had a genius for dramatic intrigue and a knowledge of the human heart.
"We have shown that, while he was giving his time and attention to the princesses, he never asked for anything in return. He thought that if he were fortunate enough to persuade them, in the first instance, to pay a visit to the Ecole Militaire, the curiosity of the king perhaps would be excited by the narrative of what they had seen, and would lead him to do that which he would never have been prompted to do by justice. He accordingly represented to the princesses not only the equitable side of the question, but also the immense interest which he himself had in obtaining this favor for a man who might be of great use to him. The princesses consented to visit the Ecole Militaire, and Beaumarchais was granted the honor of accompanying them. The director received them with great splendor; they did not conceal from him the great interest they took in their young protege, and some days afterward Louis XV., urged by his daughters, visited it himself, and thus gratified the wishes of old Duverney.
"From this moment the financier, grateful for Beaumarchais' good services, and delighted to find a person who could assist him as an intermediary in his intercourse with the court, resolved to make the young man's fortune. He began by giving him a share in one of his speculations to the amount of sixty thousand francs, on which he paid him interest at the rate of ten per cent.; after this, he gave him an interest in various other affairs. 'He initiated me,' says Beaumarchais, 'into the secrets of finance, of which, as every one knows, he was a consummate master.'"
Such was government in the good old times! I like to think of it when things go amiss in Washington or Albany. Let our rulers do as badly as they may, they cannot do worse than the rulers of the world did a century and a half ago. If any good or great thing was done in those days, it was done in spite of the government.
SIR ROWLAND HILL.
The poet Coleridge, on one of his long walks among the English lakes, stopped at a roadside inn for dinner, and while he was there the letter-carrier came in, bringing a letter for the girl who was waiting upon him. The postage was a shilling, nearly twenty-five cents. She looked long and lovingly at the letter, holding it in her hand, and then gave it back to the man, telling him that she could not afford to pay the postage. Coleridge at once offered the shilling, which the girl after much hesitation accepted. When the carrier was gone she told him that he had thrown his shilling away, for the pretended letter was only a blank sheet of paper. On the outside there were some small marks which she had carefully noted before giving the letter back to the carrier. Those marks were the letter, which was from her brother, with whom she had agreed upon a short-hand system by which to communicate news without expense. "We are so poor," said she to the poet, "that we have invented this manner of corresponding and sending our letters free."