"when I was fool enough to believe that a man might be negligent of pecuniary obligations, and yet be a very good fellow; but long experience has convinced me that he who is lax in this respect is utterly unworthy of trust in any other."
He discriminated well between those showy, occasional acts of so-called generosity which such men perform, and the true, habitual, self-denying benevolence of a solvent and just member of society. "Despise the usurer and the miser as much as you will," he would exclaim, "but the spendthrift is more selfish than they." But his very honesty was most curiously blended with his toryism. One of his friends relates the following anecdote:—
"Just before we sailed, the Washington papers were received, announcing the defeat of the Bankrupt Bill by a small majority. At that moment, I forgot that Randolph had been one of its most determined opponents, and I spoke with the feelings of a merchant when I said to him,—
"'Have you heard the very bad news from Washington this morning?'
"'No, sir,' replied he, with eagerness; 'what is it?'
"'Why, sir, I am sorry to tell you that the House of Representatives has thrown out the Bankrupt Bill by a small majority.'
"'Sorry, sir!' exclaimed he; and then, taking off his hat and looking upwards, he added, most emphatically, 'Thank God for all his mercies!'
"After a short pause he continued: 'How delighted I am to think that I helped to give that hateful bill a kick. Yes, sir, this very day week I spoke for three hours against it, and my friends, who forced me to make the effort, were good enough to say that I never had made a more successful speech; it must have had some merit, sir; for I assure you, whilst I was speaking, although the Northern mail was announced, not a single member left his seat to look for letters,—a circumstance which had not occurred before during the session!'
"I endeavored to combat his objections to a Bankrupt Bill subsequently, but, of course, without any success: he felt as a planter, and was very jealous of the influence of merchants as legislators."
There are flashes of sense and touches of pathos in some of his most tory passages. As he was delivering in the House one of his emphatic predictions of the certain failure of our experiment of freedom on this continent, he broke into an apology for so doing, that brought tears to many eyes. "It is an infirmity of my nature," said he,
"to have an obstinate constitutional preference of the true over the agreeable; and I am satisfied, that, if I had had an only son, or what is dearer, an only daughter,—which God forbid!—I say, God forbid, for she might bring her father's gray hairs with sorrow to the grave; she might break my heart, or worse than that—what? Can anything be worse than that? Yes, sir, I might break hers!"
His fable, too, of the caterpillar and the horseman was conceived in arrogance, but it was pretty and effective. Every tory intellect on earth is pleased to discourse in that way of the labors of the only men who greatly help their species,—the patient elaborators of truth. A caterpillar, as we learn from this fable, had crawled slowly over a fence, which a gallant horseman took at a single leap. "Stop," says the caterpillar,
"you are too flighty; you want connection and continuity; it took me an hour to get over; you can't be as sure as I am that you have really overcome the difficulty, and are indeed over the fence."
To which, of course, the gallant horseman makes the expected contemptuous reply. This is precisely in the spirit of Carlyle's sneers at the political economists,—the men who are not content to sit down and howl in this wilderness of a modern world, but bestir themselves to discover methods by which it can be made less a wilderness.
There is so much truth in the doctrines of the original States' Rights party,—the party of Jefferson, Madison, and Patrick Henry,—that a very commonplace man, who learned his politics in that school, is able to make a respectable figure in the public counsels. The mere notion that government, being a necessary evil, is to be reduced to the minimum that will answer the purposes of government, saves from many false steps. The doctrine that the central government is to confine itself to the duties assigned it in the Constitution, is a guiding principle suited to the limited human mind. A vast number of claims, suggestions, and petitions are excluded by it even from consideration. If an eloquent Hamiltonian proposes to appropriate the public money for the purpose of enabling American manufacturers to exhibit their products at a Paris Exhibition, the plainest country member of the Jeffersonian school perceives at once the inconsistency of such a proposition with the fundamental principle of his political creed. He has a compass to steer by, and a port to sail to, instead of being afloat on the waste of waters, the sport of every breeze that blows. It is touching to observe that this unhappy, sick, and sometimes mad John Randolph, amid all the vagaries of his later life, had always a vein of soundness in him, derived from his early connection with the enlightened men who acted in politics with Thomas Jefferson. The phrase "masterly inactivity" is Randolph's; and it is something only to have given convenient expression to a system of conduct so often wise. He used to say that Congress could scarcely do too little. His ideal of a session was one in which members should make speeches till every man had fully expressed and perfectly relieved his mind, then pass the appropriation bills, and go home. And we ought not to forgot that, when President John Quincy Adams brought forward his schemes for covering the continent with magnificent works at the expense of the treasury of the United States, and of uniting the republics of both Americas into a kind of holy alliance, it was Randolph's piercing sarcasm which, more than anything else, made plain to new members the fallacy, the peril, of such a system. His opposition to this wild federalism involved his support of Andrew Jackson; but there was no other choice open to him.
Seldom did he display in Congress so much audacity and ingenuity as in defending General Jackson while he was a candidate for the Presidency against Mr. Adams. The two objections oftenest urged against Jackson were that he was a military chieftain, and that he could not spell. Mr. Randolph discoursed on these two points in a most amusing manner, displaying all the impudence and ignorance of the tory, inextricably mingled with the good sense and wit of the man. "General Jackson cannot write," said a friend. "Granted," replied he. "General Jackson cannot write because he was never taught; but his competitor cannot write because he was not teachable." He made a bold remark in one of his Jacksonian harangues. "The talent which enables a man to write a book or make a speech has no more relation to the leading of an army or a senate, than it has to the dressing of a dinner." He pronounced a fine eulogium on the Duke of Marlborough, one of the worst spellers in Europe, and then asked if gentlemen would have had that illustrious man "superseded by a Scotch schoolmaster." It was in the same ludicrous harangue that he uttered his famous joke upon those schools in which young ladies were said to be "finished." "Yes," he exclaimed, "finished indeed; finished for all the duties of a wife, or mother, or mistress of a family." Again he said:
"There is much which it becomes a second-rate man to know, which a first-rate man ought to be ashamed to know. No head was ever clear and sound that was stuffed with book-learning. My friend, W.R. Johnson, has many a groom that can clean and dress a racehorse, and ride him too, better than he can."
He made the sweeping assertion, that no man had ever presided over a government with advantage to the country governed, who had not in him the making of a good general; for, said he, "the talent for government lies in these two things,—sagacity to perceive, and decision to act." Really, when we read this ingenious apology for, or rather eulogy of, ignorance, we cease to wonder that General Jackson should have sent him to Russia.
The religious life of Randolph is a most curious study. He experienced in his lifetime four religious changes, or conversions. His gentle mother, whose name he seldom uttered without' adding with tender emphasis, "God bless her!" was such a member of the Church of England as gentle ladies used to be before an "Evangelical" party was known in it. She taught his infant lips to pray; and, being naturally trustful and affectionate, he was not an unapt pupil. But in the library of the old mansion on the Appomattox, in which he passed his forming years, there was a "wagon-load" of what he terms "French infidelity," though it appears there were almost as many volumes of Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Collins, Hume, and Gibbon, as there were of Diderot, D'Alembert, Helvetius, and Voltaire. These works he read in boyhood; and when he came to mingle among men, he found that the opinions of such authors prevailed in the circles which he most frequented. Just as he, a natural tory, caught some tincture of republicanism from Jefferson and his friends, so he, the natural believer, adopted the fashion of scepticism, which then ruled the leading minds of all lands; and just as he lapsed back into toryism when the spell which drew him away from it had spent its force, so he became, in the decline of his powers, a prey to religious terrors. For twenty-two years, as we have said, he held aloof from religion, its ministers, and its temples. The disease that preyed upon him so sharpened his temper, and so perverted his perceptions of character, that, one after another, he alienated all the friends and relations with whom he ought to have lived; and he often found himself, between the sessions of Congress, the sole white tenant of his lonely house at Roanoke,—the sick and solitary patriarch of a family of three hundred persons. He sought to alleviate this horrid solitude by adopting and rearing the orphaned sons of old friends; to whom, when he was himself, he was the most affectionate and generous of guardians. But even they could not very long endure him; for, in His adverse moods, he was incarnate Distrust, and, having conceived a foul suspicion, his genius enabled him to give it such withering expression that it was not in the nature of a young man to pass it by as the utterance of transient madness. So they too left him, and he was utterly alone in the midst of a crowd of black dependants. We see from his letters, that, while he saw the impossibility of his associating with his species, he yet longed and pined for their society and love. Perhaps there never lived a more unhappy person. Revering women, and formed to find his happiness in domestic life, he was incapable of being a husband; and if this had not been the case, no woman could have lived with him. Yearning for companionship, but condemned to be alone, his solace was the reflection that, so long as there was no one near him, he was a torment only to himself. "Often," he writes in one of his letters,
"I mount my horse and sit upon him for ten or fifteen minutes, wishing to go somewhere, but not knowing where to ride; for I would escape anywhere from the incubus that weighs me down, body and soul; but the fiend follows me en croupe.... The strongest considerations of duty are barely sufficient to prevent me from absconding to some distant country, where I might live and die unknown."
A mind in such a state as this is the natural prey of superstition. A dream, he used to say, first recalled his mind to the consideration of religion. This was about the year 1810, at the height of those hot debates that preceded the war of 1812. For nine years, he tells us, the subject gradually gained upon him, so that, at last, it was his first thought in the morning and his last at night. From the atheism upon which he had formerly plumed himself, he went to the opposite extreme. For a long time he was plunged into the deepest gloom, regarding himself as a sinner too vile to be forgiven. He sought for comfort in the Bible, in the Prayer-book, in conversation and correspondence with religious friends, in the sermons of celebrated preachers. He formed a scheme of retiring from the world into some kind of religious retreat, and spending the rest of his life in prayers and meditation. Rejecting this as a cowardly desertion of the post of duty, he had thoughts of setting up a school for children, and becoming himself a teacher in it. This plan, too, he laid aside, as savoring of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, this amiable and honest gentleman, whose every error was fairly attributable to the natural limitations of his mind or to the diseases that racked his body, was tormented by remorse, which would have been excessive if he had been a pirate. He says that, after three years of continual striving, he still dared not partake of the Communion, feeling himself "unworthy." "I was present," he writes, "when Mr. Hoge invited to the table, and I would have given all I was worth to have been able to approach it." Some inkling of his condition, it appears, became known to the public, and excited great good-will towards him on the part of many persons of similar belief.
Some of his letters written during this period contain an almost ludicrous mixture of truth and extravagance. He says in one of them, that his heart has been softened, and he "thinks he has succeeded in forgiving all his enemies"; then he adds, "There is not a human being that I would hurt if it were in my power,—not even Bonaparte." In another place he remarks that the world is a vast mad-house, and, "if what is to come be anything like what has passed, it would be wise to abandon the bulk to the underwriters,—the worms." In the whole of his intercourse with mankind, he says he never met with but three persons whom he did not, on getting close to their hearts, discover to be unhappy; and they were the only three he had ever known who had a religion. He expresses this truth in language which limits it to one form or kind of religion, the kind which he heard expounded in the churches of Virginia in 1819. Give it broader expression, and every observer of human life will assent to it. It is indeed most true, that no human creature gets much out of life who has no religion, no sacred object, to the furtherance of which his powers are dedicated.
He obtained some relief at length, and became a regular communicant of the Episcopal Church. But although he ever after manifested an extreme regard for religious things and persons, and would never permit either to be spoken against in his presence without rebuke, he was very far from edifying his brethren by a consistent walk. At Washington, in the debates, he was as incisive and uncharitable as before. His denunciations of the second President Adams's personal character were as outrageous as his condemnation of parts of his policy was just. Mr. Clay, though removed from the arena of debate by his appointment to the Department of State, was still the object of his bitter sarcasm; and at length he included the President and the Secretary in that merciless philippic in which he accused Mr. Clay of forgery, and styled the coalition of Adams and Clay as "the combination of the Puritan and the Blackleg." He used language, too, in the course of this speech, which was understood to be a defiance to mortal combat, and it was so reported to Mr. Clay. The reporters, however, misunderstood him, as it was not his intention nor his desire to fight. Nevertheless, to the astonishment and sorrow of his religious friends, he accepted Mr. Clay's challenge with the utmost possible promptitude, and bore himself throughout the affair like (to use the poor, lying, tory cant of the last generation) "a high-toned Virginia gentleman." Colonel Benton tells us that Mr. Randolph invented an ingenious excuse for the enormous inconsistency of his conduct on this occasion. A duel, he maintained, was private war, and was justifiable on the same ground as a war between two nations. Both were lamentable, but both were allowable when there was no other way of getting redress for insults and injuries. This was plausible, but it did not deceive him. He knew very well that his offensive language respecting a man whom he really esteemed was wholly devoid of excuse. He had the courage requisite to expiate the offence by standing before Mr. Clay's pistol; but he could not stand before his countrymen and confess that his abominable antithesis was but the spurt of mingled ill-temper and the vanity to shine. Any good tory can fight a duel with a respectable degree of composure; but to own one's self, in the presence of a nation, to have outraged the feelings of a brother-man, from the desire to startle and amuse an audience, requires the kind of valor which tories do not know. "Whig and tory," says Mr. Jefferson, "belong to natural history." But then there is such a thing, we are told, as the regeneration of the natural man; and we believe it, and cling to it as a truth destined one day to be resuscitated and purified from the mean interpretations which have made the very word sickening to the intelligence of Christendom. Mr. Randolph had not achieved the regeneration of his nature. He was a tory still. In the testing hour, the "high-toned Virginia gentleman" carried the day, without a struggle, over the communicant.
During the last years of his life, the monotony of his anguish was relieved by an occasional visit to the Old World. It is interesting to note how thoroughly at home he felt himself among the English gentry, and how promptly they recognized him as a man and a brother. He was, as we have remarked, more English than an Englishman; for England does advance, though slowly, from the insular to the universal. Dining at a great house in London, one evening, he dwelt with pathetic eloquence upon the decline of Virginia. Being asked what he thought was the reason of her decay, he startled and pleased the lords and ladies present by attributing it all to the repeal of the law of primogeniture. One of the guests tells us that this was deemed "a strange remark from a Republican" and that, before the party broke up, the company had "almost taken him for an aristocrat." It happened sometimes, when he was conversing with English politicians, that it was the American who defended the English system against the attacks of Englishmen; and so full of British prejudice was he, that, in Paris, he protested that a decent dinner could not be bought for money. Westminster Abbey woke all his veneration. He went into it, one morning, just as service was about beginning, and took his place among the worshippers. Those of our readers who have attended the morning service at an English cathedral on a week-day cannot have forgotten the ludicrous smallness of the congregation compared with the imposing array of official assistants. A person who has a little tincture of the Yankee in him may even find himself wondering how it can "pay" the British empire to employ half a dozen reverend clergymen and a dozen robust singers to aid seven or eight unimportant members of the community in saying their prayers. But John Randolph of Roanoke had not in him the least infusion of Yankee. Standing erect in the almost vacant space, he uttered the responses in a tone that was in startling contrast to the low mumble of the clergyman's voice, and that rose above the melodious amens of the choir. He took it all in most serious earnest. When the service was over, he said to his companion, after lamenting the hasty and careless manner in which the service had been performed, that he esteemed it an honor to have worshipped God in Westminster Abbey. As he strolled among the tombs, he came, at last, to the grave of two men who had often roused his enthusiasm. He stopped, and spoke:
"I will not say, Take off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy; but, look, sir, do you see those simple letters on the flagstones beneath your feet,—W.P. and C.J.F. Here lie, side by side, the remains of the two great rivals, Pitt and Fox, whose memory so completely lives in history. No marble monuments are necessary to mark the spot where their bodies repose. There is more simple grandeur in those few letters than in all the surrounding monuments, sir."
How more than English was all this! England had been growing away from and beyond Westminster Abbey, William Pitt, and Charles James Fox; but this Virginia Englishman, living alone in his woods, with his slaves and his overseers, severed from the progressive life of his race, was living still in the days when a pair of dissolute young orators could be deemed, and with some reason too, the most important persons in a great empire. A friend asked him how he was pleased with England. He answered with enthusiasm,—
"There never was such a country on the face of the earth as England, and it is utterly impossible that there can be any combination of circumstances hereafter to make such another country as Old England now is!"
We ought not to have been surprised at the sympathy which the English Tories felt during the late war for their brethren in the Southern States of America. It was as natural as it was for the English Protestants to welcome the banished Huguenots. It was as natural as it was for Louis XIV. to give an asylum to the Stuarts. The traveller who should have gone, seven years ago, straight from an English agricultural county to a cotton district of South Carolina, or a tobacco county of Virginia, would have felt that the differences between the two places were merely external. The system in both places and the spirit of both were strikingly similar. In the old parts of Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, you had only to get ten miles from a railroad to find yourself among people who were English in their feelings, opinions, habits, and even in their accent. New England differs from Old England, because New England has grown: Virginia was English, because she had been stationary. Happening to be somewhat familiar with the tone of feeling in the South,—the real South, or, in other words, the South ten miles from a railroad,—we were fully prepared for Mr. Russell's statement with regard to the desire so frequently expressed in 1861 for one of the English princes to come and reign over a nascent Confederacy. Sympathies and antipathies are always mutual when they are natural; and never was there a sympathy more in accordance with the nature of things, than that which so quickly manifested itself between the struggling Southern people and the majority of the ruling classes of Great Britain.
Mr. Randolph took leave of public life, after thirty years of service, not in the most dignified manner. He furnished another illustration of the truth of a remark made by a certain queen of Denmark,—"The lady doth protest too much." Like many other gentlemen in independent circumstances, he had been particularly severe upon those of his fellow-citizens who earned their subsistence by serving the public. It pleased him to speak of members of the Cabinet as "the drudges of the departments," and to hold gentlemen in the diplomatic service up to contempt as forming "the tail of the corps diplomatique in Europe." He liked to declaim upon the enormous impossibility of his ever exchanging a seat in Congress for "the shabby splendors" of an office in Washington, or in a foreign mission "to dance attendance abroad instead of at home." When it was first buzzed about in Washington, in 1830, that General Jackson had tendered the Russian mission to John Randolph, the rumor was not credited. An appointment so exquisitely absurd was supposed to be beyond even Andrew Jackson's audacity. The offer had been made, however. Mr. Randolph's brilliant defence of General Jackson's bad spelling, together with Mr. Van Buren's willingness to place an ocean between the new administration and a master of sarcasm, to whom opposition had become an unchangeable habit, had dictated an offer of the mission, couched in such seductive language that Mr. Randolph yielded to it as readily as those ladies accept an offer of marriage who have often announced their intention never to marry. Having reached the scene of his diplomatic labors at the beginning of August, he began to perform them with remarkable energy. In a suit of black, the best, he declared, that London could furnish, he was presented to the Emperor and to the Empress, having first submitted his costume to competent inspection. Resolute to do his whole duty, he was not content to send his card to the diplomatic corps, but, having engaged a handsome coach and four, he called upon each member of the diplomatic body, from the ambassadors to the secretaries of legation. Having performed these labors, and having discovered that a special object with which he was charged could not then be accomplished, he had leisure to observe that St. Petersburg, in the month of August, is not a pleasant residence to an invalid of sixty. He describes the climate in these terms:—
"Heat, dust impalpable, pervading every part and pore ... Insects of all nauseous descriptions, bugs, fleas, mosquitoes, flies innumerable, gigantic as the empire they inhabit, who will take no denial. This is the land of Pharaoh and his plagues,—Egypt and its ophthalmia and vermin, without its fertility,—Holland, without its wealth, improvements, or cleanliness."
He endured St. Petersburg for the space of ten days, then sailed for England, and never saw Russia again. When the appropriation bill was before Congress at the next session, opposition members did not fail to call in question the justice of requiring the people of the United States to pay twenty thousand dollars for Mr. Randolph's ten days' work, or, to speak more exactly, for Mr. Randolph's apology for the President's bad spelling; but the item passed, nevertheless. During the reign of Andrew Jackson, Congress was little more than a board of registry for the formal recording of his edicts. There are those who think, at the present moment, that what a President hath done, a President may do again.
It was fortunate that John Randolph was in retirement when Calhoun brought on his Nullification scheme. The presence in Congress of a man so eloquent and so reckless, whose whole heart and mind were with the Nullifiers, might have prevented the bloodless postponement of the struggle. He was in constant correspondence with the South Carolina leaders, and was fully convinced that it was the President of the United States, not "the Hamiltons and Haynes" of South Carolina, who ought to seize the first pretext to concede the point in dispute. No citizen of South Carolina was more indignant than he at General Jackson's Proclamation. He said that, if the people did not rouse themselves to a sense of their condition, and "put down this wretched old man," the country was irretrievably ruined; and he spoke of the troops despatched to Charleston as "mercenaries," to whom he hoped "no quarter would be given." The "wretched old man" whom the people were to "put down" was Andrew Jackson, not John C. Calhoun.
We do not forget that, when John Randolph uttered these words, he was scarcely an accountable being. Disease had reduced him to a skeleton, and robbed him of almost every attribute of man except his capacity to suffer. But even in his madness he was a representative man, and spoke the latent feeling of his class. The diseases which sharpened his temper unloosed his tongue; he revealed the tendency of the Southern mind, as a petulant child reveals family secrets. In his good and in his evil he was an exaggerated Southerner of the higher class. He was like them, too, in this: they are not criminals to be punished, but patients to be cured. Sometimes, of late, we have feared that they resemble him also in being incurable.
As long as Americans take an interest in the history of their country, they will read with interest the strange story of this sick and suffering representative of sick and suffering Virginia. To the last, old Virginia wore her ragged robes with a kind of grandeur which was not altogether unbecoming, and which to the very last imposed upon tory minds. Scarcely any one could live among the better Southern people without liking them; and few will ever read Hugh Garland's Life of John Randolph, without more than forgiving all his vagaries, impetuosities, and foibles. How often, upon riding away from a Southern home, have we been ready to exclaim, "What a pity such good people should be so accursed!" Lord Russell well characterized the evil to which we allude as "that fatal gift of the poisoned garment which was flung around them from the first hour of their establishment."
The last act of John Randolph's life, done when he lay dying at a hotel in Philadelphia, in June, 1833, was to express once more his sense of this blighting system. Some years before, he had made a will by which all his slaves were to be freed at his death. He would probably have given them their freedom before his death, but for the fact, too evident, that freedom to a black man in a Slave State was not a boon. The slaves freed by his brother, forty years' before, had not done well, because (as he supposed) no land had been bequeathed for their support. Accordingly, he left directions in his will that a tract of land, which might be of four thousand acres, should be set apart for the maintenance of his slaves, and that they should be transported to it and established upon it at the expense of his estate. "I give my slaves their freedom" said he in his will, "to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled." On the last day of his life, surrounded by strangers, and attended by two of his old servants, his chief concern was to make distinctly known to as many persons as possible that it was really his will that his slaves should be free. Knowing, as he did, the aversion which his fellow-citizens had to the emancipation of slaves, and even to the presence in the State of free blacks, he seemed desirous of taking away every pretext for breaking his will. A few hours before his death, he said to the physician in attendance: "I confirm every disposition in my will, especially that concerning my slaves whom I have manumitted, and for whom I have made provision." The doctor, soon after, took leave of him, and was about to depart. "You must not go," said he, "you cannot, you shall not leave me." He told his servant not to let the doctor go, and the man immediately locked the door and put the key in his pocket. The doctor remonstrating, Mr. Randolph explained, that, by the laws of Virginia, in order to manumit slaves by will, it was requisite that the master should declare his will in that particular in the presence of a white witness, who, after hearing the declaration, must never lose sight of the party until he is dead. The doctor consented, at length, to remain, but urged that more witnesses should be sent for. This was done. At ten in the morning, four gentlemen were ranged in a semicircle round his bed. He was propped up almost in a sitting posture, and a blanket was wrapped round his head and shoulders. His face was yellow, and extremely emaciated; he was very weak, and it required all the remaining energy of his mind to endure the exertion he was about to make. It was evident to all present that his whole soul was in the act, and his eye gathered fire as he performed it. Pointing toward the witnesses with that gesture which for so many years had been familiar to the House of Representatives, he said, slowly and distinctly: "I confirm all the directions in my will respecting my slaves, and direct them to be enforced, particularly in regard to a provision for their support." Then, raising his hand and placing it upon the shoulder of his servant, he added, "Especially for this man." Having performed this act, his mind appeared relieved, but his strength immediately left him, and in two hours he breathed his last.
The last of the Randolphs, and one of the best representatives of the original masters of Virginia, the high-toned Virginia gentleman, was no more. Those men had their opportunity, but they had not strength of character equal to it. They were tried and found wanting. The universe, which loves not the high-toned, even in violins, disowned them, and they perished. Cut off from the life-giving current of thought and feeling which kept the rest of Christendom advancing, they came to love stagnation, and looked out from their dismal, isolated pool with lofty contempt at the gay and active life on the flowing stream. They were not teachable, for they despised the men who could have taught them. But we are bound always to consider that they were subjected to a trial under which human virtue has always given way, and will always. Sudden wealth is itself sufficient to spoil any but the very best men,—those who can instantly set it at work for the general good, and continue to earn an honest livelihood by faithful labor. But those tobacco lords of Virginia, besides making large fortunes in a few years, were the absolute, irresponsible masters of a submissive race. And when these two potent causes of effeminacy and pride had worked out their proper result in the character of the masters, then, behold! their resources fail. Vicious agriculture exhausts the soil, false political economy prevents the existence of a middle class, and the presence of slaves repels emigration. Proud, ignorant, indolent, dissolute, and in debt, the dominant families, one after another, passed away, attesting to the last, by an occasional vigorous shoot, the original virtue of the stock. All this poor John Randolph represented and was.
Virginia remains. Better men will live in it than have ever yet lived there; but it will not be in this century, and possibly not in the next. It cannot be that so fair a province will not be one day inhabited by a race of men who will work according to the laws of nature, and whom, therefore, the laws of nature will co-operate with and preserve. How superior will such Virginians be to what Dr. Francis Lieber styles the "provincial egotism" of State sovereignty!
[Footnote 1: 1865-6.]
STEPHEN GIRARD AND HIS COLLEGE.
Within the memory of many persons still alive, "old Girard," as the famous banker was usually styled, a short, stout, brisk old gentleman, used to walk, in his swift, awkward way, the streets of the lower part of Philadelphia. Though everything about him indicated that he had very little in common with his fellow-citizens, he was the marked man of the city for more than a generation. His aspect was rather insignificant and quite unprepossessing. His dress was old-fashioned and shabby; and he wore the pig-tail, the white neck-cloth, the wide-brimmed hat, and the large-skirted coat of the last century. He was blind of one eye; and though his bushy eyebrows gave some character to his countenance, it was curiously devoid of expression. He had also the absent look of a man who either had no thoughts or was absorbed in thought; and he shuffled along on his enormous feet, looking neither to the right nor to the left. There was always a certain look of the old mariner about him, though he had been fifty years an inhabitant of the town. When he rode it was in the plainest, least comfortable gig in Philadelphia, drawn by an ancient and ill-formed horse, driven always by the master's own hand at a good pace. He chose still to live where he had lived for fifty years, in Water Street, close to the wharves, in a small and inconvenient house, darkened by tall storehouses, amid the bustle, the noise, and the odors of commerce. His sole pleasure was to visit once a day a little farm which he possessed a few miles out of town, where he was wont to take off his coat, roll up his shirt-sleeves, and personally labor in the field and in the barn, hoeing corn, pruning trees, tossing hay, and not disdaining even to assist in butchering the animals which he raised for market. It was no mere ornamental or experimental farm. He made it pay. All of its produce was carefully, nay, scrupulously husbanded, sold, recorded, and accounted for. He loved his grapes, his plums, his pigs, and especially his rare breed of Canary-birds; but the people of Philadelphia had the full benefit of their increase,—at the highest market rates.
Many feared, many served, but none loved this singular and lonely old man. If there was among the very few who habitually conversed with him one who understood and esteemed him, there was but one; and he was a man of such abounding charity, that, like Uncle Toby, if he had heard that the Devil was hopelessly damned, he would have said, "I am sorry for it." Never was there a person more destitute than Girard of the qualities which win the affection of others. His temper was violent, his presence forbidding, his usual manner ungracious, his will inflexible, his heart untender, his imagination dead. He was odious to many of his fellow-citizens, who considered him the hardest and meanest of men. He had lived among them for half a century, but he was no more a Philadelphian in 1830 than in 1776. He still spoke with a French accent, and accompanied his words with a French shrug and French gesticulation. Surrounded with Christian churches which he had helped to build, he remained a sturdy unbeliever, and possessed the complete works of only one man, Voltaire. He made it a point of duty to labor on Sunday, as a good example to others. He made no secret of the fact, that he considered the idleness of Sunday an injury to the people, moral and economical. He would have opened his bank on Sundays, if any one would have come to it. For his part, he required no rest, and would have none. He never travelled. He never attended public assemblies or amusements. He had no affections to gratify, no friends to visit, no curiosity to appease, no tastes to indulge. What he once said of himself appeared to be true, that he rose in the morning with but a single object, and that was to labor so hard all day as to be able to sleep all night. The world was absolutely nothing to him but a working-place. He scorned and scouted the opinion, that old men should cease to labor, and should spend the evening of their days in tranquillity. "No," he would say, "labor is the price of life, its happiness, its everything; to rest is to rust; every man should labor to the last hour of his ability." Such was Stephen Girard, the richest man who ever lived in Pennsylvania.
This is an unpleasing picture of a citizen of polite and amiable Philadelphia. It were indeed a grim and dreary world in which should prevail the principles of Girard. But see what this man has done for the city that loved him not! Vast and imposing structures rise on the banks of the Schuylkill, wherein, at this hour, six hundred poor orphan boys are fed, clothed, trained, and taught, upon the income of the enormous estate which he won by this entire consecration to the work of accumulating property. In the ample grounds of Girard College, looking up at its five massive marble edifices, strolling in its shady walks or by its verdant play-grounds, or listening to the cheerful cries of the boys at play, the most sympathetic and imaginative of men must pause before censuring the sterile and unlovely life of its founder. And if he should inquire closely into the character and career of the man who willed this great institution into being, he would perhaps be willing to admit that there was room in the world for one Girard, though it were a pity there should ever be another. Such an inquiry would perhaps disclose that Stephen Girard was endowed by nature with a great heart as well as a powerful mind, and that circumstances alone closed and hardened the one, cramped and perverted the other. It is not improbable that he was one of those unfortunate beings who desire to be loved, but whose temper and appearance combine to repel affection. His marble statue, which adorns the entrance to the principal building, if it could speak, might say to us, "Living, you could not understand nor love me; dead, I compel at least your respect." Indeed, he used to say, when questioned as to his career, "Wait till I am dead; my deeds will show what I was."
Girard's recollections of his childhood were tinged with bitterness. He was born at Bordeaux in 1750. He was the eldest of the five children of Captain Pierre Girard, a mariner of substance and respectability. He used to complain that, while his younger brothers were taught at college, his own education was neglected, and that he acquired at home little more than the ability to read and write. He remembered, too, that at the age of eight years he discovered, to his shame and sorrow, that one of his eyes was blind,—a circumstance that exposed him to the taunts of his companions. The influence of a personal defect, and of the ridicule it occasions, upon the character of a sensitive child, can be understood only by those whose childhood was embittered from that cause; but such cases as those of Byron and Girard should teach those who have the charge of youth the crime it is to permit such defects to be the subject of remark. Girard also early lost his mother, an event which soon brought him under the sway of a step-mother. Doubtless he was a wilful, arbitrary, and irascible boy, since we know that he was a wilful, arbitrary, and irascible man. Before he was fourteen, having chosen the profession of his father, he left home, with his father's consent, and went to sea in the capacity of cabin-boy. He used to boast, late in life, that he began the world with sixpence in his pocket. Quite enough for a cabin-boy.
For nine years he sailed between Bordeaux and the French West Indies, returning at length with the rank of first mate, or, as the French term it, lieutenant of his vessel. He had well improved his time. Some of the defects of his early education he had supplied by study, and it is evident that he had become a skilful navigator. It was then the law of France that no man should command a vessel who was not twenty-five years old, and had not sailed two cruises in a ship of the royal navy. Girard was but twenty-three, and had sailed in none but merchant-vessels. His father, however, had influence enough to procure him a dispensation; and in 1773 he was licensed to command. He appears to have been scarcely just to his father when he wrote, sixty-three years after:
"I have the proud satisfaction of knowing that my conduct, my labor, and my economy have enabled me to do one hundred times more for my relations than they all together have ever done for me since the day of my birth."
In the mere amount of money expended, this may have been true; but it is the start toward fortune that is so difficult. His father, besides procuring the dispensation, assisted him to purchase goods for his first commercial venture. At the age of twenty-four, we find him sailing to the West Indies; not indeed in command of the vessel, but probably as mate and supercargo, and part owner of goods to the value of three thousand dollars. He never trod his native land again. Having disposed of his cargo and taken on board another, he sailed for New York, which he reached in July, 1774. The storm of war, which was soon to sweep commerce from the ocean, was already muttering below the horizon, when Stephen Girard, "mariner and merchant," as he always delighted to style himself, first saw the land wherein his lot was to be cast. For two years longer, however, he continued to exercise his twofold vocation. An ancient certificate, preserved among his papers, informs the curious explorer, that,
"in the year 1774, Stephen Girard sailed as mate of a vessel from New York to [New] Orleans, and that he continued to sail out of the said port until May, 1776, when he arrived in Philadelphia commander of a sloop,"
of which the said Stephen Girard was part owner.
Lucky was it for Girard that he got into Philadelphia just when he did, with all his possessions with him. He had the narrowest escape from capture. On his way from New Orleans to a Canadian port, he had lost himself in a fog at the entrance of Delaware Bay, swarming then with British cruisers, of whose presence Captain Girard had heard nothing. His flag of distress brought alongside an American captain, who told him where he was, and assured him that, if he ventured out to-sea, he would never reach port except as a British prize. "Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Girard in great panic, "what shall I do?" "You have no chance but to push right up to Philadelphia," replied the captain. "How am I to get there?" said Girard; "I have no pilot, and I don't know the way." A pilot was found, who, however, demanded a preliminary payment of five dollars, which Girard had not on board. In great distress, he implored the captain to be his security for the sum. He consented, a pilot took charge of the sloop, the anchor was heaved, and the vessel sped on her way. An hour later, while they were still in sight of the anchorage, a British man-of-war came within the capes. But Dr. Franklin, with his oared galleys, his chevaux de frise, his forts, and his signal-stations, had made the Delaware a safe harbor of refuge; and Girard arrived safely at Philadelphia on one of the early days of May, 1776. Thus it was a mere chance of war that gave Girard to the Quaker City. In the whole world he could not have found a more congenial abode, for the Quakers were the only religious sect with which he ever had the slightest sympathy. Quakers he always liked and esteemed, partly because they had no priests, partly because they disregarded ornament and reduced life to its simplest and most obvious utilities, partly because some of their opinions were in accord with his own. He had grown up during the time when Voltaire was sovereign lord of the opinions of Continental Europe. Before landing at Philadelphia, he was already a republican and an unbeliever, and such he remained to the last. The Declaration of Independence was impending: he was ready for it. The "Common Sense" of Thomas Paine had appeared: he was the man of all others to enjoy it. It is, however, questionable if at that time he had English enough to understand it in the original, since the colloquy just reported with the American captain took place in French. He was slow in becoming familiar with the English language, and even to the end of his life seemed to prefer conversing in French.
He was a mariner no more. The great fleet of Lord Howe arrived at New York in July. Every harbor was blockaded, and all commerce was suspended. Even the cargoes of tobacco despatched by Congress to their Commissioners in France, for the purchase of arms and stores, were usually captured before they had cleared the Capes. Captain Girard now rented a small store in Water Street, near the spot where he lived for nearly sixty years, in which he carried on the business of a grocer and wine-bottler. Those who knew him at this time report that he was a taciturn, repulsive young man, never associating with men of his own age and calling, devoted to business, close in his dealings, of the most rigorous economy, and preserving still the rough clothing and general appearance of a sailor. Though but twenty-six years of age, he was called "old Girard." He seemed conscious of his inability to please, but bore the derision of his neighbors with stoical equanimity, and plodded on.
War favors the skilful and enterprising business-man. Girard had a genius for business. He was not less bold in his operations than prudent; and his judgment as a man of business was well-nigh infallible. Destitute of all false pride, he bought whatever he thought he could sell to advantage, from a lot of damaged cordage to a pipe of old port; and he labored incessantly with his own hands. He was a thriving man during the first year of his residence in Philadelphia; his chief gain, it is said, being derived from his favorite business of bottling wine and cider.
The romance, the mystery, the tragedy of his life now occurred. Walking along Water Street one day, near the corner of Vine Street, the eyes of this reserved and ill-favored man were caught by a beautiful servant-girl going to the pump for a pail of water. She was an enchanting brunette of sixteen, with luxuriant black locks curling and clustering about her neck. As she tripped along with bare feet and empty pail, in airy and unconscious grace, she captivated the susceptible Frenchman, who saw in her the realization of the songs of the forecastle and the reveries of the quarter-deck. He sought her acquaintance, and made himself at home in her kitchen. The family whom she served, misinterpreting the designs of the thriving dealer, forbade him the house; when he silenced their scruples by offering the girl his hand in marriage. Ill-starred Polly Lumm! Unhappy Girard! She accepted his offer; and in July, 1777, the incongruous two, being united in matrimony, attempted to become one.
The war interrupted their brief felicity. Philadelphia, often threatened, fell into the hands of Lord Howe in September, 1777; and among the thousands who needlessly fled at his approach were "old Girard" and his pretty young wife. He bought a house at Mount Holly, near Burlington, in New Jersey, for five hundred dollars, to which he removed, and there continued to bottle claret and sell it to the British officers, until the departure of Lord Howe, in June, 1778, permitted his return to Philadelphia. The gay young officers, it is said, who came to his house at Mount Holly to drink his claret, were far from being insensible to the charms of Mrs. Girard; and tradition further reports that on one occasion a dashing colonel snatched a kiss, which the sailor resented, and compelled the officer to apologize for.
Of all miserable marriages this was one of the most miserable. Here was a young, beautiful, and ignorant girl united to a close, ungracious, eager man of business, devoid of sentiment, with a violent temper and an unyielding will. She was an American, he a Frenchman; and that alone was an immense incompatibility. She was seventeen, he twenty-seven. She was a woman; he was a man without imagination, intolerant of foibles. She was a beauty, with the natural vanities of a beauty; he not merely had no taste for decoration, he disapproved it on principle. These points of difference would alone have sufficed to endanger their domestic peace; but time developed something that was fatal to it. Their abode was the scene of contention for eight years; at the expiration of which period Mrs. Girard showed such symptoms of insanity that her husband was obliged to place her in the Pennsylvania Hospital. In these distressing circumstances, he appears to have spared no pains for her restoration. He removed her to a place in the country, but without effect. She returned to his house only to render life insupportable to him. He resumed his old calling as a mariner, and made a voyage to the Mediterranean; but on his return he found his wife not less unmanageable than before. In 1790, thirteen years after their marriage, and five after the first exhibition of insanity, Mrs. Girard was placed permanently in the hospital; where, nine months after, she gave birth to a female child. The child soon died; the mother never recovered her reason. For twenty-five years she lived in the hospital, and, dying in 1815, was buried in the hospital grounds after the manner of the Quakers. The coffin was brought to the grave, followed by the husband and the managers of the institution, who remained standing about it in silence for several minutes. It was then lowered to its final resting-place, and again the company remained motionless and silent for a while. Girard looked at the coffin once more, then turned to an acquaintance and said, as he walked away, "It is very well." A green mound, without headstone or monument, still marks the spot where the remains of this unhappy woman repose. Girard, both during his lifetime and after his death, was a liberal, though not lavish, benefactor of the institution which had so long sheltered his wife.
Fortunes were not made rapidly in the olden time. After the Revolution, Girard engaged in commerce with the West Indies, in partnership with his brother John; and he is described in an official paper of the time as one who "carried on an extensive business as a merchant, and is a considerable owner of real estate." But on the dissolution of the partnership in 1790, when he had been in business, as mariner and merchant, for sixteen years, his estate was valued at only thirty thousand dollars. The times were troubled. The French Revolution, the massacre at St. Domingo, our disturbed relations with England, and afterwards with France, the violence of our party contests, all tended to make merchants timid, and to limit their operations. Girard, as his papers indicate, and as he used to relate in conversation, took more than a merchant's interest in the events of the time. From the first, he had formally cast in his lot with the struggling Colonists, as we learn from a yellow and faded document left among his papers:—
"I do hereby certify that Stephen Girard, of the city of Philadelphia, merchant, hath voluntarily taken the oath of allegiance and fidelity, as directed by an act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, passed the 13th day of June, A.D. 1777. Witness my hand and seal, the 27th day of October, A.D. 1778.
"JNO. ORD. No. 1678."
The oath was repeated the year following. When the French Revolution had divided the country into two parties, the Federalists and the Republicans, Girard was a Republican of the radical school. He remembered assisting to raise a liberty-pole in the Presidency of John Adams; and he was one of Mr. Jefferson's most uncompromising adherents at a time when men of substance were seldom found in the ranks of the Democrats. As long as he lived, he held the name of Thomas Jefferson in veneration.
We have now to contemplate this cold, close, ungainly, ungracious man in a new character. We are to see that a man may seem indifferent to the woes of individuals, but perform sublime acts of devotion to a community. We are to observe that there are men of sterling but peculiar metal, who only shine when the furnace of general affliction is hottest. In 1793, the malignant yellow-fever desolated Philadelphia. The consternation of the people cannot be conceived by readers of the present day, because we cannot conceive of the ignorance which then prevailed respecting the laws of contagion, because we have lost in some degree the habit of panic, and because no kind of horror can be as novel to us as the yellow-fever was to the people of Philadelphia in 1793. One half of the population fled. Those who remained left their houses only when compelled. Most of the churches, the great Coffee-House, the Library, were closed. Of four daily newspapers, only one continued to be published. Some people constantly smoked tobacco,—even women and children, did so; others chewed garlic; others exploded gunpowder; others burned nitre or sprinkled vinegar; many assiduously whitewashed every surface within their reach; some carried tarred rope in their hands, or bags of camphor round their necks; others never ventured abroad without a handkerchief or a sponge wet with vinegar at their noses. No one ventured to shake hands. Friends who met in the streets gave each other a wide berth, eyed one another askance, exchanged nods, and strode on. It was a custom to walk in the middle of the street, to get as far from the houses as possible. Many of the sick died without help, and the dead were buried without ceremony. The horrid silence of the streets was broken only by the tread of litter-bearers and the awful rumble of the dead-wagon. Whole families perished,—perished without assistance, their fate unknown to their neighbors. Money was powerless to buy attendance for the operation of all ordinary motives was suspended. From the 1st of August to the 9th of November, in a population of twenty-five thousand, there were four thousand and thirty-one burials,—about one in six.
Happily for the honor of human nature, there are always, in times like these, great souls whom base panic cannot prostrate. A few brave physicians, a few faithful clergymen, a few high-minded citizens, a few noble women, remembered and practised what is due to humanity overtaken by a calamity like this. On the 10th of September, a notice, without signature, appeared in the only paper published, stating that all but three of the Visitors of the Poor were sick, dead, or missing, and calling upon all who were willing to help to meet at the City Hall on the 12th. From those who attended the meeting, a committee of twenty-seven was appointed to superintend the measures for relief, of whom Stephen Girard was one. On Sunday, the 15th, the committee met; and the condition of the great hospital at Bush Hill was laid before them. It was unclean, ill-regulated, crowded, and ill-supplied. Nurses could not be hired at any price, for even to approach it was deemed certain death. Then, to the inexpressible astonishment and admiration of the committee, two men of wealth and importance in the city offered personally to take charge of the hospital during the prevalence of the disease. Girard was one of these, Peter Helm the other. Girard appears to have been the first to offer himself. "Stephen Girard," records Matthew Carey, a member of the committee,
"sympathizing with the wretched situation of the sufferers at Bush Hill, voluntarily and unexpectedly offered himself as a manager to superintend that hospital. The surprise and satisfaction excited by this extraordinary effort of humanity can be better conceived than expressed."
That very afternoon, Girard and Helm went out to the hospital, and entered upon their perilous and repulsive duty. Girard chose the post of honor. He took charge of the interior of the hospital, while Mr. Helm conducted its out-door affairs. For sixty days he continued to perform, by day and night, all the distressing and revolting offices incident to the situation. In the great scarcity of help, he used frequently to receive the sick and dying at the gate, assist in carrying them to their beds, nurse them, receive their last messages, watch for their last breath, and then, wrapping them in the sheet they had died upon, carry them out to the burial-ground, and place them in the trench. He had a vivid recollection of the difficulty of finding any kind of fabric in which to wrap the dead, when the vast number of interments had exhausted the supply of sheets. "I would put them," he would say, "in any old rag I could find." If he ever left the hospital, it was to visit the infected districts, and assist in removing the sick from the houses in which they were dying without help. One scene of this kind, witnessed by a merchant, who was hurrying past with camphored handkerchief pressed to his mouth, affords us a vivid glimpse of this heroic man engaged in his sublime vocation. A carriage, rapidly driven by a black man, broke the silence of the deserted and grass-grown street. It stopped before a frame house; and the driver, first having bound a handkerchief over his mouth, opened the door of the carriage, and quickly remounted to the box. A short, thick-set man stepped from the coach and entered the house. In a minute or two, the observer, who stood at a safe distance watching the proceedings, heard a shuffling noise in the entry, and soon saw the stout little man supporting with extreme difficulty a tall, gaunt, yellow-visaged victim of the pestilence. Girard held round the waist the sick man, whose yellow face rested against his own; his long, damp, tangled hair mingled with Girard's; his feet dragging helpless upon the pavement. Thus he drew him to the carriage door, the driver averting his face from the spectacle, far from offering to assist. Partly dragging, partly lifting, he succeeded, after long and severe exertion, in getting him into the vehicle. He then entered it himself, closed the door, and the carriage drove away towards the hospital.
A man who can do such things at such a time may commit errors and cherish erroneous opinions, but the essence of that which makes the difference between a good man and a bad man must dwell within him. Twice afterwards Philadelphia was visited by yellow-fever, in 1797 and 1798. On both occasions, Girard took the lead, by personal exertion or gifts of money, in relieving the poor and the sick. He had a singular taste for nursing the sick, though a sturdy unbeliever in medicine. According to him, nature, not doctors, is the restorer,—nature, aided by good nursing. Thus, after the yellow-fever of 1798, he wrote to a friend in France:
"During all this frightful time, I have constantly remained in the city; and, without neglecting my public duties, I have played a part which will make you smile. Would you believe it, my friend, that I have visited as many as fifteen sick people in a day? and what will surprise you still more, I have lost only one patient, an Irishman, who would drink a little. I do not flatter myself that I have cured one single person; but you will think with me, that in my quality of Philadelphia physician I have been very moderate, and that not one of my confreres has killed fewer than myself."
It is not by nursing the sick, however, that men acquire colossal fortunes. We revert, therefore, to the business career of this extraordinary man. Girard, in the ancient and honorable acceptation of the term, was a merchant; i.e. a man who sent his own ships to foreign countries, and exchanged their products for those of his own. Beginning in the West India trade, with one small schooner built with difficulty and managed with caution, he expanded his business as his capital increased, until he was the owner of a fleet of merchantmen, and brought home to Philadelphia the products of every clime. Beginning with single voyages, his vessels merely sailing to a foreign port and back again, he was accustomed at length to project great mercantile cruises, extending over long periods of time, and embracing many ports. A ship loaded with cotton and grain would sail, for example, to Bordeaux, there discharge, and take in a cargo of wine and fruit; thence to St. Petersburg, where she would exchange her wine and fruit for hemp and iron; then to Amsterdam, where the hemp and iron would be sold for dollars; to Calcutta next for a cargo of tea and silks, with which the ship would return to Philadelphia. Such were the voyages so often successfully made by the Voltaire, the Rousseau, the Helvetius, and the Montesquieu; ships long the pride of Girard and the boast of Philadelphia, their names being the tribute paid by the merchant to the literature of his native land. He seldom failed to make very large profits. He rarely, if ever, lost a ship.
His neighbors, the merchants of Philadelphia, deemed him a lucky man. Many of them thought they could do as well as he, if they only had his luck. But the great volumes of his letters and papers, preserved in a room of the Girard College, show that his success in business was not due, in any degree whatever, to good fortune. Let a money-making generation take note, that Girard principles inevitably produce Girard results. The grand, the fundamental secret of his success, as of all success, was that he understood his business. He had a personal, familiar knowledge of the ports with which he traded, the commodities in which he dealt, the vehicles in which they were carried, the dangers to which they were liable, and the various kinds of men through whom he acted. He observed everything, and forgot nothing. He had done everything himself which he had occasion to require others to do. His directions to his captains and supercargoes, full, minute, exact, peremptory, show the hand of a master. Every possible contingency was foreseen and provided for; and he demanded the most literal obedience to the maxim, "Obey orders, though you break owners." He would dismiss a captain from his service forever, if he saved the whole profits of a voyage by departing from his instructions. He did so on one occasion. Add to this perfect knowledge of his craft, that he had a self-control which never permitted him to anticipate his gains or spread too wide his sails; that his industry knew no pause; that he was a close, hard bargainer, keeping his word to the letter, but exacting his rights to the letter; that he had no vices and no vanities; that he had no toleration for those calamities which result from vices and vanities; that his charities, though frequent, were bestowed only upon unquestionably legitimate objects, and were never profuse; that he was as wise in investing as skilful in gaining money; that he made his very pleasures profitable to himself in money gained, to his neighborhood in improved fruits and vegetables; that he had no family to maintain and indulge; that he held in utter aversion and contempt the costly and burdensome ostentation of a great establishment, fine equipages, and a retinue of servants; that he reduced himself to a money-making machine, run at the minimum of expense;—and we have an explanation of his rapidly acquired wealth, He used to boast, after he was a millionaire, of wearing the same overcoat for fourteen winters; and one of his clerks, who saw him every day for twenty years, declares that he never remembered having seen him wear a new-looking garment but once. Let us note, too, that he was an adept in the art of getting men to serve him with devotion. He paid small salaries, and was never known in his life to bestow a gratuity upon one who served him; but he knew how to make his humblest clerk feel that the master's eye was upon him always. Violent in his outbreaks of anger, his business letters are singularly polite, and show consideration for the health and happiness of his subordinates.
Legitimate commerce makes many men rich; but in Girard's day no man gained by it ten millions of dollars. It was the war of 1812, which suspended commerce, that made this merchant so enormously rich. In 1811, the charter of the old United States Bank expired; and the casting-vote of Vice-President George Clinton negatived the bill for rechartering it. When war was imminent, Girard had a million dollars in the bank of Baring Brothers in London. This large sum, useless then for purposes of commerce,—in peril, too, from the disturbed condition of English finance,—he invested in United States stock and in stock of the United States Bank, both being depreciated in England. Being thus a large holder of the stock of the bank, the charter having expired, and its affairs being in liquidation, he bought out the entire concern; and, merely changing the name to Girard's Bank, continued it in being as a private institution, in the same building, with the same coin in its vaults, the same bank-notes, the same cashier and clerks. The banking-house and the house of the cashier, which cost three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, he bought for one hundred and twenty thousand. The stock, which he bought at four hundred and twenty, proved to be worth, on the winding up of the old bank, four hundred and thirty-four. Thus, by this operation, he extricated his property in England, invested it wisely in America, established a new business in place of one that could no longer be carried on, and saved the mercantile community from a considerable part of the loss and embarrassment which the total annihilation of the bank would have occasioned.
His management of the bank perfectly illustrates his singular and apparently contradictory character. Hamilton used to say of Burr, that he was great in little things, and little in great things. Girard in little things frequently seemed little, but in great things he was often magnificently great. For example: the old bank had been accustomed to present an overcoat to its watchman every Christmas; Girard forbade the practice as extravagant;—the old bank had supplied penknives gratis to its clerks; Girard made them buy their own;—the old bank had paid salaries which were higher than those given in other banks; Girard cut them down to the average rate. To the watchman and the clerks this conduct, doubtless, seemed little. Without pausing to argue the question with them, let us contemplate the new banker in his great actions. He was the very sheet-anchor of the government credit during the whole of that disastrous war. If advances were required at a critical moment, it was Girard who was promptest to make them. When all other banks and houses were contracting, it was Girard who stayed the panic by a timely and liberal expansion. When all other paper was depreciated, Girard's notes, and his alone, were as good as gold. In 1814, when the credit of the government was at its lowest ebb, when a loan of five millions, at seven per cent interest and twenty dollars bonus, was up for weeks, and only procured twenty thousand dollars, it was "old Girard" who boldly subscribed for the whole amount; which at once gave it market value, and infused life into the paralyzed credit of the nation. Again, in 1816, when the subscriptions lagged for the new United States Bank, Girard waited until the last day for receiving subscriptions, and then quietly subscribed for the whole amount not taken, which was three million one hundred thousand dollars. And yet again, in 1829, when the enormous expenditures of Pennsylvania upon her canals had exhausted her treasury and impaired her credit, it was Girard who prevented the total suspension of the public works by a loan to the Governor, which the assembling Legislature might or might not reimburse.
Once, during the war, the control of the coin in the bank procured him a signal advantage. In the spring of 1813, his fine ship, the Montesquieu, crammed with tea and fabrics from China, was captured by a British shallop when she was almost within Delaware Bay. News of the disaster reaching Girard, he sent orders to his supercargo to treat for a ransom. The British admiral gave up the vessel for one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in coin; and, despite this costly ransom, the cargo yielded a larger profit than that of any ship of Girard's during the whole of his mercantile career. Tea was then selling at war prices. Much of it brought, at auction, two dollars and fourteen cents a pound, more than four times its cost in China. He appears to have gained about half a million of dollars.
From the close of the war to the end of his life, a period of sixteen years, Girard pursued the even tenor of his way, as keen and steady in the pursuit of wealth, and as careful in preserving it, as though his fortune were still insecure. Why was this? We should answer the question thus: Because his defective education left him no other resource. We frequently hear the "success" of such men as Astor and Girard adduced as evidence of the uselessness of early education. On the contrary, it is precisely such men who prove its necessity; since, when they have conquered fortune, they know not how to avail themselves of its advantages. When Franklin had, at the age of forty-two, won a moderate competence, he could turn from business to science, and from science to the public service, using money as a means to the noblest ends. Strong-minded but unlettered men, like Girard, who cannot be idle, must needs plod on to the end, adding superfluous millions to their estates. In Girard's case, too, there was another cause of this entire devotion to business. His domestic sorrows had estranged him from mankind, and driven him into himself. Mr. Henry W. Arey, the very able and high-minded Secretary of Girard College, in whose custody are Girard's papers, is convinced that it was not the love of money which kept him at work early and late to the last days of his life.
"No one," he remarks,
"who has had access to his private papers, can fail to become impressed with the belief that these early disappointments furnish the true key to his entire character. Originally of warm and generous impulses, the belief in childhood that he had not been given his share of the love and kindness which were extended to others changed the natural current of his feelings, and, acting on a warm and passionate temperament, alienated him from his home, his parents, and his friends. And when in after time there were super-added the years of bitter anguish resulting from his unfortunate and ill-adapted marriage, rendered even more poignant by the necessity of concealment, and the consequent injustice of public sentiment, and marring all his cherished expectations, it may be readily understood why constant occupation became a necessity, and labor a pleasure."
Girard himself confirms this opinion. In one of his letters of 1820, to a friend in New Orleans, he says:—
"I observe with pleasure that you have a numerous family, that you are happy and in the possession of an honest fortune. This is all that a wise man has the right to wish for. As to myself, I live like a galley-slave, constantly occupied, and often passing the night without sleeping. I am wrapped up in a labyrinth of affairs, and worn out with care. I do not value fortune. The love of labor is my highest ambition. You perceive that your situation is a thousand times preferable to mine."
In his lifetime, as we have remarked, few men loved Girard, still fewer understood him. He was considered mean, hard, avaricious. If a rich man goes into a store to buy a yard of cloth, no one expects that he will give five dollars for it when the price is four. But there is a universal impression that it is "handsome" in him to give higher wages than other people to those who serve him, to bestow gratuities upon them, and, especially, to give away endless sums in charity. The truth is, however, that one of the duties which a rich man owes to society is to be careful not to disturb the law of supply and demand by giving more money for anything than a fair price, and not to encourage improvidence and servility by inconsiderate and profuse gifts. Girard rescued his poor relations in France from want, and educated nieces and nephews in his own house; but his gifts to them were not proportioned to his own wealth, but to their circumstances. His design evidently was to help them as much as would do them good, but not so much as to injure them as self-sustaining members of society. And surely it was well for every clerk in his bank to know that all he had to expect from the rich Girard was only what he would have received if he had served another bank. The money which in loose hands might have relaxed the arm of industry and the spirit of independence, which might have pampered and debased a retinue of menials, and drawn around the dispenser a crowd of cringing beggars and expectants, was invested in solid houses, which Girard's books show yielded him a profit of three per cent, but which furnished to many families comfortable abodes at moderate rents. To the most passionate entreaties of failing merchants for a loan to help them over a crisis, he was inflexibly deaf. They thought it meanness. But we can safely infer from Girard's letters and conversation that he thought it an injury to the community to avert from a man of business the consequences of extravagance and folly, which, in his view, were the sole causes of failure. If there was anything that Girard utterly despised and detested, it was that vicious mode of doing business which, together with extravagant living, causes seven business men in ten to fail every ten years. We are enabled to state, however, on the best authority, that he was substantially just to those whom he employed, and considerately kind to his own kindred. At least he meant to be kind; he did for them what he really thought was for their good. To little children, and to them only, he was gracious and affectionate in manner. He was never so happy as when he had a child to caress and play with.
After the peace of 1815, Girard began to consider what he should do with his millions after his death. He was then sixty-five, but he expected and meant to live to a good age. "The Russians," he would say, when he was mixing his olla podrida of a Russian salad, "understand best how to eat and drink; and I am going to see how long, by following their customs, I can live." He kept an excellent table; but he became abstemious as he grew older, and lived chiefly on his salad and his good claret. En-joying perfect health, it was not until about the year 1828, when he was seventy-eight years of age, that he entered upon the serious consideration of a plan for the final disposal of his immense estate. Upon one point his mind had been long made up. "No man," said he, "shall be a gentleman on my money." He often, said that, even if he had had a son, he should have been brought up to labor, and should not, by a great legacy, be exempted from the necessity of labor. "If I should leave him twenty thousand dollars," he said, "he would be lazy or turn gambler." Very likely. The son of a man like Girard, who was virtuous without being able to make virtue engaging, whose mind was strong but rigid and ill-furnished, commanding but uninstructive, is likely to have a barren mind and rampant desires, the twin causes of debauchery. His decided inclination was to leave the bulk of his property for the endowment of an institution of some kind for the benefit of Philadelphia. The only question was, what kind of institution it should be.
William J. Duane was his legal adviser then,—that honest and intrepid William J. Duane who, a few years later, stood calmly his ground on the question of the removal of the deposits against the infuriate Jackson, the Kitchen Cabinet, and the Democratic party. Girard felt all the worth of this able and honorable lawyer. With him alone he conversed upon the projected institution; and Mr. Duane, without revealing his purpose, made inquiries among his travelled friends respecting the endowed establishments of foreign countries. For several months before sitting clown to prepare the will, they never met without conversing upon this topic, which was also the chief subject of discourse between them on Sunday afternoons, when Mr. Duane invariably dined at Mr. Girard's country-house. A home for the education of orphans was at length decided upon, and then the will was drawn. For three weeks the lawyer and his client were closeted, toiling at the multifarious details of that curious document.
The minor bequests were speedily arranged, though they were numerous and well considered. He left to the Pennsylvania Hospital, thirty thousand dollars; to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, twenty thousand; to the Orphan Asylum, ten thousand; to the Lancaster public schools, the same sum; the same for providing fuel for the poor in Philadelphia; the same to the Society for the Relief of Distressed Sea-Captains and their families; to the Freemasons of Pennsylvania, for the relief of poor members twenty thousand; six thousand for the establishment of a free school in Passyunk, near Philadelphia; to his surviving brother, and to his eleven nieces, he left sums varying from five thousand dollars to twenty thousand; but to one of his nieces, who had a very large family, he left sixty thousand dollars. To each of the captains who had made two voyages in his service, and who should bring his ship safely into port, he gave fifteen hundred dollars; and to each of his apprentices, five hundred. To his old servants, he left annuities of three hundred and five hundred dollars each. A portion of his valuable estates in Louisiana he bequeathed to the corporation of New Orleans, for the improvement of that city. Half a million he left for certain improvements in the city of Philadelphia; and to Pennsylvania, three hundred thousand dollars for her canals. The whole of the residue of his property, worth then about six millions of dollars, he devoted to the construction and endowment of a College for Orphans.
Accustomed all his life to give minute directions to those whom he selected to execute his designs, he followed the same system in that part of his will which related to the College. The whole will was written out three times, and some parts of it more than three. He strove most earnestly, and so did Mr. Duane, to make every paragraph so clear that no one could misunderstand it. No candid person, sincerely desirous to understand his intentions, has ever found it difficult to do so. He directed that the buildings should be constructed of the most durable materials, "avoiding useless ornament, attending chiefly to the strength, convenience, and neatness of the whole." That, at least, is plain. He then proceeded to direct precisely what materials should be used, and how they should be used; prescribing the number of buildings, their size, the number and size of the apartments in each, the thickness of each wall, giving every detail of construction, as he would have given it to a builder. He then gave briefer directions as to the management of the institution. The orphans were to be plainly but wholesomely fed, clothed, and lodged; instructed in the English branches, in geometry, natural philosophy, the French and Spanish languages, and whatever else might be deemed suitable and beneficial to them. "I would have them," says the will, "taught facts and things, rather than words or signs." At the conclusion of the course, the pupils were to be apprenticed to "suitable occupations, as those of agriculture, navigation, arts, mechanical trades, and manufactures."
The most remarkable passage of the will is the following. The Italics are those of the original document.
"I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect whatsoever, shall ever hold or exercise any station or duty whatever in the said College; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises appropriated to the purposes of the said College. In making this restriction, I do not mean to cast any reflection upon any sect or person whatsoever; but as there is such a multitude of sects, and such a diversity of opinion amongst them, I desire to keep the tender minds of the orphans, who are to derive advantage from this bequest, free from the excitement which clashing doctrines and sectarian controversy are so apt to produce; my desire is, that all the instructors and teachers in the College shall take pains to instil into the minds of the scholars the purest principles of morality, so that, on their entrance into active life, they may, from inclination and habit, evince benevolence toward their fellow-creatures, and a love of truth, sobriety, and industry, adopting at the same time such religious tenets as their matured reason may enable them to prefer."
When Mr. Duane had written this passage at Girard's dictation, a conversation occurred between them, which revealed, perhaps, one of the old gentleman's reasons for inserting it. "What do you think of that?" asked Girard. Mr. Duane, being unprepared to comment upon such an unexpected injunction, replied, after a long pause, "I can only say now, Mr. Girard, that I think it will make a great sensation." Girard then said, "I can tell you something else it will do,—it will please the Quakers." He gave another proof of his regard for the Quakers by naming three of them as the executors of his will; the whole number of the executors being five.
In February, 1830, the will was executed, and deposited in Mr. Girard's iron safe. None but the two men who had drawn the will, and the three men who witnessed the signing of it, were aware of its existence; and none but Girard and Mr. Duane had the least knowledge of its contents. There never was such a keeper of his own secrets as Girard, and never a more faithful keeper of other men's secrets than Mr. Duane. And here we have another illustration of the old man's character. He had just signed a will of unexampled liberality to the public; and the sum which he gave the able and devoted lawyer for his three weeks' labor in drawing it was three hundred dollars!
Girard lived nearly two years longer, always devoted to business, and still investing his gains with care. An accident in the street gave a shock to his constitution, from which he never fully recovered; and in December, 1831, when he was nearly eighty-two years of age, an attack of influenza terminated his life. True to his principles, he refused to be cupped, or to take drugs into his system, though both were prescribed by a physician whom he respected.
Death having dissolved the powerful spell of a presence which few men had been able to resist, it was to be seen how far his will would be obeyed, now that he was no longer able personally to enforce it. The old man lay dead in his house in Water Street. While the public out of doors were curious enough to learn what he had done with his money, there was a smaller number within the house, the kindred of the deceased, in whom this curiosity raged like a mania. They invaded the cellars of the house, and, bringing up bottles of the old man's choice wine, kept up a continual carouse. Surrounding Mr. Duane, who had been present at Mr. Girard's death, and remained to direct his funeral, they demanded to know if there was a will. To silence their indecent clamor, he told them there was, and that he was one of the executors. On hearing this, their desire to learn its contents rose to fury. In vain the executors reminded them that decency required that the will should not be opened till after the funeral. They even threatened legal proceedings if the will were not immediately produced; and at length, to avoid a public scandal, the executors consented to have it read. These affectionate relatives being assembled in a parlor of the house in which the body of their benefactor lay, the will was taken from the iron safe by one of the executors.