In Plough Court, Lombard Street, there was a firm well-known and highly respected. It was a firm long remarkable for the extraordinary philanthropic activity of its practices, and for the excellence of its chemicals. Mr. Allen, the senior partner, was a lecturer in chemistry at Guy’s Hospital, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a personal and intimate friend of the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Sussex, Lord Brougham, Sir Fowell Buxton, the Gurneys, Thomas Clarckson, and many other of the leading philanthropic and public characters of the past generation. He was also a minister among the Quakers, and a prime mover in founding a host of schools, asylums, and benevolent institutions. Another partner in the firm was the late Luke Ronard, F.R.S., the eminent meteorologist, who was also a preacher among the Quakers till the last portion of his life, when he joined the communion of the Plymouth Brethren, with whom also he was an active labourer in good efforts of various kinds. A third partner of the firm was the late Mr. John Thomas, who, after his very accurate and skilful scientific researches had gained him a competency, retired from business, and devoted the remainder of his life to an extraordinary series of efforts, in conjunction with Mr. William Ewart, M.P., Mr. Barret Lennard, M.P., Mr. John Sydney Taylor, the editor of the Morning Herald, the Right Hon. Stephen Lushington, D.C.L., and the late Mr. Peter Bedford, of Croydon, for the removal of the punishment of death from the numerous offences, some of them very trivial, for which it was at one time inflicted. A writer in the Sunday at Home, in the year 1866, remarks, that it is no exaggeration to say, that the splendid triumphs of mercy, which have rendered the reign of King William IV. for ever illustrious in history, were, either directly or indirectly, p. 30largely owing to the strenuous, continuous, and truly wonderful labours of Mr. Barry and this small group of his philanthropic coadjutors. Such were the partners in the firm at Plough Court, a house frequented by all classes of men—by princes of the blood-royal, by peers and statesmen, by scientific discoverers and professors, by missionaries and preachers, by schoolmasters and authors, by reformed criminals and escaped slaves. It became a centre of conference and movement for much of the metropolitan philanthropy during the reigns of George IV. and William IV.
It is to the credit of the City that some of these money-making men have been amongst the most earnest supporters of every religious and philanthropic enterprise. Here we get a pleasant glimpse of one of them. Heard writes to Wilberforce, in 1790, of the death of John Thornton:—“He was allied to me by relationship and family connection. His character is so well known that it is scarcely necessary to attempt its delineation. It may be useful, however, to state, that it was by living with great simplicity of intention and conduct in the practice of Christian life, more than of any superiority of understanding or of knowledge, that he rendered his name illustrious in the view of all the respectable part of his contemporaries. He had a counting-house in London, and a handsome villa at Clapham. He anticipated the disposition and pursuits of the succeeding generation. He devoted large sums annually to charitable purposes, especially to the promotion of the cause of religion, both in his own and other countries. He assisted many clergymen, enabling them to live in comfort, and to practise a useful hospitality. His personal habits were remarkably simple. His dinner-hour was two o’clock; he generally attended public worship at some church or Episcopalian chapel several evenings in the week, and would often sit up to a late hour in his own study, at the top of the house, engaged in religious exercises. He died without a groan or a struggle, and in the full view of glory. Oh, may my end be like his!” He was the Sir James Stephen in the Edinburgh Review for 1844, “a merchant renowned in his generation for a munificence more than princely.” Mr. Thornton was an Episcopalian, and it was owing to him that the venerable John Newton became pastor of St. Mary Woolnoth. His benevolence was as unsectarian as his general habits; and he stood ready, said Mr. p. 31Cecil, to assist a beneficent design in any party, but would be the creature of none. It was thus he was mainly instrumental in founding, and supporting for a while, a Dissenting academy at Newport-Pagnell, which was placed under the care of the Rev. Josiah Bull. Also he extended his patronage and pecuniary assistance to the institution at Marlborough, under the direction of the Rev. Cornelius Winter, and was thus brought into connection with Mr. Jay, towards whose support he contributed while passing through his academic course. Mr. Thornton spent myriads of pounds in the purchase of livings for evangelical preachers, in the erection and in enlargement of places of worship, both in the Church of England and among Dissenters, in sending out Bibles and religions books by his ships to various parts of the world, and in numerous other ways. Nor was his beneficence exclusively confined to religious objects. Mr. Newton says—“Mr. Bull told my father, that while he (Mr. Newton) was at Olney, he had received from Mr. Thornton more than £2,000 for the poor of that place. He not only,” continued Mr. Bull, “gave largely, but he gave wisely. He kept a regular account—not for ostentation, or the gratification of vanity, but for method—of every pound he gave in a ledger, which he once showed me. I was then a boy, and, I remarked, on every page was an appropriate text. With him giving was a matter of business.” Cowper, in an elegy he wrote upon him, said truly—
Tips, opportunities to make money：dollar to peso rate“Thou hadst an interest in doing good,
Restless as his who toils and sweats for food.”
It is needless to add that he lived at Clapham, and had Wilberforce for a nephew. His son, Henry Thornton, M.P. for Southwark, followed in his father’s steps to a certain extent. One day, when he was at Bath, he desired Jay to bring with him Foster, the essayist, to dinner. The attempt was a failure. Jay writes—“Mortifyingly he (Foster) again showed his indisposition to talk; and our most excellent entertainer was not much favoured to make his company easy and free and communicative, for his manner was particularly cold, distant, and reserved. Foster said—yet I think very untruly—that he sat as if he had a bag of money under his arm; but at this time Mr. Foster had a silly kind of prejudice p. 32against persons of affluence, however their wealth had been obtained.”
Let us recall the memory of Mr. John Poynder. As an East Indian proprietor he spoke much in favour of the abolition of Sutteeism, and against the monstrous tax arising from the idolatrous worship of Juggernaut. His publications were numerous, and chiefly on religious subjects—the evangelisation of our East Indian dominions, the paganism of popery, the sanctification of the Lord’s day. He was a staunch Tory and churchman; “but,” writes Jay, of Bath, “never was there a warmer advocate of evangelical truth and the doctrines of the Reformation; never was there a more determined enemy to popery and its half-sister, Puseyism; never did man more strive to serve his generation by the will of God.” A name that should be dear to Dissenters is that of Mr. William Coward, who was the friend of Doddridge, and who supplied the funds for his college for the training of Congregational ministers, first at Daventry, and afterwards at Wymondley, and now in Torrington Square, when the students were entered at University College. Coward College is now incorporated in the New College, St. John’s Wood. Mr. Coward was rather an eccentric in 1732, Dr. Jennings first intimated Mr. Coward’s idea to Doddridge, and recommended him not to comply with Mr. Coward’s idea to come and live at Walthamstow, where the latter lived; adding, “that the likeliest way to keep it in the worthy old gentleman’s good graces, is perhaps, not to be quite so near him.” In a note, the editor of the Doddridge correspondence adds—“William Coward, Esq., was a zealous Nonconformist, having accumulated a large fortune as a merchant. It may be said,” adds the editor, “that Mr. Coward still continues a generous benefactor to the cause of Nonconformity, as he left about £20,000, the interest of which is, in accordance with the provisions of his will, distributed in its service by four trustees, whose number must always be maintained, and who have hitherto conducted their important duties with so much propriety that their conduct has not in any instance been questioned.” Mr. Coward seems to have defrayed the expenses of a volume of sermons published by Dr. Doddridge. Mr. Coward had a will of his own, and some of his regulations may seem to us not a little whimsical. One was to receive no guest at his mansion after p. 33the hour of eight. The Rev. Hugh Farmer had a comical experience of this when, about that hour, he knocked for admission in vain. Mr. Farmer, after repeated raps at the floor, began to feel uncomfortable. While involved in this dilemma he was observed by a footman of Mr. Snell’s, who was passing near on his way home, and who reported to his master that a strange gentleman was trying to gain admittance at Mr. Coward’s beyond the hour. The hospitable Mr. Snell immediately sent to say that his door was open; and from that evening the celebrated Mr. Farmer—he was a favourite pupil of Dodderidge, and was thought in many respects to resemble him—became a permanent member of Mr. Snell’s family circle. Mr. Coward seems to have had a keen eye for orthodoxy, and complained of Dr. Watts that he was a Baxterian. He is also reported as growing cold to Dr. Guyse and Dr. Jennings, and falling most passionately in love with Dr. Taylor. Mr. Coward seems to have died in 1738. In 1818, there was a wealthy stock-broker—the late Mr. Thomas Thompson, of Pondsfort Park, who was deeply grieved with the destitute condition of the seamen in the port of London. In the February of that year a meeting on the subject was held in the London Tavern, to form a provisional committee to purchase and prepare a ship. At a subsequent meeting, it was announced that the Speedy, an old sloop-of-war, had been purchased of the government, and fitted up at a cost of nearly £3,000, to seat 750 hearers. The opening services on board the floating chapel were held on May 4th, when three sermons were preached—that in the morning by the Rev. Rowland Hill. Mr. Thompson called on the reverend gentleman, stated the neglected condition of sailors, and the plans in contemplation, and begged him to consent to preach the opening sermon on board the floating chapel. Mr. Hill heard all, rang the bell in silence, and his old servant appeared. “John,” he said, “fetch my pocket-book.” Mrs. Hill, who had hitherto been a quiet listener, now interposed, asserting that his engagements were already too numerous, and that he would wear himself out. Stroking his chin and shaking his head, with his characteristic habit, he replied, “My dear, I must preach for poor Jack.” Thus was the first floating chapel for sailors happily launched, and the Port of London Society for the Spiritual Benefit of Sailors brought into active operation. To the ship, and the general p. 34objects of the society, Mr. Smith contributed, from first to last, about £3,000. Another society, called into existence by Mr. Thompson’s activity and Christian devotedness and liberality, was the Home Missionary Society, which was inaugurated at the London Tavern on August 11th, 1819. At that time Mr. Thompson resided at Brixton Hill, and on week-day evenings held religious meetings amongst the neglected poor of that district and of Streatham. Gas-lights and police being then unknown, Mr. Thompson’s family were thankful when he came home from these charitable peregrinations safe and sound. It must be remarked here that Mr. Thompson was one of the founders, in 1827, of the Merchant Seamen’s Orphan Asylum. The first election was for five boys only, but it soon became a large and flourishing institution. Though a Dissenter, the Pastoral Aid and Special Services Aid Societies owed him much. As his daughter truly writes of him—“Mr. Thompson was one of those who helped to mould the benevolent character of the age in which he lived.”
Another name, well known in religious circles, was that of the late Mr. Thomas Wilson, who was the first to begin chapel-building on a large scale in London. Even in our more ostentatious day, Mr. Wilson’s charities would be considered princely.
And here, for the present, we take leave of the Christian merchant princes of London—the righteous men who possibly may have preserved it from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Tips, opportunities to make money：wwe money in the bankIn the great mediæval cities of the continent, it was the men who had made money by trade who were the first to spend it liberally for the promotion of art, and the benefit of charity and religion. It has been so in London. Our Norman barons, our men with pedigrees running up to the time of the Conqueror, have done little for the welfare of the people, compared with the men of humble birth, who, as they have grown in wealth, have also grown in their estimate of its power to help those lower in the social scale than themselves.
It is in America, as was to be expected, that rise more quickly than in any other country. Every one is ambitious, and there he realises the fact that no position is beyond his power if he will but work for it. Franklin was a printer’s boy, General Putnam was a farmer, Roger Sherman was a shoemaker, and Andrew Jackson was a poor boy, who worked his way up from the humblest position; Patrick Henry, the great American orator, was a country tavern-keeper; Abraham Lincoln was equally low placed in his start in life. But even in America it is hard work to make a fortune. Niorse, an American artist, but a better chemist and mechanician than a painter, thought out the magnetic telegraph on a Havre packet-ship, but met the common fate of inventors. He struggled for years with poverty and a thousand difficulties. He failed to interest capitalists. At last, when he was yielding to despair, and meditated suicide, on the last night of a session of Congress, at midnight, when the Appropriation Bill was being rushed through, he got an appropriation of £6,000 for an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore; then success, rewards, honours, titles of nobility, gold medals, and an immense fortune. The American inventor of the sewing machine had similar misfortune, and then as great a success.
“There are two kinds of men and two kinds of business in New York,” says an American author. The old-school merchants of New York are few; their ranks are thinning every day. They were distinguished for probity and honour; they took time to make a fortune. Their success proved that business success and mercantile honour were a good capital. Their colossal fortunes and enduring fame prove that, to be successful, men need not be mean, or false, or dishonest. p. 36When John Jacob Astor was a leading merchant in Now York, there were few who could buy goods by the cargo. A large dealer in tea, knowing that few merchants could outbid him, or purchase a cargo, concluded to buy a whole shipload that had just arrived, and was offered at auction. He had nobody to compete with, and he expected to have everything his own way. Just before the sale commenced, to his consternation he saw Mr. Astor walking slowly down the wharf. He went to meet him, and said—“Mr. Astor, I am sorry to meet you here this morning; if you will go to your counting-room, and stay till after the sale, I’ll give you a thousand dollars.” Without thinking much about it, Mr. Astor consented, turned on his heel, and said—“Send round the cheque.” He lost money, but he kept his word. When the lease for Astor House was nearly out, some parties from Boston tried to hire it over the heads of the then tenants. In a private interview with Mr. Astor, they wanted to know his terms. He replied, “I will consult Mr. Stetson (the tenant), and let you know.” To do that was, as they were well aware, to defeat the object they had in view. The old New York merchant never gave a guarantee as to the genuineness of the article he sold. It were needless to ask it.
In New York, in Boston, and elsewhere, the rule of prosperity is plain. One of the best-known presidents of a New York bank began his career by blacking boots: he came to New York a penniless lad, and sought employment at a store. “What can you do?” said the merchant. “I can do anything,” replied the boy. “Take these boots and black them.” He did so, and he blacked them well, and did everything else well.
Alexander Stewart (when alive, reputed to be the richest man in the world) was born in Ireland, came young to New York, and, with a little money that was left him by a relative in Ireland, took a small shop. He kept in it from fourteen to eighteen hours a day. He was his own errand-boy, porter, book-keeper, and salesman. He lived over his store, and, for a time, one room served as kitchen, bedroom, and parlour. Mr. Stewart began business when merchants relied on themselves, when banks gave little aid, when traders made money out of their customers, not out of their creditors. One day, while doing business in this p. 37little store, a note became due which he was unable to pay. The banks were unfriendly, and his friends, as is always the case when you want to borrow, were peculiarly hard up. Resolving not to be dishonoured, he met the crisis boldly. He made up his mind never to be in such a fix again. He marked every article in his shop below cost price; he flooded the city with hand-hills; they were everywhere—in basements, shops, steamboats, hotels, and cars, promised everybody a bargain, and took New York by storm. The little shop was crowded. Mr. Stewart presided in person. He said but little, offered his goods, and took the cash, all attempts to beat him down he quietly pointed to the price plainly written on each package. He had hardly time to eat or sleep; everyone came and bought, and when they got home customers were delighted to find that they were not cheated, but that they had secured a real bargain. Long before the time named for closing the sale in the hand-bill, the whole store was cleaned out, and every article sold for cash. The troublesome note was paid, and a handsome balance left over. For the future, he resolved to trade no more on credit. The market was dull, times were bad, cash was scarce; he would buy on his own terms the best of goods, and thus he laid down the foundation of a fortune which, long before he died, was reckoned at 30,000,000 dols. 1836, an American writer thus described his mode of doing business:—“Though Mr. Stewart sells goods on credit, as do other merchants, he buys solely for cash. If he takes a note, instead of getting it discounted at a bank, he throws it into a safe and lets it mature. It does not enter into his business, and the non-payment of it does not disturb him. He selects the style of carpet he wants, buys every yard made by the manufacturer, and pays cash. He monopolises high-priced laces, sells costly goods, furs, and gloves, and compels the fashionable world to pay him tribute. Whether he sells a first-rate or a fourth-rate article, the customer gets what he bargained for. A lady on a journey, who passes a couple of days in the city, can find every article that she wants for her wardrobe at a reasonable price. She can have the goods made up in any style, and sent to her house at a given hour, for the opera or ball, or for travel. Mr. Stewart will take a contract for the complete outfit of a steamship; furnish the carpets, mirrors, chandeliers, china, silver-ware, cutlery, p. 38mattresses, linen, blankets, napkins, with every article needed, in every style demanded. He can defy competition. He buys from the manufacturer at the lowest cash price; he presents the original bills, charging only a small commission. The parties have no trouble; the articles are of the first class. They save from ten to twenty per cent., and the small commission pays Stewart handsomely. He furnishes hotels and churches in the same manner; as easily he could supply the army and navy. He attends personally to his business. He is down early, and remains late; those who pass through the Broadway at the small hours may see the light burning brightly from the working-room of the marble palace. He remains till the day’s work is done and everything squared up. He knows what is in the store, and not a package escapes his eye. He sells readily, without consulting books, invoice, or salesmen. He has partners, but they are partners only in the profits. He can buy and sell as he will, and holds the absolute management of the concern in his own hands.”
Who has not heard of the Harpers of New York, whose publishing house in Franklin Square was, and it may be is, the largest of the kind in the world; as they do all the business connected with the publication of a book under one roof. In 1810, James Harper left his rural home on Long Island, to become a printer. His parents were devout Methodists. His mother was a woman of rare gifts. She embraced him on his departure, and bade him never forget the altar of his God, his home, or that he had good blood in his veins. In his new office all the mean and servile work was put upon the printer’s devil, as he was called. At that time Franklin Square was inhabited by genteel people—wealthy merchants; and poor James Harper’s appearance attracted a good deal of unpleasant comment. His clothes, made in the old homestead, were coarse in material, and unfashionable in cut. The young swells made fun of the poor lad. They shouted to him across the streets—“Did your coat come from Paris?” “Give us a card to your tailor.” “Jim, what did your mother give a yard for your broadcloth?” Sometimes, in their insolence, the fellows came near, and, under pretence of feeling the fineness of the cloth, would give an unpleasant nip. The lad had a hard life of it; but he resolved not to be imposed upon. One day, as he was doing some menial work, he was attacked by one of his p. 39tormentors, who asked him for his card. He turned on his assailant, having deliberately set down a pail that he was carrying, kicked him severely, and said, “That’s my card; take good care of it. When I am out of my time, and set up for myself, and you need employment—as you will—come to me and I will give you work.” Forty-one years after, when Mr. Harper’s establishment was known throughout all the land—after he had borne the highest municipal honours of the city, and had become one of the wealthiest men in New York—the person who had received the card came to Mr. James Harper’s establishment, and asked for employment, claiming it on the ground that he had kept the card given him forty-one years before. With great fidelity James served out his time. His master was pleased with him. In a patronising way he told him, when he was free, he should never want for employment. James rather surprised his old master by informing him that he intended to set up for himself; that he had already engaged to do a job, and that all he wanted was a certificate from his master that he was worthy to be trusted with a book. In a small room in Dover Street, James, and his brother John, began their work as printers. Their first job was 2,000 volumes of “Seneca’s Morals.” Their second book laid the foundation of their fortune. The Harpers had agreed to stereotype an edition of the Prayer-book for the Episcopal Society of New York. Stereotyping was in a crude state, and the work was roughly done. When the Harpers took the contract, they intended to have it done at some one of the establishments in the city. They found that it would cost them more than they were to receive. They resolved to learn the art, and do the work themselves. It was a slow and difficult labour, but it was accomplished. It was pronounced the best piece of stereotyping ever seen in New York. It put the firm at the head of the business. It was found to be industrious, honourable, and reliable. In six years it became the great printing-house of New York. Other brothers joined the firm of Harper Brothers. Besides personal attention to business, the brothers exercised great economy in their personal and domestic expenses; one thousand dollars was what it cost the brothers each to live for the first ten years of their business life. As regarded their employés, the utmost care was taken. The liberal, genial, honourable spirit of the proprietors p. 40prompted them to pay the best wages, and secure the best talent. Those who entered the house, seldom or never left it. Boys became men, and remained there as employés all the same.
In New York the love of Mammon finds no small place even in sanctified breasts. The author of “Sunshine and Shade,” in New York, says—“Among the most excited in the stock-market are men who profess to be clergymen. One of this class realised a snug little fortune of 80,000 dollars in his speculations. He did not want to be known in the matter. Daily he laid his funds on the broker’s desk. If anything was realised it was taken quietly away. The broker, tired of doing business on the sly, advised the customer, if the thing was distasteful to him, or he was ashamed openly to be in business, he had better retire from Wall Street.” Men of this class often have a nominal charge. They affect to have some mission, for which they collect money; they roam about among our benevolent institutions, visit prisons or penitentiaries—wherever they can get a chance to talk, to the great disgust of regular missionaries, and the horror of superintendents. They can be easily known by white cravats, sanctified looks, and the peculiar unction of their whine. “One man,” continues the writer in question, “especially illustrates the gentlemen of the cloth who are familiar with stocks. His name appears in the Sunday notices as the minister of an up-town church; down town he is known as a speculator. His place of worship is a little house built in his yard. It is not as long or as wide as the room in which he writes his sermons. The pastor is a speculator; his church is his capital, and on ’Change Rev. pays well. He has controlled and abandoned half-a-dozen churches. He went over to London, made a written contract with Mr. Spurgeon, the celebrated preacher, by which the latter was to visit America. It bound Spurgeon to give a certain number of lectures in the principal cities of the land. Tickets were to be issued to admit to the services. One-half of the proceeds Spurgeon was to take with him to London to build his tabernacle, the other half was to be left in the hands of the gentleman who brought him over and engineered him through. The contract, coming to light, produced a great commotion, and Mr. Spurgeon declined to fulfil it. The war breaking p. 41out, this clerical gentleman tried his hand at a horse contract. He approached a general of high position, and said he was a poor minister, times were hard, and he wanted to make a little money; would the general give him a contract? One was placed in his hands for the purchase of a number of horses. The minister sold the contract, and made a handsome thing of it; the government was cheated. A committee of Congress, in looking up frauds in the city, turned up this contract. In a report to Congress, the general and the minister were mentioned in no complimentary terms. While these transactions were going on in New York, the general was in the field where the battle was the thickest, maintaining the honour of the flag. The report in which his name was dishonourably mentioned reached him. His indignation was aroused. He sent a letter to the speculating preacher, sharp as the point of his sword. He told him if he did not clear him in every way from all dishonourable connection in the transaction complained of, he would shoot him in the street as soon as he returned to New York. The frightened minister made haste to make the demanded reparation.” Happily for the credit of America, the author already referred to says, “Such men are held in as light esteem by the respectable clergy of the city, and by the honourable men of their own denomination, as they are by the speculators whom they attempt to imitate.”
What a contrast to such contemptible men was John Jacob Astor, who, at the age of twenty, left his German home, resolving to seek a fortune in the New World. He was a poor uneducated boy, and he trudged on foot from his home to the seaport whence he was to sail. He was educated by his mother. His school-books were his Bible and Prayer-book, and these he read and pondered over to the last hour of his life. When he left home, a small bundle contained all his worldly possessions. He had money enough, for a common steerage passage—that was all. He landed penniless on American soil. As he left his native village, he paused and cast a lingering, loving look behind. As he stood under the linden tree he said, “I will be honest; I will be industrious; I will never gamble.” He kept these resolutions till the day of his death. He sailed from London for America in 1783. In the steerage he made the acquaintance of a furrier, which was the means of his introduction to a business by which he made millions. All sorts of stories are circulated about the p. 42early career of Mr. Astor. It was said that he commenced by trading in apples and pea-nuts. He took with him seven flutes, from his brother’s manufactory in London; these he sold, and invented the proceeds in furs. He went steadily to work to learn the trade for himself: he was frugal, industrious, and early exhibited great tact in trade. He was accustomed to say, later in life, that the only hard step in making his fortune was in the accumulation of the first thousand dollars. He possessed marked executive ability. He was quick in his perceptions. He came rapidly to his conclusions. He made a bargain, or rejected it at once. In his very earliest transactions he displayed the same characteristics which marked him in maturer life. He made distinct contracts, and adhered to them with inflexible purpose. He founded the American Fur Company, in which he had shares, and by means of which he amassed a fortune of over 50,000 dollars. His son succeeded in his father’s business, and in his father’s ability for acquiring money. His habits were very simple, and mode of life uniform.
Next to Astor, perhaps, in America, we are most familiar with the name of Commodore Vanderbilt, one of the self-made millionaires of the city of New York. He began life a penniless boy, and took to the water early. His first adventure was rowing a boat from Staten Island to the city. He took command of a North River steamboat when quite young, and was distinguished at the start for his resolute, indomitable, and daring will. He began his moneyed success by chartering steamboats, and running opposition to all the old lines up the North River, up the East River, up the Connecticut—everywhere. Making a little money, he invested it in stocks which were available in cash, and always ready for a bargain. Honourable in trade, prompt, firm, and reliable, he was decided in his business, and could drive as hard a bargain as any man in the city. His custom was to conduct his business on cash principles, and never to allow a Saturday night to close without every man in his employ getting his money. If anybody was about to fail, wanted money, had a bargain to offer, he knew where to call. Nothing came amiss—a load of timber, coal, or cordage, a cargo of a ship, or a stock of goods in a factory, glass-ware, merchandise, or clothing—the commodore was sure to find a p. 43use for them. A writer, in 1868, thus describes him:—“From nine to eleven the commodore is in his up-town office; at one in his down-town office. Between these hours he visits the Harlem and Hudson River stations. He is now nearly eighty years of age. He it as erect as a warrior; he is tall, very slim, genteel in his make-up, with a fine presence, hair white as the driven snow, and comes up to one’s idea of a fine merchant of the olden time. He is one of the shrewdest merchants, prompt and decided. In one of the down-town mansions, where the aristocracy used to reside, he has his place of business. He drives down through Broadway in his buggy, drawn by his favourite horse, celebrated for his white feet, one of the fleetest in the city, and which no money can buy. His office consists of a single room, quite large, well-furnished, and adorned with pictures of favourite steamers and ferry-boats. The entrance to the office is through a narrow hall-way, which is made an outer room for his confidential clerk. He sees personally all who call, rising to greet the comer, and seldom sits till the business is discharged, and the visitor gone. But for this he would be overrun and bored to death. His long connection with steamboats and shipping brings to him men from all parts of the world who have patents, inventions, and improvements, and who wish his endorsement. II a man has anything to sell he settles the contract in a very few words. The visitor addresses the commodore, and says. ‘I have a stock of goods for sale; what will you give?’ A half-dozen sharp inquiries are made, and a price named. The seller demurs, announcing that such a price would ruin him. ‘I don’t want your goods. What did you come here for if you did not want to sell? If you can get more for your goods, go and get it.’ Not a moment of time will be lost, not a cent more be offered; and if the man leaves, with the hope of getting a better price, and returns to take the first offer, he will probably not sell the goods at all.”
Turning from steamboats, Mr. Vanderbilt long ago became interested in railroads. In this line, so great was his success that he could control the market. “An attempt,” says an American writer, “was made some time since to break him down by cornering the stock.” He wanted to consolidate the Harlem Road with the Hudson. Enough of the legislature was supposed to have been secured to carry the measure. p. 44The parties who had agreed to pass the bill intended to play foul. Besides this, they thought they would indulge in a little railroad speculation. They sold Harlem, to be delivered at a future day, right and left. These men let their friends into the secret, and allowed them to speculate. Clear on to Chicago, there was hardly a railroad man who was not selling Harlem short. The expected consolidation ran the stock up; the failure of the project would, of course, run it down. A few days before the vote was taken some friends called upon Commodore Vanderbilt, and gave him proof that a conspiracy existed to ruin him, if possible, in the matter of consolidation. He took all the funds he could command, and, with the aid of his friends, bought all the Harlem stock that could be found, and locked it up safe in his desk. True to the report, the bill was rejected. The men who had pledged themselves to vote for it, openly and unblushingly voted against it. They waited anxiously for the next morning, when they expected their fortunes would be made by the fall of Harlem. But it did not fall. To the surprise of everybody, the first day it remained stationary; then it began to rise steadily, to the consternation and terror of speculators. There was no stock to be had at any price. Men were ruined on the right hand and on the left. Fortunes were swept away, and the cry of the wounded was heard up and down the Central Road. An eminent railway man, near Albany, worth quite a pretty fortune, who confidently expected to make 50,000 dollars by the operation, became penniless. One of the sharpest and most successful operators in New York lost over 200,000 dollars, which he refused to pay on the ground of conspiracy. His name was immediately stricken from the Stock board, which brought him to his senses. He subsequently settled, but thousands were ruined. Vanderbilt, however, made enough money out of this attempt to ruin him, to pay for all the stock he owned in the Harlem Road. Not satisfied with his achievements on the land and on the American rivers, Mr. Vanderbilt resolved to try the ocean. He built a fine steamer at his own cost, and equipped her completely. The Collins line was then in its glory. Mr. Collins, with his fine fleet of steamers, and his subsidy from the government, was greatly elated, and very imperious. It was quite difficult to approach him. Any day, on the arrival of a steamer, he could be seen pacing p. 45the deck, the crowd falling back and making space for the head of the important personage. One of his ships was lost; Vanderbilt applied to Collins to allow his steamer to take the place vacant on the line for a time; he promised to make no claim for the subsidy, and to take off his ship as soon as Collins built one to take her place. Collins refused to do this: he felt afraid if Vanderbilt got his foot into this ocean business, he would get in his whole body; if Vanderbilt could run an ocean-steamer without subsidy, government would require Collins to do it; he saw only mischief any way. He not only refused, but refused very curtly. In the sharp Doric way that Vanderbilt had of speaking when he is angry, he told Collins that he would run his line off the ocean, if it took all of his own fortune and the years of his life to do it. He commenced his opposition in a manner that made it irresistible, and a work of short duration. He offered the government to carry the mails, for a term of years, without a dollar’s cost to the nation; he offered to bind himself, under the heaviest bonds the government could exact, to perform this service for a term of years, more promptly and faithfully than it had been ever done before. His well-known business tact and energy were conceded. His ability to do what he said, nobody could deny; his proposition was not only laid before the members of Congress, but pressed home by a hundred agencies that he employed. The subsidy was withdrawn; Collins became a bankrupt; his splendid fleet of steamers, the finest the world had ever seen, were moored at the wharves, where they laid rotting. Had Collins conceded to Vanderbilt’s wishes, or divided with him the business on the ocean, the Collins’ line not only would have been a fact to-day, but would have been as prosperous as the Cunard line.
When the rebellion broke out, the navy was in a feeble condition; every ship in the south was pressed into the rebel service. The men-of-war at Norfolk were burned. At Annapolis they were mutilated and made unfit for service. The efficient portion of the navy was cruising in foreign seas, beyond recall. The need of ships of war and gun-boats was painfully apparent. The steam-ship Vanderbilt was the finest and fleetest vessel that ever floated in American waters. Her owner fitted her up as a man-of-war at his own expense, and fully equipped her. He then offered her for sale to government at a reasonable price. Mr. Vanderbilt found p. 46that there were certain men, standing between the government and the purchase, who insisted on a profit on every vessel that the government bought. He refused to pay the black-mail that was exacted of him if his vessel became the property of the nation. He was told that, unless he acceded to these demands, he could not sell his ship. Detesting the conduct of the men, who, pretending to be patriots, were making money out of the necessities of the nation, he proceeded at once to Washington, and presented the Vanderbilt, with all her equipments, as a free gift to the nation.