Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 5 out of 9

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.]


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.

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

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[1] 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.[2]

When he had opened it, and was about to begin to read, he chanced to
look over the top of the document at the company seated before him. No
artist that ever held a brush could depict the passion of curiosity,
the frenzy of expectation, expressed in that group of pallid faces.
Every individual among them expected to leave the apartment the
conscious possessor of millions, for no one had dreamed of the
probability of his leaving the bulk of his estate to the public. If
they had ever heard of his saying that no one should be gentleman upon
his money, they had forgotten or disbelieved it. The opening
paragraphs of the will all tended to confirm their hopes, since the
bequests to existing institutions were of small amount. But the reader
soon reached the part of the will which assigned to ladies and
gentlemen present such trifling sums as five thousand dollars, ten
thousand, twenty thousand; and he arrived erelong at the sections
which disposed of millions for the benefit of great cities and poor
children. Some of them made not the slightest attempt to conceal their
disappointment and disgust. Men were there who had married with a view
to share the wealth of Girard, and had been waiting years for his
death. Women were there who had looked to that event as the beginning
of their enjoyment of life. The imagination of the reader must supply
the details of a scene which we might think dishonored human nature,
if we could believe that human nature was meant to be subjected to
such a strain. It had been better, perhaps, if the rich man, in his
own lifetime, had made his kindred partakers of his superabundance,
especially as he had nothing else that he could share with them. They
attempted, on grounds that seem utterly frivolous, to break the will,
and employed the most eminent counsel to conduct their cause, but
without effect. They did, however, succeed in getting the property
acquired after the execution of the will; which Girard, disregarding
the opinion of Mr. Duane, attempted by a postscript to include in the
will. "It will not stand," said the lawyer. "Yes it will," said
Girard. Mr. Duane, knowing his man, was silent; and the courts have
since decided that his opinion was correct.

Thirty-three years have passed since the city of Philadelphia entered
upon the possession of the enormous and growing estate with which Mr.
Girard intrusted it. It is a question of general interest how the
trust has been administered. No citizen of Philadelphia needs to be
informed, that, in some particulars, the government of their city has
shown little more regard to the manifest will of Girard than his
nephews and nieces did. If he were to revisit the banks of the
Schuylkill, would he recognize, in the splendid Grecian temple that
stands in the centre of the College grounds, the home for poor
orphans, devoid of needless ornament, which he directed should be
built there? It is singular that the very ornaments which Girard
particularly disliked are those which have been employed in the
erection of this temple; namely, pillars. He had such an aversion to
pillars, that he had at one time meditated taking down those which
supported the portico of his bank. Behold his College surrounded with
thirty-four Corinthian columns, six feet in diameter and fifty-nine in
height, of marble, with capitals elaborately carved, each pillar
having cost thirteen thousand dollars, and the whole colonnade four
hundred and forty thousand! And this is the abode of poor little boys,
who will leave the gorgeous scene to labor in shops, and to live in
such apartments as are usually assigned to apprentices!

Now there is probably no community on earth where the number of
honorable men bears a larger proportion to the whole population than
in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a community of honest dealers and
faithful workmen. It is a matter of the highest interest to know how
it could happen that, in such a city, a bequest for such a purpose
should be so monstrously misappropriated.

The magnitude of the bequest was itself one cause of its
misappropriation, and the habits of the country were another. When we
set about founding an institution, our first proceeding is to erect a
vast and imposing edifice. When we pronounce the word College, a
vision of architecture is called up. It was natural, therefore, that
the people of Philadelphia, bewildered by the unprecedented amount of
the donation, should look to see the monotony of their city relieved
by something novel and stupendous in the way of a building; and there
appears to have been no one to remind them that the value of a school
depends wholly upon the teachers who conduct it, provided those
teachers are free to execute their plans. The immediate cause,
however, of the remarkable departure from the will in the construction
of the principal edifice was this: the custody of the Girard estate
fell into the hands of the politicians of the city, who regarded the
patronage appertaining thereunto as part of the "spoils" of victory at
the polls. As we live at a time when honest lovers of their country
frequently meditate on the means of rescuing important public
interests from the control of politicians, we shall not deem a little
of our space ill bestowed in recounting the history of the
preposterous edifice which Girard's money paid for, and which Girard's
will forbade.

On this subject we can avail ourselves of the testimony of the late
Mr. Duane. During his own lifetime he would not permit the following
narrative to be published, though he allowed it to be used as a source
of information. We can now give it in his own words:--

"In relation to the Girard College, _the whole community of
Philadelphia, and all political parties in it_, are
culpable. At the time of Mr. Girard's death there was a
mixture of Democrats and Federalists in our Councils: the
former preponderating in number. It is said that of all
steps the first is the most important, and that the first
proceeding has either a good or a bad influence in all that
follow. Now, what was the first step of the Democratic
Councils, after Mr. Girard's death, in relation to the
College? Were they satisfied with the plan of it as
described in his will? Did they scout the project of
building a palace for poor orphans? Were there no views to
offices and profits under the trust? As I was in the Select
Council at the time myself, I can partly answer these
questions. Instead of considering the plan of a College
given in the will a good one, the Democratic Councils
offered rewards to architects for other plans. And as to
offices, some members of Councils looked forward to them, to
say nothing of aspirants out of doors.

"I have ever been a Democrat in principle myself, but not so
much of a modern one in practice as to pretend that the
Democratic party are free from blame as to the College. If
they had been content with Mr. Girard's plain plan, would
they have called in architects for others?

"If they had been opposed to pillars and ornaments, why did
they invite scientific men to prepare pictures and plans
almost inevitably ornamental? If they had been so careful of
the trust funds, why did they stimulate the community, by
presenting to them architectural drawings, to prefer some
one of them to the simple plan of Girard himself? Besides,
after they had been removed from power, and saw preparations
made for a temple surrounded with costly columns, why did
they not invoke the Democratic Legislature to arrest that
proceeding? If they at any time whatever did make such an
appeal, I have no recollection of it. For party effect, much
may have been said and done on an election day, but I am not
aware that otherwise any resistance was made. No doubt there
were many good men in the Democratic party in 1831-2, and
there always have been many good men in it; but I doubt
whether those who made the most noise about the College on
election days were either the best Democrats or the best
men. The leaders, as they are called, were just as factious
as the leaders of their opponents. _The struggle of both for
the Girard Fund was mainly with a view to party influence._
How much at variance with Mr. Girard's wishes this course
was, may readily be shown.

"Immediately after his death in 1831, his will was published
in the newspapers, in almanacs, and in other shapes likely
to make its contents universally known. In it he said: 'In
relation to the organization of the College and its
appurtenances, I leave necessarily many details to the
mayor, aldermen, and citizens of Philadelphia, and their
successors; and I do so with the more confidence, as, from
the nature of my bequests and the benefit to result from
them, I trust that my fellow-citizens will observe and
evince especial care and anxiety in selecting members for
their City Councils and other agents,'

"What appeal could have been more emphatic than this? How
could the testator have more delicately, but clearly,
indicated his anxiety that his estate should be regarded as
a sacred provision for poor orphans, and not 'spoils' for
trading politicians?

"In this city, however, as almost everywhere else, to the
public discredit and injury, our social affairs had been
long mingled with the party questions of the Republic. At
each rise or fall of one or the other party, the 'spoils'
were greedily sought for. Even scavengers, unless of the
victorious party, were deemed unworthy to sweep our streets.
Mr. Girard's estate, therefore, very soon became an object
of desire with each party, in order to increase its strength
and favor its adherents. Instead of selecting for the
Councils the best men of the whole community, as Mr. Girard
evidently desired, the citizens of Philadelphia persisted in
preserving factious distinctions, and in October, 1832, the
Federal candidates prevailed.

"The triumphant party soon manifested a sense of their newly
acquired power. Without making any trial whatever of the
efficiency of the rules prepared by their predecessors for
the management of the Girard trusts, they at once abolished
them; and there were various other analogous evidences of

"Without asserting that party passions actuated them,
certain it is, that those who were now in power placed none
of Mr. Girard's intimate friends in any position where they
could aid in carrying out his views. No serious application
was ever made, to my knowledge, to one of them for
explanation on any point deemed doubtful. On the contrary,
objections made by myself and others to the erection of a
gorgeous temple, instead of a plain building for orphans,
were utterly disregarded.

"A majority of the citizens of Philadelphia as a political
class, and not a majority, as a social community, as
trustees of a fund for orphans, having thus got entire
control of the Girard estate, they turned their attention to
the plans of a College collected by their Democratic
predecessors. Neither of the parties appears to have
originally considered whether the plan described in the will
ought not to be followed, if that could be done practically.
The main desire of both so far seems to have been to build
in the vicinity of this city a more magnificent edifice than
any other in the Union.

"At this time, Mr. Nicholas Biddle was in the zenith of his
power. Hundreds of persons, who at the present day find
fault with him, were then his worshippers. He could command
any post which he was willing to fill. I do not pretend that
he sought any post, 'but it suited his inclinations to be at
the head of those who were intrusted by Councils with the
construction of the College. Over his colleagues in this, as
in another memorable instance, he seems to have had an
absolute control. The architect, also, whose plan had been
preferred, appears to have considered himself bound to adapt
it to Mr. Biddle's conceptions of true excellence. And you
now behold the result,--a splendid temple in an unfinished
state, instead of the unostentatious edifice contemplated by
Mr. Girard.

"Is all this surprising V Why should Democrats think it so?
It was by them that plans and pictures of architects were
called for. Why should their opponents be astonished? It was
by them that a _carte blanche_ seems to have been given to
Mr. Biddle in relation to the plans and the College. Is Mr.
Biddle culpable? Is there no excuse for one so strongly
tempted as he was, not merely to produce a splendid edifice,
but to connect his name, in some measure, with that of its
founder? While I am not an apologist for Mr. Biddle, I am
not willing to cast blame upon him alone for the waste of
time and money that we have witnessed. As a classical
scholar, a man of taste, and a traveller abroad, it was not
unnatural that he should desire to see near his native city
the most magnificent edifice in North America. Having all
the pride and sense of power which adulation is calculated
to produce, the plain house described in his will may have
appeared to him a profanation of all that is beautiful in
architecture, and an outrage at once against all the Grecian
orders. In short, the will of Mr. Girard to the contrary,
Mr. Biddle, like another distinguished person, may have
said, 'I take the responsibility.'"

"It is true that this responsibility was a serious one, but
less so to Mr. Biddle than to the City Councils. They were
the trustees, and ought to have considered Mr. Girard's will
as law to them. They should have counted the cost of
departing from it. They ought to have reflected that by
departing from it many orphans would be excluded from the
benefits of education. They should have considered whether a
Grecian temple would be such a place as poor orphans
destined to labor ought to be reared in. The Councils of
1832-3, therefore, have no apology to offer. But Mr. Biddle
may well say to all our parties: 'You are all more in fault
than I am. You Democrats gave rewards for plans. You
Federalists submitted those plans to me, and I pointed out
the one I thought the best, making improvements upon it. A
very few persons, Mr. Ronaldson, Mr. Duane, and one or two
others alone objected; while the majority of my
fellow-citizens, the Councils, and the Legislature, all
looked on at what I was doing, and were silent.'"

While erecting an edifice the most opposite to Girard's intentions
that could be contrived by man, the architect was permitted to follow
the directions of the will in minor particulars, that rendered the
building as inconvenient as it was magnificent. The vaulted ceilings
of those spacious rooms reverberated to such a degree, that not a
class could say its lesson in them till they were hung with cotton
cloth. The massive walls exuded dampness continually. The rooms of the
uppermost story, lighted only from above, were so hot in the summer as
to be useless; and the lower rooms were so cold in winter as to
endanger the health of the inmates. It has required ingenuity and
expense to render the main building habitable; but even now the
visitor cannot but smile as he compares the splendor of the
architecture with the homely benevolence of its purpose. The Parthenon
was a suitable dwelling-place for a marble goddess, but the mothers of
Athens would have shuddered at the thought of consigning their little
boys to dwell in its chilling grandeurs.

We can scarcely overstate the bad effect of this first mistake. It has
constantly tended to obscure Mr. Girard's real purpose, which was to
afford a plain, comfortable home, and a plain, substantial education
to poor orphans, destined to gain their livelihood by labor. Always
there have been two parties in the Board of Directors: one favoring a
scheme which would make the College a _college_; the other striving to
keep it down to the modest level of the founder's intentions. That
huge and dazzling edifice seems always to have been exerting a
powerful influence against the stricter constructionists of the will.
It is only within the last two years that this silent but ponderous
argument has been partially overcome by the resolute good-sense of a
majority of the Directors. Not the least evil consequent upon the
erection of this building was, that the delay in opening the College
caused the resignation of its first President, Alexander D. Bache, a
gentleman who had it in him to organize the institution aright, and
give it a fair start. It is a curious fact, that the extensive report
by this gentleman of his year's observation of the orphan schools of
Europe has not been of any practical use in the organization of Girard
College. Either the Directors have not consulted it, or they have
found nothing in it available for their purpose.

The first class of one hundred pupils was admitted to the College on
the first day of the year 1848. The number of inmates is now six
hundred. The estate will probably enable the Directors to admit at
length as many as fifteen hundred. It will be seen, therefore, that
Girard College, merely from the number of its pupils, is an
institution of great importance.

Sixteen years have gone by since the College was opened, but it cannot
yet be said that the policy of the Directors is fixed. These
Directors, appointed by the City Councils, are eighteen in number, of
whom six go out of office every year, while the Councils themselves
are annually elected. Hence the difficulty of settling upon a plan,
and the greater difficulty of adhering to one. Sometimes a majority
has favored the introduction of Latin or Greek; again, the
manual-labor system has had advocates; some have desired a liberal
scale of living for the pupils; others have thought it best to give
them Spartan fare. Four times the President has been changed, and
there have been two periods of considerable length when there was no
President. There have been dissensions without and trouble within. As
many as forty-four boys have run away in a single year. Meanwhile, the
Annual Reports of the Directors have usually been so vague and so
reticent, that the public was left utterly in the dark as to the
condition of the institution. Letters from masters to whom pupils have
been apprenticed were published in the Reports, but only the letters
which had nothing but good to say of the apprentices. Large numbers of
the boys, it is true, have done and are doing credit to the College;
but the public have no means of judging whether, upon the whole, the
training of the College has been successful.

Nevertheless, we believe we may say with truth that invaluable
experience has been gained, and genuine progress has been made. To
maintain and educate six hundred boys, even if those boys had
enlightened parents to aid in the work, is a task which would exhaust
the wisdom and the tact of the greatest educator that ever lived. But
these boys are all fatherless, and many of them motherless; the
mothers of many are ignorant and unwise, of some are even vicious and
dissolute. A large number of the boys are of very inferior endowments,
have acquired bad habits, have inherited evil tendencies. It would be
hard to overstate the difficulty of the work which the will of Girard
has devolved upon the Directors and teachers of Girard College.
Mistakes have been made, but perhaps they have not been more serious
or more numerous than we ought to expect in the forming of an
institution absolutely unique, and composed of material the most

There are indications, too, that the period of experiment draws to an
end, and that the final plan of the College, on the basis of
common-sense, is about to be settled. Mr. Richard Vaux, the present
head of the Board of Directors, writes Reports in a style most
eccentric, and not always intelligible to remote readers; but it is
evident that his heart is in the work, and that he belongs to the
party who desire the College to be the useful, unambitious institution
that Girard wished it to be. His Reports are not written with
rose-water. They say _something_. They confess some failures, as well
as vaunt some successes. We would earnestly advise the Directors never
to shrink from taking the public into their confidence. The public is
wiser and better than any man or any board. A plain statement every
year of the real condition of the College, the real difficulties in
the way of its organization, would have been far better than the
carefully uttered nothings of which the Annual Reports have generally
consisted. It was to Philadelphia that Girard left his estate. The
honor of Philadelphia is involved in its faithful administration.
Philadelphia has a right to know how it is administered.

The President of the College is Major Richard Somers Smith, a graduate
of West Point, where he was afterwards a Professor. He has served with
distinction in the Army of the Potomac, in which he commanded a
brigade. To learn how to be an efficient President of Girard College
is itself a labor of years; and Major Smith is only in the second year
of his incumbency. The highest hopes are indulged, however, that under
his energetic rule, the College will become all that the public ought
to expect. He seems to have perceived at once the weak point of the

"I find in the College," he says in one of his monthly reports,

"a certain degree of impatience of study, an inertness, a
dragging along, an infection of 'young-Americanism,' a
disposition to flounder along through duties half done,
hurrying to reach--what is never attained--an 'easy
success'; and I observe that this state of things is
confined to the higher departments of study. In the
elementary departments there is life; but as soon as the boy
has acquired the rudiments of his English or common-school
education, he begins to chafe, and to feel that it Is time
for him to _go out_, and to make haste to 'finish (!) his
studies,'--which of course he does without much heart."

And again:---

"The 'poor white male orphan,' dwelling for eight or ten
years in comfort almost amounting to luxury, waited upon by
servants and machinery in nearly all his domestic
requirements, unused to labor, or laboring only
occasionally, with some reward in view in the form of extra
privileges, finds it hard to descend from his fancied
elevation to the lot of a simple apprentice; and his
disappointment is not soothed by the discovery that with all
his learning he has not learned wherewithal to give ready
satisfaction to his master."

It has been difficult, also, to induce the large manufacturers to take
apprentices; they are now accustomed to place boys at once upon the
footing of men, paying them such wages as they are worth. Men who
employ forty boys will not generally undertake the responsibilities
involved in receiving them as bound apprentices for a term of years.

To remedy all these evils, Major Smith proposes to add to the College
a Manual Labor Department, in which the elder boys shall acquire the
rudiments of the arts and trades to which they are destined. This will
alleviate the tedium of the College routine, assist the physical
development of the boys, and send them forth prepared to render more
desirable help to their employers. The present Board of Directors
favor the scheme.

In one particular the College has fulfilled the wishes of its founder.
He said in his will,

"I desire that by every proper means, a pure attachment to
our republican institutions, and to the sacred rights of
conscience, as guaranteed by our happy Constitution, shall
be formed and fostered in the minds of the scholars."

Three fourths of the whole number of young men, out of their time, who
were apprenticed from Girard College, have joined the Union army. We
must confess, also, that a considerable number of its apprentices,
_not_ out of their time, have run away for the same purpose. With
regard to the exclusion of ecclesiastics, it is agreed on all hands
that no evil has resulted from that singular injunction of the will.
On the contrary, it has served to call particular attention to the
religious instruction of the pupils. The only effect of the clause is,
that the morning prayers and the Sunday services are conducted by
gentlemen who have not undergone the ceremony of ordination.

The income of the Girard estate is now about two hundred thousand
dollars a year, and it is increasing. Supposing that only one half of
this revenue is appropriated to the College, it is still, we believe,
the largest endowment in the country for an educational purpose. The
means of the College are therefore ample. To make those means
effective in the highest degree, some mode must be devised by which
the politics of the city shall cease to influence the choice of
Directors. In other words, "Girard College must be taken out of
politics." The Board of Directors should, perhaps, be a more permanent
body than it now is. At the earliest possible moment a scheme of
instruction should be agreed upon, which should remain unchanged, in
its leading features, long enough for it to be judged by its results.
The President must be clothed with ample powers, and held responsible,
not for methods, but results. He must be allowed, at least, to
nominate all his assistants, and to recommend the removal of any for
reasons given; and both his nominations and his recommendations of
removal, so long as the Directors desire to retain his services,
should be ratified by them. He must be made to feel strong in his
place; otherwise, he will be tempted to waste his strength upon the
management of committees, and general whitewashing. Human nature is so
constituted, that a gentleman with a large family will not willingly
give up an income of three thousand dollars a year, with lodging in a
marble palace. If he is a strong man and an honorable, he will do it,
rather than fill a post the duties of which an ignorant or officious
committee prevent his discharging. If he is a weak or dishonest man,
he will cringe to that committee, and expend all his ingenuity in
making the College show well on public days. It might even be well, in
order to strengthen the President, to give him the right of appeal to
the Mayor and Councils, in case of an irreconcilable difference of
opinion between him and the Directors. Everything depends upon the
President. Given the right President, with power enough and time
enough, and the success of the College is assured. Given a bad
President, or a good one hampered by committees, or too dependent upon
a board, and the College will be the reproach of Philadelphia.

It is a question with political economists, whether, upon the whole,
such endowments as this are a good or an evil to a community. There is
now a considerable party in England, among whom are several clergymen
of the Established Church, who think it would be better for England if
every endowment were swept away, and thus to each succeeding
generation were restored the privilege of supporting all its poor,
caring for all its sick, and educating all its young. Dr. Chalmers
appears to have been inclined to an opinion like this. It will be
long, however, before this question becomes vital in America. Girard
College must continue for generations to weigh heavily on
Philadelphia, or to lighten its burdens. The conduct of those who have
charge of it in its infancy will go far to determine whether it shall
be an argument for or against the utility of endowments. Meanwhile, we
advise gentlemen who have millions to leave behind them not to impose
difficult conditions upon the future, which the future may be unable
or unwilling to fulfil; but either to bestow their wealth for some
object that can be immediately and easily accomplished, or else
imitate the conduct of that respectable and public-spirited man who
left five pounds towards the discharge of his country's debt.

[Footnote 1: The facts which follow I received from the lips and from
the papers of this revered man, now no more.--J.P.]

[Footnote 2: Mr. Duane.]


A few years ago it seemed probable that the people of the United
States would be supplied with news chiefly through the agency of
newspapers published in the city of New York. We were threatened with
a paper despotism similar to that formerly exercised in Great Britain
by the London Times; since, when one city furnishes a country with
newspapers, one newspaper is sure, at length, to gain such a
predominance over others that its proprietor, if he is equal to his
position, wields a power greater than ought to be intrusted to an
individual. There have been periods when the director of the London
Times appeared to be as truly the monarch of Great Britain as Henry
VIII. once was, or as William Pitt during the Seven Years' War. It
was, we believe, the opinion of the late Mr. Cobden, which Mr.
Kinglake confirms, that the editor of the London Times could have
prevented the Crimean War. Certainly he conducted it. Demosthenes did
not more truly direct the resources of Athens against Philip, than did
this invisible and anonymous being those of the British Empire against
Russia. The first John Walter, who was to journalism what James Watt
was to the steam-engine, had given this man daily access to the ear of
England; and to that ear he addressed, not the effusions of his own
mind, but the whole purchasable eloquence of his country. He had
relays of Demosthenes. The man controlling such a press, and fit to
control it, can bring the available and practised intellect of his
country to bear upon the passions of his countrymen; for it is a fact,
that nearly the whole literary talent of a nation is at the command of
any honorable man who has money enough, with tact enough. The editor
who expends fifty guineas a day in the purchase of three short essays
can have them written by the men who can do them best. What a power is
this, to say three things every morning to a whole nation,--to say
them with all the force which genius, knowledge, and practice united
can give,--and to say them without audible contradiction! Fortunate
for England is it that this power is no longer concentrated in a
single man, and that the mighty influence once wielded by an
individual will henceforth be exerted by a profession.

We in America have escaped all danger of ever falling under the
dominion of a paper despot. There will never be a Times in America.
Twenty years ago the New York news and the New York newspaper reached
distant cities at the same moment; but since the introduction of the
telegraph, the news outstrips the newspaper, and is given to the
public by the local press. It is this fact which forever limits the
circulation and national importance of the New York press. The New
York papers reach a village in Vermont late in the afternoon,--six,
eight, ten hours after a carrier has distributed the Springfield
Republican; and nine people in ten will be content with the brief
telegrams of the local centre. At Chicago, the New York paper is forty
hours behind the news; at San Francisco, thirty days; in Oregon,
forty. Before California had been reached by the telegraph, the New
York newspapers, on the arrival of a steamer, were sought with an
avidity of which the most ludicrous accounts have been given. If the
news was important and the supply of papers inadequate, nothing was
more common than for a lucky newsboy to dispose of his last sheets at
five times their usual price. All this has changed. A spirited local
press has anticipated the substance of the news, and most people wait
tranquilly for the same local press to spread before them the
particulars when the tardy mail arrives. Even the weekly and
semi-weekly editions issued by the New York daily press have probably
reached their maximum of importance; since the local daily press also
publishes weekly and semi-weekly papers, many of which are of high
excellence and are always improving, and have the additional
attraction of full local intelligence. If some bold Yankee should
invent a method by which a bundle of newspapers could be shot from New
York to Chicago in half an hour, it would certainly enhance the
importance of the New York papers, and diminish that of the rapidly
expanding and able press of Chicago. Such an invention is possible;
nay, we think it a probability. But even in that case, the local news,
and, above all, the local advertising, would still remain as the basis
of a great, lucrative, honorable, and very attractive business.

We believe, however, that if the local press were annihilated, and
this whole nation lived dependent upon the press of a single city,
still we should be safe from a paper despotism; because the power of
the editorial lessens as the intelligence of the people in-creases.
The prestige of the editorial is gone. Just as there is a party in
England who propose the omission of the sermon from the church service
as something no longer needed by the people, so there are journalists
who think the time is at hand for the abolition of editorials, and the
concentration of the whole force of journalism upon presenting to the
public the history and picture of the day. The time for this has not
come, and may never come; but our journalists already know that
editorials neither make nor mar a daily paper, that they do not much
influence the public mind, nor change many votes, and that the power
and success of a newspaper depend finally upon its success in getting
and its skill in exhibiting the news. The word _newspaper_ is the
exact and complete description of the thing which the true journalist
aims to produce. The news is his work; editorials are his play. The
news is the point of rivalry; it is that for which nineteen twentieths
of the people buy newspapers; it is that which constitutes the power
and value of the daily press; it is that which determines the rank of
every newspaper in every free country.

No editor, therefore, will ever reign over the United States, and the
newspapers of no one city will attain universal currency. Hence the
importance of journalism in the United States. By the time a town has
ten thousand inhabitants, it usually has a daily paper, and in most
large cities there is a daily paper for every twenty thousand people.
In many of the Western cities there are daily newspapers conducted
with great energy, and on a scale of expenditure which enables them to
approximate real excellence. Many of our readers will live to see the
day when there will be in Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati,
and San Francisco daily newspapers more complete, better executed, and
produced at greater expense than any newspaper now existing in the
United States. This is a great deal to say, in view of the fact, that,
during the late war, one of the New York papers expended in war
correspondence alone two thousand dollars a week. Nevertheless, we
believe it. There will never be _two_ newspapers in any one city that
can sustain such an expenditure, but in fifteen years from, to-day
there will be one, we think, in each of our great cities, and besides
that one there will be four or five struggling to supplant it, as well
as one or two having humbler aims and content with a lowlier position.

It is plain that journalism will henceforth and forever be an
important and crowded profession in the United States. The daily
newspaper is one of those things which are rooted in the necessities
of modern civilization. The steam-engine is not more essential to us.
The newspaper is that which connects each individual with the general
life of mankind, and makes him part and parcel of the whole; so that
we can almost say, that those who neither read newspapers nor converse
with people who do read them are not members of the human
_family_;--though, like the negroes of Guinea, they may become such in
time. They are beyond the pale; they have no hold of the electric
chain, and therefore do not receive the shock.

There are two mornings of the year on which newspapers have not
hitherto been published in the city of New York,--the 5th of July, and
the 2d of January. A shadow appears to rest on the world during those
days, as when there is an eclipse of the sun. We are separated from
our brethren, cut off, lost, alone; vague apprehensions of evil creep
over the mind. We feel, in some degree, as husbands feel who, far from
wife and children, say to themselves, shuddering, "What things _may_
have happened, and I not know it!" Nothing quite dispels the gloom
until the Evening Post--how eagerly seized--assures us that nothing
very particular has happened since our last. It is amusing to notice
how universal is the habit of reading a morning paper. Hundreds of
vehicles and vessels convey the business men of New York to that
extremity of Manhattan Island-which may be regarded as the
counting-house of the Western Continent. It is not uncommon for every
individual in a cabin two hundred feet long to be sitting absorbed in
his paper, like boys conning their lessons on their way to school.
Still more striking is it to observe the torrent of workingmen pouring
down town, many of them reading as they go, and most of them provided
with a newspaper for dinner-time, not less as a matter of course than
the tin kettle which contains the material portion of the repast.
Notice, too, the long line of hackney-coaches on a stand, nearly every
driver sitting on his box reading his paper. Many of our Boston
friends have landed in New York at five o'clock in the morning, and
ridden up town in the street cars, filled, at that hour, with women
and boys, folding newspapers and throwing off bundles of them from
time to time, which are caught by other boys and women in waiting.
Carriers are flitting in every direction, and the town is alive with
the great business of getting two hundred thousand papers distributed
before breakfast.

All this is new, but it is also permanent. Having once had daily
papers, we can never again do without them; so perfectly does this
great invention accord with the genius of modern life. The art of
journalism is doubtless destined to continuous improvement for a long
time to come; the newspapers of the future will be more convenient,
and better in every way, than those of the present day; but the art
remains forever an indispensable auxiliary to civilization. And this
is so, not by virtue of editorial essays, but because journalism
brings the events of the time to bear upon the instruction of the
time. An editorial essayist is a man addressing men; but the skilled
and faithful journalist, recording with exactness and power the thing
that has come to pass, is Providence addressing men. The thing that
has actually happened,--to know that is the beginning of wisdom. All
else is theory and conjecture, which may be right and may be wrong.

While it is true that the daily press of the city of New York is
limited by the telegraph, it has nevertheless a very great, an
unapproached, national importance. We do not consider it certain that
New York is always to remain the chief city of the United States; but
it holds that rank now, and must for many years. Besides being the
source of a great part of our news, it was the first city that
afforded scope for papers conducted at the incredible expense which
modern appliances necessitate. Consequently its daily papers reach the
controlling minds of the country. They are found in all reading-rooms,
exchanges, bank parlors, insurance-offices, counting-rooms, hotels,
and wherever else the ruling men of the country congregate. But, above
all, they are, and must be, in all newspaper offices, subject to the
scissors. This is the chief source of their importance. Not merely
that in this way their contents are communicated to the whole people.
The grand reason why the New York papers have national importance is,
that it is chiefly through them that the art of journalism in the
United States is to be perfected. They set daily copies for all
editors to follow. The expenditure necessary for the carrying on of a
complete daily newspaper is so immense, that the art can only be
improved in the largest cities. New York is first in the field; it has
the start of a quarter of a century or more; and it therefore devolves
upon the journalists of that city to teach the journalists of the
United States their vocation. It is this fact which invests the press
of New York with such importance, and makes it so well worth

It is impossible any longer to deny that the chief newspaper of that
busy city is the New York Herald. No matter how much we may regret
this fact, or be ashamed of it, no journalist can deny it. We do not
attach much importance to the fact that Abraham Lincoln, the late
lamented President of the United States, thought it worth while,
during the dark days of the summer of 1864, to buy its support at the
price of the offer of the French mission. He was mistaken in supposing
that this paper had any considerable power to change votes; which was
shown by the result of the Presidential election in the city of New
York, where General McClellan had the great majority of thirty-seven
thousand. Influence over opinion no paper can have which has itself no
opinion, and cares for none. It is not as a vehicle of opinion that
the Herald has importance, but solely as a vehicle of news. It is for
its excellence, real or supposed, in this particular, that eighty
thousand people buy it every morning. Mr. Lincoln committed, as we
cannot help thinking, a most egregious error and fault in his purchase
of the editor of this paper, though he is in some degree excused by
the fact that several leading Republicans, who were in a position to
know better, advised or sanctioned the bargain, and leading
journalists agreed not to censure it. Mr. Lincoln could not be
expected to draw the distinction, between the journalist and the
writer of editorials. He perceived the strength of this
carrier-pigeon's pinions, but did not note the trivial character of
the message tied to its leg. Thirty or forty war correspondents in the
field, a circulation larger than any of its rivals, an advertising
patronage equalled only by that of the London Times, the popularity of
the paper in the army, the frequent utility of its maps and other
elucidations,--these things imposed upon his mind; and his wife could
tell him from personal observation, that the proprietor of this paper
lived in a style of the most profuse magnificence,--maintaining costly
establishments in town and country, horses, and yachts, to say nothing
of that most expensive appendage to a reigning house, an heir

Our friends in the English press tell us, that the Herald was one of
the principal obstacles in their attempts to guide English opinions
aright during the late struggle. Young men in the press would point to
its editorials and say:

"This is the principal newspaper in the Northern States;
this is the Times of America; can a people be other than
contemptible who prefer such a newspaper as this to journals
so respectable and so excellent as the Times and Tribune,
published in the same city?" "As to (American) journalism,"

says Professor Goldwin Smith, "the New York Herald is always kept
before our eyes." That is to say, the editorial articles in the
Herald; not that variety and fulness of intelligence which often
compelled men who hated it most to get up at the dawn of day to buy
it. A paper which can detach two or three men, after a battle, to
collect the names of the killed and wounded, with orders to do only
that, cannot lack purchasers in war time. Napoleon assures us that the
whole art of war consists in having the greatest force at the point of
contact. This rule applies to the art of journalism; the editor of the
Herald knew it, and had the means to put it in practice.

Even here, at home, we find two opinions as to the cause of the
Herald's vast success as a business. One of these opinions is
this,--the Herald takes the lead because it is such a bad paper. The
other opinion is,--the Herald takes the lead because it is such a good
paper. It is highly important to know which of these two opinions is
correct; or, in other words, whether it is the Herald's excellences as
a newspaper, or its crimes as a public teacher, which give it such
general currency. Such success as this paper has obtained is a most
influential fact upon the journalism of the whole country, as any one
can see who looks over a file of our most flourishing daily papers. It
is evident that our daily press is rapidly becoming Heraldized; and it
is well known that the tendency of imitation is to reproduce all of
the copy excepting alone that which made it worth copying. It is
honorable to the American press that this rule has been reversed in
the present instance. Some of the more obvious good points of the
Herald have become universal, while as yet no creature has been found
capable of copying the worst of its errors.

If there are ten bakers in a town, the one that gives the best loaf
for sixpence is sure, at last, to sell most bread. A man may puff up
his loaves to a great size, by chemical agents, and so deceive the
public for a time; another may catch the crowd for a time by the
splendor of his gilt sheaf, the magnitude of his signs, and the
bluster of his advertising; and the intrinsically best baker may be
kept down, for a time, by want of tact, or capital, or some personal
defect. But let the competition last thirty years! The gilt sheaf
fades, the cavities in the big loaf are observed; but the ugly little
man round the corner comes steadily into favor, and all the town, at
length, is noisy in the morning with the rattle of his carts. The
particular caterer for our morning repast, now under consideration,
has achieved a success of this kind, against every possible obstacle,
and under every possible disadvantage. He had no friends at the start,
he has made none since, and he has none now. He has had the support of
no party or sect. On the contrary, he has won his object in spite of
the active opposition of almost every organized body in the country,
and the fixed disapproval of every public-spirited human being who has
lived in the United States since he began his career. What are we to
say of this? Are we to say that the people of the United States are
competent to judge of bread, but not of newspapers? Are we to say that
the people of the United States prefer evil to good? We cannot assent
to such propositions.

Let us go back to the beginning, and see how this man made his way to
his present unique position. We owe his presence in this country, it
seems, to Benjamin Franklin; and he first smelt printer's ink in
Boston, near the spot where young Ben Franklin blackened his fingers
with it a hundred years before. Born and reared on the northeastern
coast of Scotland, in a Roman Catholic family of French origin, he has
a French intellect and Scotch habits. Frenchmen residing among us can
seldom understand why this man should be odious, so French is he. A
French naval officer was once remonstrated with for having invited him
to a ball given on board a ship of war in New York harbor. "Why, what
has he done?" inquired the officer. "Has he committed murder? Has he
robbed, forged, or run away with somebody's wife?" "No." "Why then
should we not invite him?" "He is the editor of the New York Herald."
"Ah!" exclaimed the Frenchman,--"the Herald! it is a delightful
paper,--it reminds me of my gay Paris." This, however, was thirty
years ago, when Bennett was almost as French as Voltaire. He was a
Frenchman also in this: though discarding, in his youth, the doctrines
of his Church, and laughing them to scorn in early manhood, he still
maintained a kind of connection with the Catholic religion. The whole
of his power as a writer consists in his detection of the evil in
things that are good, and of the falsehood in things that are true,
and of the ridiculous in things that are important. He began with the
Roman Catholic Church,--"the holy Roman Catholic Church," as he once
styled it,--adding in a parenthesis, "all of us Catholics are devilish
holy." Another French indication is, that his early tastes were
romantic literature _and_ political economy,--a conjunction very
common in France from the days of the "philosophers" to the present
time. During our times of financial collapse, we have noticed, among
the nonsense which he daily poured forth, some gleams of a superior
understanding of the fundamental laws of finance. He appears to have
understood 1837 and 1857 better than most of his contemporaries.

In a Catholic seminary he acquired the rudiments of knowledge, and
advanced so far as to read Virgil. He also picked up a little French
and Spanish in early life. The real instructors of his mind were
Napoleon, Byron, and Scott. It was their fame, however, as much as
their works, that attracted and dazzled him. It is a strange thing,
but true, that one of the strongest desires of one of the least
reputable of living men was, and is, to be admired and held in lasting
honor by his fellow-men. Nor has he now the least doubt that he
deserves their admiration, and will have it. In 1817, an edition of
Franklin's Autobiography was issued in Scotland. It was his perusal of
that little book that first directed his thoughts toward America, and
which finally decided him to try his fortune in the New World. In May,
1819, being then about twenty years of age, he landed at Halifax, with
less than five pounds in his purse, without a friend on the Western
Continent, and knowing no vocation except that of book-keeper.

Between his landing at Halifax and the appearance of the first number
of the Herald sixteen years elapsed; during most of which he was a
very poor, laborious, under-valued, roving writer for the daily press.
At Halifax, he gave lessons in book-keeping for a few weeks, with
little profit, then made his way along the coast to Portland, whence a
schooner conveyed him to Boston. He was then, it appears, a soft,
romantic youth, alive to the historic associations of the place, and
susceptible to the varied, enchanting loveliness of the scenes
adjacent, on land and sea. He even expressed his feelings in verse, in
the Childe Harold manner,--verse which does really show a poetic habit
of feeling, with an occasional happiness of expression. At Boston he
experienced the last extremity of want. Friendless and alone he
wandered about the streets, seeking work and finding none; until, his
small store of money being all expended, he passed two whole days
without food, and was then only relieved by finding a shilling on the
Common. He obtained at length the place of salesman in a bookstore,
from which he was soon transferred to the printing-house connected
therewith, where he performed the duties of proof-reader. And here it
was that he received his first lesson in the art of catering for the
public mind. The firm in whose employment he was were more ambitious
of glory than covetous of profit, and consequently published many
works that were in advance of the general taste. Bankruptcy was their
reward. The youth noted another circumstance at Boston. The newspaper
most decried was Buckingham's Galaxy; but it was also the most eagerly
sought and the most extensively sold. Buckingham habitually violated
the traditional and established decorums of the press; he was
familiar, chatty, saucy, anecdotical, and sadly wanting in respect for
the respectabilities of the most respectable town in the universe.
Every one said that he was a very bad man, _but_ every one was
exceedingly curious every Saturday to see "what the fellow had to say
this week." If the youth could have obtained a sight of a file of
James Franklin's Courant, of 1722, in which the youthful Benjamin
first addressed the public, he would have seen a still more striking
example of a journal generally denounced and universally read.

Two years in Boston. Then he went to New York, where he soon met the
publisher of a Charleston paper, who engaged him as translator from
the Spanish, and general assistant. During the year spent by him at
Charleston he increased his knowledge of the journalist's art. The
editor of the paper with which he was connected kept a sail-boat, in
which he was accustomed to meet arriving vessels many miles from the
coast, and bring in his files of newspapers a day in advance of his
rivals. The young assistant remembered this, and turned it to account
in after years. At Charleston he was confronted, too, with the late
peculiar institution, and saw much to approve in it, nothing to
condemn. From that day to this he has been but in one thing
consistent,--contempt for the negro and for all white men interested
in his welfare, approving himself in this a thorough Celt. If, for one
brief period, he forced himself, for personal reasons, to veil this
feeling, the feeling remained rooted within him, and soon resumed its
wonted expression. He liked the South, and the people of the South,
and had a true Celtic sympathy with their aristocratic pretensions.
The salary of an assistant editor at that time was something between
the wages of a compositor and those of an office-boy. Seven dollars a
week would have been considered rather liberal pay; ten, munificent;
fifteen, lavish.

Returning to New York, he endeavored to find more lucrative
employment, and advertised his intention to open, near the site of the
present Herald office, a "Permanent Commercial School," in which all
the usual branches were to be taught "in the inductive method." His
list of subjects was extensive,--"reading, elocution, penmanship, and
arithmetic; algebra, astronomy, history, and geography; moral
philosophy, commercial law, and political economy; English grammar,
and composition; and also, if required, the French and Spanish
languages, by natives of _those countries_." Application was to be
made to "J.G.B., 148 Fulton Street." Applications, however, were not
made in sufficient number, and the school, we believe, never came into
existence. Next, he tried a course of lectures upon Political Economy,
at the old Dutch Church in Ann Street, then not far from the centre of
population. The public did not care to hear the young gentleman upon
that abstruse subject, and the pecuniary result of the enterprise was
not encouraging. He had no resource but the ill-paid, unhonored
drudgery of the press.

For the next few years he was a paragraphist, reporter, scissorer, and
man-of-all-work for the New York papers, daily and weekly, earning but
the merest subsistence. He wrote then in very much the same style as
when he afterwards amused and shocked the town in the infant Herald;
only he was under restraint, being a subordinate, and was seldom
allowed to violate decorum. In point of industry, sustained and
indefatigable industry, he had no equal, and has never since had but
one. One thing is to be specially noted as one of the chief and
indispensable causes of his success. _He had no vices_. He never drank
to excess, nor gormandized, nor gambled, nor even smoked, nor in any
other way wasted the vitality needed for a long and tough grapple with
adverse fortune. What he once wrote of himself in the early Herald was
strictly true:

"I eat and drink to live,--not live to eat and drink. Social
glasses of wine are my aversion; public dinners are my
abomination; all species of gormandizing, my utter scorn and
contempt. When I am hungry, I eat; when thirsty, drink. Wine
or viands taken for society, or to stimulate conversation,
tend only to dissipation, indolence, poverty, contempt, and

This was an immense advantage, which he had in common with several of
the most mischievous men of modern times,--Calhoun, Charles XII.,
George III., and others. Correct bodily habits are of themselves such
a source of power, that the man who has them will be extremely likely
to gain the day over competitors of ten times his general worth who
have them not. Dr. Franklin used to say, that if Jack Wilkes had been
as exemplary in this particular as George III., he would have turned
the king out of his dominions. In several of the higher kinds of
labor, such as law, physic, journalism, authorship, art, when the
competition is close and keen, and many able men are near the summit,
the question, who shall finally stand upon it, often resolves itself
into one of physical endurance. This man Bennett would have lived and
died a hireling scribe, if he had had even one of the common vices.
Everything was against his rising, except alone an enormous capacity
for labor, sustained by strictly correct habits.

He lived much with politicians during these years of laborious
poverty. Gravitating always towards the winning side, he did much to
bring into power the worst set of politicians we ever had,--those who
"availed" themselves of the popularity of Andrew Jackson, and who were
afterwards used by him for the purpose of electing Martin Van Buren.
He became perfectly familiar with all that was petty and mean in the
political strifes of the day, but without ever suspecting that there
was anything in politics not petty and mean. He had no convictions of
his own, and therefore not the least belief that any politician had.
If the people were in earnest about the affairs of their country,
(_their_ country, not his,) it was because the people were not behind
the scenes, were dupes of their party leaders, were a parcel of fools.
In short, he acquired his insight into political craft in the school
of Tammany Hall and the Kitchen Cabinet. His value was not altogether
unappreciated by the politicians. He was one of those whom they use
and flatter during the heat of the contest, and forget in the
distribution of the spoils of victory.

He made his first considerable hit as a journalist in the spring of
1828, when he filled the place of Washington correspondent to the New
York Enquirer. In the Congressional Library, one day, he found an
edition of Horace Walpole's Letters, which amused him very much. "Why
not," said he to himself, "try, a few letters on a similar plan from
this city, to be published in New York?" The letters appeared. Written
in a lively manner, full of personal allusions, and describing
individuals respecting whom the public are always curious,--free also
from offensive personalities,--the letters attracted much notice
and were generally copied in the press. It is said that some of the
ladies whose charms were described in those letters were indebted to
them for husbands. Personalities of this kind were a novelty then,
and mere novelty goes a great way in journalism. At this period
he produced almost every kind of composition known to periodical
literature,--paragraphs and leading articles, poetry and love-stories,
reports of trials, debates, balls, and police cases; his earnings
ranging from five dollars a week to ten or twelve. If there had been
then in New York one newspaper publisher who understood his business,
the immense possible value of this man as a journalist would have been
perceived, and he would have been secured, rewarded, and kept under
some restraint. But there was no such man. There were three or four
forcible writers for the press, but not one journalist.

During the great days of "The Courier and Inquirer," from 1829 to
1832, when it was incomparably the best newspaper on the continent,
James Gordon Bennett was its most efficient hand. It lost him in 1832,
when the paper abandoned General Jackson and took up Nicholas Biddle;
and in losing him lost its chance of retaining the supremacy among
American newspapers to this day. We can truly say, that at that time
journalism, as a thing by itself and for itself, had no existence in
the United States. Newspapers were mere appendages of party; and the
darling object of each journal was to be recognized as the organ of
the party it supported. As to the public, the great public, hungry for
interesting news, no one thought of it. Forty years ago, in the city
of New York, a copy of a newspaper could not be bought for money. If
any one wished to see a newspaper, he had either to go to the office
and subscribe, or repair to a bar-room and buy a glass of something to
drink, or bribe a carrier to rob one of his customers. The circulation
of the Courier and Inquirer was considered something marvellous when
it printed thirty-five hundred copies a day, and its business was
thought immense when its daily advertising averaged fifty-five
dollars. It is not very unusual for a newspaper now to receive for
advertising, in one day, six hundred times that sum. Bennett, in the
course of time, had a chance been given to him, would have made the
Courier and Inquirer powerful enough to cast off all party ties; and
this he would have done merely by improving it as a vehicle of news.
But he was kept down upon one of those ridiculous, tantalizing,
corrupting salaries, which are a little more than a single man needs,
but not enough for him to marry upon. This salary was increased by the
proprietors giving him a small share in the small profits of the
printing-office; so that, after fourteen years of hard labor and
Scotch economy, he found himself, on leaving the great paper, a
capitalist to the extent of a few hundred dollars. The chief editor of
the paper which he now abandoned sometimes lost as much in a single
evening at the card-table. It probably never occurred to him that this
poor, ill-favored Scotchman was destined to destroy his paper and all
the class of papers to which it belonged. Any one who now examines a
file of the Courier and Inquirer of that time, and knows its interior
circumstances, will see plainly enough that the possession of this man
was the vital element in its prosperity. He alone knew the rudiments
of his trade. He alone had the physical stamina, the indefatigable
industry, the sleepless vigilance, the dexterity, tact, and audacity,
needful for keeping up a daily newspaper in the face of keen

Unweaned yet from the politicians, he at once started a cheap party
paper, "The Globe," devoted to Jackson and Van Buren. The party,
however, did not rally to its support, and it had to contend with the
opposition of party papers already existing, upon whose manor it was
poaching. The Globe expired after an existence of thirty days. Its
proprietor, still untaught by such long experience, invested the wreck
of his capital in a Philadelphia Jackson paper, and struggled
desperately to gain for it a footing in the party. He said to Mr. Van
Buren and to other leaders, Help me to a loan of twenty-five hundred
dollars for two years, and I can establish my Pennsylvanian on a
self-supporting basis. The application was politely refused, and he
was compelled to give up the struggle. The truth is, he was not
implicitly trusted by the Jackson party. They admitted the services he
had rendered; but, at the same time, they were a little afraid of the
vein of mockery that broke out so frequently in his writings. He was
restive in harness. He was devoted to the party, but he was under no
party illusions. He was fighting in the ranks as an adventurer or
soldier of fortune. He fought well; but would it do to promote a man
to high rank who knew the game so well, and upon whom no man could get
any _hold_? To him, in his secret soul, Martin Van Buren was nothing
(as he often said) but a country lawyer, who, by a dexterous use of
the party machinery, the well-timed death of De Witt Clinton, and
General Jackson's frenzy in behalf of Mrs. Eaton, had come to be the
chosen successor of the fiery chieftain. The canny Scotchman saw this
with horrid clearness, and saw nothing more. Political chiefs do not
like subalterns of this temper. Underneath the politician in Martin
Van Buren there was the citizen, the patriot, the gentleman, and the
man, whose fathers were buried in American soil, whose children were
to live under American institutions, who had, necessarily, an interest
in the welfare and honor of the country, and whose policy, upon the
whole, was controlled by that natural interest in his country's
welfare and honor. To our mocking Celt nothing of this was apparent,
nor has ever been.

His education as a journalist was completed by the failure of his
Philadelphia scheme. Returning to New York, he resolved to attempt no
more to rise by party aid, but henceforth have no master but the
public. On the 6th of May, 1835, appeared the first number of the
Morning Herald, price one cent. It was born in a cellar in Wall
Street,--not a basement, but a veritable cellar. Some persons are
still doing business in that region who remember going down into its
subterranean office, and buying copies of the new paper from its
editor, who used to sit at a desk composed of two flour-barrels and a
piece of board, and who occupied the only chair in the establishment.
For a considerable time his office contained absolutely nothing but
his flour-barrel desk, one wooden chair, and a pile of Heralds. "I
remember," writes Mr. William Gowans, the well-known bookseller of
Nassau Street,

"to have entered the subterranean office of its editor early
in its career, and purchased a single copy of the paper, for
which I paid the sum of one cent United States currency. On
this occasion the proprietor, editor, and vendor was seated
at his desk, busily engaged writing, and appeared to pay
little or no attention to me as I entered. On making known
my object in coming in, he requested me to put my money down
on the counter, and help myself to a paper; all this time he
continuing his writing operations. The office was a single
oblong underground room; its furniture consisted of a
counter, which also served as a desk, constructed from two
flour-barrels, perhaps empty, standing apart from each other
about four feet, with a single plank covering both; a chair,
placed in the centre, upon which sat the editor busy at his
vocation, with an inkstand by his right hand; on the end
nearest the door were placed the papers for sale."

Everything appeared to be against his success. It was one poor man in
a cellar against the world. Already he had failed three times; first,
in 1825, when he attempted to establish a Sunday paper; next, in 1832,
when he tried a party journal; recently, in Philadelphia. With great
difficulty, and after many rebuffs, he had prevailed upon two young


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