Famous Americans of Recent Times
James Parton

Part 7 out of 9

little child to the grave.

A relation in a distant part of the country, to whom Goodyear revealed
his condition, sent him fifty dollars, which enabled him to get to New
York. He had touched bottom. The worst of his trials were over. In New
York, he had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of two
brothers, William Rider and Emory Eider, men of some property and
great intelligence, who examined his specimens, listened to his story,
believed in him, and agreed to aid him to continue his experiments,
and to supply his family until he had rendered his discovery
available. From that time, though he was generally embarrassed in his
circumstances, his family never wanted bread, and he was never obliged
to suspend his experiments. Aided by the capital, the sympathy, and
the ingenuity of the brothers Rider, he spent a year in New York in
the most patient endeavors to overcome the difficulties in heating his
compound. Before he had succeeded, their resources failed. But he had
made such progress in demonstrating the practicability of his process,
that his brother-in-law, William De Forrest, a noted woollen
manufacturer, took hold of the project in earnest, and aided him to
bring it to perfection. Once more, however, he was imprisoned for
debt. This event conquered his scruples against availing himself of
the benefit of the bankrupt act, which finally delivered him from the
danger of arrest. We should add, however, that, as soon as he began to
derive income from his invention, he reassumed his obligations to his
old creditors, and discharged them gradually.

It was not till the year 1844, more than ten years after he began to
experiment, and more than five years after discovering the secret of
vulcanization, that he was able to conduct his process with absolute
certainty, and to produce vulcanized India-rubber with the requisite
expedition and economy. We can form some conception of the
difficulties overcome by the fact, that the advances of Mr. De Forrest
in aid of the experiment reached the sum of forty-six thousand
dollars,--an amount the inventor did not live long enough to repay.

His triumph had been long deferred, and we have seen in part how much
it had cost him. But his success proved to be richly worth its cost.
He had added to the arts, not a new material merely, but a new class
of materials, applicable to a thousand diverse uses. His product had
more than the elasticity of India-rubber, while it was divested of all
those properties which had lessened its utility. It was still
India-rubber, but its surfaces would not adhere, nor would it harden
at any degree of cold, nor soften at any degree of heat. It was a
cloth impervious to water. It was paper that would not tear. It was
parchment that would not crease. It was leather which neither rain nor
sun would injure. It was ebony that could be run into a mould. It was
ivory that could be worked like wax. It was wood that never cracked,
shrunk, nor decayed. It was metal, "elastic metal," as Daniel Webster
termed it, that could be wound round the finger or tied into a knot,
and which preserved its elasticity almost like steel. Trifling
variations in the ingredients, in the proportions, and in the heating,
made it either as pliable as kid, tougher than ox-hide, as elastic as
whalebone, or as rigid as flint.

All this is stated in a moment, but each of these variations in the
material, as well as every article made from them, cost this
indefatigable man days, weeks, months, or years of experiment. It cost
him, for example, several years of most expensive trial to obviate the
objection to India-rubber fabrics caused by the liability of the gum
to peel from the cloth. He tried every known textile fabric, and every
conceivable process before arriving at the simple expedient of mixing
fibre with the gum, by which, at length, the perfect India-rubber
cloth was produced. This invention he considered only second in value
to the discovery of vulcanization. The India-rubber shoe, as we now
have it, is an admirable article,--light, strong, elegant in shape,
with a fibrous sole that does not readily wear, cut, or slip. As the
shoe is made and joined before vulcanization, a girl can make
twenty-five pairs in a day. They are cut from the soft sheets of gum
and joined by a slight pressure of the hand. But almost every step of
this process, now so simple and easy, was patiently elaborated by
Charles Goodyear. A million and a half of pairs per annum is now the
average number made in the United States by his process, though the
business languishes somewhat from the high price of the raw materials.
The gum, which, when Goodyear began his experiments, was a drug at
five cents a pound, has recently been sold at one dollar and twenty
cents a pound, with all its impurities. Even at this high price the
annual import ranges at from four to five millions of pounds.

Poor Richard informs us that Necessity never makes a good bargain. Mr.
Goodyear was always a prey to necessity. Nor was he ever a good man of
business. He was too entirely an inventor to know how to dispose of
his inventions to advantage; and he could never feel that he had
accomplished his mission with regard to India-rubber. As soon as he
had brought his shoemaking process to the point where other men could
make it profitable, he withdrew from manufacturing, and sold rights to
manufacture for the consideration of half a cent per pair. Five cents
had been reasonable enough, and would have given him ample means to
continue his labors. Half a cent kept him subject to necessity, which
seemed to compel him to dispose of other rights at rates equally low.
Thus it happened that, when the whole India-rubber business of the
country paid him tribute, or ought to have paid it, he remained an
embarrassed man. He had, too, the usual fate of inventors, in having
to contend with the infringers of his rights,--men who owed their all
to his ingenuity and perseverance. We may judge, however, of the
rapidity with which the business grew, by the fact that, six years
after the completion of his vulcanizing process, the holders of rights
to manufacture shoes by that process deemed it worth while to employ
Daniel Webster to plead their cause, and to stimulate his mind by a
fee of twenty-five thousand dollars. It is questionable if Charles
Goodyear ever derived that amount from his patents, if we deduct from
his receipts the money spent in further developing his discovery. His
ill-health obliged him to be abstemious, and he had no expensive
tastes. It was only in his laboratory that he was lavish, and there he
was lavish indeed. His friends still smiled at his zeal, or reproached
him for it. It has been only since the mighty growth of the business
in his products that they have acknowledged that he was right and that
they were wrong. They remember him, sick, meagre, and yellow, now
coming to them with a walking-stick of India-rubber, exulting in the
new application of his material, and predicting its general use, while
they objected that his stick had cost him fifty dollars; now running
about among the comb factories, trying to get reluctant men to try
their tools upon hard India-rubber, and producing at length a set of
combs that cost twenty times the price of ivory ones; now shutting
himself up for months, endeavoring to make a sail of India-rubber
fabric, impervious to water, that should never freeze, and to which no
sleet or ice should ever cling; now exhibiting a set of cutlery with
India-rubber handles, or a picture set in an India-rubber frame, or a
book with India-rubber covers, or a watch with an India-rubber case;
now experimenting with India-rubber tiles for floors, which he hoped
to make as brilliant in color as those of mineral, as agreeable to the
tread as carpet, and as durable as an ancient floor of oak. There is
nothing in the history of invention more remarkable than the devotion
of this man to his object. No crusader was ever so devoted to his vow,
no lover to his mistress, as he was to his purpose of showing mankind
what to do with India-rubber. The doorplate of his office was made of
it; his portrait was painted upon and framed with it; his book, as we
have seen, was wholly composed of it; and his mind, by night and day,
was surcharged with it. He never went to sleep without having within
reach writing materials and the means of making a light, so that, if
he should have an idea in the night, he might be able to secure it.
Some of his best ideas, he used to say, were saved to mankind by this

It is not well for any man to be thus absorbed in his object. To
Goodyear, whose infirm constitution peculiarly needed repose and
recreation, it was disastrous, and at length fatal. It is well with no
man who does riot play as well as work. Fortunately, we are all
beginning to understand this. We are beginning to see that a devotion
to the business of life which leaves no reserve of force and time for
social pleasures and the pursuit of knowledge, diminishes even our
power to conduct business with the sustained and intelligent energy
requisite for a safe success. That is a melancholy passage in one of
Theodore Parker's letters, written in the premature decline of his
powers, in which he laments that he had not, like Franklin, joined a
club, and taken an occasional ramble with young companions in the
country, and played billiards with them in the evening. He added, that
he intended to lead a better life in these particulars for the future;
but who can reform at forty-seven? And the worst of it is, that
ill-health, the natural ally of all evil, favors intensity, lessening
both our power and our inclination to get out of the routine that is
destroying us. Goodyear, always sick, had been for so many years the
slave of his pursuit, he had been so spurred on by necessity, and
lured by partial success, that, when at last he might have rested, he
could not.

It does not become us, however, who reap the harvest, to censure him
who wore himself out in sowing the seed. The harvest is
great,--greater than any but he anticipated. His friends know now that
he never over-estimated the value of his invention. They know now what
he meant when he said that no one but himself would take the trouble
to apply his material to the thousand uses of which it was capable,
because each new application demanded a course of experiments that
would discourage any one who entered upon it only with a view to
profit. The India-rubber manufacture, since his death, has increased
greatly in extent, but not much in other respects, and some of the
ideas which he valued most remain undeveloped. He died, for example,
in the conviction that sails of India-rubber cloth would finally
supersede all others. He spent six months and five thousand dollars in
producing one or two specimens, which were tried and answered their
purpose well; but he was unable to bring his sail-making process to an
available perfection. The sole difficulty was to make his sails as
light as those of cloth. He felt certain of being able to accomplish
this; but in the multiplicity of his objects and the pressure of his
embarrassments, he was compelled to defer the completion of his plans
to a day that never came.

The catalogue of his successful efforts is long and striking. The
second volume of his book is wholly occupied with that catalogue. He
lived to see his material applied to nearly five hundred uses, to give
employment in England, France, Germany, and the United States to sixty
thousand persons, who annually produced merchandise of the value of
eight millions of dollars. A man does much who only founds a new kind
of industry; and he does more when that industry gives value to a
commodity that before was nearly valueless. But we should greatly
undervalue the labors of Charles Goodyear, if we regarded them only as
opening a new source of wealth; for there have been found many uses of
India-rubber, as prepared by him, which have an importance far
superior to their commercial value. Art, science, and humanity are
indebted to him for a material which serves the purposes of them all,
and serves them as no other known material could.

Some of our readers have been out on the picket line during the war.
They know what it is to stand motionless in a wet and miry rifle-pit,
in the chilling rain of a Southern winter's night. Protected by
India-rubber boots, blanket, and cap, the picket man performs in
comparative comfort a duty which, without that protection, would make
him a cowering and shivering wretch, and plant in his bones a latent
rheumatism to be the torment of his old age. Goodyear's India-rubber
enables him to come in from his pit as dry as he was when he went into
it, and he comes in to lie down with an India-rubber blanket between
him and the damp earth. If he is wounded, it is an India-rubber
stretcher, or an ambulance provided with India-rubber springs, that
gives him least pain on his way to the hospital, where, if his wound
is serious, a water-bed of India-rubber gives ease to his mangled
frame, and enables him to endure the wearing tedium of an unchanged
posture. Bandages and supporters of India-rubber avail him much when
first he begins to hobble about his ward. A piece of India-rubber at
the end of his crutch lessens the jar and the noise of his motions,
and a cushion of India-rubber is comfortable to his armpit. The
springs which close the hospital door, the bands which exclude the
drafts from doors and windows, his pocket comb and cup and thimble,
are of the same material. From jars thermetically closed with
India-rubber he receives the fresh fruit that is so exquisitely
delicious to a fevered mouth. The instrument case of his surgeon and
the storeroom of his matron contain many articles whose utility is
increased by the use of it, and some that could be made of nothing
else. His shirts and sheets pass through an India-rubber
clothes-wringer, which saves the strength of the washerwoman and the
fibre of the fabric. When the government presents him with an
artificial leg, a thick heel and elastic sole of India-rubber give him
comfort every time he puts it to the ground. An India-rubber pipe with
an inserted bowl of clay, a billiard-table provided with India-rubber
cushions and balls, can solace his long convalescence.

In the field, this material is not less strikingly useful. During this
war, armies have marched through ten days of rain, and slept through
as many rainy nights, and come out dry into the returning sunshine,
with its artillery untarnished and its ammunition uninjured, because
men and munitions were all under India-rubber. When Goodyear's ideas
are carried out, it will be by pontoons of inflated India-rubber that
rivers will be crossed. A pontoon-train will then consist of one wagon
drawn by two mules; and if the march is through a country that
furnishes the wooden part of the bridge, a man may carry a pontoon on
his back in addition to his knapsack and blanket.

In the naval service we meet this material in a form that attracts
little attention, though it serves a purpose of perhaps unequalled
utility. Mechanics are aware, that, from the time of James Watt to the
year 1850, the grand desideratum of the engine builder was a perfect
joint,--a joint that would not admit the escape of steam. A
steam-engine is all over joints and valves, from most of which some
steam sooner or later would escape, since an engine in motion produces
a continual jar that finally impaired the best joint that art could
make. The old joint-making process was exceedingly expensive. The two
surfaces of iron had to be most carefully ground and polished, then
screwed together, and the edges closed with white lead. By the use of
a thin sheet of vulcanized India-rubber, placed between the iron
surfaces, not only is all this expense saved, but a joint is produced
that is absolutely and permanently perfect. It is not even necessary
to rub off the roughness of the casting, for the rougher the surface,
the better the joint. Goodyear's invention supplies an article that
Watt and Fulton sought in vain, and which would seem to put the
finishing touch to the steam-engine,--if, in these days of
improvement, anything whatever could be considered finished. At
present, all engines are provided with these joints and valves, which
save steam, diminish jar, and facilitate the separation of the parts.
It is difficult to compute the value of this improvement, in money. We
are informed, however, by competent authority, that a steamer of two
thousand tons saves ten thousand dollars a year by its use. Such is
the demand for the engine-packing, as it is termed, that the owners of
the factory where it is chiefly made, after constructing the largest
water-wheel in the world, found it insufficient for their growing
business, and were obliged to add to it a steam-engine of two hundred
horse-power. The New York agent of this company sells about a million
dollars' worth of packing per annum.

Belting for engines is another article for which Goodyear's compound
is superior to any other, inasmuch as the surface of the India-rubber
clings to the iron wheel better than leather or fabric. Leather
polishes and slips; India-rubber does not polish, and holds to the
iron so firmly as to save a large percentage of power. It is no small
advantage merely to save leather for other uses, since leather is an
article of which the supply is strictly limited. It is not uncommon
for India-rubber belts to be furnished, which, if made of leather,
would require more than a hundred hides. Emery-wheels of this material
have been recently introduced. They were formerly made of wood coated
with emery, which soon wore off. In the new manufacture, the emery is
kneaded into the entire mass of the wheel, which can be worn down till
it is all consumed. On the same principle the instruments used to
sharpen scythes are also made. Of late we hear excellent accounts of
India-rubber as a basis for artificial teeth. It is said to be
lighter, more agreeable, less expensive, than gold or platina, and not
less durable. We have seen also some very pretty watch-cases of this
material, elegantly inlaid with gold.

It thus appears, that the result of Mr. Goodyear's long and painful
struggles was the production of a material which now ranks with the
leading compounds of commerce and manufacture, such as glass, brass,
steel, paper, porcelain, paint. Considering its peculiar and varied
utility, it is perhaps inferior in value only to paper, steel, and
glass. We see, also, that the use of the new compound lessens the
consumption of several commodities, such as ivory, bone, ebony, and
leather, which it is desirable to save, because the demand for them
tends to increase faster than the supply. When a set of ivory
billiard-balls costs fifty dollars, and civilization presses upon the
domain of the elephant, it is well to make our combs and our
paper-knives of something else.

That inventions so valuable should be disputed and pirated was
something which the history of all the great inventions might have
taught Mr. Goodyear to expect. We need not revive those disputes which
embittered his life and wasted his substance and his time. The
Honorable Joseph Holt, the Commissioner who granted an extension to
the vulcanizing patent in 1858, has sufficiently characterized them in
one of the most eloquent papers ever issued from the Patent Office:--

"No inventor probably has ever been so harassed, so trampled
upon, so plundered by that sordid and licentious class of
infringers known in the parlance of the world, with no
exaggeration of phrase, as 'pirates,' The spoliations of
their incessant guerilla warfare upon his defenceless rights
have unquestionably amounted to millions. In the very front
rank of this predatory band stands one who sustains in this
case the double and most convenient character of contestant
and witness; and it is but a subdued expression of my
estimate of the deposition he has lodged, to say that this
Parthian shaft--the last that he could hurl at an invention
which he has so long and so remorselessly pursued--is a
fitting finale to that career which the public justice of
the country has so signally rebuked."

Mr. Holt paid a noble tribute to the class of men of whose rights he
was the official guardian:--

"All that is glorious in our past or hopeful in our future
is indissolubly linked with that cause of human progress of
which inventors are the _preux chevaliers_. It is no poetic
translation of the abiding sentiment of the country to say,
that they are the true jewels of the nation to which they
belong, and that a solicitude for the protection of their
rights and interests should find a place in every throb of
the national heart. Sadly helpless as a class, and offering,
in the glittering creations of their own genius, the
strongest temptations to unscrupulous cupidity, they, of all
men, have most need of the shelter of the public law, while,
in view of their philanthropic labors, they are of all men
most entitled to claim it. The schemes of the politician and
of the statesman may subserve the purposes of the hour, and
the teachings of the moralist may remain with the generation
to which they are addressed, but all this must pass away;
while the fruits of the inventor's genius will endure as
imperishable, memorials, and, surviving the wreck of creeds
and systems, alike of politics, religion, and philosophy,
will diffuse their blessings to all lands and throughout all

When Mr. Goodyear had seen the manufacture of shoes and fabrics well
established in the United States, and when his rights appeared to have
been placed beyond controversy by the Trenton decision of 1852, being
still oppressed with debt, he went to Europe to introduce his material
to the notice of capitalists there. The great manufactories of
vulcanized India-rubber in England, Scotland, France, and Germany are
the result of his labors; but the peculiarities of the patent laws of
those countries, or else his own want of skill in contending for his
rights, prevented him from reaping the reward of his labors. He spent
six laborious years abroad. At the Great Exhibitions of London and
Paris, he made brilliant displays of his wares, which did honor to his
country and himself, and gave an impetus to the prosperity of the men
who have grown rich upon his discoveries. At the London Exhibition, he
had a suite of three apartments, carpeted, furnished, and decorated
only with India-rubber. At Paris, he made a lavish display of
India-rubber jewelry, dressing-cases, work-boxes, picture-frames,
which attracted great attention. His reward was, a four days' sojourn
in the debtors' prison, and the cross of the Legion of Honor. The
delinquency of his American licensees procured him the former, and the
favor of the Emperor the latter.

We have seen that his introduction to India-rubber was through the
medium of a life-preserver. His last labors, also, were consecrated to
life-saving apparatus, of which he invented or suggested a great
variety. His excellent wife was reading to him one evening, in London,
an article from a review, in which it was stated that twenty persons
perished by drowning every hour. The company, startled at a statement
so unexpected, conversed upon it for some time, while Mr. Goodyear
himself remained silent and thoughtful. For several nights he was
restless, as was usually the case with him when he was meditating a
new application of his material. As these periods of incubation were
usually followed by a prostrating sickness, his wife urged him to
forbear, and endeavor to compose his mind to sleep. "Sleep!" said he,
"how can I sleep while twenty human beings are drowning every hour,
and I am the man who can save them?" It was long his endeavor to
invent some article which every man, woman, and child would
necessarily wear, and which would make it impossible for them to sink.

He experimented with hats, cravats, jackets, and petticoats; and,
though he left his principal object incomplete, he contrived many of
those means of saving life which now puzzle the occupants of
state-rooms. He had the idea that every article on board a vessel
seizable in the moment of danger, every chair, table, sofa, and stool,
should be a life-preserver.

He returned to his native land a melancholy spectacle to his
friends,--yellow, emaciated, and feeble,--but still devoted to his
work. He lingered and labored until July, 1860, when he died in New
York, in the sixtieth year of his age. Almost to the last day of his
life he was busy with new applications of his discovery. After
twenty-seven years of labor and investigation, after having founded a
new branch of industry, which gave employment to sixty thousand
persons, he died insolvent, leaving to a wife and six children only an
inheritance of debt. Those who censure him for this should consider
that his discovery was not profitable to himself for more than ten
years, that he was deeply in debt when he began his experiments, that
his investigations could be carried on only by increasing his
indebtedness, that all his bargains were those of a man in need, that
the guilelessness of his nature made him the easy prey of greedy,
dishonorable men, and that his neglect of his private interests was
due, in part, to his zeal for the public good.

Dr. Dutton of New Haven, his pastor and friend, in the Sermon
dedicated to his memory, did not exaggerate when he spoke of him as

"one who recognized his peculiar endowment of inventive
genius as a divine gift, involving a special and defined
responsibility, and considered himself called of God, as was
Bezaleel, to that particular course of invention to which he
devoted the chief part of his life. This he often expressed,
though with his characteristic modesty, to his friends,
especially his religious friends. His inventive work was his
religion, and was pervaded and animated by religious faith
and devotion. He felt like an apostle commissioned for that
work; and he said to his niece and her husband, who went,
with his approbation and sympathy, as missionaries of the
Gospel to Asia, that he was God's missionary as truly as
they were."

Nothing more true. The demand for the raw gum, almost created by him,
is introducing abundance and developing industry in the regions which
produce it. As the culture of cotton seems the predestined means of
improving Africa, so the gathering of caoutchouc may procure for the
inhabitants of the equatorial regions of both continents such of the
blessings of civilization as they are capable of appropriating.

An attempt was made last winter to procure an act of Congress
extending the vulcanizing patent for a further period of seven years,
for the benefit of the creditors and the family of the inventor. The
petition seemed reasonable. The very low tariff paid by the
manufacturers could have no perceptible effect upon the price of
articles, and the extension would provide a competence for a worthy
family who had claims upon the gratitude of the nation, if not upon
its justice. The manufacturers generally favored the extension, since
the patent protected them, in the deranged condition of our currency,
from the competition of the foreign manufacturer, who pays low wages
and enjoys a sound currency. The extension of the patent would have
harmed no one, and would have been an advantage to the general
interests of the trade. The son of the inventor, too, in whose name
the petition was offered, had spent his whole life in assisting his
father, and had a fair claim upon the consideration of Congress. But
the same unscrupulous and remorseless men who had plundered poor
Goodyear living, hastened to Washington to oppose the petition of his
family. A cry of "monopoly" was raised in the newspapers to which they
had access. The presence in Washington of Mrs. Goodyear, one of the
most retiring of women, and of her son, a singularly modest young man,
who were aided by one friend and one professional agent, was denounced
as "a powerful lobby, male and female," who, having despoiled the
public of "twenty millions," were boring Congress for a grant of
twenty millions more,--all to be wrung from an India-rubber-consuming
public. The short session of Congress is unfavorable to private bills,
even when they are unopposed. These arts sufficed to prevent the
introduction of the bill desired, and the patent has since expired.

The immense increase in the demand for the gum has frequently
suggested the inquiry whether there is any danger of the supply
becoming unequal to it. There are now in Europe and America more than
a hundred and fifty manufactories of India-rubber articles, employing
from five to five hundred operatives each, and consuming more than ten
millions of pounds of gum per annum. The business, too, is considered
to be still in its infancy. Certainly, it is increasing. Nevertheless,
there is no possibility of the demand exceeding the supply. The belt
of land round the globe, five hundred miles north and five hundred
miles south of the equator, abounds in the trees producing the gum,
and they can be tapped, it is said, for twenty successive seasons.
Forty-three thousand of these trees were counted in a tract of country
thirty miles long and eight wide. Each tree yields an average of three
table-spoonfuls of sap daily, but the trees are so close together that
one man can gather the sap of eighty in a day. Starting at daylight,
with his tomahawk and a ball of clay, he goes from tree to tree,
making five or six incisions in each, and placing under each incision
a cup made of the clay which he carries. In three or four hours he has
completed his circuit and comes home to breakfast. In the afternoon he
slings a large gourd upon his shoulder, and repeats his round to
collect the sap. The cups are covered up at the roots of the tree, to
be used again on the following day. In other regions the sap is
allowed to exude from the tree, and is gathered from about the roots.
But, however it is collected, the supply is superabundant; and the
countries which produce it are those in which the laborer needs only a
little tapioca, a little coffee, a hut, and an apron. In South
America, from which our supply chiefly comes, the natives subsist at
an expense of three cents a day. The present high price of the gum in
the United States is principally due to the fact that greenbacks are
not current in the tropics; but in part, to the rapidity with which
the demand has increased. Several important applications of the
vulcanized gum have been deferred to the time when the raw material
shall have fallen to what Adam Smith would style its "natural price."

Charles Goodyear's work, therefore, is a permanent addition to the
resources of man. The latest posterity will be indebted to him.


Is there anything in America more peculiar to America, or more curious
in itself, than one of our "fashionable" Protestant churches,--such as
we see in New York, on the Fifth Avenue and in the adjacent streets?
The lion and the lamb in the Millennium will not lie down together
more lovingly than the Church and the World have blended in these
singular establishments. We are far from objecting to the coalition,
but note it only as something curious, new, and interesting.

We enter an edifice, upon the interior of which the upholsterer and
the cabinet-maker have exhausted the resources of their trades. The
word "subdued" describes the effect at which those artists have aimed.
The woods employed are costly and rich, but usually of a sombre hue,
and, though elaborately carved, are frequently unpolished. The light
which comes through the stained windows, or through the small diamond
panes, is of that description which is eminently the "_dim_,
religious." Every part of the floor is thickly carpeted. The pews
differ little from sofas, except in being more comfortable, and the
cushions for the feet or the knees are as soft as hair and cloth can
make them. It is a fashion, at present, to put the organ out of sight,
and to have a clock so unobtrusive as not to be observed. Galleries
are now viewed with an unfriendly eye by the projectors of churches,
and they are going out of use. Everything in the way of conspicuous
lighting apparatus, such as the gorgeous and dazzling chandeliers of
fifteen years ago, and the translucent globes of later date, is
discarded, and an attempt is sometimes made to hide the vulgar fact
that the church is ever open in the evening. In a word the design of
the fashionable church-builder of the present moment is to produce a
richly furnished, quietly adorned, dimly illuminated, ecclesiastical
parlor, in which a few hundred ladies and gentlemen, attired in
kindred taste, may sit perfectly at their ease, and see no object not
in harmony with the scene around them.

To say that the object of these costly and elegant arrangements is to
repel poor people would be a calumny. On the contrary, persons who
show by their dress and air that they exercise the less remunerative
vocations are as politely shown to seats as those who roll up to the
door in carriages, and the presence of such persons is desired, and,
in many instances, systematically sought. Nevertheless, the poor are
repelled. They know they cannot pay their proportion of the expense of
maintaining such establishments, and they do not wish to enjoy what
others pay for. Everything in and around the church seems to proclaim
it a kind of exclusive ecclesiastical club, designed for the
accommodation of persons of ten thousand dollars a year, and upward.
Or it is as though the carriages on the Road to Heaven were divided
into first-class, second-class, and third-class, and a man either
takes the one that accords with his means, or denies himself the
advantage of travelling that road, or prefers to trudge along on foot,
an independent wayfarer.

It is Sunday morning, and the doors of this beautiful drawing-room are
thrown open. Ladies dressed with subdued magnificence glide in, along
with some who have not been able to leave at home the showier articles
of their wardrobe. Black silk, black velvet, black lace, relieved by
intimations of brighter colors, and by gleams from half-hidden
jewelry, are the materials most employed. Gentlemen in uniform of
black cloth and white linen announce their coming by the creaking of
their boots, quenched in the padded carpeting. It cannot be said of
these churches, as Mr. Carlyle remarked of certain London ones, that a
pistol could be fired into a window across the church without much
danger of hitting a Christian. The attendance is not generally very
large; but as the audience is evenly distributed over the whole
surface, it looks larger than it is. In a commercial city everything
is apt to be measured by the commercial standard, and accordingly a
church numerically weak, but financially strong, ranks, in the
estimation of the town, not according to its number of souls, but its
number of dollars. We heard a fine young fellow, last summer, full of
zeal for everything high and good, conclude a glowing account of a
sermon by saying that it was the direct means of adding to the church
a capital of one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. He meant
nothing low or mercenary; he honestly exulted in the fact that the
power and influence attached to the possession of one hundred and
seventy-five thousand dollars were thenceforward to be exerted on
behalf of objects which he esteemed the highest. If therefore the
church before our view cannot boast of a numerous attendance, it more
than consoles itself by the reflection, that there are a dozen names
of talismanic power in Wall Street on its list of members.

"But suppose the Doctor should leave you?" objected a friend of ours
to a trustee, who had been urging him to buy a pew in a fashionable

"Well, my dear sir," was the business-like reply; "suppose he should.
We should immediately engage the very first talent which money can

We can hardly help taking this simple view of things in rich
commercial cities. Our worthy trustee merely put the thing on the
correct basis. He frankly _said_ what every church _does_, ought to
do, and must do. He stated a universal fact in the plain and sensible
language to which he was accustomed. In the same way these
business-like Christians have borrowed the language of the Church, and
speak of men who are "good" for a million.

The congregation is assembled. The low mumble of the organ ceases. A
female voice rises melodiously above the rustle of dry-goods and the
whispers of those who wear them. So sweet and powerful is it, that a
stranger might almost suppose it borrowed from the choir of heaven;
but the inhabitants of the town recognize it as one they have often
heard at concerts or at the opera; and they listen critically, as to a
professional performance, which it is. It is well that highly
artificial singing prevents the hearer from catching the words of the
song; for it _would_ have rather an odd effect to hear rendered, in
the modern Italian style, such plain straightforward words as these:--

"Can sinners hope for heaven
Who love this world so well?
Or dream of future happiness
While on the road to hell?"

The performance, however, is so exquisite that we do not think of
these things, but listen in rapture to the voice alone. When the lady
has finished her stanza, a noble barytone, also recognized as
professional, takes up the strain, and performs a stanza, solo; at the
conclusion of which, four voices, in enchanting accord breathe out a
third. It is evident that the "first talent that money can command"
has been "engaged" for the entertainment of the congregation; and we
are not surprised when the information is proudly communicated that
the music costs a hundred and twenty dollars per Sunday.

What is very surprising and well worthy of consideration is, that this
beautiful music does not "draw." In our rovings about among the noted
churches of New York,--of the kind which "engage the first talent that
money can command,"--we could never see that the audience was much
increased by expensive professional music. On the contrary, we can lay
it down as a general rule, that the costlier the music, the smaller is
the average attendance. The afternoon service at Trinity Church, for
example, is little more than a delightful gratuitous concert of boys,
men, and organ; and the spectacle of the altar brilliantly lighted by
candles is novel and highly picturesque. The sermon also is of the
fashionable length,--twenty minutes; and yet the usual afternoon
congregation is about two hundred persons. Those celestial strains of
music,--well, they enchant the ear, if the ear happens to be within
hearing of them; but somehow they do not furnish a continuous

When this fine prelude is ended, the minister's part begins; and,
unless he is a man of extraordinary bearing and talents, every one
present is conscious of a kind of lapse in the tone of the occasion.
Genius composed the music; the "first talent" executed it; the
performance has thrilled the soul, and exalted expectation; but the
voice now heard may be ordinary, and the words uttered may be homely,
or even common. No one unaccustomed to the place can help feeling a
certain incongruity between the language heard and the scene
witnessed. Everything we see is modern; the words we hear are ancient.
The preacher speaks of "humble believers," and we look around and ask,
Where are they? Are these costly and elegant persons humble believers?
Far be it from us to intimate that they are not; we are speaking only
of their appearance, and its effect upon a casual beholder. The
clergyman reads,

"Come let _us_ join in sweet accord,"

and straightway four hired performers execute a piece of difficult
music to an audience sitting passive. He discourses upon the
"pleasures of the world," as being at war with the interests of the
soul; and while a severe sentence to this effect is coming from his
lips, down the aisle marches the sexton, showing some stranger to a
seat, who is a professional master of the revels. He expresses,
perchance, a fervent desire that the heathen may be converted to
Christianity, and we catch ourselves saying, "Does he mean _this_ sort
of thing?" When we pronounce the word Christianity, it calls up
recollections and associations that do not exactly harmonize with the
scene around us. We think rather of the fishermen of Palestine, on the
lonely sea-shore; of the hunted fugitives of Italy and Scotland; we
think of it as something lowly, and suited to the lowly,--a refuge for
the forsaken and the defeated, not the luxury of the rich and the
ornament of the strong. It may be an infirmity of our mind; but we
experience a certain difficulty in realizing that the sumptuous and
costly apparatus around us has anything in common with what we have
been accustomed to think of as Christianity.

Sometimes, the incongruity reaches the point of the ludicrous. We
recently heard a very able and well-intentioned preacher, near the
Fifth Avenue, ask the ladies before him whether they were in the habit
of speaking to their female attendants about their souls'
salvation,--particularly those who dressed their hair. He especially
mentioned the hair-dressers; because, as he truly remarked, ladies are
accustomed to converse with those _artistes_, during the operation of
hair-dressing, on a variety of topics; and the opportunity was
excellent to say a word on the one most important. This incident
perfectly illustrates what we mean by the seeming incongruity between
the ancient cast of doctrine and the modernized people to whom it is
preached. We have heard sermons in fashionable churches in New York,
laboriously prepared and earnestly read, which had nothing in them of
the modern spirit, contained not the most distant allusion to modern
modes of living and sinning, had no suitableness whatever to the
people or the time, and from which everything that could rouse or
interest a human soul living on Manhattan Island in the year 1867
seemed to have been purposely pruned away. And perhaps, if a clergyman
really has no message to deliver, his best course is to utter a jargon
of nothings.

Upon the whole, the impression left upon the mind of the visitor to
the fashionable church is, that he has been looking, not upon a living
body, but a decorated image.

It may be, however, that the old conception of a Christian church, as
the one place where all sorts and conditions of men came together to
dwell upon considerations interesting to all equally, is not adapted
to modern society, wherein one man differs from another in knowledge
even more than a king once differed from a peasant in rank. When all
were ignorant, a mass chanted in an unknown tongue, and a short
address warning against the only vices known to ignorant people,
sufficed for the whole community. But what form of service can be even
imagined, that could satisfy Bridget, who cannot read, and her
mistress, who comes to church cloyed with the dainties of half a dozen
literatures? Who could preach a sermon that would hold attentive the
man saturated with Buckle, Mill, Spencer, Thackeray, Emerson,
Humboldt, and Agassiz, and the man whose only literary recreation is
the dime novel? In the good old times, when terror was latent in every
soul, and the preacher had only to deliver a very simple message,
pointing out the one way to escape endless torture, a very ordinary
mortal could arrest and retain attention. But this resource is gone
forever, and the modern preacher is thrown upon the resources of his
own mind and talent. There is great difficulty here, and it does not
seem likely to diminish. It may be, that never again, as long as time
shall endure, will ignorant and learned, masters and servants, poor
and rich, feel themselves at home in the same church.

At present we are impressed, and often oppressed, with the too evident
fact, that neither the intelligent nor the uninstructed souls are so
well ministered to, in things spiritual, as we could imagine they
might be. The fashionable world of New York goes to church every
Sunday morning with tolerable punctuality, and yet it seems to drift
rapidly toward Paris. What it usually hears at church does not appear
to exercise controlling influence over its conduct or its character.

Among the churches about New York to which nothing we have said
applies, the one that presents the strongest contrast to the
fashionable church is Henry Ward Beecher's. Some of the difficulties
resulting from the altered state of opinion in recent times have been
overcome there, and an institution has been created which appears to
be adapted to the needs, as well as to the tastes, of the people
frequenting it. We can at least say of it, that it is a living body,
and _not_ a decorated image.

For many years, this church upon Brooklyn Heights has been, to the
best of the visitors to the metropolis, the most interesting object in
or near it. Of Brooklyn itself,--a great assemblage of residences,
without much business or stir,--it seems the animating soul. We have a
fancy, that we can tell by the manner and bearing of an inhabitant of
the place whether he attends this church or not; for there is a
certain joyousness, candor, and democratic simplicity about the
members of that congregation, which might be styled Beecherian, if
there were not a better word. This church is simply the most
characteristic thing of America. If we had a foreigner in charge to
whom we wished to reveal this country, we should like to push him in,
hand him over to one of the brethren who perform the arduous duty of
providing seats for visitors, and say to him:

"There, stranger, you have arrived; _this_ is the United
States. The New Testament, Plymouth Rock, and the Fourth of
July,--_this_ is what they have brought us to. What the next
issue will be, no one can tell; but this is about what we
are at present."

We cannot imagine what the brethren could have been thinking about
when they ordered the new bell that hangs in the tower of Plymouth
Church. It is the most superfluous article in the known world. The
New-Yorker who steps on board the Fulton ferry-boat about ten o'clock
on Sunday morning finds himself accompanied by a large crowd of people
who bear the visible stamp of strangers, who are going to Henry Ward
Beecher's church. You can pick them out with perfect certainty. You
see the fact in their countenances, in their dress, in their demeanor,
as well as hear it in words of eager expectation. They are the kind of
people who regard wearing-apparel somewhat in the light of its
utility, and are not crushed by their clothes. They are the sort of
people who take the "Tribune," and get up courses of lectures in the
country towns. From every quarter of Brooklyn, in street cars and on
foot, streams of people are converging toward the same place. Every
Sunday morning and evening, rain or shine, there is the same
concourse, the same crowd at the gates before they are open, and the
same long, laborious effort to get thirty-five hundred people into a
building that will seat but twenty-seven hundred. Besides the ten or
twelve members of the church who volunteer to assist in this labor,
there is employed a force of six policemen at the doors, to prevent
the multitude from choking all ingress. Seats are retained for their
proprietors until ten minutes before the time of beginning; after that
the strangers are admitted. Mr. Buckle, if he were with us still,
would be pleased to know that his doctrine of averages holds good in
this instance; since every Sunday about a churchful of persons come to
this church, so that not many who come fail to get in.

There is nothing of the ecclesiastical drawing-room in the
arrangements of this edifice. It is a very plain brick building, in a
narrow street of small, pleasant houses, and the interior is only
striking from its extent and convenience. The simple, old-fashioned
design of the builder was to provide seats for as many people as the
space would hold; and in executing this design, he constructed one of
the finest interiors in the country, since the most pleasing and
inspiriting spectacle that human eyes ever behold in this world is
such an assembly as fills this church. The audience is grandly
displayed in those wide, rounded galleries, surging up high against
the white walls, and scooped out deep in the slanting floor, leaving
the carpeted platform the vortex of an arrested whirlpool. Often it
happens that two or three little children get lodged upon the edge of
the platform, and sit there on the carpet among the flowers during the
service, giving to the picture a singularly pleasing relief, as though
they and the bouquets had been arranged by the same skilful hand, and
for the same purpose. And it seems quite natural and proper that
children should form part of so bright and joyous an occasion. Behind
the platform rises to the ceiling the huge organ, of dark wood and
silvered pipes, with fans of trumpets pointing heavenward from the
top. This enormous toy occupies much space that could be better
filled, and is only less superfluous than the bell; but we must pardon
and indulge a foible. We could never see that Mr. Forrest walked any
better for having such thick legs; yet they have their admirers. Blind
old Handel played on an instrument very different from this, but the
sexton had to eat a cold Sunday dinner; for not a Christian would stir
as long as the old man touched the keys after service. But not old
Handel nor older Gabriel could make such music as swells and roars
from three thousand human voices,---the regular choir of Plymouth
Church. It is a decisive proof of the excellence and heartiness of
this choir, that the great organ has not lessened its effectiveness.

It is not clear to the distant spectator by what aperture Mr. Beecher
enters the church. He is suddenly discovered to be present, seated in
his place on the platform,--an under-sized gentleman in a black stock.
His hair combed behind his ears, and worn a little longer than usual,
imparts to his appearance something of the Puritan, and calls to mind
his father, the champion of orthodoxy in heretical Boston. In
conducting the opening exercises, and, indeed, on all occasions of
ceremony, Mr. Beecher shows himself an artist,--both his language and
his demeanor being marked by the most refined decorum. An elegant,
finished simplicity characterizes all he does and says: not a word too
much, nor a word misused, nor a word waited for, nor an unharmonious
movement, mars the satisfaction of the auditor. The habit of living
for thirty years in the view of a multitude, together with a natural
sense of the becoming, and a quick sympathy with men and
circumstances, has wrought up his public demeanor to a point near
perfection. A candidate for public honors could not study a better
model. This is the more remarkable, because it is a purely spiritual
triumph. Mr. Beecher's person is not imposing, nor his natural manner
graceful. It is his complete extirpation of the desire of producing an
illegitimate effect; it is his sincerity and genuineness as a human
being; it is the dignity of his character, and his command of his
powers,--which give him this easy mastery over every situation in
which he finds himself.

Extempore prayers are not, perhaps, a proper subject for comment. The
grand feature of the preliminary services of this church is the
singing, which is not executed by the first talent that money can
command. When the prelude upon the organ is finished, the whole
congregation, almost every individual in it, as if by a spontaneous
and irresistible impulse, stands up and sings. We are not aware that
anything has ever been done or said to bring about this result; nor
does the minister of the church set the example, for he usually
remains sitting and silent It seems as if every one in the
congregation was so full of something that he felt impelled to get up
and sing it out. In other churches where congregational singing is
attempted, there are usually a number of languid Christians who remain
seated, and a large number of others who remain silent; but here there
is a strange unanimity about the performance. A sailor might as well
try not to join in the chorus of a forecastle song as a member of this
joyous host not to sing. When the last preliminary singing is
concluded, the audience is in an excellent condition to sit and
listen, their whole corporeal system having been pleasantly exercised.

The sermon which follows is new wine in an old bottle. Up to the
moment when the text has been announced and briefly explained, the
service has all been conducted upon the ancient model, and chiefly in
the ancient phraseology; but from the moment when Mr. Beecher swings
free from the moorings of his text, and gets fairly under way, his
sermon is modern. No matter how fervently he may have been praying
supernaturalism, he preaches pure cause and effect. His text may savor
of old Palestine; but his sermon is inspired by New York and Brooklyn;
and nearly all that he says, when he is most himself, finds an
approving response in the mind of every well-disposed person, whether
orthodox or heterodox in his creed.

What is religion? That, of course, is the great question. Mr. Beecher
says: Religion is the slow, laborious, self-conducted EDUCATION of the
whole man, from grossness to refinement, from sickliness to health,
from ignorance to knowledge, from selfishness to justice, from justice
to nobleness, from cowardice to valor. In treating this topic,
whatever he may pray or read or assent to, he _preaches_ cause and
effect, and nothing else. Regeneration he does not represent to be
some mysterious, miraculous influence exerted upon a man from without,
but the man's own act, wholly and always, and in every stage of its
progress. His general way of discoursing upon this subject would
satisfy the most rationalized mind; and yet it does not appear to
offend the most orthodox.

This apparent contradiction between the spirit of his preaching and
the facts of his position is a severe puzzle to some of our
thorough-going friends. They ask, How can a man demonstrate that the
fall of rain is so governed by unchanging laws that the shower of
yesterday dates back in its causes to the origin of things, and,
having proved this to the comprehension of every soul present, finish
by _praying_ for an immediate outpouring upon the thirsty fields? We
confess that, to our modern way of thinking, there is a contradiction
here, but there is none at all to an heir of the Puritans. We reply to
our impatient young friends, that Henry Ward Beecher at once
represents and assists the American Christian of the present time,
just because of this seeming contradiction. He is a bridge over which
we are passing from the creed-enslaved past to the perfect freedom of
the future. Mr. Lecky, in his 'History of the Spirit of Rationalism,'
has shown the process by which truth is advanced. Old errors, he says,
do not die because they are refuted, but _fade out_ because they are
neglected. One hundred and fifty years ago, our ancestors were
perplexed, and even distressed, by something they called the doctrine
of Original Sin. No one now concerns himself either to refute or
assert the doctrine; few people know what it is; we all simply let it
alone, and it fades out. John Wesley not merely believed in
witchcraft, but maintained that a belief in witchcraft was essential
to salvation. All the world, except here and there an enlightened and
fearless person, believed in witchcraft as late as the year 1750. That
belief has not perished because its folly was demonstrated, but
because the average human mind grew past it, and let it alone until it
faded out in the distance. Or we might compare the great body of
beliefs to a banquet, in which every one takes what he likes best; and
the master of the feast, observing what is most in demand, keeps an
abundant supply of such viands, but gradually withdraws those which
are neglected. Mr. Beecher has helped himself to such beliefs as are
congenial to him, and shows an exquisite tact in passing by those
which interest him not, and which have lost regenerating power. There
_are_ minds which cannot be content with anything like vagueness or
inconsistency in their opinions. They must know to a certainty whether
the sun and moon stood still or not. His is not a mind of that cast;
he can "hover on the confines of truth," and leave the less inviting
parts of the landscape veiled in mist unexplored. Indeed, the great
aim of his preaching is to show the insignificance of opinion compared
with right feeling and noble living, and he prepares the way for the
time when every conceivable latitude of mere opinion shall be allowed
and encouraged.

One remarkable thing about his preaching is, that he has not, like so
many men of liberal tendencies, fallen into milk-and-waterism. He
often gives a foretaste of the terrific power which preachers will
wield when they draw inspiration from science and life. Without ever
frightening people with horrid pictures of the future, he has a sense
of the perils which beset human life here, upon this bank and shoal of
time. How needless to draw upon the imagination, in depicting the
consequences of violating natural law! Suppose a preacher should give
a plain, cold, scientific exhibition of the penalty which Nature
exacts for the crime, so common among church-going ladies and others,
of murdering their unborn offspring! It would appall the Devil.
Scarcely less terrible are the consequences of the most common vices
and meannesses when they get the mastery. Mr. Beecher has frequently
shown, by powerful delineations of this kind, how large a part
legitimate terror must ever play in the services of a true church,
when the terrors of superstition have wholly faded out. It cannot be
said of his preaching, that he preaches "Christianity with the bones
taken out." He does not give "twenty minutes of tepid exhortation,"
nor amuse his auditors with elegant and melodious essays upon virtue.

We need not say that his power as a public teacher is due, in a great
degree, to his fertility in illustrative similes. Three or four
volumes, chiefly filled with these, as they have been caught from his
lips, are before the public, and are admired on both continents. Many
of them are most strikingly happy, and flood his subject with light.
The smiles that break out upon the sea of upturned faces, and the
laughter that whispers round the assembly, are often due as much to
the aptness as to the humor of the illustration: the mind receives an
agreeable shock of surprise at finding a resemblance where only the
widest dissimilarity had before been perceived.

Of late years, Mr. Beecher never sends an audience away half
satisfied; for he has constantly grown with the growth of his splendid
opportunity. How attentive the great assembly, and how quickly
responsive to the points he makes! That occasional ripple of
laughter,--it is not from any want of seriousness in the speaker, in
the subject, or in the congregation, nor is it a Rowland Hill
eccentricity. It is simply that it has pleased Heaven to endow this
genial soul with a quick perception of the likeness there is between
things unlike; and, in the heat and torrent of his speech, the
suddenly discovered similarity amuses while it instructs. Philosophers
and purists may cavil at parts of these sermons, and, of course, they
are not perfect; but who can deny that their general effect is
civilizing, humanizing, elevating, and regenerating, and that this
master of preaching is the true brother of all those high and bright
spirits, on both sides of the ocean, who are striving to make the soul
of this age fit to inhabit and nobly impel its new body?

The sermon over, a livelier song brings the service to a happy
conclusion; and slowly, to the thunder of the new organ, the great
assembly dissolves and oozes away.

The Sunday services are not the whole of this remarkable church. It
has not yet adopted Mrs. Stowe's suggestion of providing
billiard-rooms, bowling-alleys, and gymnastic apparatus for the
development of Christian muscle, though these may come in time. The
building at present contains eleven apartments, among which are two
large parlors, wherein, twice a month, there is a social gathering of
the church and congregation, for conversation with the pastor and with
one another. Perhaps, by and by, these will be always open, so as to
furnish club conveniences to young men who have no home. Doubtless,
this fine social organization is destined to development in many
directions not yet contemplated.

Among the ancient customs of New England and its colonies (of which
Brooklyn is one) is the Friday-evening prayer-meeting. Some of our
readers, perhaps, have dismal recollections of their early compelled
attendance on those occasions, when, with their hands firmly held in
the maternal grasp, lest at the last moment they should bolt under
cover of the darkness, they glided round into the back parts of the
church, lighted by one smoky lantern hung over the door of the
lecture-room, itself dimly lighted, and as silent as the adjacent
chambers of the dead. Female figures, demure in dress and eyes cast
down, flitted noiselessly in, and the awful stillness was only broken
by the heavy boots of the few elders and deacons who constituted the
male portion of the exceedingly slender audience. With difficulty, and
sometimes, only after two or three failures, a hymn was raised, which,
when in fullest tide, was only a dreary wail,--how unmelodious to the
ears of unreverential youth, gifted with a sense of the ludicrous! How
long, how sad, how pointless the prayers! How easy to believe, down in
that dreary cellar, that this world was but a wilderness, and man "a
feeble piece"! Deacon Jones could speak up briskly enough when he was
selling two yards of shilling calico to a farmer's wife sharp at a
bargain; but in that apartment, contiguous to the tombs, it seemed
natural that he should utter dismal views of life in bad grammar
through his nose. Mrs. Jones was cheerful when she gave her little
tea-party the evening before; but now she appeared to assent, without
surprise, to the statement that she was a pilgrim travelling through a
vale of tears. Veritable pilgrims, who do actually meet in an oasis of
the desert, have a merry time of it, travellers tell us. It was not so
with these good souls, inhabitants of a pleasant place, and
anticipating an eternal abode in an inconceivably delightful paradise.
But then there was the awful chance of missing it! And the reluctant
youth, dragged to this melancholy scene, who avenged themselves by
giving select imitations of deaconian eloquence for the amusement of
young friends,--what was to become of _them_? It was such thoughts,
doubtless, that gave to those excellent people their gloomy habit of
mind; and if their creed expressed the literal truth respecting man's
destiny, character, and duty, terror alone was rational, and laughter
was hideous and defiant mockery. What room in a benevolent heart for
joy, when a point of time, a moment's space removed us to that
heavenly place, or shut us up in hell?

From the time when we were accustomed to attend such meetings, long
ago, we never saw a Friday-evening meeting till the other night, when
we found ourselves in the lecture-room of Plymouth Church.

The room is large, very lofty, brilliantly lighted by reflectors
affixed to the ceiling, and, except the scarlet cushions on the
settees, void of upholstery. It was filled full with a cheerful
company, not one of whom seemed to have on more or richer clothes than
she had the moral strength to wear. Content and pleasant expectation
sat on every countenance, as when people have come to a festival, and
await the summons to the banquet. No pulpit, or anything like a
pulpit, cast a shadow over the scene; but in its stead there was a
rather large platform, raised two steps, covered with dark green
canvas, and having upon it a very small table and one chair. The
red-cushioned settees were so arranged as to enclose the green
platform all about, except on one side; so that he who should sit upon
it would appear to be in the midst of the people, raised above them
that all might see him, yet still among them and one of them. At one
side of the platform, but on the floor of the room, among the settees,
there was a piano open. Mr. Beecher sat near by, reading what appeared
to be a letter of three or four sheets. The whole scene was so little
like what we commonly understand by the word "meeting," the people
there were so little in a "meeting" state of mind, and the subsequent
proceedings were so informal, unstudied, and social, that, in
attempting to give this account of them, we almost feel as if we were
reporting for print the conversation of a private evening party.
Anything more unlike an old-fashioned prayer-meeting it is not
possible to conceive.

Mr. Beecher took his seat upon the platform, and, after a short pause,
began the exercises by saying, in a low tone, these words: "Six

A rustling of the leaves of hymn-books interpreted the meaning of this
mystical utterance, which otherwise might have been taken as
announcing a discourse upon the prophetic numbers. The piano confirmed
the interpretation; and then the company burst into one of those
joyous and unanimous singings which are so enchanting a feature of the
services of this church. Loud rose the beautiful harmony of voices,
constraining every one to join in the song, even those most unused to
sing. When it was ended, the pastor, in the same low tone, pronounced
a name; upon which one of the brethren rose to his feet, and the rest
of the assembly slightly inclined their heads. It would not, as we
have remarked, be becoming in us to say anything upon this portion of
the proceedings, except to note that the prayers were all brief,
perfectly quiet and simple, and free from the routine or regulation
expressions. There were but two or three of them, alternating with
singing; and when that part of the exercises was concluded, Mr.
Beecher had scarcely spoken. The meeting ran alone, in the most
spontaneous and pleasant manner; and, with all its heartiness and
simplicity, there was a certain refined decorum pervading all that was
done and said. There was a pause after the last hymn died away, and
then Mr, Beecher, still seated, began, in the tone of conversation, to
speak, somewhat after this manner.

"When," said he,

"I first began to walk as a Christian, in my youthful zeal I
made many resolutions that were well meant, but indiscreet.
Among others, I remember I resolved to pray, at least once,
in some way, every hour that I was awake. I tried faithfully
to keep this resolution, but never having succeeded a single
day, I suffered the pangs of self-reproach, until reflection
satisfied me that the only wisdom possible, with regard to
such a resolve, was to break it. I remember, too, that I
made a resolution to speak upon religion to every person
with whom I conversed,--on steamboats, in the streets,
anywhere. In this, also, I failed, as I ought; and I soon
learned that, in the sowing of such seed, as in other
sowings, times and seasons and methods must be considered
and selected, or a man may defeat his own object, and make
religion loathsome."

In language like this he introduced the topic of the evening's
conversation, which was, How far, and on what occasions, and in what
manner, one person may invade, so to speak, the personality of
another, and speak to him upon his moral condition. The pastor
expressed his own opinion, always in the conversational tone, in a
talk of ten minutes' duration; in the course of which he applauded,
not censured, the delicacy which causes most people to shrink from
doing it. He said that a man's personality was not a macadamized road
for every vehicle to drive upon at will; but rather a sacred
enclosure, to be entered, if at all, with, the consent of the owner,
and with deference to his feelings and tastes. He maintained, however,
that there _were_ times and modes in which this might properly be
done, and that every one _had_ a duty to perform of this nature. When
he had finished his observations, he said the subject was open to the
remarks of others; whereupon a brother instantly rose and made a very
honest confession.

He said that he had never attempted to perform the duty in question
without having a palpitation of the heart and a complete "turning
over" of his inner man. He had often reflected upon this curious fact,
but was not able to account for it. He had not allowed this repugnance
to prevent his doing the duty; but he always had to rush at it and
perform it by a sort of _coup de main_; for if he allowed himself to
think about the matter, he could not do it at all. He concluded by
saying that he should be very much obliged to any one if he could
explain this mystery.

The pastor said: "May it not be the natural delicacy we feel, and
ought to feel, in approaching the interior consciousness of another

Another brother rose. There was no hanging back at this meeting; there
were no awkward pauses; every one seemed full of matter. The new
speaker was not inclined to admit the explanation suggested by the
pastor. "Suppose," said he,

"we were to see a man in imminent danger of immediate
destruction, and there was one way of escape, and but one,
which _we_ saw and he did not, should we feel any delicacy
in running up to him and urging him to fly for his life? Is
it not a want of faith on our part that causes the
reluctance and hesitation we all feel in urging others to
avoid a peril so much more momentous?"

Mr. Beecher said the cases were not parallel. Irreligious persons, he
remarked, were not in imminent danger of immediate death; they might
die to-morrow; but in all probability they would not, and an ill-timed
or injudicious admonition might forever repel them. We must accept the
doctrine of probabilities, and act in accordance with it in this
particular, as in all others.

Another brother had a puzzle to present for solution. He said that he
too had experienced the repugnance to which allusion had been made;
but what surprised him most was, that the more he loved a person, and
the nearer he was related to him, the more difficult he found it to
converse with him upon his spiritual state. Why is this? "I should
like to have this question answered," said he, "if there _is_ an
answer to it."

Mr. Beecher observed that this was the universal experience, and he
was conscious himself of a peculiar reluctance and embarrassment in
approaching one of his own household on the subject in question. He
thought it was due to the fact that we respect more the personal
rights of those near to us than we do those of others, and it was more
difficult to break in upon the routine of our ordinary familiarity
with them. We are accustomed to a certain tone, which it is highly
embarrassing to jar upon.

Captain Duncan related two amusing anecdotes to illustrate the right
way and the wrong way of introducing religious conversation. In his
office there was sitting one day a sort of lay preacher, who was noted
for lugging in his favorite topic in the most forbidding and abrupt
manner. A sea-captain came in who was introduced to this individual.

"Captain Porter," said he, with awful solemnity, "are you a captain in

The honest sailor was so abashed and confounded at this novel
salutation, that he could only stammer out an incoherent reply; and he
was evidently much disposed to give the tactless zealot a piece of his
mind expressed in the language of the quarter-deck. When the solemn
man took his leave, the disgusted captain said, "If ever I should be
coming to your office again, and that man should be here, I wish you
would send me word, and I'll stay away."

A few days after, another clergyman chanced to be in the office, no
other than Mr. Beecher himself, and another captain came in, a
roistering, swearing, good-hearted fellow. The conversation fell upon
sea-sickness, a malady to which Mr. Beecher is peculiarly liable. This
captain also was one of the few sailors who are always sea-sick in
going to sea, and gave a moving account of his sufferings from that
cause. Mr. Beecher, after listening attentively to his tale, said,

"Captain Duncan, if I was a preacher to such sailors as your
friend here, I should represent hell as an eternal voyage,
with every man on board in the agonies of sea-sickness, the
crisis always imminent, but never coming."

This ludicrous and most unprofessional picture amused the old salt
exceedingly, and won his entire good-will toward the author of it; so
that, after Mr. Beecher left, he said, "That's a good fellow, Captain
Duncan. I like _him_, and I'd like to hear him talk more."

Captain Duncan contended that this free-and-easy way of address was
just the thing for such characters. Mr. Beecher had shown him, to his
great surprise, that a man could be a decent and comfortable human
being, although he was a minister, and had so gained his confidence
and good-will that he could say _anything_ to him at their next
interview. Captain Duncan finished his remarks by a decided expression
of his disapproval of the canting regulation phrases so frequently
employed by religious people, which are perfectly nauseous to men of
the world.

This interesting conversation lasted about three quarters of an hour,
and ended, not because the theme seemed exhausted, but because the
time was up. We have only given enough of it to convey some little
idea of its spirit. The company again broke into one of their cheerful
hymns, and the meeting was dismissed in the usual manner.

During the whole evening not a canting word nor a false tone had been
uttered. Some words were used, it is true, and some forms practised,
which are not congenial to "men of the world," and some doctrines were
assumed to be true which have become incredible to many of us. These,
however, were not conspicuous nor much dwelt upon. The subject, too,
of the conversation was less suitable to our purpose than most of the
topics discussed at these meetings, which usually have a more direct
bearing upon the conduct of life. Nevertheless, is it not apparent
that such meetings as this, conducted by a man of tact, good sense,
and experience, must be an aid to good living? Here were a number of
people,--parents, business-men, and others,--most of them heavily
burdened with responsibility, having notes and rents to pay, customers
to get and keep, children to rear,--busy people, anxious people, of
extremely diverse characters, but united by a common desire to live
nobly. The difficulties of noble living are very great,--never so
great, perhaps, as now and here,--and these people assemble every week
to converse upon them. What more rational thing could they do? If they
came together to snivel and cant, and to support one another in a
miserable conceit of being the elect of the human species, we might
object. But no description can show how far from that, how opposite to
that, is the tone, the spirit, the object, of the Friday-evening
meeting at Plymouth Church.

Have we "Liberals"--as we presume to call ourselves--ever devised
anything so well adapted as this to the needs of average mortals
struggling with the ordinary troubles of life? We know of nothing.
Philosophical treatises, and arithmetical computations respecting the
number of people who inhabited Palestine, may have their use, but they
cannot fill the aching void in the heart of a lone widow, or teach an
anxious father how to manage a troublesome boy. There was an old lady
near us at this meeting,--a good soul in a bonnet four fashions
old,--who sat and cried for joy, as the brethren carried on their
talk. She had come in alone from her solitary room, and enjoyed all
the evening long a blended moral and literary rapture. It was a
banquet of delight to her, the recollection of which would brighten
all her week, and it cost her no more than air and sunlight. To the
happy, the strong, the victorious, Shakespeare and the Musical Glasses
may appear to suffice; but the world is full of the weak, the
wretched, and the vanquished.

There was an infuriate heretic in Boston once, whose antipathy to what
he called "superstition" was something that bordered upon lunacy. But
the time came when he had a child, his only child, and the sole joy of
his life, dead in the house. It had to be buried. The broken-hearted
father could not endure the thought of his child's being carried out
and placed in its grave without _some_ outward mark of respect, _some_
ceremonial which should recognize the difference between a dead child
and a dead kitten; and he was fain, at last, to go out and bring to
his house a poor lame cobbler, who was a kind of Methodist preacher,
to say and read a few words that should break the fall of the darling
object into the tomb. The occurrence made no change in his opinions,
but it revolutionized his feelings. He is as untheological as ever;
but he would subscribe money to build a church, and he esteems no man
more than an honest clergyman.

If anything can be predicated of the future with certainty, it is,
that the American people will never give up that portion of their
heritage from the past which we call Sunday, but will always devote
its hours to resting the body and improving the soul. All our
theologies will pass away, but this will remain. Nor less certain is
it, that there will always be a class of men who will do,
professionally and as their settled vocation, the work now done by the
clergy. That work can never be dispensed with, either in civilized or
in barbarous communities. The great problem of civilization is, how to
bring the higher intelligence of the community, and its better moral
feeling, to bear upon the mass of people, so that the lowest grade of
intelligence and morals shall be always approaching the higher, and
the higher still rising. A church purified of superstition solves part
of this problem, and a good school system does the rest.

All things improve in this world very much in the same way. The
improvement originates in one man's mind, and, being carried into
effect with evident good results, it is copied by others. We are all
apt lazily to run in the groove in which we find ourselves; we are
creatures of habit, and slaves of tradition. Now and then, however, in
every profession and sphere, if they are untrammelled by law, an
individual appears who is discontented with the ancient methods, or
sceptical of the old traditions, or both, and he invents better ways,
or arrives at more rational opinions. Other men look on and approve
the improved process, or listen and imbibe the advanced belief.

Now, there appears to be a man upon Brooklyn Heights who has found out
a more excellent way of conducting a church than has been previously
known. He does not waste the best hours of every day in writing
sermons, but employs those hours in absorbing the knowledge and
experience which should be the matter of sermons. He does not fritter
away the time of a public instructor in "pastoral visits," and other
useless visitations. His mode of conducting a public ceremonial
reaches the finish of high art, which it resembles also in its
sincerity and simplicity. He has known how to banish from his church
everything that savors of cant and sanctimoniousness,--so loathsome to
honest minds. Without formally rejecting time-honored forms and
usages, he has infused into his teachings more and more of the modern
spirit, drawn more and more from science and life, less and less from
tradition, until he has acquired the power of preaching sermons which
Edwards and Voltaire, Whitefield and Tom Paine, would heartily and
equally enjoy. Surely, there is something in all this which could be
imitated. The great talents with which he is endowed cannot be
imparted, but we do not believe that his power is wholly derived from
his talent. A man of only respectable abilities, who should catch his
spirit, practise some of his methods, and spend his strength in
getting knowledge, and not in coining sentences, would be able
anywhere to gather round him a concourse of hearers. The great secret
is, to let orthodoxy slide, as something which is neither to be
maintained nor refuted,--insisting only on the spirit of Christianity,
and applying it to the life of the present day in this land.

There are some reasons for thinking that the men and the organizations
that have had in charge the moral interests of the people of the
United States for the last fifty years have not been quite equal to
their trust. What are we to think of such results of New England
culture as Douglas, Cass, Webster, and many other men of great
ability, but strangely wanting in moral power? What are we to think of
the great numbers of Southern Yankees who were, and are, the bitterest
foes of all that New England represents? What are we to think of the
Rings that seem now-a-days to form themselves, as it were,
spontaneously in every great corporation? What of the club-houses that
spring up at every corner, for the accommodation of husbands and
fathers who find more attractions in wine, supper, and equivocal
stories than in the society of their wives and children? What are we
to think of the fact, that among the people who can afford to
advertise at the rate of a dollar and a half a line are those who
provide women with the means of killing their unborn children,--a
double crime, murder and suicide? What are we to think of the moral
impotence of almost all women to resist the tyranny of fashion, and
the _necessity_ that appears to rest upon them to copy every
disfiguration invented by the harlots of Paris? What are we to think
of the want both of masculine and moral force in men, which makes them
helpless against the extravagance of their households, to support
which they do fifty years' work in twenty, and then die? What are we
to think of the fact, that all the creatures living in the United
States enjoy good health, except the human beings, who are nearly all

When we consider such things as these, we cannot help calling in
question a kind of public teaching which leaves the people in
ignorance of so much that they most need to know. Henry Ward Beecher
is the only clergyman we ever heard who habitually promulgates the
truth, that to be ill is generally a sin, and always a shame. We never
heard him utter the demoralizing falsehood, that this present life is
short and of small account, and that nothing is worthy of much
consideration except the life to come. He dwells much on the enormous
length of this life, and the prodigious revenue of happiness it may
yield to those who comply with the conditions of happiness. It is his
habit, also, to preach the duty which devolves upon every person, to
labor for the increase of his knowledge and the general improvement of
his mind. We have heard him say on the platform of his church, that it
was disgraceful to any mechanic or clerk to let such a picture as the
Heart of the Andes be exhibited for twenty-five cents, and not go and
see it. Probably there is not one honest clergyman in the country who
does not fairly earn his livelihood by the good he does, or by the
evil he prevents. But not enough good is done, and riot enough evil
prevented. The sudden wealth that has come upon the world since the
improvement of the steam-engine adds a new difficulty to the life of
millions. So far, the world does not appear to have made the best use
of its too rapidly increased surplus. "We cannot sell a twelve-dollar
book in this country," said a bookseller to us the other day. But how
easy to sell two-hundred-dollar garments! There seems great need of
something that shall have power to spiritualize mankind, and make head
against the reinforced influence of material things. It may be that
the true method of dealing with the souls of modern men has been, in
part, discovered by Mr. Beecher, and that it would be well for persons
aspiring to the same vocation to _begin_ their preparation by making a
pilgrimage to Brooklyn Heights.


The Staten Island ferry, on a fine afternoon in summer, is one of the
pleasantest scenes which New York affords. The Island, seven miles
distant from the city, forms one of the sides of the Narrows, through
which the commerce of the city and the emigrant ships enter the
magnificent bay that so worthily announces the grandeur of the New
World. The ferry-boat, starting from the extremity of Manhattan
Island, first gives its passengers a view of the East River, all alive
with every description of craft; then, gliding round past Governor's
Island, dotted with camps and crowned with barracks, with the national
flag floating above all, it affords a view of the lofty bluffs which
rise on one side of the Hudson and the long line of the mast-fringed
city on the other; then, rounding Governor's Island, the steamer
pushes its way towards the Narrows, disclosing to view Fort Lafayette,
so celebrated of late, the giant defensive works opposite to it, the
umbrageous and lofty sides of Staten Island, covered with villas, and,
beyond all, the Ocean, lighted up by Coney Island's belt of snowy
sand, glistening in the sun.

Change the scene to fifty-five years ago: New York was then a town of
eighty thousand people, and Staten Island was inhabited only by
farmers, gardeners, and fishermen, who lived by supplying the city
with provisions. No elegant seats, no picturesque villas adorned the
hillsides, and pleasure-seekers found a nearer resort in Hoboken. The
ferry then, if ferry it could be called, consisted of a few
sail-boats, which left the island in the morning loaded with
vegetables and fish, and returned, if wind and tide permitted, at
night. If a pleasure party occasionally visited Staten Island, they
considered themselves in the light of bold adventurers, who had gone
far beyond the ordinary limits of an excursion. There was only one
thing in common between the ferry at that day and this: the boats
started from the same spot. Where the ferry-house now stands at
Whitehall was then the beach to which the boatmen brought their
freight, and where they remained waiting for a return cargo. That was,
also, the general boat-stand of the city. Whoever wanted a boat, for
business or pleasure, repaired to Whitehall, and it was a matter of
indifference to the boatmen from Staten Island, whether they returned
home with a load, or shared in the general business of the port.

It is to one of those Whitehall boatmen of 1810, that we have to
direct the reader's attention. He was distinguished from his comrades
on the stand in several ways. Though master of a Staten Island boat
that would carry twenty passengers, he was but sixteen years of age,
and he was one of the handsomest, the most agile and athletic, young
fellows that either Island could show. Young as he was, there was that
in his face and bearing which gave assurance that he was abundantly
competent to his work. He was always at his post betimes, and on the
alert for a job. He always performed what he undertook. This summer of
1810 was his first season, but he had already an ample share of the
best of the business of the harbor.

Cornelius Vanderbilt was the name of this notable youth,--the same
Cornelius Vanderbilt who has since built a hundred steamboats, who has
since made a present to his country of a steamship of five thousand
tons' burden, who has since bought lines of railroad, and who reported
his income to the tax commissioners, last year at something near three
quarters of a million. The first money the steamboat-king ever earned
was by carrying passengers between Staten Island and New York at
eighteen cents each.

His father, who was also named Cornelius, was the founder of the
Staten Island ferry. He was a thriving farmer on the Island as early
as 1794, tilling his own land near the Quarantine Ground, and
conveying his produce to New York in his own boat. Frequently he would
carry the produce of some of his neighbors, and, in course of time, he
ran his boat regularly, leaving in the morning and returning at night,
during the whole of the summer, and thus he established a ferry which
has since become one of the most profitable in the world, carrying
sometimes more than twelve thousand passengers in a day. He was an
industrious, enterprising, liberal man, and early acquired a property
which for that time was affluence. His wife was a singularly wise and
energetic woman. She was the main stay of the family, since her
husband was somewhat too liberal for his means, and not always prudent
in his projects. Once, when her husband had fatally involved himself,
and their farm was in danger of being sold for a debt of three
thousand dollars, she produced, at the last extremity, her private
store, and counted out the whole sum in gold pieces. She lived to the
great age of eighty-seven, and left an estate of fifty thousand
dollars, the fruit of her own industry and prudence. Her son, like
many other distinguished men, loves to acknowledge that whatever he
has, and whatever he is that is good, he owes to the precepts, the
example, and the judicious government of his mother.

Cornelius, the eldest of their family of nine children, was born at
the old farm-house on Staten Island, May 27, 1794. A healthy, vigorous
boy, fond of out-door sports, excelling his companions in all boyish
feats, on land and water, he had an unconquerable aversion to the
confinement of the school-room. At that day, the school-room was,
indeed, a dull and uninviting place, the lessons a tedious routine of
learning by rote, and the teacher a tyrant, enforcing them by the
terrors of the stick. The boy went to school a little, now and then,
but learned little more than to read, write, and cipher, and these
imperfectly. The only books he remembers using at school were the
spelling-book and Testament. His real education was gained in working
on his father's farm, helping to sail his father's boat, driving his
father's horses, swimming, riding, rowing, sporting with his young
friends. He was a bold rider from infancy, and passionately fond of a
fine horse. He tells his friends sometimes, that he rode a race-horse
at full speed when he was but six years old. That he regrets not
having acquired more school knowledge, that he values what is commonly
called education, is shown by the care he has taken to have his own
children well instructed.

There never was a clearer proof than in his case that the child is
father of the man. He showed in boyhood the very quality which has
most distinguished him as a man,--the power of accomplishing things in
spite of difficulty and opposition. He was a born conqueror.

When he was twelve years old, his father took a contract for getting
the cargo out of a vessel stranded near Sandy Hook, and transporting
it to New York in lighters. It was necessary to carry the cargo in
wagons across a sandy spit. Cornelius, with a little fleet of
lighters, three wagons, their horses and drivers, started from home
solely charged with the management of this difficult affair. After
loading the lighters and starting them for the city, he had to conduct
his wagons home by land,--a long distance over Jersey sands. Leaving
the beach with only six dollars, he reached South Amboy penniless,
with six horses and three men, all hungry, still far from home, and
separated from Staten Island by an arm of the sea half a mile wide,
that could be crossed only by paying the ferryman six dollars. This
was a puzzling predicament for a boy of twelve, and he pondered long
how he could get out of it. At length he went boldly to the only
innkeeper of the place, and addressed him thus:--

"I have here three teams that I want to get over to Staten
Island. If you will put us across, I'll leave with you one
of my horses in pawn, and if I don't send you back the six
dollars within forty-eight hours you may keep the horse."

The innkeeper looked into the bright, honest eyes of the boy for a
moment and said:--

"I'll do it."

And he did it. The horse in pawn was left with the ferryman on the
Island, and he was redeemed in time.

Before he was sixteen he had made up his mind to earn his livelihood
by navigation of some kind, and often, when tired of farm work, he had
cast wistful glances at the outward-bound ships that passed his home.
Occasionally, too, he had alarmed his mother by threatening to run
away and go to sea. His preference, however, was to become a boatman
of New York harbor. On the first of May, 1810,--an important day in
his history,--he made known his wishes to his mother, and asked her to
advance him a hundred dollars for the purchase of a boat. She

"My son, on the twenty-seventh of this month you will be sixteen years
old. If, by your birthday, you will plough, harrow, and plant with
corn that lot," pointing to a field, "I will advance you the money."

The field was one of eight acres, very rough, tough, and stony. He
informed his young companions of his mother's conditional promise, and
several of them readily agreed to help him. For the next two weeks the
field presented the spectacle of a continuous "bee" of boys, picking
up stones, ploughing, harrowing, and planting. To say that the work
was done in time, and done thoroughly, is only another way of stating
that it was undertaken and conducted by Cornelius Vanderbilt. On his
birthday he claimed the fulfilment of his mother's promise.
Reluctantly she gave him the money, considering his project only less
wild than that of running away to sea. He hurried off to a neighboring
village, bought his boat, hoisted sail, and started for home one of
the happiest youths in the world. His first adventure seemed to
justify his mother's fears, for he struck a sunken wreck on his way,
and just managed to run his boat ashore before she filled and sunk.

Undismayed at this mishap, he began his new career. His success, as we
have intimated, was speedy and great. He made a thousand dollars
during each of the next three summers. Often he worked all night, but
he was never absent from his post by day, and he soon had the cream of
the boating business of the port.

At that day parents claimed the services and the earnings of their
children till they were twenty-one. In other words, families made
common cause against the common enemy, Want. The arrangement between
this young boatman and his parents was that he should give them all
his day earnings and half his night earnings. He fulfilled his
engagement faithfully until his parents released him from it, and with
his own half of his earnings by night he bought all his clothes. He
had forty competitors in the business, who, being all grown men, could
dispose of their gains as they chose; but of all the forty, he alone
has emerged to prosperity and distinction. Why was this? There were
several reasons. He soon came to be the best boatman in the port. He
attended to his business more regularly and strictly than any other.
He had no vices. His comrades spent at night much of what they earned
by day, and when the winter suspended their business, instead of
living on the last summer's savings, they were obliged to lay up debts
for the next summer's gains to discharge. In those three years of
willing servitude to his parents, Cornelius Vanderbilt added to the
family's common stock of wealth, and gained for himself three
things,--a perfect knowledge of his business, habits of industry and
self-control, and the best boat in the harbor.

The war of 1812 suspended the commerce of the port, but gave a great
impulse to boating. There were men-of-war in the harbor and garrisons
in the forts, which gave to the boatmen of Whitehall and Staten Island
plenty of business, of which Cornelius Vanderbilt had his usual share.
In September, 1813, during a tremendous gale, a British fleet
attempted to run past Fort Richmond. After the repulse, the commander
of the fort, expecting a renewal of the attempt, was anxious to get
the news to the city, so as to secure a reinforcement early the next
day. Every one agreed that, if the thing could be done, there was but
one man who could do it; and, accordingly, young Vanderbilt was sent

"Can you take a party up to the city in this gale?"

"Yes," was the reply; "but I shall have to carry them part of the way
under water."

When he made fast to Coffee-House slip, an hour or two after, every
man in the boat was drenched to the skin. But there they were, and the
fort was reinforced the next morning.

About this time, the young man had another important conversation with
his mother, which, perhaps, was more embarrassing than the one
recorded above. He was in love. Sophia Johnson was the maiden's
name,--a neighbor's lovely and industrious daughter, whose affections
he had wooed and won. He asked his mother's consent to the match, and
that henceforth he might have the disposal of his own earnings. She
approved his choice, and released him from his obligations. During the
rest of that season he labored with new energy, saved five hundred
dollars, and, in December, 1813, when he laid up his boat for the
winter, became the happy husband of the best of wives.

In the following spring, a great alarm pervaded all the sea-board
cities of America. Rumors were abroad of that great expedition which,
at the close of the year, attacked New Orleans; but, in the spring and
summer, no one knew upon which port the blow would fall. The militia
of New York were called out for three months, under a penalty of
ninety-six dollars to whomsoever should fail to appear at the
rendezvous. The boatmen, in the midst of a flourishing business, and
especially our young husband, were reluctant to lose the profits of a
season's labor, which were equivalent, in their peculiar case, to the
income of a whole year. An advertisement appeared one day in the
papers which gave them a faint prospect of escaping this disaster. It
was issued from the office of the commissary-general, Matthew L.
Davis, inviting bids from the boatmen for the contract of conveying
provisions to the posts in the vicinity of New York during the three
months, the contractor to be exempt from military duty. The boatmen
caught at this, as a drowning man catches at a straw, and put in bids
at rates preposterously low,--all except Cornelius Vanderbilt.

"Why don't you send in a bid?" asked his father.

"Of what use would it be?" replied the son. "They are offering to do
the work at half-price. It can't be done at such rates."

"Well," added the father, "it can do no harm to try for it."

So, to please his father, but without the slightest expectation of
getting the contract, he sent in an application, offering to transport
the provisions at a price which would enable him to do it with the
requisite certainty and promptitude. His offer was simply fair to both

On the day named for the awarding of the contract, all the boatmen but
him assembled in the commissary's office. He remained at the
boat-stand, not considering that he had any interest in the matter.
One after another, his comrades returned with long faces, sufficiently
indicative of their disappointment; until, at length, all of them had
come in, but no one bringing the prize. Puzzled at this, he strolled
himself to the office, and asked the commissary if the contract had
been given.

"O yes," said Davis; "that business is settled. Cornelius Vanderbilt
is the man."

He was thunderstruck.

"What!" said the commissary, observing his astonishment, is it you?"

"My name is Cornelius Vanderbilt."

"Well," said Davis, "don't you know why we have given the contract to


"Why, it is because we want this business _done_, and we know you'll
do it."

Matthew L. Davis, as the confidant of Aaron Burr, did a good many
foolish things in his life, but on this occasion he did a wise one.
The contractor asked him but one favor, which was, that the daily load
of stores might be ready for him every evening at six o'clock. There
were six posts to be supplied: Harlem, Hurl Gate, Ward's Island, and
three others in the harbor or at the Narrows, each of which required
one load a week. Young Vanderbilt did all this work at night; and
although, during the whole period of three months, he never once
failed to perform his contract, he was never once absent from his
stand in the day-time. He slept when he could, and when he could not
sleep he did without it. Only on Sunday and Sunday night could he be
said to rest. There was a rare harvest for boatmen that summer.
Transporting sick and furloughed soldiers, naval and military
officers, the friends of the militia men, and pleasure-seekers
visiting the forts, kept those of the boatmen who had "escaped the
draft," profitably busy. It was not the time for an enterprising man
to be absent from his post.

From the gains of that summer he built a superb little schooner, the
Dread; and, the year following, the joyful year of peace, he and his
brother-in-law. Captain De Forrest, launched the Charlotte, a vessel
large enough for coasting service, and the pride of the harbor for
model and speed. In this vessel, when the summer's work was over, he
voyaged sometimes along the Southern coast, bringing home considerable
freights from the Carolinas. Knowing the coast thoroughly, and being
one of the boldest and most expert of seamen, he and his vessel were
always ready when there was something to be done of difficulty and
peril. During the three years succeeding the peace of 1815, he saved
three thousand dollars a year; so that, in 1818, he possessed two or
three of the nicest little craft in the harbor, and a cash capital of
nine thousand dollars.

The next step of Captain Vanderbilt astonished both his rivals and his
friends. He deliberately abandoned his flourishing business, to accept
the post of captain of a small steamboat, at a salary of a thousand
dollars a year. By slow degrees, against the opposition of the
boatmen, and the terrors of the public, steamboats had made their way;
until, in 1817, ten years after Fulton's experimental trip, the long
head of Captain Vanderbilt clearly comprehended that the supremacy of
sails was gone forever, and he resolved to ally himself to the new
power before being overcome gone forever, and he resolved to ally
himself to the new power before being overcome by it. Besides, he
protests, that in no enterprise of his life has his chief object been
the gain of money. Being in the business of carrying passengers, he
desired to carry them in the best manner, and by the best means.
Business has ever been to him a kind of game, and his ruling motive
was and is, to play it so as to win. _To carry his point_, that has
been the motive of his business career; but then his point has
generally been one which, being carried, brought money with it.

At that day, passengers to Philadelphia were conveyed by steamboat
from New York to New Brunswick, where they remained all night, and the
next morning took the stage for Trenton, whence they were carried to
Philadelphia by steamboat. The proprietor of part of this line was the
once celebrated Thomas Gibbons, a man of enterprise and capital. It
was in his service that Captain Vanderbilt spent the next twelve years
of his life, commanding the steamer plying between New York and New
Brunswick. The hotel at New Brunswick, where the passengers passed the
night, which had never paid expenses, was let to him rent free, and
under the efficient management of Mrs. Vanderbilt, it became
profitable, and afforded the passengers such excellent entertainment
as to enhance the popularity of the line.

In engaging with Mr. Gibbons, Captain Vanderbilt soon found that he
had put his head into a hornet's nest. The State of New York had
granted to Fulton and Livingston the exclusive right of running
steamboats in New York waters. Thomas Gibbons, believing the grant
unconstitutional, as it was afterwards declared by the Supreme Court,
ran his boats in defiance of it, and thus involved himself in a long
and fierce contest with the authorities of New York. The brunt of this
battle fell upon his new captain. There was one period when for sixty
successive days an attempt was made to arrest him; but the captain
baffled every attempt. Leaving his crew in New Jersey (for they also
were liable to arrest), he would approach the New York wharf with a
lady at the helm, while he managed the engine; and as soon as the boat
was made fast he concealed himself in the depths of the vessel. At the
moment of starting, the officer (changed every day to avoid
recognition) used to present himself and tap the wary captain on the

"Let go the line," was his usual reply to the summons.

The officer, fearing to be carried off to New Jersey, where a
retaliatory act threatened him with the State's prison, would jump
ashore as for life; or, if carried off, would beg to be put ashore. In
this way, and in many others, the captain contrived to evade the law.
He fought the State of New York for seven years, until, in 1824, Chief
Justice Marshall pronounced New York wrong and New Jersey right. The
opposition vainly attempted to buy him off by the offer of a larger

"No," replied the captain, "I shall stick to Mr. Gibbons till he is
through his troubles."

That was the reason why he remained so long in the service of Mr.

After this war was over, the genius of Captain Vanderbilt had full
play, and he conducted the line with so much energy and good sense,
that it yielded an annual profit of forty thousand dollars. Gibbons
offered to raise his salary to five thousand dollars a year, but he
declined the offer. An acquaintance once asked him why he refused a
compensation that was so manifestly just.

"I did it on principle," was his reply. "The other captains had but
one thousand, and they were already jealous enough of me. Besides, I
never cared for money. All I ever have cared for was to carry my

A little incident of these years he has sometimes related to his
children. In the cold January of 1820, the ship Elizabeth--the first
ship ever sent to Africa by the Colonization Society--lay at the foot
of Rector Street, with the negroes all on board, frozen in. For many
days, her crew, aided by the crew of the frigate Siam, her convoy, had
been cutting away at the ice; but, as more ice formed at night than
could be removed by day, the prospect of getting to sea was
unpromising. One afternoon, Captain Vanderbilt joined the crowd of

"They are going the wrong way to work," he carelessly remarked, as he
turned to go home. "I could get her out in one day."

These words, from a man who was known to mean all he said, made an
impression on a bystander, who reported them to the anxious agent of
the Society. The agent called upon him.

"What did you mean, Captain, by saying that you could get out the ship
in one day?"

"Just what I said."

"What will you get her out for?"

"One hundred dollars."

"I'll give it. When will you do it?"

"Have a steamer to-morrow, at twelve o'clock, ready to tow her out.
I'll have her clear in time."

That same evening, at six, he was on the spot with five men, three
pine boards, and a small anchor. The difficulty was that beyond the
ship there were two hundred yards of ice too thin to bear a man. The
captain placed his anchor on one of his boards, and pushed it out as
far as he could reach; then placed another board upon the ice, laid
down upon it, and gave his anchor another push. Then he put down his
third board, and used that as a means of propulsion. In this way he
worked forward to near the edge of the thin ice, where the anchor
broke through and sunk. With the line attached to it, he hauled a boat
to the outer edge, and then began cutting a passage for the ship.

At eleven the next morning she was clear. At twelve she was towed into
the stream.

In 1829, after twelve years of service as captain of a steamboat,
being then thirty-five years of age, and having saved thirty thousand
dollars, he announced to his employer his intention to set up for
himself. Mr. Gibbons was aghast. He declared that he could not carry
on the line without his aid, and finding him resolute, said:--

"There, Vanderbilt, take all this property, and pay me for it as you
make the money."

This splendid offer he thankfully but firmly declined. He did so
chiefly because he knew, the men with whom he would have had to
co-operate, and foresaw, that he and they could never work comfortably
together. He wanted a free field.

The little Caroline, seventy feet long, that afterward plunged over
Niagara Falls, was the first steamboat ever built by him. His progress
as a steamboat owner was not rapid for some years. The business was in
the hands of powerful companies and wealthy individuals, and he, the
new-comer, running a few small boats on short routes, labored under
serious disadvantages. Formidable attempts were made to run him off
the river; but, prompt to retaliate, he made vigorous inroads into the
enemy's domain, and kept up an opposition so keen as to compel a
compromise in every instance. There was a time, during his famous
contest with the Messrs. Stevens of Hoboken, when he had spent every
dollar he possessed, and when a few days more of opposition would have
compelled him to give up the strife. Nothing saved him but the belief,
on the part of his antagonists, that Gibbons was backing him. It was
not the case; he had no backer. But this error, in the very nick of
time, induced his opponents to treat for a compromise, and he was

Gradually he made his way to the control of the steamboat interest. He
has owned, in whole or in part, a hundred steam vessels. His various
opposition lines have permanently reduced fares one half.
Superintending himself the construction of every boat, having a
perfect practical knowledge of the business in its every detail,
selecting his captains well and paying them justly, he has never lost
a vessel by fire, explosion, or wreck. He possesses, in a remarkable
degree, the talent of selecting the right man for a place, and of
inspiring him with zeal. Every man who serves him _knows_ that he will
be sustained against all intrigue and all opposition, and that he has
nothing to fear so long as he does his duty.

The later events in his career are, in some degree, known to the
public. Every one remembers his magnificent cruise in the North Star,
and how, on returning to our harbor, his first salute was to the
cottage of his venerable mother on the Staten Island shore. To her,
also, on landing, he first paid his respects.

Every one knows that he presented to the government the steamer that
bears his name, at a time when she was earning him two thousand
dollars a day. He has given to the war something more precious than a
ship: his youngest son, Captain Vanderbilt, the most athletic youth
that ever graduated at West Point, and one of the finest young men in
the country. His friends tell us that, on his twenty-second birthday
he lifted nine hundred and eight pounds. But his giant strength did
not save him. The fatigues and miasmas of the Corinth campaign planted
in his magnificent frame the seeds of death. He died a year ago, after
a long struggle with disease, to the inexpressible grief of his

During the last two or three years, Commodore Vanderbilt has been
withdrawing his capital from steamers and investing it in railroads.
It is this fact that has given rise to the impression that he has been
playing a deep game in stock speculation. No such thing. He has
_never_ speculated; he disapproves of, and despises speculation; and
has invariably warned his sons against it as the pursuit of
adventurers and gamblers. "Why, then," Wall Street may ask, "has he
bought almost the whole stock of the Harlem railroad, which pays no
dividends, running it up to prices that seem ridiculous?" We can
answer this question very simply: he bought the Harlem railroad to
_keep_. He bought it as an investment. Looking several inches beyond
his nose, and several days ahead of to-day, he deliberately concluded
that the Harlem road, managed as he could manage it, would be, in the
course of time, what Wall Street itself would call "a good thing." We
shall see, by and by, whether he judged correctly. What was the New
Jersey railroad worth when he and a few friends went over one day and
bought it at auction? Less than nothing. The stock is now held at one
hundred and seventy-five.

After taking the cream of the steamboat business for a quarter of a
century, Commodore Vanderbilt has now become the largest holder of
railroad stock in the country. If tomorrow balloons should supersede
railroads, we should doubtless find him "in" balloons.

Nothing is more remarkable than the ease with which great business men
conduct the most extensive and complicated affairs. At ten or eleven
in the morning, the Commodore rides from his mansion in Washington
Place in a light wagon, drawn by one of his favorite horses, to his
office in Bowling Green, where, in two hours, aided by a single clerk,
he transacts the business of the day, returning early in the afternoon
to take his drive on the road. He despises show and ostentation in
every form. No lackey attends him; he holds the reins himself, With an
estate of forty millions to manage, nearly all actively employed in
iron works and railroads, he keeps scarcely any books, but carries all
his affairs in his head, and manages them without the least anxiety or
apparent effort.

We are informed by one who knows him better almost than any one else,
that he owes his excellent health chiefly to his love of horses. He
possesses the power of leaving his business in his office, and never
thinking of it during his hours of recreation.

Out on the road behind a fast team, or seated at whist at the
Club-House, he enters gayly into the humors of the hour. He is rigid
on one point only;--not to talk or hear of business out of business

Being asked one day what he considered to be the secret of success in
business, he replied:--

"Secret? There is no secret about it. All you have to do is to attend
to your business and go ahead."

With all deference to such an eminent authority, we must be allowed to
think that that is not the whole of the matter. Three things seem
essential to success in business: 1. To _know_ your business. 2. To
attend to it. 3. To keep down expenses until your fortune is safe from
business perils.

On another occasion he replied with more point to a similar

"The secret of my success is this: I never tell what I am going to do
till I have done it."

He is, indeed, a man of little speech. Gen. Grant himself is not more
averse to oratory than he. Once, in London, at a banquet, his health
was given, and he was urged to respond. All that could be extorted
from him was the following:--

"Gentlemen, I have never made a fool of myself in my life, and I am
not going to begin now. Here is a friend of mine (his lawyer) who can
talk all day. He will do my speaking."

Nevertheless, he knows how to express his meaning with singular
clearness, force, and brevity, both by the tongue and by the pen. Some
of his business letters, dictated by him to a clerk, are models of
that kind of composition. He is also master of an art still more
difficult,--that of _not_ saying what he does not wish to say.

As a business man he is even more prudent than he is bold. He has
sometimes remarked, that it has never been in the power of any man or
set of men to prevent his keeping an engagement. If, for example, he
should bind himself to pay a million of dollars on the first of May,
he would at once provide for fulfilling his engagement in such a
manner that no failure on the part of others, no contingency, private
or public, could prevent his doing it. In other words, he would have
the money where he could be sure of finding it on the day.

No one ever sees the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt on a subscription
paper, nor ever will. In his charities, which are numerous and
liberal, he exhibits the reticence which marks his conduct as a man of
business. His object is to render real and permanent service to
deserving objects; but to the host of miscellaneous beggars that
pervade our places of business he is not accessible. The last years of
many a good old soul, whom he knew in his youth, have been made happy
by a pension from him. But of all this not a syllable ever escapes
_his_ lips.

He has now nearly completed his seventy-first year. His frame is still
erect and vigorous; and, as a business man, he has not a living
superior. Every kind of success has attended him through life.
Thirteen children have been born to him,--nine daughters and four
sons,--nearly all of whom are living and are parents. One of his
grandsons has recently come of age. At the celebration of his golden
wedding, three years ago, more than a hundred and forty of his
descendants and relations assembled at his house. On that joyful
occasion, the Commodore presented to his wife a beautiful little
golden steamboat, with musical works instead of an engine,--emblematic
at once of his business career and the harmony of his home. If ever he
boasts of anything appertaining to him, it is when he is speaking of
the manly virtues of his son lost in the war, or when he says that his
wife is the finest woman of her age in the city.


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