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Baved 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 saved.
Gradually he made his way to the control of the steamboat muterest. 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 so
e, 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. Everyone 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 family.
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 chat 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 son. 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 to-morrow 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 ackey 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
Cat 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 hours.
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 question:
“ 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 in 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 sub. scription paper, nor ever will. In his charities, which are numer. ous and liberal, he exhibits the reticence which marks his con. duct 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.
Commodore Vanderbilt is one of the New World's strong men. His career is one which young men who aspire to lead in practi. zal affairs may study with profit.