« НазадПродовжити »
The village itself was remote and insignificant, and thjugh situ ated in the valley of the Rhine, the native home of the vine, a region of proverbial fertility, the immediate vicinity of Waldorf was not a rich or very populous country. The home of Jacob Astor, therefore, seldom knew any medium between excessive abundance and extreme scarcity, and he was not the man to make the superfluity of to-day provide for the need of to-morrow; which was the more unfortunate as the periods of abundance were few and far between, and the times of scarcity extended over the greater part of the year. It was the custom then in Germany for every farmer to provide a fatted pig, calf, or bullock, against the time of harvest; and as that joyful season approached, the village butcher went the round of the neighborhood, stopping a day or two at each house to kill the animals and convert their flesh into bacon, sausages, or salt beef. During this happy time, Jacob Astor, a merry dog, always welcome where pleasure and hilarity were going forward, had enough to drink, and his family had enough to eat. But the merry time lasted only six weeks. Then set in the season of scarcity, which was only relieved when there was a festival of the church, a wedding, a christening, or a birthday in some family of the village rich enough to provide an animal for Jacob's knife. The wife of this idle and improvident butcher was such a wife as such men usually contrive to pick up, — industrious, saving, and capable ; the mainstay of his house. Often she remonstrated with her wasteful and beer-loving husband; the domestic sky was often overcast, and the children were glad to fly from the noise and dust of the tempest.
This roistering village butcher and his worthy, much-enduring wife were the parents of our millionnaire. They had four sons: George Peter Astor, born in 1752; Henry Astor, born in 1754; John Melchior Astor, born in 1759; and John Jacob Astor, born July 17, 1763. Each of these sons made haste to fly from the privations and contentions of tbeir home as soon as they were old enough; and, what is more remarkable, each of them had a zasi of character precisely the opposite of their thriftless father. They were all saving, industrious, temperate, and enterprising, and all of them became prosperous men at an early period of their career. They were all duly instructed in their father's trade; each in turn carried about the streets of Waldorf the basket of meat, and accompanied the father in his harvest slaughtering tours. Jovial Jacob, we are told, gloried in being a butcher, but three of his sons, much to his disgust, manifested a repugnance to it, which was one of the causes of their flight from the parental nest. The eldest, who was the first to go, made his way to London, where an uncle was established in business as a maker of musical instruments. Astor and Broadwood was the name of the firm, a house that still exists under the title of Broadwood and Co., one of the most noted makers of pianos in England. In his uncle's manufactory George Astor serund an apprenticeship, and became at length a partner in the firm. Henry Astor went next. He alone of his father's sons took to his father's trade. It used to be thrown in his teeth, when he was a thriving butcher in the city of New York, that he had come over to America as a private in the Hessian army. This may only have been the groundless taunt of an envious rival. It is certain, however, that he was a butcher in New York when it was a British post during the revolutionary war, and, remaining after the evacuation, made a large fortune in his business. The third son, John Melchior Astor, found employment in Germany, and arrived, at length, at the profitable post of steward to a nobleman's estate.
Abandoned thus by his three brothers, John Jacob Astor had to endure for some years a most cheerless and miserable lot. He lost his mother, too, from whom he had derived all that was good in his character and most of the happiness of his childhood. A step-mother replaced her, “ who loved not Jacob,” nor John. Jacob. The father, still devoted to pleasure, quarrelled so bitterly with his new wife, that his son was often glad to escape to the house of a schoolfellow (living in 1854), where he would passthe night in a garret or outhouse, thankfully accepting for hissupper a crust of dry bread, and returning the next morning to Assist in the slaughter-house or carry out the meat. It was not often that he had enough to eat; his clothes were of the poores!
descripcion; and, as to money, he absolutely had none of it. The unhappiness of his home and the misconduct of his father made him ashamed to join in the sports of the village boys; and he passed much of his leisure alone, brooding over the unhappiness of his lot. The family increased, but not its income. It is recorded of him that he tended his little sisters with care and fondness, and sought in all ways to lessen the dislike and ill-humor of his step-mother.
It is not hardship, however, that enervates a lad. It is indulgence and luxury that do that. He grew a stout, healthy, tough, and patient boy, diligent and skilful in the discharge of his duty, often supplying the place of his father absent in merrymaking. If, in later life, he overvalued money, it should not be forgotten that few men have had a harder experience of the want of money at the age when character is forming.
The bitterest lot has its alleviations. Sometimes a letter would reach him from over the sea, telling of the good fortune of a brother in a distant land. In his old age he used to boast that in his boyhood he walked forty-five miles in one day for the sole purpose of getting a letter that had arrived from England or America. The Astors have always been noted for the strength of their family affection. Our millionnaire forgot much that he ought to have remembered, but he was not remiss in fulfilling the obligations of kindred.
It appears, too, that he was fortunate in having a better schoolmaster than could generally be found at that day in a village school of Germany. Valentine Jeune was his name, a French Protestant, whose parents had fled from their country during the reign of Louis XIV. He was an active and sympathetic teacher, and bestowed unusual pains upon the boy, partly because he pitied his unhappy situation, and partly because of his aptitude to learn. Nevertheless, the school routine of those days was extremely limited. To read and write, to cipher as far as the Rule of Three, to learn the Catechism by heart, and to sing the Church Hymns “so that the windows should rattle,” — these were the Bole accomplishments of even the best pupils of Valentine Jeune Baden was then under the rule of a Catholic family It was a
saying in Waldorf that no man could be appointed a swineherd who was not a Catholic, and that if a mayoralty were vacant the swineherd must have the place if there were no other Catholic in the town. Hence it was that the line which separated the Protestant minority from the Catholic majority was sharply defined, and the Protestant children were the more thoroughly in doctrinated. Rev. John Philip Steiner, the Protestant pastor of Waldorf, a learned and faithful minister, was as punctilious in requiring from the children the thorough learning of the Catechism as a German sergeant was in exacting all the niceties of the parade. Young Astor became, therefore, a very decided Protestant; he lived and died a member of the Church in which he was born.
The great day in the life of a German child is that of his confirmation, which usually occurs in his fourteenth year. The ceremony, which was performed at Waldorf every two years, was a festival at once solemn and joyous. The children, long prepared beforehand by the joint labors of minister, schoolmaster, and parents, walk in procession to the church, the girls in white, the boys in their best clothes, and there, after the requisite exazinations, the rite is performed, and the Sacrament is administered. The day concludes with festivity. Confirmation also is the point of divisions between childhood and youth, — between absolute dependence and the beginning of responsibility. After confirmation, the boys of a German peasant take their place in life as apprentices or as servants; and the girls, unless their services are required at home, are placed in situations. Childhood ends, maturity begins, when the child has tasted for the first time the bread and wine of the Communion. Whether a boy then becomes an apprentice or a servant depends upon whether his parents have been provident enough to save a sum of money sufficient to pay the usual premium required by a master as compensation for his trouble in teaching his trade. This premium varied at that day from fifty dollars to two hundred, according to the difficulty and
espectability of the vocation. A carpenter or a blacksmith might be satisfied with a premium of sixty or seventy dollars while a cabinet-maker would demand a hundred, and a musical instrument maker or a clock-maker two hundred.
On Palm Sunday, 1777, when he was about fourteen years of age, John Jacob Astor was confirmed. He then consulted his father upon his future. Money to apprentice him there was none in the paternal coffers. The trade of butcher he knew and disliked. Nor was he inclined to accept as his destiny for life the condition of servant or laborer. The father, who thought the occupation of butcher one of the best in the world, and who needed the help of his son, particularly in the approaching season of harvest, paid no heed to the entreaties of the lad, who saw himself condemned without hope to a business which he loathed, and to labor at it without reward.
A deep discontent settled upon him. The tidings of the good fortune of his brothers inflamed his desire to seek his fortune in the world. The news of the Revolutionary War, which drew all eyes upon America, and in which the people of all lands sympathized with the struggling colonies, had its effect upon him. He began to long for the “New Land,” as the Germans then styled America ; and it is believed in Waldorf that soon after the capture of Burgoyne had spread abroad a confidence in the final success of the colonists, the youth formed the secret determination to emigrate to America. Nevertheless, he had to wait three miserable years longer, until the surrender of Cornwallis made it certain that America was to be free, before he was able to enter upon the gratification of his desire.
In getting to America, he displayed the same sagacity in adapting means to ends that distinguished him during his business career in New York. Money he had never had in his life, beyond a few silver coins of the smallest denomination. His father had none to give him, even if he had been inclined to do so. It was only when the lad was evidently resolved to go that he gave a slow, reluctant consent to his departure. Waldorf is nearly three hundred miles from the seaport in Holland most convenient for his purpose. Despite the difficulties, this penniless youth formed the resolution of going down the Rhine to Holland, there taking ship for London, where he would join his brother, and, while earning money for his passage to America, learn the language of he country to which he was destined. It appears that he dreaded