Зображення сторінки



ITHIN the memory of many persons still alive, “old

Girard,” as the famous banker was usually styled, a short, stout, brisk old gentleman, used to walk, in his swift, awkward way, the streets of the lower part of Philadelphia. Though everything about him indicated that he had very little in common with his fellow-citizens, he was the marked man of the city for more than a generation. His aspect was rather insignificant and quite unprepossessing. His dress was old-fashioned and shabby; and he wore the pig-tail, the white neck-cloth, the wide-brimmed hat, and the large-skirted coat of the last century. He was blind of one eye; and though his bushy eyebrows gave some character to his countenance, it was curiously devoid of expression. He had also the absent look of a man who either had no thoughts or was absorbed in thought; and he shuffled along on his enormous feet, looking neither to the right nor to the left. There was always a certain look of the old mariner about him, though he had been fifty years an inhabitant of the town. When he rode it was in the plainest, least comfortable gig in Philadelphia, drawn by an ancient and ill-formed horse, driven always by the master's own hand at a good pace. He chose still to live where he had lived for fifty years, in Water Street, close to the wharves, in a small and inconvenient house, darkened by tall storehouses, amid the bustle, the noise, and the odors of commerce. His sole pleasure was to visit once a day a little farm which he possessed a few miles out of town, where he was wont to take off his coat, roll up his shirt-sleeves, and personally labor in the field and in the barn, hoeing corn, pruning trees, tossing hay, and not disdaining even to assist in butchering

the animals which he raised for market. It was no mere ornamental or experimental farm. He made it pay. All of its produce was carefully, nay, scrupulously husbanded, sold, recorded, and accounted for. He loved his grapes, his plums, his pigs, and especially his rare breed of Canary-birds; but the people of Philadelphia had the full benefit of their increase, at the highest market rates.

Many feared, many served, but none loved this singular and lonely old man. If there was among the very few who habitually. conversed with him one who understood and esteemed him, there was but one; and he was a man of such abounding charity, that, like Uncle Toby, if he had heard that the Devil was hopelessly damned, he would have said, “ I am sorry for it.” Never was there a person more destitute than Girard of the qualities which win the affection of others. His temper was violent, his presence forbidding, his usual manner ungracious, his will inflexible, his heart untender, his imagination dead. He was odious to many of his fellow-citizens, who considered him the hardest and meanest of men. He had lived among them for half a century, but he was no more a Philadelphian in 1830 than in 1776. He still spoke with a French accent, and accompanied his words with a French shrug and French gesticulation. Surrounded with Christian churches which he had helped to build, he remained a sturdy unbeliever, and possessed the complete works of only one man, Voltaire. He made it a point of duty to labor on Sunday, as a good example to others. He made no secret of the fact, that he considered the idleness of Sunday an injury to the people, moral and economical. He would have opened his bank on Sundays, if any one would have come to it. For his part, he required no rest, and would have none. He never travelled. He never attended public assemblies or amusements. He had no affections to gratify, no friends to visit, no curiosity to appease, no tastes to indulge. What he once said of himself appeared to be true, that he rose in the morning with but a single object, and that was to labor so hard all day as to be able to sleep all night. The world was absolutely nothing to him but a working-place. He scorned and scouted the opinion, that old men should cease to labor, and

[ocr errors]

should spend the evening of their days in tranquillity. “No," he would say, “ labor is the price of life, its happiness, its everything; to rest is to rust; every man should labor to the last hour of his ability.” Such was Stephen Girard, the richest man who ever lived in Pennsylvania.

This is an unpleasing picture of a citizen of polite and amiable Philadelphia. It were indeed a grim and dreary world in which should prevail the principles of Girard. But see what this man has done for the city that loved him not! Vast and imposing structures rise on the banks of the Schuylkill, wherein, at this hour, six hundred poor orphan boys are fed, clothed, trained, and taught, upon the income of the enormous estate which he won by this entire consecration to the work of accumulating property. In the ample grounds of Girard College, looking up at its five massive marble edifices, strolling in its shady walks or by its verdant play-grounds, or listening to the cheerful cries of the boys at play, the most sympathetic and imaginative of men must pause before censuring the sterile and unlovely life of its founder. And if he should inquire closely into the character and career of the man who willed this great institution into being, he would perhaps be willing to admit that there was room in the world for one Girard, though it were a pity there should ever be another. Such an inquiry would perhaps disclose that Stephen Girard was endowed by nature with a great heart as well as a powerful mind, and that circumstances alone closed and hardened the one, cramped and perverted the other. It is not improbable that he was one of those unfortunate beings who desire to be loved, but whose temper and appearance combine to repel affection. His marble statue, which adorns the entrance to the principal building, if it could speak, might say to us, " Living, you could not understand nor love me; dead, I compel at least your respect.” Indeed, he used to say, when questioned as to his career, “Wait till I am dead; my deeds will show what I was.”

Girard's recollections of his childhood were tinged with bitterness.

He was born at Bordeaux in 1750. He was the eldest of the five children of Captain Pierre Girard, a mariner of substance and respectability. He used to complain that, while bis

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

younger brothers were taught at college, his own education was neglected, and that he acquired at home little more than the abil. ity to read and write. He remembered, too, that at the age

of eight years he discovered, to his shame and sorrow, that one of his eyes was blind, - a circumstance that exposed him to the taunts of his companions. The influence of a personal defect, and of the ridicule it occasions, upon the character of a sensitive child, can be understood only by those whose childhood was embittered from that cause ; but such cases as those of Byron and Girard should teach those who have the charge of youth the crime it is to permit such defects to be the subject of remark. Girard also early lost his mother, an event which soon brought him under the sway of a step-mother.

Doubtless he was a wilful, arbitrary, and irascible boy, since we know that he was a wilful, arbitrary, and irascible man. Before he was fourteen, having chosen the profession of his father, he left home, with his father's consent, and went to sea in the capacity of cabiu-boy. He used to boast, late in life, that he began the world with sixpence in his pocket. Quite enough for a cabin-boy.

For nine years he sailed between Bordeaux and the French West Indies, returning at length with the rank of first mate, or, as the French term it, lieutenant of his vessel. He had well improved his time. Some of the defects of his early education he had supplied by study, and it is evident that he had become a skilful navigator. It was then the law of France that no man should command a vessel who was not twenty-five years old, and had not sailed two cruises in a ship of the royal navy. Girard was but twenty-three, and had sailed in none but merchant-ressels. His father, however, had influence enough to procure him a dispensation ; and in 1773 he was licensed to command. He appears to have been scarcely just to his father when he wrote, sixty-three years after : “I have the proud satisfaction of knowing that my conduct, my labor, and my economy have enabled me to do one hundred times more for my relations than they all together have ever done for me since the day of my birth.” In the mere amount of money expended, this may have been true; but it is the start toward fortune that is so difficult. His father,


« НазадПродовжити »