« НазадПродовжити »
JOHN JACOB ASTOR.
E all feel some curiosity respecting men who have been
eminent in anything, — even in crime; and as this curiosity is natural and universal, it seems proper that it should be gratified. JOHN JACOB Astor surpassed all the men of his generation in the accumulation of wealth. He began life a poor, hungry German boy, and died worth twenty millions of dollars. These facts are so remarkable, that there is no one who does not feel a desire to know by which means the result was produced, and whether the game was played fairly. We all wish, if not to be rich, yet to have more money than we now possess.
We have known many kinds of men, but never one who felt that he had quite money enough. The three richest men now living in the United States are known to be as much interested in the increase of their possessions, and try as hard to increase them, as ever they did.
This universal desire to accumulate property is right, and necessary to the progress of the race. Like every other proper and virtuous desire, it may become excessive, and then it is a vice. So long as a man seeks property honestly, and values it as the means of independence, as the means of educating and comforting his family, as the means of securing a safe, dignified, and tranquil old age, as the means of private charity and public beneficence, let him bend himself heartily to his work, and enjoy the reward of his labors. It is a fine and pleasant thing to prosper in business, and to have a store to fall back
in time of trouble.
The reader may learn from Astor's career how money is accumulated. Whether he can learn from it how money ought to be employed when it is obtained, he must judge for himself. In founding the Astor Library, John Jacob Astor did at least one magnificent deed, for which thousands unborn will honor his memory. That single act would atone for many errors.
In the hall of the Astor Library, on the sides of two of the pillars supporting its lofty roof of glass, are two little shelves, each holding a single work, never taken down and seldom perused, but nevertheless well worthy the attention of those who are curious in the subject of which they treat, namely, the human face divine. They are two marble busts, facing each other ; one of the founder of the Library, the other of its first President, Washington Irving. A finer study in physiognomy than these two busts present can nowhere be found; for never were two men more unlike than Astor and Irving, and never were character and personal history more legibly recorded than in these
portraits in marble. The countenance of the author is round, full, and handsome, the hair inclining to curl, and the chin to double. It is the face of a happy and genial man, formed to shine at the fireside and to beam from the head of a table. It is an open, candid, liberal, hospitable countenance, indicating far more power to please than to compel, but displaying in the position and carriage of the head much of that dignity which we are accustomed to call Roman. The face of the millionnaire, on the contrary, is all strength ; every line in it tells of concentration and power. The hair is straight and long; the forehead neither lofty nor ample, but powerfully developed in the perceptive and executive organs ; the eyes deeper set in the head than those of Daniel Webster, and overhung with immense bushy eyebrows; the nose large, long, and strongly arched, the veritable nose of a mancompeller ; the mouth, chin, and jaws all denoting firmness and force; the chest, that seat and throne of physical power, is broad and deep, and the back of the neck has something of the muscular fulness which we observe in the prize-fighter and the bull; the head behind the ears showing enough of propelling power, but almost totally wanting in the passional propensities which waste the force of the faculties, and divert the man from his prin
cipal object. As the spectator stands midway between the two busts, at some distance from both, Irving has the larger and the kinglier air, and the face of Astor seems small and set. It is only when you get close to the bust of Astor, observing the strength of each feature and its perfect proportion to the rest, — force everywhere, superfluity nowhere, that you recognize the monarch of the counting-room ; the brain which nothing could confuse or disconcert; the purpose that nothing could divert or defeat; the man who could with ease and pleasure grasp and control the multitudinous concerns of a business that embraced the habited and unhabited globe, that employed ships in every sea, and men in every clime, and brought in to the coffers of the merchant the revenue of a king. That speechless bust tells us how it was that this man, from suffering in his father's povertystricken house the habitual pang of hunger, arrived at the greatest fortune, perhaps, ever accumulated in a single lifetime; you perceive that whatever thing this strong and compact man set himself to do, he would be certain to achieve unless stopped by something as powerful as a law of nature.
The monument of these two gifted men is the airy and graceful interior of which their busts are the only ornament. Astor founded the Library, but it was probably his regard for Irving that induced him to appropriate part of his wealth for a purpose not in harmony with his own humor. Irving is known to us all, as only wits and poets are ever known. But of the singular being who possessed so remarkable a genius for accumulation, of which this Library is one of the results, little has been imparted to the public, and of that little the greater part is fabulous.
A hundred years ago, in the poor little village of Waldorf, in the duchy of Baden, lived a jovial, good-for-nothing butcher, named Jacob Astor, who felt himself much more at home in the beer-house than at the fireside of his own house in the principal street of the village. At the best, the butcher of Waldorf must have been a poor man; for, at that day, the inhabitants of a Ger. man village enjoyed the luxury of fresh meat only on great days such as those of confirmation, baptism, weddings, and Christmas