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´╗┐Title: John Jacob Astor
Author: Hubbard, Elbert, 1856-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Jacob Astor" ***

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The man who makes it the habit of his life to go to bed at nine
o'clock, usually gets rich and is always reliable.  Of course, going to
bed does not make him rich--I merely mean that such a man will in all
probability be up early in the morning and do a big day's work, so his
weary bones put him to bed early.  Rogues do their work at night.
Honest men work by day.  It's all a matter of habit, and good habits in
America make any man rich.  Wealth is a result of habit.



Victor Hugo says, "When you open a school, you close a prison."

This seems to require a little explanation.  Victor Hugo did not have
in mind a theological school, nor yet a young ladies' seminary, nor an
English boarding-school, nor a military academy, and least of all a
parochial institute.  What he was thinking of was a school where
people--young and old--were taught to be self-respecting, self-reliant
and efficient--to care for themselves, to help bear the burdens of the
world, to assist themselves by adding to the happiness of others.

Victor Hugo fully realized that the only education that serves is the
one that increases human efficiency, not the one that retards it.  An
education for honors, ease, medals, degrees, titles,
position--immunity--may tend to exalt the individual ego, but it
weakens the race and its gain on the whole is nil.

Men are rich only as they give.  He who gives great service, gets great
returns.  Action and reaction are equal, and the radiatory power of the
planets balances their attraction.  The love you keep is the love you
give away.

A bumptious colored person wearing a derby tipped over one eye, and a
cigar in his mouth pointing to the northwest, walked into a hardware
store and remarked, "Lemme see your razors."

The clerk smiled pleasantly and asked, "Do you want a razor to shave

"Naw," said the colored person, "--for social purposes."

An education for social purposes is n't of any more use than a razor
purchased for a like use.  An education which merely fits a person to
prey on society, and occasionally slash it up, is a predatory
preparation for a life of uselessness, and closes no prison.  Rather it
opens a prison and takes captive at least one man.  The only education
that makes free is the one that tends to human efficiency.  Teach
children to work, play, laugh, fletcherize, study, think, and yet
again--work, and we will raze every prison.

There is only one prison, and its name is Inefficiency.  Amid the
bastions of this bastile of the brain the guards are Pride, Pretense,
Greed, Gluttony, Selfishness.

Increase human efficiency and you set the captives free.

"The Teutonic tribes have captured the world because of their
efficiency," says Lecky the historian.

He then adds that he himself is a Celt.

The two statements taken together reveal Lecky to be a man without
prejudice.  When the Irish tell the truth about the Dutch the
millennium approaches.

Should the quibbler arise and say that the Dutch are not Germans, I
will reply, true, but the Germans are Dutch--at least they are of Dutch

The Germans are great simply because they have the homely and
indispensable virtues of prudence, patience and industry.

There is no copyright on these qualities.  God can do many things, but
so far, He has never been able to make a strong race of people and
leave these ingredients out of the formula.

As a nation, Holland first developed them so that they became the
characteristic of the whole people.

It was the slow, steady stream of Hollanders pushing southward that
civilized Germany.

Music as a science was born in Holland.  The grandfather of Beethoven
was a Dutchman.

Gutenberg's forebears were from Holland.

And when the Hollanders had gone clear through Germany, and then
traversed Italy, and came back home by way of Venice, they struck the
rock of spiritual resources and the waters gushed forth.

Since Rembrandt carried portraiture to the point of perfection, two
hundred and fifty years ago, Holland has been a land of artists--and it
is so even unto this day.

John Jacob Astor was born of a Dutch family that had migrated down to
Heidelberg from Antwerp.  Through some strange freak of atavism the
father of the boy bred back, and was more or less of a stone-age
cave-dweller.  He was a butcher by trade, in the little town of
Waldorf, a few miles from Heidelberg.  A butcher's business then was to
travel around and kill the pet pig, or sheep, or cow that the
tender-hearted owners dare not harm.  The butcher was a pariah, a sort
of unofficial, industrial hangman.

At the same time he was more or less of a genius, for he climbed
steeples, dug wells, and did all kinds of disagreeable jobs that needed
to be done, and from which sober and cautious men shrank like unwashed

One such man--a German, too--lives in East Aurora.  I joined him,
accidentally, in walking along a country road the other day.  He
carried a big basket on his arm, and was peacefully smoking a big Dutch
pipe.  We talked of music and he was regretting the decline of a taste
for Bach, when he shifted the basket to the other arm.

"What have you in the basket?" I asked.

And here is the answer, "Noddings--but dynamite.  I vas going up on der
hill, already, to blow me oud some stumps oud."  And I suddenly
bethought me of an engagement I had at the village.

John Jacob Astor was the youngest of four sons, and as many daughters.
The brothers ran away early in life, and went to sea or joined the
army.  One of these boys came to America, and followed his father's
trade of butcher.

Jacob Astor, the happy father of John Jacob, used to take the boy with
him on his pig-killing expeditions.  This for two reasons--one, so the
lad would learn a trade, and the other to make sure that the boy did
not run away.

Parents who hold their children by force have a very slender claim upon
them.  The pastor of the local Lutheran Church took pity on this boy,
who had such disgust for his father's trade and hired him to work in
his garden and run errands.

The intelligence and alertness of the lad made him look like good
timber for a minister.

He learned to read and was duly confirmed as a member of the church.

Under the kindly care of the village parson John Jacob grew in mind and
body--his estate was to come later.  When he was seventeen, his father
came and made a formal demand for his services.  The young man must
take up his father's work of butchering.

That night John Jacob walked out of Waldorf by the wan light of the
moon, headed for Antwerp.  He carried a big red handkerchief in which
his worldly goods were knotted, and in his heart he had the blessings
of the Lutheran clergyman, who walked with him for half a mile, and
said a prayer at parting.

To have youth, high hope, right intent, health and a big red
handkerchief is to be greatly blessed.

John Jacob got a job next day as oarsman on a lumber raft.

He reached Antwerp in a week.  There he got a job on the docks as a
laborer.  The next day he was promoted to checker-off.  The captain of
a ship asked him to go to London and figure up the manifests on the
way.  He went.

The captain of the ship recommended him to the company in London, and
the boy was soon piling up wealth at the rate of a guinea a month.

In September, Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-three, came the news to
London that George Washington had surrendered.  In any event, peace had
been declared--Cornwallis had forced the issue, so the Americans had
stopped fighting.

A little later it was given out that England had given up her American
Colonies, and they were free.

Intuitively John Jacob Astor felt that the "New World" was the place
for him.  He bought passage on a sailing ship bound for Baltimore, at a
cost of five pounds.  He then fastened five pounds in a belt around his
waist, and with the rest of his money--after sending two pounds home to
his father, with a letter of love--bought a dozen German flutes.

He had learned to play on this instrument with proficiency, and in
America he thought there would be an opening for musicians and musical

John Jacob was then nearly twenty years of age.

The ship sailed in November, but did not reach Baltimore until the
middle of March, having to put back to sea on account of storms when
within sight of the Chesapeake.  Then a month was spent later hunting
for the Chesapeake.  There was plenty of time for flute-playing and
making of plans.

On board ship he met a German, twenty years older than himself, who was
a fur trader and had been home on a visit.

John Jacob played the flute and the German friend told stories of fur
trading among the Indians.

Young Astor's curiosity was excited.  The Waldorf-Astoria plan of
flute-playing was forgotten.  He fed on fur trading.

The habits of the animals, the value of their pelts, the curing of the
furs, their final market, was all gone over again and again.  The two
extra months at sea gave him an insight into a great business and he
had the time to fletcherize his ideas.  He thought about it--wrote
about it in his diary, for he was at the journal-age.  Wolves, bears
badgers, minks, and muskrats, filled his dreams.

Arriving in Baltimore he was disappointed to learn that there were no
fur traders there.  He started for New York.

Here he found work with a certain Robert Bowne, a Quaker, who bought
and sold furs.

Young Astor set himself to learn the business--every part of it.  He
was always sitting on the curb at the door before the owner got around
in the morning, carrying a big key to open the warehouse.  He was the
last to leave at night.  He pounded furs with a stick, salted them,
sorted them, took them to the tanners, brought them home.

He worked, and as he worked, learned.

To secure the absolute confidence of a man, obey him.  Only thus do you
get him to lay aside his weapons, be he friend or enemy.

Any dullard can be waited on and served, but to serve requires
judgment, skill, tact, patience and industry.

The qualities that make a youth a good servant are the basic ones for
mastership.  Astor's alertness, willingness, loyalty, and ability to
obey, delivered his employer over into his hands.

Robert Bowne, the good old Quaker, insisted that Jacob should call him
Robert; and from boarding the young man with a near-by war widow who
took cheap boarders, Bowne took young Astor to his own house, and
raised his pay from two dollars a week to six.

Bowne had made an annual trip to Montreal for many years.

Montreal was the metropolis for furs.  Bowne went to Montreal himself
because he did not know of any one he could trust to carry the message
to Garcia.  Those who knew furs and had judgment were not honest, and
those who were honest did not know furs.  Honest fools are really no
better than rogues, as far as practical purposes are concerned.  Bowne
once found a man who was honest and also knew furs, but alas! he had a
passion for drink, and no prophet could foretell his "periodic," until
after it occurred.

Young Astor had been with Bowne only a year.  He spoke imperfect
English, but he did not drink nor gamble, and he knew furs and was

Bowne started him off for Canada with a belt full of gold; his only
weapon was a German flute that he carried in his hand.  Bowne being a
Quaker did not believe in guns.  Flutes were a little out of his line,
too, but he preferred them to flintlocks.

John Jacob Astor ascended the Hudson River to Albany, and then with
pack on his back, struck north, alone, through the forest for Lake
Champlain.  As he approached an Indian settlement he played his flute.
The aborigines showed no disposition to give him the hook.  He hired
Indians to paddle him up to the Canadian border.  He reached Montreal.

The fur traders there knew Bowne as a very sharp buyer, and so had
their quills out on his approach.  But young Astor was seemingly
indifferent.  His manner was courteous and easy.

He got close to his man, and took his pick of the pelts at fair prices.
He expended all of his money, and even bought on credit, for there are
men who always have credit.

Young Astor found Indian nature to be simply human nature.

The savage was a man, and courtesy, gentleness and fairly good
flute-playing soothed his savage breast.  Astor had beads and blankets,
a flute and a smile.  The Indians carried his goods by relays and then
passed him on with guttural certificates as to character, to other red
men, and at last he reached New York without the loss of a pelt or the
dampening of his ardor.

Bowne was delighted.  To young Astor it was nothing.  He had in his
blood the success corpuscle.  He might have remained with Bowne and
become a partner in the business, but Bowne had business limitations
and Astor had n't.

So after a three years' apprenticeship, Astor knew all that Bowne did
and all he himself could imagine besides.  So he resigned.

In Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-six, John Jacob Astor began business on
his own account in a little store on Water Street, New York.  There was
one room and a basement.  He had saved a few hundred dollars; his
brother, the butcher, had loaned him a few hundred more, and Robert
Bowne had contributed a bale of skins to be paid for "at thy own price
and thy own convenience."

Astor had made friends with the Indians up the Hudson clear to Albany,
and they were acting as recruiting agents for him.  He was a bit
boastful of the fact that he had taught an Indian to play the flute,
and anyway he had sold the savage the instrument for a bale of beaver
pelts, with a bearskin thrown in for good measure.  It was a musical
achievement as well as a commercial one.

Having collected several thousand dollars' worth of furs he shipped
them to London and embarked as a passenger in the steerage.  The trip
showed him that ability to sell was quite as necessary as the ability
to buy--a point which with all of his shrewdness Bowne had never

In London furs were becoming a fad.  Astor sorted and sifted his
buyers, as he had his skins.  He himself dressed in a suit of fur and
thus proved his ability as an advertiser.  He picked his men and
charged all the traffic would bear.  He took orders, on sample, from
the nobility and sundry of the gentry, and thereby cut the middleman.
All of the money he received for his skins, he invested in "Indian
Goods"--colored cloth, beads, blankets, knives, axes, and musical

His was the first store in New York that carried a stock of musical
instruments.  These he sold to savages, and also he supplied the stolid
Dutch the best of everything in this particular line from a bazoo to a
Stradivarius violin.

When he got back to New York, he at once struck out through the
wilderness to buy furs of the Indians, or better still, to interest
them in bringing furs to him.

He knew the value of friendship in trade as no man of the time did.

He went clear through to Lake Erie, down to Niagara Falls, along Lake
Ontario, across to Lake Champlain and then down the Hudson.  He foresaw
the great city of Buffalo, and Rochester as well, only he said that
Rochester would probably be situated directly on the Lake.  But the
water-power of the Genesee Falls proved a stronger drawing power than
the Lake Front.  He prophesied that along the banks of the Niagara
Falls would be built the greatest manufacturing city in the world.
There were flour-mills and sawmills there then.  The lumber first used
in building the city of Buffalo was brought from the sawmills at "The

Electric power, of course, was then a thing unguessed, but Astor
prophesied the Erie Canal, and made good guesses as to where prosperous
cities would appear along its line.

In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety, John Jacob Astor married Sarah Todd.
Her mother was a Brevoort, and it was brought about by her coming to
Astor to buy furs with which to make herself a coat.  Her ability to
judge furs and make them up won the heart of the dealer.  The marriage
brought young Astor into "the best Dutch New York society," a
combination that was quite as exclusive then as now.

This marriage was a business partnership as well as marital and proved
a success in every way.  Sarah was a worker, with all the good old
Dutch qualities of patience, persistence, industry and economy.  When
her husband went on trips she kept store.  She was the only partner in
which he ever had implicit faith.  And faith is the first requisite in

Captain Cook had skirted the Pacific Coast from Cape Horn to Alaska,
and had brought to the attention of the fur-dealing and fur-wearing
world the sea-otter of the Northern Pacific.

He also gave a psychological prophetic glimpse of the insidious
sealskin sacque.

In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety, a ship from the Pacific brought a
hundred otterskins to New York.  The skins were quickly sold to London
buyers at exorbitant prices.

The nobility wanted sea-otter, or "Royal American Ermine," as they
called it.  The scarcity boomed the price.  Ships were quickly fitted
out and dispatched.  Boats bound for the whale fisheries were diverted,
and New Bedford had a spasm of jealousy.

Astor encouraged these expeditions, but at first invested no money in
them, as he considered them "extra hazardous." He was not a speculator.

Until the year Eighteen Hundred, Astor lived over his store in Water
Street, but he then moved to the plain and modest house at Two Hundred
and Twenty-three Broadway, on the site of the old Astor House.  Here he
lived for twenty-five years.

The fur business was simple and very profitable.  Astor now was
confining himself mostly to beaver-skins.  He fixed the price at one
dollar, to be paid to the Indians or trappers.  It cost fifty cents to
prepare and transport the skin to London.  There it was sold at from
five to ten dollars.  All of the money received for skins was then
invested in English merchandise, which was sold in New York at a
profit.  In Eighteen Hundred, Astor owned three ships which he had
bought so as to absolutely control his trade.  Ascertaining that London
dealers were reshipping furs to China, early in the century he
dispatched one of his ships directly to the Orient, loaded with furs,
with explicit written instructions to the captain as to what the cargo
should be sold for.  The money was to be invested in teas and silks.

The ship sailed away, and had been gone a year.

No tidings had come from her.

Suddenly a messenger came with news that the ship was in the bay.  We
can imagine the interest of Mr. and Mrs. Astor as they locked their
store and ran to the Battery.  Sure enough, it was their ship, riding
gently on the tide, snug, strong and safe as when she had left.

The profit on this one voyage was seventy thousand dollars.  By
Eighteen Hundred and Ten, John Jacob Astor was worth two million
dollars.  He began to invest all his surplus money in New York real
estate.  He bought acreage property in the vicinity of Canal Street.
Next he bought Richmond Hill, the estate of Aaron Burr.  It consisted
of one hundred and sixty acres just above Twenty-third Street.  He paid
for the land a thousand dollars an acre.  People said Astor was crazy.
In ten years he began to sell lots from the Richmond Hill property at
the rate of five thousand dollars an acre.  Fortunately for his estate
he did not sell much of the land at this price, for it is this
particular dirt that makes up that vast property known as "The Astor

During the Revolutionary War, Roger Morris, of Putnam County, New York,
made the mistake of siding with the Tories.

A mob collected, and Morris and his family escaped, taking ship to

Before leaving, Morris declared his intention of coming back as soon as
"the insurrection was quelled."

The British troops, we are reliably informed, failed to quell the

Roger Morris never came back.

Roger Morris is known in history as the man who married Mary Philipse.
And this lady lives in history because she had the felicity of having
been proposed to by George Washington.  It is George himself, tells of
this in his Journal, and George you remember could not tell a lie.

George was twenty-five, he was on his way to Boston, and was
entertained at the Philipse house, the Plaza not having then been built.

Mary was twenty, pink and lissome. She played the harpsichord.
Immediately after supper George, finding himself alone in the parlor
with the girl, proposed.

He was an opportunist.

The lady pleaded for time, which the Father of his Country declined to
give.  He was a soldier and demanded immediate surrender.  A small
quarrel followed, and George saddled his horse and rode on his way to
fame and fortune.

Mary thought he would come back, but George never proposed to the same
lady twice. Yet he thought kindly of Mary and excused her conduct by
recording, "I think ye ladye was not in ye moode."

Just twenty-two years after this bout with Cupid, General George
Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, occupied the
Roger Morris Mansion as headquarters, the occupants having fled.
Washington had a sly sense of humor, and on the occasion of his moving
into the mansion, remarked to Colonel Aaron Burr, his aide, "I move in
here for sentimental reasons--I have a small and indirect claim on the

It was Washington who formally confiscated the property, and turned it
over to the State of New York as contraband of war.

The Morris estate of about fifty thousand acres was parceled out and
sold by the State of New York to settlers.

It seems, however, that Roger Morris had only a life interest in the
estate and this was a legal point so fine that it was entirely
overlooked in the joy of confiscation. Washington was a great soldier,
but an indifferent lawyer.

John Jacob Astor accidentally ascertained the facts. He was convinced
that the heirs could not be robbed of their rights through the acts of
a leaseholder, which, legally was the status of Roger Morris.  Astor
was a good real estate lawyer himself, but he referred the point to the
best counsel he could find.  They agreed with him.  He next hunted up
the heirs and bought their quitclaims for one hundred thousand dollars.

He then notified the parties who had purchased the land, and they in
turn made claim upon the State for protection.

After much legal parleying the case was tried according to stipulation
with the State of New York, directly, as defendant and Astor and the
occupants as plaintiffs.  Daniel Webster and Martin Van Buren appeared
for the State, and an array of lesser legal lights for Astor.

The case was narrowed down to the plain and simple point that Roger
Morris was not the legal owner of the estate, and that the rightful
heirs could not be made to suffer for the "treason, contumacy and
contravention" of another.  Astor won, and as a compromise the State
issued him twenty-year bonds bearing six per cent interest, for the
neat sum of five hundred thousand dollars--not that Astor needed the
money but finance was to him a game, and he had won.

In front of the first A. T. Stewart store there used to be an old woman
who sold apples.  Regardless of weather, there she sat and mumbled her
wares at the passer-by.  She was a combination beggar and merchant,
with a blundering wit, a ready tongue and a vocabulary unfit for

Her commercial genius is shown in the fact that she secured one good
paying customer--Alexander T. Stewart.  Stewart grew to believe in her
as his spirit of good luck.  Once when bargains had been offered at the
Stewart store and the old woman was not at her place on the curb, the
merchant-prince sent his carriage for her in hot haste "lest offense be
given."  And the day was saved.

When the original store was abandoned for the Stewart "Palace" the old
apple woman with her box, basket and umbrella were tenderly taken
along, too.

John Jacob Astor had no such belief in luck omens, portents, or mascots
as had A. T. Stewart.  With him success was a sequence--a result--it
was all cause and effect.  A. T. Stewart did not trust entirely to
luck, for he too, carefully devised and planned.  But the difference
between the Celtic and Teutonic mind is shown in that Stewart hoped to
succeed, while Astor knew that he would.  One was a bit anxious; the
other exasperatingly placid.

Astor took a deep interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

He went to Washington to see Lewis, and questioned him at great length
about the Northwest.  Legend says that he gave the hardy discoverer a
thousand dollars, which was a big amount for him to give away.

Once a committee called on him with a subscription list for some worthy
charity.  Astor subscribed fifty dollars.  One of the disappointed
committee remarked, "Oh, Mr. Astor, your son William gave us a hundred

"Yes," said the old man, "But you must remember that William has a rich

Washington Irving has told the story of Astoria at length.  It was the
one financial plunge taken by John Jacob Astor.

And in spite of the fact that it failed, the whole affair does credit
to the prophetic brain of Astor.

"This country will see a chain of growing and prosperous cities
straight from New York to Astoria, Oregon," said this man in reply to a
doubting questioner.

He laid his plans before Congress, urging a line of army posts, forty
miles apart, from the western extremity of Lake Superior to the
Pacific.  "These forts or army posts will evolve into cities," said
Astor, when he called on Thomas Jefferson, who was then President of
the United States.  Jefferson was interested, but non-committal.  Astor
exhibited maps of the Great Lakes, and the country beyond.  He argued
with a prescience then not possessed by any living man that at the
western extremity of Lake Superior would grow up a great city.  Yet in
Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-six, Duluth was ridiculed by the caustic
tongue of Proctor Knott, who asked, "What will become of Duluth when
the lumber crop is cut?" Astor proceeded to say that another great city
would grow up at the southern extremity of Lake Michigan.  General
Dearborn.  Secretary of War under Jefferson had just established Fort
Dearborn on the present site of Chicago.  Astor commended this, and
said:  "From a fort you get a trading post, and from a trading post you
will get a city."

He pointed out to Jefferson the site, on his map, of the Falls of St.
Anthony.  "There you will have a fort some day, for wherever there is
water-power, there will grow up mills for grinding grain and sawmills,
as well.  This place of power will have to be protected, and so you
will have there a post which will eventually be replaced by a city."
Yet Fort Snelling was nearly fifty years in the future and St. Paul and
Minneapolis were dreams undreamed.

Jefferson took time to think about it and then wrote Astor thus, "Your
beginning of a city on the Western Coast is a great acquisition, and I
look forward to a time when our population will spread itself up and
down along the whole Pacific frontage, unconnected with us, excepting
by ties of blood and common interest, and enjoying like us, the rights
of self-government."

The Pilgrim Fathers thought land that lay inward from the sea as
valueless.  The forest was an impassible barrier.  Later, up to the
time of George Washington, the Alleghanies were regarded as a natural
barrier.  Patrick Henry likened the Alleghany Mountains to the Alps
that separated Italy from Germany and said, "The mountain ranges are
lines that God has set to separate one people from another."

Later, statesmen have spoken of the ocean in the same way, as proof
that a union of all countries under an international capital could
never exist.

Great as was Jefferson, he regarded the achievement of Lewis and Clarke
as a feat and not an example.  He looked upon the Rocky Mountains as a
natural separation of peoples "bound by ties of blood and mutual
interest" but otherwise unconnected.  To pierce these mighty mountains
with tunnels, and whisper across them with the human voice, were
miracles unguessed.  But Astor closed his eyes and saw pack-trains,
mules laden with skins, winding across these mountains, and down to
tide-water at Astoria.  There his ships would be lying at the docks,
ready to sail for the Far East.  James J. Hill was yet to come.

A company was formed, and two expeditions set out for the mouth of the
Columbia River, one by land and the other by sea.

The land expedition barely got through alive--it was a perilous
undertaking, with accidents by flood and field and in the imminent
deadly breech.

But the route by the water was feasible.

The town was founded and soon became a centre of commercial activity.
Had Astor been on the ground to take personal charge, a city like
Seattle would have bloomed and blossomed on the Pacific, fifty years
ago.  But power at Astoria was subdivided among several little men, who
wore themselves out in a struggle for honors, and to see who would be
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  John Jacob Astor was too far away
to send a current of electricity through the vacuum of their minds,
light up the recesses with reason, and shock them into sanity.  Like
those first settlers at Jamestown, the pioneers at Astoria saw only
failure ahead, and that which we fear, we bring to pass.  To settle a
continent with men is almost as difficult as Nature's attempt to form a
soil on a rocky surface.

There came a grand grab at Astoria and it was each for himself and the
devil take the hindermost--it was a stampede.

System and order went by the board.  The strongest stole the most, as
usual, but all got a little.  And England's gain in citizens was our

Astor lost a million dollars by the venture.  He smiled calmly and
said, "The plan was right, but my men were weak, that is all.  The
gateway to China will be from the northwest.  My plans were correct.
Time will vindicate my reasoning."

When the block on Broadway, bounded by Vesey and Barclay Streets, was
cleared of its plain two story houses, preparatory to building the
Astor House, wise men shook their heads and said, "It's too far uptown."

But the free bus that met all boats solved the difficulty, and gave the
cue to hotel men all over the world.  The hotel that runs full is a
gold mine.  Hungry men feed, and the beautiful part about the hotel
business is that the customers are hungry the next day--also thirsty.
Astor was worth ten million, but he took a personal delight in sitting
in the lobby of the Astor House and watching the dollars roll into this
palace that his brain had planned.  To have an idea--to watch it
grow--to then work it out, and see it made manifest in concrete
substance, this was his joy.  The Astor House was a bigger hostelry in
its day than the Waldorf-Astoria is now.

Astor was tall, thin, and commanding in appearance.  He had only one
hallucination, and that was that he spoke the English language.  The
accent he possessed at thirty was with him in all its pristine
effulgence at eighty-five.  "Nopody vould know I vas a Cherman--aind't
it?" he used to say.  He spoke French, a dash of Spanish and could
parley in Choctaw, Ottawa, Mohawk and Huron.  But they who speak
several languages must not be expected to speak any one language well.

Yet when John Jacob wrote it was English without a flaw.  In all of his
dealings he was uniquely honorable and upright.  He paid and he made
others pay.  His word was his bond.  He was not charitable in the sense
of indiscriminate giving.  "To give something for nothing is to weaken
the giver," was one of his favorite sayings.  That this attitude
protected a miserly spirit, it is easy to say, but it is not wholly
true.  In his later years he carried with him a book containing a
record of his possessions.  This was his breviary.  In it he took a
very pardonable delight.  He would visit a certain piece of property,
and then turn to his book and see what it had cost him ten or twenty
years before.  To realize that his prophetic vision had been correct
was to him a great source of satisfaction.

His habits were of the best.  He went to bed at nine o'clock, and was
up before six.  At seven he was at his office.  He knew enough to eat
sparingly and to walk, so he was never sick.

Millionaires as a rule are woefully ignorant.  Up to a certain sum,
they grow with their acquisitions.  Then they begin to wither at the
heart.  The care of a fortune is a penalty.  I advise the gentle reader
to think twice before accumulating ten millions.

John Jacob Astor was exceptional in his combined love of money and love
of books.  History was at his tongue's end, and geography was his
plaything.  Fitz-Greene Halleck was his private secretary, hired on a
basis of literary friendship.  Washington Irving was a close friend,
too, and first crossed the Atlantic on an Astor pass.  He banked on
Washington Irving's genius, and loaned him money to come and go, and
buy a house.  Irving was named in Astor's will as one of the trustees
of the Astor Library Fund, and repaid all favors by writing "Astoria."

Astor died, aged eighty-six.  It was a natural death, a thing that very
seldom occurs.  The machinery all ran down at once.

Realizing his lack of book advantages, he left by his will four hundred
thousand dollars to found the Astor Library, in order that others might
profit where he had lacked.

He also left fifty thousand dollars to his native town of Waldorf, a
part of which money was used to found an Astor Library there God is
surely good, for if millionaires were immortal, their money would cause
them great misery and the swollen fortunes would crowd mankind, not
only 'gainst the wall, but into the sea.  Death is the deliverer, for
Time checks power and equalizes all things, and gives the new
generation a chance.

Astor hated gamblers.  He never confused gambling, as a mode of money
getting, with actual production.  He knew that gambling produces
nothing--it merely transfers wealth, changes ownership.  And since it
involves loss of time and energy it is a positive waste.

Yet to buy land and hold it, thus betting on its rise in value, is not
production, either.  Nevertheless, this was to Astor, legitimate and

Henry George threw no shadow before, and no economist had ever written
that to secure land and hold it unused, awaiting a rise in value, was a
dog-in-the-manger, unethical and selfish policy.  Morality is a matter
of longitude and time.

Astor was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and yet he lived out
his days with a beautiful and perfect disbelief in revealed religion.

He knew enough of biology to know that religions are not
"revealed"--they are evolved.  Yet he recognized the value of the
Church as a social factor.  To him it was a good police system, and so
when rightly importuned he gave, with becoming moderation, to all
faiths and creeds.

A couple of generations back in his ancestry there was a renegade Jew
who loved a Christian girl, and thereby moulted his religion.  When
Cupid crosses swords with a priest, religion gets a death stroke.  This
stream of free blood was the inheritance of John Jacob Astor.

William B. Astor, the son of John Jacob, was brought up in the
financial way he should go.  He was studious, methodical, conservative,
and had the good sense to carry out the wishes of his father.  His son
John Jacob Astor was very much like him, only of more neutral tint.
The time is now ripe for another genius in the Astor family.  If
William B. Astor lacked the courage and initiative of his parent, he
had more culture, and spoke English without an accent.  The son of John
Jacob Astor second, is William Waldorf Astor, who speaks English with
an English accent, you know.

John Jacob Astor, besides having the first store for the sale of
musical instruments in America, organized the first orchestra of over
twelve players.  He brought over a leader from Germany, and did much to
foster the love of music in the New World.

Every worthy Maecenas imagines that he is a great painter, writer,
sculptor or musician, side-tracked by material cares thrust upon him by
unkind fate.  John Jacob Astor once told Washington Irving that it was
only business responsibility that prevented his being a novelist; and
at other times he declared his intent to take up music as a profession
as soon as he had gotten all of his securities properly tied up.  And
whether he worked out his dreams or not, there is no doubt but that
they added to his peace, happiness and length of days.  Happy is the
man who escapes the critics by leaving his literary masterpiece in the

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