Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Horror, The Horror

Finished with T.J. Stiles' admirable biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, I figured it might be nice to triangulate with a look at the (selected) diaries of George Templeton Strong, New York lawyer and Vanderbilt contemporary.

Result: almost nothing.  Only two references.  One is glancing: Strong brackets Vanderbilt with other high-fliers and says he is "ashamed to live in a community" with such men. That computes: Vanderbilt was a grade-school dropout who never learned to spell and never really lost the rough manners of his youth on the river.

The other is more equivocal.  Strong as vestryman of Trinity Church laments that he has to participate in the taking of Vanderbilt's money for the sale of St. John's Park:

Consideration of $1,000,000, of which the church gets $400,000 and the lot-owners $600,000.  I fear this will stir up a perilous storm of abuse and misrepresentation against us.  "A bloated operation"--"adding another to its untold millions, by destroying an old landmark, the garden spot of downtown, one of the few breathing places left to the city poor"--somehow "intriguing with the lot-owners to secure their concurrence"--"no reasonable man can doubt that members of the vestry pocket at least half the money," and so forth. Forty flagrant lies will be told about  the transaction and thirty-nine of them will be firmly believed except by a minority of rational people.  It is in fact a dangerous step for a wealthy corporation to take.  Our only safety is in keeping every dollar of the $400,000 out of our own treasury, and applying that sum forthwith to some church-object outside Trinity Church; as for example, to the erection and endowment of  Free Church or two, or which we might retain some nominal control, or the establishment of scholarships with stipends in Columbia College, the right of nomination to be given to all of the New York parishes.  No one would more gladly apply this money to the extinction of our debt than I, if it could safely be done.

--George Templeton Strong, The Diary of George Templeton Strong 
(A. Nevins and M. Thomas eds.1988)

No comments: