Part 3 out of 4
There was still a good deal of dining, card parties, and entertainments
at the Casino, in which we participated, but it was with our New
York friends that most of our social life was passed. The circle
there had been enlarged by the addition of many pleasant people,
although the close intimacy still rested where it had started,
with, however, the addition of Mr. and Mrs. William Viedler.
Mr. Viedler, a multi-millionaire at that time, has since largely
increased his fortune and is now the controlling interest in a
prominent trust of comparatively recent formation. They had been
Brooklynites but bought a fine house on Fifth Avenue.
We first met them on the occasion of a dinner given in their honor
by Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, to welcome them to New York. Mr. Curtice
is a nephew of Mrs. Viedler.
The Caines, although intimate, were not of the inner circle. This
comprised Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, Mr. and Mrs. Todd, Mr. and Mrs.
Banford, Mr. and Mrs. Viedler, and ourselves. Curtice was our
poet laureate, and in a song he composed and sang at a dinner were
included these lines:
"Thus from the crowd that gathered then
Has sprung to fame the immortal ten,
And Stowe has been so generous since
That all the crowd have dubbed him Prince."
After that event all our friends referred to the little circle as
the "Immortal Ten;" my wife was called Lady Stowe, and I, by right
of song, Prince.
It is very difficult to say what we did not do that year in the
way of pleasure-seeking, but it is an easy matter to name the chief
As guests of Mr. Viedler a party of eighteen went camping in the
Maine woods. In every detail the trip was a perfect success. Private
car to Moosehead Lake, a banquet fit for Lucullus, prepared by his
own chef, en route, exquisite Tiffany menus, and costly souvenirs.
Headquarters at Mt. Kineo for a day or two, and then down the West
Branch of the Penobscot in canoes, and over the carries until the
comfortable camp at Cauquomgomoc Lake was reached. Deer, moose,
partridge, and trout were in abundance. Every minute of that
delightful outing was filled with pleasure.
Early in the fall we decided to try a winter in New York. The "San
Remo," at Seventy-fourth Street and Central Park, West, had just
been completed, and I rented three connecting apartments, which gave
us parlor, library, dining-room, five bedrooms, and three baths,
all outside rooms. I also rented in Sixty-seventh Street a stable,
and on the first of October we took possession.
We were more than pleased With the life in town, and I commenced
negotiations with Dore Lyon for the purchase of a handsome house
he owned at West End Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street. Just as the
trade was about to be closed my eldest daughter was attacked with
typhoid. She became very ill, and this so alarmed us we concluded
to return to "Redstone" in the spring and remain there.
When the holidays drew near the invalid was convalescent, and we
opened "Redstone" for a house party. When we returned to New York
it was with a feeling of regret.
Business had been good throughout the year. My profits were nearly
eighty thousand dollars.
My life, both in business and socially, in 1892 was not essentially
different from that of 1891. Business continued satisfactory, my
profits running up to within a few thousand dollars of the previous
My senior clerk, George Norman, had been in my employ for eleven
years, coming to me as an office-boy. His salary was now twelve
hundred and fifty dollars. I told him that as a clerk he would
never be worth more to us, and advised him to start as a broker,
which he did.
We gave him a strong endorsement in a circular to the trade, and
how well we supported him is shown by the fact that we paid him
sixty-six hundred dollars in commissions the first year of his
We returned to "Redstone" early in May. Our home, after our New York
experience, was more attractive than ever, and we did not believe
we would again care to leave it.
My readers will remember my reference in a former chapter to a
trade journal which I turned over to George Lawton. On July 9th,
in celebration of the commencement of its tenth year, the publisher
issued a special number, a copy of which is before me. An article
it contains is so completely a confirmation of much that I have
written, I insert it here verbatim, except for change of names to
comply with my narrative and the omission of irrelevant matter.
The article was written by the Secretary of the Exchange:
WALTER E. STOWE.
Since the father is properly considered before the child, it has
seemed to us most appropriate in celebrating for the first time the
birthday of the [name of the paper], that we should not only make
some mention of its founder, but even that we should accord him the
first place in our brief memorial; and we have accordingly, rather
against his own wishes, prepared the fine portrait of him which serves
as a frontispiece to this issue. It is hardly in the character of
a journalist that our readers will generally think of Mr. Stowe,
although most of them doubtless know that he originated and
for several years managed what we have no hesitation in saying is
_facile princeps_ among * * * trade papers; but rather in his more
permanent role of decidedly the most successful among the younger
generation of * * * dealers--as a man who has carved out for
himself a position as commanding in respect of the * * * market,
especially, as is occupied abroad by his London correspondent,
the famous A * * * S * * *
A trifle over a quarter of a century ago--in February, 1866--Mr.
Stowe entered the office of John Derham as a clerk fresh from
school, in which capacity he served for just four years, and then
succeeded to the business of this firm as a broker on his own
account. A broker in those days was an altogether different sort
of cogwheel in the machinery of commerce from the broker of to-day;
success depending primarily on geniality of manner, industry and
intelligence in the execution of commissions intrusted to him by
the jobbing houses; all of which qualifications, Mr. Stowe possessed
in an eminent degree, and devoting himself particularly to dealing
in * * * advanced rapidly to a position in which the major part
of such transactions as were not made directly by importers to
consumers, passed through his hands. But his business ability was
of a broader type than was needed for such services only, and in
the process of evolution, through which the old-fashioned broker
was practically eliminated, his place being taken by a new type
of dealer, who although not always or even usually trading for his
own account, yet makes most of his transactions in his own name,
and is chiefly differentiated from the jobber only from the fact
that he buys and sells in round parcels and does not break them
up to shop out into smaller lots. As this change took place, Mr.
Stowe developed into a dealer of a newer and more progressive type
than the * * * trade had hitherto known. To-day he stands rather
as an importer, the entries to his firm's credit having steadily
climbed the list of percentages until they are now far ahead of
those belonging to any other house; and with his intimate relations
with A. * * S. * * * & Co., of London, it would be making no
invidious comparison to say that he is the recognized leader of
the * * * trade of America.
For all his remarkably prosperous career, Mr. Stowe has been in no
way spoiled by success, and is to-day the same quiet, unassuming
gentleman as when these characteristics attracted the good will
of older men in the trade and secured to him the beginning of a
business which has since grown so largely. He was a late comer to
the membership of the Exchange, which he joined only in 1886; but
has served on its board of managers for four years past, and since
the first of April has held the position of vice-president. Outside
of his business, his life is a thoroughly domestic one, for which he
has abundant excuse in his beautiful home, "Redstone," at Knollwood,
N.J., where he is one of the most popular residents of that charming
suburb and where he has a particular claim to distinction in the
fine stable which he maintains, his chief hobby being horse flesh,
though not on the sporting side, with which we are most likely to
associate such a passion. In short, the [name of paper] has every
reason to be proud of its parentage, and like all good children
delights in doing filial honor and wishing its founder all possible
prosperity in the future as in the past.
TWO SIDES TO THE QUESTION
It was the afternoon of a day in the first week of January, 1893.
I sat in an easy chair in front of the open fire in my private
office deep in thought. In my hand was the balance-sheet for 1892,
showing a profit of over seventy thousand dollars. I was considering
both sides of a momentous question. It was whether or not to retire
I had for years looked forward with delightful anticipation to the
time when I could do this. I wanted to travel extensively. In my
library were many books of travel, all of which had been read with
great interest. I had an eager longing to see for myself all parts
of the civilized world; not in haste, but at my own leisure. I
wanted to devote years to a journey that should cover the globe.
My affairs were in excellent shape. Within a period of sixty days
I could liquidate my business and retire with about three hundred
thousand dollars. I had my home, complete in its appointments;
my library; my stable, with all that it could contribute to our
pleasure and comfort; my health, and I was but forty-two years
of age. That was one side, now for the other. The largest income
I could expect with my capital securely invested would be fifteen
thousand dollars. My balance-sheet showed that in 1892 I had drawn
forty-four thousand. I considered where my expenditures could be
cut down. There was the long list of pensioners, relatives, and
friends who for years had been receiving regularly from me a monthly
cheque on which they depended for their comfort. Could that be cut
off? Surely not.
There was a still longer list of people, many of whom I knew
but slightly, who from time to time called on me for help, always
as loans but rarely returned. I kept no record of such things and
never requested repayment. Could that item be cut out? No, for
when a man appealed to me for assistance, I knew not how to refuse
him. He always received it.
There were all the charities, St. John's Guild, Fresh-Air Funds,
hospitals, home for crippled children, and the personal charities
of my wife amongst the poor--could these be dropped? Again, no.
Then I looked at home. The education of our children--my elder son
was at Harvard with a liberal allowance; my eldest daughter at Miss
Dana's expensive school at Morristown; the rest of the children
taught at home by a visiting governess; the girls taking music
lessons--nothing could be done here. The education item was bound
to increase materially as the children grew older.
Then I thought of the monthly bills from Altman, Arnold, Constable
& Co., Lord & Taylor, and others. How about those? Oh no; I loved
to see my wife in her beautiful gowns and as the girls developed
into young ladies those bills would grow.
There seemed nothing left but the entertainment of our friends. A
large expense, but essential to our pleasure and position in society.
I carried a very large life insurance, but did not for a moment
think of reducing that.
Then my thoughts carried me farther. Suppose I could get my expenses
down to my income, how about the people we were helping in another
way, whose income would be seriously affected by my retiring?
There was one of our friends at Knollwood. He was employed on a
moderate salary, and when his wife inherited nine hundred dollars
he brought it to me and asked me to make some money for him. Now,
as a result, he was living in a house he had bought for eleven
thousand dollars and to cancel the mortgage of a few thousand he
relied upon me. There were those three old gentlemen in Connecticut
whose income from their investment with us was allowing them to
pass in comfort their declining years. Could I cut this off? No;
and there were many others.
It was clear to my mind that my labor was not yet at an end. I must
still keep at the helm, but I made a resolution that on my fiftieth
birthday I would retire.
THE PANIC OF NINETY-THREE
In the year 1893 there was one great controlling feature in our
market that was to culminate on July first.
For years the commodity in which we dealt had been duty free. The
McKinley Tariff Bill imposed a duty of four cents per pound, to
go into effect on July 1, 1893, for a period of two years. It was
the one senseless clause in an otherwise excellent bill and had been
inserted as the only means of securing the necessary votes in the
Senate. The sole object of the clause was to influence the speculative
value of shares in a certain corporation which is now in the hands
of a receiver.
When this corporation was first organized I subscribed for some
stock and was in its first board of directors and its vice-president.
If there was to be a new source of supply of the commodity I dealt
in so largely, it was important I should know of it. As soon as
I became satisfied that it was nothing but a scheme to make money
by the sale of stock, I resigned and disposed of my holdings to
one of the promoters at a profit of eight dollars per share.
Efforts to have the clause repealed had been unsuccessful, and as
the duty was certain to be imposed, we thought it wise to import
largely prior to July first. Others did the same, and when that
date arrived the stock in New York was very large. We held on our
own account about one-third of the entire stock and in addition a
very large quantity which we had sold to our customers for delivery
Of course, our purchases had been made of our London friends, and
during this period our remittances were unusually large, running
into several millions. An incident of our correspondence at that
time was a postscript in one of their letters calling our attention
to the fact that the letter from us, to which they were then
replying, had been underpaid in postage and cost them six pence.
They requested us to see to it in future that our letters were
properly stamped. Think of that, from a concern with whom we were
doing a business of millions!
Early in July came the panic. It seemed as if over night all the
money in the country had disappeared. In Wall Street fabulous rates
were bid for money. Banks and bankers said they had none. Where
When the stock market collapsed and values had depreciated hundreds
of millions, money was found by the large insurance companies and
the powerful factors of Wall Street to pick up the bargains in
shares, but it was some time before merchants could get it. Meanwhile,
this class all over the country, after a long period of good times,
were caught by the panic with their lines greatly extended. Great
houses rating "a million and over" had no actual cash. Property?--Lots
of it. Solvent?--Absolutely so, but they could not pay their
obligations, nor take deliveries on contracts that required payments
Our sales for July delivery amounted to nearly a million of dollars;
less than fifty thousand was taken according to contract. The rest
we had to carry and our bankers had to carry us. We shall never
cease to be grateful for the generous help they gave us in that
Under these financial conditions it was only natural that all
merchandise markets should be greatly depressed.
Our market was weak at eighteen cents, although not a pound could
now be imported below twenty-two cents. The large stock seemed to
hang as a wet blanket, but as a fact most of it was concentrated
in three strong hands. We were the largest holders. I called on
the other two and told them it was absurd to sell at the ruling
price, and if they would assure me we would not have to take their
stock--in other words, if they would hold it off the market--we
would buy the floating lots and advance the price close to the
importing point. I further offered to give them an equal share of
the purchases if they so desired. They asked how much I thought we
would have to buy? To which I replied, "Not over five hundred tons."
The agreement was made on the basis of an equal division of the
purchases. Slowly but steadily we raised the price, and when the
end we sought was accomplished we had bought four hundred and ninety
tons. The operation and consequent advance in the market made a
difference in the value of our holdings of seventy thousand dollars.
FAREWELL TO "REDSTONE"
All through the summer of 1893 we had been discussing the advisability
of leaving "Redstone" and taking up a permanent residence in New
Our children were now at a period when good schools were imperative
for their proper education, and such did not exist at Knollwood.
Our social life was almost entirely with our New York friends, and
though two families of the "Immortal Ten" had become residents of
Knollwood they were to leave at the end of the term for which they
had rented. The Banfords occupied "Sunnyside," while George Lawton,
who had removed to Orange, rented his house to the Todds.
While we were fond of all the New York friends and especially so
of Will Curtice and his wife, for George and Charlotte Todd we had
a tender spot in our hearts that none of the others quite reached.
George, in a way, reminded me of my former friend, Frank Slater;
not that he resembled him in feature, but in his possession of a
charm of manner that won everybody with whom he came in contact.
Versatile, witty, and brilliant in his entertaining power, he was
easily the most popular man in our circle. Entering the employment
of New York's greatest life insurance company as an office boy,
he is today one of its vice-presidents, and this proud position is
the well-deserved reward of wonderful ability. His wife is one of
those sweet, pretty, clever women that everybody loves.
Ned Banford had met with disaster. He was one of many who were
unable to weather the panic. At the time of his failure he was
indebted to me five thousand dollars. A day or two before the event
he brought me a package of unset pearls which he valued at eight
thousand dollars and requested me to hold them as security.
Mr. Viedler, who also was a creditor, was abroad. As soon as
he learned of the failure he returned to New York and advanced a
considerable sum of money to enable Ned to make a settlement with
his merchandise creditors. This took considerable time, and meanwhile
I required in my own business the use of all my resources. I told
Ned if he could not arrange to repay me I would be forced to sell
the pearls, and suggested taking them to Tiffany, where I was
well known, and asking them to make an offer. To this he strongly
objected, and much to my surprise, in view of all that I had done
for him, exhibited a good deal of ill-feeling toward me for taking
such a position. I remained firm, however, and fixed a date beyond
which I would not wait. The day before the specified time Ned
brought to my office Mr. Viedler's cheque to my order for five
[Illustration: EIGHTY-SIXTH STREET AND WEST END AVENUE]
Throwing the cheque on my desk he said, with a smile, "Here's your
money, old man; now I want you to do something for me. Just give me
your note for five thousand dollars payable to Viedler." I said,
"Why should I do that, Ned? I am not borrowing this money of Viedler.
This is not to benefit me--it is to help you and save those pearls."
"Yes, I know," he replied, "but Viedler is a queer sort of chap.
He has been putting up a lot of money for me. He wants this done
this way and I want to humor him. It will help me and won't hurt
you. Payment will never be demanded of you." I asked him if Mr.
Viedler was fully informed on the matter and knew what my position
was. He replied, "Yes, I have told him all about it." I then gave
him the note. The sequel to this incident will come in a later
As a final result of our summer's deliberation we leased a house at
Eighty-sixth Street and West End Avenue and by the first of October
had become settled in our new home; the horses we took with us but
the ponies were sold. The children had outgrown them. "Redstone"
we closed for the winter. In the spring I offered it for rent and
quickly found a good tenant in the agent of the Rhinelander estate.
Our four daughters were entered at the school of the Misses Ely on
Riverside Drive and made rapid and satisfactory progress in their
As soon as we had become thoroughly accustomed to life in New York
I think every member of the family was glad of the change. The
children made many pleasant friends, enjoyed their school life,
their Saturday matinees and drives in the park, and not one of them
would have liked to return to Knollwood.
As for my wife and myself, our enjoyment of the life was beyond
question. We had always been fond of the theatre and now we saw
everything worth seeing. We had a delightful circle of friends whom
we were meeting continually. Our home was handsome and spacious.
Our appointments fitted it beautifully and every room in the house,
from the billiard-room in the basement, up through the four stories
was very attractive.
Every pleasant morning I drove the T-cart or tandem through the park
to the Fifty-eighth Street Elevated station, and in the afternoon,
with the brougham, after calls or shopping, my wife would meet me.
When there was sufficient snow to permit it we would have out the
large sleigh, and with four-in-hand or three abreast derive keen
pleasure from our drive.
For clubs I had little use, though a member of several. For many years
I went to the Down-Town Association for luncheon and occasionally
after the theatre took my wife to the ladies' dining-room in the
Colonial Club for a supper; as a rule, however, we went for these
suppers to the Waldorf, where we usually met friends.
With our life in New York commenced a closer intimacy with the
Caines, though not of our seeking. They lived nearer to us than
any of our friends and their informal calls became very frequent.
In a way we liked them. They were chatty, sociable people, though
a little too much inclined to gossip. They were not well mated.
Both had tempers and the wife had some money, the husband, little
or none; consequently there was friction and they lacked the good
taste to confine their differences to the privacy of their own
apartments. This was a great drawback to our enjoyment of their
A SUMMER ON THE SOUND
The winter of 1893 and 1894, crowded with its social pleasures,
was soon over, and with the approach of warm weather we sought a
We had passed so many summers inland, we longed for the water--ocean
or sound, preferably the latter. Many places on the Connecticut
and Long Island shores were looked at without finding just what we
wanted, and it was not until the middle of June that we decided on
the W. H. Crossman place at Great Neck, L. I.
The place had many attractions, not the least of which was its
accessibility by boat. A sail of an hour twice a day was in itself
a great rest for me, and combined with this was a commodious,
well-furnished house; fine stable; ample grounds, handsomely laid
out; good kitchen garden, planted; plenty of fruit; gardener, and
Alderney cows on the place, and best of all a fine bathing beach
at the foot of the lawn, with the open Sound before us.
As I sat at dinner I could see the Sound steamers go by on their
way east, numerous yachts passing constantly, the Sands Point Light,
and across the Sound the New York shore.
We drove to Great Neck from New York on the drag, crossing the
Ferry to College Point.
On one side of us was King's Point, on the other the beautiful
residence of Hazen L. Hoyt. The neighbors were friendly and cordial,
all very pleasant people; the drives through the surrounding country
delightful, over good roads and under great trees that afforded
effectual shade from the sun. Later we experienced a few weeks of
torment with the mosquitoes, when out of doors, though the house
was kept free from the pests. There were days when my poor horses,
though coal black, appeared gray, so thickly were they covered with
those ravenous mosquitoes.
We entertained many of our friends during the season and I had
some good fishing. When we returned to our home in the fall, taking
everything into consideration, we voted the summer's experience a
At this time we decided to give our horses a well-earned rest. They
were in perfect condition, but we thought it would be a good idea
to winter them on a farm, and as I had an acquaintance at Boonton,
N. J., who made a business of that sort of thing, I sent them to
him, bringing them back to town in the spring. They were well cared
for and came back to us like young colts.
During the winter of 1894 and 1895 we saw more of the Caines than
ever. One evening early in the season, while on our way to the
theatre together, Albert, as he sat back in the carnage, remarked,
"I wish I could afford to go to the theatre once a week all winter."
I said, "Albert, I will tell you how to fix that. You put in five
hundred dollars and I will do the same. I will do a little operating
in our market with it and we will devote the profits entirely to
He sent me his cheque a day or two later, and out of the profits of
that little account we certainly derived a great deal of pleasure.
Every Saturday night a carriage conveyed us to the theatre, and
after the performance to the Waldorf, where we had supper. Then in
the Moorish room we took coffee and liqueurs while smoking a cigar
and chatting with our wives and the friends we frequently met.
Those little affairs cost about thirty dollars an evening, and I
so managed the account that there was always a balance on hand.
On one of these evenings an incident occurred that gave me a new
light on the character of Albert. It had its humor and I relate
The Caines and ourselves were in the Moorish room. We had finished
our coffee and I had paid the check. While chatting, we were joined
by Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, Mr. and Mrs. Todd, and two other friends,
making now, with us, a party of ten. Albert, with just a little
undue haste, called a waiter and ordered liqueurs for the party.
When the check was brought him, he paid for six and sent the waiter
to me to collect for our four, the amount being eighty cents. He
wanted the amusement fund to stand part of his hospitality. The
others of the party noticed it and smiled significantly. They knew
the man better than I did.
Another winter had gone, leaving in its wake agreeable memories
of many happy reunions with the friends we had learned to love so
well, and once again we faced the problem that comes to so many
New Yorkers who do not own their summer home--where shall we go
for the heated term?
We were considering whether we would risk another encounter with
the mosquitoes and try Great Neck once more, when we heard the
Crossman place had been rented, and there was no other place there,
in the market, that we cared to take.
Our thoughts turned to the ocean. With my wife I searched the Jersey
coast from Seabright down to Asbury Park. Farther than that we did
not want to go on account of the length of the trip to and from
On our first visit we cut out every place except Monmouth Beach
and Seabright, and on the second took a lease of the Brent Wood
Cottage at Monmouth Beach. It was delightfully situated, directly
on the beach, a spacious and comfortably furnished house with a
The house was in good repair, except that it needed painting. As I
had taken the lease for two seasons and the owner would do nothing,
I had it painted at my expense. We also did some redecorating in some
of the rooms, and when the work was finished had a very attractive
The grand sail down the harbor and across the lower bay to the
Highlands was a source of daily delight to me. I had my own large
and nicely furnished stateroom with its private deck, rented by
the season, and we were very glad that we missed taking the place
at Great Neck.
On the first and second stories there were wide piazzas running
around the house, and for hours at a time with my marine glasses
at hand to look at passing steamers, I sat and enjoyed, what has
always been a fascination to me, watching the magnificent surf
crashing and dashing on the beach below. The house was protected
by a formidable bulkhead, but it was no uncommon occurrence to have
great showers of spray come dashing over it.
To watch the moon rise out of the sea, to listen to the roaring of
those ceaseless waves, the last thing before I slept at night and
the first thing on awakening in the morning, had for me a charm
unequalled by anything in Nature's wonders. And those September
storms, particularly severe that year, awe-inspiring in their mighty
Oh! there is nothing like the ocean.
On July first, the two years having expired, the commodity in which
we dealt again went on the free list. Naturally, stocks in this
country had been reduced to a very low point. With four cents per
pound duty removed, no one wanted any of the old stock, which had
paid the duty, on hand. Every consumer and dealer in the country
was bare of supplies and a very active demand from all sources set
When we abandoned the brokerage business to become importers and
dealers, our relations with our London friends changed. We bought
of them all that we imported and they sold to no other American
firm. If they bought in this market, their orders came to us. With
their movements we worked in sympathy. If they advanced the price
in London we did the same in New York and vice-versa. We were in
constant cable communication, informing each other from hour to
hour of the market movements.
There were times, however, when they entered into market campaigns
that extended over a long period. In these we did not fully
participate. Our market was too narrow to permit of it, and it
involved the locking up of too much capital.
In August, in accordance with our London advices, we began quietly
to accumulate stock in expectation of a much higher market late in
the fall. We remained persistent though quiet buyers until October,
meanwhile doing our utmost to hold the market down that we might
buy cheaply. We looked to see the operation completed by the end of
the year, with a very handsome profit. Early in October our stock
was sufficiently large to make it an object to advance the price,
and our buying became more aggressive.
Just when the value began to rise, the London market halted. This
at once checked the advance in New York and for the time being we
had a waiting game on our hands, it being quite impossible for our
market to advance above the London parity and remain there. We must
wait for London.
After a moderate reaction London again advanced and we bought
here freely everything that was offered. Again London halted. All
through November conditions were the same; a few days of strength,
then a reaction, meanwhile our stock had been largely increased. At
the beginning of December our advices from London led us to believe
that all hesitation would now disappear and the market rapidly
advance. Our holdings were already enormous, but we had no reason
to doubt the success of our operations, and continued our purchases.
THE SHIP FOUNDERS
December 17, 1895, will ever remain in the memory of business men,
at least of this generation, as the day when President Cleveland
transmitted to Congress his Venezuelan message, a piece of jingoism
which was entirely uncalled for and resulted in disastrous consequences
to the commercial interests of the country. It came as a flash of
lightning from a clear sky. It was the direct and immediate cause
of a stock and money panic in Wall Street which, while it added
largely to the wealth of certain individuals, brought disaster and
ruin to many.
If, my reader, you do not already know, ask any well-informed stock
broker of that period who it was that sold the market short on an
enormous scale during the few days prior to the message, and when
he tells you the name draw your own deductions. You will not
require to be a Sherlock Holmes.
We knew just before this fateful day that at last we had undertaken
an operation which was to result in loss, and a heavy one, but we
never dreamed it was to be our Waterloo--nor would it have been
except for the acute stringency in the money market, the result of
that Venezuelan message.
Our commitments for the end of December and first week of January
were unusually heavy. We met them with increasing difficulty until
the twenty-eighth of December and then came our failure.
I was dazed at the extent of the catastrophe. I could not realize
that a business which I had built up from nothing to a volume of
nearly fifteen millions a year with more than eight hundred active
accounts on the books, and out of which I had made a fortune, was
swept away, leaving me only a mountain of debt.
Alas, it was only too true. The liabilities were nearly one
and one-half millions. Of course, there were large assets, mostly
merchandise, but everything was gone, and my wife threw in "Redstone,"
which had cost me forty thousand dollars, with the rest.
As soon as I recovered myself, I had a meeting with my creditors, all
of whom were most kindly disposed, and my statement was accepted
without any examination of the books of the firm. Outside of
our regular bankers we had heavy loans in which there were large
equities. Arrangements were made and these loans taken up at once.
Our position had been so prominent and our holdings were so large,
the news of the failure caused a heavy decline, which carried
the price down to almost the lowest figure in the history of the
trade; but not one ton of our stock was thrown on the market and we
ourselves liquidated the business over a period of several months.
Our former clerk, the broker, George Norman, also failed, claiming
our failure as the cause.
In our operations it was often necessary to cover our identity
by using a broker's name, an established custom in many lines of
business. We had favored George largely and our business had been
very profitable to him. We did not know at the time, but learned a
little later, that prices on the contracts made through him were on
our books in excess of the prices he had paid the seller, whereas
they should have agreed. This really made him a principal instead
of a broker. Actually he had bought of sellers for his own account
at one price and sold to us at a higher price, he making the
difference in addition to his commissions. His representations to
us were always that the price we were paying him was the lowest
the seller would accept.
Norman also had been operating on his own account, and by failing
escaped his losses. The general opinion of the trade was that he
really made money by his failure.
On our books at the time of the failure were a number of discretionary
accounts. All of these clients were our friends, and most of them
had been with us for many years and had received their investments
back in profits over and over again. In order to do justice to all
we had to syndicate these accounts. The combined capital was large
and the operations had always been very profitable.
These clients had come to us without our solicitation and it was
distinctly understood from the start that their investment was
at their own risk. All this money was now lost. We had no legal
liability, but we did feel, as they were friends, that there was a
moral responsibility and we told them one and all we would accept
We did something else for them; a few knew it at the time and showed
their appreciation. Some of them will not know it until they read
Every one of those clients could have been held as an undisclosed
partner, for a very large part of our losses were made in the December
operations for the syndicate. Morally, they were not responsible,
for they never intended assuming any such liability, nor would we
have allowed them to; but legally, technically, they were liable,
and we saved them, keeping the burden where it had fallen, on our
own shoulders. We had one discretionary account that was not in the
syndicate. It was the account of Albert Caine. This was operated
under our guarantee against loss, we taking half the profits
as compensation for the guarantee. Although this account stood in
Albert's name, it was his wife's money and her investment. It had
been running for a long time and profits had been paid her to the
extent of about forty-seven hundred dollars.
Although we had not the affection for the Caines we had for others
in our circle of friends, we were extremely intimate. I have told
of our amusement fund and of how residing near each other we were
meeting them continually. They had visited us at "Redstone," at
Great Neck, and at Monmouth Beach, and I hardly expected they would
be the first to desert us. They were--and worse.
As soon as Caine heard of the failure he began a search for property
to attach. He told a mutual friend that papers were being drawn to
attach the horses and carriages and the house furniture. For some
reasons he changed his mind, which was just as well, as all were
beyond his reach.
Then he made a statement reflecting on me, giving as his authority
my bankers, on whom he had called. This I took up at once. I knew
it was false.
Without letting him know the object, I arranged an interview at
my lawyer's office, which he attended, accompanied by his lawyer.
I had asked George Todd to be there as a witness who could relate
an account of the interview to our mutual friends. Caine, when he
saw Todd, objected to his presence, but he remained.
My lawyer repeated the statement and asked Caine if he had made it.
He replied, "Yes." He asked him if the banker had told him this,
and he answered, "No."
Then Todd said, "Albert, do I understand you to say that this
statement you made and said you had heard from the bankers, you
admit having made, and now say that you did not hear it, and that
it was a lie"? To which he replied, "Yes," and burst into tears.
That ended the interview and thereafter the Caines were ostracised
by our circle of friends.
A little later Mrs. Caine commenced suit. Just to tease her
I fought the case, claiming that while guaranteeing against loss,
I had not guaranteed profits, and that these should be deducted.
After keeping her on the "anxious seat" for about two years she
secured a judgment for the full amount, and she owns to-day the
only judgment against me. She would have had more money now had
she remained a friend.
There were two of my liabilities that distressed me far more than
the others and one of these caused me the keenest anguish of mind.
At the time of the settlement of the Slater estate, Mr. Pell, Mrs.
Slater's father, was a creditor for fourteen thousand dollars. Frank
had been using this money and had paid Mr. Pell ten per cent. per
annum on it, not regarding it as a matter of interest, but merely
to give the old gentleman, who was out of business and becoming
feeble, a certain amount of income. Mr. Pell asked me as a favor
to take this money and do the same for him as Frank had been doing.
I did so, and later he added two thousand dollars to the amount,
so that I owed him in all sixteen thousand dollars.
The other liability was for twenty-five thousand dollars due to Mrs.
Slater. There had been a time a year or two back when temporarily
my resources were pretty well tied up, and I then borrowed this
amount of Mrs. Slater. When I asked her at the time if she wanted
to help me out, she replied, "I am only too delighted, Walter, to
do anything you ask," and she meant it. The loan was made without
security and was an act of purest friendship. To make it she had
to withdraw the money from her invested funds and of course I told
her this would not diminish her income.
It was this liability to Mrs. Slater that caused me such torture
of mind. The one thing that slightly relieved this feeling was the
knowledge that neither she nor Mr. Pell wanted the money. If the
income could be kept up, and this I hoped to accomplish, I could
take my own time for repayment of the principal.
My mail was crowded for days with letters of sympathy. Practically
all our out-of-town customers wrote us, and to their kindly
expressions of regret for our disaster was added the hope that we
would continue in business, and promises of hearty support in the
matter of sending us their orders.
With our competitors it was different. One or two called on us and
were sincere in their regret. Others, as we met them, talked the
same way, but we knew they did not mean it; and one, a Sunday-school
teacher whom I described in an earlier chapter as doing business on
a paving-stone heart, was reported to me as having made derogatory
remarks regarding us.
As soon as this report reached me, I went at once to his office,
and while his face crimsoned in his confusion at being confronted,
he denied that he had made the remark. I accepted his denial, though
I did not believe him. I had no more use for him than for the sort
of Christianity of which he is an example, and thereafter I treated
him with the barest civility.
THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS
One of my friends once said to me, "Stowe, it is worth all the
trouble you have had to find out what a noble woman your wife is";
and his wife added, "She is the bravest woman I ever knew."
Did not I know full well the bravery of the woman?
Had not her character and nobility of soul been revealed to me time
and again in the troubles that beset us in the early years of our
married life? True, this catastrophe immeasurably overshadowed
anything that had come to us before, but I knew how my wife would
take it and I was not disappointed.
If it were possible, she loved me more than ever. Her constant
effort was to cheer me up, keep up my courage by imparting her own
brave spirit to mine. Never a word of regret for all the luxuries
and many comforts that must now be given up, never a suspicion of
despondency. Only the brightest of smiles and most tender caresses
were lavished on me by my devoted wife, and with all was her earnest
desire to do what she could to lighten my burdens and to share in
the struggle before us.
The same spirit animated the children. One and all they supported
me by their strong affection shown in every possible way.
Immediately following my disaster the loyalty and regard of my
social friends, with the one exception of the Caines, was shown
on all sides. Kindly letters and personal calls were numerous and
did much to relieve the terrible feeling of despondency that weighed
The bright particular star in this firmament of friends was Mrs.
Slater. She had made a heavy loss that she could ill afford and
she accepted it without a shadow of reproach to me. Of course she
expected and hoped that at some time I would be able to repay her,
but this thought did not influence her in her stanch friendship.
Had she known there was no possible hope of my ever repaying her,
her feeling toward me would have been the same. Mrs. Caine, who
knew her, while calling and in a spirit of malice endeavored to
turn her against me. As a result, the call was never returned, and
the acquaintance ceased.
At this time I was seeking no favors from friends except in
one little matter in which I was assisted by George Todd and Will
Curtice. They were not called upon for financial aid, but they
guaranteed my carrying out an agreement which made them jointly liable
to the extent of four thousand dollars. I fulfilled my obligation
and then returned their guarantee.
The spirit shown by the tradespeople with whom I had dealings touched
me deeply. I had always been prompt in the settlement of bills and
immediately after my failure every account of this character was
paid at once. Of course we immediately cut off all unnecessary
King, the well-known up-town fish dealer, had been serving
us oysters and fish regularly each day. We were through now with
course dinners and these items were cut out. The next day I received
a letter from him, from which I quote:
"I want your trade if it's only a pound of codfish a week, and you
can pay once a month, once a year, or whenever it pleases you."
Then there was old Tom Ward, the coal dealer. I had in my cellar
about thirty tons of coal and I called at his office to get him to
send for it and pay me what he could afford to. As I entered the
door he sprang forward with outstretched hand, saying, "Mr. Stowe,
I am glad to see you, and I want to say you're the whitest little
man on the West Side, and I have a few hundred dollars in the bank.
If you want them you're welcome to them." My tailor, with whom
I had traded for a great many years, told me I could always have
anything in his shop and no bills would be rendered until asked
for. And so it was with all.
Of the house on Eighty-sixth Street, I had a lease at three
thousand dollars a year. My landlord, Mr. W. E. D. Stokes, told
me to "remain until the end of the lease and not bother about the
rent." I accepted this offer for one month. The Misses Ely, where
the girls attended school, called on my wife and asked her to
continue the girls for the rest of the school year without charge.
The larger tradesmen, such as Tiffany, Altman; Arnold, Constable,
and the like, all wanted our account kept on their books, but we
were through with the pomps and vanities and had no use for them.
My coachman offered me his savings and with the house servants it
was the same.
Before the end of January arrangements had been completed for
our new scale of living. The horses and carriages, representing
an investment of ten thousand dollars, I sold for less than two
thousand. There was no time to look for buyers and I made a forced
sale. Of the contents of our home we sold nothing except a panoply
of armor and one piece of bronze. These, Mrs. Veidler, who had
always admired them, bought, and added to the appointments of her
Fifth Avenue home.
At Westfield, N. J., we were offered a large house with modern
conveniences, well-stocked conservatory, and attractive grounds,
at a rental of fifty dollars per month. This we accepted, and on
the eighth of February took possession.
Before leaving the city we were entertained at a series of dinners
and theatre parties given by our friends of the "Immortal Ten,"
and though these occasions were somewhat saddening, partaking of
the nature of a farewell honor to a fallen "Prince," we appreciated
"W. E. STOWE & CO., INCORPORATED"
At the suggestion of my attorneys, I decided to continue the business
as a corporation.
The reason for this was that I wanted to continue under the same
firm name and not as an agent, and while aside from Caine there were
no antagonistic creditors, it was deemed wise to provide against
any possibility of such appearing later on and jeopardizing the
new capital which I expected to raise without difficulty.
As a matter of fact no creditor except Caine ever assumed such an
Under the laws of West Virginia a corporation was organized as W.
E. Stowe & Co., Incorporated.
The charter was made broad enough to cover every possible branch
of the business and the capital stock fixed at twenty-five thousand
dollars with liberty to increase to one million.
The organization was completed by electing as officers members of
my family, and the ten per cent required by law to be paid in was
raised in part by my wife by the sale of personal property and the
remainder by myself in a loan from a gentleman who was one of the
heaviest losers in the operations carried on for our friends.
My bankers, within certain reasonable limits and restrictions,
promised me their assistance, and I believed I would soon again be
on the highway to prosperity.
The first step was to raise the twenty-two thousand five hundred
dollars to complete the capitalization.
This seemed easy; why not? There was my friend Viedler; a man worth
several millions. He had been warmly sympathetic in his expressions
of regret at my misfortune. He and Mrs. Viedler had always shown a
cordial fondness for us, which we reciprocated. The social intimacy
had been close and always delightful.
At first I thought I would ask him for the entire amount, then
concluded to ask for five thousand dollars, really believing he
would comply with pleasure and offer more if wanted.
I wrote him asking for the money as a loan, telling him the purpose
for which it was wanted and offering to give him a lien on my
library, if he so desired, as security.
By return mail came a brief reply, typewritten and signed by his
secretary: "Mr. Viedler makes no more personal loans."
That was the sum and substance of the communication, and the first
intimation I had that another friend had deserted us. It was such
a surprise that I did not fully realize the fact until I had re-read
Some months later I was informed, to my complete astonishment, that
Mr. Viedler had some feeling against me because I had not protected
him on that note for five thousand dollars he held and which it will
be remembered I gave to Banford in 1893 without any consideration
and solely as a matter of accommodation to him. The pearls which
I held as security for the money due me from Banford, had been, at
Viedler's request, consigned to him for sale, under an agreement
by which Banford was to pay out of the proceeds to Mr. Viedler the
amount of the note with interest. At the time of the consignment
I handed to Mr. Viedler's secretary an order on Banford directing
him to do this.
If Mr. Viedler had considered that note my liability it is most
singular he did not demand payment at its maturity early in 1894.
As soon as I learned of his feelings in the matter I wrote him on
the subject and asked for an interview that we might go into every
detail of the transaction. This he declined, and it became evident
to me he knew there was no cause for the feeling he claimed to
have, and his refusing to aid me was simply for the reason he did
not want to, which, of course, was his indisputable right.
Well; Viedler had failed me, who next?
On my desk, amongst the letters of sympathy received immediately
after my failure, was one from a prominent Wall Street man, whom
I had known for many years and who for a time had been one of
my neighbors at Knollwood. I wrote to him about the same as I had
The return mail brought his reply, written personally, expressing
regret that he was "unable to assist me as he was a large borrower
All stock brokers are large borrowers in their business, but here
was an instance in which this universal custom was given as an
excuse for not making a loan of five thousand dollars to a friend
And who was this man? Here is what Thomas W. Lawson had to say of
him in one of the chapters of "Frenzied Finance":
J*** M*** deserves more than a mere passing mention here, for he was
at this time a distinguished Wall Street character and one of the
ablest practitioners of finance in the Country. During the last
fifteen years of his life, M*** was party to more confidential
jobs and deals than all other contemporaneous financiers, and he
handled them with great skill and high art. Big, jolly, generous,
a royal eater and drinker, an associate of the rich, the friend of
the poor, a many-times millionaire.
Another friend off the list--but there were many left. Now for the
next one. "The third time a charm"--perhaps.
Again I turned to the letters on my desk. This time I took up one
from a former mayor of New York. A man widely known, politically,
socially, and as a philanthropist.
His kind letter when received had been a pleasant surprise to me.
I had known him but a few years and could not claim a very close
intimacy, though he had always been most cordial and our families
were acquainted. As I re-read his letter it seemed to me as if it
invited me to address him under just such circumstances as then
Again, and for the third time, my messenger went forth seeking for
the friend who would help a man when he is down.
The reply came promptly enough and brought me the information that
my friend did not "desire to invest in any new business."
I had not asked him to; my request was for a loan, but his answer
Despondency followed. Where is the use? I asked myself. "To succeed
is to win fame; to fail, a crime." "The world has no use for an
unsuccessful man." Thus I gave up the attempt to raise a sum of
money that, before I made the effort, seemed but a trifle, "light
During the summer two of our Connecticut friends, who had been
members of the syndicate, between them made me a loan of six thousand
dollars, and this gave me a capital of eighty-five hundred dollars.
With this I attempted to save what I could of the enormous business
I had built up. How absurd it seemed, and yet my courage was far
THE STRUGGLE COMMENCED
By midsummer of 1896 the liquidation of the affairs of the old
firm was practically completed; that is, in so far as related to
the conversion of our assets into cash and payment of the proceeds
to our creditors. These payments were very large, but there was
still a heavy deficiency, which I hoped in time to pay in full with
interest, gigantic as the burden seemed.
Every business day found me at my office working early and late as
I had never worked before. With but one clerk and an office-boy, a
vast amount of detail had to be undertaken by myself. Night after
night my thoughts were almost constantly on plans to keep together
the business I had established.
I was fighting an octopus. My competitors all were arrayed against
me with a force I had never before experienced. They spared no
effort to crush the man who had beaten them over and over again in
battles for commercial supremacy. It was their turn now and they
showed no mercy.
But how different was the warfare waged on me! In the days gone
by I had struck them powerful blows, straight from the shoulder;
but a foul blow?--never! No man, living or dead, can or could say
I did not fight fair. Nor did I ever press an advantage unduly or
profit by the necessities of a competitor.
Here was one enemy, sneaking through the trade with his lying tongue,
always under cover, doing his utmost to injure me. Had that man
forgotten the day in 1888 when he came to my office and told me he
would be ruined unless our London friends would accept a compromise
from him and asked me to cable urging them to do so? Had he forgotten
how on the following day, when I showed him the reply reading,
"Risk of buyers does not concern us. Cannot assist," he raised his
hands, and shouting, "My God! what shall I do"? almost collapsed?
_Surely_ he must have forgotten how I told him that I would stand
between him and ruin, allowed him to settle on his own terms, and
carried him along for years.
Here was another enemy, a different stripe of man. He sat in
his palatial office and never let an opportunity pass to thrust a
knife in my back. His blows, less coarse and brutal, were even more
effective, for they were backed by the weight of great wealth and
respectability. An adept in the refinement of cruelty, between
Sundays, when as a vestryman of a prominent church he presumably
asked forgiveness of his sins, he did all that he could by false
insinuations to help along the work of putting down and out forever
the man who had never done him an injury, or conquered him in any
way not warranted by fair and generous business competition.
There were many like this man.
I had to fight against practically unlimited wealth in the hands
of a score of bitter enemies, men without conscience in the matter
of crushing a competitor. Anything to beat Stowe was the war-cry;
get the orders away from him, no matter what the cost, the plan
of campaign. Those men knew I could not long survive if they could
keep me from getting business.
To fight them back I had complete knowledge of the trade, great
personal popularity with my customers, and only eighty-five hundred
dollars capital. The last item was the weak point. Had I controlled
even only one hundred thousand dollars I believe with all their
wealth I could have beaten them to a standstill.
My customers stood nobly by me. There were hundreds of instances
when telegrams came to the office advising me of my competitors'
quotations and giving me the opportunity to meet the price and
secure the business. I never lost an order that the buyer did not
write and express his regret at our failure to secure it; but I
could not do business at a loss, my competitors knew this, and that
sooner or later they must surely win the fight.
From business on the Exchange I was barred until after final
settlement with creditors. As a matter of fact this was more of a
loss to the Exchange than to me. During 1895 our name had appeared
on the contracts of fully ninety per cent. of all the business
done on the floor, and in the five years immediately following our
failure the entire business did not equal that of any two months
On December 3lst, I found the volume of business for the year had
been less than a million of dollars as compared with nearly fifteen
millions in 1895.
Competition had cut into the percentage of profit to such an
extent that what I had made was insufficient to counterbalance my
Office and home expenses had been kept down to small figures;
I had made the regular monthly payments to Mrs. Slater and to Mr.
Pell and in addition made some payments of interest on the moral
obligations to our Connecticut friends, but my little capital had
to some extent been impaired.
The year at Westfield in its home life was far from unpleasant.
Our reduced circumstances had not deprived us of the ordinary
comforts. We still had our library and the handsome appointments of
our former home, and though these latter were out of keeping with
the house we enjoyed them.
The game of billiards after dinner, while I smoked my cigar, served
to distract for the time being my thoughts from business worries,
and for out-of-door exercise we took almost daily spins on our
wheels, which had been substituted for the horses.
We made one delightful trip on those wheels during the summer. With
my wife, a son, and a daughter, we started on Friday afternoon,
and after spending the night in Morristown, went on the next day
to Lake Hopatcong, returning home on Monday (Labor Day).
On Sunday, in our wandering, we visited all the familiar spots and
recalled the many drag trips we had taken there with our friends
as our guests and wondered if we would ever again repeat those
We dwelt particularly on one trip, brought to mind by a visit to
the Bertrand Island Club. While there we looked back in the register
at a sketch made by my friend and architect, Charlie Fitch. He and
his wife were included with our guests on that occasion, and after
asking me to allow him to register the party he filled a page with
an artistic sketch of "Redstone" with the drag in the foreground.
Charlie Wood and his wife also were of that party, and at a dinner
at "Redstone" on our return he sang a song composed by himself for
the occasion. I quote a few lines:
"Here's a good health to the Lake in the hills,
Here's to the hand that our glass ever fills,
The Kodak and Banjo;
But principally, mind you,
To the fellow who pays the bills."
This chapter covering the first year after my failure would be
incomplete without its testimony to the devotion of my wife and
children under the new conditions. My wife was a glorious sunbeam
whose rays of cheerfulness never dimmed. Her wonderful spirits and
courage lifted me out of the Slough of Despondency, and her love
and tenderness supported me through every trial.
The children, from my elder son, who had cut short his college course
and joined me in the office, down to the baby of the family, then
a girl of eight years, were constant in their efforts to contribute
to my comfort and happiness.
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUED
At the commencement of 1897 it seemed as if everything was against
me. In the trade the fight for my customers was waged with renewed
vigor, and one after another names which had been on our books for
years were dropped from the lists of our supporters. We tried to
retain them and they tried to have us do so, giving us every possible
advantage, but it was useless.
We could not compete against the wealth of our competitors. In our
efforts to do this we made losses, small in individual instances,
but we knew if continued our little capital would soon be exhausted.
Our banking facilities since the liquidation of the old affairs had
been greatly restricted. The business was now too small to be of
any interest to the bankers and the commissions exacted cut into
the profits to such an extent there was nothing left for us.
With no capital, our London connection had entirely lost its value,
and this same lack of capital prevented us from doing business with
our old speculative clients.
With my mind harassed by the weight of my monthly obligations,
support of family, office expenses, payments to Mrs. Slater and Mr.
Pell, and the more or less constant inquiry from some of my moral
(as I call them) creditors as to how soon I could commence making
them monthly payments, my brain was well-nigh turned.
I was beginning to realize the true meaning of the word desperation.
Is it any wonder that in this condition of mind my judgment should
have failed me or that my operations should turn out badly? At all
events, such was the case. Whatever I did in the market it always
seemed as if a relentless fate pursued me.
I felt as if I must make money and I lost it.
Through this time of trial my wife was still the same loving,
cheerful helpmate. Nothing could daunt her courage nor depress her
spirits. If she had her hours of worry, she kept them from me.
We decided to move into a smaller house and sell our surplus
household appointments, works of art, and my library. It was hard
to part with all the beautiful things we had lived amongst so long,
and when it came to the library I fear our tears were very close
to the surface.
We arranged for a small house at Sound Beach, Connecticut, a new
and pretty cottage directly on the Sound. Our small payments were
to apply on the purchase and we hoped in this way to once more own
Early in April there was a three-days' sale at the Knickerbocker
auction rooms. I attended the sale and witnessed, with aching
heart, the slaughter--for such it proved. With the exception of an
exquisite set of Webb cut glass, manufactured on an original design
and never duplicated, and a very small part of the rare china, the
prices realized averaged but little more than ten per cent. of the
cost. The great chest of Gorham silver brought hardly its bullion
A few pieces I could not see so sacrificed and bought them in. The
fine hall clock, which had cost me six hundred and fifty dollars,
I could not let go for seventy-five. An imported cabinet, costing
two hundred dollars, at eighteen; a Tiffany vase for which I had
paid seventy dollars, at eight, and so on; but I had to stop some
where, and so most of the things were sold. Within a few days I sold
at private sale what I had bought in, but realized only a little
more than the auction prices.
Then came the paintings. These were sent to a down-town auction
room. All but four, which I withdrew, I saw sold at absurdly low
prices. The four and the hall clock, representing a cost value
of twenty-seven hundred dollars, were taken by Charlie Wood in
cancellation of a debt of five hundred and seventy-five dollars,
borrowed money. He certainly was well paid.
And now the library. Two small cases had been reserved from our
furniture sale, and these were to be filled with--what? There was
hardly a book in the whole library we did not love and cherish as
a friend. How were we to make the selection?
Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, Fielding, Prescott, Irving, Hawthorne,
the British Poets, Dumas, Lever, Cooper, Strickland, Kingsley,
Bulwer--these, all beautiful sets bound by Riviere, Zahnsdorff and
other noted binders, must be sold on account of their money value.
Over and over again we went through the catalogue and finally our
task was completed.
As I carefully packed case after case of the books destined for
sale, it seemed almost like burying a child when I nailed the covers
The sale was at Bangs. The first day I attended but had not the
courage to go the second day. There were but few private buyers, and
hundreds of the volumes went back to the shelves of the booksellers
from whom I had purchased them. They told me afterwards they were
amazed at getting them so low.
In April we took possession of the cottage at Sound Beach. The house,
though very small, was comfortable and cozy, and the lawn extended
to the shore of the Sound, at that point rocky and picturesque.
With freedom from care I could have been very happy in the new
home; 'but with constant worry over the struggle for existence,
this was impossible. Despite my best efforts, matters continued
to go wrong, and before the summer was over I had reached the end
of my resources.
Then commenced the bitter struggle with real poverty.
It was impossible to keep out of debt for current expenses at
home and in the office. For the first time in my life I had become
"slow-pay" to small tradesmen. "Buy nothing you cannot pay for"
is all right in theory, but let those who preach it put themselves
in my place in those dark days. There were days and weeks when the
house would have been bare of food if the grocer and butcher had
refused me credit. There were days at the office when letters had
to be held over night for lack of money to pay postage.
My wife, unknown to me and in hope of helping me over the hard
spot, wrote to Mr. Viedler, asking him for a loan of a few hundred
dollars. He never replied to her letter. Then she wrote to Charlie
Wood. From him came a reply, that if I had not read it, I would
never have believed him capable of writing.
It was the first wickedly cruel blow dealt me by one whom I regarded
as a warm personal friend, and the cruelty was vastly accentuated
by dealing it through my wife.
In his letter he gave as a reason for not making the loan that
I had caused him to lose fifty thousand dollars--that as a result
he had been compelled to pay for his home, recently completed, and
one of the handsomest in Orange, New Jersey, in part by mortgage;
further, in writing, he went out of his way to express himself,
with an ability for which he is noted, in most unkind and bitter
Here are the facts:
At our first interview after my failure I said, "Charlie, I am sorry
for your loss." To which he replied, "Walter, you do not owe me a
cent." He had invested with us fifty-four thousand dollars, but he
had drawn in profits thirty-two thousand, so that his actual loss
was but twenty-two thousand dollars.
In 1890, _only two weeks_ after he had declined to share with me
that small investment in the Connecticut concern to benefit the
estate of his deceased partner, because he "could not go into any
outside investment," he came to my office and asked me to take
eighteen thousand dollars, to be--and was--later increased, for
operations in our market. I took it, not that I wanted it, but for
the reason that he was a friend who asked me to help him and as
was the case with every such investment, except Caine's, it was
distinctly understood that the risk of loss was the investor's.
When I negotiated the sale of this man's interest in those properties
to Mallison I secured him at least twenty-five thousand dollars
more than he expected or could have gotten himself, and it was on
that occasion his wife exclaimed, "Oh, Walter, what a friend you
have been"! He also was one of those investors whom I relieved from
being held as an undisclosed partner at the time of my failure--_and
this man was my friend!_
To the letter he had written to my wife I replied, resenting
indignantly the falsity and injustice of his charges and offering
the vouchers to prove my statements. His answer was conciliatory,
and admitted that "the facts were really much better" than he
In those days I thought often of the many I had assisted in the
past and wondered if the "bread cast upon the waters would return
to me after many days" Of course I did occasionally find a friend
who helped a little, but these were few and far between.
There was one man whom I had once loaned three hundred dollars.
He asked for the loan, to be returned in two weeks. I never asked
for the money and it was not until more than two years had passed
that he had returned it. I wrote him in 1897 asking a loan of one
hundred dollars for a few weeks. In reply he wrote: "You will be
surprised at my not granting you this small favor, but I have lost
so much money through loans to friends that I make no more personal
Throughout the year there was no improvement in my affairs. I
managed to keep the debts for current expenses down to small figures,
altogether not more than a few hundred dollars, but I was always
a month or two behind, both in the office and at home.
We welcomed the end of the year, for we felt that any change must
be for better. I could not see how it could be much worse.
THE DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN
The winter dragged slowly along while we led a hand-to-mouth
existence. Even those dreary times did not drive the sunshine from
my home. Love reigned supreme in the family circle and my wife
and children continually petted and caressed me, made light of our
troubles and stoutly affirmed that brighter days would surely come.
Fortunately all kept well, and while they must have felt the awful
strain of our impoverished condition, they concealed from me such
feelings, if they existed. My wife's wonderful health has, through
all our troubles been maintained. She is the only woman I ever
knew who never had a headache and in all our married life she has
never been ill.
We were to leave Sound Beach in the spring. I could not carry out
my arrangement with the owner of the property and he released me.
Where should we go next to seek an abiding place? And in my mind
was the thought, how long will we be able to remain there when we
My thoughts reverted to those days of 1876 on the little farm. "Let
us try farming again," said I, and try it we did.
At Ramsey, New Jersey, I found a modernized, comfortable house
with fifteen acres of land. There was an asparagus bed, plenty of
strawberries, and some other fruit. This place I rented for a year
at four hundred dollars and removed there on the thirtieth of April.
I employed a man with horses and plow by the day and soon had my crops
planted. About half the land was rich grass and I left this for a
hay crop. As in the old days, so now I was successful in my farming
experiment. Our crops considering the acreage, were enormous, and
again I astonished the natives. I found a ready market with the
vegetable peddlers and the profits went a long way toward paying
At the office matters were unchanged. I was doing neither better
nor worse than for many months previous. The summer had passed and
with the early fall I foresaw a change in market conditions that
I longed to take advantage of, but I had no capital, nor could
I think of any one who would assist me--yes, I did think of one
friend who through all my trials had been stanch and true, but I
could not bring myself to the point of calling on that friend for
It was Mrs. Slater. Her father, Mr. Pell, had been dead for some
months and had been deprived of no comfort through his loss by my
When my payments ceased in 1897 Mrs. Slater had been compelled to
reduce her expenses and with her boy was now living in an apartment
in New York. Her income was still sufficient to enable her to
live very nicely, and though her loss had made it necessary to be
careful in her expenditures this had not in any way affected her
friendship for the man who was the cause. On the contrary, she
always stood up for me when my affairs were discussed by others
in her presence, and when occasionally I called on her she always
expressed a sympathetic friendly interest in my trials without
adding to my unhappiness by referring to my indebtedness to her.
As the days went by developments proved that my judgment of the
market was correct. An opportunity to make money was at hand and
if I was to take advantage of it I must get some capital quickly.
I felt certain with a little capital I could do a profitable
business that would not only relieve me from the terrible distress
I had been under for so long, but would enable me to commence again,
at least in part, my payments to Mrs. Slater.
After careful consideration, I put the matter before her in a letter
and then called to talk it over. She had a strong desire to help
me and of course would be glad to see her income increased, and
she very willingly let me have five thousand dollars.
Success came from the start. Of course with this small capital there
was no fortune to be made, but that was not what I was looking for
at that time. The bitter experience I had been through had put a
limit to my ambition. The acme of my desires then was a comfortable
living for my family and the ability to send to Mrs. Slater her
interest cheque promptly each month. This I was now in a fair way
to accomplish and my spirits and courage rose rapidly.
We had a very happy Christmas that year. The accounts with the
butcher and grocer had been paid up, and our gifts, consisting of
much-needed additions to the family wardrobe, gave us, I believe,
more pleasure than in the old days of prosperity when the gifts
represented large intrinsic value. Everything now was viewed in
contrast with the days of poverty which we hoped had departed never
Opening with a promise of better times, which was fulfilled to a
marked degree, the year 1899 witnessed a great change in my affairs.
Again I was making money, not in such amounts as during many years
prior to my failure, but there was a steady and substantial gain
With but two employees, a stenographer and typewriter, and an
office-boy, I was kept very busy at the office. My hours were long,
and with nearly four hours each day passed in the trip to and from
the office, we decided it would be better to seek an inexpensive
home in New York.
The thought of what our housekeeping had been for the past three
years, moving each year, no maids and with scanty means, led us to
believe that boarding would be an agreeable change for all, and so
we stored our furniture and in the early spring secured pleasant
accommodations at a very reasonable price, in an apartment hotel,
the St. Lorenz, on East Seventy-second Street.
With our return to the city we renewed our former intimacy with
Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, George Todd and his wife, and a few other
friends, though we did not see as much of them as in the old days.
They had a large circle of friends and led an active social life,
while we were living very quietly, doing practically no entertaining.
There were a number of pleasant little dinners, my wife and I
occasionally attended the theatre, and we were very happy in our
The business outlook encouraged me greatly. Mrs. Slater had increased
my capital with another five thousand dollars, I was getting back
many of the old customers I had lost after the failure, and it
seemed as if a return to prosperity, which would be lasting, was
In June we went to Nyack-on-the-Hudson for the summer and in
October returned to our apartment in New York. The pleasure of our
residence there was contributed to by the society of Mrs. Slater.
Her boy had been sent to boarding-school and she took an apartment
at the St. Lorenz.
We had an experience that winter which will never be effaced from
One evening I took my wife and Mrs. Slater to the Casino to witness
a performance of the "Belle of New York," Our seats were in the
center of the orchestra, third row from the stage. The house was
crowded, with many people standing.
The first act was over, when there came to me suddenly a feeling of
great uneasiness. I knew not how to account for it. The performance
interested me, we were conversing pleasantly, there was nothing I
could see or think of to explain the feeling, and yet it existed.
The curtain rose on the second act. I was no longer interested
and could not keep my attention on the stage. My eyes continually
wandered over the house, and after what seemed an endless time the
act was over. I then thought I would mention my feeling to my wife
and suggest leaving the theatre. This was unreasonable. The ladies
were enjoying the performance and I disliked exceedingly to spoil
their evening with what appeared to be nervousness on my part.
Again the curtain rose. I found myself irritated by the performers,
every word and action dragged so slowly in the mood I was in. I
looked at the people between us and the aisle and it was only by
strong exertion of will that I was able to keep my seat. Again I
looked around the house. Everything was perfectly quiet.
Five minutes later the folds of the curtain, one of those that open
in the center and are drawn up high on each side, on the right
of the stage, were a mass of flame; the curtain was lowered and
instantly the other side was on fire.
The panic was on. Amidst cries of fire and shrieks of women came
the rush for the exits. Instantly the aisles were choked with a
frantic, struggling crowd. A man sitting in front of my wife stepped
on the back of her seat and narrowly escaped kicking her in the
face with his other foot in a useless rush. He did not get ten feet
At the instant the flame appeared Mrs. Slater said in a quiet voice,
"Do you see that, Walter"?
"Yes," I replied. "What shall we do"? she said; and I answered,
"Sit still." My wife, always brave, was urging the women around her
to sit still and keep quiet. There was nothing else to do. Either
that fire would be extinguished or we were doomed. There was no
possibility of escape through the mass of people behind us and I
realized that fact instantly.
Fortunately the people on the stage kept their presence of mind,
the firemen had the hose at work quickly, and we escaped with a
slight sprinkling from the spray.
Was there ever a clearer warning given by intuition?
The year ended bright with promise of continued prosperity. We had
enjoyed the comfort of living amid pleasant surroundings and I had
saved nearly three thousand dollars. I looked forward to commencing
again payments of interest on my moral obligations and some
liquidation of my debt to Mrs. Slater, but I wanted, if possible,
to first get a larger capital, that I might make these payments
without impairing my facilities for doing business.
SMOOTH SAILING INTO ROUGH WATERS
The year 1900 was very closely a repetition of 1899. In May we
again went to Nyack for the summer, and in the fall, instead of
returning to the St. Lorenz, rented an apartment on Park Avenue,
and taking our furniture out of storage resumed house-keeping. It
was somewhat less expensive and we had tired of hotel fare.
Business was fairly good on the average, though there were dull
periods which made me restless. There was so much to be done I
was eager to make money faster.
In July the balance of the amount due to Mrs. Slater under the
contract with Mallison, which had expired, was paid over to me,
and pending some permanent investment I loaned it out on call.
Through the formation of trusts the trade had entirely changed in
its character. Many of our best customers had been absorbed by one
gigantic combination, and the supplies of the commodity we dealt
in, required by these consumers, were now furnished under a contract
made with the leading firm in the trade, this firm having been one
of the underwriters in the flotation of the securities and also
was represented in the board of directors.
This one consolidation took out of the open market a demand equivalent
to fully one-third of the entire consumption of the United States.
Then there was another trust, a comparatively small affair, but this
too absorbed a number of our customers. A third trust was in course
of organization, and when completed would, with the others, leave
for open competition less than half of the country's requirements.
Backed by a very wealthy concern we tried to get a chance to compete
for the contract with the leading trust, but it was quite useless.
We were told the business could not be given to us, no matter how
advantageous our terms might be, and our inference was that the
object of the trust was not to get the material at the lowest price,
but to give the business to a favored firm without competition.
This large contract naturally excited much interest in the trade
and great efforts were made to ascertain its terms. The generally
accepted theory was that the firm supplied the material as wanted
and the price for each month's deliveries was fixed by the average
of the market for the last ten days of the month. As if bearing
this out it was noted that during the last ten days of each month,
the firm holding the contract did its utmost to manipulate a rise
in price, which would, of course, inure greatly to its benefit.
These changes taking from us the legitimate demand from so many
consumers, made our business far more speculative. Instead of
buying to supply a regular trade, our purchases were made largely
to be resold in wholesale lots to dealers or others, and the profit
would depend on an advance in the market following the purchase.
If the market favored us the business was profitable; if not, then
losses must be met.
At this time we were doing considerable business on joint account
with George Norman, our former clerk. In many of the purchases
and sales we made he had half interest and in the same way we were
interested in many of his operations. This business for many months
proved profitable. Aside from these transactions we both were doing
a good deal of business on individual account, we far more than
was prudent considering our capital, though at that time, in my
anxiety to make money, I did not realize it.
There came a time when, on a small scale, I repeated my error of
1895. The first time it was my misfortune, the second my fault.
For this fatal mistake I have no defense. I should have known
better--but in explanation there is something to say, and while it
is not a defense, it is in a measure some palliation.
There had been a period of inactivity with no opportunity to make
money. My mind was depressed over the loss of legitimate trade
through the trusts and I was harassed by appeals from some of my
moral creditors for help. I felt more than ever before the weight
of my awful burden.
In a recent interview with Mrs. Slater, in which her affairs
had been discussed, I had stated to her my hopes of accomplishing
certain things. A remark she made in reply seemed to have burned
into my brain. Her words were, "To do that you must make money
and lots of it." That was in clear-cut words the task before me.
I "must make money and lots of it." It drove from my mind thoughts
of prudence and safety. I took no account of the risk of my business.
I thought only of the possible profits.
Perhaps I was mad, mentally irresponsible. It certainly seems so
to me now. Possibly I had the fever of a gambler playing for high
stakes. At all events, I plunged to the limit--and the market
went against me. I tried to extricate myself, but too late. It
was impossible. All the capital at my command was lost, and in
addition there was nearly twelve thousand dollars indebtedness on
our contracts in which George Norman had half interest. The horror
that came over me as I realized my awful position I can compare only
to Dante's "Inferno." What should I do? What could I do? I wonder
I did not go insane.
Norman came to my office and tried to encourage me. The contracts
standing in his name had all been settled and he had money left.
When he left it had been agreed that I was to arrange for time for
payment of the differences on our joint-account contracts, and as
opportunity offered he was with his capital to do a joint-account
business with me by which we hoped to make money enough to pay these
differences and recoup my losses. Meanwhile he was to let me have
from month to month what money I would require, above what I could
make myself, to meet my expenses and the payments to Mrs. Slater.
This arrangement gave me a breathing spell. I managed to pull
myself together and go home after the terrible day in a state of
comparative calmness. I could not tell my wife of this new trouble
and I could not tell Mrs. Slater. If my expenses and Mrs. Slater's
payments were provided for why worry either of them? In a few
months, I reasoned, things will come my way again and I will get out
of this awful pit. Meanwhile, I could eat my heart out in useless
regret when alone, but must conceal from all the world my trouble.
I hope no reader of these pages will ever know the fortune of mind
I suffered. It was infinitely worse than any possible physical
torture in the days of the Spanish Inquisition. I once listened to
a sermon on "Hell," delivered by the late Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage.
His word picture of a place of torment was so vivid one could
almost inhale the odor of the burning sulphur and yet the place he
painted was a paradise compared to the hell on earth that was my
For a few months Norman was as good as his word. He made up the
deficiency in my earnings and continually encouraged me with what
he would do when market conditions warranted operations. Then he
commenced slowly to withdraw his assistance by responding to my
request for money only in part, on the plea that he was himself
hard pressed. I had good reasons for knowing that such was not the
THE TYRANNY OF THE JURY LAW
Of course my wife knew I was having hard times, but she had no
idea of my terrible situation. At the end of July, 1901, in order
to reduce our expenses we moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, taking
a small cottage at a very low rental.
Another reason for leaving New York was that I might escape from
This had become a nightmare, and to a man situated as I was it seems
to me the jury law is tyrannical and unjust. My business required
my constant personal attention. There was no one to take my place.
A day's absence meant not only loss of money that might be made
that day, but possible loss of customers through inattention to
their orders and inquiries. I needed every dollar I could make.
The hardship to those dependent on me for support if I were taken
from my business to serve on a jury would be actual--I simply could
not do it.
During the previous winter I had been summoned four times, on each
occasion before a different judge. The first time I called on the
judge in his private room before the opening of the court, and was
excused. The next month I was again summoned. This time also the
judge excused me, but it required much argument to induce him to
do so. The third time it was even more difficult to escape, though
I succeeded again. The fourth time was a rather novel experience. I
shall not forget it, and if that judge reads these pages he will
remember it. I gave him a fright that startled him out of his
When ushered into his room I found the judge seated at his desk,
there being three or four other men present. They stepped back as
I approached within a few feet of the judge.
In a low voice I explained why I wished to be excused. It was
humiliating to have to tell my story before others and I endeavored
to speak so low they would not hear me.
This judge was of a different type. The others had been most kind
in manner, even expressing sympathy for my unfortunate position;
but this man was brusque and unpleasant. When I ceased speaking he
turned around in his chair and in a loud voice said:
"Oh, no, I cannot excuse you for any such reason." I replied, "Your
Honor, what better reason could I have than those given you"? To
which he answered, "Don't come to me and ask me to give you reasons
for excuse from jury duty. You must serve; we want men that cannot
get away from their business." Then he turned his back on me.
For a brief moment I stood there silent. The judge commenced writing
at his desk. The other men were watching me. I thought of what it
meant in the critical condition of my affairs to take me from my
office for two weeks and the thought made me desperate.
Springing forward, I seized the judge by the arm, and while his
whole body shook with the nervous trembling of my grasp, I shouted
at him: "Do you know what you are doing? Would you put a man who
is almost at the point of nervous prostration or perhaps worse in
a jury box? Do you think I am in any condition to do jury duty"?
The other men gathered around and endeavored to calm me. The judge,
who had risen from his chair, dropped into it again with a frightened
look, and with a voice scarcely audible, said, "Your mental condition
will excuse you," and then asked one of the men to assist me out
of the office. And I needed his assistance. I was so weak I could
hardly stand. I wondered afterwards the judge did not commit me
for examination as to my sanity.
In the name of justice, why should a man be placed in such a
position? Why compelled to humiliate himself by laying bare to any
man, judge though he be, his poverty and then have to argue on that
point as an excuse for not doing jury duty? If a man is prepared
to prove that it would be a serious injury to himself to serve, he
ought to be excused. How could a man do justice in a trial before
him, when his mind is racked with worry over his own affairs? It
is unfair to all--plaintiff, defendant, and juryman alike.
With the removal to Plainfield came the commencement of a period
of bitter trial and almost unremitting struggle for existence.
Norman, though he occasionally assisted me with small amounts,
never redeemed his promise to do the joint-account business which
was to pay those debts, as much his as mine, and recoup my losses.
Meanwhile, he was doing well and reported to be making money fast.
The months passed by, and though I managed to make the payments to
Mrs. Slater I was running behind on my bills at the office and at
home. Something must be done. I tried in every way to get Norman
to pay me part of the considerable sum which stood against him on
my books-he was heartless. He knew I would not sue him and if I
did he could keep the matter hanging in the courts for years. Then
I resolved to get some money out of him in another way.
He was accustomed to make certain deliveries through our office,
the payments being made to us. In the next settlement I made with
him I deducted a few hundred dollars, sufficient to pay my most
pressing bills; and gave him credit for the amount.
I felt I had a perfect legal and moral right to keep this money;
but a few days later thought perhaps, as a matter of policy, I had
made a mistake, as he could throw more or less business my way which
I might lose if he resented my action. I then wrote him expressing
my regret for the necessity of the step. At first he took it very
nicely, told me not to speak of it, and that it was all right; but
later he did his utmost to divert business from me and then my only
regret was that I had not kept the whole amount.
From an office-boy at four dollars per week I had brought him up in
my business, launched him out as a broker, supported him liberally,
and made him successful. All he ever had in the world he owed either
directly or indirectly to me. He wronged me in the old days before
the failure in 1895, again in this later failure, and now added
insult to injury in his base ingratitude.
In these days of trial I was often severely pressed for ready money
in small amounts for current expenses. My old friend Will Curtice
had responded to my occasional requests for loans, which had been
invariably returned, though not always with promptness. The time
came when he declined, saying he could not do it, which meant
he would not, for he was becoming a rich man. At a later period,
and when my credit with butcher and grocer had reached the limit.
I wrote to him for fifty dollars. I told him it was for bread
and butter for my family and that whether he made the loan or not
I should never again appeal to him. He returned my letter, first
writing across it, "It is quite impossible." A few days later I
met him in the street. He saw me coming and deliberately cut me.
Another friend gone. One of the old "Immortal Ten"--the man who
had composed that song containing the lines:
"And Stowe has been so generous since,
That all the crowd have dubbed him Prince."
At one of our old dinner-parties I heard Curtice say, in the course
of conversation, "Friends are of no use except for what you can
get out of them." He laughed when he said it and I supposed it was
a thoughtless joke--perhaps he meant it seriously.
AT THE BRINK OF THE GRAVE
It is the afternoon of January 4th, 1903. I am going from my office,
home to that devoted woman who has in all my bitter trials stood
by me brave as a lion, always the same loving, cheerful, true
wife--the mother of my children, those dear ones who have done
their best to aid in her heroic efforts to sustain my courage and
comfort me in my awful distress of mind.
On my way to the train I stop at a drug store. To the clerk I say,