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Another star which dawned in the commercial world about the same time, was Aaron Goldsmid. He came from Hamburg, and established himself in London, as a merchant, in the middle of the last century. The house arrived at its highest prosperity after his death, under his four sons. At the head of the business were then two brothers, Abraham and Benjamin, men of acknowledged integrity, and allied in friendship with Newland, the head cashier of the Bank of England. He was also a self-made man, who had risen from a baker’s shop to his enormously influential position. By means of Newland, the brothers Goldsmid were brought into connection with the government, which, since the year 1793, had been compelled to have recourse to continual loans, in consequence of the Continental war. But it was not only through this that they made their money. It was their cleverness and knowledge that saved them from losing money, when all over Europe great mercantile houses were breaking. One of the most notable characteristics of Benjamin was, we are told, his astonishing knowledge of firms, which was not confined merely to England, but embraced the whole money-market in or out of England. He valued, with a certainty bordering on the marvellous, every name on the back of a bill. In the panic year of 1790, the house only lost £50, when ruin swept away many of the chief firms of England and abroad. At the beginning of the present century, there was no house greater, or more universally esteemed; and yet the end was tragic in the extreme. One morning in April, 1808, Benjamin Goldsmid hung himself in his bed-room. In 1810, the elder brother, Abraham, in conjunction with the house of Baring, embarked in a government loan of £14,000,000. The business failed; the house of Baring survived the crash; but Abraham Goldsmid shot p. 27himself when he found how true it was that riches take to themselves wings, and fly away.

Here is a story of an alderman, extracted from Maloniana. When the late Mr. Pitt, or Alderman Beckford, made a strong attack on the late Sir William Baker, alderman of London, charging him with having made an immense sum by a fraudulent contract, he got up very quietly, and gained the House to his side by this short reply: “The honourable gentleman is a great orator, and has made a long and serious charge against me. I am no orator, and shall therefore only answer it in two words—Prove it.” Having thus spoken, he sat down; but there was something in his tone and manner that satisfied the House the charge was a calumny.

In 1736, there was—as I dare say there is now—an old Mr. Collier in the City. He lived in Essex, and his daughter—as is generally the case with rich City men—soon got married. It was thus the Rev. Dr. Taylor, of Isleworth, in 1788, described the wedding;—“Old Mr. Collier was a very vain man, who had made his fortune in the South Sea year: and having been originally a merchant, was fond, alter he had retired to live upon his fortune, of a great deal of display and parade. On his daughter’s wedding, therefore, he invited nearly fifty persons, and got two or three capital cooks from London to prepare a magnificent entertainment in honour of the day. When other ceremonies had concluded, the young couple were put to bed, and every one of the numerous assemblage came into the room to make these congratulations to the father and mother, who sat up in bed to receive them: ‘Madame, I wish you a very good-night. Sir, all happiness to you, and a very good-night,’ and so on through the whole party. My father, who hated all parade, but was forced to submit to the old gentleman’s humour, must have been in a fine fume; and my mother, who was then but seventeen or eighteen, sufficiently embarrassed.” It is as well rich citizens don’t indulge in such a display on the occasion of a marriage in the family in our time. I don’t fancy even a Lord Mayor, however fond of antiquity, would feel himself justified in attempting anything so ridiculous now. But then it was the fashion for a well-bred youth to address his father as “honoured sir,” and not as now, as “governor.”

Another money-making family was that of the Hopes, p. 28originally from Holland. “Mr. William Hope,” says old Captain Gronow, “inherited, on coming of age, £40,000 a-year. He exhibited, alternately, extreme recklessness in expenditure, and the stinginess of a miser. He would one day spend thousands of pounds on a ball or supper, and then keep his servants for days on cold meat and stale bread. His large fortune enabled him to give the most splendid entertainments to the beau monde of Paris. At his balls and parties all the notables of the day were to be seen, and no expense was spared to make them the most sumptuous entertainments then given. It was his custom, when the invitations were issued, not to open any letters till the party was over, to save him the mortification of refusing those who had not been invited.”

If we are to believe the great poet, who mostly spent his life in London, and whose name still graces a street very much reduced from what it was in his day, Mammon-worship must have a very bad moral effect, for Mammon was the least erected spirit that fell from heaven; and even there we are told—

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“His looks and thoughts

Were always downward bent, admiring more

The riches of heaven’s pavement, trodden gold,

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Than aught divine or holy else enjoyed

In vision beautiful.”

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Nevertheless, some of Mammon’s worshippers have found time and money for better things, and have consecrated their wealth to noble ends. In Roman Catholic times this was to be expected. A princely bequest, at the dictation of the priest, was a fitting atonement for ill-gotten wealth or an ill-spent life; but Protestantism has been equally conspicuous—and, it is to be believed, from better motives—for good works, and that charity which covereth a multitude of sins. In illustration of this, there is, perhaps, no brighter name than that of Joseph Hardcastle, of whom it is well known that, amid all his varied and extensive engagements, he maintained a character for spotless honour and unsullied integrity, which even calumny itself never ventured to assail. To him, from the very outset, belonged the reputation of the English merchant of the old school, and years served only to augment that weight of character which he bore on the Exchange, as well as in the missionary and other societies. He was one of p. 29the founders of the Sierra Leone Company, along with Wilberforce and Thornton. Also he was treasurer of the Missionary Society. In 1799, the Religions Tract Society was founded under his roof. And at his offices, Old Swan Stairs, the Bible Society was first launched into existence. The Hibernian Society and the Village Itinerary Society were aided by his purse and presence. Of the latter society he was treasurer sixteen years. As he came of an old Nonconformist stock—one of his ancestors was an ejected clergyman—Mr. Hardcastle, who lived mainly at Hatcham, was buried in Bunhill Fields.

In Plough Court, Lombard Street, there was a firm well-known and highly respected. It was a firm long remarkable for the extraordinary philanthropic activity of its practices, and for the excellence of its chemicals. Mr. Allen, the senior partner, was a lecturer in chemistry at Guy’s Hospital, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a personal and intimate friend of the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Sussex, Lord Brougham, Sir Fowell Buxton, the Gurneys, Thomas Clarckson, and many other of the leading philanthropic and public characters of the past generation. He was also a minister among the Quakers, and a prime mover in founding a host of schools, asylums, and benevolent institutions. Another partner in the firm was the late Luke Ronard, F.R.S., the eminent meteorologist, who was also a preacher among the Quakers till the last portion of his life, when he joined the communion of the Plymouth Brethren, with whom also he was an active labourer in good efforts of various kinds. A third partner of the firm was the late Mr. John Thomas, who, after his very accurate and skilful scientific researches had gained him a competency, retired from business, and devoted the remainder of his life to an extraordinary series of efforts, in conjunction with Mr. William Ewart, M.P., Mr. Barret Lennard, M.P., Mr. John Sydney Taylor, the editor of the Morning Herald, the Right Hon. Stephen Lushington, D.C.L., and the late Mr. Peter Bedford, of Croydon, for the removal of the punishment of death from the numerous offences, some of them very trivial, for which it was at one time inflicted. A writer in the Sunday at Home, in the year 1866, remarks, that it is no exaggeration to say, that the splendid triumphs of mercy, which have rendered the reign of King William IV. for ever illustrious in history, were, either directly or indirectly, p. 30largely owing to the strenuous, continuous, and truly wonderful labours of Mr. Barry and this small group of his philanthropic coadjutors. Such were the partners in the firm at Plough Court, a house frequented by all classes of men—by princes of the blood-royal, by peers and statesmen, by scientific discoverers and professors, by missionaries and preachers, by schoolmasters and authors, by reformed criminals and escaped slaves. It became a centre of conference and movement for much of the metropolitan philanthropy during the reigns of George IV. and William IV.

It is to the credit of the City that some of these money-making men have been amongst the most earnest supporters of every religious and philanthropic enterprise. Here we get a pleasant glimpse of one of them. Heard writes to Wilberforce, in 1790, of the death of John Thornton:—“He was allied to me by relationship and family connection. His character is so well known that it is scarcely necessary to attempt its delineation. It may be useful, however, to state, that it was by living with great simplicity of intention and conduct in the practice of Christian life, more than of any superiority of understanding or of knowledge, that he rendered his name illustrious in the view of all the respectable part of his contemporaries. He had a counting-house in London, and a handsome villa at Clapham. He anticipated the disposition and pursuits of the succeeding generation. He devoted large sums annually to charitable purposes, especially to the promotion of the cause of religion, both in his own and other countries. He assisted many clergymen, enabling them to live in comfort, and to practise a useful hospitality. His personal habits were remarkably simple. His dinner-hour was two o’clock; he generally attended public worship at some church or Episcopalian chapel several evenings in the week, and would often sit up to a late hour in his own study, at the top of the house, engaged in religious exercises. He died without a groan or a struggle, and in the full view of glory. Oh, may my end be like his!” He was the Sir James Stephen in the Edinburgh Review for 1844, “a merchant renowned in his generation for a munificence more than princely.” Mr. Thornton was an Episcopalian, and it was owing to him that the venerable John Newton became pastor of St. Mary Woolnoth. His benevolence was as unsectarian as his general habits; and he stood ready, said Mr. p. 31Cecil, to assist a beneficent design in any party, but would be the creature of none. It was thus he was mainly instrumental in founding, and supporting for a while, a Dissenting academy at Newport-Pagnell, which was placed under the care of the Rev. Josiah Bull. Also he extended his patronage and pecuniary assistance to the institution at Marlborough, under the direction of the Rev. Cornelius Winter, and was thus brought into connection with Mr. Jay, towards whose support he contributed while passing through his academic course. Mr. Thornton spent myriads of pounds in the purchase of livings for evangelical preachers, in the erection and in enlargement of places of worship, both in the Church of England and among Dissenters, in sending out Bibles and religions books by his ships to various parts of the world, and in numerous other ways. Nor was his beneficence exclusively confined to religious objects. Mr. Newton says—“Mr. Bull told my father, that while he (Mr. Newton) was at Olney, he had received from Mr. Thornton more than £2,000 for the poor of that place. He not only,” continued Mr. Bull, “gave largely, but he gave wisely. He kept a regular account—not for ostentation, or the gratification of vanity, but for method—of every pound he gave in a ledger, which he once showed me. I was then a boy, and, I remarked, on every page was an appropriate text. With him giving was a matter of business.” Cowper, in an elegy he wrote upon him, said truly—