Friday, May 23, 2008

Gifts Before Death



The Beautiful Picture of Benevolent Peter Cooper Moving Among the People He Loved — Does the Man Who Dies Rich Die Disgraced?

Perhaps it may be too much to say with Andrew Carnegie that a man who dies rich dies disgraced, though we remember that that admirable philanthropist, Lewis Tappan, published a pamphlet to prove the same thing. Yet it is evident beyond question that that man is wisest and that man gets the most comfort out of life who during his lifetime sees that his money goes to the important objects for which he destines it, and who can behold with his own eyes the good done by it. A rich man narrows and belittles himself if he devotes his entire thought to the increase of his estate. He should devote thought to its wisest expenditure. Therein he acquires a largeness and breadth of soul which will be the chief comfort of his life. He will prove that he is a genuine philanthropist, not one who transfers his wealth to charity on his deathbed, as if he were then about to make his peace with God and the world, but that he has lived for his fellow men and not simply for himself.

The rich man whose only ambition is to be rich is not the friend of humanity and can hardly be anything else than its enemy. In any conflict against capital he can claim no sympathy, nothing more than the coldest justice. He has cast no anchor to the windward; he has sent forth no roots or tendrils which gathered about the hearts of the people. His mammon of unrighteousness has made him no warm friends; his belated benefactions may do good to the world, and they seem to be a sort of atonement for his shortcomings. They fail to prove that he possessed a soul that went out lovingly toward God or his fellow men.

Perhaps the most beautiful sight which this generation has seen was that of Peter Cooper building his own monument, not in the masonry of the Cooper Union, but in the hearts of its pupils and of the people of New York. Peter Cooper, the manufacturer of glue, would have been forgotten, but Peter Cooper, the patron of all aspiring youth, their friend and teacher, walking about with his benevolent face and his long white hair among the classes of young people for which his bounty made provision and reaping constantly the harvest of their admiration and love, was an exquisite witness not to the pride of wealth, but to the beauty of goodness. We are glad of a long list of wealthy men who have founded colleges and universities in their lifetime, honored for their large hearts, who give their hearts if not their names to their charities.

Of course it is a great deal better for a man to give money for benevolent purposes by will than not to give it at all. We would not say a word in disparagement of the usefulness of great gifts that have been made in that way. We know very well that there are men who have the faculty of making money, and who do not feel that they are competent to decide for themselves wisely how their wealth should be disposed of or how its expenditure for benevolent objects should be managed. But the time will come when they must give up their money, and some one's advice or decision must be followed. That advice they can obtain during life, and they can themselves make their gifts safely. It is as easy to do it now as it is to select executors or trustees to do it after death, except in so far as a man cannot bring himself to loosen the grasp by which he holds his wealth until death compels him to do so. We would have such people consider, however, the great danger there is that their wishes will not be carried out. The repeated cases in which wills have been declared void and the purposes of the testator have been annulled ought to make every one who has money to give consider whether he cannot, without in jury to his own interests and those of his family, give at least a part of it during his lifetime.

But whether he does it or not this at least is true — that every man who has acquired wealth from the public should consider it a privilege. if not a duty, to give back to the public some portion of what he has received. They say that in Boston it is not respectable to die without leaving a bequest to Harvard college. It ought not to be respectable for any man of wealth to die without a bequest to some college or benevolent society or hospital or museum or park or public institution. Of course one should provide for his household, and charity should begin at home. But that is not charity which ends at home. It is cold blooded, hard hearted selfishness. To give to the public in this way is something more than a duty. It is a privilege. It is a privilege to be connected in any way with the amelioration of the evil of the world, with the increase of truth and righteousness, with the development of Christian civilization in any land on the face of the earth, and the man who gives his possessions to such an object as this is therein a partner with our great Exemplar who went about doing good. — New York Independent.

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