On another occasion he replied with more point to a similar question:—
“The secret of my success is this: I never tell what I am going to do till I have done it.”
He is, indeed, a man of little speech. Gen. Grant himself is not more averse to oratory than he. Once, in London, at a banquet, his health was given, and he was urged to respond. All that could be extorted from him was the following:—
“Gentlemen, I have never made a fool of myself in my life, and I am not going to begin now. Here is a friend of mine (his lawyer) who can talk all day. He will do my speaking.”
Nevertheless, he knows how to express his meaning with singular clearness, force, and brevity, both by the tongue and by the pen. Some of his business letters, dictated by him to a clerk, are models of that kind of composition. He is also master of an art still more difficult,—that of not saying what he does not wish to say.
As a business man he is even more prudent than he is bold. He has sometimes remarked, that it has never been in the power of any man or set of men to prevent his keeping an engagement. If, for example, he should bind himself to pay a million of dollars on the first of May, he would at once provide for fulfilling his engagement in such a manner that no failure on the part of others, no contingency, private or public, could prevent his doing it. In other words, he would have the money where he could be sure of finding it on the day.
No one ever sees the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt on a subscription paper, nor ever will. In his charities, which are numerous and liberal, he exhibits the reticence which marks his conduct as a man of business. His object is to render real and permanent service to deserving objects; but to the host of miscellaneous beggars that pervade our places of business he is not accessible. The last years of many a good old soul, whom he knew in his youth, have been made happy by a pension from him. But of all this not a syllable ever escapes his lips.
He has now nearly completed his seventy-first year. His frame is still erect and vigorous; and, as a business man, he has not a living superior. Every kind of success has attended him through life. Thirteen children have been born to him,—nine daughters and four sons,—nearly all of whom are living and are parents. One of his grandsons has recently come of age. At the celebration of his golden wedding, three years ago, more than a hundred and forty of his descendants and relations assembled at his house. On that joyful occasion, the Commodore presented to his wife a beautiful little golden steamboat, with musical works instead of an engine,—emblematic at once of his business career and the harmony of his home. If ever he boasts of anything appertaining to him, it is when he is speaking of the manly virtues of his son lost in the war, or when he says that his wife is the finest woman of her age in the city.