The death of Daniel Manning, ex-Secretary of the Treasury, in December, 1887, was another proof of this. He fell prostrate on the steps of his office, in a sickness that no medical aid could relieve. Four years before no one realised the strength that was in him. He threw body and soul into the whirlpool of his work, and was left in the rapids of celebrity. In the closing notes of 1887, I find recorded the death of Mrs. William Astor. What a sublime lifetime of charity and kindness was hers! Mrs. Astor’s will read like a poem. It had a beauty and a pathos, and a power entirely independent of rhythmical cadence. The document was published to the world on a cold December morning, with its bequests of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the poor and needy, the invalids and the churches. It put a warm glow over the tired and grizzled face of the old year. It was a benediction upon the coming years.
It seems to me that the constructive age of man begins when he has passed fifty. Not until then can he be a master builder. As I sped past the fifty-fifth milestone life itself became better, broader, fuller. My plans were wider, the distances I wanted to go stretched before me, beyond the normal strength of an average lifetime. This I knew, but still I pressed on, indifferent of the speed or strain. There were indications that my strength had not been dissipated, that the years were merely notches that had not cut deep, that had scarcely scarred the surface of the trunk. The soul, the mind, the zest of doing—all were keen and eager.
The conservation of the soul is not so profound a matter as it is described. It consists in a guardianship of the gateways through which impressions enter, or pass by; it consists in protecting one’s inner self from wasteful associations.
The influence of what we read is of chief importance to character. At the beginning of 1888 I received innumerable requests from people all over New York and Brooklyn for advice on the subject of reading. In the deluge of books that were beginning to sweep over us many readers were drowned. The question of what to read was being discussed everywhere.
I opposed the majority of novels because they were made chiefly to set forth desperate love scrapes. Much reading of love stories makes one soft, insipid, absent-minded, and useless. Affections in life usually work out very differently. The lady does not always break into tears, nor faint, nor do the parents always oppose the situation, so that a romantic elopement is possible. Excessive reading of these stories makes fools of men and women. Neither is it advisable to read a book because someone else likes it. It is not necessary to waste time on Shakespeare if you have no taste for poetry or drama merely because so many others like them; nor to pass a long time with Sir William Hamilton when metaphysics are not to your taste. When you read a book by the page, every few minutes looking ahead to see how many chapters there are before the book will be finished, you had better stop reading it. There was even a fashion in books that was absurd. People were bored to death by literature in the fashion.