Business interests constrained him to spend the latter half of his life in London; but absence only deepened his love for his own country. All that great wealth could do to advance the welfare and prestige of the United States was done by the millionaire philanthropist. But above all else, he tried to bring within the reach of poor children that which was denied himself,—a school education.
The Peabody Institute in his native town, with its free library and free course of lectures; the Institute, Academy of Music, and Art Gallery of Baltimore; the Museum of Natural History at Yale University; the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University; the Peabody Academy of Science at Salem, Massachusetts, besides large contributions every year to libraries and other educational and philanthropic institutions all over the country, bear witness to his love for humanity.
Surpassing all this, however, was his establishment of the Peabody fund of three million dollars for the education of the freed slaves of the South, and for the equally needy poor of the white race.
An equal amount had been previously devoted to the better housing of the London poor. A dream almost too good to come true it seemed to the toilers in the great city’s slums, when they found their filthy, unhealthy tenements replaced by clean, wholesome dwellings, well supplied with air and sunlight and all modern conveniences and comforts. London presented its generous benefactor with the freedom of the city; a bronze statue was erected in his honor, and Queen Victoria, who would fain have loaded him with titles and honors,—all of which he respectfully declined,—declared his act to be “wholly without parallel.” A beautiful miniature portrait of her Majesty, which she caused to be specially made for him, and a letter written by her own hand, were the only gifts he would accept.
Gloriously had his great purpose been fulfilled. He who began life as a poor boy had given to the furtherance of education and for the benefit of the poor in various ways the sum of nine million dollars. The remaining four million dollars of his fortune was divided among his relatives.
England loved and honored him even as his own country did; and when he died in London, November 4, 1869, she offered him a resting place among her immortals in Westminster Abbey. His last wish, however, was fulfilled, and he was laid beside his mother in his native land.
His legacies to humanity are doing their splendid work to-day as they have done in the past, and as they will continue to do in the future, enabling multitudes of aspiring souls to reach heights which but for him they never could have attained. These words of his, too, spoken on the occasion of the dedication of his gift to Danvers,—its free Institute,—will serve for ages as a bugle call to all youths who are anxious to make the most of themselves, and, like him, to give of their best to the world:—