FIVE SCENES IN A NOBLE LIFE
"I Reckon him greater than any man
That ever drew sword in war;
I reckon him nobler than king or khan,
Braver and better by far."
 COME with me into a little hatter's shop, such as they had
in New York a hundred years ago.
The dingy little sign over the door tells us that it
belongs to John Cooper and that hats are both made and
HATS ARE BOTH MADE AND SOLD HERE.
We enter the single room. It is narrow and low, with
small windows at each side and a yawning fireplace at
one end. The air is close and stifling. The furniture
is very old-fashioned.
The hats, too, although in the style of that day, are
strangely old-fashioned when compared with those of the
twentieth century. You would laugh at their shape and
texture; and all are made by hand.
There are only five or six apprentices and
work-  men in the shop. Business is not carried on in a large
The proprietor greets us cordially. He is a
hard-working man, well past middle age. He is always
busy, always planning great things for the future, and
never succeeding very well at anything. It is said
that John Cooper was lieutenant in the Revolutionary
War—a stanch patriot and an honest man.
But more interesting than the proprietor is a little
boy who stands at a long table near one side of the
room. He is so small that his head comes just above
the edge of the table. He is pulling the hairs out of
rabbit skins and putting them carefully into a bag.
These hairs will be used in making beaver hats.
You ask the lad how long he has been at this kind of
work. He does not know. He cannot remember when he
began it, but it was certainly as soon as he was big
enough to do anything.
His large, long face beams with intelligence. Small as
he is, and simple as his work may be, he is anxious to
do everything well. Even the pulling of rabbit hairs
requires care and dexterity.
 His father, John Cooper, watches him with parental
"His name if Peter," he says. "I named him after the
great apostle, because I have always felt that he will
do much good in the world."
Peter has heard this remark often, and the words are
not lost on him. True, he doesn't know much about the
world. His experience has taught him that life is a
daily round of eating a little, sleeping a little,
playing a little, and working a great deal. But since
his father expects him to be like his name-sake and do
much good in the world, he is determined not to
"Peter works hard," continues his father, "and he plays
even harder. Do you see that scar on his forehead? He
got that when he was four years old, falling off the
framework of a house which he had climbed. He likes to
play with knives and axes, and he has cut himself more
than once. He'll carry some of those scars as long as
"He helps his mother do the washing—in fact, he's
handy at almost everything. And he's always trying to
 His father's praise pleases the lad; and he goes on,
pulling hairs from the rabbit skins.
SEVERAL years have passed.
In an upper room of a coach-maker's shop on Broadway, a
young man is at work. It is evening and all the other
workmen have gone home.
The room is dark, save for the little light that comes
from a sputtering tallow candle. The young man is
standing by a carpenter's bench. He moves the candle
from place to place to throw the best light on his
It is plain that he is not working at a coach. The
evening hours are his own, and he is using them for his
own purposes. While the other workmen are wasting
their time in idleness or folly, he is trying to
perfect some invention which his brain has studied out.
By the flickering candlelight we are able to discern
his features. We see the same large, open countenance,
the same earnest eye—yes, and that same scar on
the forehead. The lad who was pulling rabbit hairs has
grown to be a man.
 Presently the door opens. The master coach builder
"Peter," he says, "you have been with me now almost
four years and your apprenticeship will end next week.
How would you like to set up a shop of your own?"
"Oh, Mr. Woodward," answers Peter, "I should like it
very much, indeed. But I have not the means to do so.
You know that my salary with you has been only
twenty-five dollars a year."
"Yes, I know," answers Mr. Woodward, "and I don't
suppose that you have been able to save any of your
salary. But there is that patent cloth-shearing
machine of yours. Surely you have realized something
Peter stammers and hesitates. Then he says: "Yes, I
did realize something from that, and I will tell you
what became of it. I had five hundred dollars in my
pocket, which Mr. Vassar paid me for the county right
to the machine. I had never expected to have so much
money, and I was very proud: The first thing that I
did, as you know, was to go to Newburgh to see father
and mother and tell them about it.
 "What do you suppose I saw when I opened the door,
expecting a glad welcome? Why, I saw the whole family
in tears and such a look of distress on my father's
face as I shall never forget. I soon learned what the
trouble was. You know how he has tried many kinds of
business—hatmaking in New York, brickmaking in
Peekskill and Catskill, brewing in Newburgh, and then
hatmaking again. Well, he failed in them all, and the
last failure was the worst.
"In fact, the sheriff was expected at any moment to
seize upon and sell everything in the house, and even
to arrest father and take him to jail.
"I asked father how much he owed. He told me that his
debts were more than a thousand dollars, but he thought
that if he had only half that amount he might satisfy
his most clamorous creditors and manage in some way to
pull through. Well, there was my five hundred dollars
in my pocket. What better could I do than to give
every penny of it to father? Then I signed notes for
the rest of the debts, and left everybody happy.
"So you see, Mr. Woodward, that I have nothing from the
machines that I can invest in business,
 and that it would be simply impossible for me to set up
a coach-maker's shop of my own."
"Yes, Peter, I understand," says Mr. Woodward. "In
fact, I have known all this for some time. What I wish
to do is to lend you the money to set up in business.
You can give me your notes without interest, and make
the payments after you have begun to realize something
from your shop. Will you allow me to help in this
Peter hesitates a moment; and then replies: "I thank
you with all my heart, Mr. Woodward. But I must
decline your kind offer. I have seen so much distress
and disappointment caused by going in debt, that I have
made a firm resolution never to buy anything for which
I have not the ready money to pay immediately. Your
offer is very tempting, but you must pardon me if I
stand by my resolution, which I think is the safer
Thus at the age of twenty-one Peter Cooper's
apprenticeship is ended. He is his own man, and he
goes forth to make his way in the world, independent,
and confident of success, and yet almost penniless.
His school days have been few—only a month
 or two each winter for three or four years. His
opportunities have been limited. But he is an
accomplished hatmaker, he has worked at brickmaking, he
is a coach builder, and he is expert with all kinds of
tools. He has strong arms, willing hands, and a
boundless ambition to succeed.
And he will succeed.
IT is the 13th of April, 1859.
At the junction of Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue in
the city of New York, a new building has just been
completed. It is a stately edifice, built of brown
stone, and six stories in height.
At the time which I mention, there is not another
building in the city that equals it in magnitude and
beauty. It is the wonder and admiration of all
visitors to the metropolis.
Above the main entrance, carved on the brown-stone
front of the building, is the mystic work,
"union." Should you ask why this word is here,
you will be told that it indicates the name and the
purpose of the building, for this is the home of the
"Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art."
 Its construction was begun six years ago. It has cost
three quarters of a million dollars—an immense
sum at this time.
An old man has watched with eager interest every
process in the construction of this monumental
building. Observe him as he passes now through the
completed rooms. He is plain—very
plain—certainly a man of the people. And that
broad, kindly countenance—surely we have seen it
before. Yes, and there is the scar on the forehead.
This is our old friend Peter Cooper. He is sixty-eight
years old, and on this day he sees the completion of
the dearest project of his life.
Nearly half a century has passed since his
apprenticeship to the coach maker ended. What has he
been doing in the meanwhile?
Few men have been more active in business. Let us name
some of the industries and enterprises in which he has
Peddling, with a knapsack and a hurdy-gurdy.
The grocery business.
The manufacture of glue, oil, whiting, and prepared
chalk—the real foundation of his wealth.
 The manufacture of iron at Baltimore, at Trenton, and
at several other places.
The development of coal mines and mining lands.
The building of the first locomotive engine in the
The laying of the first Atlantic cable.
But none of these enterprises has been so dear to the
heart of the busy man as the construction of the
brown-stone building to be known as the Cooper Union,
"to be forever devoted to the advancement of science
As he passes from room to room in the now completed
edifice, his fancy pictures to him the thousands of
young men and young women who will come from all parts
of the country to be benefited by his munificence.
He has known what it means to be poor. He has known
what it is to be denied the opportunity of acquiring
useful knowledge. In the Cooper Union the poorest
young man may now be instructed in every branch of
science or art that will aid him in becoming a better
citizen or leading a happier life.
 IT is May, 1881.
This morning the routine of work in the various class
rooms at the cooper Union is being carried on much as
it has been for the past twenty years.
Promptly at half-past nine o'clock, Mr. Cooper drives
into the street just in front of the Union.
Sitting alone in a plain little wagon which is drawn by
a very steady old horse, he appears to be the most
unassuming of mortals. Who would guess that this
simple, farmer-like individual is one of the most
famous men in America?
Yet everybody in New York knows him as such. The
people on the street recognize him, they honor him.
Among all the rushing, crowding vehicles, his little
carriage has the right of way. Cabs and coaches,
trucks and express wagons, all alike turn aside that
"Uncle Peter" may pass on without annoyance.
He drives to his own hitching place near the Union. He
alights and walks, slowly and somewhat feebly, into the
building that is forever to be known by his name.
 He sits awhile in the main office, talking with any one
he may change to meet there. Then he begins his
accustomed round of the various schoolrooms and
Some of the teachers, knowing how feeble he is, wish to
walk with him, to help him. But, no; ninety years old
as he is, he does not like to be waited on.
With what delight does he watch the recitations, first
in this branch, then in that! With what genuine
interest does he inquire after the progress of the
various students, and how earnestly does he observe the
methods pursued by the different instructors!
There are many things which he does not understand; but
the very idea that all this wonderful knowledge is now
being placed freely within the reach of young people is
extremely pleasing to him.
And when he learns of some poor student who needs help,
how readily are his sympathies aroused, how quickly are
his purse strings loosened! He has known what it means
to thirst for knowledge and be unable to satisfy that
 Later in the day the annual reception is held.
Mr. Cooper takes his place in the east corridor to
receive the thousands of friends and well-wishing
strangers who come with their congratulations. He sits
in the great chair provided for him, and shakes hands
with the men, women, and children as they pass.
Each person, whether young or old, rich or poor, is
welcomed with the same hearty "How do you do?"
and the same genial smile.
Hundreds of the guests are old students who have come,
perhaps, from distant places, to testify to the good
which they have derived from the Union.
"Mr. Cooper, I owe everything to you," whispers one who
is now a prosperous man of business.
"Mr. Cooper, we must put our little boy's hand in
yours," say a young couple, leading a child of four or
five years between them.
"God bless you, Uncle Peter!" cries an honest day
laborer in his workman's blouse. "You've helped a good
many of us poor fellows."
Boys, too bashful to come forward and speak to the
great man, stand at a distance and admire.
 "That's him," they whisper to one another; and they go
home full of good resolutions which they will not soon
The day closes, the evening passes. The old man sits
in his place and listens with delight and pride to the
music, and the pleasant voices, and the laughter of
youth. By and by the last of the guests bid him good
Then he calls for his modest little carriage, and is
driven home. The blessings of thousands go with him.
THE LAST SCENE OF ALL
IT is the sixth day of April, 1883.
Two months ago, Peter Cooper was ninety-two years old.
Now the crape hangs on his door, and to-day is his
Never has there been such another funeral in New York.
Stand anywhere on Broadway below Twentieth Street, and
you see none of the bustle of business. The stores are
all closed. There is not a vehicle of any kind in
sight. A solemn stillness fills the whole length of
the street. The crowds that line the sidewalks stand
silent and speechless.
 And now the funeral carriages, two abreast, come in
orderly procession down the street. As the hearse
passes, every head is bared in honor of the hero whose
body it carries. Mothers hold up their little children
that they may see. The poor, the wretched, foreigners
as well as Americans, seem strangely touched. The rich
vie with each other in attesting their esteem.
Not until the procession has moved the whole length of
its course and has disappeared in a side street, is the
silence of the great thoroughfare broken. Then
gradually the crowd begins to move, and little by
little the turmoil of business is resumed.
It is thus that the brotherhood of mankind sometimes,
perhaps one in many ages, publicly manifests itself.
Never will the great city of New York see another such
Why should such homage be given to plain Peter Cooper,
the man of the people? Why should the pulses of
humanity be so strangely stirred by his death?
He was a doer of golden deeds.