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Munificent Gift to the London Poor by Mr. Peabody

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1138, p. 335.

April 5, 1862

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Mr. George Peabody.—See page 383 333 .

Our columns last week contained the announcement of an extraordinary gift made to the poor of the metropolis by Mr. George Peabody, the well-known American banker in London, whose Portrait we have great pleasure in giving. Mr. Adams, the American Minister, Lord Stanley, Sir J. Emerson Tennent, Mr. C. Lampson, and the donor's partner, Mr. Morgan, are requested by Mr. Peabody to act in the capacity of trustees for the application of the fund (£150,000) which he proposes to devote to the amelioration of the condition of the London poor. Mr. Peabody's letter to these gentlemen, announcing and slightly developing his plan, is as follows:—

London, March 12, 1862.

Gentlemen,—In reference to the intention which it is the object of this letter to communicate, I am desirous to explain that from a comparatively early period of my commercial life I had resolved in my own mind that, should my labours be blessed with success, I would devote a portion of the property thus acquired to promote the intellectual, moral, and physical welfare and comfort of my fellow-men, wherever, from circumstances or location, their claims upon me would be the strongest.

A kind Providence has continued me in prosperity, and, consequently, in furtherance of my resolution, I, in the year 1852, founded an institute and library for the benefit of the people of the place of my birth, in the town of Danvers, in the State of Massachusetts, the result of which has proved in every respect most beneficial to the locality and gratifying to myself.

After an absence of twenty years I visited my native land in 1857, and founded in the city of Baltimore, in the State of Maryland (where more than twenty years of my business life had been passed), an institute upon a much more extended scale, devoted to science and the arts, with a free library, coinciding with the character of the institution. The cornerstone was laid in 1858, and the building is now completed, but its dedication has been postponed in consequence of the unhappy sectional differences at present prevailing in the United States.

It is now twenty-five years since I commenced my residence and business in London as a stranger; but I did not long feel myself " a stranger " or in a "strange land," for in all my commercial and social intercourse with my British friends during that long period I have constantly received courtesy, kindness, and confidence. Under a sense of gratitude for these blessings of a kind Providence, encouraged by early associations, and stimulated by my views as well of duty as of inclination, to follow the path which I had heretofore marked out for my guidance, I have been prompted for several years past repeatedly to state to some of my confidential friends my intention at no distant period, if my life was spared, to make a donation for the benefit of the poor of London. Among those friends are three of the number to whom I have now the honour to address this letter. To my particular friend, C.M. Lampson, Esq., I first mentioned the subject five years ago. My next conversations in relation to it were held about three years since with my esteemed friend Sir James Emerson Tennent, and with my partner, J. S. Morgan, Esq. I also availed myself of opportunities to consult the Right Rev. Bishop M'Ilvaine, of Ohio, and with all these gentlemen I have since freely conversed upon the subject in a way to confirm that original intention.

My object being to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness, I take pleasure in apprising you that I have determined to transfer to you the sum of £150,000, which now stands available for this purpose on the books of Messrs. George Peabody and Co., as you will see by the accompanying correspondence.

In committing to you, in full confidence in your judgment, the administration of this fund, I cannot but feel grateful to you for the onerous duties you have so cheerfully undertaken to perform, and I sincerely hope and trust that the benevolent feelings that have prompted a devotion of so much of your valuable time will be appreciated not only by the present but future generations of the people of London.

I have few instructions to give, or conditions to impose, but there are some fundamental principles from which it is my solemn injunction that those intrusted with its application shall never, under any circumstances, depart.

First and foremost among them is the limitation of its uses absolutely and exclusively to such purposes as may be calculated directly to ameliorate the condition and augment the comforts of the poor, who, either by birth or established residence, form a recognised portion of the population of London.

Secondly, it is my intention that now and for all time there shall be a rigid exclusion from the management of this fund of any influences calculated to impart to it a character either sactarian [sic] sectarian as regards religion, or exclusive in relation to local or party politics.

Thirdly, in conformity with the foregoing conditions, it is my wish and intention that the sole qualifications for a participation in the benefits of this fund shall be an ascertained and continued condition of life such as brings the individual within the description (in the ordinary sense of the word) of "the poor" of London, combined with moral character and good conduct as a member of society. It must therefore be held to be a violation of my intentions if any duly qualified and deserving claimant were to be excluded either on the grounds of religious belief or of political bias.

Without in the remotest degree desiring to limit your discretion in the selection of the most suitable means of giving effect to these objects, I may be permitted to throw out for your consideration, among the other projects which will necessarily occupy your attention, whether it may not be found conducive to the conditions specified above for their ultimate realisation, and least likely to present difficulties on the grounds I have pointed out for avoidance, to apply the fund, or a portion of it, in the construction of such improved dwellings for the poor as may combine in the utmost possible degree the essentials of healthfulness, comfort, social enjoyment, and economy.

Preparatory to due provision being made for the formal declaration of the trust, and for its future management and appropriation, the sum of £150,000 will be at once transferred into your names and placed at your disposal, for which purpose I reserve to myself full power and authority; but, as a portion of the money may probably not be required for some time to come to meet the legitimate purposes contemplated, I would suggest that, as early as possible after the organisation of the trust, £100,000 should be invested for the time being in your names, in Consols or East India Stock; thus adding to the capital by means of the accruing interest; and the stock so purchased can be gradually sold out as the money is wanted for the objects designated. Meantime, pending the preparation of a formal trust deed, you shall be under no responsibility whatever in respect of the fund, or its investment or disposition.

With these preliminary stipulations I commit the fund to your management, and to that of such other persons as by a majority of your voices you may elect, giving you the power either to add to your number, which I think should not at any time exceed nine, or to supply casual vacancies occurring in your body. It is my further desire that the United States' Minister in London for the time being should always, in virtue of the office, be a member of the trust, unless in the event of his signifying his inability to act in discharge of the duties.—I have the honour to be, gentlemen, yours very faithfully,

George Peabody.

Mr. Adams, Lord Stanley, Sir J.E. Tennent, Messrs. Lampson and Morgan have accepted the trust, and in their reply to Mr. Peabody justly remark:—"Whether we consider the purity of the motive, the magnitude of the gift, or the discrimination displayed in selecting the purposes to which it is to be applied, we cannot but feel that it is for the nation to appreciate, rather than for a few individuals to express their gratitude for, an act of beneficence which has few (if any) parallels in odern [sic] modern times."

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