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Captains Of Industry Or Men Of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money - Myron Holley

1. Preface

2. David Maydole

3. Ichabod Washburn

4. Elihu Burritt

5. Michael Reynolds

6. Major Robert Pike

7. George Graham

8. John Harrison

9. Peter Faneuil

10. Chauncey Jerome

11. Captain Pierre Laclede Liguest

12. Israel Putnam

13. George Flower

14. Edward Coles

15. Peter H. Burnett

16. Gerrit Smith

17. Peter Force

18. John Bromfield

19. Frederick Tudor

20. Myron Holley

21. The Founders Of Lowell

23. John Smedley

24. Richard Cobden

25. Henry Bessemer

26. John Bright

27. Thomas Edward

28. Robert Dick

29. John Duncan

30. James Lackington

31. Horace Greeley's Start

32. James Gordon Bennett

33. Three John Walters

34. George Hope

35. Sir Henry Cole

36. Charles Summers

37. William B. Astor

38. Peter Cooper

39. Paris Duverney

40. Sir Rowland Hill

41. Marie-Antoine Careme

42. Wonderful Walker

43. Sir Christopher Wren

44. Sir John Rennie

45. Sir Moses Montefiore

46. Marquis Of Worcester

47. An Old Dry-goods Merchant's Recollections



Fifty years ago, this man used to sell vegetables and fruit from door to
door in the streets of Rochester, N. Y. He had a small farm a few miles
out of town, upon which he raised the produce which he thus disposed of.
An anecdote is related of a fine lady who had recently come to Rochester
as the wife of one of its most distinguished clergymen. She ran up into
her husband's study one morning, and said to him:--

"Why, Doctor, I've just seen the only gentleman I have yet met with in
Rochester, and he was at our basement door selling vegetables. How
wonderful! Who is it? Who can it be?"

"It must be Myron Holley," said her husband.

Another of his lady customers used to say that he sold early peas and
potatoes in the morning with as much grace as he lectured before the
Lyceum in the evening. Nor was it the ladies alone who admired him. The
principal newspaper of the city, in recording his death in 1841, spoke
of him as "an eminent citizen, an accomplished scholar, and noble man,
who carried with him to the grave the love of all who knew him."

In reflecting upon the character of this truly remarkable person, I am
reminded of a Newfoundland dog that I once had the honor of knowing near
the spot on the shore of Lake Ontario where Myron Holley hoed his
cabbages and picked his strawberries. It was the largest and most
beautiful dog I have ever seen, of a fine shade of yellow in color, and
of proportions so extraordinary that few persons could pass him without
stopping to admire. He had the strength and calm courage of a lion, with
the playfulness of a kitten, and an intelligence that seemed sometimes
quite human. One thing this dog lacked. He was so destitute of the evil
spirit that he would not defend himself against the attacks of other
dogs. He seemed to have forgotten how to bite. He has been known to let
a smaller dog draw blood from him without making the least attempt to
use his own teeth in retaliation. He appeared to have lost the instinct
of self-assertion, and walked abroad protected solely, but sufficiently,
by his vast size and imposing appearance.

Myron Holley, I say, reminds me of this superb and noble creature. He
was a man of the finest proportions both of body and of mind, beautiful
in face, majestic in stature, fearless, gifted with various talents, an
orator, a natural leader of men. With all this, he was destitute of the
personal ambition which lifts the strong man into publicity, and gives
him commonplace success. If he had been only half as good as he was, he
might have been ten times as famous.

He was born at Salisbury, Conn., in 1779, the son of a farmer who had
several sons that became notable men. The father, too, illustrated some
of the best traits of human nature, being one of the men who make the
strength of a country without asking much from the country in return. He
used to say to his sons that the height of human felicity was "to be
able to converse with the wise, to instruct the ignorant, to pity and
despise the intriguing villain, and to assist the unfortunate." His son
Myron enjoyed this felicity all the days of his life.

After graduating at Williams, and studying law at New Haven, he set his
face toward western New York, then more remote from New England than
Oregon now is. He made an exquisite choice of a place of residence, the
village of Canandaigua, then only a hamlet of log huts along the border
of one of the lakes for which that part of the State is famous. The
first step taken by the young lawyer after his arrival fixed his
destiny. He was assigned by the court to defend a man charged with
murder--a capital chance for winning distinction in a frontier town.
Myron Holley, however, instead of confining himself to his brief and his
precedents, began by visiting the jail and interviewing the prisoner. He
became satisfied of his guilt. The next morning he came into court,
resigned the case, and never after made any attempt to practice his

He was, in fact, constitutionally disqualified for the practice of such
a calling. Having a little property, he bought out a bookseller of the
village, laid out a garden, married, was soon elected county clerk, and
spent the rest of his life in doing the kind of public service which
yields the maximum of good to the country with the minimum of gain to
the individual doing it.

The war of 1812 filled all that region with distress and want. It was he
who took the lead in organizing relief, and appealed to the city of New
York for aid with great success. As soon as the war was over, the old
scheme of connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson by a canal was revived.
It was an immense undertaking for that day, and a great majority of the
prudent farmers of the State opposed the enterprise as something beyond
their strength. It was Myron Holley who went to the legislature year
after year, and argued it through. His winning demeanor, his persuasive
eloquence, his intimate knowledge of the facts involved, his entire
conviction of the wisdom of the scheme, his tact, good temper, and,
above all, his untiring persistence, prevailed at length, and the canal
was begun.

He was appointed one of the commissioners to superintend the
construction of the canal at a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars a
year. The commissioners appointed him their treasurer, which threw upon
him for eight years an inconceivable amount of labor, much of which had
to be done in situations which were extremely unhealthy. At one time, in
1820, he had a thousand laborers on his hands sick with malaria. He was
a ministering angel to them, friend, physician, and sometimes nurse. He
was obliged on several occasions to raise money for the State on his
personal credit, and frequently he had to expend money in circumstances
which made it impossible for him to secure the legal evidence of his
having done so.

In 1825 the work was done. A procession of boats floated from Lake Erie
to New York Harbor, where they were received by a vast fleet of
steamboats and other vessels, all dressed with flags and crowded with
people. In the midst of this triumph, Myron Holley, who had managed the
expenditures with the most scrupulous economy, was unable to furnish the
requisite vouchers for a small part of the money which had passed
through his hands. He at once gave up his small estate, and appealed to
the legislature for relief. He was completely vindicated; his estate was
restored to him; but he received no compensation either for his services
or his losses.

He returned to his garden, however, a happy man, and during the greater
part of the rest of his life he earned a modest subsistence by the
beautiful industry which has since given celebrity and wealth to all
that fertile region. He remained, however, to the end of his days, one
of those brave and unselfish public servants who take the laboring oar
in reforms which are very difficult or very odious. After the abduction
of Morgan, he devoted some years to anti-masonry, and he founded what
was called the Liberty Party, which supported Mr. Birney, of Kentucky,
for the presidency.

One of his fellow-workers, the Hon. Elizur Wright, of Boston, has
recently published an interesting memoir of him, which reveals to us a
cast of character beautiful and rare in men; a character in which the
moral qualities ruled with an easy and absolute sway, and from which the
baser traits appeared to be eliminated. He was like that great,
splendid, yellow king of dogs which escaped perfection by not having
just a spice of evil in his composition.

Let me add, however, that he was as far as possible from being a
"spoony." Mr. Wright says:--

"He had the strength of a giant, and did not abstain from using it in a
combative sense on a fit occasion. When his eldest daughter was living
in a house not far from his own, with her first child in her arms, he
became aware that she was in danger from a stout, unprincipled tramp who
had called on her as a beggar and found her alone. Hastening to the
house, without saying a word he grasped the fellow around body and both
arms, and carried him, bellowing for mercy, through the yard and into
the middle of the street, where he set him down. Greatly relieved, the
miserable wretch ran as if he had escaped from a lion."

Mr. Wright adds another trait: "Once in Lyons (N. Y.) when there was
great excitement about the 'sin of dancing,' the ministers all preaching
and praying against it, Myron Holley quietly said: 'It is as natural for
young people to like to dance as for the apple trees to blossom in the

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