From “Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 260-265.
ABOUT eight miles from Stratford-on-Avon, the honored birth and burial-place of Shakespeare, stands the pleasant little town of Warwick, upon the same river, the most beautiful of English rivers, — the Avon. If you are a moralist, and prone to compare the pomps and vanities of the world with the humblest memorials of departed genius, you need but look upon the stone-paved kitchen and the two-story bedroom of the house where the famous dramatist first drew breath, and then upon the lordly towers and battlements of Warwick Castle, to satisfy yourself that imagination has a more lasting hold upon the world than reality; that the creator of fictitious kings, Shakespeare, has a wider and more enduring fame than even the King-maker, the last of the Barons, the proud Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who raised up and pulled down real kings at his pleasure.
It was while enjoying the reflections which such contrast will naturally awaken in every human breast, that I loitered through the pleasant street of Warwick; now leaning over the stone bridge, beneath which flows the Avon, and looking lower down to the broken, ivy-covered arch of the old bridge, built in the time of the Crusades, beyond 261 which are the lofty walls of the castle; or, perchance, surveying with wonder and admiration the beautiful Beauchamp Chapel; or thinking of the stout hero, Guy of Warwick, the redoubtable lover of fair Phœlice, — that I wandered in the direction of one of the town-gates, over which is built a little chapel, and presently saw a quaint building of the past ages, that at once arrested my attention.
It was a Home for Old Men.
Such is the inscription over the front of the hospital of St. John: —
ROBERTI DVDLEII, COMITIS
Founded nearly three hundred years ago by the ambitious Earl of Leicester, at that time the princely suitor to the hand of Elizabeth; the magnificent Lord of Kenilworth; the ambitious pretender to the princely throne of Holland (and so sure of it, that medals were struck to commemorate the event), — this friend and enemy of Sir Walter Raleigh; this faithless relative of Sir Philip Sidney; this intriguing, splendid, ambitious voluptuary, who may even have connived at the assassination of his loving wife, dear Amy Robsart, that he might gain the cruel hand of England’s greatest queen; this man, unprincipled, covetous, selfish, and unscrupulous, in the midst of his profligate career, his lust of power, and his lust of wealth, had so much of human instinct in him that he, out of his 262 superfluity, endowed, in the pleasant town of Warwick, “A Home for Old Men.” The name of the Earl of Leicester now is a by-word and a reproach; his memory is connected with outrage, cruelty, and baffled ambition; Kenilworth is in ruins; but this endowment, after a lapse of three hundred years, still remains living and pregnant with life, and will be like a taper shining through the dark, to show for future ages that
That old hospitium is a shining good deed in the minds of all men. It is not a proper asylum. Its inmates are entitled to the places they occupy by merit, not awarded a place by favoritism or intrigue. The fact of being there makes them respected.
The Hospital of St. John, with its spacious court and gardens, was established in the reign of King Richard II., for retired soldiers, and purchased by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in 1571.
At the time of my visit, I was shown into a room where a Waterloo hero, with his two swords crossed in the ancient window, was comfortably reading his Bible. All its inmates are old soldiers. A hundred years ago, it was an asylum for the veterans of Louisburg and Quebec. Fifty years before, it was a receptacle for the worn-out soldiers of Marlborough and Prince Eugene; and before that it had afforded an asylum to the soldiers of Richard III., or the Duke of Richmond; before that, it no doubt sheltered the veterans of Richard II., or those of his ambitious and successful rival, Henry Bolingbroke, afterward Henry IV.263
A queer little sanctuary for old age! May the sun shine ever on its venerable front, with its pointed gables, oak frame-work, and little, diamond-shaped window-panes! It can accommodate twenty pensioners, the youngest old boy being over sixty years of age; the oldest over eighty. There are some rules and regulations about the place suggestive of by-gone days. None of the veterans are allowed to go into the streets of Warwick without wearing a long black surtout, without sleeves, that reaches almost to their heels; and behind, a broad, thick lappet, with a silver badge, nearly as big as a door-plate, with the arms (in relief) of the Dudleys, — “The Bear and Ragged Staff;” the latter cognizance you find in various forms throughout the building, one in the entrance-hall, worked in in tapestry by poor Amy Robsart. The pensioners are not allowed to have their wives, hawks nor hounds in the building. Each one receives five shilling sterling every Thursday, and seventeen sovereigns every quarter. I visited the chapel, in which they are allowed only to hear the services, and in which they are not allowed to take Communion; the latter ceremony must take place at the parish church. The Master must be a clergyman, and his income is four hundred pounds a year, and house-rent free. There is a fine old garden, with twenty plots set apart, so that each pensioner can cultivate his little flower-patch; a summer-house, to smoke or play draughts in; a chapel, in which service is held nine times a week; and here they live, as happy and contented a set of old fogies as you will find in the world.
In the neighboring town of Coventry are two asylums 264 for old people: one founded in 1529 by William Ford, a merchant of Coventry, for the reception of “aged persons of good name and fame,” now occupied by aged females only, of which there are eighteen or twenty; and the other, Bond’s Hospital, was founded in 1506 by Thomas Bond, a wealthy draper, and Mayor of Coventry, for the reception of “ten poor men, and a woman to dish their meat and drink.” These charitable institutions, from successive donations, have considerably augmented their revenues. Instead of ten poor men, the funds of Bond’s Hospital now support forty-five residents and non-residents. Such institutions are scattered benefactions in the various towns of England, but we need not stop to enumerate them. Passing from these to the magnificent structures of Greenwich and Chelsea, with their thousands of pensioners, and the no less noble endowment of Louis XIV., the Hotel des Invalides, swarming with invalid soldiers, both officers and men, the pride and glory of France, and the fitting tomb of Napoleon, let us think for a moment of the “poor old men” of our own country.
Is there anything more cheerless in prospect than a lonely old age? In vain do we seek to provide for a comfortable future by the accumulation of wealth, or feel a certainty in the anticipation of laying in a stock of happiness by a tender and loving care of our children. Alas! the pursuit of wealth is ever attended with vicissitudes, and children do not always survive their parents, or, if they do, sometimes want of means, or cold neglect, or (worse than all) ingratitude steps in, and then the old man is lonely indeed. For when he has arrived at a certain 265 age, rarely does he carry with him the friends of his youth, and few old men there are who do not yearn for the society of old companions.
Provide, then, an asylum for old men, ye that are able to do it, that the example so set may enable you to be comforted, perchance, in like manner when length of years and feebleness and privations overtake you.
The late Robert Minturn had a vague idea floating in his mind to found such an asylum. It never took any definite shape, unfortunately, before death removed this estimable gentleman from our midst. He owned about eleven acres of ground on Ward’s Island, which, had he lived, he intended to devote to this charitable object, and, by his will, he left it to St. Luke’s Hospital for that purpose. The occupation of the island by the numerous hospitals (among which I may mention an insane hospital of two hundred and fifty patients) of the Commissioners of Emigration, and those under the care of the Commissioners of Charity and Correction, make this otherwise beautiful spot manifestly unfit for the purpose. But it is to be hoped that before long he project will become practicable. The increasing want of the commissioners of the above-named charities will probably lead to the purchase of these eleven acres by them, and the proceeds can be applied to aid in establishing a home for old men.
There are already asylums for aged and indigent families, under the care of benevolent ladies. Why not for old men also? It seems to me, that, besides the Minturn asylum, a fund might be established to found a home for the veterans of the printing fraternity. In a future number we shall discuss this suggestion.