Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography provides a wonderful look into the history of the 1800’s. In particular, we get first-hand accounts on the famous people from that time. Carnegie was the richest man of the 1800’s, and this wealth gained him access to the prominent figures of the century.

Below are a few excerpts from his autobiography:

On Abraham Lincoln:

All the pictures of this extraordinary man are like him. He was so marked of feature that it was impossible for any one to paint him and not produce a likeness. He was certainly one of the most homely men I ever saw when his features were in repose; but when excited or telling a story, intellect shone through his eyes and illuminated his face to a degree which I have seldom or never seen in any other.

His manners were perfect because natural; and he had a kind word for everybody, even the youngest boy in the office. His attentions were not graduated. They were the same to all, as deferential in talking to the messenger boy as to Secretary Seward. His charm lay in the total absence of manner. It was not so much, perhaps, what he said as the way in which he said it that never failed to win one. I have often regretted that I did not note down carefully at the time some of his curious sayings, for he said even common things in an original way. I never met a great man who so thoroughly made himself one with all men as Mr. Lincoln.

On Ulysses S. Grant:

I never heard Grant use a long or grand word, or make any attempt at “manner,” but the general impression that he was always reticent is a mistake. He was a surprisingly good talker sometimes and upon occasion liked to talk. His sentences were always short and to the point, and his observations upon things remarkably shrewd. When he had nothing to say he said nothing. I noticed that he was never tired of praising his subordinates in the war. He spoke of them as a fond father speaks of his children.

On Mark Twain:

He had a heroine in his wife. She it was who sustained him and traveled the world round with him as his guardian angel, and enabled him to conquer as Sir Walter did. This he never failed to tell to his intimates.

Never in my life did three words leave so keen a pang as those uttered upon my first call after Mrs. Clemens passed away. I fortunately found him alone and while my hand was still in his, and before one word had been spoken by either, there came from him, with a stronger pressure of my hand, these words: “A ruined home, a ruined home.” The silence was unbroken. I write this years after, but still I hear the words again and my heart responds.

On Booker Washington:

My connection with Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, which promote the elevation of the colored race we formerly kept in slavery, has been a source of satisfaction and pleasure, and to know Booker Washington is a rare privilege. We should all take our hats off to the man who not only raised himself from slavery, but helped raise millions of his race to a higher stage of civilization.

On Matthew Arnold:

The most charming man, John Morley and I agree, that we ever knew was Matthew Arnold. He had, indeed, “a charm”—that is the only word which expresses the effect of his presence and his conversation. Even his look and grave silences charmed.

Arnold visited us in Scotland in 1887, and talking one day of sport he said he did not shoot, he could not kill anything that had wings and could soar in the clear blue sky; but, he added, he could not give up fishing—”the accessories are so delightful.”

I am really enjoying this book. We read so many secondary sources of the 1800’s that the time period has been clouded with commentary. So when we read a primary source like Carnegie, it’s refreshing. We see that the GREAT MEN of history we’re thoroughly human, striving to climb the ladder of success in their own lives.

See Related Article: On the Importance of a Trifle: (Great Wisdom from Andrew Carnegie)

7 thoughts on “What Andrew Carnegie’s Autobiography Teaches Us About the Historical Figures of the 19th Century

  1. We see that the GREAT MEN of history we’re thoroughly human, striving to climb the ladder of success in their own lives.

    Freudian slip, my good dear Lord?

      1. Thanx for the mail. ++I’ve++ written largely in size. And thanx for the welcome … into
        the light from the darc.

  2. Carnegie’s primary legacy were the libraries that encouraged greater reading and yet, in a sense, ripped off the authors whose creative efforts got minimally paid for these things. Mr. Carnegie’s passion for books, rare among industry titans, centered around a belief in books — which was well-founded, of course — and a hope for their future effects.

    In the end, Carnegie became a dusty foodprint in the sands of history. In ++MY++ city of Vancouver, the Carnegie library is a dirty gray skeletal structure on skid row. How now, Horatio Carnegie?

  3. Really interesting selection of quotes, and a very interesting insight into the character of our former (WASP, I guess) ruling class. Reminds me of my complaint about our new ruling class:

    I’ll have to counter-signal Mr. XLoveli, in the sense I don’t think libraries hurt the bottom line of authors but almost certainly enhanced them. (It’s very different than how the internet and Napster killed the royalties of musicians; Pierce Anthony, a fantasy author, wrote an interesting article about this.)

    I may be a provincial bigot, but I do believe that our former ruling class – “WASPS” – were far more magnanimous and deserving than our current – er, not very “Protestant” – nor even all-that-white – (((ruling class.)))

    Oops, was that too much?


    1. Thank you for your two cents, HR. I agree with your sentiment about yesterdays philantropists as opposed to todays. A good example could be that Gates fella who seems to have an unusual obsession with removing African foreskins in the name of (((science))). He could have used that money for something local and practical.

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