Part 7 out of 7
and many lines of business. The most of them were in this
condition, because they had come to New York to make their way,
and had struggled until their funds were exhausted, and then they
were ashamed to return home and confess their failure.
I presided at this remarkable banquet and made not only one speech
but several. By encouraging the guests we had several excellent
addresses from preachers without pulpits, lawyers without clients,
doctors without patients, engineers without jobs, teachers without
schools, and travellers without funds. One man arose and said:
"Chauncey Depew, the World has given us such an excellent dinner,
and you have given us such a merry Christmas Eve, we would like
to shake hands with you as we go out."
I had long learned the art of shaking hands with the public. Many
a candidate has had his hands crushed and been permanently hurt
by the vise-like grip of an ardent admirer or a vicious opponent.
I remember General Grant complaining of this, of how he suffered,
and I told him of my discovery of grasping the hand first and
dropping it quickly.
The people about me were looking at these men as they came along,
to see if there was any possible danger. Toward the end of the
procession one man said to me: "Chauncey Depew, I don't belong
to this crowd. I am well enough off and can take care of myself.
I am an anarchist. My business is to stir up unrest and discontent,
and that brings me every night to mingle with the crowd waiting
for their dole of bread from Fleischmann's bakery. You do more
than any one else in the whole country to create good feeling and
dispel unrest, and you have done a lot of it to-night. I made up
my mind to kill you right here, but you are such an infernal good
fellow that I have not the heart to do it, so here's my hand."
On one occasion I received an invitation to address a sociological
society which was to meet at the house of one of the most famous
entertainers in New York. My host said that Edward Atkinson,
the well-known New England writer, philosopher, and sociologist,
would address the meeting. When I arrived at the house I found
Atkinson in despair. The audience were young ladies in full
evening dress and young men in white vests, white neckties, and
swallow-tails. There was also a band present. We were informed
that this society had endeavored to mingle instruction with
pleasure, and it really was a dancing club, but they had conceived
the idea of having something serious and instructive before the ball.
Mr. Atkinson said to me: "What won me to come here is that in
Boston we have a society of the same name. It is composed of
very serious people who are engaged in settlement and sociological
work. They are doing their best to improve the conditions of
the young women and young men who are in clerical and other
employment. I have delivered several addresses before that society,
and before the audiences which they gather, on how to live
comfortably and get married on the smallest possible margin. Now,
for instance, for my lecture here to-night I have on a ready-made
suit of clothes, for which I paid yesterday five dollars. In that
large boiler there is a stove which I have invented. In the oven
of the stove is beef and various vegetables, and to heat it is
a kerosene lamp with a clockwork attached. A young man or a young
woman, or a young married couple go to the market and buy the cheap
cuts of beef, and then, according to my instructions, they put it
in the stove with the vegetables, light the lamp, set the clockwork
and go to their work. When they return at five, six, or seven
o'clock they find a very excellent and very cheap dinner all ready
to be served. Now, of what use is my five-dollar suit of clothes
and my fifty-cent dinner for this crowd of butterflies?"
However, Mr. Atkinson and I made up our minds to talk to them as
if they needed it or would need it some day or other, and they
were polite enough to ask questions and pretend to enjoy it.
I understand that afterwards at the midnight supper there was more
champagne and more hilarity than at previous gatherings of this
During one of our presidential campaigns some young men came up
from the Bowery to see me. They said: "We have a very hard time
down in our district. The crowd is a tough one but intelligent,
and we think would be receptive of the truth if they could hear
it put to them in an attractive form. We will engage a large
theatre attached to a Bowery beer saloon if you will come down
and address the meeting. The novelty of your appearance will
fill the theatre."
I knew there was considerable risk, and yet it was a great
opportunity. I believe that in meeting a crowd of that sort one
should appear as they expect him to look when addressing the best
of audiences. These people are very proud, and they resent any
attempt on your part to be what they know you are not, but that
you are coming down to their level by assuming a character which
you presume to be theirs. So I dressed with unusual care, and
when I went on the platform a short-sleeved, short-haired genius
in the theatre shouted: "Chauncey thinks he is in Carnegie Hall."
The famous Tim Sullivan, who was several times a state senator
and congressman, and a mighty good fellow, was the leader of the
Bowery and controlled its political actions. He came to see me
and said: "I hope you will withdraw from that appointment. I do
not want you to come down there. In the first place, I cannot
protect you, and I don't think it is safe. In the second place,
you are so well known and popular among our people that I am
afraid you will produce an impression, and if you get away with
it that will hurt our machine."
In the course of my speech a man arose whom I knew very well as
a district leader, and who was frequently in my office, seeking
positions for his constituents and other favors. That night he
was in his shirt-sIeeves among the boys. With the old volunteer
fireman's swagger and the peculiar patois of that part of New York,
he said: "Chauncey Depew, you have no business here. You are
the president of the New York Central Railroad, ain't you, hey?
You are a rich man, ain't you, hey? We are poor boys. You don't
know us and can't teach us anything. You had better get out
while you can."
My reply was this: "My friend, I want a little talk with you.
I began life very much as you did. Nobody helped me. I was a
country boy and my capital was this head," and I slapped it,
"these legs," and I slapped them, "these hands," and I slapped
them, "and by using them as best I could I have become just what
you say I am and have got where you will never arrive."
A shirt-sleeved citizen jumped up from the audience and shouted:
"Go ahead, Chauncey, you're a peach." That characterization
of a peach went into the newspapers and was attached to me wherever
I appeared for many years afterwards, not only in this country
but abroad. It even found a place in the slang column of the great
dictionaries of the English language. The result of the meeting,
however, was a free discussion in the Bowery, and for the first
time in its history that particular district was carried by
After their triumph in the election I gave a dinner in the
Union League Club to the captains of the election districts.
There were about a hundred of them. The district captains were
all in their usual business suits, and were as sharp, keen,
intelligent, and up-to-date young men as one could wish to meet.
The club members whom I had invited to meet my guests were, of
course, in conventional evening dress. The novelty of the occasion
was so enjoyed by them that they indulged with more than usual
liberality in the fluids and fizz and became very hilarious. Not
one of the district captains touched a drop of wine.
While the club members were a little frightened at the idea of
these East-siders coming, my guests understood and met every
convention of the occasion before, during, and after dinner, as if
it was an accustomed social function with them. The half dozen
who made speeches showed a grasp of the political questions of
the hour and an ability to put their views before an audience which
was an exhibition of a high order of intelligence and self-culture.
In selecting a few out-of-the-way occasions which were also most
interesting and instructive, I recall one with a society which
prided itself upon its absence of narrowness and its freedom of
thought and discussion. The speakers were most critical of all
that is generally accepted and believed. Professor John Fiske,
the historian, was the most famous man present, and very critical
of the Bible. My good mother had brought me up on the Bible and
instilled in me the deepest reverence for the good book. The
criticism of the professor stirred me to a rejoinder. I, of course,
was in no way equal to meeting him, with his vast erudition and
scholarly accomplishments. I could only give what the Bible critic
would regard as valueless, a sledge-hammer expression of faith.
Somebody took the speech down. Doctor John Hall, the famous
preacher and for many years pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian
Church, told me that the Bible and the church societies in England
had put the speech into a leaflet, and were distributing many
millions of them in the British Isles.
It is singular what vogue and circulation a story of the hour will
receive. Usually these decorations of a speech die with the
occasion. There was fierce rivalry when it was decided to celebrate
the four hundredth anniversary of the landing of Columbus in
America, between New York and Chicago, as to which should have
the exhibition. Of course the Western orators were not modest in
the claims which they made for the City by the Lakes. To dampen
their ardor I embroidered the following story, which took wonderfully
when told in my speech.
It was at the Eagle Hotel in Peekskill, at which it was said
George Washington stopped many times as a guest during the
Revolutionary War, where in respect to his memory they preserved
the traditions of the Revolutionary period. At that time the bill
of fare was not printed, but the waiter announced to the guest
what would be served, if asked for. A Chicago citizen was dining
at the hotel. He ordered each of the many items announced to him
by the waiter. When he came to the deserts the waiter said: "We
have mince-pie, apple-pie, pumpkin-pie, and custard-pie." The
Chicago man ordered mince-pie, apple-pie, and pumpkin-pie. The
disgusted waiter remarked: "What is the matter with the custard?"
Alongside me sat a very well-known English gentleman of high
rank, who had come to this country on a sort of missionary and
evangelistic errand. Of course, he was as solemn as the task he
had undertaken, which was to convert American sinners. He turned
suddenly to me and, in a loud voice, asked: "What was the matter
with the custard-pie?" The story travelled for years, was used
for many purposes, was often murdered in the narration, but managed
to survive, and was told to me as an original joke by one of the
men I met at the convention last June in Chicago.
After Chicago received from Congress the appointment I did all
I could to help the legislation and appropriations necessary.
The result was that when I visited the city as an orator at the
opening of the exhibition I was voted the freedom of the city, was
given a great reception, and among other things reviewed the school
children who paraded in my honor.
The Yale alumni of New York City had for many years an organization.
In the early days the members met very infrequently at a dinner.
This was a formal affair, and generally drew a large gathering,
both of the local alumni and from the college and the country.
These meetings were held at DeImonico's, then located in
Fourteenth Street. The last was so phenomenally dull that there
were no repetitions.
The speakers were called by classes, and the oldest in graduation
had the platform. The result was disastrous. These old men all
spoke too long, and it was an endless stream of platitudes and
reminiscences of forgotten days until nearly morning. Then an
inspiration of the chairman led him to say: "I think it might be
well to have a word from the younger graduates."
There was a unanimous call for a well-known humorist named Styles.
His humor was aided by a startling appearance of abundant red hair,
an aggressive red mustache, and eyes which seemed to push his
glasses off his nose. Many of the speakers, owing to the
imperfection of the dental art in those days, indicated their
false teeth by their trouble in keeping them in place, and the
whistling it gave to their utterances. One venerable orator in his
excitement dropped his into his tumbler in the midst of his address.
Styles said to this tired audience: "At this early hour in the
morning I will not attempt to speak, but I will tell a story.
Down at Barnegat, N. J., where I live, our neighbors are very fond
of apple-jack. One of them while in town had his jug filled, and
on the way home saw a friend leaning over the gate and looking
so thirsty that he stopped and handed over his jug with an offer of
its hospitality. After sampling it the neighbor continued the
gurgling as the jug rose higher and higher, until there was not
a drop left in it. The indignant owner said: 'You infernal hog,
why did you drink up all my apple-jack?' His friend answered:
'I beg your pardon, Job, but I could not bite off the tap, because
I have lost all my teeth.'" The aptness of the story was the
success of the evening.
Some years afterwards there was a meeting of the alumni to form
a live association. Among those who participated in the organization
were William Walter Phelps, afterwards member of Congress and
minister to Austria; Judge Henry E. Howland; John Proctor Clarke,
now chief justice of the Appellate Division; James R. Sheffield
(several years later) now president of the Union League Club;
and Isaac Bromley, one of the editors of the New York Tribune,
one of the wittiest writers of his time, and many others who have
since won distinction. They elected me president, and I continued
such by successive elections for ten years.
The association met once a month and had a serious paper read,
speeches, a simple supper, and a social evening. These monthly
gatherings became a feature and were widely reported in the press.
We could rely upon one or more of the faculty, and there was always
to be had an alumnus of national reputation from abroad. We had
a formal annual dinner, which was more largely attended than
almost any function of the kind in the city, and, because of the
variety and excellence of the speaking, always very enjoyable.
The Harvard and Princeton alumni also had an association at that
time, with annual dinners, and it was customary for the officers
of each of these organizations to be guests of the one which gave
the dinner. The presidents of the colleges represented always
came. Yale could rely upon President Dwight, Harvard upon
President Eliot, and Princeton upon President McCosh.
Of course, the interchanges between the representatives of the
different colleges were as exciting and aggressive as their
football and baseball contests are to-day. I recall one occasion
of more than usual interest. It was the Princeton dinner, and
the outstanding figure of the occasion was that most successful
and impressive of college executives, President McCosh. He spoke
with a broad Scotch accent and was in every sense a literalist.
Late in the evening Mr. Beaman, a very brilliant lawyer and partner
of Evarts and Choate, who was president of the Harvard Alumni
Association, said to me: "These proceedings are fearfully prosaic
and highbrow. When you are called, you attack President McCosh,
and I will defend him." So in the course of my remarks, which
were highly complimentary to Princeton and its rapid growth under
President McCosh, I spoke of its remarkable success in receiving
gifts and legacies, which were then pouring into its treasury every
few months, and were far beyond anything which came either to
Yale or Harvard, though both were in great need. Then I hinted
that possibly this flow of riches was due to the fact that
President McCosh had such an hypnotic influence over the graduates
of Princeton and their fathers, mothers, and wives that none of
them felt there was a chance of a heavenly future unless Princeton
was among the heirs.
Mr. Beaman was very indignant and with the continuing approval
and applause of the venerable doctor made a furious attack upon
me. His defense of the president was infinitely worse than my
attack. He alleged that I had intimated that the doctor kept tab
on sick alumni of wealth and their families, and at the critical
moment there would be a sympathetic call from the doctor, and,
while at the bedside he administered comfort and consolation,
yet he made it plain to the patient that he could not hope for
the opening of the pearly gates or the welcome of St. Peter unless
Princeton was remembered. Then Beaman, in a fine burst of oratory,
ascribed this wonderful prosperity not to any personaI effort or
appeal, but because the sons of Princeton felt such reverence and
gratitude for their president that they were only too glad of an
opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the institution.
The moment Beaman sat down the doctor arose, and with great
intensity expressed his thanks and gratitude to the eloquent
president of the Harvard alumni, and then shouted: "I never,
never, never solicited a gift for Princeton from a dying man.
I never, never, never sat by the bedside of a dying woman and
held up the terrors of hell and the promises of heaven, according
to the disposition she made of her estate. I never, never looked
with unsympathetic and eager anticipation whenever any of our
wealthy alumni appeared in ill health."
The doctor, however, retaliated subsequently. He invited me to
deliver a lecture before the college, and entertained me most
delightfully at his house. It was a paid admission, and when
I left in the morning he said: "I want to express to you on behalf
of our college our thanks. We raised last evening through your
lecture enough to fit our ball team for its coming contest with
Yale." In that contest Princeton was triumphant.
The Yale Alumni Association subsequently evoluted into the Yale Club
of New York, which has in every way been phenomenally prosperous.
It is a factor of national importance in supporting Yale and keeping
alive everywhere appreciation and enthusiasm for and practice of
My class of 1856 at Yale numbered ninety-seven on graduation.
Only six of us survive. In these pages I have had a continuous
class meeting. Very few, if any, of my associates in the New York
Legislature of 1862 and 1863 are alive, and none of the State
officers who served with me in the succeeding years. There is
no one left in the service who was there when I became connected
with the New York Central Railroad, and no executive officer in
any railroad in the United States who held that position when
I was elected and is still active.
It is the habit of age to dwell on the degeneracy of the times
and lament the good old days and their superiority, but Yale is
infinitely greater and broader than when I graduated sixty-five
years ago. The New York Legislature and State executives are
governing an empire compared with the problems which we had to
solve fifty-nine years ago.
I believe in the necessity of leadership, and while recognizing
a higher general average in public life, regret that the world
crisis through which we have passed and which is not yet completed,
has produced no Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt. I rejoice that
President Harding, under the pressure of his unequalled responsibilities,
is developing the highest qualities of leadership. It is an
exquisite delight to visualize each administration from 1856 and
to have had considerable intimacy with the leaders in government
and the moulders of public opinion during sixty-five unusually
Many who have given their reminiscences have kept close continuing
diaries. From these voluminous records they have selected according
to their judgment. As I have before said, I have no data and must
rely on my memory. This faculty is not logical, its operations are
not by years or periods, but its films unroll as they are moved
by association of ideas and events.
It has been a most pleasurable task to bring back into my life
these worthies of the past and to live over again events of greater
or lesser importance. Sometimes an anecdote illumines a character
more than a biography, and a personal incident helps an understanding
of a period more than its formal history.
Life has had for me immeasurable charms. I recognize at all times
there has been granted to me the loving care and guidance of God.
My sorrows have been alleviated and lost their acuteness from a
firm belief in closer reunion in eternity. My misfortunes,
disappointments, and losses have been met and overcome by abundant
proof of my mother's faith and teaching that they were the discipline
of Providence for my own good, and if met in that spirit and
with redoubled effort to redeem the apparent tragedy they would
prove to be blessings. Such has been the case.
While new friends are not the same as old ones, yet I have found
cheer and inspiration in the close communion with the young of
succeeding generations. They have made and are making this a
mighty good world for me.