Produced by Curtis A. Weyant
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
[Illustration: Henry Watterson (About 1908)]
TO MY FRIEND
WITH AFFECTIONATE SALUTATION
A mound of earth a little higher graded: Perhaps upon a stone a chiselled name:
A dab of printer’s ink soon blurred and faded– And then oblivion–that–that is fame!
Chapter the First
I Am Born and Begin to Take Notice–John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson–James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce–Jack Dade and “Beau Hickman”–Old Times in Washington
Chapter the Second
Slavery the Trouble-Maker–Break-Up of the Whig Party and Rise of the Republican–The Key–Sickle’s Tragedy–Brooks and Sumner–Life at Washington in the Fifties
Chapter the Third
The Inauguration of Lincoln–I Quit Washington and Return to Tennessee–A Run-a-bout with Forest–Through the Federal Lines and a Dangerous Adventure–Good Luck at Memphis
Chapter the Fourth
I Go to London–Am Introduced to a Notable Set–Huxley, Spencer, Mill and Tyndall–Artemus Ward Comes to Town–The Savage Club
Chapter the Fifth
Mark Twain–The Original of Colonel Mulberry Sellers–The “Earl of Durham”–Some Noctes Ambrosianae–A Joke on Murat Halstead
Chapter the Sixth
Houston and Wigfall of Texas–Stephen A. Douglas–The Twaddle about Puritans and Cavaliers–Andrew Johnson and John C. Breckenridge
Chapter the Seventh
An Old Newspaper Rookery–Reactionary Sectionalism in Cincinnati and Louisville–_The Courier-Journal_
Chapter the Eighth
Feminism and Woman Suffrage–The Adventures in Politics and Society–A Real Heroine
Chapter the Ninth
Dr. Norvin Green–Joseph Pulitzer–Chester A. Arthur–General Grant–The Case of Fitz-John Porter
Chapter the Tenth
Of Liars and Lying–Woman Suffrage and Feminism–The Professional Female–Parties, Politics, and Politicians in America
Chapter the Eleventh
Andrew Johnson–The Liberal Convention in 1872–Carl Schurz–The “Quadrilateral”–Sam Bowles, Horace White and Murat Halstead–A Queer Composite of Incongruities
Chapter the Twelfth
The Ideal in Public Life–Politicians, Statesmen and Philosophers– The Disputed Presidency in 1876–The Persona and Character of Mr. Tilden–His Election and Exclusion by a Partisan Tribunal
Henry Watterson (About 1908)
Henry Clay–Painted at Ashland by Dodge for The Hon. Andrew Ewing of Tennessee-The Original Hangs in Mr. Watterson’s Library at “Mansfield”
W. P. Hardee, Lieutenant General C.S.A.
John Bell of Tennessee–In 1860 Presidential Candidate “Union Party”–“Bell and Everett” Ticket
General Leonidas Polk–Lieutenant General C.S.A. Killed in Georgia, June 14, 1864–P. E. Bishop of Louisiana
Mr. Watterson’s Editorial Staff in 1868 When the Three Daily Newspapers of Louisville Were United into the _Courier-Journal_. Mr. George D. Prentice and Mr. Watterson Are in the Center
Abraham Lincoln in 1861. From a Photograph by M. B. Brady
Mrs. Lincoln in 1861
Chapter the First
I Am Born and Begin to Take Notice–John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson–James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce–Jack Dade and “Beau Hickman”–Old Times in Washington
I am asked to jot down a few autobiographic odds and ends from such data of record and memory as I may retain. I have been something of a student of life; an observer of men and women and affairs; an appraiser of their character, their conduct, and, on occasion, of their motives. Thus, a kind of instinct, which bred a tendency and grew to a habit, has led me into many and diverse companies, the lowest not always the meanest.
Circumstance has rather favored than hindered this bent. I was born in a party camp and grew to manhood on a political battlefield. I have lived through stirring times and in the thick of events. In a vein colloquial and reminiscential, not ambitious, let me recall some impressions which these have left upon the mind of one who long ago reached and turned the corner of the Scriptural limitation; who, approaching fourscore, does not yet feel painfully the frost of age beneath the ravage of time’s defacing waves. Assuredly they have not obliterated his sense either of vision or vista. Mindful of the adjuration of Burns,
Keep something to yourself,
Ye scarcely tell to ony,
I shall yet hold little in reserve, having no state secrets or mysteries of the soul to reveal.
It is not my purpose to be or to seem oracular. I shall not write after the manner of Rousseau, whose Confessions had been better honored in the breach than the observance, and in any event whose sincerity will bear question; nor have I tales to tell after the manner of Paul Barras, whose Memoirs have earned him an immortality of infamy. Neither shall I emulate the grandiose volubility and self-complacent posing of Metternich and Talleyrand, whose pretentious volumes rest for the most part unopened upon dusty shelves. I aspire to none of the honors of the historian. It shall be my aim as far as may be to avoid the garrulity of the raconteur and to restrain the exaggerations of the ego. But neither fear of the charge of self-exploitation nor the specter of a modesty oft too obtrusive to be real shall deter me from a proper freedom of narration, where, though in the main but a humble chronicler, I must needs appear upon the scene and speak of myself; for I at least have not always been a dummy and have sometimes in a way helped to make history.
In my early life–as it were, my salad days–I aspired to becoming what old Simon Cameron called “one of those damned literary fellows” and Thomas Carlyle less profanely described as “a leeterary celeebrity.” But some malign fate always sat upon my ambitions in this regard. It was easy to become The National Gambler in Nast’s cartoons, and yet easier The National Drunkard through the medium of the everlasting mint-julep joke; but the phantom of the laurel crown would never linger upon my fair young brow.
Though I wrote verses for the early issues of Harper’s Weekly–happily no one can now prove them on me, for even at that jejune period I had the prudence to use an anonym–the Harpers, luckily for me, declined to publish a volume of my poems. I went to London, carrying with me “the great American novel.” It was actually accepted by my ever too partial friend, Alexander Macmillan. But, rest his dear old soul, he died and his successors refused to see the transcendent merit of that performance, a view which my own maturing sense of belles-lettres values subsequently came to verify.
When George Harvey arrived at the front I “‘ad ‘opes.” But, Lord, that cast-iron man had never any bookish bowels of compassion–or political either for the matter of that!–so that finally I gave up fiction and resigned myself to the humble category of the crushed tragi-comedians of literature, who inevitably drift into journalism.
Thus my destiny has been casual. A great man of letters quite thwarted, I became a newspaper reporter–a voluminous space writer for the press–now and again an editor and managing editor–until, when I was nearly thirty years of age, I hit the Kentucky trail and set up for a journalist. I did this, however, with a big “J,” nursing for a while some faint ambitions of statesmanship–even office–but in the end discarding everything that might obstruct my entire freedom, for I came into the world an insurgent, or, as I have sometimes described myself in the Kentucky vernacular, “a free nigger and not a slave nigger.”
Though born in a party camp and grown to manhood on a political battlefield my earlier years were most seriously influenced by the religious spirit of the times. We passed to and fro between Washington and the two family homesteads in Tennessee, which had cradled respectively my father and mother, Beech Grove in Bedford County, and Spring Hill in Maury County. Both my grandfathers were devout churchmen of the Presbyterian faith. My Grandfather Black, indeed, was the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, who lived, preached and died in Madison County, Kentucky. He was descended, I am assured, in a straight line from that David Black, of Edinburgh, who, as Burkle tells us, having declared in a sermon that Elizabeth of England was a harlot, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, little better, went to prison for it–all honor to his memory.
My Grandfather Watterson was a man of mark in his day. He was decidedly a constructive–the projector and in part the builder of an important railway line–an early friend and comrade of General Jackson, who was all too busy to take office, and, indeed, who throughout his life disdained the ephemeral honors of public life. The Wattersons had migrated directly from Virginia to Tennessee.
The two families were prosperous, even wealthy for those days, and my father had entered public life with plenty of money, and General Jackson for his sponsor. It was not, however, his ambitions or his career that interested me–that is, not until I was well into my teens–but the camp meetings and the revivalist preachers delivering the Word of God with more or less of ignorant yet often of very eloquent and convincing fervor.
The wave of the great Awakening of 1800 had not yet subsided. Bascom was still alive. I have heard him preach. The people were filled with thoughts of heaven and hell, of the immortality of the soul and the life everlasting, of the Redeemer and the Cross of Calvary. The camp ground witnessed an annual muster of the adjacent countryside. The revival was a religious hysteria lasting ten days or two weeks. The sermons were appeals to the emotions. The songs were the outpourings of the soul in ecstacy. There was no fanaticism of the death-dealing, proscriptive sort; nor any conscious cant; simplicity, childlike belief in future rewards and punishments, the orthodox Gospel the universal rule. There was a good deal of doughty controversy between the churches, as between the parties; but love of the Union and the Lord was the bedrock of every confession.
Inevitably an impressionable and imaginative mind opening to such sights and sounds as it emerged from infancy must have been deeply affected. Until I was twelve years old the enchantment of religion had complete possession of my understanding. With the loudest, I could sing all the hymns. Being early taught in music I began to transpose them into many sorts of rhythmic movement for the edification of my companions. Their words, aimed directly at the heart, sank, never to be forgotten, into my memory. To this day I can repeat the most of them–though not without a break of voice–while too much dwelling upon them would stir me to a pitch of feeling which a life of activity in very different walks and ways and a certain self-control I have been always able to command would scarcely suffice to restrain.
The truth is that I retain the spiritual essentials I learned then and there. I never had the young man’s period of disbelief. There has never been a time when if the Angel of Death had appeared upon the scene–no matter how festal–I would not have knelt with adoration and welcome; never a time on the battlefield or at sea when if the elements had opened to swallow me I would not have gone down shouting!
Sectarianism in time yielded to universalism. Theology came to seem to my mind more and more a weapon in the hands of Satan to embroil and divide the churches. I found in the Sermon on the Mount leading enough for my ethical guidance, in the life and death of the Man of Galilee inspiration enough to fulfill my heart’s desire; and though I have read a great deal of modern inquiry–from Renan and Huxley through Newman and Doellinger, embracing debates before, during and after the English upheaval of the late fifties and the Ecumenical Council of 1870, including the various raids upon the Westminster Confession, especially the revision of the Bible, down to writers like Frederic Harrison and Doctor Campbell–I have found nothing to shake my childlike faith in the simple rescript of Christ and Him crucified.
From their admission into the Union, the States of Kentucky and Tennessee have held a relation to the politics of the country somewhat disproportioned to their population and wealth. As between the two parties from the Jacksonian era to the War of Sections, each was closely and hotly contested. If not the birthplace of what was called “stump oratory,” in them that picturesque form of party warfare flourished most and lasted longest. The “barbecue” was at once a rustic feast and a forum of political debate. Especially notable was the presidential campaign of 1840, the year of my birth, “Tippecanoe and Tyler,” for the Whig slogan–“Old Hickory” and “the battle of New Orleans,” the Democratic rallying cry–Jackson and Clay, the adored party chieftains.
I grew up in the one State, and have passed the rest of my life in the other, cherishing for both a deep affection, and, maybe, over-estimating their hold upon the public interest. Excepting General Jackson, who was a fighter and not a talker, their public men, with Henry Clay and Felix Grundy in the lead, were “stump orators.” He who could not relate and impersonate an anecdote to illustrate and clinch his argument, nor “make the welkin ring” with the clarion tones of his voice, was politically good for nothing. James K. Polk and James C. Jones led the van of stump orators in Tennessee, Ben Hardin, John J. Crittenden and John C. Breckenridge in Kentucky. Tradition still has stories to tell of their exploits and prowess, their wit and eloquence, even their commonplace sayings and doings. They were marked men who never failed to captivate their audiences. The system of stump oratory had many advantages as a public force and was both edifying and educational. There were a few conspicuous writers for the press, such as Ritchie, Greeley and Prentice. But the day of personal journalism and newspaper influence came later.
I was born at Washington–February 16, 1840–“a bad year for Democrats,” as my father used to say, adding: “I am afraid the boy will grow up to be a Whig.”
In those primitive days there were only Whigs and Democrats. Men took their politics, as their liquor, “straight”; and this father of mine was an undoubting Democrat of the schools of Jefferson and Jackson. He had succeeded James K. Polk in Congress when the future President was elected governor of Tennessee; though when nominated he was little beyond the age required to qualify as a member of the House.
To the end of his long life he appeared to me the embodiment of wisdom, integrity and couarge. And so he was–a man of tremendous force of character, yet of surpassing sweetness of disposition; singularly disdainful of office, and indeed of preferment of every sort; a profuse maker and a prodigal spender of money; who, his needs and recognition assured, cared nothing at all for what he regarded as the costly glories of the little great men who rattled round in places often much too big for them.
Immediately succeeding Mr. Polk, and such a youth in appearance, he attracted instant attention. His father, my grandfather, allowed him a larger income than was good for him–seeing that the per diem then paid Congressmen was altogethr insufficient–and during the earlier days of his sojourn in the national capital he cut a wide swath; his principal yokemate in the pleasures and dissipations of those times being Franklin Pierce, at first a representative and then a senator from New Hampshire. Fortunately for both of them, they were whisked out of Washington by their families in 1843; my father into the diplomatic service and Mr. Pierce to the seclusion of his New England home. They kept in close touch, however, the one with the other, and ten years later, in 1853, were back again upon the scene of their rather conspicuous frivolity, Pierce as President of the United States, my father, who had preceded him a year or two, as editor of the Washnigton Union, the organ of the Administration.
When I was a boy the national capital was still rife with stories of their escapades. One that I recall had it that on a certain occasion returning from an excursion late at night my father missed his footing and fell into the canal that then divided the city, and that Pierce, after many fruitless efforts, unable to assist him to dry land, exclaimed, “Well, Harvey, I can’t get you out, but I’ll get in with you,” suiting the action to the word. And there they were found and rescued by a party of passers, very well pleased with themselves.
My father’s absence in South America extended over two years. My mother’s health, maybe her aversion to a long overseas journey, kept her at home, and very soon he tired of life abroad without her and came back. A committee of citizens went on a steamer down the river to meet him, the wife and child along, of course, and the story was told that, seated on the paternal knee curiously observant of every detail, the brat suddenly exclaimed, “Ah ha, pa! Now you’ve got on your store clothes. But when ma gets you up at Beech Grove you’ll have to lay off your broadcloth and put on your jeans, like I do.”
Being an only child and often an invalid, I was a pet in the family and many tales were told of my infantile precocity. On one occasion I had a fight with a little colored boy of my own age and I need not say got the worst of it. My grandfather, who came up betimes and separated us, said, “he has blackened your eye and he shall black your boots,” thereafter making me a deed to the lad. We grew up together in the greatest amity and in due time I gave him his freedom, and again to drop into the vernacular–“that was the only nigger I ever owned.” I should add that in the “War of Sections” he fell in battle bravely fighting for the freedom of his race.
It is truth to say that I cannot recall the time when I was not passionately opposed to slavery, a crank on the subject of personal liberty, if I am a crank about anything.
In those days a less attractive place than the city of Washington could hardly be imagined. It was scattered over an ill-paved and half-filled oblong extending east and west from the Capitol to the White House, and north and south from the line of the Maryland hills to the Potomac River. One does not wonder that the early Britishers, led by Tom Moore, made game of it, for it was both unpromising and unsightly.
Private carriages were not numerous. Hackney coaches had to be especially ordered. The only public conveyance was a rickety old omnibus which, making hourly trips, plied its lazy journey between the Navy Yard and Georgetown. There was a livery stable–Kimball’s–having “stalls,” as the sleeping apartments above came to be called, thus literally serving man and beast. These stalls often lodged very distinguished people. Kimball, the proprietor, a New Hampshire Democrat of imposing appearance, was one of the last Washingtonians to wear knee breeches and a ruffled shirt. He was a great admirer of my father and his place was a resort of my childhood.
One day in the early April of 1852 I was humped in a chair upon one side of the open entrance reading a book–Mr. Kimball seated on the other side reading a newspaper–when there came down the street a tall, greasy-looking person, who as he approached said: “Kimball, I have another letter here from Frank.”
“Well, what does Frank say?”
Then the letter was produced, read and discussed.
It was all about the coming National Democratic Convention and its prospective nominee for President of the United States, “Frank” seeming to be a principal. To me it sounded very queer. But I took it all in, and as soon as I reached home I put it up to my father:
“How comes it,” I asked, “that a big old loafer gets a letter from a candidate for President and talks it over with the keeper of a livery stable? What have such people to do with such things?”
My father said: “My son, Mr. Kimball is an estimable man. He has been an important and popular Democrat in New Hampshire. He is not without influence here. The Frank they talked about is Gen. Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, an old friend and neighbor of Mr. Kimball. General Pierce served in Congress with me and some of us are thinking that we may nominate him for President. The ‘big old loafer,’ as you call him, was Mr. John C. Rives, a most distinguished and influential Democrat indeed.”
Three months later, when the event came to pass, I could tell all about Gen. Franklin Pierce. His nomination was no surprise to me, though to the country at large it was almost a shock. He had been nowhere seriously considered.
In illustration of this a funny incident recurs to me. At Nashville the night of the nomination a party of Whigs and Democrats had gathered in front of the principal hotel waiting for the arrival of the news, among the rest Sam Bugg and Chunky Towles, two local gamblers, both undoubting Democrats. At length Chunky Towles, worn out, went off to bed. The result was finally flashed over the wires. The crowd was nonplused. “Who the hell is Franklin Pierce?” passed from lip to lip.
Sam Bugg knew his political catechism well. He proceeded at length to tell all about Franklin Pierce, ending with the opinion that he was the man wanted and would be elected hands down, and he had a thousand dollars to bet on it.
Then he slipped away to tell his pal.
“Wake up, Chunky,” he cried. “We got a candidate–Gen. Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire.”
“Chunky,” says Sam. “I am ashamed of your ignorance. Gen. Franklin Pierce is the son of Gen. Benjamin Pierce, of Revolutionary fame. He has served in both houses of Congress. He declined a seat in Polk’s Cabinet. He won distinction in the Mexican War. He is the very candidate we’ve been after.”
“In that case,” says Chunky, “I’ll get up.” When he reappeared Petway, the Whig leader of the gathering, who had been deriding the convention, the candidate and all things else Democratic, exclaimed:
“Here comes Chunky Towles. He’s a good Democrat; and I’ll bet ten to one he never heard of Franklin Pierce in his life before.”
Chunky Towles was one of the handsomest men of his time. His strong suit was his unruffled composure and cool self-control. “Mr. Petway,” says he, “you would lose your money, and I won’t take advantage of any man’s ignorance. Besides, I never gamble on a certainty. Gen. Franklin Pierce, sir, is a son of Gen. Benjamin Pierce of Revolutionary memory. He served in both houses of Congress, sir–refused a seat in Polk’s Cabinet, sir–won distinction in the Mexican War, sir. He has been from the first my choice, and I’ve money to bet on his election.”
Franklin Pierce had an only son, named Benny, after his grandfather, the Revolutionary hero. He was of my own age. I was planning the good time we were going to have in the White House when tidings came that he had been killed in a railway accident. It was a grievous blow, from which the stricken mother never recovered. One of the most vivid memories and altogether the saddest episode of my childhood is that a few weeks later I was carried up to the Executive Mansion, which, all formality and marble, seemed cold enough for a mausoleum, where a lady in black took me in her arms and convulsively held me there, weeping as if her heart would break.
Sometimes a fancy, rather vague, comes to me of seeing the soldiers go off to the Mexican War and of making flags striped with pokeberry juice–somehow the name of the fruit was mingled with that of the President–though a visit quite a year before to The Hermitage, which adjoined the farm of an uncle, to see General Jackson is still uneffaced.
I remember it vividly. The old hero dandled me in his arms, saying “So this is Harvey’s boy,” I looking the while in vain for the “hickory,” of which I had heard so much.
On the personal side history owes General Jackson reparation. His personality needs indeed complete reconstruction in the popular mind, which misconceives him a rough frontiersman having few or none of the social graces. In point of fact he came into the world a gentleman, a leader, a knight-errant who captivated women and dominated men.
I shared when a young man the common belief about him. But there is ample proof of the error of this. From middle age, though he ever liked a horse race, he was a regular if not a devout churchman. He did not swear at all, “by the Eternal” or any other oath. When he reached New Orleans in 1814 to take command of the army, Governor Claiborne gave him a dinner; and after he had gone Mrs. Claiborne, who knew European courts and society better than any other American woman, said to her husband: “Call that man a backwoodsman? He is the finest gentleman I ever met!”
There is another witness–Mr. Buchanan, afterward President–who tells how he took a distinguished English lady to the White House when Old Hickory was President; how he went up to the general’s private apartment, where he found him in a ragged _robe-de-chambre_, smoking his pipe; how, when he intimated that the President might before coming down slick himself a bit, he received the half-laughing rebuke: “Buchanan, I once knew a man in Virginia who made himself independently rich by minding his own business”; how, when he did come down, he was _en regle_; and finally how, after a half hour of delightful talk, the English lady as they regained the street broke forth with enthusiasm, using almost the selfsame words of Mrs. Claiborne: “He is the finest gentleman I ever met in the whole course of my life.”
The Presidential campaign of 1848–and the concurrent return of the Mexican soldiers–seems but yesterday. We were in Nashville, where the camp fires of the two parties burned fiercely day and night, Tennessee a debatable, even a pivotal state. I was an enthusiastic politician on the Cass and Butler side, and was correspondingly disappointed when the election went against us for Taylor and Fillmore, though a little mollified when, on his way to Washington, General Taylor grasping his old comrade, my grandfather, by the hand, called him “Billy,” and paternally stroked my curls.
Though the next winter we passed in Washington I never saw him in the White House. He died in July, 1850, and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore. It is common to speak of Old Rough and Ready as an ignoramus. I don’t think this. He may not have been very courtly, but he was a gentleman.
Later in life I came to know Millard Fillmore well and to esteem him highly. Once he told me that Daniel Webster had said to him: “Fillmore, I like Clay–I like Clay very much–but he rides rough, sir; damned rough!”
I was fond of going to the Capitol and of playing amateur page in the House, of which my father had been a member and where he had many friends, though I was never officially a page. There was in particular a little old bald-headed gentleman who was good to me and would put his arm about me and stroll with me across the rotunda to the Library of Congress and get me books to read. I was not so young as not to know that he was an ex-President of the United States, and to realize the meaning of it. He had been the oldest member of the House when my father was the youngest. He was John Quincy Adams. By chance I was on the floor of the House when he fell in his place, and followed the excited and tearful throng when they bore him into the Speaker’s Room, kneeling by the side of the sofa with an improvised fan and crying as if my heart would break.
One day in the spring of 1851 my father took me to a little hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol and into a stuffy room, where a snuffy old man wearing an ill-fitting wig was busying himself over a pile of documents. He turned about and was very hearty.
“Aha, you’ve brought the boy,” said he.
And my father said: “My son, you wanted to see General Cass, and here he is.”
My enthusiasm over the Cass and Butler campaign had not subsided. Inevitably General Cass was to me the greatest of heroes. My father had been and always remained his close friend. Later along we dwelt together at Willard’s Hotel, my mother a chaperon for Miss Belle Cass, afterward Madame Von Limbourg, and I came into familiar intercourse with the family.
The general made me something of a pet and never ceased to be a hero to me. I still think he was one of the foremost statesmen of his time and treasure a birthday present he made me when I was just entering my teens.
The hour I passed with him that afternoon I shall never forget.
As we were about taking our leave my father said: “Well, my son, you have seen General Cass; what do you think of him?”
And the general patting me affectionately on the head laughingly said: “He thinks he has seen a pretty good-looking old fogy–that is what he thinks!”
There flourished in the village life of Washington two old blokes–no other word can proprly describe them–Jack Dade, who signed himself “the Honorable John W. Dade, of Virginia;” and Beau Hickman, who hailed from nowhere and acquired the pseudonym through sheer impudence. In one way and another they lived by their wits, the one all dignity, the other all cheek. Hickman fell very early in his career of sponge and beggar, but Dade lived long and died in office–indeed, toward the close an office was actually created for him.
Dade had been a schoolmate of John Tyler–so intimate they were that at college they were called “the two Jacks”–and when the death of Harrison made Tyler President, the “off Jack,” as he dubbed himself, went up to the White House and said: “Jack Tyler, you’ve had luck and I haven’t. You must do something for me and do it quick. I’m hard up and I want an office.”
“You old reprobate,” said Tyler, “what office on earth do you think you are fit to fill?”
“Well,” said Dade, “I have heard them talking round here of a place they call a sine-cu-ree–big pay and no work–and if there is one of them left and lying about loose I think I could fill it to a T.”
“All right,” said the President good naturedly, “I’ll see what can be done. Come up to-morrow.”
The next day “Col. John W. Dade, of Virginia,” was appointed keeper of the Federal prison of the District of Columbia. He assumed his post with _empressement_, called the prisoners before him and made them an address.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said he; “I have been chosen by my friend, the President of the United States, as superintendent of this eleemosynary institution. It is my intention to treat you all as a Virginia gentleman should treat a body of American ladies and gentlemen gathered here from all parts of our beloved Union, and I shall expect the same consideration in return. Otherwise I will turn you all out upon the cold mercies of a heartless world and you will have to work for your living.”
There came to Congress from Alabama a roistering blade by the name of McConnell. He was something of a wit. During his brief sojourn in the national capital he made a noisy record for himself as an all-round, all-night man about town, a dare-devil and a spendthrift. His first encounter with Col. John W. Dade, of Virginia, used to be one of the standard local jokes. Colonel Dade was seated in the barroom of Brown’s Hotel early one morning, waiting for someone to come in and invite him to drink.
Presently McConnell arrived. It was his custom when he entered a saloon to ask the entire roomful, no matter how many, “to come up and licker,” and, of course, he invited the solitary stranger.
When the glasses were filled Dade pompously said: “With whom have I the honor of drinking?”
“My name,” answered McConnell, “is Felix Grundy McConnell, begad! I am a member of Congress from Alabama. My mother is a justice of the peace, my aunt keeps a livery stable, and my grandmother commanded a company in the Revolution and fit the British, gol darn their souls!”
Dade pushed his glass aside.
“Sir,” said he, “I am a man of high aspirations and peregrinations and can have nothing to do with such low-down scopangers as yourself. Good morning, sir!”
It may be presumed that both spoke in jest, because they became inseparable companions and the best of friends.
McConnell had a tragic ending. In James K. Polk’s diary I find two entries under the dates, respectively, of September 8 and September 10, 1846. The first of these reads as follows: “Hon. Felix G. McConnell, a representative in Congress from Alabama called. He looked very badly and as though he had just recovered from a fit of intoxication. He was sober, but was pale, his countenance haggard and his system nervous. He applied to me to borrow one hundred dollars and said he would return it to me in ten days.
“Though I had no idea that he would do so I had a sympathy for him even in his dissipation. I had known him in his youth and had not the moral courage to refuse. I gave him the one hundred dollars in gold and took his note. His hand was so tremulous that he could scarcely write his name to the note legibly. I think it probable that he will never pay me. He informed me he was detained at Washington attending to some business in the Indian Office. I supposed he had returned home at the adjournment of Congress until he called to-day. I doubt whether he has any business in Washington, but fear he has been detained by dissipation.”
The second of Mr. Polk’s entries is a corollary of the first and reads: “About dark this evening I learned from Mr. Voorhies, who is acting as my private secretary during the absence of J. Knox Walker, that Hon. Felix G. McConnell, a representative in Congress from the state of Alabama, had committed suicide this afternoon at the St. Charles Hotel, where he boarded. On Tuesday last Mr. McConnell called on me and I loaned him one hundred dollars. [See this diary of that day.] I learn that but a short time before the horrid deed was committed he was in the barroom of the St. Charles Hotel handling gold pieces and stating that he had received them from me, and that he loaned thirty-five dollars of them to the barkeeper, that shortly afterward he had attempted to write something, but what I have not learned, but he had not written much when he said he would go to his room.
“In the course of the morning I learn he went into the city and paid a hackman a small amount which he owed him. He had locked his room door, and when found he was stretched out on his back with his hands extended, weltering in his blood. He had three wounds in the abdomen and his throat was cut. A hawkbill knife was found near him. A jury of inquest was held and found a verdict that he had destroyed himself. It was a melancholy instance of the effects of intemperance. Mr. McConnell when a youth resided at Fayetteville in my congressional district. Shortly after he grew up to manhood he was at my instance appointed postmaster of that town. He was a true Democrat and a sincere friend of mine.
“His family in Tennessee are highly respectable and quite numerous. The information as to the manner and particulars of his death I learned from Mr. Voorhies, who reported it to me as he had heard it in the streets. Mr. McConnell removed from Tennessee to Alabama some years ago, and I learn he has left a wife and three or four children.”
Poor Felix Grundy McConnell! At a school in Tennessee he was a roommate of my father, who related that one night Felix awakened with a scream from a bad dream he had, the dream being that he had cut his own throat.
“Old Jack Dade,” as he was always called, lived on, from hand to mouth, I dare say–for he lost his job as keeper of the district prison–yet never wholly out-at-heel, scrupulously neat in his person no matter how seedy the attire. On the completion of the new wings of the Capitol and the removal of the House to its more commodious quarters he was made custodian of the old Hall of Representatives, a post he held until he died.
Between the idiot and the man of sense, the lunatic and the man of genius, there are degrees–streaks–of idiocy and lunacy. How many expectant politicians elected to Congress have entered Washington all hope, eager to dare and do, to come away broken in health, fame and fortune, happy to get back home–sometimes unable to get away, to linger on in obscurity and poverty to a squalid and wretched old age.
I have lived long enough to have known many such: Senators who have filled the galleries when they rose to speak; House heroes living while they could on borrowed money, then hanging about the hotels begging for money to buy drink.
There was a famous statesman and orator who came to this at last, of whom the typical and characteristic story was told that the holder of a claim against the Government, who dared not approach so great a man with so much as the intimation of a bribe, undertook by argument to interest him in the merit of the case.
The great man listened and replied: “I have noticed you scattering your means round here pretty freely but you haven’t said ‘turkey’ to me.”
Surprised but glad and unabashed the claimant said “I was coming to that,” produced a thousand-dollar bank roll and entered into an understanding as to what was to be done next day, when the bill was due on the calendar.
The great man took the money, repaired to a gambling house, had an extraordinary run of luck, won heavily, and playing all night, forgetting about his engagement, went to bed at daylight, not appearing in the House at all. The bill was called, and there being nobody to represent it, under the rule it went over and to the bottom of the calendar, killed for that session at least.
The day after the claimant met his recreant attorney on the avenue face to face and took him to task for his delinquency.
“Ah, yes,” said the great man, “you are the little rascal who tried to bribe me the other day. Here is your dirty money. Take it and be off with you. I was just seeing how far you would go.”
The comment made by those who best knew the great man was that if instead of winning in the gambling house he had lost he would have been up betimes at his place in the House, and doing his utmost to pass the claimant’s bill and obtain a second fee.
Another memory of those days has to do with music. This was the coming of Jenny Lind to America. It seemed an event. When she reached Washington Mr. Barnum asked at the office of my father’s newspaper for a smart lad to sell the programs of the concert–a new thing in artistic showmanry. “I don’t want a paper carrier, or a newsboy,” said he, “but a young gentleman, three or four young gentlemen.” I was sent to him. We readily agreed upon the commission to be received–five cents on each twenty-five cent program–the oldest of old men do not forget such transactions. But, as an extra percentage for “organizing the force,” I demanded a concert seat. Choice seats were going at a fabulous figure and Barnum at first demurred. But I told him I was a musical student, stood my ground, and, perhaps seeing something unusual in the eager spirit of a little boy, he gave in and the bargain was struck.
Two of my pals became my assistants. But my sales beat both of them hollow. Before the concert began I had sold my programs and was in my seat. I recall that my money profit was something over five dollars.
The bell-like tones of the Jenny Lind voice in “Home, Sweet Home,” and “The Last Rose of Summer” still come back to me, but too long after for me to make, or imagine, comparisons between it and the vocalism of Grisi, Sontag and Parepa-Rosa.
Meeting Mr. Barnum at Madison Square Garden in New York, when he was running one of his entertainments there, I told him the story, and we had a hearty laugh, both of us very much pleased, he very much surprised to find in me a former employee.
One of my earliest yearnings was for a home. I cannot recall the time when I was not sick and tired of our migrations between Washington City and the two grand-paternal homesteads in Tennessee. The travel counted for much of my aversion to the nomadic life we led. The stage-coach is happier in the contemplation than in the actuality. Even when the railways arrived there were no sleeping cars, the time of transit three or four days and nights. In the earlier journeys it had been ten or twelve days.
Chapter the Second
Slavery the Trouble-Maker–Break-Up of the Whig Party and Rise of the Republican–The Key–Sickle’s Tragedy–Brooks and Sumner–Life at Washington in the Fifties
Whether the War of Sections–as it should be called, because, except in Eastern Tennessee and in three of the Border States, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, it was nowise a civil war–could have been averted must ever remain a question of useless speculation. In recognizing the institution of African slavery, with no provision for its ultimate removal, the Federal Union set out embodying the seeds of certain trouble. The wiser heads of the Constitutional Convention perceived this plainly enough; its dissonance to the logic of their movement; on the sentimental side its repugnancy; on the practical side its doubtful economy; and but for the tobacco growers and the cotton planters it had gone by the board. The North soon found slave labor unprofitable and rid itself of slavery. Thus, restricted to the South, it came to represent in the Southern mind a “right” which the South was bound to defend.
Mr. Slidell told me in Paris that Louis Napoleon had once said to him in answer to his urgency for the recognition of the Southern Confederacy: “I have talked the matter over with Lord Palmerston and we are both of the opinion that as long as African slavery exists at the South, France and England cannot recognize the Confederacy. They do not demand its instant abolition. But if you put it in course of abatement and final abolishment through a term of years–I do not care how many–we can intervene to some purpose. As matters stand we dare not go before a European congress with such a proposition.”
Mr. Slidell passed it up to Richmond. Mr. Davis passed it on to the generals in the field. The response he received on every hand was the statement that it would disorganize and disband the Confederate Armies. Yet we are told, and it is doubtless true, that scarcely one Confederate soldier in ten actually owned a slave.
Thus do imaginings become theories, and theories resolve themselves into claims; and interests, however mistaken, rise to the dignity of prerogatives.
The fathers had rather a hazy view of the future. I was witness to the decline and fall of the old Whig Party and the rise of the Republican Party. There was a brief lull in sectional excitement after the Compromise Measures of 1850, but the overwhelming defeat of the Whigs in 1852 and the dominancy of Mr. Jefferson Davis in the cabinet of Mr. Pierce brought the agitation back again. Mr. Davis was a follower of Mr. Calhoun–though it may be doubted whether Mr. Calhoun would ever have been willing to go to the length of secession–and Mr. Pierce being by temperament a Southerner as well as in opinions a pro-slavery Democrat, his Administration fell under the spell of the ultra Southern wing of the party. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill was originaly harmless enough, but the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which on Mr. Davis’ insistence was made a part of it, let slip the dogs of war.
In Stephen A. Douglas was found an able and pliant instrument. Like Clay, Webster and Calhoun before him, Judge Douglas had the presidential bee in his bonnet. He thought the South would, as it could, nominate and elect him President.
Personally he was a most lovable man–rather too convivial–and for a while in 1852 it looked as though he might be the Democratic nominee. His candidacy was premature, his backers overconfident and indiscreet.
“I like Douglas and am for him,” said Buck Stone, a member of Congress and delegate to the National Democratic Convention from Kentucky, “though I consider him a good deal of a damn fool.” Pressed for a reason he continued; “Why, think of a man wanting to be President at forty years of age, and obliged to behave himself for the rest of his life! I wouldn’t take the job on any such terms.”
The proposed repeal of the Missouri Compromise opened up the slavery debate anew and gave it increased vitality. Hell literally broke loose among the political elements. The issues which had divided Whigs and Democrats went to the rear, while this one paramount issue took possession of the stage. It was welcomed by the extremists of both sections, a very godsend to the beaten politicians led by Mr. Seward. Rampant sectionalism was at first kept a little in the background. There were on either side concealments and reserves. Many patriotic men put the Union above slavery or antislavery. But the two sets of rival extremists had their will at last, and in seven short years deepened and embittered the contention to the degree that disunion and war seemed, certainly proved, the only way out of it.
The extravagance of the debates of those years amazes the modern reader. Occasionally when I have occasion to recur to them I am myself nonplussed, for they did not sound so terrible at the time. My father was a leader of the Union wing of the Democratic Party–headed in 1860 the Douglas presidential ticket in Tennessee–and remained a Unionist during the War of Sections. He broke away from Pierce and retired from the editorship of the Washiongton Union upon the issue of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, to which he was opposed, refusing the appointment of Governor of Oregon, with which the President sought to placate him, though it meant his return to the Senate of the United States in a year or two, when he and Oregon’s delegate in Congress, Gen. Joseph Lane–the Lane of the Breckenridge and Lane ticket of 1860–had brought the territory of Oregon in as a state.
I have often thought just where I would have come in and what might have happened to me if he had accepted the appointment and I had grown to manhood on the Pacific Coast. As it was I attended a school in Philadelphia–the Protestant Episcopal Academy–came home to Tennessee in 1856, and after a season with private tutors found myself back in the national capital in 1858.
It was then that I began to nurse some ambitions of my own. I was going to be a great man of letters. I was going to write histories and dramas and romances and poetry. But as I had set up for myself I felt in honor bound meanwhile to earn my own living.
I take it that the early steps of every man to get a footing may be of interest when fairly told. I sought work in New York with indifferent success. Mr. Raymond of the Times, hearing me play the piano at which from childhood I had received careful instruction, gave me a job as “musical critic” during the absence of Mr. Seymour, the regular critic. I must have done my work acceptably, since I was not fired. It included a report of the debut of my boy-and-girl companion, Adelina Patti, when she made her first appearance in opera at the Academy of Music. But, as the saying is, I did not “catch on.” There might be a more promising opening in Washington, and thither I repaired.
The Daily States had been established there by John P. Heiss, who with Thomas Ritchie had years before established the Washington Union. Roger A. Pryor was its nominal editor. But he soon took himself home to his beloved Virginia and came to Congress, and the editorial writing on the States was being done by Col. A. Dudley Mann, later along Confederate commissioner to France, preceding Mr. Slidell.
Colonel Mann wished to work incognito. I was taken on as a kind of go-between and, as I may say, figurehead, on the strength of being my father’s son and a very self-confident young gentleman, and began to get my newspaper education in point of fact as a kind of fetch-and-carry for Major Heiss. He was a practical newspaper man who had started the Union at Nashville as well as the Union at Washington and the Crescent–maybe it was the Delta–at New Orleans; and for the rudiments of newspaper work I could scarcely have had a better teacher.
Back of Colonel Mann as a leader writer on the States was a remarkable woman. She was Mrs. Jane Casneau, the wife of Gen. George Casneau, of Texas, who had a claim before Congress. Though she was unknown to fame, Thomas A. Benton used to say that she had more to do with making and ending the Mexican War than anybody else.
Somewhere in the early thirties she had gone with her newly wedded husband, an adventurous Yankee by the name of Storm, to the Rio Grande and started a settlement they called Eagle Pass. Storm died, the Texas outbreak began, and the young widow was driven back to San Antonio, where she met and married Casneau, one of Houston’s lieutenants, like herself a New Yorker. She was sent by Polk with Pillow and Trist to the City of Mexico and actually wrote the final treaty. It was she who dubbed William Walker “the little gray-eyed man of destiny,” and put the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” on General Scott, whom she heartily disliked.
[Illustration: Henry Clay–Painted at Ashland by Dodge for the Hon. Andrew Ewing of Tennessee–The Original Hangs in Mr. Watterson’s Library at “Mansfield”]
A braver, more intellectual woman never lived. She must have been a beauty in her youth; was still very comely at fifty; but a born insurrecto and a terror with her pen. God made and equipped her for a filibuster. She possessed infinite knowledge of Spanish-American affairs, looked like a Spanish woman, and wrote and spoke the Spanish language fluently. Her obsession was the bringing of Central America into the Federal Union. But she was not without literary aspirations and had some literary friends. Among these was Mrs. Southworth, the novelist, who had a lovely home in Georgetown, and, whatever may be said of her works and articles, was a lovely woman. She used to take me to visit this lady. With Major Heiss she divided my newspaper education, her part of it being the writing part. Whatever I may have attained in that line I largely owe to her. She took great pains with me and mothered me in the absence of my own mother, who had long been her very dear friend. To get rid of her, or rather her pen, Mr. Buchanan gave General Casneau, when the Douglas schism was breaking out, a Central American mission, and she and he were lost by shipwreck on their way to this post, somewhere in Caribbean waters.
My immediate yokemate on the States was John Savage, “Jack,” as he was commonly called; a brilliant Irishman, who with Devin Reilley and John Mitchel and Thomas Francis Meagher, his intimates, and Joseph Brennan, his brother-in-law, made a pretty good Irishman of me. They were ’48 men, with literary gifts of one sort and another, who certainly helped me along with my writing, but, as matters fell out, did not go far enough to influence my character, for they were a wild lot, full of taking enthusiasm and juvenile decrepitude of judgment, ripe for adventures and ready for any enterprise that promised fun and fighting.
Between John Savage and Mrs. Casneau I had the constant spur of commendation and assistance as well as affection. I passed all my spare time in the Library of Congress and knew its arrangements at least as well as Mr. Meehan, the librarian, and Robert Kearon, the assistant, much to the surprise of Mr. Spofford, who in 1861 succeeded Mr. Meehan as librarian.
Not long after my return to Washington Col. John W. Forney picked me up, and I was employed in addition to my not very arduous duties on the States to write occasional letters from Washington to the Philadelphia Press. Good fortune like ill fortune rarely comes singly. Without anybody’s interposition I was appointed to a clerkship, a real “sinecure,” in the Interior Department by Jacob Thompson, the secretary, my father’s old colleague in Congress. When the troubles of 1860-61 rose I was literally doing “a land-office business,” with money galore and to spare. Somehow, I don’t know how, I contrived to spend it, though I had no vices, and worked like a hired man upon my literary hopes and newspaper obligations.
Life in Washington under these conditions was delightful. I did not know how my heart was wrapped up in it until I had to part from it. My father stood high in public esteem. My mother was a leader in society. All doors were open to me. I had many friends. Going back to Tennessee in the midsummer of 1861, via Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, there happened a railway break and a halt of several hours at a village on the Ohio. I strolled down to the river and sat myself upon the brink, almost despairing–nigh heartbroken–when I began to feel an irresistible fascination about the swift-flowing stream. I leaped to my feet and ran away; and that is the only thought of suicide that I can recall.
Mrs. Clay, of Alabama, in her “Belle of the Fifties” has given a graphic picture of life in the national capital during the administrations of Pierce and Buchanan. The South was very much in the saddle. Pierce, as I have said, was Southern in temperament, and Buchanan, who to those he did not like or approve had, as Arnold Harris said, “a winning way of making himself hateful,” was an aristocrat under Southern and feminine influence.
I was fond of Mr. Pierce, but I could never endure Mr. Buchanan. His very voice gave offense to me. Directed by a periodical publication to make a sketch of him to accompany an engraving, I did my best on it.
Jacob Thompson, the Secretary of the Interior, said to me: “Now, Henry, here’s your chance for a foreign appointment.”
I now know that my writing was clumsy enough and my attempt to play the courtier clumsier still. Nevertheless, as a friend of my father and mother “Old Buck” might have been a little more considerate than he was with a lad trying to please and do him honor. I came away from the White House my _amour propre_ wounded, and though I had not far to go went straight into the Douglas camp.
Taking nearly sixty years to think it over I have reached the conclusion that Mr. Buchanan was the victim of both personal and historic injustice. With secession in sight his one aim was to get out of the White House before the scrap began. He was of course on terms of intimacy with all the secession leaders, especially Mr. Slidell, of Louisiana, like himself a Northerner by birth, and Mr. Mason, a thick-skulled, ruffle-shirted Virginian. It was not in him or in Mr. Pierce, with their antecedents and associations, to be uncompromising Federalists. There was no clear law to go on. Moderate men were in a muck of doubt just what to do. With Horace Greeley Mr. Buchanan was ready to say “Let the erring sisters go.” This indeed was the extent of Mr. Pierce’s pacifism during the War of Sections.
A new party risen upon the remains of the Whig Party–the Republican Party–was at the door and coming into power. Lifelong pro-slavery Democrats could not look on with equanimity, still less with complaisance, and doubtless Pierce and Buchanan to the end of their days thought less of the Republicans than of the Confederates. As a consequence Republican writers have given quarter to neither of them.
It will not do to go too deeply into the account of those days. The times were out of joint. I knew of two Confederate generals who first tried for commissions in the Union Army; gallant and good fellows too; but they are both dead and their secret shall die with me. I knew likewise a famous Union general who was about to resign his commission in the army to go with the South but was prevented by his wife, a Northern woman, who had obtained of Mr. Lincoln a brigadier’s commission.
In 1858 a wonderful affair came to pass. It was Mrs. Senator Gwin’s fancy dress ball, written of, talked of, far and wide. I did not get to attend this. My costume was prepared–a Spanish cavalier, Mrs. Casneau’s doing–when I fell ill and had with bitter disappointment to read about it next day in the papers. I was living at Willard’s Hotel, and one of my volunteer nurses was Mrs. Daniel E. Sickles, a pretty young thing who was soon to become the victim of a murder and world scandal. Her husband was a member of the House from New York, and during his frequent absences I used to take her to dinner. Mr. Sickles had been Mr. Buchanan’s Secretary of Legation in London, and both she and he were at home in the White House.
She was an innocent child. She never knew what she was doing, and when a year later Sickles, having killed her seducer–a handsome, unscrupulous fellow who understood how to take advantage of a husband’s neglect–forgave her and brought her home in the face of much obloquy, in my heart of hearts I did homage to his courage and generosity, for she was then as he and I both knew a dying woman. She did die but a few months later. He was by no means a politician after my fancy or approval, but to the end of his days I was his friend and could never bring myself to join in the repeated public outcries against him.
Early in the fifties Willard’s Hotel became a kind of headquarters for the two political extremes. During a long time their social intercourse was unrestrained–often joyous. They were too far apart, figuratively speaking, to come to blows. Truth to say, their aims were after all not so far apart. They played to one another’s lead. Many a time have I seen Keitt, of South Carolina, and Burlingame, of Massachusetts, hobnob in the liveliest manner and most public places.
It is certainly true that Brooks was not himself when he attacked Sumner. The Northern radicals were wont to say, “Let the South go,” the more profane among them interjecting “to hell!” The Secessionists liked to prod the New Englanders with what the South was going to do when they got to Boston. None of them really meant it–not even Toombs when he talked about calling the muster roll of his slaves beneath Bunker Hill Monument; nor Hammond, the son of a New England schoolmaster, when he spoke of the “mudsills of the North,” meaning to illustrate what he was saying by the underpinning of a house built on marshy ground, and not the Northern work people.
Toombs, who was a rich man, not quite impoverished by the war, banished himself in Europe for a number of years. At length he came home, and passing the White House at Washington he called and sent his card to the President. General Grant, the most genial and generous of men, had him come directly up.
[Illustration: W. P. Hardee, Lieutenant General C.S.A.]
“Mr. President,” said Toombs, “in my European migrations I have made it a rule when arriving in a city to call first and pay my respects to the Chief of Police.”
The result was a most agreeable hour and an invitation to dinner. Not long after this at the hospitable board of a Confederate general, then an American senator, Toombs began to prod Lamar about his speech in the House upon the occasion of the death of Charles Sumner. Lamar was not quick to quarrel, though when aroused a man of devilish temper and courage. The subject had become distasteful to him. He was growing obviously restive under Toombs’ banter. The ladies of the household apprehending what was coming left the table.
Then Lamar broke forth. He put Toombs’ visit to Grant, “crawling at the seat of power,” against his eulogy of a dead enemy. I have never heard such a scoring from one man to another. It was magisterial in its dignity, deadly in its diction. Nothing short of a duel could have settled it in the olden time. But when Lamar, white with rage, had finished, Toombs without a ruffle said, “Lamar, you surprise me,” and the host, with the rest of us, took it as a signal to rise from table and rejoin the ladies in the drawing-room. Of course nothing came of it.
Toombs was as much a humorist as an extremist. I have ridden with him under fire and heard him crack jokes with Minie balls flying uncomfortably about. Some one spoke kindly of him to old Ben Wade. “Yes, yes,” said Wade; “I never did believe in the doctrine of total depravity.”
But I am running ahead in advance of events.
There came in 1853 to the Thirty-third Congress a youngish, dapper and graceful man notable as the only Democrat in the Massachusetts delegation. It was said that he had been a dancing master, his wife a work girl. They brought with them a baby in arms with the wife’s sister for its nurse–a mis-step which was quickly corrected. I cannot now tell just how I came to be very intimate with them except that they lived at Willard’s Hotel. His name had a pretty sound to it–Nathaniel Prentiss Banks.
A schoolmate of mine and myself, greatly to the mirth of those about us, undertook Mr. Banks’ career. We were going to elect him Speaker of the next House and then President of the United States. This was particularly laughable to my mother and Mrs. Linn Boyd, the wife of the contemporary Speaker, who had very solid presidential aspirations of his own.
The suggestion perhaps originated with Mrs. Banks, to whom we two were ardently devoted. I have not seen her since those days, more than sixty years ago. But her beauty, which then charmed me, still lingers in my memory–a gentle, sweet creature who made much of us boys–and two years later when Mr. Banks was actually elected Speaker I was greatly elated and took some of the credit to myself. Twenty years afterwards General Banks and I had our seats close together in the Forty-fourth Congress, and he did not recall me at all or the episode of 1853. Nevertheless I warmed to him, and when during Cleveland’s first term he came to me with a hard-luck story I was glad to throw myself into the breach. He had been a Speaker of the House, a general in the field and a Governor of Massachusetts, but was a faded old man, very commonplace, and except for the little post he held under Government pitiably helpless.
Colonel George Walton was one of my father’s intimates and an imposing and familiar figure about Washington. He was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a distinction in those days, had been mayor of Mobile and was an unending raconteur. To my childish mind he appeared to know everything that ever had been or ever would be. He would tell me stories by the hour and send me to buy him lottery tickets. I afterward learned that that form of gambling was his mania. I also learned that many of his stories were apocryphal or very highly colored.
One of these stories especially took me. It related how when he was on a yachting cruise in the Gulf of Mexico the boat was overhauled by pirates, and how he being the likeliest of the company was tied up and whipped to make him disgorge, or tell where the treasure was.
“Colonel Walton,” said I, “did the whipping hurt you much?”
“Sir,” he replied, as if I were a grown-up, “they whipped me until I was perfectly disgusted.”
An old lady in Philadelphia, whilst I was at school, heard me mention Colonel Walton–a most distinguished, religious old lady–and said to me, “Henry, my son, you should be ashamed to speak of that old villain or confess that you ever knew him,” proceeding to give me his awful, blood-curdling history.
It was mainly a figment of her fancy and prejudice, and I repeated it to Colonel Walton the next time I went to the hotel where he was then living–I have since learned, with a lady not his wife, though he was then three score and ten–and he cried, “That old hag! Good Lord! Don’t they ever die!”
Seeing every day the most distinguished public men of the country, and with many of them brought into direct acquaintance by the easy intercourse of hotel life, destroyed any reverence I might have acquired for official station. Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it is a veritable eye opener. To me no divinity hedged the brow of a senator. I knew the White House too well to be impressed by its architectural grandeur without and rather bizarre furnishments within.
I have declaimed not a little in my time about the ignoble trade of politics, the collective dishonesty of parties and the vulgarities of the self-exploiting professional office hunters. Parties are parties. Professional politics and politicians are probably neither worse nor better–barring their pretensions–than other lines of human endeavor. The play actor must be agreeable on the stage of the playhouse; the politician on the highways and the hustings, which constitute his playhouse–all the world a stage–neither to be seriously blamed for the dissimulation which, being an asset, becomes, as it were, a second nature.
The men who between 1850 and 1861 might have saved the Union and averted the War of Sections were on either side professional politicians, with here and there an unselfish, far-seeing, patriotic man, whose admonitions were not heeded by the people ranging on opposing sides of party lines. The two most potential of the party leaders were Mr. Davis and Mr. Seward. The South might have seen and known that the one hope of the institution of slavery lay in the Union. However it ended, disunion led to abolition. The world–the whole trend of modern thought–was set against slavery. But politics, based on party feeling, is a game of blindman’s buff. And then–here I show myself a son of Scotland–there is a destiny. “What is to be,” says the predestinarian Mother Goose, “will be, though it never come to pass.”
That was surely the logic of the irrepressible conflict–only it did come to pass–and for four years millions of people, the most homogeneous, practical and intelligent, fought to a finish a fight over a quiddity; both devoted to liberty, order and law, neither seeking any real change in the character of its organic contract.
Human nature remains ever the same. These days are very like those days. We have had fifty years of a restored Union. The sectional fires have quite gone out. Yet behold the schemes of revolution claiming the regenerative. Most of them call themselves the “uplift!”
Let us agree at once that all government is more or less a failure; society as fraudulent as the satirists describe it; yet, when we turn to the uplift–particularly the professional uplift–what do we find but the same old tunes, hypocrisy and empiricism posing as “friends of the people,” preaching the pussy gospel of “sweetness and light?”
“Words, words, words,” says Hamlet. Even as veteran writers for the press have come through disheartening experience to a realizing sense of the futility of printer’s ink must our academic pundits begin to suspect the futility of art and letters. Words however cleverly writ on paper are after all but words. “In a nation of blind men,” we are told, “the one-eyed man is king.” In a nation of undiscriminating voters the noise of the agitator is apt to drown the voice of the statesman. We have been teaching everybody to read, nobody to think; and as a consequence–the rule of numbers the law of the land, partyism in the saddle–legislation, state and Federal, becomes largely a matter of riding to hounds and horns. All this, which was true in the fifties, is true to-day.
Under the pretense of “liberalizing” the Government the politicians are sacrificing its organic character to whimsical experimentation; its checks and balances wisely designed to promote and protect liberty are being loosened by schemes of reform more or less visionary; while nowhere do we find intelligence enlightened by experience, and conviction supported by self-control, interposing to save the representative system of the Constitution from the onward march of the proletariat.
One cynic tells us that “A statesman is a politician who is dead,” and another cynic varies the epigram to read “A politician out of a job.” Patriotism cries “God give us men,” but the parties say “Give us votes and offices,” and Congress proceeds to create a commission. Thus responsibilities are shirked and places are multiplied.
Assuming, since many do, that the life of nations is mortal even as is the life of man–in all things of growth and decline assimilating–has not our world reached the top of the acclivity, and pausing for a moment may it not be about to take the downward course into another abyss of collapse and oblivion?
The miracles of electricity the last word of science, what is left for man to do? With wireless telegraphy, the airplane and the automobile annihilating time and space, what else? Turning from the material to the ethical it seems of the very nature of the human species to meddle and muddle. On every hand we see the organization of societies for making men and women over again according to certain fantastic images existing in the minds of the promoters. “_Mon Dieu_!” exclaimed the visiting Frenchman. “Fifty religions and only one soup!” Since then both the soups and the religions have multiplied until there is scarce a culinary or moral conception which has not some sect or club to represent it. The uplift is the keynote of these.
Chapter the Third
The Inauguration of Lincoln–I Quit Washington and Return to Tennessee–A Run-a-bout with Forest–Through the Federal Lines and a Dangerous Adventure–Good Luck at Memphis
It may have been Louis the Fifteenth, or it may have been Madame de Pompadour, who said, “After me the deluge;” but whichever it was, very much that thought was in Mr. Buchanan’s mind in 1861 as the time for his exit from the White House approached. At the North there had been a political ground-swell; at the South, secession, half accomplished by the Gulf States, yawned in the Border States. Curiously enough, very few believed that war was imminent.
As a reporter for the States I met Mr. Lincoln immediately on his arrival in Washington. He came in unexpectedly ahead of the hour announced, to escape, as was given out, a well-laid plan to assassinate him as he passed through Baltimore. I did not believe at the time, and I do not believe now, that there was any real ground for this apprehension.
All through that winter there had been a deal of wild talk. One story had it that Mr. Buchanan was to be kidnapped and made off with so that Vice President Breckenridge might succeed and, acting as _de facto_ President, throw the country into confusion and revolution, defeating the inauguration of Lincoln and the coming in of the Republicans. It was a figment of drink and fancy. There was never any such scheme. If there had been Breckenridge would not have consented to be party to it. He was a man of unusual mental as well as personal dignity and both temperamentally and intellectually a thorough conservative.
I had been engaged by Mr. L.A. Gobright, the agent of what became later the Associated Press, to help with the report of the inauguration ceremonies the 4th of March, 1861, and in the discharge of this duty I kept as close to Mr. Lincoln as I could get, following after him from the senate chamber to the east portico of the capitol and standing by his side whilst he delivered his inaugural address.
Perhaps I shall not be deemed prolix if I dwell with some particularity upon an occasion so historic. I had first encountered the newly elected President the afternoon of the day in the early morning of which he had arrived in Washington. It was a Saturday, I think. He came to the capitol under the escort of Mr. Seward, and among the rest I was presented to him. His appearance did not impress me as fantastically as it had impressed some others. I was familiar with the Western type, and whilst Mr. Lincoln was not an Adonis, even after prairie ideals, there was about him a dignity that commanded respect.
I met him again the next Monday forenoon in his apartment at Willard’s Hotel as he was preparing to start to his inauguration, and was struck by his unaffected kindness, for I came with a matter requiring his attention. This was, in point of fact, to get from him a copy of the inauguration speech for the Associated Press. I turned it over to Ben Perley Poore, who, like myself, was assisting Mr. Gobright. The President that was about to be seemed entirely self-possessed; not a sign of nervousness, and very obliging. As I have said, I accompanied the cortege that passed from the senate chamber to the east portico. When Mr. Lincoln removed his hat to face the vast throng in front and below, I extended my hand to take it, but Judge Douglas, just behind me, reached over my outstretched arm and received it, holding it during the delivery of the address. I stood just near enough the speaker’s elbow not to obstruct any gestures he might make, though he made but few; and then I began to get a suspicion of the power of the man.
He delivered that inaugural address as if he had been delivering inaugural addresses all his life. Firm, resonant, earnest, it announced the coming of a man, of a leader of men; and in its tone and style the gentlemen whom he had invited to become members of his political family–each of whom thought himself a bigger man than his chief–might have heard the voice and seen the hand of one born to rule. Whether they did or not, they very soon ascertained the fact. From the hour Abraham Lincoln crossed the threshold of the White House to the hour he went thence to his death, there was not a moment when he did not dominate the political and military situation and his official subordinates. The idea that he was overtopped at any time by anybody is contradicted by all that actually happened.
I was a young Democrat and of course not in sympathy with Mr. Lincoln or his opinions. Judge Douglas, however, had taken the edge off my hostility. He had said to me upon his return in triumph to Washington after the famous Illinois campaign of 1868: “Lincoln is a good man; in fact, a great man, and by far the ablest debater I have ever met,” and now the newcomer began to verify this opinion both in his private conversation and in his public attitude.
I had been an undoubting Union boy. Neither then nor afterward could I be fairly classified as a Secessionist. Circumstance rather than conviction or predilection threw me into the Confederate service, and, being in, I went through with it.
The secession leaders I held in distrust; especially Yancey, Mason, Slidell, Benjamin and Iverson, Jefferson Davis and Isham G. Harris were not favorites of mine. Later along I came into familiar association with most of them, and relations were established which may be described as confidential and affectionate. Lamar and I were brought together oddly enough in 1869 by Carl Schurz, and thenceforward we were the most devoted friends. Harris and I fell together in 1862 in the field, first with Forrest and later with Johnston and Hood, and we remained as brothers to the end, when he closed a great career in the upper house of Congress, and by Republican votes, though he was a Democrat, as president of the Senate.
He continued in the Governorship of Tennessee through the war. He at no time lost touch with the Tennessee troops, and though not always in the field, never missed a forward movement. In the early spring of 1864, just before the famous Johnston-Sherman campaign opened, General Johnston asked him to go around among the boys and “stir ’em up a bit.” The Governor invited me to ride with him. Together we visited every sector in the army. Threading the woods of North Georgia on this round, if I heard it once I heard it fifty times shouted from a distant clearing: “Here comes Gov-ner Harris, fellows; g’wine to be a fight.” His appearance at the front had always preceded and been long ago taken as a signal for battle.
[Illustration: John Bell of Tennessee–In 1860 Presidential Candidate “Union Party”–“Bell and Everett” Ticket.]
My being a Washington correspondent of the Philadelphia Press and having lived since childhood at Willard’s Hotel, where the Camerons also lived, will furnish the key to my becoming an actual and active rebel. A few days after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, Colonel Forney came to my quarters and, having passed the time of day, said: “The Secretary of War wishes you to be at the department to-morrow morning as near nine o’clock as you can make it.”
“What does he want, Colonel Forney?” I asked.
“He is going to offer you the position of private secretary to the Secretary of War, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and I am very desirous that you accept it.”
He went away leaving me rather upset. I did not sleep very soundly that night. “So,” I argued to myself, “it has come to this, that Forney and Cameron, lifelong enemies, have made friends and are going to rob the Government–one clerk of the House, the other Secretary of War–and I, a mutual choice, am to be the confidential middle man.” I still had a home in Tennessee and I rose from my bed, resolved to go there.
I did not keep the proposed appointment for next day. As soon as I could make arrangements I quitted Washington and went to Tennessee, still unchanged in my preconceptions. I may add, since they were verified by events, that I have not modified them from that day to this.
I could not wholly believe with either extreme. I had perpetrated no wrong, but in my small way had done my best for the Union and against secession. I would go back to my books and my literary ambitions and let the storm blow over. It could not last very long; the odds against the South were too great. Vain hope! As well expect a chip on the surface of the ocean to lie quiet as a lad of twenty-one in those days to keep out of one or the other camp. On reaching home I found myself alone. The boys were all gone to the front. The girls were–well, they were all crazy. My native country was about to be invaded. Propinquity. Sympathy. So, casting opinions to the winds in I went on feeling. And that is how I became a rebel, a case of “first endure and then embrace,” because I soon got to be a pretty good rebel and went the limit, changing my coat as it were, though not my better judgment, for with a gray jacket on my back and ready to do or die, I retained my belief that secession was treason, that disunion was the height of folly and that the South was bound to go down in the unequal strife.
I think now, as an academic proposition, that, in the doctrine of secession, the secession leaders had a debatable, if not a logical case; but I also think that if the Gulf States had been allowed to go out by tacit consent they would very soon have been back again seeking readmission to the Union.
Man proposes and God disposes. The ways of Deity to man are indeed past finding out. Why, the long and dreadful struggle of a kindred people, the awful bloodshed and havoc of four weary years, leaving us at the close measurably where we were at the beginning, is one of the mysteries which should prove to us that there is a world hereafter, since no great creative principle could produce one with so dire, with so short a span and nothing beyond.
The change of parties wrought by the presidential election of 1860 and completed by the coming in of the Republicans in 1861 was indeed revolutionary. When Mr. Lincoln had finished his inaugural address and the crowd on the east portico began to disperse, I reentered the rotunda between Mr. Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, and Mr. John Bell, of Tennessee, two old friends of my family, and for a little we sat upon a bench, they discussing the speech we had just heard.
Both were sure there would be no war. All would be well, they thought, each speaking kindly of Mr. Lincoln. They were among the most eminent men of the time, I a boy of twenty-one; but to me war seemed a certainty. Recalling the episode, I have often realized how the intuitions of youth outwit the wisdom and baffle the experience of age.
I at once resigned my snug sinecure in the Interior Department and, closing my accounts of every sort, was presently ready to turn my back upon Washington and seek adventures elsewhere.
They met me halfway and came in plenty. I tried staff duty with General Polk, who was making an expedition into Western Kentucky. In a few weeks illness drove me into Nashville, where I passed the next winter in desultory newspaper work. Then Nashville fell, and, as I was making my way out of town afoot and trudging the Murfreesboro pike, Forrest, with his squadron just escaped from Fort Donelson, came thundering by, and I leaped into an empty saddle. A few days later Forrest, promoted to brigadier general, attached me to his staff, and the next six months it was mainly guerilla service, very much to my liking. But Fate, if not Nature, had decided that I was a better writer than fighter, and the Bank of Tennessee having bought a newspaper outfit at Chattanooga, I was sent there to edit The Rebel–my own naming–established as the organ of the Tennessee state government. I made it the organ of the army.
It is not the purpose of these pages to retell the well-known story of the war. My life became a series of ups and downs–mainly downs–the word being from day to day to fire and fall back; in the Johnston-Sherman campaign, I served as chief of scouts; then as an aid to General Hood through the siege of Atlanta, sharing the beginning of the chapter of disasters that befell that gallant soldier and his army. I was spared the last and worst of these by a curious piece of special duty, taking me elsewhere, to which I was assigned in the autumn of 1864 by the Confederate government.
This involved a foreign journey. It was no less than to go to England to sell to English buyers some hundred thousand bales of designated cotton to be thus rescued from spoliation, acting under the supervision and indeed the orders of the Confederate fiscal agency at Liverpool.
Of course I was ripe for this; but it proved a bigger job than I had conceived or dreamed. The initial step was to get out of the country. But how? That was the question. To run the blockade had been easy enough a few months earlier. All our ports were now sealed by Federal cruisers and gunboats. There was nothing for it but to slip through the North and to get either a New York or a Canadian boat. This involved chances and disguises.
In West Tennessee, not far from Memphis, lived an aunt of mine. Thither I repaired. My plan was to get on a Mississippi steamer calling at one of the landings for wood. This proved impracticable. I wandered many days and nights, rather ill mounted, in search of some kind–any kind–of exit, when one afternoon, quite worn out, I sat by a log heap in a comfortable farmhouse. It seemed that I was at the end of my tether; I did not know what to do.
Presently there was an arrival–a brisk gentleman right out of Memphis, which I then learned was only ten miles distant–bringing with him a morning paper. In this I saw appended to various army orders the name of “N.B. Dana, General Commanding.”
That set me to thinking. Was not Dana the name of a certain captain, a stepson of Congressman Peaslee, of New Hampshire, who had lived with us at Willard’s Hotel–and were there not two children, Charley and Mamie, and a dear little mother, and–I had been listening to the talk of the newcomer. He was a licensed cotton buyer with a pass to come and go at will through the lines, and was returning next day.
“I want to get into Memphis–I am a nephew of Mrs. General Dana. Can you take me in?” I said to this person.
After some hesitation he consented to try, it being agreed that my mount and outfit should be his if he got me through; no trade if he failed.
Clearly the way ahead was brightening. I soon ascertained that I was with friends, loyal Confederates. Then I told them who I was, and all became excitement for the next day’s adventure.
We drove down to the Federal outpost. Crenshaw–that was the name of the cotton buyer–showed his pass to the officer in command, who then turned to me. “Captain,” I said, “I have no pass, but I am a nephew of Mrs. General Dana. Can you not pass me in without a pass?” He was very polite. It was a chain picket, he said; his orders were very strict, and so on.
“Well,” I said, “suppose I were a member of your own command and were run in here by guerillas. What do you think would it be your duty to do?”
“In that case,” he answered, “I should send you to headquarters with a guard.”
“Good!” said I. “Can’t you send me to headquarters with a guard?”
He thought a moment. Then he called a cavalryman from the outpost.
“Britton,” he said, “show this gentleman in to General Dana’s headquarters.”
Crenshaw lashed his horse and away we went. “That boy thinks he is a guide, not a guard,” said he. “You are all right. We can easily get rid of him.”
This proved true. We stopped by a saloon and bought a bottle of whisky. When we reached headquarters the lad said, “Do you gentlemen want me any more?” We did not. Then we gave him the bottle of whisky and he disappeared round the corner. “Now you are safe,” said Crenshaw. “Make tracks.”
But as I turned away and out of sight I began to consider the situation. Suppose that picket on the outpost reported to the provost marshal general that he had passed a relative of Mrs. Dana? What then? Provost guard. Drumhead court-martial. Shot at daylight. It seemed best to play out the hand as I had dealt it. After all, I could make a case if I faced it out.
The guard at the door refused me access to General Dana. Driven by a nearby hackman to the General’s residence, and, boldly asking for Mrs. Dana, I was more successful. I introduced myself as a teacher of music seeking to return to my friends in the North, working in a word about the old Washington days, not forgetting “Charley” and “Mamie.” The dear little woman was heartily responsive. Both were there, including a pretty girl from Philadelphia, and she called them down. “Here is your old friend, Henry Waterman,” she joyfully exclaimed. Then guests began to arrive. It was a reception evening. My hope fell. Some one would surely recognize me. Presently a gentleman entered, and Mrs. Dana said: “Colonel Meehan, this is my particular friend, Henry Waterman, who has been teaching music out in the country, and wants to go up the river. You will give him a pass, I am sure.” It was the provost marshal, who answered, “certainly.” Now was my time for disappearing. But Mrs. Dana would not listen to this. General Dana would never forgive her if she let me go. Besides, there was to be a supper and a dance. I sat down again very much disconcerted. The situation was becoming awkward. Then Mrs. Dana spoke. “You say you have been teaching music. What is your instrument?” Saved! “The piano,” I answered. The girls escorted me to the rear drawing-room. It was a new Steinway Grand, just set up, and I played for my life. If the black bombazine covering my gray uniform did not break, all would be well. I was having a delightfully good time, the girls on either hand, when Mrs. Dana, still enthusiastic, ran in and said, “General Dana is here. Remembers you perfectly. Come and see him.”
He stood by a table, tall, sardonic, and as I approached he put out his hand and said: “You have grown a bit, Henry, my boy, since I saw you last. How did you leave my friend Forrest?”
I was about making some awkward reply, when, the room already filling up, he said:
“We have some friends for supper. I am glad you are here. Mamie, my daughter, take Mr. Watterson to the table!”
Lord! That supper! Canvasback! Terrapin! Champagne! The general had seated me at his right. Somewhere toward the close those expressive gray eyes looked at me keenly, and across his wine glass he said:
“I think I understand this. You want to get up the river. You want to see your mother. Have you money enough to carry you through? If you have not don’t hesitate, for whatever you need I will gladly let you have.”
I thanked him. I had quite enough. All was well. We had more music and some dancing. At a late hour he called the provost marshal.
“Meehan,” said he, “take this dangerous young rebel round to the hotel, register him as Smith, Brown, or something, and send him with a pass up the river by the first steamer.” I was in luck, was I not?
But I made no impression on those girls. Many years after, meeting Mamie Dana, as the wife of an army officer at Fortress Monroe, I related the Memphis incident. She did not in the least recall it.
I had one other adventure during the war that may be worth telling. It was in 1862. Forrest took it into his inexperienced fighting head to make a cavalry attack upon a Federal stockade, and, repulsed with considerable loss, the command had to disperse–there were not more than two hundred of us–in order to escape capture by the newly-arrived reinforcements that swarmed about. We were to rendezvous later at a certain point. Having some time to spare, and being near the family homestead at Beech Grove, I put in there.
It was midnight when I reached my destination. I had been erroneously informed that the Union Army was on the retreat–quite gone from the neighborhood; and next day, believing the coast was clear, I donned a summer suit and with a neighbor boy who had been wounded at Shiloh and invalided home, rode over to visit some young ladies. We had scarcely been welcomed and were taking a glass of wine when, looking across the lawn, we saw that the place was being surrounded by a body of blue-coats. The story of their departure had been a mistake. They were not all gone.
There was no chance of escape. We were placed in a hollow square and marched across country into camp. Before we got there I had ascertained that they were Indianians, and I was further led rightly to surmise what we called in 1860 Douglas Democrats.
My companion, a husky fellow, who looked and was every inch a soldier, was first questioned by the colonel in command. His examination was brief. He said he was as good a rebel as lived, that he was only waiting for his wound to heal to get back into the Confederate Army, and that if they wanted to hang him for a spy to go ahead.
I was aghast. It was not he that was in danger of hanging, but myself, a soldier in citizen’s apparel within the enemy’s lines. The colonel turned to me. With what I took for a sneer he said:
“I suppose you are a good Union man?” This offered me a chance.
“That depends upon what you call a good Union man,” I answered. “I used to be a very good Union man–a Douglas Democrat–and I am not conscious of having changed my political opinions.”
That softened him and we had an old-fashioned, friendly talk about the situation, in which I kept the Douglas Democratic end of it well to the fore. He, too, had been a Douglas Democrat. I soon saw that it was my companion and not myself whom they were after. Presently Colonel Shook, that being the commandant’s name, went into the adjacent stockade and the boys about began to be hearty and sympathetic. I made them a regular Douglas Democratic speech. They brought some “red licker” and I asked for some sugar for a toddy, not failing to cite the familiar Sut Lovingood saying that “there were about seventeen round the door who said they’d take sugar in their’n.” The drink warmed me to my work, making me quicker, if not bolder, in invention. Then the colonel not reappearing as soon as I hoped he would, for all along my fear was the wires, I went to him.
“Colonel Shook,” I said, “you need not bother about this friend of mine. He has no real idea of returning to the Confederate service. He is teaching school over here at Beech Grove and engaged to be married to one of the–girls. If you carry him off a prisoner he will be exchanged back into the fighting line, and we make nothing by it. There is a hot luncheon waiting for us at the —-‘s. Leave him to me and I will be answerable.” Then I left him.
Directly he came out and said: “I may be doing wrong, and don’t feel entirely sure of my ground, but I am going to let you gentlemen go.”
We thanked him and made off amid the cheery good-bys of the assembled blue-coats.
No lunch for us. We got to our horses, rode away, and that night I was at our rendezvous to tell the tale to those of my comrades who had arrived before me.
Colonel Shook and I met after the war at a Grand Army reunion where I was billed to speak and to which he introduced me, relating the incident and saying, among other things: “I do believe that when he told me near Wartrace that day twenty years ago that he was a good Union man he told at least half the truth.”
Chapter the Fourth
I Go to London–Am Introduced to a Notable Set–Huxley, Spencer, Mill and Tyndall–Artemus Ward Comes to Town–The Savage Club
The fall of Atlanta after a siege of nearly two months was, in the opinion of thoughtful people, the sure precursor of the fall of the doomed Confederacy. I had an affectionate regard for General Hood, but it was my belief that neither he nor any other soldier could save the day, and being out of commission and having no mind for what I conceived aimless campaigning through another winter–especially an advance into Tennessee upon Nashville–I wrote to an old friend of mine, who owned the Montgomery Mail, asking for a job. He answered that if I would come right along and take the editorship of the paper he would make me a present of half of it–a proposal so opportune and tempting that forty-eight hours later saw me in the capital of Alabama.
I was accompanied by my fidus Achates, Albert Roberts. The morning after our arrival, by chance I came across a printed line which advertised a room and board for two “single gentlemen,” with the curious affix for those times, “references will be given and required.” This latter caught me. When I rang the visitors’ bell of a pretty dwelling upon one of the nearby streets a distinguished gentleman in uniform came to the door, and, acquainted with my business, he said, “Ah, that is an affair of my wife,” and invited me within.
He was obviously English. Presently there appeared a beautiful lady, likewise English and as obviously a gentlewoman, and an hour later my friend Roberts and I moved in. The incident proved in many ways fateful. The military gentleman proved to be Doctor Scott, the post surgeon. He was, when we came to know him, the most interesting of men, a son of that Captain Scott who commanded Byron’s flagship at Missolonghi in 1823; had as a lad attended the poet and he in his last illness and been in at the death, seeing the club foot when the body was prepared for burial. His wife was adorable. There were two girls and two boys. To make a long story short, Albert Roberts married one of the daughters, his brother the other; the lads growing up to be successful and distinguished men–one a naval admiral, the other a railway president. When, just after the war, I was going abroad, Mrs. Scott said: “I have a brother living in London to whom I will be glad to give you a letter.”
Upon the deck of the steamer bound from New York to London direct, as we, my wife and I newly married, were taking a last look at the receding American shore, there appeared a gentleman who seemed by the cut of his jib startlingly French. We had under our escort a French governess returning to Paris. In a twinkle she and this gentleman had struck up an acquaintance, and much to my displeasure she introduced him to me as “Monsieur Mahoney.” I was somewhat mollified when later we were made acquainted with Madame Mahoney.
I was not at all preconceived in his favor, nor did Monsieur Mahoney, upon nearer approach, conciliate my simple taste. In person, manners and apparel he was quite beyond me. Mrs. Mahoney, however, as we soon called her, was a dear, whole-souled, traveled, unaffected New England woman. But Monsieur! Lord! There was no holding him at arm’s length. He brooked not resistance. I was wearing a full beard. He said it would never do, carried me perforce below, and cut it as I have worn it ever since. The day before we were to dock he took me aside and said:
“Mee young friend”–he had a brogue which thirty years in Algiers, where he had been consul, and a dozen in Paris as a gentleman of leisure, had not wholly spoiled–“Mee young friend, I observe that you are shy of strangers, but my wife and I have taken a shine to you and the ‘Princess’,” as he called Mrs. Watterson, “and if you will allow us, we can be of some sarvis to you when we get to town.”
Certainly there was no help for it. I was too ill of the long crossing to oppose him. At Blackwall we took the High Level for Fenchurch Street, at Fenchurch Street a cab for the West End–Mr. Mahoney bossing the job–and finally, in most comfortable and inexpensive lodgings, we were settled in Jermyn Street. The Mahoneys were visiting Lady Elmore, widow of a famous surgeon and mother of the President of the Royal Academy. Thus we were introduced to quite a distinguished artistic set.
It was great. It was glorious. At last we were in London–the dream of my literary ambitions. I have since lived much in this wondrous city and in many parts of it between Hyde Park Corner, the heart of May Fair, to the east end of Bloomsbury under the very sound of Bow Bells. All the way as it were from Tyburn Tree that was, and the Marble Arch that is, to Charing Cross and the Hay Market. This were not to mention casual sojourns along Piccadilly and the Strand.
In childhood I was obsessed by the immensity, the atmosphere and the mystery of London. Its nomenclature embedded itself in my fancy; Hounsditch and Shoreditch, Billingsgate and Blackfriars; Bishopgate, within, and Bishopgate, without; Threadneedle Street and Wapping-Old-Stairs; the Inns of Court where Jarndyce struggled with Jarndyce, and the taverns where the Mark Tapleys, the Captain Costigans and the Dolly Vardens consorted.
Alike in winter fog and summer haze, I grew to know and love it, and those that may be called its dramatis personae, especially its tatterdemalions, the long procession led by Jack Sheppard, Dick Turpin and Jonathan Wild the Great. Inevitably I sought their haunts–and they were not all gone in those days; the Bull-and-Gate in Holborn, whither Mr. Tom Jones repaired on his arrival in town, and the White Hart Tavern, where Mr. Pickwick fell in with Mr. Sam Weller; the regions about Leicester Fields and Russell Square sacred to the memory of Captain Booth and the lovely Amelia and Becky Sharp; where Garrick drank tea with Dr. Johnson and Henry Esmond tippled with Sir Richard Steele. There was yet a Pump Court, and many places along Oxford Street where Mantalini and De Quincy loitered: and Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Evans’ Coffee House, or shall I say the Cave of Harmony, and The Cock and the Cheshire Cheese were near at hand for refreshment in the agreeable society of Daniel Defoe and Joseph Addison, with Oliver Goldsmith and Dick Swiveller and Colonel Newcome to clink ghostly glasses amid the punch fumes and tobacco smoke. In short I knew London when it was still Old London–the knowledge of Temple Bar and Cheapside–before the vandal horde of progress and the pickaxe of the builder had got in their nefarious work.
Not long after we began our sojourn in London, I recurred–by chance, I am ashamed to say–to Mrs. Scott’s letter of introduction to her brother. The address read “Mr. Thomas H. Huxley, School of Mines, Jermyn Street.” Why, it was but two or three blocks away, and being so near I called, not knowing just who Mr. Thomas H. Huxley might be.
I was conducted to a dark, stuffy little room. The gentleman who met me was exceedingly handsome and very agreeable. He greeted me cordially and we had some talk about his relatives in America. Of course my wife and I were invited at once to dinner. I was a little perplexed. There was no one to tell me about Huxley, or in what way he might be connected with the School of Mines.
It was a good dinner. There sat at table a gentleman by the name of Tyndall and another by the name of Mill–of neither I had ever heard–but there was still another of the name of Spencer, whom I fancied must be a literary man, for I recalled having reviewed a clever book on Education some four years agone by a writer of that name; a certain Herbert Spencer, whom I rightly judged might he be.
The dinner, I repeat, was a very good dinner indeed–the Huxleys, I took it, must be well to do–the company agreeable; a bit pragmatic, however, I thought. The gentleman by the name of Spencer said he loved music and wished to hear Mrs. Watterson sing, especially Longfellow’s Rainy Day, and left the others of us–Huxley, Mill, Tyndall and myself–at table. Finding them a little off on the Irish question as well as American affairs, I set them right as to both with much particularity and a great deal of satisfaction to myself.
Whatever Huxley’s occupation, it turned out that he had at least one book-publishing acquaintance, Mr. Alexander Macmillan, to whom he introduced me next day, for I had brought with me a novel–the great American romance–too good to be wasted on New York, Philadelphia or Boston, but to appear simultaneously in England and the United States, to be translated, of course, into French, Italian and German. This was actually accepted. It was held for final revision.
We were to pass the winter in Italy. An event, however, called me suddenly home. Politics and journalism knocked literature sky high, and the novel–it was entitled “One Story’s Good Till Another Is Told”–was laid by and quite forgotten. Some twenty years later, at a moment when I was being lashed from one end of the line to the other, my wife said:
“Let us drop the nasty politics and get back to literature.” She had preserved the old manuscript, two thousand pages of it.
“Fetch it,” I said.
She brought it with effulgent pride. Heavens! The stuff it was! Not a gleam, never a radiance. I had been teaching myself to write–I had been writing for the English market–perpendicular! The Lord has surely been good to me. If the “boys” had ever got a peep at that novel, I had been lost indeed!