The administration instantly demanded that the British Government should recall Lord Sackville West, which was done, and he was repudiated for his activity in American politics. It was curious that the prince had apparently never been fully informed of the facts, but had been misled by Sackville West's explanation, and the prince was always loyal to a friend.
One year Mr. James G. Blaine visited Homburg, and the prince at once invited him to luncheon. Blaine's retort to a question delighted every American in the place. One of the guests was the then Duke of Manchester, an old man and a great Tory. When the duke grasped that Blaine was a leading American and had been a candidate for the presidency of the United States, all his old Toryism was aroused, and he was back in the days of George III. To the horror of the prince, the duke said to Mr. Blaine: "The most outrageous thing in all history was your rebellion and separation from the best government on earth." He said much more before the prince could stop him.
Blaine, with that grace and tact for which he was so famous, smilingly said: "Well, your Grace, if George III had had the sense, tact, and winning qualities of his great-grandson, our host, it is just possible that we might now be a self-governing colony in the British Empire."
The answer relieved the situation and immensely pleased the host. Lord Rosebery once said in a speech that, with the tremendous growth in every element of greatness of the United States, if the American colonies had remained in the British Empire, with their preponderating influence and prestige, the capital of Great Britain might have been moved to New York and Buckingham Palace rebuilt in Central Park.
At another dinner one of the guests of the prince suddenly shot at me across the table the startling question: "Do you know certain American heiresses"—naming them—"now visiting London?"
I answered "Yes"—naming one especially, a very beautiful and accomplished girl who was quite the most popular debutante of the London season.
"How much has she?" he asked.
I named the millions which she would probably inherit. "But," I added, "before you marry an American heiress, you better be sure that she can say the Lord's Prayer."
He said with great indignation that he would be astonished if any American girl could be recognized in English society who had been so badly brought up that she was not familiar with the Lord's Prayer.
"All of them are," I replied, "but few heiresses, unless they have come into their inheritance and can say 'Our Father, who art in heaven,' will inherit much, because American fathers are very speculative."
He continued to express his astonishment at this lack of religious training in an American family, while the prince enjoyed the joke so much that I was fearful in his convulsive laughter he would have a fit of apoplexy.
Once, at a dinner given by the prince, an old lady of very high rank and leading position said suddenly to me, and in a way which aroused the attention of the whole company: "Is it true that divorces are very common in America?"
I knew that a denial by me would not convince her or any others who shared in this belief, then very common in Europe. Of course, the prince knew better. I saw from his expression that he wished me to take advantage of the opportunity. I made up my mind quickly that the best way to meet this belief was by an exaggeration which would show its absurdity.
Having once started, the imaginative situation grew beyond my anticipation. I answered: "Yes, divorces are so common with us that the government has set aside one of our forty-odd States for this special purpose. It is the principal business of the authorities. Most of these actions for divorce take place at the capital, which is always crowded with great numbers of people from all parts of the country seeking relief from their marital obligations."
"Did you ever visit that capital?" asked the prince.
"Yes, several times," I answered, "but not for divorce. My domestic relations have always been very happy, but it is also a famous health resort, and I went there for the cure."
"Tell us about your visit," said the prince.
"Well," I continued, "it was out of season when I was first there, so the only amusement or public occasions of interest were prayer-meetings."
The old lady asked excitedly: "Share meetings?" She had been a large and unfortunate investor in American stocks.
I relieved her by saying: "No, not share meetings, but religious prayer-meetings. I remember one evening that the gentleman who sat beside me turned suddenly to his wife and said: 'We must get out of here at once; the air is too close.' 'Why, no,' she said; 'the windows are all open and the breeze is fresh.' 'Yes,' he quickly remarked, 'but next to you are your two predecessors from whom I was divorced, and that makes the air too close for me.'"
The old lady exclaimed: "What a frightful condition!"
"Tell us more," said the prince.
"Well," I continued, "one day the mayor of the city invited me to accompany him to the station, as the divorce train was about to arrive. I found at the station a judge and one of the court attendants. The attendant had a large package of divorce decrees to which the seal of the court had been attached, and also the signature of the judge. They only required to have the name of the party desiring divorce inserted. Alongside the judge stood a clergyman of the Established Church in full robes of his sacred office. When the passengers had all left the cars, the conductor jumped on to one of the car platforms and shouted to the crowd: 'All those who desire divorce will go before the judge and make their application.'
"When they had all been released by the court the conductor again called out: 'All those who have been accompanied by their partners, or where both have been to-day released from their former husbands and wives to be remarried, will go before the rector.' He married them in a body, whereupon they all resumed their places on the train. The blowing of the whistle and the ringing of the bell on the locomotive was the music of their first, second, or third honeymoon journey."
The old lady threw up her hands in horror and cried: "Such an impious civilization must come speedily not only to spiritual and moral destruction, but chaos."
Most of the company saw what an amazing caricature the whole story was and received it with great hilarity. The effect of it was to end, for that circle, at least, and their friends, a serious discussion of the universality of American divorces.
The prince was always an eager sportsman and a very chivalric one. At the time of one of the races at Cowes he became very indignant at the conduct of an American yachtsman who had entered his boat. It was charged by the other competitors that this American yachtsman violated all the unwritten laws of the contest.
After the race the prince said to me: "A yacht is a gentleman's home, whether it is racing or sailing about for pleasure. The owner of this yacht, to make her lighter and give her a better chance, removed all the furniture and stripped her bare. He even went so far, I am told, that when he found the steward had left his stateroom a tooth-brush, he threw it out of the port window."
It will be seen from these few anecdotes how intensely human was the Prince of Wales. He did much for his country, both as prince and king, and filled in a wise and able way the functions of his office. Certainly no official did quite so much for the peace of Europe during his time, and no royalty ever did more to make the throne popular with the people. I heard him speak at both formal and informal occasions, and his addresses were always tactful and wise.
While at Homburg we used to enjoy the delightful excursions to Nauheim, the famous nerve-cure place. I met there at one time a peculiar type of Americans, quite common in former years. They were young men who, having inherited fortunes sufficient for their needs, had no ambitions. After a strenuous social life at home and in Europe, they became hypochondriacs and were chasing cures for their imaginary ills from one resort to another.
One of them, who had reached middle life, had, of course, become in his own opinion a confirmed invalid. I asked him: "What brought you here? You look very well."
"That is just my trouble," he answered. "I look very well and so get no sympathy, but my nervous system is so out of order that it only takes a slight shock to completely disarrange it. For instance, the cause of my present trouble. I was dining in Paris at the house of a famous hostess, and a distinguished company was present. The only three Americans were two ladies and myself. I was placed between them. You know one of these ladies, while a great leader at home, uses very emphatic language when she is irritated. The dinner, like most French dinners, with many courses, was unusually long. Suddenly this lady, leaning over me, said to her sister: 'Damn it, Fan, will this dinner never end?' The whole table was shocked and my nerves were completely shattered." The great war, as I think, exterminated this entire tribe.
I was delighted to find at Nauheim my old friends, Mark Twain and the Reverend Doctor Joseph Twichell, of Hartford, Conn. Doctor Twichell was Mark Twain's pastor at home. He was in college with me at Yale, and I was also associated with him in the governing corporation of Yale University. He was one of the finest wits and remarkable humorists of his time. Wit and humor were with him spontaneous, and he bubbled over with them. Mark Twain's faculties in that line were more labored and had to be worked out. Doctor Twichell often furnished in the rough the jewels which afterwards in Mark Twain's workshop became perfect gems.
I invited them to come over and spend the day and dine with me in the evening at Homburg. Mark Twain at that time had the reputation in England of being the greatest living wit and humorist. It soon spread over Homburg that he was in town and was to dine with me in the evening, and requests came pouring in to be invited. I kept enlarging my table at the Kursaal, with these requests, until the management said they could go no farther. I placed Mark Twain alongside Lady Cork, one of the most brilliant women in England. In the course of years of acquaintance I had met Mark Twain under many conditions. He was very uncertain in a social gathering. Sometimes he would be the life of the occasion and make it one to be long remembered, but generally he contributed nothing. At this dinner, whenever he showed the slightest sign of making a remark, there was dead silence, but the remark did not come. He had a charming time, and so did Lady Cork, but the rest of the company heard nothing from the great humorist, and they were greatly disappointed.
The next morning Mark Twain came down to the springs in his tramping-suit, which had fairly covered the continent. I introduced him to the Prince of Wales, and he was charmed with him in their hour of walk and talk. At dinner that evening the prince said to me: "I would have invited Mark Twain this evening, if I thought he had with him any dinner clothes."
"At my dinner last night," I said, "he met every conventional requirement."
"Then," continued the prince, "I would be much obliged if you would get him for dinner with me to-morrow evening."
It was very much the same company as had dined with the prince the night before. Again Twain was for a long time a complete disappointment. I knew scores of good things of his and tried my best to start him off, but without success. The prince, who was unusually adroit and tactful in drawing a distinguished guest out, also failed. When the dinner was over, however, and we had reached the cigars, Mark Twain started in telling a story in his most captivating way. His peculiar drawl, his habit in emphasizing the points by shaking his bushy hair, made him a dramatic narrator. He never had greater success. Even the veteran Mark himself was astonished at the uproarious laughter which greeted almost every sentence and was overwhelming when he closed.
There are millions of stories in the world, and several hundred of them good ones. No one knew more of them than Mark Twain, and yet out of this vast collection he selected the one which I had told the night before to the same company. The laughter and enjoyment were not at the story, but because the English had, as they thought, caught me in retailing to them from Mark Twain's repertoire one of his stories. It so happened that it was a story which I had heard as happening upon our railroad in one of my tours of inspection. I had told it in a speech, and it had been generally copied in the American newspapers. Mark Twain's reputation as the greatest living humorist caused that crowd to doubt the originality of my stories.
Mark had declined the cigars, but the prince was so delighted that he offered him one of the highly prized selection from his own case. This drew from him a story, which I have not seen in any of his books. I have read Mark Twain always with the greatest pleasure. His books of travel have been to me a source of endless interest, and his "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" is the best representation of the saint and heroine that I know.
When the prince offered him the cigar, Mark said: "No, prince, I never smoke. I have the reputation in Hartford, Conn., of furnishing at my entertainments the worst of cigars. When I was going abroad, and as I would be away for several years, I gave a reception and invited all my friends. I had the governor of the State of Connecticut and the judges of the highest courts, and the most distinguished members of the legislature. I had the leading clergymen and other citizens, and also the president and faculty of Yale University and Trinity College.
"At three o'clock in the afternoon my butler, who is a colored man, Pompey by name, came to me and said: 'Mr. Clemens, we have no cigars.' Just then a pedler's wagon stopped at the gate. In England they call them cheap jacks. I hailed the merchant and said: 'What have you in your wagon?' 'Well,' he answered, 'I have some Gobelin tapestries, Sevres china, and Japanese cloisonne vases, and a few old masters.' Then I said to him: 'I do not want any of those, but have you cigars, and how much?' The pedler answered: 'Yes, sir, I have some excellent cigars, which I will sell you at seventeen cents a barrel.' I have to explain that a cent is an English farthing. Then I told him to roll a barrel in."
"It was a great occasion, one of the greatest we ever had in the old State of Connecticut," continued Mark, "but I noticed that the guests left unusually early after supper. The next morning I asked the butler why they left so early. 'Well,' he said, 'Mr. Clemens, everybody enjoyed the supper, and they were all having a good time until I gave them the cigars. After the gentleman had taken three puffs, he said: "Pomp, you infernal nigger, get me my hat and coat quick." When I went out, my stone walk, which was one hundred yards long from the front door to the gate, was just paved with those cigars.'" This specimen of American exaggeration told in Mark Twain's original way made a great hit.
I met Mark Twain at a theatrical supper in London given by Sir Henry Irving. It was just after his publishing firm had failed so disastrously. It was a notable company of men of letters, playwrights, and artists. Poor Mark was broken in health and spirits. He tried to make a speech, and a humorous one, but it saddened the whole company.
I met him again after he had made the money on his remarkable lecture tour around the world, with which he met and paid all his debts. It was an achievement worthy of the famous effort of Sir Walter Scott. Jubilant, triumphant, and free, Mark Twain that night was the hero never forgotten by any one privileged to be present.
One year, after strenuous work and unusual difficulties, which, however, had been successfully met, I was completely exhausted. I was advised to take a short trip to Europe, and, as usual, the four weeks' change of air and occupation was a complete cure. I decided to include Rome in my itinerary, though I felt that my visit would be something like the experience of Phineas Fogg, who did the whole of Europe and saw all there was of it in ten days.
When I arrived in the Eternal City, my itinerary gave me four days there. I wanted to see everything and also to meet, if possible, one of the greatest of popes, Leo XIII. I was armed only with a letter from my accomplished and distinguished friend, Archbishop Corrigan. I secured the best-known guide, who informed me that my efforts to see the sights within my limited time would be impossible. Nevertheless, the incentive of an extra large commission dependent upon distances covered and sights seen, led to my going through the streets behind the best team of horses in Rome and pursued by policemen and dogs, and the horses urged on by a driver frantic for reward, and a guide who professionally and financially was doing the stunt of his life. It was astounding how much ground was really covered in the city of antiquities and art by this devotion to speed and under competent guidance.
When I asked to see the pope, I was informed that his health was not good and audiences had been suspended. I wrote a letter to the cardinal-secretary, enclosing Archbishop Corrigan's letter, and stated my anxiety to meet His Holiness and the limited time I had. A few hours afterwards I received a letter from the cardinal stating that the Holy Father appreciated the circumstances, and would be very glad to welcome me in private audience at eleven o'clock the next morning.
When I arrived at the Vatican I was received as a distinguished visitor. The papal guards were turned out, and I was finally ushered into the room of Cardinal Merry del Val. He was a young man then and an accomplished diplomat, and most intimately informed on all questions of current interest. Literature, music, drama, political conditions in Europe were among his accomplishments. He said the usual formula when a stranger is presented to the pope is for the guest to kneel and kiss his ring. The pope has decided that all this will be omitted in your case. He will receive you exactly as an eminent foreigner calling by appointment upon the President of the United States.
When I was ushered into the presence of the pope he left his throne, came forward, grasped me cordially by the hand, and welcomed me in a very charming way. He was not a well man, and his bloodless countenance was as white and pallid as his robes. This was all relieved, however, by the brilliancy of his wonderful eyes.
After a few preliminary remarks he plunged into the questions in which he was deeply interested. He feared the spread of communism and vividly described its efforts to destroy the church, ruin religion, extirpate faith, and predicted that if successful it would destroy civilization.
I told him that I was deeply interested in the encyclical he had recently issued to reconcile or make more harmonious the relations between capital and labor. He commenced speaking upon that subject, and in a few minutes I saw that I was to be privileged to hear an address from one who as priest and bishop had been one of the most eloquent orators of the age. In his excitement he leaned forward, grasping the arms of the throne, the color returned to his cheeks, his eyes flashed, his voice was vibrant, and I was the audience, the entranced audience of the best speech I ever heard upon the question of labor and capital.
I was fearful on account of his health, that the exertion might be too great, and so arose to leave. He again said to me, and taking my hand: "I know all about you and am very grateful to you that in your official capacity as president of the New York Central Railroad you are treating so fairly the Catholics. I know that among your employees twenty-eight thousand are of the Catholic faith, and not one of them has ever known any discrimination because of their belief, but all of them have equal opportunities with the others for the rewards of their profession and protection in their employment."
The next day he sent a special messenger for a renewal of the conversation, but unhappily I had left Rome the night before.
During my stay in Rome of four days I had visited most of its antiquities, its famous churches, and spent several hours in the Vatican gallery. Our American minister, one of the most accomplished of our diplomats, Mr. William Potter, had also given me a dinner, where I was privileged to meet many celebrities of the time.
Among English statesmen I found in Lord Salisbury an impressive figure. In a long conversation I had with him at the Foreign Office he talked with great freedom on the relations between the United States and Great Britain. He was exceedingly anxious that friendly conditions should continue and became most cordial.
The frequent disposition on the part of American politicians to issue a challenge or create eruptions disturbed him. I think he was in doubt when President Cleveland made his peremptory demands on the Venezuela boundary question if the president recognized their serious importance, both for the present and the future. He, however, reluctantly yielded to the arbitration, won a complete victory, and was satisfied that such irritating questions were mainly political and for election purposes, and had better be met in a conciliatory spirit.
I remember a garden-party at Hatfield House, the historical home of the Cecils, given in honor of King Victor Emmanuel III, who had recently come to the throne. Lord Salisbury was of gigantic proportions physically, while the king was undersized. The contrast between the two was very striking, especially when they were in animated conversation—the giant prime minister talking down to His Majesty, and he with animated gestures talking up to the premier.
It is not too great a stretch of imagination, when one knows how traditional interviews and conversations between European rulers affect their relations, present and future, to find in that entertainment and conference that the seed there was sown for the entrance of Italy, at one of the crises of the Great War, on the side of the Allies and against Germany, to whom she was bound by the Triple Alliance.
Mr. Gladstone said to me at one time: "I have recently met a most interesting countryman of yours. He is one of the best-informed and able men of any country whom I have had the pleasure of talking with for a long time, and he is in London now. I wish you would tell me all about him."
Mr. Gladstone could not recall his name. As there were a number of American congressmen in London, I asked: "Was he a congressman?"
"No," he answered; "he had a more important office."
I then remembered that DeWitt Clinton, when a United States senator, resigned to become mayor of the City of New York. On that inspiration I asked: "Mayor of the City of New York?"
"Yes, that is it," Mr. Gladstone answered.
I then told him that it was Abram S. Hewitt, and gave him a description of Mr. Hewitt's career. Mr. Gladstone was most enthusiastic about him.
It was my fortune to know Mr. Hewitt very well for many years. He richly merited Mr. Gladstone's encomium. He was one of the most versatile and able Americans in public or private life during his time. His father was an English tenant-farmer who moved with his family to the United States. Mr. Hewitt received a liberal education and became a great success both in business and public life. He was much more than a business man, mayor of New York, or a congressman—he was public-spirited and a wise reformer.
Mr. Hewitt told me two interesting incidents in his career. When he visited England he was received with many and flattering attentions. Among his invitations was a week-end to the home of the nobleman upon whose estates his father had been a tenant-farmer. When Mr. Hewitt told the nobleman, who was entertaining him as a distinguished American, about his father's former relations as one of his tenants, the nobleman said: "Your father made a great mistake in giving up his farm and emigrating to the United States. He should have remained here."
Mr. Hewitt said: "But, my lord, so far as I am concerned I do not think so."
"Why?" asked his lordship.
"Because," answered Mr. Hewitt, "then I could never have been a guest on equal terms in your house."
Mr. Hewitt was one of the foremost iron founders and steel manufacturers of the country. At the time of our Civil War our government was very short of guns, and we were unable to manufacture them because we did not know the secret of gun-metal.
The government sent Mr. Hewitt abroad to purchase guns. The English gunmakers at once saw the trouble he was in and took advantage of it. They demanded prices several times greater than they were asking from other customers, and refused to give him any information about the manufacture of gun-metal.
After he had made the contract, with all its exorbitant conditions, he went to his hotel and invited the foreman of each department of the factory to meet him. They all came. Mr. Hewitt explained to them his mission, and found that they were sympathetic with Mr. Lincoln and his administration and the Union cause. Then he told them of the trouble he had had with their employers, and the hard terms which they had imposed. He asked them then all about the manufacture of gun-metal. Each one of the foremen was very clear and explicit as to his part, and so when they had all spoken, Mr. Hewitt, with his expert knowledge of the business, knew all the secrets of the manufacture of gun-metal, which he, of course, gave to the government at Washington for use in their several arsenals and shops.
"Now," he said to his guests, "you have done me a great favor. I will return it. Your company is obliged by the contract to deliver this immense order within a limited time. They are going to make an enormous amount of money out of it. You strike and demand what you think is right, and you will get it immediately."
The gun company made a huge profit but had to share some of it with their workers. It was an early instance of the introduction of profit-sharing, which has now become common all over the world.
One of the most interesting Englishmen, whom I saw much of both in London and in the United States, was Sir Henry Irving. The world of art, drama, and history owes much to him for his revival of Shakespeare. Irving was a genius in his profession, and in private life perfectly delightful.
He gave me a dinner and it was, like everything he did, original. Instead of the usual formal entertainment, he had the dinner at one of the old royal castles in the country, which had become a very exclusive hotel. He carried us out there in coaches.
The company of authors, playwrights, and men of affairs made the entertainment late and the evening memorable. Returning home on the top of the coach, the full moon would appear and reappear, but was generally under a cloud. Irving remarked: "I do much better with that old moon in my theatre. I make it shine or obscure it with clouds, as the occasion requires."
I received a note from him at the time of his last visit to the United States, in which he said that a friend from the western part of the country was giving him a dinner at Delmonico's to precede his sailing in the early morning on his voyage home. The company was to be large and all good friends, and he had the positive assurance that there would be no speaking, and wished I would come.
The dinner was everything that could be desired. The company was a wonderful one of distinguished representatives of American life. The hours passed along rapidly and joyously, as many of these original men contributed story, racy adventure, or song.
Suddenly the host arose and said: "Gentlemen, we have with us to-night—" Of course, that meant an introductory speech about Irving and a reply from the guest. Irving turned to me, and in his deepest and most tragic Macbeth voice said: "God damn his soul to hell!" However, he rose to the occasion, and an hour or so afterwards, when everybody else had spoken, not satisfied with his first effort, he arose and made a much better and longer speech. He was an admirable after-dinner speaker as well as an unusual actor. His wonderful presentations, not only of Shakespeare's but of other dramas, did very much for the stage both in his own country and in ours.
Those who heard him only in his last year had no conception of him in his prime. In his later years he fell into the fault, so common with public speakers and actors, of running words together and failing to articulate clearly. I have known a fine speech and a superior sermon and a great part in a play ruined because of the failure to articulate clearly. The audience could not follow the speaker and so lost interest.
Sir Henry told me a delightful story about Disraeli. A young relative of Irving's took orders and became a clergyman in the Established Church. At the request of Irving, Disraeli appointed this young man one of the curates at Windsor.
One day the clergyman came to Irving in great distress and said: "The unexpected has happened. Every one has dropped out, and I have been ordered to preach on Sunday."
Irving took him to see Disraeli for advice. The prime minister said to the young clergyman: "If you preach thirty minutes, Her Majesty will be bored. If you preach fifteen minutes, Her Majesty will be pleased. If you preach ten minutes, Her Majesty will be delighted."
"But," said the young clergyman, "my lord, what can a preacher possibly say in only ten minutes?"
"That," answered the statesman, "will be a matter of indifference to Her Majesty."
Sir Frederick Leighton, the eminent English artist, and at one time president of the Royal Academy, was one of the most charming men of his time. His reminiscences were delightful and told with rare dramatic effect. I remember a vivid description which he gave me of the wedding of one of the British royalties with a German princess. Sir Frederick was one of the large and distinguished delegation which accompanied the prince.
The principality of the bride's father had been shorn of territory, power, and revenue during the centuries. Nevertheless, at the time of the wedding he maintained a ministry, the same as in the Middle Ages, and a miniature army. Palaces, built centuries before, housed the Cabinet.
The minister of foreign affairs came to Sir Frederick and unbosomed himself of his troubles. He said: "According to the usual procedure I ought to give a ball in honor of the union of our house with the royal family of England. My palace is large enough, but my salary is only eight hundred a year, and the expense would eat up the whole of it."
Sir Frederick said: "Your Excellency can overcome the difficulty in an original way. The state band can furnish the music, and that will cost nothing. When the time comes for the banquet, usher the guests with due ceremony to a repast of beer and pretzels."
The minister followed the instructions. The whole party appreciated the situation, and the minister was accredited with the most brilliant and successful ball the old capital had known for a century.
For several years one of the most interesting men in Europe was the Duke d'Aumale, son of Louis Philippe. He was a statesman and a soldier of ability and a social factor of the first rank. He alone of the French royalty was relieved from the decree of perpetual banishment and permitted to return to France and enjoy his estates. In recognition of this he gave his famous chateau and property at Chantilly to the French Academy. The gift was valued at ten millions of dollars. In the chateau at Chantilly is a wonderful collection of works of art.
I remember at one dinner, where the duke was the guest of honor, those present, including the host, were mostly new creations in the British peerage. After the conversation had continued for some time upon the fact that a majority of the House of Lords had been raised to the peerage during the reign of Queen Victoria, those present began to try and prove that on account of their ancient lineage they were exempt from the rule of parvenu peers. The duke was very tolerant with this discussion and, as always, the soul of politeness.
The host said: "Your Royal Highness, could you oblige us with a sketch of your ancestry?"
"Oh, certainly," answered the duke; "it is very brief. My family, the Philippes, are descendants from AEneas of Troy, and AEneas was the son of Venus." The mushrooms seemed smaller than even the garden variety.
The duke was talking to me at one time very interestingly about the visit of his father to America. At the time of the French Revolution his father had to flee for his life and came to the United States. He was entertained at Mount Vernon by Washington. He told me that after his father became King of France, he would often hesitate, or refuse to do something or write something which his ministers desired. The king's answer always was: "When I visited that greatest man of all the world, General Washington, at his home, I asked him at one time: 'General, is it not possible that in your long and wonderful career as a soldier and statesman that you have made mistakes?' The general answered: 'I have never done anything which I cared to recall or said anything which I would not repeat,' and the king would say: 'I cannot do that or sign that, because if I do I cannot say for myself what General Washington said of himself.'"
The duke asked me to spend a week-end with him at Chantilly, and it is one of the regrets of my life that I was unable to accept.
I happened to be in London on two successive Sundays. On the first I went to Westminster Abbey to hear Canon Farrar preach. The sermon was worthy of its wonderful setting. Westminster Abbey is one of the most inspiring edifices in the world. The orator has to reach a high plane to be worthy of its pulpit. I have heard many dull discourses there because the surroundings refuse to harmonize with mediocrity. The sermon of Canon Farrar was classic. It could easily have taken a place among the gems of English literature. It seemed to me to meet whatever criticism the eminent dead, buried in that old mausoleum, might have of these modern utterances. I left the Abbey spiritually and mentally elated.
The next Sunday I went to hear Charles Spurgeon. It was a wonderful contrast. Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle was a very plain structure of immense proportions but with admirable acoustics. There was none of the historic enshrining the church, which is the glory of Westminster Abbey, no church vestments or ceremonials.
Mr. Spurgeon, a plain, stocky-looking man, came out on the platform dressed in an ordinary garb of black coat, vest, and trousers. It was a vast audience of what might be called middle-class people. Mr. Spurgeon's sermon was a plain, direct, and exceedingly forcible appeal to their judgment and emotions. There was no attempt at rhetoric, but hard, hammerlike blows. As he rose in his indignation and denunciation of some current evils, and illustrated his argument with the Old Testament examples of the punishment of sinners, the audience became greatly excited. One of the officers of the church, in whose pew I sat, groaned aloud and gripped his hands so that the nails left their mark. Others around him were in the same frame of mind and spirit.
I saw there and then that the men who fought with Cromwell and won the battle of Naseby had in modern England plenty of descendants. They had changed only in outward deference to modern usages and conditions. If there had been occasion, Mr. Spurgeon could have led them for any sacrifice to what they believed to be right. I felt the power of that suppressed feeling—I would not say fanaticism, but intense conscientiousness—which occasionally in elections greatly surprises English politicians.
Canon Farrar's sermon easily takes its place among the selected books of the library. Spurgeon's address was straight from the shoulder, blow for blow, for the needs of the hour.
One of the novel incidents of the generous hospitality which I enjoyed every year in London was a dinner at the Athenaeum Club given to me by one of the members of the government at that time. He was a gentleman of high rank and political importance. There were twenty-six at the dinner, and it was a representative gathering.
At the conclusion our host made a very cordial speech on more intimate relations between the United States and Great Britain, and then in a complimentary phrase introduced me, saying: "I hope you will speak freely and without limit."
I was encouraged by a most sympathetic audience and had a good time during my effort. No one else was called upon. My host was complimentary and said: "Your speech was so satisfactory that I thought best not to have any more."
Some time afterwards he said to me: "Many of my friends had heard of you but never heard you, so I made up my mind to give them the opportunity, and what was really a purely social affair for every other guest, I turned into an international occasion just to draw you out. However, the fraud, if it was a fraud, was an eminent success."
No one in England did more for Americans than Sir Henry Lucy. Every American knew all about him, because of his reputation, and particularly because he was the author of that most interesting column in Punch called the "Essence of Parliament."
At his luncheons he gathered eminent men in public life and in the literary and journalistic activities of Great Britain. These luncheons were most informal, and under the hospitable genius of Lucy the guests became on intimate terms. There was no table in London where so many racy stories and sometimes valuable historical reminiscences could be heard.
To be a guest at one of Sir Lucy's luncheons was for an American to meet on familiar terms with distinguished men whom he knew all about and was most anxious to see and hear.
At a large dinner I had a pleasant encounter with Sir Henry. In order to meet another engagement, he tried to slip quietly out while I was speaking. I caught sight of his retreating figure and called loudly the refrain of the familiar song, "Linger longer, Lucy." The shout of the crowd brought Sir Henry back, and the other entertainment lost a guest.
In several of my visits to London I went to see not only places of interest but also houses and streets made famous in English literature. In one of my many trips to St. Paul's Cathedral I was looking at the tomb of the Duke of Wellington in the crypt and also at the modest tomb of Cruikshank, the artist, near by.
The superintendent asked me who I was and many questions about America, and then said: "Many Americans come here, but the most remarkable of them all was Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll. He was very inquisitive and wanted to know all about Wellington's tomb. I told him that the duke's body was first put in a wooden coffin, and this was incased in steel; that this had made for it a position in a stone weighing twenty tons and over that was a huge stone weighing forty tons. He gave me a slap on the back which sent me flying quite a distance and exclaimed: 'Old man, you have got him safe. If he ever escapes cable at my expense to Robert G. Ingersoll, Peoria, Illinois, U. S. A.'"
I had an opportunity to know that the war by Germany against France and England was a surprise to both countries. While in London during part of June, 1914, I met Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, and their whole thought and anxiety were concentrated on the threatened revolution in Ireland.
The Cabinet had asked the king to intervene and he had called representatives of all parties to meet him at Buckingham Palace. After many consultations he declared settlement or compromise were impossible. The situation was so critical that it absorbed the attention of the government, the press, and the public.
About the first of July I was in Paris and found the French worried about their finances and the increase in their military expenses which were reaching threatening figures. The syndicate of French bankers were seriously alarmed. There was no suspicion of German purpose and preparations for attack.
While in Geneva a few weeks afterwards I became alarmed by letters from relatives in Germany who were socially intimate with people holding very important positions in the government and the army, and their apprehensions from what their German friends told them and what they saw led to their joining us in Switzerland.
One day the Swiss refused to take foreign money or to make exchange for Swiss, or to cash letters of credit or bank checks. I immediately concluded that the Swiss bankers knew of or suspected Germany's hostile intentions, and with only two hours, and two families with their trunks to pack, we managed to reach and secure accommodations on the regular train for Paris. There was nothing unusual either at the railroad station or in the city.
One of the amusing incidents which are my life-preservers occurred at the station. Two elderly English spinsters were excitedly discussing the currency trouble. One of them smoothed out a bank of England note and said to her sister: "There, Sarah, is a bank of England note which has been good as gold all over the world since Christ came to earth, and these Swiss pigs won't take it."
I told this incident afterwards to a banker in London. He said they were very ignorant women, there were no bank of England notes at that time.
German hostility developed so rapidly that our train was the last which left Switzerland for France for nearly two months. We were due in Paris at ten o'clock in the evening, but did not arrive until the next morning because of the mobilization of French recruits.
The excitement in Paris was intense. A French statesman said to me: "We are doing our best to avoid war. Our troops are kept ten kilometres from the frontier, but the Germans have crossed and seized strategic points. They will hear nothing and accept nothing and are determined to crush us if they can."
From all ranks of the people was heard: "We will fight to the last man, but we are outnumbered and will be destroyed unless England helps. Will England help? Will England help?" I have been through several crises but never witnessed nor felt such a reaction to ecstatic joy as occurred when Great Britain joined France.
The restrictions on leaving Paris required time, patience, and all the resources of our Embassy to get us out of France. The helpfulness, resourcefulness, and untiring efforts of our Ambassador, Myron T. Herrick, won the gratitude of all Americans whom the war had interned on the continent and who must get home.
There was a remarkable change in England. When we left in July there was almost hysteria over the threatening civil war. In October the people were calm though involved in the greatest war in their history. They did not minimize the magnitude of the struggle, or the sacrifices it would require. There was a characteristic grim determination to see the crisis through, regardless of cost. Cabinet ministers whom I met thought the war would last three years.
The constant appeal to me, as to other Americans, was, "When will you join us? If we fail it is your turn next. It is autocracy and militarism against civilization, liberty, and representative government for the whole world."
We had a perilous and anxious voyage home and found few grasping the situation or working to be prepared for the inevitable, except Theodore Roosevelt and General Wood.
XX. ORATORS AND CAMPAIGN SPEAKERS
During my college days at Yale Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and Henry Ward Beecher were frequent lecturers, and generally on the slavery question. I have heard most of the great orators of the world, but none of them produced such an immediate and lasting effect upon their audience as Wendell Phillips. He was the finest type of a cultured New Englander. He was the recipient of the best education possible in his time and with independent means which enabled him to pursue his studies and career. Besides, he was one of the handsomest men I ever saw upon the platform, and in his inspired moments met one's imaginative conception of a Greek god.
Phillips rarely made a gesture or spoke above the conversational, but his musical voice reached the remotest comers of the hall. The eager audience, fearful of losing a word, would bend forward with open mouths as well as attentive ears. It was always a hostile audience at the beginning of Mr. Phillips's address, but before the end he swayed them to applause, tears, or laughter, as a skilled performer upon a perfect instrument. His subject was nearly always slavery, his views very extreme and for immediate abolition, but at that time he had a very small following. Nevertheless, his speeches, especially because of the riots and controversies they caused, set people thinking, and largely increased the hostility to slavery, especially to its extension.
I met Mr. Phillips one evening, after a lecture, at the house of Professor Goodrich. He was most courtly and considerate to students and invited questions. While I was charmed, even captivated, by his eloquence, I had at that time very little sympathy with his views. I said to him: "Mr. Phillips, your attack to-night upon Caleb Cushing, one of the most eminent and able public men in the country, was very vitriolic and most destructive of character and reputation. It seems so foreign to all I know of you that, if you will pardon me, I would like to know why you did it." He answered: "I have found that people, as a rule, are not interested in principles or their discussions. They are so absorbed in their personal affairs that they do very little thinking upon matters outside their business or vocation. They embody a principle in some public man in whom they have faith, and so that man stands for a great body of truth or falsehood, and may be exceedingly dangerous because a large following connects the measure with the man, and, therefore, if I can destroy the man who represents a vicious principle I have destroyed the principle." It did not strike me favorably at the time, nor does it now. Nevertheless, in politics and in the battles of politics it represents a dynamic truth.
The perfect preparation of a speech was, in Wendell Phillip's view, that one in which the mental operations were assisted in no way by outside aid. Only two or three times in his life did he prepare with pen and paper an address, and he felt that these speeches were the poorest of his efforts. He was constantly studying the art of oratory. In his daily walks or in his library metaphors and similes were suggested, which he tucked away in his memory, and he even studied action as he watched the muscular movements of men whom he saw in public places. He believed that a perfect speech could be prepared only after intense mental concentration. Of course the mind must first be fortified by such reading as provided facts. Having thus saturated his mind with information, he would frequently lie extended for hours upon his sofa, with eyes closed, making mental arrangements for the address. In fact, he used to write his speeches mentally, as Victor Hugo is said to have written some of his poems. A speech thus prepared, Phillips thought, was always at the command of the speaker. It might vary upon every delivery, and could be altered to meet emergencies with the audience, but would always be practically the same.
This method of preparation explains what has been a mystery to many persons. The several reports of Phillips's lecture on "The Lost Arts" differ in phraseology and even in arrangement. Mr. Phillips did not read his speeches in print, and, therefore, never revised one. He was firmly of the belief that the printed thought and the spoken thought should be expressed in different form, and that the master of one form could not be the master of the other.
I met many young men like myself in the canvass of 1856, and also made many acquaintances of great value in after-life. It was difficult for the older stump speakers to change the addresses they had been delivering for years, so that the young orators, with their fresh enthusiasm, their intense earnestness and undoubting faith, were more popular with the audiences, who were keenly alive to the issues raised then by the new Republican party.
The Republican party was composed of Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats. In this first campaign the old-timers among the Whigs and the Democrats could not get over their long antagonism and distrusted each other. The young men, whether their ancestry was Democratic or Whig, were the amalgam which rapidly fused all elements, so that the party presented a united front in the campaign four years afterwards when Mr. Lincoln was elected.
In the course of that campaign I had as fellow speakers many times on the platform statesmen of national reputation. These gentlemen, with few exceptions, made heavy, ponderous, and platitudinous speeches. If they ever had possessed humor they were afraid of it. The crowd, however, would invariably desert the statesman for the speaker who could give them amusement with instruction. The elder statesmen said by way of advice: "While the people want to be amused, they have no faith in a man or woman with wit or anecdote. When it comes to the election of men to conduct public affairs, they invariably prefer serious men." There is no doubt that a reputation for wit has seriously impaired the prospects of many of the ablest men in the country.
The only exception to this rule was Abraham Lincoln. But when he ran for president the first time he was comparatively unknown outside his State of Illinois. The campaign managers in their literature put forward only his serious speeches, which were very remarkable, especially the one he delivered in Cooper Union, New York, which deeply impressed the thoughtful men of the East. He could safely tell stories and jokes after he had demonstrated his greatness as president. Then the people regarded his story-telling as the necessary relief and relaxation of an overburdened and overworked public servant. But before he had demonstrated his genius as an executive, they would probably have regarded these same traits as evidences of frivolity, unfitting the possessor for great and grave responsibilities.
I had a very interesting talk on the subject with General Garfield, when he was running for president. He very kindly said to me: "You have every qualification for success in public life; you might get anywhere and to the highest places except for your humor. I know its great value to a speaker before an audience, but it is dangerous at the polls. When I began in politics, soon after graduation, I found I had a keen sense of humor, and that made me the most sought-after of all our neighborhood speakers, but I also soon discovered it was seriously impairing the public opinion of me for responsible positions, so I decided to cut it out. It was very difficult, but I have succeeded so thoroughly that I can no longer tell a story or appreciate the point of one when it is told to me. Had I followed my natural bent I should not now be the candidate of my party for President of the United States."
The reason so few men are humorists is that they are very shy of humor. My own observations in studying the lives and works of our public men demonstrate how thoroughly committed to this idea they have been. There is not a joke, nor a mot, nor a scintilla of humor irradiating the Revolutionary statesmen. There is a stilted dignity about their utterances which shows that they were always posing in heroic attitudes. If they lived and moved in family, social, and club life, as we understand it, the gloom of their companionship accounts for the enjoyment which their contemporaries took in the three hours' sermons then common from the pulpit.
As we leave the period of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and the Adamses, we find no humor in the next generation. The only relief from the tedium of argument and exhaustless logic is found in the savage sarcasm of John Randolph, which was neither wit nor humor.
A witty illustration or an apt story will accomplish more than columns of argument. The old-time audience demanded a speech of not less than two hours' duration and expected three. The audience of to-day grows restive after the first hour, and is better pleased with forty minutes. It prefers epigrams to arguments and humor to rhetoric. It is still true, however, that the press presents to readers from a speaker who indulges in humor only the funny part of his effort, and he is in serious danger of receiving no credit for ability in the discussion of great questions, no matter how conspicuous that ability may be. The question is always presented to a frequent speaker whether he shall win the applause of the audience and lose the flattering opinion of the critics, or bore his audience and be complimented by readers for wisdom.
When I look back over sixty-five years on the platform in public speaking, and the success of different methods before audiences, political, literary, business, or a legislative committee, or a legislature itself, and especially when I consider my own pleasure in the efforts, the results and compensations have been far greater than the attainment of any office. For, after all, a man might be dull and a bore to himself and others for a lifetime and have the reputation of being a serious thinker and a solid citizen, and yet never reach the presidency.
It was always a delight to listen to George W. Curtis. He was a finished orator of the classic type, but not of the Demosthenian order. His fine personal appearance, his well-modulated and far-reaching voice, and his refined manner at once won the favor of his audience. He was a splendid type of the scholar in politics. In preparing a speech he took as much pains as he did with a volume which he was about to publish.
I accepted under great pressure the invitation to deliver the oration at the unveiling of the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, because the time was so short, only a few days. Mr. Curtis said to me afterwards: "I was very much surprised that you accepted that invitation. I declined it because there was only a month left before the unveiling. I invariably refuse an invitation for an important address unless I can have three months. I take one month to look up authorities and carefully prepare it and then lay it on the shelf for a month. During that period, while you are paying no attention to the matter, your mind is unconsciously at work upon it. When you resume correcting your manuscript you find that in many things about which you thought well you have changed your mind. Leisurely corrections and additions will perfect the address."
As my orations and speeches have always been the by-product of spare evenings and Sundays taken from an intensely active and busy life, if I had followed any of these examples my twelve volumes of speeches would never have seen the light of day.
One of the greatest orators of his generation, and I might say of ours, was Robert G. Ingersoll. I was privileged to meet Colonel Ingersoll many times, and on several occasions to be a speaker on the same platform. The zenith of his fame was reached by his "plumed-knight" speech, nominating James G. Blaine for president at the national Republican convention in 1876. It was the testimony of all the delegates that if the vote could have been taken immediately at the conclusion of the speech, Mr. Blaine would have been elected.
Colonel Ingersoll carried off the oratorical honors that campaign in a series of speeches, covering the whole country. I say a series of speeches; he really had but one, which was the most effective campaign address I ever heard, but which he delivered over and over again, and every time with phenomenal success, a success the like of which I have never known. He delivered it to an immense audience in New York, and swept them off their feet. He repeated this triumph the next day at an open-air meeting in Wall Street, and again the next day at a great gathering in New Jersey. The newspapers printed the speech in full every day after its delivery, as if it had been a new and first utterance of the great orator.
I spoke with him several times when he was one of the speakers after an important dinner. It was a rare treat to hear him. The effort apparently was impromptu, and that added to its effect upon his auditors. That it was thoroughly prepared I found by hearing it several times, always unchanged and always producing the same thrilling effect.
He spoke one night at Cooper Institute at a celebration by the colored people of Mr. Lincoln's proclamation emancipating them from slavery. As usual he was master of the occasion and of his audience. He was then delivering a series of addresses attacking the Bible. His mind was full of that subject, and apparently he could not help assailing the faith of the negroes by asking, if there was a God of justice and mercy, why did he leave them so long in slavery or permit them ever to be slaves.
To an emotional audience like the one before him it was a most dangerous attack upon faith. I was so fond of the colonel and such an intense admirer of him, I hated to controvert him, but felt it was necessary to do so. The religious fervor which is so intense with the colored people, made it comparatively easy to restore their faith, if it had been weakened, and to bring them to a recognition of the fact that their blessings had all come from God.
Probably the most brilliant speaker of the period immediately preceding the Civil War was Thomas Corwin, of Ohio. We have on the platform in these times no speaker of his type. He had remarkable influence whenever he participated in debate in the House of Representatives. On the stump or hustings he would draw audiences away from Henry Clay or any of the famous speakers of the time. I sometimes wonder if our more experienced and more generally educated audiences of to-day would be swayed by Corwin's methods. He had to the highest degree every element of effective speech. He could put his audience in tears or hilarious laughter, or arouse cheers. He told more stories and told them better than any one else, and indulged freely in what is called Fourth of July exaggeration. He would relieve a logical presentation which was superb and unanswerable by a rhetorical flight of fancy, or by infectious humor. Near the close of his life he spoke near New York, and his great reputation drew to the meeting the representatives of the metropolitan press. He swept the audience off their feet, but the comment of the journals was very critical and unfavorable, both of the speech and the orator. It was an illustration of what I have often met with: of a speech which was exactly the right thing for the occasion and crowd, but lost its effect in publication. Corwin's humor barred his path to great office, and he saw many ordinary men advance ahead of him.
The most potent factor in the destruction of his enemies and buttressing his own cause was his inimitable wit and humor. In broad statesmanship, solid requirements, and effective eloquence, he stood above the successful mediocrity of his time—the Buchanans and the Polks, the Franklin Pierces and the Winfield Scotts—like a star of the first magnitude above the Milky Way. But in later years he thought the failure to reach the supreme recognition to which he was entitled was due to his humor having created the impression in the minds of his countrymen that he was not a serious person.
Wayne MacVeagh was a very interesting and original speaker. He had a finished and cultured style and a very attractive delivery. He was past master of sarcasm as well as of burning eloquence on patriotic themes. When I was a freshman at Yale he was a senior. I heard him very often at our debating society, the Linonian, where he gave promise of his future success. His father-in-law was Simon Cameron, secretary of war, and he was one of the party which went with Mr. Lincoln to Gettysburg and heard Lincoln's famous address. He told me that it did not produce much impression at the time, and it was long after before the country woke up to its surpassing excellence, and he did not believe the story still current that Mr. Lincoln wrote it on an envelope while on the train to Gettysburg.
MacVeagh became one of the leaders of the American bar and was at one time attorney-general of the United States. He was successful as a diplomat as minister to Turkey and to Italy.
I heard him on many occasions and spoke with him on many after-dinner platforms. As an after-dinner speaker he was always at his best if some one attacked him, because he had a very quick temper. He got off on me a witticism which had considerable vogue at the time. When I was elected president of the New York Central Railroad, the Yale Association of New York gave me a dinner. It was largely attended by distinguished Yale graduates from different parts of the country. MacVeagh was one of the speakers. In the course of his speech he said: "I was alarmed when I found that our friend Chauncey had been elected president of the most unpopular railroad there is in the country. But rest assured, my friends, that he will change the situation, and before his administration is closed make it the most popular of our railroad corporations, because he will bring the stock within the reach of the poorest citizen of the land." The stock was then at the lowest point in its history on account of its life-and-death fight with the West Shore Railroad, and so, of course, the reverse of my friend MacVeagh's prediction was not difficult.
One of the greatest and most remarkable orators of his time was Henry Ward Beecher. I never met his equal in readiness and versatility. His vitality was infectious. He was a big, healthy, vigorous man with the physique of an athlete, and his intellectual fire and vigor corresponded with his physical strength. There seemed to be no limit to his ideas, anecdotes, illustrations, and incidents. He had a fervid imagination and wonderful power of assimilation and reproduction and the most observant of eyes. He was drawing material constantly from the forests, the flowers, the gardens, and the domestic animals in the fields and in the house, and using them most effectively in his sermons and speeches. An intimate friend of mine, a country doctor and great admirer of Mr. Beecher, became a subscriber to the weekly paper in which was printed his Sunday sermon, and carefully guarded a file of them which he made. He not only wanted to read the sermons of his favorite preacher, but he believed him to have infinite variety, and was constantly examining the efforts of his idol to see if he could not find an illustration, anecdote, or idea repeated.
Mr. Beecher seemed to be teeming with ideas all the time, almost to the point of bursting. While most orators are relying upon their libraries and their commonplace book, and their friends for material, he apparently found more in every twenty-four hours than he could use. His sermons every Sunday appeared in the press. He lectured frequently; several times a week he delivered after-dinner speeches, and during such intervals as he had he made popular addresses, spoke at meetings on municipal and general reform, and on patriotic occasions. One of the most effective, and for the time one of the most eloquent addresses I ever heard in my life was the one he delivered at the funeral of Horace Greeley.
When the sentiment in England in favor of the the South in our Civil War seemed to be growing to a point where Great Britain might recognize the Southern Confederacy, Mr. Lincoln asked Mr. Beecher to go over and present the Union side. Those speeches of Mr. Beecher, a stranger in a strange country, to hostile audiences, were probably as extraordinary an evidence of oratorical power as was ever known. He captured audiences, he overcame the hostility of persistent disturbers of the meetings, and with his ready wit overwhelmed the heckler.
At one of the great meetings, when the sentiment was rapidly changing from hostility to favor, a man arose and asked Mr. Beecher: "If you people of the North are so strong and your cause is so good, why after all these years of fighting have you not licked the South?" Mr. Beecher's instant and most audacious reply was: "If the Southerners were Englishmen we would have licked them." With the English love of fair play, the retort was accepted with cheers.
While other orators were preparing, he seemed to be seeking occasions for talking and drawing from an overflowing reservoir. Frequently he would spend an hour with a crowd of admirers, just talking to them on any subject which might be uppermost in his mind. I knew an authoress who was always present at these gatherings, who took copious notes and reproduced them with great fidelity. There were circles of Beecher worshippers in many towns and in many States. This authoress used to come to New Haven in my senior year at Yale, and in a circle of Beecher admirers, which I was permitted to attend, would reproduce these informal talks of Mr. Beecher. He was the most ready orator, and with his almost feminine sympathies and emotional nature would add immensely to his formal speech by ideas which would occur to him in the heat of delivery, or with comment upon conversations which he had heard on the way to church or meeting.
I happened to be on a train with him on an all-day journey, and he never ceased talking in the most interesting and effective way, and pouring out from his rich and inexhaustible stores with remarkable lucidity and eloquence his views upon current topics, as well as upon recent literature, art, and world movements.
Beecher's famous trial on charges made by Theodore Tilton against him on relations with Tilton's wife engrossed the attention of the world. The charge was a shock to the religious and moral sense of countless millions of people. When the trial was over the public was practically convinced of Mr. Beecher's innocence. The jury, however, disagreed, a few holding out against him. The case was never again brought to trial. The trial lasted six months.
One evening when I was in Peekskill I went from our old homestead into the crowded part of the village, to be with old friends. I saw there a large crowd and also the village military and fire companies. I asked what it was all about, and was informed that the whole town was going out to Mr. Beecher's house, which was about one and one-half miles from the village, to join in a demonstration for his vindication. I took step with one of the companies to which I belonged when I was a boy, and marched out with the crowd.
The president of the village and leading citizens, one after another, mounted the platform, which was the piazza of Mr. Beecher's house, and expressed their confidence in him and the confidence of his neighbors, the villagers. Then Mr. Beecher said to me: "You were born in this town and are known all over the country. If you feel like saying something it would travel far." Of course, I was very glad of the opportunity because I believed in him. In the course of my speech I told a story which had wonderful vogue. I said: "Mr. Lincoln told me of an experience he had in his early practice when he was defending a man who had been accused of a vicious assault upon a neighbor. There were no witnesses, and under the laws of evidence at that time the accused could not testify. So the complainant had it all his own way. The only opportunity Mr. Lincoln had to help his client was to break down the accuser on a cross-examination. Mr. Lincoln said he saw that the accuser was a boastful and bumptious man, and so asked him: 'How much ground was there over which you and my client fought?' The witness answered proudly: 'Six acres, Mr. Lincoln.' 'Well,' said Lincoln, 'don't you think this was a mighty small crop of fight to raise on such a large farm?' Mr. Lincoln said the judge laughed and so did the district attorney and the jury, and his client was acquitted."
The appositeness was in the six acres of ground of the Lincoln trial and of the six months of the Beecher trial. As this was a new story of Lincoln's, which had never been printed, and as it related to the trial of the most famous of preachers on the worst of charges that could be made against a preacher, the story was printed all over the country, and from friends and consular agents who sent me clippings I found was copied in almost every country in the world.
Mr. Beecher was one of the few preachers who was both most effective in the pulpit and, if possible, more eloquent upon the platform. When there was a moral issue involved he would address political audiences. In one campaign his speeches were more widely printed than those of any of the senators, members of the House, or governors who spoke. I remember one illustration of his about his dog, Noble, barking for hours at the hole from which a squirrel had departed, and was enjoying the music sitting calmly in the crotch of a tree. The illustration caught the fancy of the country and turned the laugh upon the opposition.
Hugh J. Hastings, at one time editor and proprietor of the Albany Knickerbocker, and subsequently of the New York Commercial Advertiser, was full of valuable reminiscences. He began life in journalism as a very young man under Thurlow Weed. This association made him a Whig. Very few Irishmen belonged to that party. Hastings was a born politician and organized an Irish Whig club. He told me that he worshipped Daniel Webster.
Webster, he said, once stopped over at Albany while passing through the State, and became a guest of one of Albany's leading citizens and its most generous host and entertainer. The gentleman gave in Webster's honor a large dinner at which were present all the notables of the capital.
Hastings organized a procession which grew to enormous proportions by the time it reached the residence where Mr. Webster was dining. When the guests came out, it was evident, according to Hastings, that they had been dining too well. This was not singular, because then no dinner was perfect in Albany unless there were thirteen courses and thirteen different kinds of wine, and the whole closed up with the famous Regency rum, which had been secured by Albany bon-vivants before the insurrection in the West Indies had stopped its manufacture. There was a kick in it which, if there had been no other brands preceding, was fatal to all except the strongest heads. I tested its powers myself when I was in office in Albany fifty-odd years ago.
Hastings said that when Webster began his speech he was as near his idol as possible and stood right in front of him. When the statesman made a gesture to emphasize a sentence he lost his hold on the balustrade and pitched forward. The young Irishman was equal to the occasion, and interposed an athletic arm, which prevented Mr. Webster from falling, and held him until he had finished his address. The fact that he could continue his address under such conditions increased, if that was possible, the admiration of young Hastings. Webster was one of the few men who, when drunk all over, had a sober head.
The speech was very effective, not only to that audience, but, as reported, all over the country. Hastings was sent for and escorted to the dining-room, where the guests had reassembled. Webster grasped him by the hand, and in his most Jovian way exclaimed: "Young man, you prevented me from disgracing myself. I thank you and will never forget you." Hastings reported his feelings as such that if he had died that night he had received of life all it had which was worth living for.
I do not know what were Mr. Webster's drinking habits, but the popular reports in regard to them had a very injurious effect upon young men and especially young lawyers. It was the universal conversation that Webster was unable to do his best work and have his mind at its highest efficiency except under the influence of copious drafts of brandy. Many a young lawyer believing this drank to excess, not because he loved alcohol, but because he believed its use might make him a second Webster.
Having lived in that atmosphere, I tried the experiment myself. Happily for me, I discovered how utterly false it is. I tried the hard liquors, brandy, whiskey, and gin, and then the wines. I found that all had a depressing and deadening effect upon the mind, but that there was a certain exhilaration, though not a healthy one, in champagne. I also discovered, and found the same was true with every one else, that the mind works best and produces the more satisfactory results without any alcohol whatever.
I doubt if any speaker, unless he has become dependent upon stimulants, can use them before making an important effort without having his mental machinery more or less clogged. I know it is reported that Addison, whose English has been the model of succeeding generations, in writing his best essays wore the carpet out while walking between sentences from the sideboard where the brandy was to his writing-table. But they had heroic constitutions and iron-clad digestive apparatus in those times, which have not been transmitted to their descendants.
I heard another story of Webster from Horace F. Clarke, a famous lawyer of New York, and a great friend of his. Mr. Clarke said that he had a case involving very large interests before the chancellor. He discovered that Mr. Webster was at the Astor House, and called upon him. Mr. Webster told him that his public and professional engagements were overwhelming, and that it was impossible for him to take up anything new. Clarke put a thousand dollars on the table and pleaded with Mr. Webster to accept a retainer. Clarke said that Webster looked longingly at the money, saying: "Young man, you cannot imagine, and I have no words which can express how much I need that money, but it is impossible. However, let me see your brief." Webster read it over and then said to Clarke: "You will not win on that brief, but if you will incorporate this, I think your case is all right." Clarke said that when he presented the brief and made his argument before the chancellor, the chancellor decided in his favor, wholly on the suggestion made by Mr. Webster. An eminent lawyer told me that studying Mr. Webster's arguments before the Supreme Court and the decisions made in those cases he discovered very often that the opinion of the court followed the reasoning of this marvellous advocate.
Henry J. Raymond told me the following story of Mr. William H. Seward. He said that one morning a messenger came to his office (Raymond at that time was editor of the New York Times) and said that Mr. Seward was at the Astor House and wanted to see me. When I arrived Mr. Seward said: "I am on my way to my home at Auburn, where I am expected to deliver a speech for the whole country in explanation and defense of our administration. [Johnson was president.] When I am ready I will wire you, and then send me one of your best reporters." About two weeks afterwards Mr. Raymond received this cryptic telegram from Mr. Seward: "Send me the man of whom I spoke."
When the reporter returned he said to Mr. Raymond: "When I arrived at Auburn I expected that a great meeting had been advertised, but there were no handbills, notices, or anything in the local papers, so I went up to Mr. Seward's house. He said to me: 'I am very glad to see you. Have you your pencil and note-book? If so, we will make a speech.' After the dictation Mr. Seward said: 'Please write that out on every third line, so as to leave room for corrections, and bring it back to me in the morning.' When I gave the copy to Mr. Seward, he took it and kept it during the day, and when I returned in the evening the vacant space had been filled with corrections and new matter. Mr. Seward said to me: 'Now make me a clean copy as corrected.' When I returned with the corrected copy he remarked: 'I think you and I made a very poor speech. Let us try it again.' The same process was repeated a second time, and this corrected copy of the speech was delivered in part to a few friends who were called into Mr. Seward's library for the occasion. The next morning these headlines appeared in all the leading papers in the country: 'GREAT SPEECH ON BEHALF OF THE ADMINISTRATION BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE AT A BIG MASS MEETING AT AUBURN, N. Y.'"
In the career of a statesman a phrase will often make or unmake his future. In the height of the slavery excitement and while the enforcement of the fugitive-slave law was arousing the greatest indignation in the North, Mr. Seward delivered a speech at Rochester, N. Y., which stirred the country. In that speech, while paying due deference to the Constitution and the laws, he very solemnly declared that "there is a higher law." Mr. Seward sometimes called attention to his position by an oracular utterance which he left the people to interpret. This phrase, "the higher law," became of first-class importance, both in Congress, in the press, and on the platform. On the one side, it was denounced as treason and anarchy. On the other side, it was the call of conscience and of the New Testament's teaching of the rights of man. It was one of the causes of his defeat for the presidency.
Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, afterwards vice-president, was in great demand. He was clear in his historical statements and emphatic in his expression of views. If he had any apprehension of humor he never showed it in his speeches. His career had been very picturesque from unskilled laborer to the Senate and the vice-presidency. The impression he gave was of an example of American opportunity, and he was more impressive and influential by his personality and history than by what he said.
One of the most picturesque and popular stump speakers was Daniel S. Dickinson. He had been a United States senator and party leader, and was a national figure. His venerable appearance gave force to his oratory. He seemed to be of great age, but was remarkably vigorous. His speeches were made up of epigrams which were quotable and effective. He jumped rapidly from argument to anecdote and was vitriolic in attack.
I had an interesting experience with Mr. Dickinson when running for secretary of state in 1863. The drawing card for that year, and the most sought-after and popular for campaign speaking, was Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts. He had a series of appointments in New York State, but on account of some emergency cancelled them all. The national and State committees selected me to fill his appointments. The most unsatisfactory and disagreeable job in the world is to meet the appointments of a popular speaker. The expectations of the audience have been aroused to a degree by propaganda advertising the genius and accomplishments of the expected speaker. The substitute cannot meet those expectations, and an angry crowd holds him responsible for their disappointment.
When I left the train at the station I was in the midst of a mass-meeting of several counties at Deposit, N. Y. A large committee, profusely decorated with campaign badges, were on the platform to welcome the distinguished war governor of Massachusetts. I did not meet physically their expectations of an impressive statesman of dignified presence, wearing a Prince Albert suit and a top hat. I had been long campaigning, my soft hat was disreputable, and I had added a large shawl to my campaigning equipment. Besides that, I was only twenty-eight and looked much younger. The committee expected at least sixty. Finally the chairman rushed up to me and said: "You were on the train. Did you see Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts?" I answered him: "Governor Andrew is not coming; he has cancelled all his engagements, and I have been sent to take his place." The chairman gasped and then exclaimed: "My God!" He very excitedly summoned his fellow members of the committee and said to them: "Gentlemen, Governor Andrew is not coming, but the State committee has sent THIS," pointing to me. I was the party candidate as secretary of state, and at the head of the ticket, but nobody asked me who I was, nor did I tell them. I was left severely alone.
Some time after, the chairman of the committee came to me and said: "Young fellow, we won't be hard on you, but the State committee has done this once before. We were promised a very popular speaker well known among us, but in his place they sent the damnedest fool who ever stood before an audience. However, we have sent to Binghamton for Daniel S. Dickinson, and he will be here in a short time and save our big mass-meeting."
Mr. Dickinson came and delivered a typical speech; every sentence was a bombshell and its explosion very effective. He had the privilege of age, and told a story which I would not have dared to tell, the audience being half women. He said: "Those constitutional lawyers, who are proclaiming that all Mr. Lincoln's acts are unconstitutional, don't know any law. They remind me of a doctor we have up in Binghamton, who has a large practice because of his fine appearance, his big words, and gold-headed cane. He was called to see a young lad who was sitting on his grandmother's lap. After looking at the boy's tongue and feeling his pulse, he rested his head in deep thought for a while on his gold-headed cane and then said: 'Madam, this boy has such difficulties with the epiglottis and such inflamed larynx that we will have to apply phlebotomy.' The old lady clasped the boy frantically to her bosom and cried: 'For heaven's sake, doctor, what on earth can ail the boy that you are going to put all that on his bottom?'"
Mr. Dickinson introduced me as the head of the State ticket. My speech proved a success, and the chairman paid me the handsome compliment of saying: "We are glad they sent you instead of Governor Andrew."
One of the most effective of our campaign speakers was General Bruce, of Syracuse, N. Y. The general had practically only one speech, which was full of picturesque illustrations, striking anecdotes, and highly wrought-up periods of patriotic exaltation. He delivered this speech, with necessary variations, through many campaigns. I was with the general, who was Canal commissioner when I was secretary of state, on our official tour on the Canal.
One night the general said to me: "Mr. Blank, who has a great reputation, is speaking in a neighboring town, and I am going to hear him." He came back enraged and unhappy. In telling me about it, he said: "That infernal thief delivered my speech word for word, and better than I can do it myself. I am too old to get up another one, and, as I love to speak, I am very unhappy."
This illustrated one of the accidents to which a campaign speaker is liable. The man who stole the general's speech afterwards played the same trick on me. He came into our State from New England with a great reputation. He was a very fine elocutionist, of excellent presence and manner, but utterly incapable of original thought. He could not prepare a speech of any kind. However, he had a phenomenal memory. He could listen to a speech made by another and repeat it perfectly. His attractive appearance, good voice, and fine elocution made the speech a great success. Several orators told me that when they found their efforts a failure they asked for the cause, and discovered that this man had delivered their speeches a few nights before, and the audience, of course, thought the last speaker was a fraud and a thief.
General Bruce told me a good campaign story of Senator James W. Nye, of Nevada. Nye was a prominent lawyer of western New York, and the most eloquent and witty member of the bar of that section, and also the most popular campaign speaker. He moved to Nevada and so impressed the people of that young State that he was elected United States senator. In the Senate he became a notable figure.
Nye and General Bruce were sent by the national committee to canvass New England. Nye had become senatorial in his oratory, with much more dignity and elevation of style than before. He began his first speech at Bridgeport, Conn., in this way: "Fellow citizens, I have come three thousand miles from my mountain home, three thousand feet above the level of the sea, to discuss with you these vital questions for the safety of our republic." The next night, at New Haven, he said: "I have come from my mountain home, five thousand feet above the level of the sea, to discuss with you these vital questions of the safety of our republic." Bruce interrupted him, saying: "Why, senator, it was only three thousand feet last night." Nye turned savagely on Bruce: "Bruce, you go to the devil!" Resuming with the audience, he remarked very impressively: "As I was saying, fellow citizens, I have come from my mountain home, ten thousand feet above the level of the sea, to, etc."
A story which illustrates and enforces the argument helps a political speech, and it is often the only part of the speech which is remembered. I have often heard people say to me: "I heard you speak thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, and this is the story you told." Sometimes, however, the story may prove a boomerang in the most unexpected way.
For many years, when I spoke in northern New York I was always met at the Syracuse station by a superintendent of the Lackawanna Railroad with a special train filled with friends. He carried me up to my destination and brought me back in the morning. It was his great day of the year, and during the trip he was full of reminiscences, and mainly of the confidences reposed in him by the president of the road, my old and valued friend, Samuel Sloan.
One fall he failed to appear, and there was no special train to meet me. I was told by friends that the reason was his wife had died and he was in mourning. The morning after the meeting I started to call upon him, but was informed that he was very hostile and would not see me. I was not going to lose an old friend like that and went up to his office. As soon as I entered, he said: "Go away, I don't want to see you again." I appealed to him, saying: "I cannot lose so good a friend as you. If there is anything I have done or said, I will do everything in my power to make it right." He turned on me sharply and with great emotion told this story: "My wife and I lived in loving harmony for over thirty years, and when she died recently I was heartbroken. The whole town was sympathetic; most of the business houses closed during the hour of the funeral. I had arranged to have ministers whom my wife admired, and with them selected passages of scriptures and hymns to which she was devoted. A new minister in town was invited by the others to participate, and without my knowledge. I looked over the congregation, all Mary's friends. I listened to the services, which Mary herself would have chosen, and said to Mary's spirit, which I knew to be hovering about: 'We are all paying you a loving tribute.' Then the new minister had for his part the announcement and reading of a hymn. At the last Republican convention at Saratoga, in order to illustrate the condition of the Democratic party, you told a story about a boy walking among the children's graves in the old cemetery at Peekskill, eating green apples and whistling 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' The new minister gave that hymn, 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' Your story came up in my mind, and I burst out laughing. I disgraced myself, insulted the memory of Mary, and I never want to see you again."
XXI. NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS
When the Republican convention met in 1912 I was again a delegate. In my fifty-six years of national conventions I never had such an intensely disagreeable experience. I felt it my duty to support President Taft for renomination. I thought he had earned it by his excellent administration. I had many ties with him, beginning with our associations as graduates of Yale, and held for him a most cordial regard. I was swayed by my old and unabated love for Roosevelt. In that compromise and harmony were impossible. I saw that, with the control of the organization and of the convention on the side of Mr. Taft, and with the wild support for Roosevelt of the delegates from the States which could be relied upon to give Republican majorities, the nomination of either would be sure defeat.
I was again a delegate to the Republican convention of 1916. The party was united. Progressives and conservatives were acting together, and the convention was in the happiest of moods. It was generally understood that Justice Hughes would be nominated if he could be induced to resign from the Supreme Court and accept. The presiding officer of the convention was Senator Warren G. Harding. He made a very acceptable keynote speech. His fine appearance, his fairness, justice, and good temper as presiding officer captured the convention. There was a universal sentiment that if Hughes declined the party could do no better than to nominate Senator Harding. It was this impression among the delegates, many of whom were also members of the convention of 1920, which led to the selection as the convention's candidate for president of Warren G. Harding.