My good mother was a Presbyterian and a good Calvinist. She believed and impressed upon me the certainty of special Providence. It is hard for a Republican to think that the election of Woodrow Wilson was a special Providence, but if our candidate, Mr. Hughes, had been elected he would have had a hostile Democratic majority in Congress.
When the United States went into the war, as it must have done, the president would have been handicapped by this pacifist Congress. The draft would have been refused, without which our army of four millions could not have been raised. The autocratic measures necessary for the conduct of the war would have been denied. With the conflict between the executive and Congress, our position would have been impossible and indefensible.
I had a personal experience in the convention. Chairman Harding sent one of the secretaries to me with a message that there was an interval of about an hour when the convention would have nothing to do. It was during such a period the crank had his opportunity and the situation was dangerous, and he wished me to come to the platform and fill as much of that hour as possible. I refused on the ground that I was wholly unprepared, and it would be madness to attempt to speak to fourteen thousand people in the hall and a hundred million outside.
A few minutes afterwards Governor Whitman, chairman of the New York delegation, came to me and said: "You must be drafted. The chairman will create some business to give you fifteen minutes to think up your speech." I spurred my gray matter as never before, and was then introduced and spoke for forty-five minutes. I was past eighty-two. The speech was a success, but when I returned to my seat I remembered what General Garfield had so earnestly said to me: "You are the only man of national reputation who will speak without preparation. Unless you peremptorily and decisively stop yielding you will some day make such a failure as to destroy the reputation of a lifetime."
In a letter President Harding has this to say in reference to the occasion: "Just about a year ago (1916) it was my privilege as chairman of the Republican convention at Chicago to call upon you for an address. There was a hiatus which called for a speech, and you so wonderfully met the difficult requirements that I sat in fascinated admiration and have been ready ever since to pay you unstinted tribute. You were ever eloquent in your more active years, but I count you the old man eloquent and incomparable in your eighties. May many more helpful and happy years be yours."
I was again a delegate to the convention in June, 1920. The Republicans had been for eight years out of office during Mr. Wilson's two terms. The delegates were exceedingly anxious to make no mistake and have no friction in the campaign.
The two leading candidates, General Wood and Governor Lowden, had nearly equal strength and were supported by most enthusiastic admirers and advocates. As the balloting continued the rivalry and feeling grew between their friends. It became necessary to harmonize the situation and it was generally believed that this could be best done by selecting Senator Warren G. Harding.
Very few conventions have a dramatic surprise, but the nomination of Governor Coolidge, of Massachusetts, for vice-president came about in a very picturesque way. He had been named for president among the others, and the speech in his behalf by Speaker Frederick H. Gillett was an excellent one. Somehow the convention did not seem to grasp all that the governor stood for and how strong he was with each delegate. When the nominations for vice-president were called for, Senator Medill McCormick presented Senator Lenroot, of Wisconsin, in an excellent speech. There were also very good addresses on behalf of the Governor of Kansas and others.
When the balloting was about to start, a delegate from Oregon who was in the rear of the hall arose and said: "Mr. Chairman." The chairman said: "The gentleman from Oregon." The Oregon delegate, in a far-reaching voice, shouted: "Mr. Chairman, I nominate for vice-president Calvin Coolidge, a one-hundred-per-cent American." The convention went off its feet with a whoop and Coolidge was nominated hands down.
I again had a personal experience. The committee on resolutions, not being prepared to report, there was that interval of no business which is the despair of presiding officers of conventions. The crowd suddenly began calling for me. While, of course, I had thought much on the subject, I had not expected to be called upon and had no prepared speech. Happily, fifteen thousand faces and fifteen thousand voices giving uproarious welcome both steadied and inspired me. Though I was past eighty-six years of age, my voice was in as good condition as at forty, and was practically the only one which did fill that vast auditorium. The press of the country featured the effort next day in a way which was most gratifying.
Among the thousands who greeted me on the streets and in the hotel lobbies with congratulations and efforts to say something agreeable and complimentary, I selected one compliment as unique. He was an enthusiast. "Chauncey Depew," he said, "I have for over twenty years wanted to shake hands with you. Your speech was a wonder. I was half a mile off, way up under the roof, and heard every word of it, and it was the only one I was able to hear. That you should do this in your eighty-seventh year is a miracle. But then my father was a miracle. On his eighty-fifth birthday he was in just as good shape as you are to-day, and a week afterwards he was dead."
XXII. JOURNALISTS AND FINANCIERS
In reminiscences of my journalistic friends I do not include many of the most valued who are still living. Of those who have passed away one of the most faithful and devoted was Edward H. Butler, editor and proprietor of the Buffalo Evening News.
Mr. Butler began at the bottom as a newspaper man and very early and rapidly climbed to the top. He secured control of the Evening News and soon made one of the most, if not the most, widely circulated, influential, and prosperous papers of western New York. Personally and through his paper he was for many years my devoted friend. To those he loved he had an unbounded fidelity and generosity. He possessed keen insight and kept thoroughly abreast of public affairs was a journalist of high order.
It was my privilege to know Charles A. Dana very well. I first met him when he was on the New York Tribune and closely allied with Horace Greeley. He made the New York Sun one of the brightest, most original, and most quoted newspapers in the United States. His high culture, wonderful command of English, and refined taste gave to the Sun a high literary position, and at the same time his audacity and criticism made him a terror to those with whom he differed, and his editorials the delight of a reader.
Personally Mr. Dana was one of the most attractive and charming of men. As assistant secretary of war during Lincoln's administration he came in intimate contact with all the public men of that period, and as a journalist his study was invaded and he received most graciously men and women famous in every department of intellectual activity. His reminiscences were wonderful and his characterizations remarkable. He might have published an autobiography of rare value and interest.
When the elder James Gordon Bennett died the newspaper world recognized the loss of one of the most remarkable and successful of journalists and publishers. His son had won reputation in the field of sport, but his contemporaries doubted his ability to maintain, much less increase, the sphere of the New York Herald. But young Bennett soon displayed rare originality and enterprise. He made his newspaper one of national and international importance. By bringing out an edition in Paris he conferred a boon upon Americans abroad. For many years there was little news from the United States in foreign newspapers, but Americans crazy for news from home found it in the Paris edition of the New York Herald.
Mr. Bennett was a good friend of mine for half a century. He was delightful company, with his grasp of world affairs and picturesque presentation of them. A President of the United States who wished to change the hostile attitude of the Herald towards his administration and himself asked me to interview Mr. Bennett. The editor was courteous, frank, but implacable. But some time afterwards the Herald became a cordial supporter of the president. The interview and its subsequent result displayed a characteristic of Bennett. He would not recognize that his judgment or action could be influenced, but his mind was so open and fair that when convinced that he was wrong he would in his own way and at his own time do the right thing.
Mr. Bennett did me once an essential service. It was at the time when I was a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate. I cabled him in Paris and asked that he would look into the situation through his confidential friends, reporters, and employees, and if he found the situation warranted his taking a position to do so. Of course the Herald was an independent and not a party journal and rarely took sides. But not long afterwards, editorially and reportorially, the emphatic endorsement of the Herald came, and positive prediction of success, and were of great help. He was one of my groomsmen at my wedding in 1901.
Among the thousands of stories which appear and disappear like butterflies, it is a curious question what vogue and circulation one can have over others. By an accident I broke one of the tendons of my heel and was laid up in my house for some time, unable to walk. The surgeon fixed the bandage in place by a liquid cement which soon solidified like glass.
Julian Ralph, a brilliant young newspaper reporter, wrote a long story in the New York Sun about a wonderful glass leg, which had been substituted for the natural one and did better work. The story had universal publication not only in the United States but abroad, and interested scientists and surgeons. My mail grew to enormous proportions with letters from eager inquirers wanting to know all the particulars. The multitude of unfortunates who had lost their legs or were dissatisfied with artificial ones wrote to me to find out where these wonderful glass legs could be obtained.
The glass-leg story nearly killed me, but it gave Ralph such a reputation that he was advanced to positions both at home and abroad, where his literary genius and imagination won him many honors, but he never repeated his success with my glass leg.
I suppose, having been more than half a century in close contact with matters of interest to the public, or officially in positions where I was a party to corporate activities or movements which might affect the market, I have been more interviewed than any one living and seen more reporters. No reporter has ever abused the confidence I reposed in him. He always appreciated what I told him, even to the verge of indiscretion, and knew what was proper for him to reveal and what was not for publication. In the critical situations which often occurred in railway controversies, this cordial relationship with reporters was of great value in getting our side before the public.
One reporter especially, a space writer, managed for a long time to get from me one-half to a column nearly every day, sometimes appearing as interviews and at other times under the general phrase: "It has been learned from a reliable source."
I recall a personal incident out of the ordinary. I was awakened one stormy winter night by a reporter who was well known to me, a young man of unusual promise. I met him in dressing gown and slippers in my library. There he told me that his wife was ill, and to save her life the doctor informed him that he must send her West to a sanitarium.
"I have no money," he continued, "and will not borrow nor beg, but you must give me a story I can sell."
We discussed various matters which a paper would like to have, and finally I gave him a veiled but still intelligible story, which we both knew the papers were anxious to get. He told me afterwards that he sold the interview for enough to meet his present needs and his wife's journey. Some time after he entered Wall Street and made a success.
I have known well nearly all the phenomenally successful business men of my time. It is a popular idea that luck or chance had much to do with their careers. This is a mistake. All of them had vision not possessed by their fellows. They could see opportunities where others took the opposite view, and they had the courage of their convictions. They had standards of their own which they lived up to, and these standards differed widely from the ethical ideas of the majority.
Russell Sage, who died in the eighties, had to his credit an estate which amounted to a million dollars for every year of his life. He was not always a money-maker, but he was educated in the art as a banker, was diverted into politics, elected to Congress, and became a very useful member of that body. When politics changed and he was defeated, he came to New York and speedily found his place among the survival of the fittest. Mr. Sage could see before others when bad times would be followed by better ones and securities rise in value, and he also saw before others when disasters would follow prosperity. Relying upon his own judgment, he became a winner, whether the market went up or down.
I met Mr. Sage frequently and enjoyed his quick and keen appreciation of men and things. Of course, I knew that he cultivated me because he thought that from my official position he might possibly gain information which he could use in the market. I never received any points from him, or acted upon any of his suggestions. I think the reason why I am in excellent health and vigor in my eighty-eighth year is largely due to the fact that the points or suggestions of great financiers never interested me. I have known thousands who were ruined by them. The financier who gives advice may mean well as to the securities which he confidentially tells about, but an unexpected financial storm may make all prophecies worthless, except for those who have capital to tide it over.
One of the most certain opportunities for fortune was to buy Erie after Commodore Vanderbilt had secured every share and the shorts were selling wildly what they did not have and could not get. An issue of fraudulent and unauthorized stock suddenly flooded the market and thousands were ruined.
As Mr. Sage's wealth increased, the generous and public-spirited impulses which were his underlying characteristics, became entirely obscured by the craze for accumulation. His wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, was, fortunately for him, one of the most generous, philanthropic, and open-minded of women. She was most loyal to the Emma Willard School at Troy, N. Y., from which she graduated. Mrs. Sage wrote me a note at one time, saying: "Mr. Sage has promised to build and give to the Willard School a building which will cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and he wants you to deliver the address at the laying of the corner-stone." I wrote back that I was so overwhelmed with business that it was impossible for me to accept. She replied: "Russell vows he will not give a dollar unless you promise to deliver the address. This is the first effort in his life at liberal giving. Don't you think he ought to be encouraged?" I immediately accepted.
Mrs. Sage was a Mayflower descendant. At one of the anniversaries of the society she invited me to be her guest and to make a speech. She had quite a large company at her table. When the champagne corks began to explode all around us, she asked what I thought she ought to do. I answered: "As the rest are doing." Mr. Sage vigorously protested that it was a useless and wasteful expense. However, Mrs. Sage gave the order, and Mr. Sage and two objecting gentlemen at the table were the most liberal participants of her hospitality. The inspiration of the phizz brought Sage to his feet, though not on the programme. He talked until the committee of arrangements succeeded in persuading him that the company was entirely satisfied.
Jay Gould told me a story of Sage. The market had gone against him and left him under great obligations. The shock sent Sage to bed, and he declared that he was ruined. Mr. Gould and Mr. Cyrus W. Field became alarmed for his life and went to see him. They found him broken-hearted and in a serious condition. Gould said to him: "Sage, I will assume all your obligations and give you so many millions of dollars if you will transfer to me the cash you have in banks, trust, and safe-deposit companies, and you keep all your securities and all your real estate." The proposition proved to be the shock necessary to counteract Sage's panic and save his life. He shouted, "I won't do it!" jumped out of bed, met all his obligations and turned defeat into a victory.
Sage could not personally give away his fortune, so he left it all, without reservations, to his wife. The world is better and happier by her wise distribution of his accumulations.
One of Mr. Sage's lawyers was an intimate friend of mine, and he told me this story. Sage had been persuaded by his fellow directors in the Western Union Telegraph Company to make a will. As he was attorney for the company, Sage came to him to draw it.
The lawyer began to write: "I, Russell Sage, of the City of New York, being of sound mind" . . . (Sage interrupted him in his quick way by saying, "Nobody will dispute that") "do publish and devise this to be my last will and testament as follows: First, I direct that all my just debts will be paid." . . . ("That's easy," said Sage, "because I haven't any.") "Also my funeral expenses and testamentary expenses." ("Make the funeral simple. I dislike display and ostentation, and especially at funerals," said Sage.) "Next," said the lawyer, "I give, devise, and bequeath" . . . (Sage shouted: "I won't do it! I won't do it!" and left the office.)
Nothing is so absorbing as the life of Wall Street. It is more abused, misunderstood, and envied than any place in the country. Wall Street means that the sharpest wits from every State in the Union, and many from South America and Europe, are competing with each other for the great prizes of development, exploitation, and speculation.
I remember a Wall Street man who was of wide reading and high culture, and yet devoted to both the operation and romance of the Street. He rushed into my room one night at Lucerne in Switzerland and said: "I have just arrived from Greece and have been out of touch with everything for six weeks. I am starving for news of the market."
I enlightened him as well as I could, and then he remarked: "Do you know, while in Athens our little party stood on the Acropolis admiring the Parthenon, and one enthusiastic Grecian exclaimed: 'There is the wonder of the world. For three thousand years its perfection has baffled and taught the genius of every generation. It can be copied, but never yet has been equalled. Surely, notwithstanding your love of New York and devotion to the ticker, you must admire the Parthenon.' I answered him, if I could be transported at this minute to Fifth Avenue and Broadway and could look up at the Flatiron Building, I would give the money to rebuild that old ruin."
While conditions in the United States because of the World War are serious, they are so much better than in the years following the close of the Civil War, that we who have had the double experience can be greatly encouraged. Then one-half of our country was devastated, its industries destroyed or paralyzed; now we are united and stronger in every way. Then we had a paper currency and dangerous inflation, now we are on a gold standard and with an excellent banking and credit system. The development of our resources and wonderful inventions and discoveries since the Civil War place us in the foremost position to enter upon world commerce when all other nations have come as they must to co-operation and co-ordination upon lines for the preservation of peace and the promotion of international prosperity.
Many incidents personal to me occur which illustrate conditions following the close of the war between the States. I knew very rich men who became paupers, and strong institutions and corporations which went into bankruptcy. I was in the Union Trust Company of New York when our financial circles were stunned by the closing of its doors following the closing of the New York Stock Exchange.
One of my clients was Mr. Augustus Schell, one of the ablest and most successful of financiers and public-spirited citizens. The panic had ruined him. As we left the Union Trust Company he had his hat over his eyes, and his head was buried in the upturned collar of his coat. When opposite Trinity Church he said: "Mr. Depew, after being a rich man for over forty years, it is hard to walk under a poor man's hat." When we reached the Astor House a complete reaction had occurred. His collar was turned down, his head came out confident and aggressive, his hat had shifted to the back of his head and on a rakish angle. The hopeful citizen fairly shouted: "Mr. Depew, the world has always gone around, it always will go around." He managed with the aid of Commodore Vanderbilt to save his assets from sacrifice. In a few years they recovered normal value, and Mr. Schell with his fortune intact found "the world had gone around" and he was on top again.
I have often felt the inspiration of Mr. Schell's confidence and hope and have frequently lifted others out of the depths of despair by narrating the story and emphasizing the motto "The world always has gone around, the world always will go around."
Illustrating the wild speculative spirit of one financial period, and the eagerness with which speculators grasped at what they thought points, the following is one of my many experiences.
Running down Wall Street one day because I was late for an important meeting, a well-known speculator stopped me and shouted: "What about Erie?" I threw him off impatiently, saying, "Damn Erie!" and rushed on. I knew nothing about Erie speculatively and was irritated at being still further delayed for my meeting.
Sometime afterwards I received a note from him in which he said: "I never can be grateful enough for the point you gave me on Erie. I made on it the biggest kill of my life."
I have often had quoted to me that sentence about "fortune comes to one but once, and if rejected never returns." When I declined President Harrison's offer of the position of secretary of state in his Cabinet, I had on my desk a large number of telegrams signed by distinguished names and having only that quotation. There are many instances in the lives of successful men where they have repeatedly declined Dame Fortune's gift, and yet she has finally rewarded them according to their desires. I am inclined to think that the fickle lady is not always mortally offended by a refusal. I believe that there come in the life of almost everybody several opportunities, and few have the judgment to wisely decide what to decline and what to accept.
In 1876 Gardner Hubbard was an officer in the United States railway mail service. As this connection with the government was one of my duties in the New York Central, we met frequently. One day he said to me: "My son-in-law, Professor Bell, has made what I think a wonderful invention. It is a talking telegraph. We need ten thousand dollars, and I will give you one-sixth interest for that amount of money."
I was very much impressed with Mr. Hubbard's description of the possibilities of Professor Bell's invention. Before accepting, however, I called upon my friend, Mr. William Orton, president of the Western Union Telegraph Company. Orton had the reputation of being the best-informed and most accomplished electrical expert in the country. He said to me: "There is nothing in this patent whatever, nor is there anything in the scheme itself, except as a toy. If the device has any value, the Western Union owns a prior patent called the Gray's patent, which makes the Bell device worthless."
When I returned to Mr. Hubbard he again convinced me, and I would have made the investment, except that Mr. Orton called at my house that night and said to me: "I know you cannot afford to lose ten thousand dollars, which you certainly will if you put it in the Bell patent. I have been so worried about it that contrary to my usual custom I have come, if possible, to make you promise to drop it." This I did.
The Bell patent was sustained in the courts against the Gray, and the telephone system became immediately popular and profitable. It spread rapidly all over the country, and innumerable local companies were organized, and with large interests for the privilege to the parent company.
I rarely ever part with anything, and I may say that principle has brought me so many losses and so many gains that I am as yet, in my eighty-eighth year, undecided whether it is a good rule or not. However, if I had accepted my friend Mr. Hubbard's offer, it would have changed my whole course of life. With the dividends, year after year, and the increasing capital, I would have netted by to-day at least one hundred million dollars. I have no regrets. I know my make-up, with its love for the social side of life and its good things, and for good times with good fellows. I also know the necessity of activity and work. I am quite sure that with this necessity removed and ambition smothered, I should long ago have been in my grave and lost many years of a life which has been full of happiness and satisfaction.
My great weakness has been indorsing notes. A friend comes and appeals to you. If you are of a sympathetic nature and very fond of him, if you have no money to loan him, it is so easy to put your name on the back of a note. Of course, it is rarely paid at maturity, because your friend's judgment was wrong, and so the note is renewed and the amount increased. When finally you wake up to the fact that if you do not stop you are certain to be ruined, your friend fails when the notes mature, and you have lost the results of many years of thrift and saving, and also your friend.
I declined to marry until I had fifty thousand dollars. The happy day arrived, and I felt the fortunes of my family secure. My father-in-law and his son became embarrassed in their business, and, naturally, I indorsed their notes. A few years afterwards my father-in-law died, his business went bankrupt, I lost my fifty thousand dollars and found myself considerably in debt. As an illustration of my dear mother's belief that all misfortunes are sent for one's good, it so happened that the necessity of meeting and recovering from this disaster led to extraordinary exertions, which probably, except under the necessity, I never would have made. The efforts were successful.
Horace Greeley never could resist an appeal to indorse a note. They were hardly ever paid, and Mr. Greeley was the loser. I met him one time, soon after he had been a very severe sufferer from his mistaken kindness. He said to me with great emphasis: "Chauncey, I want you to do me a great favor. I want you to have a bill put through the legislature, and see that it becomes a law, making it a felony and punishable with imprisonment for life for any man to put his name by way of indorsement on the back of another man's paper."
Dear old Greeley kept the practice up until he died, and the law was never passed. There was one instance, which I had something to do with, where the father of a young man, through whom Mr. Greeley lost a great deal of money by indorsing notes, arranged after Mr. Greeley's death to have the full amount of the loss paid to Mr. Greeley's heirs.
XXIII. ACTORS AND MEN OF LETTERS
One cannot speak of Sir Henry Irving without recalling the wonderful charm and genius of his leading lady, Ellen Terry. She never failed to be worthy of sharing in Irving's triumphs. Her remarkable adaptability to the different characters and grasp of their characteristics made her one of the best exemplifiers of Shakespeare of her time. She was equally good in the great characters of other playwrights. Her effectiveness was increased by an unusual ability to shed tears and natural tears. I was invited behind the scenes one evening when she had produced a great impression upon the audience in a very pathetic part. I asked her how she did what no one else was ever able to do.
"Why," she answered, "it is so simple when you are portraying ——" (mentioning the character), "and such a crisis arises in your life, that naturally and immediately the tears begin to flow." So they did when she was illustrating the part for me.
It was a privilege to hear Edwin Booth as Richelieu and Hamlet. I have witnessed all the great actors of my time in those characters. None of them equalled Edwin Booth. For a number of years he was exiled from the stage because his brother, Wilkes Booth, was the assassin of President Lincoln. His admirers in New York felt that it was a misfortune for dramatic art that so consummate an artist should be compelled to remain in private life. In order to break the spell they united and invited Mr. Booth to give a performance at one of the larger theatres. The house, of course, was carefully ticketed with selected guests.
The older Mrs. John Jacob Astor, a most accomplished and cultured lady and one of the acknowledged leaders of New York society, gave Mr. Booth a dinner in honor of the event. The gathering represented the most eminent talent of New York in every department of the great city's activities. Of course, Mr. Booth had the seat of honor at the right of the hostess. On the left was a distinguished man who had been a Cabinet minister and a diplomat. During the dinner Mr. Evarts said to me: "I have known so and so all our active lives. He has been a great success in everything he has undertaken, and the wonder of it is that if there was ever an opportunity for him to say or do the wrong thing he never failed."
Curiously enough, the conversation at the dinner ran upon men outliving their usefulness and reputations. Several instances were cited where a man from the height of his fame gradually lived on and lived out his reputation. Whereupon our diplomat, with his fatal facility for saying the wrong thing, broke in by remarking in a strident voice: "The most remarkable instance of a man dying at the right time for his reputation was Abraham Lincoln." Then he went on to explain how he would have probably lost his place in history through the mistakes of his second term. Nobody heard anything beyond the words "Abraham Lincoln." Fortunately for the evening and the great embarrassment of Mr. Booth, the tact of Mrs. Astor changed the subject and saved the occasion.
Of all my actor friends none was more delightful either on the stage or in private life than Joseph Jefferson. He early appealed to me because of his Rip Van Winkle. I was always devoted to Washington Irving and to the Hudson River. All the traditions which have given a romantic touch to different points on that river came from Irving's pen. In the days of my youth the influence of Irving upon those who were fortunate enough to have been born upon the banks of the Hudson was very great in every way.
As I met Jefferson quite frequently, I recall two of his many charming stories. He said he thought at one time that it would be a fine idea to play Rip Van Winkle at the village of Catskill, around which place was located the story of his hero. His manager selected the supernumeraries from among the farmer boys of the neighborhood. At the point of the play where Rip wakes up and finds the lively ghosts of the Hendrick Hudson crew playing bowls in the mountains, he says to each one of them, who all look and are dressed alike: "Are you his brother?"
"No," answered the young farmer who impersonated one of the ghosts, "Mr. Jefferson, I never saw one of these people before." As ghosts are supposed to be silent, this interruption nearly broke up the performance.
During the Spanish-American War I came on the same train with Mr. Jefferson from Washington. The interest all over the country at that time was the remarkable victory of Admiral Dewey over the Spanish fleet in the harbor of Manila. People wondered how Dewey could sink every Spanish ship and never be hit once himself. Jefferson said in his quaint way: "Everybody, including the secretary of the navy and several admirals, asked me how that could have happened. I told them the problem might be one which naval officers could not solve, but it was very simple for an actor. The failure of the Spanish admiral was entirely due to his not having rehearsed. Success is impossible without frequent rehearsals."
Returning for a moment to Washington Irving, one of the most interesting spots near New York is his old home, Wolfert's Roost, and also the old church at Tarrytown where he worshipped, and of which he was an officer for many years. The ivy which partially covers the church was given to Mr. Irving by Sir Walter Scott, from Abbotsford. At the time when the most famous of British reviewers wrote, "Whoever read or reads an American book?" Sir Walter Scott announced the merit and coming fame of Washington Irving. But, as Rip Van Winkle says, when he returns after twenty years to his native village, "how soon we are forgot."
There was a dinner given in New York to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Washington Irving's birth. I was one of the speakers. In an adjoining room was a company of young and very successful brokers, whose triumphs in the market were the envy of speculative America. While I was speaking they came into the room. When I had finished, the host at the brokers' dinner called me out and said: "We were much interested in your speech. This Irving you talked about must be a remarkable man. What is the dinner about?"
I answered him that it was in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Washington Irving.
"Well," he said, pointing to an old gentleman who had sat beside me on the speakers' platform, "it is astonishing how vigorous he looks at that advanced age."
It was my good fortune to hear often and know personally Richard Mansfield. He was very successful in many parts, but his presentation of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was wonderful. At one time he came to me with a well-thought-out scheme for a national theatre in New York, which would be amply endowed and be the home of the highest art in the dramatic profession, and at the same time the finest school in the world. He wanted me to draw together a committee of the leading financiers of the country and, if possible, to impress them so that they would subscribe the millions necessary for carrying out his ideas. I was too busy a man to undertake so difficult a project.
One of the colored porters in the Wagner Palace Car service, who was always with me on my tours of inspection over the railroad, told me an amusing story of Mr. Mansfield's devotion to his art. He was acting as porter on Mansfield's car, when he was making a tour of the country. This porter was an exceedingly intelligent man. He appreciated Mansfield's achievements and played up to his humor in using him as a foil while always acting. When they were in a station William never left the car, but remained on guard for the protection of its valuable contents.
After a play at Kansas City Mansfield came into the car very late and said: "William, where is my manager?"
"Gone to bed, sir, and so have the other members of the company," answered William.
Then in his most impressive way Mansfield said: "William, they fear me. By the way, were you down at the depot to-night when the audience from the suburbs were returning to take their trains home?"
"Yes, sir," answered William, though he had not been out of the car.
"Did you hear any remarks made about my play?"
"Can you give me an instance?"
"Certainly," replied William; "one gentleman remarked that he had been to the theatre all his life, but that your acting to-night was the most rotten thing he had ever heard or seen."
"William," shouted Mansfield, "get my Winchester and find that man."
So Mansfield and William went out among the crowds, and when William saw a big, aggressive-looking fellow who he thought would stand up and fight, he said: "There he is."
Mansfield immediately walked up to the man, covered him with his rifle, and shouted: "Hold up your hands, you wretch, and take back immediately the insulting remark you made about my play and acting and apologize."
The man said: "Why, Mr. Mansfield, somebody has been lying to you about me. Your performance to-night was the best thing I ever saw in my life."
"Thank you," said Mansfield, shouldering his rifle, and added in the most tragic tone: "William, lead the way back to the car."
Among the most interesting memories of old New Yorkers are the suppers which Mr. Augustin Daly gave on the one hundredth performance of a play. Like everything which Daly did, the entertainment was perfect. A frequent and honored guest on these occasions was General Sherman, who was then retired from the army and living in New York. Sherman was a military genius but a great deal more. He was one of the most sensitive men in the world. Of course, the attraction at these suppers was Miss Rehan, Daly's leading lady. Her personal charm, her velvet voice, and her inimitable coquetry made every guest anxious to be her escort. She would pretend to be in doubt whether to accept the attentions of General Sherman or myself, but when the general began to display considerable irritation, the brow of Mars was smoothed and the warrior made happy by a gracious acceptance of his arm.
On one of these occasions I heard the best after-dinner speech of my life. The speaker was one of the most beautiful women in the country, Miss Fanny Davenport. That night she seemed to be inspired, and her eloquence, her wit, her humor, her sparkling genius, together with the impression of her amazing beauty were very effective.
P. T. Barnum, the showman, was a many-sided and interesting character. I saw much of him as he rented from the Harlem Railroad Company the Madison Square Garden, year after year. Barnum never has had an equal in his profession and was an excellent business man. In a broad way he was a man of affairs, and with his vast fund of anecdotes and reminiscences very entertaining socially.
An Englishman of note came to me with a letter of introduction, and I asked him whom he would like to meet. He said: "I think principally Mr. P. T. Barnum." I told this to Barnum, who knew all about him, and said: "As a gentleman, he knows how to meet me." When I informed my English friend, he expressed his regret and at once sent Barnum his card and an invitation for dinner. At the dinner Barnum easily carried off the honors with his wonderful fund of unusual adventures.
My first contact with Mr. Barnum occurred many years before, when I was a boy up in Peekskill. At that time he had a museum and a show in a building at the corner of Ann Street and Broadway, opposite the old Astor House. By skilful advertising he kept people all over the country expecting something new and wonderful and anxious to visit his show.
There had been an Indian massacre on the Western plains. The particulars filled the newspapers and led to action by the government in retaliation. Barnum advertised that he had succeeded in securing the Sioux warriors whom the government had captured, and who would re-enact every day the bloody battle in which they were victorious.
It was one of the hottest afternoons in August when I appeared there from the country. The Indians were on the top floor, under the roof. The performance was sufficiently blood-curdling to satisfy the most exacting reader of a penny-dreadful. After the performance, when the audience left, I was too fascinated to go, and remained in the rear of the hall, gazing at these dreadful savages. One of them took off his head-gear, dropped his tomahawk and scalping-knife, and said in the broadest Irish to his neighbor: "Moike, if this weather don't cool off, I will be nothing but a grease spot." This was among the many illusions which have been dissipated for me in a long life. Notwithstanding that, I still have faith, and dearly love to be fooled, but not to have the fraud exposed.
Wyndham, the celebrated English actor, was playing one night in New York. He saw me in the audience and sent a messenger inviting me to meet him at supper at the Hoffman House. After the theatre I went to the hotel, asked at the desk in what room the theatrical supper was, and found there Bronson Howard, the playwright, and some others. I told them the object of my search, and Mr. Howard said: "You are just in the right place."
The English actor came later, and also a large number of other guests. I was very much surprised and flattered at being made practically the guest of honor. In the usual and inevitable after-dinner speeches I joined enthusiastically in the prospects of American contributions to drama and especially the genius of Bronson Howard.
It developed afterwards that the actors' dinner was set for several nights later, and that I was not invited or expected to this entertainment, which was given by Mr. Howard to my actor friend, but by concert of action between the playwright and the actor, the whole affair was turned into a dinner to me. Broadway was delighted at the joke, but did not have a better time over it than I did.
The supper parties after the play which Wyndham gave were among the most enjoyable entertainments in London. His guests represented the best in society, government, art, literature, and drama. His dining-room was built and furnished like the cabin of a yacht and the illusion was so complete that sensitive guests said they felt the rolling of the sea.
One evening he said to me: "I expect a countryman of yours, a charming fellow, but, poor devil, he has only one hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year. He is still young, and all the managing mothers are after him for their daughters."
When the prosperous American with an income of three-quarters of a million arrived, I needed no introduction. I knew him very well and about his affairs. He had culture, was widely travelled, was both musical and artistic, and his fad was intimacy with prominent people. His dinners were perfection and invitations were eagerly sought. On the plea of delicate health he remained a brief period in the height of the season in London and Paris. But during those few weeks he gave all that could be done by lavish wealth and perfect taste, and did it on an income of twenty thousand dollars a year.
Most of the year he lived modestly in the mountains of Switzerland or in Eastern travel, but was a welcome guest of the most important people in many lands. The only deceit about it, if it was a deceit, was that he never went out of his way to deny his vast wealth, and as he never asked for anything there was no occasion to publish his inventory. The pursuing mothers and daughters never succeeded, before his flight, in leading him far enough to ask for a show-down.
Many times during my visits to Europe I have been besieged to know the income of a countryman. On account of the belief over there in the generality of enormous American fortunes, it is not difficult to create the impression of immense wealth. While the man would have to make a statement and give references, the lady's story is seldom questioned. I have known some hundreds and thousands of dollars become in the credulous eyes of suitors as many millions, and a few millions become multimillions. In several instances the statements of the lady were accepted as she achieved her ambition.
For a tired man who has grown stale with years of unremitting work I know of no relief and recuperation equal to taking a steamer and crossing the ocean to Europe. I did this for a few weeks in midsummer many times and always with splendid and most refreshing results. With fortunate introductions, I became acquainted with many of the leading men of other countries, and this was a liberal education.
There is invariably a concert for charities to help the sailors on every ship. I had many amusing experiences in presiding on these occasions. I remember once we were having a rough night of it, and one of our artists, a famous singer, who had made a successful tour of the United States, was a little woman and her husband a giant. He came to me during the performance and said: "My wife is awfully seasick, but she wants to sing, and I want her to. In the intervals of her illness she is in pretty good shape for a little while. If you will stop everything when you see me coming in with her, she will do her part."
I saw him rushing into the saloon with his wife in his arms, and immediately announced her for the next number. She made a great triumph, but at the proper moment was caught up by her husband and carried again to the deck. He said to me afterwards: "My wife was not at her best last night, because there is a peculiarity about seasickness and singers; the lower notes in which she is most effective are not at such times available or in working order."
Augustin Daly did a great service to the theatre by his wonderful genius as a manager. He discovered talent everywhere and encouraged it. He trained his company with the skill of a master, and produced in his theatres here and in London a series of wonderful plays. He did not permit his artists to take part, as a rule, in these concerts on the ship, but it so happened that on one occasion we celebrated the Fourth of July. I went to Mr. Daly and asked him if he would not as an American take the management of the whole celebration. This appealed to him, and he selected the best talent from his company. Among them was Ada Rehan. I knew Miss Rehan when she was in the stock company at Albany in her early days. With Mr. Daly, who discovered her, she soon developed into a star of the first magnitude.
Mr. Daly persisted on my presiding and introducing the artists, and also delivering the Fourth of July oration. The celebration was so successful in the saloon that Mr. Daly had it repeated the next night in the second cabin, and the night after that in the steerage. The steerage did its best, and was clothed in the finest things which it was carrying back to astonish the old folks in the old country, and its enthusiasm was greater, if possible, than the welcome which had greeted the artists among the first and second cabin passengers.
After Miss Rehan had recited her part and been encored and encored, I found her in tears. I said: "Miss Rehan, your triumph has been so great that it should be laughter."
"Yes," she said, "but it is so pathetic to see these people who probably never before met with the highest art."
Among the many eminent English men of letters who at one time came to the United States was Matthew Arnold. The American lecture promoters were active in securing these gentlemen, and the American audiences were most appreciative. Many came with letters of introduction to me.
Mr. Arnold was a great poet, critic, and writer, and an eminent professor at Oxford University and well-known to our people. His first address was at Chickering Hall to a crowded house. Beyond the first few rows no one could hear him. Explaining this he said to me: "My trouble is that my lectures at the university are given in small halls and to limited audiences." I advised him that before going any farther he should secure an elocutionist and accustom himself to large halls, otherwise his tour would be a disappointment.
He gave me an amusing account of his instructor selecting Chickering Hall, where he had failed, and making him repeat his lecture, while the instructor kept a progressive movement farther and farther from the stage until he reached the rear seats, when he said he was satisfied. It is a tribute to the versatility of this great author that he learned his lesson so well that his subsequent lectures in different parts of the country were very successful.
Once Mr. Arnold said to me: "The lectures which I have prepared are for university audiences, to which I am accustomed. I have asked my American manager to put me only in university towns, but I wish you would look over my engagements."
Having done this, I remarked: "Managers are looking for large and profitable audiences. There is no university or college in any of these towns, though one of them has an inebriate home and another an insane asylum. However, both of these cities have a cultured population. Your noisiest and probably most appreciative audience will be at the one which is a large railroad terminal. Our railroad people are up-to-date."
I saw Mr. Arnold on his return from his tour. The description he gave of his adventures was very picturesque and the income had been exceedingly satisfactory and beyond expectation.
Describing the peculiarities of the chairmen who introduced him, he mentioned one of them who said: "Ladies and gentlemen, next week we will have in our course the most famous magician there is in the world, and the week after, I am happy to say, we shall be honored by the presence of a great opera-singer, a wonderful artist. For this evening it is my pleasure to introduce to you that distinguished English journalist Mr. Edwin Arnold." Mr. Arnold began his lecture with a vigorous denial that he was Edwin Arnold, whom I judged he did not consider in his class.
Mr. Arnold received in New York and in the larger cities which he visited the highest social attention from the leading families. I met him several times and found that he never could be reconciled to our two most famous dishes—terrapin and canvasback duck—the duck nearly raw. He said indignantly to one hostess, who chided him for his neglect of the canvasback: "Madam, when your ancestors left England two hundred and fifty years ago, the English of that time were accustomed to eat their meat raw; now they cook it." To which the lady answered: "I am not familiar with the customs of my ancestors, but I know that I pay my chef, who cooked the duck, three hundred dollars a month."
We were all very fond of Thackeray. He did not have the general popularity of Charles Dickens, nor did he possess Dickens's dramatic power, but he had a large and enthusiastic following among our people. It was an intellectual treat and revelation to listen to him. That wonderful head of his seemed to be an enormous and perennial fountain of wit and wisdom.
They had a good story of him at the Century Club, which is our Athenaeum, that when taken there after a lecture by his friends they gave him the usual Centurion supper of those days: saddlerock oysters. The saddlerock of that time was nearly as large as a dinner-plate. Thackeray said to his host: "What do I do with this animal?"
The host answered: "We Americans swallow them whole."
Thackeray, always equal to the demand of American hospitality, closed his eyes and swallowed the oyster, and the oyster went down. When he had recovered he remarked: "I feel as if I had swallowed a live baby."
We have been excited at different times to an absorbing extent by the stories of explorers. None were more generally read than the adventures of the famous missionary, David Livingstone, in Africa. When Livingstone was lost the whole world saluted Henry M. Stanley as he started upon his famous journey to find him. Stanley's adventures, his perils and escapes, had their final success in finding Livingstone. The story enraptured and thrilled every one. The British Government knighted him, and when he returned to the United States he was Sir Henry Stanley. He was accompanied by his wife, a beautiful and accomplished woman, and received with open arms.
I met Sir Henry many times at private and public entertainments and found him always most interesting. The Lotos Club gave him one of its most famous dinners, famous to those invited and to those who spoke.
It was arranged that he should begin his lecture tour of the United States in New York. At the request of Sir Henry and his committee I presided and introduced him at the Metropolitan Opera House. The great auditorium was crowded to suffocation and the audience one of the finest and most sympathetic.
We knew little at that time of Central Africa and its people, and the curiosity was intense to hear from Sir Henry a personal and intimate account of his wonderful discoveries and experiences. He thought that as his African life was so familiar to him, it must be the same to everybody else. As a result, instead of a thriller he gave a commonplace talk on some literary subject which bored the audience and cast a cloud over a lecture tour which promised to be one of the most successful. Of course Sir Henry's effort disappointed his audience the more because their indifference and indignation depressed him, and he did not do justice to himself or the uninteresting subject which he had selected. He never again made the same mistake, and the tour was highly remunerative.
For nearly a generation there was no subject which so interested the American people as the adventures of explorers. I met many of them, eulogized them in speeches at banquets given in their honor. The people everywhere were open-eyed, open-eared, and open-mouthed in their welcome and eagerness to hear them.
It is a commentary upon the fickleness of popular favor that the time was so short before these universal favorites dropped out of popular attention and recollection.
XXIV. SOCIETIES AND PUBLIC BANQUETS
The most unique experience in my life has been the dinners given to me by the Montauk Club of Brooklyn on my birthday. The Montauk is a social club of high standing, whose members are of professional and business life and different political and religious faiths.
Thirty years ago Mr. Charles A. Moore was president of the club. He was a prominent manufacturer and a gentleman of wide influence in political and social circles. Mr. McKinley offered him the position of secretary of the navy, which Mr. Moore declined. He came to me one day with a committee from the club, and said: "The Montauk wishes to celebrate your birthday. We know that it is on the 23d of April, and that you have two distinguished colleagues who also have the 23d as their birthday—Shakespeare and St. George. We do not care to include them, but desire only to celebrate yours."
The club has continued these celebrations for thirty years by an annual dinner. The ceremonial of the occasion is a reception, then dinner, and, after an introduction by the president, a speech by myself. To make a new speech every year which will be of interest to those present and those who read it, is not easy.
These festivities had a fortunate beginning. In thinking over what I should talk about at the first dinner, I decided to get some fun out of the municipality of Brooklyn by a picturesque description of its municipal conditions. It was charged in the newspapers that there had been serious graft in some public improvements which had been condoned by the authorities and excused by an act of the legislature. It had also been charged that the Common Council had been giving away valuable franchises to their favorites. Of course, this presented a fine field of contrast between ancient and modern times. In ancient times grateful citizens erected statues to eminent men who had deserved well of their country in military or civic life, but Brooklyn had improved upon the ancient model through the grant of public utilities. The speech caused a riot after the dinner as to its propriety, many taking the ground that it was a criticism, and, therefore, inappropriate to the occasion. However, the affair illustrated a common experience of mine that unexpected results will sometimes flow from a bit of humor, if the humor has concealed in it a stick of dynamite.
The Brooklyn pulpit, which is the most progressive in the world, took the matter up and aroused public discussion on municipal affairs. The result was the formation of a committee of one hundred citizens to investigate municipal conditions. They found that while the mayor and some other officials were high-toned and admirable officers, yet the general administration of the city government had in the course of years become so bad that there should be a general reformation. The reform movement was successful; it spread over to New York and there again succeeded, and the movement for municipal reform became general in the country.
The next anniversary dinner attracted an audience larger than the capacity of the club, and every one of the thirty has been an eminent success. For many years the affair has received wide publicity in the United States, and has sometimes been reported in foreign newspapers. I remember being in London with the late Lieutenant-Governor Woodruff, when we saw these head-lines at a news-stand on the Strand: "Speech by Chauncey Depew at his birthday dinner at the Montauk Club, Brooklyn." During this nearly third of a century the membership of the club has changed, sons having succeeded fathers and new members have been admitted, but the celebration seems to grow in interest.
During the last fourteen years the president of the club has been Mr. William H. English. He has done so much for the organization in every way that the members would like to have him as their executive officer for life. Mr. English is a splendid type of the American who is eminently successful in his chosen career, and yet has outside interest for the benefit of the public. Modest to a degree and avoiding publicity, he nevertheless is the motive power of many movements progressive and charitable.
Twenty-four years ago a company of public-spirited women in the city of Des Moines, Iowa, organized a club. They named it after me. For nearly a quarter of a century it has been an important factor in the civic life of Des Moines. It has with courage, intelligence, and independence done excellent work. At the time of its organization there were few if any such organizations in the country, and it may claim the position of pioneer in women's activity in public affairs.
Happily free from the internal difficulties and disputes which so often wreck voluntary associations, the Chauncey Depew Club is stronger than ever. It looks forward with confidence to a successful celebration of its quarter of a century.
I have never been able to visit the club, but have had with it frequent and most agreeable correspondence. It always remembers my birthday in the most gratifying way. I am grateful to its members for bestowing upon me one of the most pleasurable compliments of my life.
A public dinner is a fine form of testimonial. I have had many in my life, celebrating other things than my birthday. One of the most notable was given me by the citizens of Chicago in recognition of my efforts to make their great Columbian exhibition a success. Justice John M. Harlan presided, and distinguished men were present from different parts of the country and representing great interests. Probably the speech which excited the most comment was a radical attack of Andrew Carnegie on the government of Great Britain, in submitting to the authority of a king or a queen. Canada was represented by some of the high officials of that self-governing colony. The Canadians are more loyal to the English form of government than are the English themselves. My peppery Scotch friend aroused a Canadian official, who returned his assault with vigor and interest.
It is a very valuable experience for an American to attend the annual banquet of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris. The French Government recognizes the affair by having a company of their most picturesquely uniformed soldiers standing guard both inside and outside the hall. The highest officials of the French Government always attend and make speeches. The American Ambassador replies in a speech partly in English, and, if he is sufficiently equipped, partly in French. General Horace Porter and Henry White were equally happy both in their native language and in that of the French. The French statesmen, however, were so fond of Myron T. Herrick that they apparently not only grasped his cordiality but understood perfectly his eloquence. The honor has several times been assigned to me of making the American speech in unadulterated American. The French may not have understood, but with their quick apprehension the applause or laughter of the Americans was instantly succeeded by equal manifestations on the part of the French.
Among the many things which we have inherited from our English ancestry are public dinners and after-dinner speeches. The public dinner is of importance in Great Britain and utilized for every occasion. It is to the government the platform where the ministers can lay frankly before the country matters which they could not develop in the House of Commons. Through the dinner speech they open the way and arouse public attention for measures which they intend to propose to Parliament, and in this way bring the pressure of public opinion to their support.
In the same way every guild and trade have their festive functions with serious purpose, and so have religious, philanthropic, economic, and sociological movements. We have gone quite far in this direction, but have not perfected the system as they have on the other side. I have been making after-dinner speeches for sixty years to all sorts and conditions of people, and on almost every conceivable subject. I have found these occasions of great value because under the good-fellowship of the occasion an unpopular truth can be sugar-coated with humor and received with applause, while in the processes of digestion the next day it is working with the audience and through the press in the way the pill was intended. A popular audience will forgive almost anything with which they do not agree, if the humorous way in which it is put tickles their risibilities.
Mr. Gladstone was very fine at the lord mayor's dinner at Guild Hall, where the prime minister develops his policies. So it was with Lord Salisbury and Balfour, but the prince of after-dinner speakers in England is Lord Rosebery. He has the humor, the wit, and the artistic touch which fascinates and enraptures his audience.
I have met in our country all the men of my time who have won fame in this branch of public address. The most remarkable in effectiveness and inspiration was Henry Ward Beecher. A banquet was always a success if it could have among its speakers William M. Evarts, Joseph H. Choate, James S. Brady, Judge John R. Brady, General Horace Porter, or Robert G. Ingersoll.
After General Grant settled in New York he was frequently a guest at public dinners and always produced an impression by simple, direct, and effective oratory.
General Sherman, on the other hand, was an orator as well as a fighter. He never seemed to be prepared, but out of the occasion would give soldierly, graphic, and picturesque presentations of thought and description.
Not to have heard on these occasions Robert G. Ingersoll was to have missed being for the evening under the spell of a magician. I have been frequently asked if I could remember occasions of this kind which were of more than ordinary interest.
After-dinner oratory, while most attractive at the time, is evanescent, but some incidents are interesting in memory. At the time of Queen Victoria's jubilee I was present where a representative of Canada was called upon for a speech. With the exception of the Canadian and myself the hosts and guests were all English. My Canadian friend enlarged upon the wonders of his country. A statement of its marvels did not seem sufficient for him unless it was augmented by comparisons with other countries to the glory of Canada, and so he compared Canada with the United States. Canada had better and more enduring institutions, she had a more virile, intelligent, and progressive population, and she had protected herself, as the United States did not, against undesirable immigration, and in everything which constituted an up-to-date, progressive, healthy, and hopeful commonwealth she was far in advance of the United States.
I was called upon immediately afterwards and said I would agree with the distinguished gentleman from Canada that in one thing at least Canada was superior to the United States, and it was that she had far more land, but it was mostly ice. I regret to remember that my Canadian friend lost his temper.
One of the historical dinners of New York, which no one will forget who was there, was just after the close of the Civil War, or, as my dear old friend, Colonel Watterson, called it, "The War between the States." The principal guests were General Sherman and Henry W. Grady of Atlanta, Ga. General Sherman, in his speech, described the triumphant return of the Union Army to Washington, its review by the President, and then its officers and men returning to private life and resuming their activities and industries as citizens. It was a word-picture of wonderful and startling picturesqueness and power and stirred an audience, composed largely of veterans who had been participants both in the battles and in the parades, to the highest degree of enthusiasm. Mr. Grady followed. He was a young man with rare oratorical gifts. He described the return of the Confederate soldiers to their homes after the surrender at Appomattox. They had been four years fighting and marching. They were ragged and poor. They returned to homes and farms, many of which had been devastated. They had no capital, and rarely animals or farming utensils necessary to begin again. But with superb courage, not only on their own part but with the assistance of their wives, sisters, and daughters, they made the desert land flourish and resurrected the country.
This remarkable description of Grady, which I only outline, came as a counterpart to the triumphant epic of General Sherman. The effect was electric, and beyond almost any that have ever occurred in New York or anywhere, and Grady sprang into international fame.
Joseph H. Choate was a most dangerous fellow speaker to his associates who spoke before him. I had with him many encounters during fifty years, and many times enjoyed being the sufferer by his wit and humor. On one occasion Choate won the honors of the evening by an unexpected attack. There is a village in western New York which is named after me. The enterprising inhabitants, boring for what might be under the surface of their ground, discovered natural gas. According to American fashion, they immediately organized a company and issued a prospectus for the sale of the stock. The prospectus fell into the hands of Mr. Choate. With great glee he read it and then with emphasis the name of the company: "The Depew Natural Gas Company, Limited," and waving the prospectus at me shouted: "Why limited?"
There have been two occasions in Mr. Choate's after-dinner speeches much commented upon both in this country and abroad. As I was present on both evenings, it seems the facts ought to be accurately stated. The annual dinner of the "Friendly Sons of St. Patrick" occurred during one of the years when the Home Rule question was most acute in England and actively discussed here. At the same time our Irish fellow citizens, with their talent for public life, had captured all the offices in New York City. They had the mayor, the majority of the Board of Aldermen, and a large majority of the judges. When Mr. Choate spoke he took up the Home Rule question, and, without indicating his own views, said substantially: "We Yankees used to be able to govern ourselves, but you Irish have come here and taken the government away from us. You have our entire city administration in your hands, and you do with us as you like. We are deprived of Home Rule. Now what you are clamoring for both at home and abroad is Home Rule for Ireland. With such demonstrated ability in capturing the greatest city on the western continent, and one of the greatest in the world, why don't you go back to Ireland and make, as you would, Home Rule there a success?"
I was called a few minutes afterwards to a conference of the leading Irishmen present. I was an honorary member of that society, and they were in a high state of indignation. The more radical thought that Mr. Choate's speech should be resented at once. However, those who appreciated its humor averted hostile action, but Mr. Choate was never invited to an Irish banquet again.
The second historical occasion was when the Scotch honored their patron Saint, St. Andrew. The attendance was greater than ever before, and the interest more intense because the Earl of Aberdeen was present. The earl was at that time Governor-General of Canada, but to the Scotchmen he was much more than that, because he was the chief of the Clan Gordon. The earl came to the dinner in full Highland costume. Lady Aberdeen and the ladies of the vice-regal court were in the gallery. I sat next to the earl and Choate sat next to me. Choate said: "Chauncey, are Aberdeen's legs bare?" I looked under the table-cloth and discovered that they were naturally so because of his costume. I answered: "Choate, they are."
I thought nothing of it until Choate began his speech, in which he said: "I was not fully informed by the committee of the importance of the occasion. I did not know that the Earl of Aberdeen was to be here as a guest of honor. I was especially and unfortunately ignorant that he was coming in the full panoply of his great office as chief of Clan Gordon. If I had known that I would have left my trousers at home."
Aberdeen enjoyed it, the ladies in the gallery were amused, but the Scotch were mad, and Choate lost invitations to future Scotch dinners.
Few appreciate the lure of the metropolis. It attracts the successful to win greater success with its larger opportunities. It has resistless charm with the ambitious and the enterprising. New York, with its suburbs, which are really a part of itself, is the largest city in the world. It is the only true cosmopolitan one. It has more Irish than any city in Ireland, more Germans and Italians than any except the largest cities in Germany or Italy. It has more Southerners than are gathered in any place in any Southern State, and the same is true of Westerners and those from the Pacific coast and New England, except in Chicago, San Francisco, or Boston. There is also a large contingent from the West Indies, South America, and Canada.
The people who make up the guests at a great dinner are the survival of the fittest of these various settlers in New York. While thousands fail and go back home or drop by the way, these men have made their way by superior ability, foresight, and adaptability through the fierce competitions of the great city. They are unusually keen-witted and alert. For the evening of the banquet they leave behind their business and its cares and are bent on being entertained, amused, and instructed. They are a most catholic audience, broad-minded, hospitable, and friendly to ideas whether they are in accord with them or not, providing they are well presented. There is one thing they will not submit to, and that is being bored.
These functions are usually over by midnight, and rarely last so long; while out in the country and in other towns, it is no unusual thing to have a dinner with speeches run along until the early hours of the next morning. While public men, politicians, and aspiring orators seek their opportunities upon this platform in New York, few succeed and many fail. It is difficult for a stranger to grasp the situation and adapt himself at once to its atmosphere. I have narrated in preceding pages some remarkable successes, and will give a few instances of very able and distinguished men who lost touch of their audiences.
One of the ablest men in the Senate was Senator John T. Morgan, of Alabama. I was fond of him personally and admired greatly his many and varied talents. He was a most industrious and admirable legislator, and a debater of rare influence. He was a master of correct and scholarly English, and one of the very few who never went to the reporters' room to correct his speeches. As they were always perfect, he let them stand as they were delivered.
Senator Morgan was a great card on a famous occasion among the many well-known men who were also to speak. Senator Elihu Root presided with his usual distinction. Senator Morgan had a prepared speech which he read. It was unusually long, but very good. On account of his reputation the audience was, for such an audience, wonderfully patient and frequent and enthusiastic in its applause. Mistaking his favorable reception, Senator Morgan, after he had finished the manuscript, started in for an extended talk. After the hour had grown to nearly two, the audience became impatient, and the senator, again mistaking its temper, thought they had become hostile and announced that at many times and many places he had been met with opposition, but that he could not be put down or silenced. Mr. Root did the best he could to keep the peace, but the audience, who were anxious to hear the other speakers, gave up hope and began to leave, with the result that midnight saw an empty hall with a presiding officer and an orator.
At another great political dinner I sat beside Governor Oglesby, of Illinois. He was famous as a war governor and as a speaker. There were six speakers on the dais, of whom I was one. Happily, my turn came early. The governor said to me: "How much of the gospel can these tenderfeet stand?" "Well, Governor," I answered, "there are six speakers to-night, and the audience will not allow the maximum of time occupied to be more than thirty minutes. Any one who exceeds that will lose his crowd and, worse than that, he may be killed by the eloquent gentlemen who are bursting with impatience to get the floor, and who are to follow him."
"Why," said the governor, "I don't see how any one can get started in thirty minutes."
"Well," I cautioned, "please do not be too long."
When the midnight hour struck the hall was again practically empty, the governor in the full tide of his speech, which evidently would require about three hours, and the chairman declared the meeting adjourned.
Senator Foraker, of Ohio, who was one of the appointed speakers, told me the next morning that at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where he was stopping, he was just getting into bed when the governor burst into his room and fairly shouted: "Foraker, no wonder New York is almost always wrong. You saw to-night that it would not listen to the truth. Now I want to tell you what I intended to say." He was shouting with impassioned eloquence, his voice rising until, through the open windows, it reached Madison Square Park, when the watchman burst in and said: "Sir, the guests in this hotel will not stand that any longer, but if you must finish your speech I will take you out in the park."
During Cleveland's administration one of the New York banquets became a national affair. The principal speaker was the secretary of the interior, Lucius Q. C. Lamar, who afterwards became United States senator and justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Lamar was one of the ablest and most cultured men in public life, and a fine orator. I was called upon so late that it was impossible to follow any longer the serious discussions of the evening, and what the management and the audience wanted from me was some fun.
Lamar, with his Johnsonian periods and the lofty style of Edmund Burke, furnished an opportunity for a little pleasantry. He came to me, when I had finished, in great alarm and said: "My appearance here is not an ordinary one and does not permit humor. I am secretary of the interior, and the representative of the president and his administration. My speech is really the message of the president to the whole country, and I wish you would remedy any impression which the country might otherwise receive from your humor."
This I was very glad to do, but it was an instance of which I have met many, of a very distinguished and brilliant gentleman taking himself too seriously. At another rather solemn function of this kind I performed the same at the request of the management, but with another protest from the orator and his enmity.
In reminiscing, after he retired from the presidency, Mr. Cleveland spoke to me of his great respect and admiration for Mr. Lamar. Cleveland's speeches were always short. His talent was for compression and concentration, and he could not understand the necessity for an effort of great length. He told me that while Justice Lamar was secretary of the interior he came to him one day and said: "Mr. President, I have accepted an invitation to deliver an address in the South, and as your administration may be held responsible for what I say, I wish you would read it over and make any corrections or suggestions."
Mr. Cleveland said the speech was extraordinarily long though very good, and when he returned it to Secretary Lamar he said to him: "That speech will take at least three hours to deliver. A Northern audience would never submit to over an hour. Don't you think you had better cut it down?" The secretary replied: "No, Mr. President; a Southern audience expects three hours, and would be better satisfied with five."
Justice Miller, one of the ablest of the judges of the Supreme Court at that time, was the principal speaker on another occasion. He was ponderous to a degree, and almost equalled in the emphasis of his utterances, what was once said of Daniel Webster, that every word weighed twelve pounds. I followed him. The Attorney-General of the United States, who went back to Washington the next day with Justice Miller, told me that as soon as they had got on the train the justice commenced to complain that I had wholly misunderstood his speech, and that no exaggeration of interpretation would warrant what I said. The judge saw no humor in my little effort to relieve the situation, and took it as a reply of opposing counsel. He said that the justice took it up from another phase after leaving Philadelphia, and resumed his explanation from another angle as to what he meant after they reached Baltimore. When the train arrived at its destination and they separated in the Washington station, the justice turned to the attorney-general and said: "Damn Depew! Good-night."
Such are the perils of one who good-naturedly yields to the importunities of a committee of management who fear the failure with their audience of their entertainment.
The great dinners of New York are the Chamber of Commerce, which is a national function, as were also for a long time, during the presidency of Mr. Choate, those of the New England Society. The annual banquets of the Irish, Scotch, English, Welsh, Holland, St. Nicholas, and the French, are also most interesting, and sometimes by reason of the presence of a national or international figure, assume great importance. The dinner which the Pilgrims Society tenders to the British ambassador gives him an opportunity, without the formalities and conventions of his office, of speaking his mind both to the United States and to his own people.
The annual banquets of the State societies are now assuming greater importance. Each State has thousands of men who have been or still are citizens, but who live in New York. Those dinners attract the leading politicians of their several States. It is a platform for the ambitious to be president and sometimes succeeds.
Garfield made a great impression at one of these State dinners, so did Foraker, and at the last dinner of the Ohio Society the star was Senator Warren G. Harding. On one occasion, when McKinley and Garfield were present, in the course of my speech I made a remark which has since been adopted as a sort of motto by the Buckeye State. Ohio, I think, has passed Virginia as a mother of presidents. It is remarkable that the candidates of both great parties are now of that State. I said in the closing of my speech, alluding to the distinguished guests and their prospects: "Some men have greatness thrust upon them, some are born great, and some are born in Ohio."
One of the greatest effects produced by a speech was by Henry Ward Beecher at an annual dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. At the time, the Home Rule question was more than ordinarily acute and Fenianism was rabid. While Mr. Beecher had great influence upon his audience, his audience had equal influence upon him. As he enlarged upon the wrongs of Ireland the responses became more enthusiastic and finally positively savage. This stirred the orator up till he gave the wildest approval to direct action and revolution, with corresponding cheers from the diners, standing and cheering. Mr. Beecher was explaining that speech for about a year afterwards. I was a speaker on the same platform.
Mr. Beecher always arrived late, and everybody thought it was to get the applause as he came in but he explained to me that it was due to his method of preparation. He said his mind would not work freely until three hours after he had eaten. Many speakers have told me the same thing. He said when he had a speech to make at night, whether it was at a dinner or elsewhere, that he took his dinner in the middle of the day, and then a glass of milk and crackers at five o'clock, with nothing afterwards. Then in the evening his mind was perfectly clear and under absolute control.
The Lotos Club has been for fifty years to New York what the Savage Club is to London. It attracts as its guests the most eminent men of letters who visit this country. Its entertainments are always successful. For twenty-nine years it had for its president Mr. Frank R. Lawrence, a gentleman with a genius for introducing distinguished strangers with most felicitous speeches, and a committee who selected with wonderful judgment the other speakers of the evening. A successor to Mr. Lawrence, and of equal merit, has been found in Chester S. Lord, now president of the Lotos Club. Mr. Lord was for more than a third of a century managing editor of the New York Sun, and is now chancellor of the University of the State of New York.
I remember one occasion where the most tactful man who ever appeared before his audience slipped his trolley, and that was Bishop Potter. The bishop was a remarkably fine preacher and an unusually attractive public speaker and past master of all the social amenities of life. The guest of the evening was the famous Canon Kingsley, author of "Hypatia" and other works at that time universally popular. The canon had the largest and reddest nose one ever saw. The bishop, among the pleasantries of his introduction, alluded to this headlight of religion and literature. The canon fell from grace and never forgave the bishop.
On Lotos nights I have heard at their best Lord Houghton, statesman and poet, Mark Twain, Stanley the explorer, and I consider it one of the distinctions as well as pleasures of my life to have been a speaker at the Lotos on more occasions than any one else during the last half century.
In Mr. Joseph Pulitzer's early struggles with his paper, the New York World, the editorial columns frequently had very severe attacks on Mr. William H. Vanderbilt and the New York Central Railroad. They were part, of course, of attacks upon monopoly. I was frequently included in these criticisms.
The Lotos Club gave a famous dinner to George Augustus Sala, the English writer and journalist. I found myself seated beside Mr. Pulitzer, whom I had never met. When I was called upon to speak I introduced, in what I had to say about the distinguished guest, this bit of audacity. I said substantially, in addition to Mr. Sala: "We have with us to-night a great journalist who comes to the metropolis from the wild and woolly West. After he had purchased the World he came to me and said, 'Chauncey Depew, I have a scheme, which I am sure will benefit both of us. Everybody is envious of the prestige of the New York Central and the wealth of Mr. Vanderbilt. You are known as his principal adviser. Now, if in my general hostility to monopoly I include Mr. Vanderbilt and the New York Central as principal offenders, I must include you, because you are the champion in your official relationship of the corporation and of its policies and activities. I do not want you to have any feeling against me because of this. The policy will secure for the World everybody who is not a stockholder in the New York Central, or does not possess millions of money. When Mr. Vanderbilt finds that you are attacked, he is a gentleman and broad-minded enough to compensate you and will grant to you both significant promotion and a large increase in salary.'" Then I added: "Well, gentlemen, I have only to say that Mr. Pulitzer's experiment has been eminently successful. He has made his newspaper a recognized power and a notable organ of public opinion; its fortunes are made and so are his, and, in regard to myself, all he predicted has come true, both in promotion and in enlargement of income." When I sat down Mr. Pulitzer grasped me by the hand and said: "Chauncey Depew, you are a mighty good fellow. I have been misinformed about you. You will have friendly treatment hereafter in any newspaper which I control."
The Gridiron Club of Washington, because of both its ability and genius and especially its national position, furnishes a wonderful platform for statesmen. Its genius in creating caricatures and fake pageants of current political situations at the capital and its public men is most remarkable. The president always attends, and most of the Cabinet and justices of the Supreme Court. The ambassadors and representatives of the leading governments represented in Washington are guests, and so are the best-known senators and representatives of the time. The motto of the club is "Reporters are never present. Ladies always present." Though the association is made up entirely of reporters, the secrecy is so well kept that the speakers are unusually frank.