Commentary

Disciples


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Thursday, June 13, 1889

     7.55 P.M. The day having been clear, W. had his outing. But when I reached the house, though he had been out on the pavement, he was indoors, at the parlor window. Had spent a much better day than yesterday, and was correspondingly more communicative, therefore. I read W. letter of June 10th I had received from Will Carleton. Much interested and grateful. Thought we should send Carleton the Post. I showed proofs of photographs to W. He looked at them in the dim light for a long time. But he seemed inclined to dubiety. "I don't know," he said, "I am not much warmed to either: there seems little difference between them—a little more depth of tone in one—that is all. But the aspect of the thing—how does that strike you? To me it seems"—and here he worked his two hands as if to compress a mass— "as if all clumped up—clumped up!" Did he mean that this characterized the original? He shook his head: "No—I do not think so—I was never conscious of it there." But however, "Let judgment wait—let me keep the proofs and examine them at ease, by daylight: then we'll see." Lincoln Eyre gave me his proposed but intercepted after-dinner speech today, but the room was so dark, W. thought it best not to attempt reading. "I'll wait till it takes its place," he said. When I had entered W. asked: "And how do things go today?" and when I said quietly: "Well—they go!" he laughed and said: "Good! and the tally for that is, I am here!" Spoke of his intention to send a copy of the birthday book to Stedman.

     Somewhere, there chanced a cursory reference to the Nicolay-Hay excoriation of Chase in the current Century.

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Upon this, W. indulged in a long monologue, which I only slightly interrupted with questions. "I am glad Hay and Nicolay are at him—handling him without gloves. I told Gilder so at the meeting the other night—told him to tell Hay that I accepted his statement of the affair. Shall tell Hay so myself if he comes here—Nicolay I could not: I would not know him if he was to step in the room this minutes." It had always been his idea that "Chase was a bad, bad egg," and added, "I was on the ground at the time—knew the case well—there was a group of us at Washington faithful to Lincoln from first to last. O'Connor was one of them—and John Burroughs, too—though John never so vehement, hot, in his interest, as we were, while genuine and warm enough to be sure, and true as steel. I saw Chase—often: a handsome man in appearance, too—the finest-looking man of the lot,—figure, head all that—but nevertheless a bad, dangerous man. The abolitionists at that time were split up: some of them endorsed Lincoln, others accused him of temporizing, and called for a more radical policy—wished the engine driven at full speed, no matter what was on the road. I myself, coming in contact as I did with everybody, was right in the midst of a little group of inveterate abolitionists, never endorsing them or accepting their methods—though always an antislavery man—but there with them, rubbing up against them—hot abolitionists, which I never was myself." He therefore had every means of knowing the state of feeling. "I told Gilder that he might say to John Hay I could give him some very interesting and important matter on the subject now up. I have not read the piece carefully—the Century piece—but shall take it up again, now you speak of it, and do so, more at ease and, as I say, of malice prepense. J. T. Trowbridge—you have heard of him publicly: I knew him well. When the time came for Chase's proposed nomination, Trowbridge was sent for to come to Washington, there to write a life of Chase. Trowbridge always had a sort of

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personal friendliness for me—quite a warm liking. On coming to Washington he was induced for one reason or another to take up his residence with Chase—lived in his house. Happening, as I did then, to fall in with Trowbridge almost daily—meeting him for a couple of hours at a time—he knowing how I was interested in all things going—how curiously interested—it would not be thought surprising much was told then—much given out—which has today interest, importance, above all, veracity, which so little of what is called history really has."
But Lincoln survived it all. "History has got a twist, somehow—has been on the side of the abolitionists. On this account much of what is true about Chase has never been told. But it should be told—I myself have been tempted to tell it. Think of the Lincoln of those days!—his inexhaustible patience—patience passing all the power of ordinary men to believe possible. Indeed, it seems to me, now I look back—now I survey the old road—years elapsed, and calm in age—it seems to me grand among all Lincoln's grand qualities—grandest of all, topping all the rest—noble in all the ages—was his patience, his long-waitingness, his suffering the last pang to be drawn, before he resented, spoke—and even resented as other men did not!" Imperishable such a man! And imperishable the America that could have had such a man at such a time. What other man would have fitted into that crisis? I asked, how of Lincoln's superb radicalism along with the composure? And W.: "Yes—it is an often-recurring thought—oh! how often and profoundly asked! Try to think of an America with Seward at the top there—or not that, but with Chase: Chase with the reins, driving principle, so-called, to death! To think of Chase in that place is to think of chaos come again—makes us shudder, and then warm up to realize what we escaped. But the people after all were wise—soon settled upon the unquestionability of Lincoln. All along the line of the big cities—New York, Philadelphia, Boston,—up in the great

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Northwest, Detroit, Chicago, the big towns scattered there, the newspapers saw the true drift—oh! they were very cute!—and Lincoln was a conceded man. Chase was a bad type—in a sense a believer in principle—but a believer in the sense only that marks the man who rushes into the Democratic party, the Republican party, makes a great hurrah about it, is extremely vehement—and ends, much of him, anyhow, in froth. Chase's self-esteem was enormous: he had all Sumner's self-esteem—which was big enough, Lord knows!—without those superb qualities which redeemed Sumner: an intense faith, unswerving courage, genuineness beyond suspicion, integrity. And Sumner was not the petty puerile man we knew Chase to be. It was the danger of that day that the government would fall into the hands of the extremists—of the abolitionists, perhaps, or of the Copperheads even, of whom there was a great following along the borders,—sometimes in the big cities north."
Nor did W. credit the gifts for finance always attributed to Chase. "I think they are grossly exaggerated—made much too much of. From what I heard, from what I saw, felt, at the time, I little honored him even there. I happened, especially in the Treasury Department, to come in touch with some of the most skilled financiers—one in particular I remember—and I could never, therefore, accept even this phase of Chase's reputation as legitimate." And he smiled somewhat. "I have friends: some, who think my notions of Chase do me little credit—but do what I will, evidence against him only accumulates."

     Gilchrist came in as we talked and was cordially greeted. W. called him "a pretty fellow" for never having sent over that Tribune, and he had to own up. Talked of a letter Gilchrist wrote to Tennyson describing the dinner. W. remarked: "I see Tennyson has been away—been away for several weeks"—and among things afterwards said (when G. spoke of an almost "morbid streak" in Tennyson),— "Herbert, there's something

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you fellows have over there which is quite peculiar to you—which Tennyson has quite markedly—something I should describe as sensitiveness of the cuticle; I do not mean this in the physical sense alone, or even chiefly."
But Gilchrist thought Tennyson "tortuous"—found it difficult to find a word—the word. Said then, what a good W. would have done Tennyson had they ever met.

     W. said to me suddenly: "By the way, Horace—you need not look in the Herald again—I got the poem back today. Look in the World instead." Said again: "No word with it—it was simply returned." He had addressed them "simply to the managing editor of the World." Directed me upstairs, to the foot of the bed, where he had laid out some papers, &c., for me. I left, Gilchrist still there.


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