Grant And The Chinese(Dictated in 1885)Early in 1884, or late in 1883, if my memory serves me, I called on General Grant with Yung Wing, late Chinese minister at Washington, to introduce Wing and let him lay before General Grant a proposition. Li Hung-Chang, one of the greatest and most progressive men in China since the death of Prince Kung, had been trying to persuade the imperial government to build a system of military railroads in China, and had so far succeeded in his persuasions that a majority of the government were willing to consider the matter--provided that money could be obtained for that purpose outside of China, this money to be raised upon the customs of the country and by bonding the railway, or in some such manner. Yung Wing believed that if General Grant would take charge of the matter here and create the syndicate, the money would be easily forthcoming. He also knew that General Grant was better and more favorably known in China than any other foreigner in the world, and was aware that if his name were associated with the enterprise--the syndicate--it would inspire the Chinese government and people and give them the greatest possible sense of security. We found the general cooped up in his room with a severe rheumatism, resulting from a fall on the ice which he had got some months before. He would not undertake a syndicate, because times were so hard here that people would be loath to invest money so far away; of course Yung Wing's proposal included a liberal compensation for General Grant for his trouble, but that was a thing that the general would not listen to for a moment. He said that easier times would come by and by, and that the money could then be raised, no doubt, and that he would enter into it cheerfully and with zeal and carry it through to the very best of his ability, but he must do it without compensation. In no case would he consent to take any money for it. Here, again, he manifested the very strongest interest in China, an interest which I had seen him evince on previous occasions. He said he had urged a system of railways on Li Hung-Chang when he was in China, and he now felt so sure that such a system would be a great salvation for the country, and also the beginning of the country's liberation from the Tartar rule and thralldom, that he would be quite willing at a favorable time to do everything he could toward carrying out that project, without other compensation than the pleasure he would derive from being useful to China.This reminds me of one other circumstance.About 1879 or 1880 the Chinese pupils in Hartford and other New England towns had been ordered home by the Chinese government. There were two parties in the Chinese government--one headed by Li Hung-Chang, the progressive party, which was striving to introduce Western arts and education into China; the other was opposed to all progressive measures. Li Hung-Chang and the progressive party kept the upper hand for some time, and during this period the government had sent one hundred or more of the country's choicest youth over here to be educated. But now the other party had got the upper hand and had ordered these young people home. At this time an old Chinaman named Quong, non-progressionist, was the chief China minister at Washington, and Yung Wing was his assistant. The order disbanding the schools was a great blow to Yung Wing, who had spent many years in working for their establishment. This order came upon him with the suddenness of a thunderclap. He did not know which way to turn.First, he got a petition signed by the presidents of various American colleges, setting forth the great progress that the Chinese pupils had made and offering arguments to show why the pupils should be allowed to remain to finish their education. This paper was to be conveyed to the Chinese government through the minister at Peking. But Yung Wing felt the need of a more powerful voice in the matter, and General Grant occurred to him. He thought that if he could get General Grant's great name added to that petition, that alone would outweigh the signatures of a thousand college professors. So the Rev. Mr. Twichell and I went down to New York to see the general. I introduced Mr. Twichell, who had come with a careful speech for the occasion, in which he intended to load the general with information concerning the Chinese pupils and the Chinese question generally. But he never got the chance to deliver it. The general took the word out of his mouth and talked straight ahead, and easily revealed to Twichell the fact that the general was master of the whole matter and needed no information from anybody, and also the fact that he was brimful of interest in the matter. Now, as always, the general was not only ready to do what we asked of him, but a hundred times more. He said, yes, he would sign that paper, if desired, but he would do better than that: he would write a personal letter to Li Hung-Chang, and do it immediately. So Twichell and I went downstairs into the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a crowd of waiting and anxious visitors sitting in the anteroom, and in the course of half an hour he sent for us again and put into our hands his letter to Li Hung-Chang, to be sent directly and without the intervention of the American minister, or anyone else. It was a clear, compact, and admirably written statement of the case of the Chinese pupils, with some equally clear arguments to show that the breaking up of the schools would be a mistake. We shipped the letter and prepared to wait a couple of months to see what the result would be.But we had not to wait so long. The moment the general's letter reached China a telegram came back from the Chinese government, which was almost a copy, in detail, of General Grant's letter, and the cablegram ended with the peremptory command to old Minister Wong to continue the Chinese schools.It was a marvelous exhibition of the influence of a private citizen of one country over the counsels of an Empire situated on the other side of the globe.Such an influence could have been wielded by no other citizen in the world outside of that Empire; in fact, the policy of the imperial government had been reversed from Room 45, Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York, by a private citizen of the United States.
If we would learn what the human race really is at bottom, we need only observe it in election times. A Hartford clergyman met me in the street and spoke of a new nominee--denounced the nomination, in strong, earnest words--words that were refreshing for their independence, their manliness. He said, "I ought to be proud, perhaps, for this nominee is a relative of mine; on the contrary, I am humiliated and disgusted, for I know him intimately--familiarly--and I know that he is an unscrupulous scoundrel, and always has been." You should have seen this clergyman preside at a political meeting forty days later, and urge, and plead, and gush--and you should have heard him paint the character of this same nominee. You would have supposed he was describing the Cid, and Greatheart, and Sir Galahad, and Bayard the Spotless all rolled into one. Was he sincere? Yes--by that time; and therein lies the pathos of it all, the hopelessness of it all. It shows at what trivial cost of effort a man can teach himself to lie, and learn to believe it, when he perceives, by the general drift, that that is the popular thing to do. Does he believe his lie yet? Oh, probably not; he has no further use for it. It was but a passing incident; he spared to it the moment that was its due, then hastened back to the serious business of his life.
New York, January 10, 1906I have to make several speeches within the next two or three months, and I have been obliged to make a few speeches during the last two months--and all of a sudden it is borne in upon me that people who go out that way to make speeches at gatherings of one kind or another, and at social banquets particularly, put themselves to an unnecessary amount of trouble, often, in the way of preparation. As a rule, your speech at a social banquet is not an important part of your equipment for that occasion, for the reason that as a rule the banquet is merely given to celebrate some event of merely momentary interest, or to do honor to some guest of distinction--and so there is nothing of large consequence--nothing, I mean, that one should feel bound to concentrate himself upon in talking upon such an occasion, whereas the really important matter, perhaps, is that the speaker make himself reasonably interesting while he is on his feet, and avoid wearying and exasperating the people who are not privileged to make speeches, and also not privileged to get out of the way when other people begin. So, common charity for those people should require that the speaker make some kind of preparation, instead of going to the place absolutely empty.The person who makes frequent speeches can't afford much time for their preparation, and he probably goes to that place empty (just as I am in the habit of doing), purposing to gather texts from other unprepared people who are going to speak before he speaks. Now it is perfectly true that if you can get yourself located along about number three, and from that lower down on the program, it can be depended on with certainty that one or another of those previous speakers will furnish all the texts needed. In fact, you are likely to have more texts than you do need, and so they can become an embarrassment. You would like to talk to all of those texts, and of course that is a dangerous thing. You should choose one of them and talk to that one--and it is a hundred to one that before you have been on your feet two minutes you will wish you had taken the other one. You will get away from the one you have chosen, because you will perceive that there was another one that was better.I am reminded of this old, old fact in my experience by what happened the other night at the Players', where twenty-two of my friends of ancient days in the Players' Club gave me a dinner1 in testimony of their satisfaction in having me back again after an absence of three years, occasioned by the stupidity of the board of management of that club--a board which had been in office ever since the founding of the club; and if it were not the same old board that they had in the beginning it amounted to the same, because they must have been chosen, from time to time, from the same asylum that had furnished the original board. On this occasion Brander Matthews was chairman, and he opened the proceedings with an easy and comfortable and felicitous speech. Brander is always prepared and competent when he is going to make a speech. Then he called up Gilder, who came empty, and probably supposed he was going to be able to fill from Brander's tank, whereas he struck a disappointment. He labored through and sat down, not entirely defeated, but a good deal crippled. Frank Millet (painter) was next called up. He struggled along through his remarks, exhibiting two things--one, that he had prepared and couldn't remember the details of his preparation, and the other that his text was a poor text. In his talk the main sign of preparation was that he tried to recite two considerable batches of poetry--good poetry--but he lost confidence and turned it into bad poetry by bad recitation. Sculpture was to have been represented, and Saint-Gaudens had accepted and had promised a speech, but at the last moment he was not able to come and a man who was thoroughly unprepared had to get up and make a speech in Saint-Gaudens's place. He did not hit upon anything original or disturbing in his remarks, and, in fact, they were so tottering and hesitating and altogether commonplace that really he seemed to have hit upon something new and fresh when he finished by saying that he had not been expecting to be called upon to make a speech! I could have finished his speech for him, I had heard it so many times.Those people were unfortunate because they were thinking--that is Millet and Gilder were--all the time that Matthews was speaking; they were trying to keep in mind the little preparations which they had made, and this prevented them from getting something new and fresh in the way of a text out of what Brander was saying. In the same way Millet was still thinking about his preparation while Gilder was talking, and so he overlooked possible texts furnished by Gilder. But as I had asked Matthews to put me last on the list of speakers, I had all the advantages possible to the occasion. For I came without a text, and these boys furnished plenty of texts for me, because my mind was not absorbed in trying to remember my preparations--they didn't exist. I spoiled, in a degree, Brander's speech, because his speech had been prepared with direct reference to introducing me, the guest of the occasion--and he had to turn that all around and get out of it, which he did very gracefully, explaining that his speech was a little lopsided and wrong end first because I had asked to be placed last in the list of speakers. I had a plenty good-enough time, because Gilder had furnished me a text; Brander had furnished me a text; Millet had furnished me a text. These texts were fresh, hot from the bat, and they produced the same eager disposition to take hold of them and talk that they would have produced in ordinary conversation around a table in a beer mill.Now then, I know how banquet speeches should be projected, because I have been thinking over this matter. This is my plan. Where it is merely a social banquet for a good time--such as the one which I am to attend in Washington on the 27th, where the company will consist of the membership of the Gridiron Club (newspaper correspondents exclusively, I think), with as guests the President and Vice-President of the United States and two others--certainly that is an occasion where a person will be privileged to talk about any subject except politics and theology, and even if he is asked to talk to a toast he needn't pay any attention to the toast, but talk about anything. Now then, the idea is this--to take the newspaper of that day, or the newspaper of that evening, and glance over the headings in the telegraphic page--a perfect bonanza of texts, you see! I think a person could pull that day's newspaper out of his pocket and talk that company to death before he would run out of material. If it were to-day, you have the Morris incident. And that reminds me how unexciting the Morris incident will be two or three years from now--maybe six months from now--and yet what an irritating thing it is to-day, and has been for the past few days. It brings home to one this large fact: that the events of life are mainly small events--they only seem large when we are close to them. By and by they settle down and we see that one doesn't show above another. They are all about one general low altitude, and inconsequential. If you should set down every day, by shorthand, as we are doing now, the happenings of the previous day, with the intention of making out of the massed result an autobiography, it would take from one to two hours--and from that to four hours--to set down the autobiographical matter of that one day, and the result would be a consumption of from five to forty thousand words. It would be a volume. Now one must not imagine that because it has taken all day Tuesday to write up the autobiographical matter of Monday, there will be nothing to write on Wednesday. No, there will be just as much to write on Wednesday as Monday had furnished for Tuesday. And that is because life does not consist mainly--or even largely--of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head. Could you set them down stenographically? No. Could you set down any considerable fraction of them stenographically? No. Fifteen stenographers hard at work couldn't keep up. Therefore a full autobiography has never been written, and it never will be. It would consist of 365 double-size volumes per year--and so if I had been doing my whole autobiographical duty ever since my youth, all the library buildings on the earth could not contain the result.I wonder what the Morris incident will look like in history fifty years from now. Consider these circumstances: that here at our own doors the mighty insurance upheaval has not settled down to a level yet. Even yesterday, and day before, the discredited millionaire insurance magnates had not all been flung out and buried from sight under the maledictions of the nation, but some of the McCurdies, McCalls, Hydes, and Alexanders were still lingering in positions of trust, such as directorships in banks. Also we have to-day the whole nation's attention centered upon the Standard Oil corporation, the most prodigious commercial force existing upon the planet. All the American world are standing breathless and wondering if the Standard Oil is going to come out of its Missourian battle crippled, and if crippled, how much crippled. Also we have Congress threatening to overhaul the Panama Canal Commission to see what it has done with the fifty-nine millions, and to find out what it proposes to do with the recently added eleven millions. Also there are three or four other matters of colossal public interest on the board to-day. And on the other side of the ocean we have Church and State separated in France; we have a threat of war between France and Germany upon the Morocco question; we have a crushed revolution in Russia, with the Tsar and his family of thieves--the grand dukes--recovering from their long fright and beginning to butcher the remnants of the revolutionaries in the old confident way that was the Russian way in former days for three centuries; we have China furnishing a solemn and awful mystery. Nobody knows what it is, but we are sending three regiments in a hurry from the Philippines to China, under the generalship of Funston, the man who captured Aguinaldo by methods which would disgrace the lowest blatherskite that is doing time in any penitentiary. Nobody seems to know what the Chinese mystery is, but everybody seems to think that a giant convulsion is impending there.That is the menu as it stands to-day. These are the things which offer themselves to the world's attention to-day. Apparently they are large enough to leave no space for smaller matters, yet the Morris incident comes up and blots the whole thing out. The Morris incident is making a flurry in Congress, and for several days now it has been rioting through the imagination of the American nation and setting every tongue afire with excited talk. This autobiography will not see the light of print until after my death. I do not know when that is going to happen, and do not feel a large interest in the matter, anyway. It may be some years yet, but if it does not occur within the next three months I am confident that by that time the nation, encountering the Morris incident in my autobiography, would be trying to remember what the incident was, and not succeeding. That incident, which is so large to-day, will be so small three or four months from now it will then have taken its place with the abortive Russian revolution and these other large matters, and nobody will be able to tell one from the other by difference of size.This is the Morris incident. A Mrs. Morris, a lady of culture, refinement, and position, called at the White House and asked for a moment's conversation with President Roosevelt. Mr. Barnes, one of the private secretaries, declined to send in her card, and said that she couldn't see the President, that he was busy. She said she would wait. Barnes wanted to know what her errand was, and she said that some time ago her husband had been dismissed from the public service and she wanted to get the President to look into his case. Barnes, finding that it was a military case, suggested that she go to the Secretary of War. She said she had been to the War Office, but could not get admission to the Secretary--she had tried every means she could think of, but had failed. Now she had been advised by the wife of a member of the Cabinet to ask for a moment's interview with the President.Well, without going into a multiplicity of details, the general result was that Barnes still persisted in saying that she could not see the President, and he also persisted in inviting her, in the circumstances, to go away. She was quiet, but she still insisted on remaining until she could see the President. Then the "Morris incident" happened. At a sign from Barnes a couple of policemen on guard there rushed forward and seized this lady, and began to drag her out of the place. She was frightened and she screamed. Barnes says she screamed repeatedly, and in a way which "aroused the whole White House"--though nobody came to see what was happening. This might give the impression that this was something that was happening six or seven times a day, since it didn't cause any excitement. But this was not so. Barnes has been a private secretary long enough to work his imagination, probably, and that accounts for most of the screaming--though the lady did some of it herself, as she concedes. The woman was dragged out of the White House. She says that in the course of dragging her along the roadway her clothes were soiled with mud and some of them stripped in rags from her back. A negro gathered up her ankles, and so relieved her from contact with the ground. He supporting her by the ankles, and the two policemen carrying her at the other end, they conveyed her to a place--apparently a police station of some kind, a couple of blocks away--and she was dripping portemonnaies and keys, and one thing or another, along the road, and honest people were picking them up and fetching them along. Barnes entered a charge against her of insanity. Apparently the police inspector regarded that as rather a serious charge, and, as he probably had not had one like it before and did not quite know how it ought to be handled, he would not allow her to be delivered to her friends until she had deposited five dollars in his till. No doubt this was to keep her from disappearing from the United States--and he might want to take up this serious charge presently and thresh it out.That lady still lies in her bed at the principal hotel in Washington, disabled by the shock, and naturally very indignant at the treatment which she has received--but her calm and mild, unexcited, and well-worded account of her adventure is convincing evidence that she was not insane, even to the moderate extent of five dollars' worth.There you have the facts. It is as I have said--for a number of days they have occupied almost the entire attention of the American nation; they have swept the Russian revolution out of sight, the China mystery, and all the rest of it. It is this sort of thing which makes the right material for an autobiography. You set the incident down which for the moment is to you the most interesting. If you leave it alone three or four weeks you wonder why you ever thought of setting such a thing down--it has no value, no importance. The champagne that made you drunk with delight or exasperation at the time has all passed away; it is stale. But that is what human life consists of--little incidents and big incidents, and they are all of the same size if we let them alone. An autobiography that leaves out the little things and enumerates only the big ones is no proper picture of the man's life at all; his life consists of his feelings and his interests, with here and there an incident apparently big or little to hang the feelings on.That Morris incident will presently have no importance whatever, and yet the biographer of President Roosevelt will find it immensely valuable if he will consider it--examine it--and be sagacious, enough to perceive that it throws a great deal of light upon the President's character. Certainly a biography's chiefest feature is the exhibition of the character of the man whose biography is being set forth. Roosevelt's biographer will light up the President's career step by step, mile after mile, through his life's course, with illuminating episodes and incidents. He should set one of the lamps by the Morris incident, for it indicates character. It is a thing which probably could not have happened in the White House under any other President who has ever occupied those premises. Washington wouldn't call the police and throw a lady out over the fence! I don't mean that Roosevelt would. I mean that Washington wouldn't have any Barneses in his official family. It is the Roosevelts that have the Barneses around. That private secretary was perfectly right in refusing access to the President--the President can't see everybody on everybody's private affairs, and it is quite proper, then, that he should refuse to see anybody on a private affair--treat all the nation alike. That is a thing which has been done, of course, from the beginning until now--people have always been refused admission to the President on private matters, every day, from Washington's time to ours. The secretaries have always carried their point; Mr. Barnes carried his. But, according to the President in office at the time, the methods have varied--one President's secretary has managed it in one way, another President's secretary has managed it in another way--but it never would have occurred to any previous secretary to manage it by throwing the lady over the fence.Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most impulsive men in existence. That is the reason why he has impulsive secretaries. President Roosevelt probably never thinks of the right way to do anything. That is why he has secretaries who are not able to think of the right way to do anything. We naturally gather about us people whose ways and dispositions agree with our own. Mr. Roosevelt is one of the most likable men that I am acquainted with. I have known him, and have occasionally met him, dined in his company, lunched in his company, for certainly twenty years. I always enjoy his society, he is so hearty, so straightforward, outspoken, and, for the moment, so absolutely sincere. These qualities endear him to me when he is acting in his capacity of private citizen, they endear him to all his friends. But when he is acting under their impulse as President, they make of him a sufficiently queer President. He flies from one thing to another with incredible dispatch--throws a somersault and is straightway back again where he was last week. He will then throw some more somersaults and nobody can foretell where he is finally going to land after the series. Each act of his, and each opinion expressed, is likely to abolish or controvert some previous act or expressed opinion. This is what is happening to him all the time as President. But every opinion that he expresses is certainly his sincere opinion at that moment, and it is as certainly not the opinion which he was carrying around in his system three or four weeks earlier, and which was just as sincere and honest as the latest one. No, he can't be accused of insincerity--that is not the trouble. His trouble is that his newest interest is the one that absorbs him; absorbs the whole of him from his head to his feet, and for the time being it annihilates all previous opinions and feelings and convictions. He is the most popular human being that has ever existed in the United States, and that popularity springs from just these enthusiasms of his--these joyous ebullitions of excited sincerity. It makes him so much like the rest of the people. They see themselves reflected in him. They also see that his impulses are not often mean. They are almost always large, fine, generous. He can't stick to one of them long enough to find out what kind of a chick it would hatch if it had a chance, but everybody recognizes the generosity of the intention and admires it and loves him for it.
In homes where the near friends and visitors are mainly literary people--lawyers, judges, professors, and clergymen--the children's ears become early familiarized with wide vocabularies. It is natural for them to pick up any words that fall in their way; it is natural for them to pick up big and little ones indiscriminately; it is natural for them to use without fear any word that comes to their net, no matter how formidable it may be as to size. As a result, their talk is a curious and funny musketry-clatter of little words, interrupted at intervals by the heavy-artillery crash of a word of such imposing sound and size that it seems to shake the ground and rattle the windows. Sometimes the child gets a wrong idea of a word which it has picked up by chance, and attaches to it a meaning which impairs its usefulness--but this does not happen as often as one might expect it would. Indeed, it happens with an infrequency which may be regarded as remarkable. As a child, Susy had good fortune with her large words, and she employed many of them. She made no more than her fair share of mistakes. Once when she thought something very funny was going to happen (but it didn't) she was racked and torn with laughter, by anticipation. But apparently she still felt sure of her position, for she said, "If it had happened, I should have been transformed [transported] with glee."
When Susy was twelve and a half years old, I took to the platform again, after a long absence from it, and raked the country for four months in company with George W. Cable. Early in November we gave a reading one night in Chickering Hall, in New York, and when I was walking home in a dull gloom of fog and rain I heard one invisible man say to another invisible man, this, in substance: "General Grant has actually concluded to write his autobiography." That remark gave me joy, at the time, but if I had been struck by lightning in place of it, it would have been better for me and mine. However, that is a long story, and this is not the place for it.
HARTFORD, January 31.