My Memories of Eighty Years
Chauncey M. Depew
Part 6 out of 7
I heard another story of Webster from Horace F. Clarke, a famous
lawyer of New York, and a great friend of his. Mr. Clarke said
that he had a case involving very large interests before the
chancellor. He discovered that Mr. Webster was at the Astor House,
and called upon him. Mr. Webster told him that his public and
professional engagements were overwhelming, and that it was
impossible for him to take up anything new. Clarke put a thousand
dollars on the table and pleaded with Mr. Webster to accept a
retainer. Clarke said that Webster looked longingly at the money,
saying: "Young man, you cannot imagine, and I have no words which
can express how much I need that money, but it is impossible.
However, let me see your brief." Webster read it over and then
said to Clarke: "You will not win on that brief, but if you will
incorporate this, I think your case is all right." Clarke said
that when he presented the brief and made his argument before
the chancellor, the chancellor decided in his favor, wholly on
the suggestion made by Mr. Webster. An eminent lawyer told me
that studying Mr. Webster's arguments before the Supreme Court
and the decisions made in those cases he discovered very often
that the opinion of the court followed the reasoning of this
Henry J. Raymond told me the following story of Mr. William H. Seward.
He said that one morning a messenger came to his office (Raymond
at that time was editor of the New York Times) and said that
Mr. Seward was at the Astor House and wanted to see me. When I
arrived Mr. Seward said: "I am on my way to my home at Auburn,
where I am expected to deliver a speech for the whole country in
explanation and defense of our administration. [Johnson was
president.] When I am ready I will wire you, and then send me
one of your best reporters." About two weeks afterwards Mr. Raymond
received this cryptic telegram from Mr. Seward: "Send me the man
of whom I spoke."
When the reporter returned he said to Mr. Raymond: "When I arrived
at Auburn I expected that a great meeting had been advertised, but
there were no handbills, notices, or anything in the local papers,
so I went up to Mr. Seward's house. He said to me: 'I am very
glad to see you. Have you your pencil and note-book? If so, we
will make a speech.' After the dictation Mr. Seward said: 'Please
write that out on every third line, so as to leave room for
corrections, and bring it back to me in the morning.' When I gave
the copy to Mr. Seward, he took it and kept it during the day,
and when I returned in the evening the vacant space had been
filled with corrections and new matter. Mr. Seward said to me:
'Now make me a clean copy as corrected.' When I returned with
the corrected copy he remarked: 'I think you and I made a very
poor speech. Let us try it again.' The same process was repeated
a second time, and this corrected copy of the speech was delivered
in part to a few friends who were called into Mr. Seward's library
for the occasion. The next morning these headlines appeared in
all the leading papers in the country: 'GREAT SPEECH ON BEHALF
OF THE ADMINISTRATION BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE AT A BIG MASS
MEETING AT AUBURN, N. Y.'
In the career of a statesman a phrase will often make or unmake
his future. In the height of the slavery excitement and while
the enforcement of the fugitive-slave law was arousing the greatest
indignation in the North, Mr. Seward delivered a speech at
Rochester, N. Y., which stirred the country. In that speech,
while paying due deference to the Constitution and the laws, he
very solemnly declared that "there is a higher law." Mr. Seward
sometimes called attention to his position by an oracular utterance
which he left the people to interpret. This phrase, "the higher
law," became of first-class importance, both in Congress, in the
press, and on the platform. On the one side, it was denounced as
treason and anarchy. On the other side, it was the call of
conscience and of the New Testament's teaching of the rights of
man. It was one of the causes of his defeat for the presidency.
Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, afterwards vice-president,
was in great demand. He was clear in his historical statements
and emphatic in his expression of views. If he had any apprehension
of humor he never showed it in his speeches. His career had been
very picturesque from unskilled laborer to the Senate and the
vice-presidency. The impression he gave was of an example of
American opportunity, and he was more impressive and influential
by his personality and history than by what he said.
One of the most picturesque and popular stump speakers was
Daniel S. Dickinson. He had been a United States senator and
party leader, and was a national figure. His venerable appearance
gave force to his oratory. He seemed to be of great age, but was
remarkably vigorous. His speeches were made up of epigrams which
were quotable and effective. He jumped rapidly from argument to
anecdote and was vitriolic in attack.
I had an interesting experience with Mr. Dickinson when running
for secretary of state in 1863. The drawing card for that year,
and the most sought-after and popular for campaign speaking, was
Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts. He had a series of appointments
in New York State, but on account of some emergency cancelled them
all. The national and State committees selected me to fill his
appointments. The most unsatisfactory and disagreeable job in
the world is to meet the appointments of a popular speaker. The
expectations of the audience have been aroused to a degree by
propaganda advertising the genius and accomplishments of the
expected speaker. The substitute cannot meet those expectations,
and an angry crowd holds him responsible for their disappointment.
When I left the train at the station I was in the midst of a
mass-meeting of several counties at Deposit, N. Y. A large
committee, profusely decorated with campaign badges, were on the
platform to welcome the distinguished war governor of Massachusetts.
I did not meet physically their expectations of an impressive
statesman of dignified presence, wearing a Prince Albert suit
and a top hat. I had been long campaigning, my soft hat was
disreputable, and I had added a large shawl to my campaigning
equipment. Besides that, I was only twenty-eight and looked much
younger. The committee expected at least sixty. Finally the
chairman rushed up to me and said: "You were on the train. Did
you see Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts?" I answered him:
"Governor Andrew is not coming; he has cancelled all his engagements,
and I have been sent to take his place." The chairman gasped and
then exclaimed: "My God!" He very excitedly summoned his fellow
members of the committee and said to them: "Gentlemen, Governor
Andrew is not coming, but the State committee has sent THIS,"
pointing to me. I was the party candidate as secretary of state,
and at the head of the ticket, but nobody asked me who I was, nor
did I tell them. I was left severely alone.
Some time after, the chairman of the committee came to me and
said: "Young fellow, we won't be hard on you, but the State
committee has done this once before. We were promised a very
popular speaker well known among us, but in his place they sent
the damnedest fool who ever stood before an audience. However,
we have sent to Binghamton for Daniel S. Dickinson, and he will
be here in a short time and save our big mass-meeting."
Mr. Dickinson came and delivered a typical speech; every sentence
was a bombshell and its explosion very effective. He had the
privilege of age, and told a story which I would not have dared
to tell, the audience being half women. He said: "Those
constitutional lawyers, who are proclaiming that all Mr. Lincoln's
acts are unconstitutional, don't know any law. They remind me
of a doctor we have up in Binghamton, who has a large practice
because of his fine appearance, his big words, and gold-headed
cane. He was called to see a young lad who was sitting on his
grandmother's lap. After looking at the boy's tongue and feeling
his pulse, he rested his head in deep thought for a while on his
gold-headed cane and then said: 'Madam, this boy has such
difficulties with the epiglottis and such inflamed larynx that
we will have to apply phlebotomy.' The old lady clasped the boy
frantically to her bosom and cried: 'For heaven's sake, doctor,
what on earth can ail the boy that you are going to put all that
on his bottom?'"
Mr. Dickinson introduced me as the head of the State ticket. My
speech proved a success, and the chairman paid me the handsome
compliment of saying: "We are glad they sent you instead of
One of the most effective of our campaign speakers was General Bruce,
of Syracuse, N. Y. The general had practically only one speech,
which was full of picturesque illustrations, striking anecdotes,
and highly wrought-up periods of patriotic exaltation. He delivered
this speech, with necessary variations, through many campaigns.
I was with the general, who was Canal commissioner when I was
secretary of state, on our official tour on the Canal.
One night the general said to me: "Mr. Blank, who has a great
reputation, is speaking in a neighboring town, and I am going to
hear him." He came back enraged and unhappy. In telling me about
it, he said: "That infernal thief delivered my speech word for
word, and better than I can do it myself. I am too old to get up
another one, and, as I love to speak, I am very unhappy."
This illustrated one of the accidents to which a campaign speaker
is liable. The man who stoIe the general's speech afterwards
played the same trick on me. He came into our State from New England
with a great reputation. He was a very fine elocutionist, of
excellent presence and manner, but utterly incapable of original
thought. He could not prepare a speech of any kind. However,
he had a phenomenal memory. He could listen to a speech made
by another and repeat it perfectly. His attractive appearance,
good voice, and fine elocution made the speech a great success.
Several orators told me that when they found their efforts a failure
they asked for the cause, and discovered that this man had delivered
their speeches a few nights before, and the audience, of course,
thought the last speaker was a fraud and a thief.
General Bruce told me a good campaign story of Senator James W. Nye,
of Nevada. Nye was a prominent lawyer of western New York, and
the most eloquent and witty member of the bar of that section,
and also the most popular campaign speaker. He moved to Nevada
and so impressed the people of that young State that he was elected
United States senator. In the Senate he became a notable figure.
Nye and General Bruce were sent by the national committee to
canvass New England. Nye had become senatorial in his oratory,
with much more dignity and elevation of style than before. He
began his first speech at Bridgeport, Conn., in this way: "Fellow
citizens, I have come three thousand miles from my mountain home,
three thousand feet above the level of the sea, to discuss with
you these vital questions for the safety of our republic." The
next night, at New Haven, he said: "I have come from my mountain
home, five thousand feet above the level of the sea, to discuss
with you these vital questions of the safety of our republic."
Bruce interrupted him, saying: "Why, senator, it was only three
thousand feet last night." Nye turned savagely on Bruce: "Bruce,
you go to the devil!" Resuming with the audience, he remarked
very impressively: "As I was saying, fellow citizens, I have
come from my mountain home, ten thousand feet above the level
of the sea, to, etc."
A story which illustrates and enforces the argument helps a political
speech, and it is often the only part of the speech which is
remembered. I have often heard people say to me: "I heard you
speak thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, and this is the story
you told." Sometimes, however, the story may prove a boomerang
in the most unexpected way.
For many years, when I spoke in northern New York I was always
met at the Syracuse station by a superintendent of the Lackawanna
Railroad with a special train filled with friends. He carried
me up to my destination and brought me back in the morning. It
was his great day of the year, and during the trip he was full
of reminiscences, and mainly of the confidences reposed in him
by the president of the road, my old and valued friend, Samuel Sloan.
One fall he failed to appear, and there was no special train to
meet me. I was told by friends that the reason was his wife had
died and he was in mourning. The morning after the meeting I
started to call upon him, but was informed that he was very hostile
and would not see me. I was not going to lose an old friend like
that and went up to his office. As soon as I entered, he said:
"Go away, I don't want to see you again." I appealed to him,
saying: "I cannot lose so good a friend as you. If there is
anything I have done or said, I will do everything in my power
to make it right." He turned on me sharply and with great emotion
told this story: "My wife and I lived in loving harmony for over
thirty years, and when she died recently I was heartbroken. The
whole town was sympathetic; most of the business houses closed
during the hour of the funeral. I had arranged to have ministers
whom my wife admired, and with them selected passages of scriptures
and hymns to which she was devoted. A new minister in town was
invited by the others to participate, and without my knowledge.
I looked over the congregation, all Mary's friends. I listened
to the services, which Mary herself would have chosen, and said
to Mary's spirit, which I knew to be hovering about: 'We are all
paying you a loving tribute.' Then the new minister had for his
part the announcement and reading of a hymn. At the last Republican
convention at Saratoga, in order to illustrate the condition of
the Democratic party, you told a story about a boy walking among
the children's graves in the old cemetery at Peekskill, eating
green apples and whistling 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' The new
minister gave that hymn, 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.' Your story
came up in my mind, and I burst out laughing. I disgraced myself,
insulted the memory of Mary, and I never want to see you again."
XXI. NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS
When the Republican convention met in 1912 I was again a delegate.
In my fifty-six years of national conventions I never had such an
intensely disagreeable experience. I felt it my duty to support
President Taft for renomination. I thought he had earned it by
his excellent administration. I had many ties with him, beginning
with our associations as graduates of Yale, and held for him a
most cordial regard. I was swayed by my old and unabated love
for Roosevelt. In that compromise and harmony were impossible.
I saw that, with the control of the organization and of the
convention on the side of Mr. Taft, and with the wild support for
Roosevelt of the delegates from the States which could be relied
upon to give Republican majorities, the nomination of either
would be sure defeat.
I was again a delegate to the Republican convention of 1916.
The party was united. Progressives and conservatives were acting
together, and the convention was in the happiest of moods. It was
generally understood that Justice Hughes would be nominated if
he could be induced to resign from the Supreme Court and accept.
The presiding officer of the convention was Senator Warren G. Harding.
He made a very acceptable keynote speech. His fine appearance,
his fairness, justice, and good temper as presiding officer
captured the convention. There was a universal sentiment that if
Hughes declined the party could do no better than to nominate
Senator Harding. It was this impression among the delegates, many
of whom were also members of the convention of 1920, which led
to the selection as the convention's candidate for president of
Warren G. Harding.
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
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
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
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 frorn 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 worthIess,
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,
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
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
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 rehearsaIs."
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,"
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 tabIe-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, hospitabIe, 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
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.
There was a famous contest one night there, however, between
President Roosevelt and Senator Foraker, who at the time were
intensely antagonistic, which can never be forgotten by those
present. There was a delightful interplay between William J. Bryan
and President Roosevelt, when Bryan charged the president with
stealing all his policies and ideas.
If the speaker grasped the peculiarities of his audience and its
temperament, his task was at once the most difficult and the most
delightful, and my friend, Mr. Arthur Dunn, has performed most
useful service in embalming a portion of Gridiron history in his
volume, "Gridiron Nights."
Pierpont Morgan, the greatest of American bankers, was much more
than a banker. He had a wonderful coIlection in his library and
elsewhere of rare books and works of art. He was always delightful
on the social side. He was very much pleased when he was elected
president of the New England Society. The annual dinner that year
was a remarkably brilliant affair. It was the largest in the
history of the organization. The principal speaker was William Everett,
son of the famous Edward Everett and himself a scholar of great
acquirements and culture. His speech was another evidence of
a very superior man mistaking his audience. He was principal of
the Adams Academy, that great preparatory institution for
Harvard University, and he had greatly enlarged its scope and
Mr. Everett evidently thought that the guests of the New England
Society of New York would be composed of men of letters, educators,
and Harvard graduates. Instead of that, the audience before him
were mainly bankers and successful business men whose Puritan
characteristics had enabled them to win great success in the
competitions in the great metropolis in every branch of business.
They were out for a good time and little else.
Mr. Everett produced a ponderous mass of manuscript and began
reading on the history of New England education and the influence
upon it of the Cambridge School. He had more than an hour of
material and lost his audience in fifteen minutes. No efforts of
the chairman could bring them to attention, and finally the educator
lost that control of himself which he was always teaching to the
boys and threw his manuscript at the heads of the reporters. From
their reports in their various newspapers the next day, they did
not seem to have absorbed the speech by this original method.
Choate and I were both to speak, and Choate came first. As usual,
he threw a brick at me. He mentioned that a reporter had come to
him and said: "Mr. Choate, I have Depew's speech carefully prepared,
with the applause and laughter already in. I want yours." Of
course, no reporter had been to either of us. Mr. Choate had in
his speech an unusual thing for him, a long piece of poetry. When
my turn came to reply I said: "The reporter came to me, as
Mr. Choate has said, and made the remark: 'I already have Choate's
speech. It has in it a good deal of poetry.' I asked the reporter:
'From what author is the poetry taken?' He answered: 'I do not
know the author, but the poetry is so bad I think Choate has
written it himself.'"
Mr. Choate told me a delightful story of his last interview with
Mr. Evarts before he sailed for Europe to take up his ambassadorship
at the Court of St. James. "I called," he said, "on Mr. Evarts
to bid him good-by. He had been confined to his room by a fatal
illness for a long time. 'Choate,' he said, 'I am delighted with
your appointment. You eminently deserve it, and you are
pre-eminently fit for the place. You have won the greatest
distinction in our profession, and have harvested enough of its
rewards to enable you to meet the financial responsibilities of
this post without anxiety. You will have a most brilliant and
useful career in diplomacy, but I fear I will never see you again.'"
Mr. Choate said: "Mr. Evarts, we have had a delightful partnership
of over forty years, and when I retire from diplomacy and resume
the practice of the law I am sure you and I will go on together
again for many years in the same happy old way."
Evarts replied: "No, Choate, I fear that cannot be. When I think
what a care I am to all my people, lying so helpless here, and
that I can do nothing any more to repay their kindness, or to help
in the world, I feel like the boy who wrote from school to his
mother a letter of twenty pages, and then added after the end:
'P. S. Dear mother, please excuse my longevity.'"
Where one has a reputation as a speaker and is also known to oblige
friends and to be hardly able to resist importunities, the demands
upon him are very great. They are also sometimes original and unique.
At one time, the day before Christmas, a representative of the
New York World came to see me, and said: "We are going to give
a dinner to-night to the tramps who gather between ten and eleven
o'clock at the Vienna Restaurant, opposite the St. Denis Hotel,
to receive the bread which the restaurant distributes at that hour."
This line was there every night standing in the cold waiting their
turn. I went down to the hotel, and a young man and young lady
connected with the newspaper crossed the street and picked out
from the line a hundred guests.
It was a remarkable assemblage. The dinner provided was a beautiful
and an excellent one for Christmas. As I heard their stories,
there was among them a representative of almost every department
of American life. Some were temporarily and others permanently
down and out. Every one of the learned professions was represented
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