The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 50 out of 51
This was the first offence alleged against Mr. Motley. The second ground
of complaint was that he had shown written minutes of this conversation
to Lord Clarendon to obtain his confirmation of its exactness, and that
he had--as he said, inadvertently,--omitted to make mention to the
government of this circumstance until some weeks after the time of the
He was requested to explain to Lord Clarendon that a portion of his
presentation and treatment of the subject discussed at the interview
immediately after his arrival was disapproved by the Secretary of State,
and he did so in a written communication, in which he used the very words
employed by Mr. Fish in his criticism of the conversation with Lord
Clarendon. An alleged mistake; a temperate criticism, coupled with a
general approval; a rectification of the mistake criticised. All this
within the first two months of Mr. Motley's official residence in London.
No further fault was found with him, so far as appears, in the discharge
of his duties, to which he must have devoted himself faithfully, for he
writes to me, under the date of December 27, 1870: "I have worked harder
in the discharge of this mission than I ever did in my life." This from
a man whose working powers astonished the old Dutch archivist, Groen van
Prinsterer, means a good deal.
More than a year had elapsed since the interview with Lord Clarendon,
which had been the subject of criticism. In the mean time a paper of
instructions was sent to Motley, dated September 25, 1869, in which the
points in the report of his interview which had been found fault with
are so nearly covered by similar expressions, that there seemed no real
ground left for difference between the government and the minister.
Whatever over-statement there had been, these new instructions would
imply that the government was now ready to go quite as far as the
minister had gone, and in some points to put the case still more
strongly. Everything was going on quietly. Important business had been
transacted, with no sign of distrust or discontent on the part of the
government as regarded Motley. Whatever mistake he was thought to have
committed was condoned by amicable treatment, neutralized by the virtual
indorsement of the government in the instructions of the 25th of
September, and obsolete as a ground of quarrel by lapse of time. The
question about which the misunderstanding, if such it deserves to be
called, had taken place, was no longer a possible source of disagreement,
as it had long been settled that the Alabama case should only be opened
again at the suggestion of the British government, and that it should be
transferred to Washington whenever that suggestion should again bring it
up for consideration.
Such was the aspect of affairs at the American Legation in London.
No foreign minister felt more secure in his place than Mr. Motley.
"I thought myself," he says in the letter of December 27, "entirely in
the confidence of my own government, and I know that I had the thorough
confidence and the friendship of the leading personages in England."
All at once, on the first of July, 1870, a letter was written by the
Secretary of State, requesting him to resign. This gentle form of
violence is well understood in the diplomatic service. Horace Walpole
says, speaking of Lady Archibald Hamilton: "They have civilly asked her
and grossly forced her to ask civilly to go away, which she has done,
with a pension of twelve hundred a year." Such a request is like the
embrace of the "virgin" in old torture-chambers. She is robed in soft
raiment, but beneath it are the knife-blades which are ready to lacerate
and kill the victim, if he awaits the pressure of the machinery already
Mr. Motley knew well what was the logical order in an official execution,
and saw fit to let the government work its will upon him as its servant.
In November he was recalled.
The recall of a minister under such circumstances is an unusual if not
an unprecedented occurrence. The government which appoints a citizen
to represent the country at a foreign court assumes a very serious
obligation to him. The next administration may turn him out and nothing
will be thought of it. He may be obliged to ask for his passports and
leave all at once if war is threatened between his own country and that
which he represents. He may, of course, be recalled for gross
misconduct. But his dismissal is very serious matter to him personally,
and not to be thought of on the ground of passion or caprice. Marriage
is a simple business, but divorce is a very different thing. The world
wants to know the reason of it; the law demands its justification. It
was a great blow to Mr. Motley, a cause of indignation to those who were
interested in him, a surprise and a mystery to the world in general.
When he, his friends, and the public, all startled by this unexpected
treatment, looked to find an explanation of it, one was found which
seemed to many quite sufficient. Mr. Sumner had been prominent among
those who had favored his appointment. A very serious breach had taken
place between the President and Mr. Sumner on the important San Domingo
question. It was a quarrel, in short, neither more nor less, at least so
far as the President was concerned. The proposed San Domingo treaty had
just been rejected by the Senate, on the thirtieth day of June, and
immediately thereupon,--the very next day,--the letter requesting Mr.
Motley's resignation was issued by the executive. This fact was
interpreted as implying something more than a mere coincidence.
It was thought that Sumner's friend, who had been supported by him as
a candidate for high office, who shared many of his political ideas and
feelings, who was his intimate associate, his fellow-townsman, his
companion in scholarship and cultivation, his sympathetic co-laborer in
many ways, had been accounted and dealt with as the ally of an enemy,
and that the shaft which struck to the heart of the sensitive envoy had
glanced from the 'aes triplex' of the obdurate Senator.
Mr. Motley wrote a letter to the Secretary of State immediately after his
recall, in which he reviewed his relations with the government from the
time of his taking office, and showed that no sufficient reason could be
assigned for the treatment to which he had been subjected. He referred
finally to the public rumor which assigned the President's hostility to
his friend Sumner, growing out of the San Domingo treaty question, as the
cause of his own removal, and to the coincidence between the dates of the
rejection of the treaty and his dismissal, with an evident belief that
these two occurrences were connected by something more than accident.
To this, a reply was received from the Secretary of State's office,
signed by Mr. Fish, but so objectionable in its tone and expressions that
it has been generally doubted whether the paper could claim anything more
of the secretary's hand than his signature. It travelled back to the old
record of the conversation with Lord Clarendon, more than a year and a
half before, took up the old exceptions, warmed them over into
grievances, and joined with them whatever the 'captatores verborum,'
not extinct since Daniel Webster's time, could add to their number.
This was the letter which was rendered so peculiarly offensive by a most
undignified comparison which startled every well-bred reader. No answer
was possible to such a letter, and the matter rested until the death of
Mr. Motley caused it to be brought up once more for judgment.
The Honorable John Jay, in his tribute to the memory of Mr. Motley, read
at a meeting of the New York Historical Society, vindicated his character
against the attacks of the late executive in such a way as to leave an
unfavorable impression as to the course of the government. Objection was
made on this account to placing the tribute upon the minutes of the
society. This led to a publication by Mr. Jay, entitled "Motley's Appeal
to History," in which the propriety of the society's action is
questioned, and the wrong done to him insisted upon and further
The defence could not have fallen into better hands. Bearing a name
which is, in itself, a title to the confidence of the American people,
a diplomatist familiar with the rights, the customs, the traditions, the
courtesies, which belong to the diplomatic service, the successor of Mr.
Motley at Vienna, and therefore familiar with his official record, not
self-made, which too commonly means half-made, but with careful training
added to the instincts to which he had a right by inheritance, he could
not allow the memory of such a scholar, of such a high-minded lover of
his country, of so true a gentleman as Mr. Motley, to remain without
challenge under the stigma of official condemnation. I must refer to Mr.
Jay's memorial tribute as printed in the newspapers of the day, and to
his "Appeal" published in "The International Review," for his convincing
presentation of the case, and content myself with a condensed statement
of the general and special causes of complaint against Mr. Motley, and
the explanations which suggest themselves, as abundantly competent to
show the insufficiency of the reasons alleged by the government as an
excuse for the manner in which he was treated.
The grounds of complaint against Mr. Motley are to be looked for:--
1. In the letter of Mr. Fish to Mr. Moran, of December 30, 1870.
2. In Mr. Bancroft Davis's letter to the New York "Herald" of January 4,
1878, entitled, "Mr. Sumner, the Alabama Claims and their Settlement."
3. The reported conversations of General Grant.
4. The reported conversations of Mr. Fish.
In considering Mr. Fish's letter, we must first notice its animus. The
manner in which Dickens's two old women are brought in is not only
indecorous, but it shows a state of feeling from which nothing but harsh
interpretation of every questionable expression of Mr. Motley's was to be
There is not the least need of maintaining the perfect fitness and
rhetorical felicity of every phrase and every word used by him in his
interview with Lord Clarendon. It is not to be expected that a minister,
when about to hold a conversation with a representative of the government
to which he is accredited, will commit his instructions to memory and
recite them, like a school-boy "speaking his piece." He will give them
more or less in his own language, amplifying, it may be, explaining,
illustrating, at any rate paraphrasing in some degree, but endeavoring to
convey an idea of their essential meaning. In fact, as any one can see,
a conversation between two persons must necessarily imply a certain
amount of extemporization on the part of both. I do not believe any long
and important conference was ever had between two able men without each
of them feeling that he had not spoken exactly in all respects as he
would if he could say all over again.
Doubtless, therefore, Mr. Motley's report of his conversation shows that
some of his expressions might have been improved, and others might as
well have been omitted. A man does not change his temperament on taking
office. General Jackson still swore "by the Eternal," and his
illustrious military successor of a more recent period seems, by his own
showing, to have been able to sudden impulses of excitement. It might be
said of Motley, as it was said of Shakespeare by Ben Jonson, "aliquando
sufflaminandus erat." Yet not too much must be made of this concession.
Only a determination to make out a case could, as it seems to me, have
framed such an indictment as that which the secretary constructed by
stringing together a slender list of pretended peccadillos. One instance
will show the extreme slightness which characterizes many of the grounds
The instructions say, "The government, in rejecting the recent
convention, abandons neither its own claims nor those of its citizens,"
Mr. Motley said, in the course of his conversation, "At present, the
United States government, while withdrawing neither its national claims
nor the claims of its individual citizens against the British
Mr. Fish says, "The determination of this government not to abandon its
claims nor those of its citizens was stated parenthetically, and in such
a subordinate way as not necessarily to attract the attention of Lord
What reported conversation can stand a captious criticism like this?
Are there not two versions of the ten commandments which were given out
in the thunder and smoke of Sinai, and would the secretary hold that this
would have been a sufficient reason to recall Moses from his "Divine
Legation" at the court of the Almighty?
There are certain expressions which, as Mr. Fish shows them apart from
their connection, do very certainly seem in bad taste, if not actually
indiscreet and unjustifiable. Let me give an example:--
"Instead of expressing the hope entertained by this government that
there would be an early, satisfactory, and friendly settlement of
the questions at issue, he volunteered the unnecessary, and from the
manner in which it was thrust in, the highly objectionable statement
that the United States government had no insidious purposes,'" etc.
This sounds very badly as Mr. Fish puts it; let us see how it stands in
its proper connection:--
"He [Lord Clarendon] added with some feeling, that in his opinion it
would be highly objectionable that the question should be hung up on
a peg, to be taken down at some convenient moment for us, when it
might be difficult for the British government to enter upon its
solution, and when they might go into the debate at a disadvantage.
These were, as nearly as I can remember, his words, and I replied
very earnestly that I had already answered that question when I said
that my instructions were to propose as brief a delay as would
probably be requisite for the cooling of passions and for producing
the calm necessary for discussing the defects of the old treaty and
a basis for a new one. The United States government had no
insidious purposes," etc.
Is it not evident that Lord Clarendon suggested the idea which Mr. Motley
repelled as implying an insidious mode of action? Is it not just as
clear that Mr. Fish's way of reproducing the expression without the
insinuation which called it forth is a practical misstatement which does
Mr. Motley great wrong?
One more example of the method of wringing a dry cloth for drops of
evidence ought to be enough to show the whole spirit of the paper.
Mr. Fish, in his instructions:--
"It might, indeed, well have occurred in the event of the selection
by lot of the arbitrator or umpire in different cases, involving
however precisely the same principles, that different awards,
resting upon antagonistic principles, might have been made."
Mr. Motley, in the conversation with Lord Clarendon:--
"I called his lordship's attention to your very judicious suggestion
that the throwing of the dice for umpires might bring about opposite
decisions in cases arising out of identical principles. He agreed
entirely that no principle was established by the treaty, but that
the throwing of dice or drawing of lots was not a new invention on
that occasion, but a not uncommon method in arbitrations. I only
expressed the opinion that such an aleatory process seemed an
unworthy method in arbitrations," etc.
Mr. Fish, in his letter to Mr. Moran:--
"That he had in his mind at that interview something else than his
letter of instructions from this department would appear to be
evident, when he says that 'he called his lordship's attention to
your [my] very judicious suggestion that the throwing of dice for
umpire might bring about opposite decisions.' The instructions
which Mr. Motley received from me contained no suggestion about
throwing of dice.' That idea is embraced in the suggestive words
'aleatory process' (adopted by Mr. Motley), but previously applied
in a speech made in the Senate on the question of ratifying the
Charles Sumner's Speech on the Johnson-Clarendon Treaty, April 13, 1869:
"In the event of failure to agree, the arbitrator is determined 'by
lot' out of two persons named by each side. Even if this aleatory
proceeding were a proper device in the umpirage of private claims,
it is strongly inconsistent with the solemnity which belongs to the
It is "suggestive" that the critical secretary, so keen in detecting
conversational inaccuracies, having but two words to quote from a printed
document, got one of them wrong. But this trivial comment must not lead
the careful reader to neglect to note how much is made of what is really
nothing at all. The word aleatory, whether used in its original and
limited sense, or in its derived extension as a technical term of the
civil law, was appropriate and convenient; one especially likely to be
remembered by any person who had read Mr. Sumner's speech,--and everybody
had read it; the secretary himself doubtless got the suggestion of
determining the question "by lot" from it. What more natural than that
it should be used again when the subject of appealing to chance came up
in conversation? It "was an excellent good word before it was ill-
sorted," and we were fortunate in having a minister who was scholar
enough to know what it meant. The language used by Mr. Motley conveyed
the idea of his instructions plainly enough, and threw in a compliment to
their author which should have saved this passage at least from the
wringing process. The example just given is, like the concession of
belligerency to the insurgents by Great Britain, chiefly important as
It is hardly necessary to bring forward other instances of virtual
misrepresentation. If Mr. Motley could have talked his conversation over
again, he would very probably have changed some expressions. But he felt
bound to repeat the interview exactly as it occurred, with all the errors
to which its extemporaneous character exposed it. When a case was to be
made out against him, the secretary wrote, December 30, 1870:
"Well might he say, as he did in a subsequent dispatch on the 15th
of July, 1869, that he had gone beyond the strict letter of his
instructions. He might have added, in direct opposition to their
temper and spirit."
Of the same report the secretary had said, June 28, 1869: "Your general
presentation and treatment of the several subjects discussed in that
interview meet the approval of this department." This general approval
is qualified by mild criticism of a single statement as not having been
conveyed in "precise conformity" to the President's view. The minister
was told he might be well content to rest the question on the very
forcible presentation he had made of the American side of the question,
and that if there were expressions used stronger than were required by
his instructions, they were in the right direction. The mere fact that a
minute of this conversation was confidentially submitted to Lord
Clarendon in order that our own government might have his authority for
the accuracy of the record, which was intended exclusively for its own
use, and that this circumstance was overlooked and not reported to the
government until some weeks afterward, are the additional charges against
Mr. Motley. The submission of the dispatch containing an account of the
interview, the secretary says, is not inconsistent with diplomatic usage,
but it is inconsistent with the duty of a minister not to inform his
government of that submission. "Mr. Motley submitted the draft of his
No. 8 to Lord Clarendon, and failed to communicate that fact to his
government." He did inform Mr. Fish, at any rate, on the 30th of July,
and alleged "inadvertence" as the reason for his omission to do it
Inasmuch as submitting the dispatch was not inconsistent with diplomatic
usage, nothing seems left to find fault with but the not very long delay
in mentioning the fact, or in his making the note "private and
confidential," as is so frequently done in diplomatic correspondence.
Such were the grounds of complaint. On the strength of the conversation
which had met with the general approval of the government, tempered by
certain qualifications, and of the omission to report immediately to the
government the fact of its verification by Lord Clarendon, the secretary
rests the case against Mr. Motley. On these grounds it was that,
according to him, the President withdrew all right to discuss the Alabama
question from the minister whose dismissal was now only a question of
time. But other evidence comes in here.
Mr. Motley says:--
"It was, as I supposed, understood before my departure for England,
although not publicly announced, that the so-called Alabama
negotiations, whenever renewed, should be conducted at Washington,
in case of the consent of the British government."
Mr. Sumner says, in his "Explanation in Reply to an Assault:"--
"The secretary in a letter to me at Boston, dated at Washington,
October 9, 1869, informs the that the discussion of the question was
withdrawn from London 'because (the italics are the secretary's) we
think that when renewed it can be carried on here with a better
prospect of settlement, than where the late attempt at a convention
which resulted so disastrously and was conducted so strangely was
had;' and what the secretary thus wrote he repeated in conversation
when we met, carefully making the transfer to Washington depend upon
our advantage here, from the presence of the Senate,--thus showing
that the pretext put forth to wound Mr. Motley was an afterthought."
Again we may fairly ask how the government came to send a dispatch like
that of September 25, 1869, in which the views and expressions for which
Mr. Motley's conversation had been criticised were so nearly reproduced,
and with such emphasis that Mr. Motley says, in a letter to me, dated
April 8, 1871, "It not only covers all the ground which I ever took, but
goes far beyond it. No one has ever used stronger language to the
British government than is contained in that dispatch. . . . It is
very able and well worth your reading. Lord Clarendon called it to me
'Sumner's speech over again.' It was thought by the English cabinet to
have 'out-Sumnered Sumner,' and now our government, thinking that every
one in the United States had forgotten the dispatch, makes believe that
I was removed because my sayings and doings in England were too much
influenced by Sumner!" Mr. Motley goes on to speak of the report that an
offer of his place in England was made to Sumner "to get him out of the
way of San Domingo." The facts concerning this offer are now
sufficiently known to the public.
Here I must dismiss Mr. Fish's letter to Mr. Moran, having, as I trust,
sufficiently shown the spirit in which it was written and the strained
interpretations and manifest overstatements by which it attempts to make
out its case against Mr. Motley. I will not parade the two old women,
whose untimely and unseemly introduction into the dress-circle of
diplomacy was hardly to have been expected of the high official whose
name is at the bottom of this paper. They prove nothing, they disprove
nothing, they illustrate nothing--except that a statesman may forget
himself. Neither will I do more than barely allude to the unfortunate
reference to the death of Lord Clarendon as connected with Mr. Motley's
removal, so placidly disposed of by a sentence or two in the London
"Times" of January 24, 1871. I think we may consider ourselves ready for
the next witness.
Mr. J. C. Bancroft Davis, Assistant Secretary of State under President
Grant and Secretary Fish, wrote a letter to the New York "Herald," under
the date of January 4, 1878, since reprinted as a pamphlet and entitled
"Mr. Sumner, the Alabama Claims and their Settlement." Mr. Sumner was
never successfully attacked when living,--except with a bludgeon,--and
his friends have more than sufficiently vindicated him since his death.
But Mr. Motley comes in for his share of animadversion in Mr. Davis's
letter. He has nothing of importance to add to Mr. Fish's criticisms on
the interview with Lord Clarendon. Only he brings out the head and front
of Mr. Motley's offending by italicizing three very brief passages from
his conversation at this interview; not discreetly, as it seems to me,
for they will not bear the strain that is put upon them. These are the
1. "but that such, measures must always be taken with a full view of the
grave responsibilities assumed."
2. "and as being the fountain head of the disasters which had been
caused to the American people."
3. "as the fruits of the proclamation."
1. It is true that nothing was said of responsibility in Mr. Motley's
instructions. But the idea was necessarily involved in their statements.
For if, as Mr. Motley's instructions say, the right of a power "to define
its own relations," etc., when a civil conflict has arisen in another
state depends on its (the conflict's) having "attained a sufficient
complexity, magnitude, and completeness," inasmuch as that Power has to
judge whether it has or has not fulfilled these conditions, and is of
course liable to judge wrong, every such act of judgment must be attended
with grave responsibilities. The instructions say that "the necessity
and propriety of the original concession of belligerency by Great Britain
at the time it was made have been contested and are not admitted." It
follows beyond dispute that Great Britain may in this particular case
have incurred grave responsibilities; in fact, the whole negotiations
implied as much. Perhaps Mr. Motley need not have used the word
"responsibilities." But considering that the government itself said in
dispatch No. 70, September 25, 1869, "The President does not deny, on the
contrary he maintains, that every sovereign power decides for itself on
its responsibility whether or not it will, at a given time, accord the
status of belligerency," etc., it was hardly worth while to use italics
about Mr. Motley's employment of the same language as constituting a
grave cause of offence.
2. Mr. Motley's expression, "as being the fountain head of the
disasters," is a conversational paraphrase of the words of his
instructions, "as it shows the beginning and the animus of that course of
conduct which resulted so disastrously," which is not "in precise
conformity" with his instructions, but is just such a variation as is to
be expected when one is talking with another and using the words that
suggest themselves at the moment, just as the familiar expression, "hung
up on a peg," probably suggested itself to Lord Clarendon.
3. "The fruits of the proclamation" is so inconsiderable a variation on
the text of the instructions, "supplemented by acts causing direct
damage," that the secretary's hint about want of precise conformity seems
hardly to have been called for.
It is important to notice this point in the instructions: With other
powers Mr. Motley was to take the position that the "recognition of the
insurgents' state of war" was made "no ground of complaint;" with Great
Britain that the cause of grievance was "not so much" placed upon the
issuance of this recognition as upon her conduct under, and subsequent
to, such recognition.
There is no need of maintaining the exact fitness of every expression
used by Mr. Motley. But any candid person who will carefully read the
government's dispatch No. 70, dated September 25, 1869, will see that a
government holding such language could find nothing in Mr. Motley's
expressions in a conversation held at his first official interview to
visit with official capital punishment more than a year afterwards. If
Mr. Motley had, as it was pretended, followed Sumner, Mr. Fish had "out-
Sumnered" the Senator himself.
Mr. Davis's pamphlet would hardly be complete without a mysterious letter
from an unnamed writer, whether a faithless friend, a disguised enemy, a
secret emissary, or an injudicious alarmist, we have no means of judging
for ourselves. The minister appears to have been watched by somebody in
London, as he was in Vienna. This somebody wrote a private letter in
which he expressed "fear and regret that Mr. Motley's bearing in his
social intercourse was throwing obstacles in the way of a future
settlement." The charge as mentioned in Mr. Davis's letter is hardly
entitled to our attention. Mr. Sumner considered it the work of an
enemy, and the recollection of the M'Crackin letter might well have made
the government cautious of listening to complaints of such a character.
This Somebody may have been one whom we should call Nobody. We cannot
help remembering how well 'Outis' served 'Oduxseus' of old, when he was
puzzled to extricate himself from an embarrassing position. 'Stat nomin-
is umbra' is a poor showing for authority to support an attack on a
public servant exposed to every form of open and insidious abuse from
those who are prejudiced against his person or his birthplace, who are
jealous of his success, envious of his position, hostile to his politics,
dwarfed by his reputation, or hate him by the divine right of
idiosyncrasy, always liable, too, to questioning comment from well-
meaning friends who happen to be suspicious or sensitive in their
political or social relations.
The reported sayings of General Grant and of Mr. Fish to the
correspondents who talked with them may be taken for what they are worth.
They sound naturally enough to have come from the speakers who are said
to have uttered them. I quote the most important part of the Edinburgh
letter, September 11, 1877, to the New York "Herald." These are the
words attributed to General Grant:--
"Mr. Motley was certainly a very able, very honest gentleman, fit to
hold any official position. But he knew long before he went out
that he would have to go. When I was making these appointments, Mr.
Sumner came to me and asked me to appoint Mr. Motley as minister to
the court of St. James. I told him I would, and did. Soon after
Mr. Sumner made that violent speech about the Alabama claims, and
the British government was greatly offended. Mr. Sumner was at the
time chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. Mr. Motley had
to be instructed. The instructions were prepared very carefully,
and after Governor Fish and I had gone over them for the last time I
wrote an addendum charging him that above all things he should
handle the subject of the Alabama claims with the greatest delicacy.
Mr. Motley instead of obeying his explicit instructions,
deliberately fell in line with Sumner, and thus added insult to the
previous injury. As soon as I heard of it I went over to the State
Department and told Governor Fish to dismiss Motley at once. I was
very angry indeed, and I have been sorry many a time since that I
did not stick to my first determination. Mr. Fish advised delay
because of Sumner's position in the Senate and attitude on the
treaty question. We did not want to stir him up just then. We
dispatched a note of severe censure to Motley at once and ordered
him to abstain from any further connection with that question. We
thereupon commenced negotiations with the British minister at
Washington, and the result was the joint high commission and the
Geneva award. I supposed Mr. Motley would be manly enough to resign
after that snub, but he kept on till he was removed. Mr. Sumner
promised me that he would vote for the treaty. But when it was
before the Senate he did all he could to beat it."
General Grant talked again at Cairo, in Egypt.
"Grant then referred to the statement published at an interview with
him in Scotland, and said the publication had some omissions and
errors. He had no ill-will towards Mr. Motley, who, like other
estimable men, made mistakes, and Motley made a mistake which made
him an improper person to hold office under me."
"It is proper to say of me that I killed Motley, or that I made war
upon Sumner for not supporting the annexation of San Domingo. But
if I dare to answer that I removed Motley from the highest
considerations of duty as an executive; if I presume to say that he
made a mistake in his office which made him no longer useful to the
country; if Fish has the temerity to hint that Sumner's temper was
so unfortunate that business relations with him became impossible,
we are slandering the dead."
"Nothing but Mortimer." Those who knew both men--the Ex-President and
the late Senator--would agree, I do not doubt, that they would not be the
most promising pair of human beings to make harmonious members of a
political happy family. "Cedant arma togae," the life-long sentiment of
Sumner, in conflict with "Stand fast and stand sure," the well-known
device of the clan of Grant, reminds one of the problem of an
irresistible force in collision with an insuperable resistance.
But the President says,--or is reported as saying,--"I may be blamed for
my opposition to Mr. Sumner's tactics, but I was not guided so much by
reason of his personal hatred of myself, as I was by a desire to protect
our national interests in diplomatic affairs."
"It would be useless," says Mr. Davis in his letter to the "Herald," "to
enter into a controversy whether the President may or may not have been
influenced in the final determination of the moment for requesting
Motley's resignation by the feeling caused by Sumner's personal hostility
and abuse of himself." Unfortunately, this controversy had been entered
into, and the idleness of suggesting any relation of cause and effect
between Mr. Motley's dismissal and the irritation produced in the
President's mind by the rejection of the San Domingo treaty--which
rejection was mainly due to Motley's friend Sumner's opposition--
strongly insisted upon in a letter signed by the Secretary of State.
Too strongly, for here it was that he failed to remember what was due to
his office, to himself, and to the gentleman of whom he was writing; if
indeed it was the secretary's own hand which held the pen, and not
We might as well leave out the wrath of Achilles from the Iliad, as the
anger of the President with Sumner from the story of Motley's dismissal.
The sad recital must always begin with M-----------. He was, he is
reported as saying, "very angry indeed" with Motley because he had,
fallen in line with Sumner. He couples them together in his conversation
as closely as Chang and Eng were coupled. The death of Lord Clarendon
would have covered up the coincidence between the rejection of the San
Domingo treaty and Mr. Motley's dismissal very neatly, but for the
inexorable facts about its date, as revealed by the London "Times." It
betrays itself as an afterthought, and its failure as a defence reminds
us too nearly of the trial in which Mr. Webster said suicide is
It is not strange that the spurs of the man who had so lately got out of
the saddle should catch in the scholastic robe of the man on the floor of
the Senate. But we should not have looked for any such antagonism
between the Secretary of State and the envoy to Great Britain. On the
contrary, they must have had many sympathies, and it must have cost the
secretary pain, as he said it did, to be forced to communicate with Mr.
Moran instead of with Mr. Motley.
He, too, was inquired of by one of the emissaries of the American Unholy
Inquisition. His evidence is thus reported:
"The reason for Mr. Motley's removal was found in considerations of
state. He misrepresented the government on the Alabama question,
especially in the two speeches made by him before his arrival at his
These must be the two speeches made to the American and the Liverpool
chambers of commerce. If there is anything in these short addresses
beyond those civil generalities which the occasion called out, I have
failed to find it. If it was in these that the reason of Mr. Motley's
removal was to be looked for, it is singular that they are not mentioned
in the secretary's letter to Mr. Moran, or by Mr. Davis in his letter to
the New York "Herald." They must have been as unsuccessful as myself in
the search after anything in these speeches which could be construed into
misinterpretation of the government on the Alabama question.
We may much more readily accept "considerations of state" as a reason for
Mr. Motley's removal. Considerations of state have never yet failed the
axe or the bowstring when a reason for the use of those convenient
implements was wanted, and they are quite equal to every emergency which
can arise in a republican autocracy. But for the very reason that a
minister is absolutely in the power of his government, the manner in
which that power is used is always open to the scrutiny, and, if it has
been misused, to the condemnation, of a tribunal higher than itself; a
court that never goes out of office, and which no personal feelings, no
lapse of time, can silence.
The ostensible grounds on which Mr. Motley was recalled are plainly
insufficient to account for the action of the government. If it was in
great measure a manifestation of personal feeling on the part of the high
officials by whom and through whom the act was accomplished, it was a
wrong which can never be repaired and never sufficiently regretted.
Stung by the slanderous report of an anonymous eavesdropper to whom the
government of the day was not ashamed to listen, he had quitted Vienna,
too hastily, it may be, but wounded, indignant, feeling that he had been
unworthily treated. The sudden recall from London, on no pretext
whatever but an obsolete and overstated incident which had ceased to have
any importance, was under these circumstances a deadly blow. It fell
upon "the new-healed wound of malice," and though he would not own it,
and bore up against it, it was a shock from which he never fully
"I hope I am one of those," he writes to me from the Hague, in 1872, "who
'fortune's buffets and rewards can take with equal thanks.' I am quite
aware that I have had far more than I deserve of political honors, and
they might have had my post as a voluntary gift on my part had they
remembered that I was an honorable man, and not treated me as a
detected criminal deserves to be dealt with."
Mr. Sumner naturally felt very deeply what he considered the great wrong
done to his friend. He says:--
"How little Mr. Motley merited anything but respect and courtesy
from the secretary is attested by all who know his eminent position
in London, and the service he rendered to his country. Already the
London press, usually slow to praise Americans when strenuous for
their country, has furnished its voluntary testimony. The 'Daily
News' of August 16, 1870, spoke of the insulted minister in these
"'We are violating no confidence in saying that all the hopes of Mr.
Motley's official residence in England have been amply fulfilled,
and that the announcement of his unexpected and unexplained recall
was received with extreme astonishment and unfeigned regret. The
vacancy he leaves cannot possibly be filled by a minister more
sensitive to the honor of his government, more attentive to the
interests of his country, and more capable of uniting the most
vigorous performance of his public duties with the high-bred
courtesy and conciliatory tact and temper that make those duties
easy and successful. Mr. Motley's successor will find his mission
wonderfully facilitated by the firmness and discretion that have
presided over the conduct of American affairs in this country during
too brief a term, too suddenly and unaccountably concluded.'"
No man can escape being found fault with when it is necessary to make out
a case against him. A diplomatist is watched by the sharpest eyes and
commented on by the most merciless tongues. The best and wisest has his
defects, and sometimes they would seem to be very grave ones if brought
up against him in the form of accusation. Take these two portraits, for
instance, as drawn by John Quincy Adams. The first is that of Stratford
Canning, afterwards Lord Stratford de Redcliffe:--
"He is to depart to-morrow. I shall probably see him no more. He
is a proud, high-tempered Englishman, of good but not extraordinary
parts; stubborn and punctilious, with a disposition to be
overbearing, which I have often been compelled to check in its own
way. He is, of all the foreign ministers with whom I have had
occasion to treat, the man who has most severely tried my temper.
Yet he has been long in the diplomatic career, and treated with
governments of the most opposite characters. He has, however, a
great respect for his word, and there is nothing false about him.
This is an excellent quality for a negotiator. Mr. Canning is a man
of forms, studious of courtesy, and tenacious of private morals. As
a diplomatic man, his great want is suppleness, and his great virtue
The second portrait is that of the French minister, Hyde de Neuville:--
"No foreign minister who ever resided here has been so universally
esteemed and beloved, nor have I ever been in political relations
with any foreign statesman of whose moral qualities I have formed so
good an opinion, with the exception of Count Romanzoff. He has not
sufficient command of his temper, is quick, irritable, sometimes
punctilious, occasionally indiscreet in his discourse, and tainted
with Royalist and Bourbon prejudices. But he has strong sentiments
of honor, justice, truth, and even liberty. His flurries of temper
pass off as quickly as they rise. He is neither profound nor
sublime nor brilliant; but a man of strong and good feelings, with
the experience of many vicissitudes of fortune, a good but common
understanding, and good intentions biassed by party feelings,
occasional interests, and personal affections."
It means very little to say that a man has some human imperfections, or
that a public servant might have done some things better. But when a
questionable cause is to be justified, the victim's excellences are
looked at with the eyes of Liliput and his failings with those of
The recall of a foreign minister for alleged misconduct in office is a
kind of capital punishment. It is the nearest approach to the Sultan's
bowstring which is permitted to the chief magistrate of our Republic. A
general can do nothing under martial law more peremptory than a President
can do with regard to the public functionary whom he has appointed with
the advice and consent of the Senate, but whom he can officially degrade
and disgrace at his own pleasure for insufficient cause or for none at
all. Like the centurion of Scripture, be says Go, and he goeth. The
nation's representative is less secure in his tenure of office than his
own servant, to whom he must give warning of his impending dismissal.
"A breath unmakes him as a breath has made."
The chief magistrate's responsibility to duty, to the fellow-citizen at
his mercy, to his countrymen, to mankind, is in proportion to his power.
His prime minister, the agent of his edicts, should feel bound to
withstand him if he seeks to gratify a personal feeling under the plea of
public policy, unless the minister, like the slaves of the harem, is to
find his qualification for office in leaving his manhood behind him.
The two successive administrations, which treated Mr. Motley in a manner
unworthy of their position and cruel, if not fatal to him, have been
heard, directly or through their advocates. I have attempted to show
that the defence set up for their action is anything but satisfactory.
A later generation will sit in judgment upon the evidence more calmly
than our own. It is not for a friend, like the writer, to anticipate its
decision, but unless the reasons alleged to justify his treatment, and
which have so much the air of afterthoughts, shall seem stronger to that
future tribunal than they do to him, the verdict will be that Mr. Motley
was twice sacrificed to personal feelings which should never have been
cherished by the heads of the government, and should never have been
countenanced by their chief advisers.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A great historian is almost a statesman
Admired or despised, as if he or she were our contemporary
Alas! one never knows when one becomes a bore
American Unholy Inquisition
best defence in this case is little better than an impeachment
But after all this isn't a war It is a revolution
Can never be repaired and never sufficiently regretted
Considerations of state as a reason
Considerations of state have never yet failed the axe
Everything else may happen This alone must happen
Fortune's buffets and rewards can take with equal thanks
He was not always careful in the construction of his sentences
In revolutions the men who win are those who are in earnest
Irresistible force in collision with an insuperable resistance
It is n't strategists that are wanted so much as believers
John Quincy Adams
Manner in which an insult shall be dealt with
Motley was twice sacrificed to personal feelings
No man is safe (from news reporters)
Our mortal life is but a string of guesses at the future
Played so long with other men's characters and good name
Progress should be by a spiral movement
Public which must have a slain reputation to devour
Reasonable to pay our debts rather than to repudiate them
Recall of a foreign minister for alleged misconduct in office
Shall Slavery die, or the great Republic?
Suicide is confession
The nation is as much bound to be honest as is the individual
This Somebody may have been one whom we should call Nobody
Unequivocal policy of slave emancipation
Wringing a dry cloth for drops of evidence
JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY.
By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
1874. AEt. 60.
"LIFE OF JOHN OF BARNEVELD."--CRITICISMS.--GROEN VAN PRINSTERER.
The full title of Mr. Motley's next and last work is "The Life and Death
of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland; with a View of the Primary
Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years' War."
In point of fact this work is a history rather than a biography. It is
an interlude, a pause between the acts which were to fill out the
complete plan of the "Eighty Years' Tragedy," and of which the last act,
the Thirty Years' War, remains unwritten. The "Life of Barneveld" was
received as a fitting and worthy continuation of the series of
intellectual labor in which he was engaged. I will quote but two general
expressions of approval from the two best known British critical reviews.
In connection with his previous works, it forms, says "The London
Quarterly," "a fine and continuous story, of which the writer and the
nation celebrated by him have equal reason to be proud; a narrative which
will remain a prominent ornament of American genius, while it has
permanently enriched English literature on this as well as on the other
side of the Atlantic."
"The Edinburgh Review" speaks no less warmly: "We can hardly give too
much appreciation to that subtile alchemy of the brain which has enabled
him to produce out of dull, crabbed, and often illegible state papers,
the vivid, graphic, and sparkling narrative which he has given to the
In a literary point of view, M. Groen van Prinsterer, whose elaborate
work has been already referred to, speaks of it as perhaps the most
classical of Motley's productions, but it is upon this work that the
force of his own and other Dutch criticisms has been chiefly expended.
The key to this biographical history or historical biography may be found
in a few sentences from its opening chapter.
"There have been few men at any period whose lives have been more
closely identical than his [Barneveld's] with a national history.
There have been few great men in any history whose names have become
less familiar to the world, and lived less in the mouths of
posterity. Yet there can be no doubt that if William the Silent was
the founder of the independence of the United Provinces, Barneveld
was the founder of the Commonwealth itself. . . .
"Had that country of which he was so long the first citizen
maintained until our own day the same proportional position among
the empires of Christendom as it held in the seventeenth century,
the name of John of Barneveld would have perhaps been as familiar to
all men as it is at this moment to nearly every inhabitant of the
Netherlands. Even now political passion is almost as ready to flame
forth, either in ardent affection or enthusiastic hatred, as if two
centuries and a half had not elapsed since his death. His name is
so typical of a party, a polity, and a faith, so indelibly
associated with a great historical cataclysm, as to render it
difficult even for the grave, the conscientious, the learned, the
patriotic, of his own compatriots to speak of him with absolute
"A foreigner who loves and admires all that is great and noble in
the history of that famous republic, and can have no hereditary bias
as to its ecclesiastical or political theories, may at least attempt
the task with comparative coldness, although conscious of inability
to do thorough justice to a most complex subject."
With all Mr. Motley's efforts to be impartial, to which even his sternest
critics bear witness, he could not help becoming a partisan of the cause
which for him was that of religious liberty and progress, as against the
accepted formula of an old ecclesiastical organization. For the quarrel
which came near being a civil war, which convulsed the state, and cost
Barneveld his head, had its origin in a difference on certain points, and
more especially on a single point, of religious doctrine.
As a great river may be traced back until its fountainhead is found in a
thread of water streaming from a cleft in the rocks, so a great national
movement may sometimes be followed until its starting-point is found in
the cell of a monk or the studies of a pair of wrangling professors.
The religious quarrel of the Dutchmen in the seventeenth century reminds
us in some points of the strife between two parties in our own New
England, sometimes arraying the "church" on one side against the
"parish," or the general body of worshippers, on the other. The
portraits of Gomarus, the great orthodox champion, and Arminius, the head
and front of the "liberal theology" of his day, as given in the little
old quarto of Meursius, recall two ministerial types of countenance
familiar to those who remember the earlier years of our century.
Under the name of "Remonstrants" and "Contra-Remonstrants,"--Arminians
and old-fashioned Calvinists, as we should say,--the adherents of the two
Leyden professors disputed the right to the possession of the churches,
and the claim to be considered as representing the national religion. Of
the seven United Provinces, two, Holland and Utrecht, were prevailingly
Arminian, and the other five Calvinistic. Barneveld, who, under the
title of Advocate, represented the province of Holland, the most
important of them all, claimed for each province a right to determine its
own state religion. Maurice the Stadholder, son of William the Silent,
the military chief of the republic, claimed the right for the States-
General. 'Cujus regio ejus religio' was then the accepted public
doctrine of Protestant nations. Thus the provincial and the general
governments were brought into conflict by their creeds, and the question
whether the republic was a confederation or a nation, the same question
which has been practically raised, and for the time at least settled, in
our own republic, was in some way to be decided. After various
disturbances and acts of violence by both parties, Maurice, representing
the States-General, pronounced for the Calvinists or Contra-Remonstrants,
and took possession of one of the great churches, as an assertion of his
authority. Barneveld, representing the Arminian or Remonstrant
provinces, levied a body of mercenary soldiers in several of the cities.
These were disbanded by Maurice, and afterwards by an act of the States-
General. Barneveld was apprehended, imprisoned, and executed, after an
examination which was in no proper sense a trial. Grotius, who was on
the Arminian side and involved in the inculpated proceedings, was also
arrested and imprisoned. His escape, by a stratagem successfully
repeated by a slave in our own times, may challenge comparison for its
romantic interest with any chapter of fiction. How his wife packed him
into the chest supposed to contain the folios of the great oriental
scholar Erpenius, how the soldiers wondered at its weight and questioned
whether it did not hold an Arminian, how the servant-maid, Elsje van
Houwening, quick-witted as Morgiana of the "Forty Thieves," parried their
questions and convoyed her master safely to the friendly place of
refuge,--all this must be read in the vivid narrative of the author.
The questions involved were political, local, personal, and above all
religious. Here is the picture which Motley draws of the religious
quarrel as it divided the people:--
"In burghers' mansions, peasants' cottages, mechanics' back-parlors;
on board herring-smacks, canal-boats, and East Indiamen; in shops,
counting-rooms, farm-yards, guard-rooms, alehouses; on the exchange,
in the tennis court, on the mall; at banquets, at burials,
christenings, or bridals; wherever and whenever human creatures met
each other, there was ever to be found the fierce wrangle of
Remonstrant and Contra-Remonstrant, the hissing of red-hot
theological rhetoric, the pelting of hostile texts. The
blacksmith's iron cooled on the anvil, the tinker dropped a kettle
half mended, the broker left a bargain unclinched, the Scheveningen
fisherman in his wooden shoes forgot the cracks in his pinkie, while
each paused to hold high converse with friend or foe on fate, free-
will, or absolute foreknowledge; losing himself in wandering mazes
whence there was no issue. Province against province, city against
city, family against family; it was one vast scene of bickering,
denunciation, heart-burnings, mutual excommunication and hatred."
The religious grounds of the quarrel which set these seventeenth-century
Dutchmen to cutting each other's throats were to be looked for in the
"Five Points" of the Arminians as arrayed against the "Seven Points" of
the Gomarites, or Contra-Remonstrants. The most important of the
differences which were to be settled by fratricide seem to have been
According to the Five Points, "God has from eternity resolved to choose
to eternal life those who through his grace believe in Jesus Christ,"
etc. According to the Seven Points, "God in his election has not looked
at the belief and the repentance of the elect," etc. According to the
Five Points, all good deeds must be ascribed to God's grace in Christ,
but it does not work irresistibly. The language of the Seven Points
implies that the elect cannot resist God's eternal and unchangeable
design to give them faith and steadfastness, and that they can never
wholly and for always lose the true faith. The language of the Five
Points is unsettled as to the last proposition, but it was afterwards
maintained by the Remonstrant party that a true believer could, through
his own fault, fall away from God and lose faith.
It must be remembered that these religious questions had an immediate
connection with politics. Independently of the conflict of jurisdiction,
in which they involved the parties to the two different creeds, it was
believed or pretended that the new doctrines of the Remonstrants led
towards Romanism, and were allied with designs which threatened the
independence of the country. "There are two factions in the land," said
Maurice, "that of Orange and that of Spain, and the two chiefs of the
Spanish faction are those political and priestly Arminians, Uytenbogaert
The heads of the two religious and political parties were in such
hereditary, long-continued, and intimate relations up to the time when
one signed the other's death-warrant, that it was impossible to write the
life of one without also writing that of the other. For his biographer
John of Barneveld is the true patriot, the martyr, whose cause was that
of religious and political freedom. For him Maurice is the ambitious
soldier who hated his political rival, and never rested until this rival
was brought to the scaffold.
The questions which agitated men's minds two centuries and a half ago
are not dead yet in the country where they produced such estrangement,
violence, and wrong. No stranger could take them up without encountering
hostile criticism from one party or the other. It may be and has been
conceded that Mr. Motley writes as a partisan,--a partisan of freedom in
politics and religion, as he understands freedom. This secures him the
antagonism of one class of critics. But these critics are themselves
partisans, and themselves open to the cross-fire of their antagonists.
M. Groen van Prinsterer, "the learned and distinguished" editor of the
"Archives et Correspondance" of the Orange and Nassau family, published a
considerable volume, before referred to, in which many of Motley's views
are strongly controverted. But he himself is far from being in accord
with "that eminent scholar," M. Bakhuyzen van den Brink, whose name, he
says, is celebrated enough to need no comment, or with M. Fruin, of whose
impartiality and erudition he himself speaks in the strongest terms. The
ground upon which he is attacked is thus stated in his own words:--
"People have often pretended to find in my writings the deplorable
influence of an extreme Calvinism. The Puritans of the seventeenth
century are my fellow-religionists. I am a sectarian and not an
It is plain enough to any impartial reader that there are at least
plausible grounds for this accusation against Mr. Motley's critic. And
on a careful examination of the formidable volume, it becomes obvious
that Mr. Motley has presented a view of the events and the personages of
the stormy epoch with which he is dealing, which leaves a battle-ground
yet to be fought over by those who come after him. The dispute is not
and cannot be settled.
The end of all religious discussion has come when one of the parties
claims that it is thinking or acting under immediate Divine guidance.
"It is God's affair, and his honor is touched," says William Lewis to
Prince Maurice. Mr. Motley's critic is not less confident in claiming
the Almighty as on the side of his own views. Let him state his own
ground of departure:--
"To show the difference, let me rather say the contrast, between the
point of view of Mr. Motley and my own, between the Unitarian and
the Evangelical belief. I am issue of CALVIN, child of the
Awakening (reveil). Faithful to the device of the Reformers:
Justification by faith alone, and the Word of God endures eternally.
I consider history from the point of view of Merle d'Aubigne,
Chalmers, Guizot. I desire to be disciple and witness of our Lord
and Saviour, Jesus Christ."
He is therefore of necessity antagonistic to a writer whom he describes
in such words as these:--
"Mr. Motley is liberal and rationalist.
"He becomes, in attacking the principle of the Reformation, the
passionate opponent of the Puritans and of Maurice, the ardent
apologist of Barnevelt and the Arminians.
"It is understood, and he makes no mystery of it, that he inclines
towards the vague and undecided doctrine of the Unitarians."
What M. Groen's idea of Unitarians is may be gathered from the statement
about them which he gets from a letter of De Tocqueville.
"They are pure deists; they talk about the Bible, because they do
not wish to shock too severely public opinion, which is prevailingly
Christian. They have a service on Sundays; I have been there. At
it they read verses from Dryden or other English poets on the
existence of God and the immortality of the soul. They deliver a
discourse on some point of morality, and all is said."
In point of fact the wave of protest which stormed the dikes of Dutch
orthodoxy in the seventeenth century stole gently through the bars of New
England Puritanism in the eighteenth.
"Though the large number," says Mr. Bancroft, "still acknowledged the
fixedness of the divine decrees, and the resistless certainty from all
eternity of election and of reprobation, there were not wanting, even
among the clergy, some who had modified the sternness of the ancient
doctrine by making the self-direction of the active powers of man with
freedom of inquiry and private judgment the central idea of a protest
Protestantism, cut loose from an infallible church, and drifting with
currents it cannot resist, wakes up once or oftener in every century, to
find itself in a new locality. Then it rubs its eyes and wonders whether
it has found its harbor or only lost its anchor. There is no end to its
disputes, for it has nothing but a fallible vote as authority for its
oracles, and these appeal only to fallible interpreters.
It is as hard to contend in argument against "the oligarchy of heaven,"
as Motley calls the Calvinistic party, as it was formerly to strive with
them in arms.
To this "aristocracy of God's elect" belonged the party which framed the
declaration of the Synod of Dort; the party which under the forms of
justice shed the blood of the great statesman who had served his country
so long and so well. To this chosen body belonged the late venerable and
truly excellent as well as learned M. Groen van Prinsterer, and he
exercised the usual right of examining in the light of his privileged
position the views of a "liberal" and "rationalist" writer who goes to
meeting on Sunday to hear verses from Dryden. This does not diminish his
claim for a fair reading of the "intimate correspondence," which he
considers Mr. Motley has not duly taken into account, and of the other
letters to be found printed in his somewhat disjointed and fragmentary
This "intimate correspondence" shows Maurice the Stadholder indifferent
and lax in internal administration and as being constantly advised and
urged by his relative Count William of Nassau. This need of constant
urging extends to religious as well as other matters, and is inconsistent
with M. Groen van Prinsterer's assertion that the question was for
Maurice above all religious, and for Barneveld above all political.
Whether its negative evidence can be considered as neutralizing that
which is adduced by Mr. Motley to show the Stadholder's hatred of the
Advocate may be left to the reader who has just risen from the account of
the mock trial and the swift execution of the great and venerable
statesman. The formal entry on the record upon the day of his "judicial
murder" is singularly solemn and impressive:--
"Monday, 13th May, 1619. To-day was executed with the sword here in
the Hague, on a scaffold thereto erected in the Binnenhof before the
steps of the great hall, Mr. John of Barneveld, in his life Knight,
Lord of Berkel, Rodenrys, etc., Advocate of Holland and West
Friesland, for reasons expressed in the sentence and otherwise, with
confiscation of his property, after he had served the state thirty-
three years two months and five days, since 8th March, 1586; a man
of great activity, business, memory, and wisdom,--yea, extraordinary
in every respect. He that stands let him see that he does not
Maurice gave an account of the execution of Barneveld to Count William
Lewis on the same day in a note "painfully brief and dry."
Most authors write their own biography consciously or unconsciously. We
have seen Mr. Motley portraying much of himself, his course of life and
his future, as he would have had it, in his first story. In this, his
last work, it is impossible not to read much of his own external and
internal personal history told under other names and with different
accessories. The parallelism often accidentally or intentionally passes
into divergence. He would not have had it too close if he could, but
there are various passages in which it is plain enough that he is telling
his own story.
Mr. Motley was a diplomatist, and he writes of other diplomatists, and
one in particular, with most significant detail. It need not be supposed
that he intends the "arch intriguer" Aerssens to stand for himself, or
that he would have endured being thought to identify himself with the man
of whose "almost devilish acts" he speaks so freely. But the sagacious
reader--and he need not be very sharp-sighted--will very certainly see
something more than a mere historical significance in some of the
passages which I shall cite for him to reflect upon. Mr. Motley's
standard of an ambassador's accomplishments may be judged from the
"That those ministers [those of the Republic] were second to the
representatives of no other European state in capacity and
accomplishment was a fact well known to all who had dealings with
them, for the states required in their diplomatic representatives
knowledge of history and international law, modern languages, and
the classics, as well as familiarity with political customs and
social courtesies; the breeding of gentlemen, in short, and the
accomplishments of scholars."
The story of the troubles of Aerssens, the ambassador of the United
Provinces at Paris, must be given at some length, and will repay careful
"Francis Aerssens . . . continued to be the Dutch ambassador
after the murder of Henry IV. . . . He was beyond doubt one of
the ablest diplomatists in Europe. Versed in many languages, a
classical student, familiar with history and international law, a
man of the world and familiar with its usages, accustomed to
associate with dignity and tact on friendliest terms with
sovereigns, eminent statesmen, and men of letters; endowed with a
facile tongue, a fluent pen, and an eye and ear of singular
acuteness and delicacy; distinguished for unflagging industry and
singular aptitude for secret and intricate affairs;--he had by the
exercise of these various qualities during a period of nearly twenty
years at the court of Henry the Great been able to render
inestimable services to the Republic which he represented.
"He had enjoyed the intimacy and even the confidence of Henry IV.,
so far as any man could be said to possess that monarch's
confidence, and his friendly relations and familiar access to the
king gave him political advantages superior to those of any of his
colleagues at the same court.
"Acting entirely and faithfully according to the instructions of the
Advocate of Holland, he always gratefully and copiously acknowledged
the privilege of being guided and sustained in the difficult paths
he had to traverse by so powerful and active an intellect. I have
seldom alluded in terms to the instructions and dispatches of the
chief, but every position, negotiation, and opinion of the envoy--
and the reader has seen many of them is pervaded by their spirit.
"It had become a question whether he was to remain at his post or
return. It was doubtful whether he wished to be relieved of his
embassy or not. The States of Holland voted 'to leave it to his
candid opinion if in his free conscience he thinks he can serve the
public any longer. If yes, he may keep his office one year more.
If no, he may take leave and come home.'
"Surely the States, under the guidance of the Advocate, had thus
acted with consummate courtesy towards a diplomatist whose position,
from no apparent fault of his own, but by the force of
circumstances,--and rather to his credit than otherwise,--
was gravely compromised."
The Queen, Mary de' Medici, had a talk with him, got angry, "became very
red in the face," and wanted to be rid of him.
"Nor was the envoy at first desirous of remaining. . . .
Nevertheless, he yielded reluctantly to Barneveld's request that he
should, for the time at least, remain at his post. Later on, as the
intrigues against him began to unfold themselves, and his faithful
services were made use of at home to blacken his character and
procure his removal, he refused to resign, as to do so would be to
play into the hands of his enemies, and, by inference at least, to
accuse himself of infidelity to his trust. . . .
"It is no wonder that the ambassador was galled to the quick by the
outrage which those concerned in the government were seeking to put
upon him. How could an honest man fail to be overwhelmed with rage
and anguish at being dishonored before the world by his masters for
scrupulously doing his duty, and for maintaining the rights and
dignity of his own country? He knew that the charges were but
pretexts, that the motives of his enemies were as base as the
intrigues themselves, but he also knew that the world usually sides
with the government against the individual, and that a man's
reputation is rarely strong enough to maintain itself unsullied in a
foreign land when his own government stretches forth its hand, not
to shield, but to stab him. . . .
"'I know,' he said, that this plot has been woven partly here in
Holland and partly here by good correspondence in order to drive me
from my post.
"'But as I have discovered this accurately, I have resolved to offer
to my masters the continuance of my very humble service for such
time and under such conditions as they may think good to prescribe.
I prefer forcing my natural and private inclinations to giving an
opportunity for the ministers of this kingdom to discredit us, and
to my enemies to succeed in injuring me, and by fraud and malice to
force me from my post. . . . I am truly sorry, being ready to
retire, wishing to have an honorable testimony in recompense of my
labors, that one is in such hurry to take advantage of my fall. .
. . What envoy will ever dare to speak with vigor if he is not
sustained by the government at home? . . . My enemies have
misrepresented my actions, and my language as passionate,
exaggerated, mischievous, but I have no passion except for the
service of my superiors.'
"Barneveld, from well-considered motives of public policy, was
favoring his honorable recall. But he allowed a decorous interval
of more than three years to elapse in which to terminate his
affairs, and to take a deliberate departure from that French embassy
to which the Advocate had originally promoted him, and in which
there had been so many years of mutual benefit and confidence
between the two statesmen. He used no underhand means. He did not
abuse the power of the States-General which he wielded to cast him
suddenly and brutally from the distinguished post which he occupied,
and so to attempt to dishonor him before the world. Nothing could
be more respectful and conciliatory than the attitude of the
government from first to last towards this distinguished
functionary. The Republic respected itself too much to deal with
honorable agents whose services it felt obliged to dispense with as
with vulgar malefactors who had been detected in crime. . . .
"This work aims at being a political study. I would attempt to
exemplify the influence of individual humors and passions--some of
them among the highest, and others certainly the basest that agitate
humanity--upon the march of great events, upon general historical
results at certain epochs, and upon the destiny of eminent
Here are two suggestive portraits:--
"The Advocate, while acting only in the name of a slender
confederacy, was in truth, so long as he held his place, the prime
minister of European Protestantism. There was none other to rival
him, few to comprehend him, fewer still to sustain him. As Prince
Maurice was at that time the great soldier of Protestantism, without
clearly scanning the grandeur of the field in which he was a chief
actor, or foreseeing the vastness of its future, so the Advocate was
its statesman and its prophet. Could the two have worked together
as harmoniously as they had done at an earlier day, it would have
been a blessing for the common weal of Europe. But, alas! the evil
genius of jealousy, which so often forbids cordial relations between
soldier and statesman, already stood shrouded in the distance,
darkly menacing the strenuous patriot, who was wearing his life out
in exertions for what he deemed the true cause of progress and
humanity. . . .
"All history shows that the brilliant soldier of a republic is apt
to have the advantage, in a struggle for popular affection and
popular applause, over the statesman, however consummate. . . .
The great battles and sieges of the prince had been on a world's
theatre, had enchained the attention of Christendom, and on their
issue had frequently depended, or seemed to depend, the very
existence of the nation. The labors of the statesman, on the
contrary, had been comparatively secret. His noble orations and
arguments had been spoken with closed doors to assemblies of
colleagues, rather envoys than senators, . . while his vast labors
in directing both the internal administration and especially the
foreign affairs of the commonwealth had been by their very nature
as secret as they were perpetual and enormous."
The reader of the "Life of Barneveld" must judge for himself whether in
these and similar passages the historian was thinking solely of Maurice,
the great military leader, of Barneveld, the great statesman, and of
Aerssens, the recalled ambassador. He will certainly find that there
were "burning questions" for ministers to handle then as now, and
recognize in "that visible atmosphere of power the poison of which it is
so difficult to resist" a respiratory medium as well known to the
nineteenth as to the seventeenth century.
1874-1877. AEt. 60-63.
DEATH OF MRS. MOTLEY.--LAST VISIT TO AMERICA.--ILLNESS AND DEATH.-LADY
On the last day of 1874, the beloved wife, whose health had for some
years been failing, was taken from him by death. She had been the pride
of his happier years, the stay and solace of those which had so tried his
sensitive spirit. The blow found him already weakened by mental
suffering and bodily infirmity, and he never recovered from it. Mr.
Motley's last visit to America was in the summer and autumn of 1875.
During several weeks which he passed at Nahant, a seaside resort near
Boston, I saw him almost daily. He walked feebly and with some little
difficulty, and complained of a feeling of great weight in the right arm,
which made writing laborious. His handwriting had not betrayed any very
obvious change, so far as I had noticed in his letters. His features and
speech were without any paralytic character. His mind was clear except
when, as on one or two occasions, he complained of some confused feeling,
and walked a few minutes in the open air to compose himself. His
thoughts were always tending to revert to the almost worshipped companion
from whom death had parted him a few months before. Yet he could often
be led away to other topics, and in talking of them could be betrayed
into momentary cheerfulness of manner. His long-enduring and all-
pervading grief was not more a tribute to the virtues and graces of her
whom he mourned than an evidence of the deeply affectionate nature which
in other relations endeared him to so many whose friendship was a title
to love and honor.
I have now the privilege of once more recurring to the narrative of Mr.
Motley's daughter, Lady Harcourt.
"The harassing work and mental distress of this time [after the
recall from England], acting on an acutely nervous organization,
began the process of undermining his constitution, of which we were
so soon to see the results. It was not the least courageous act of
his life, that, smarting under a fresh wound, tired and unhappy, he
set his face immediately towards the accomplishment of fresh
literary labor. After my sister's marriage in January he went to
the Hague to begin his researches in the archives for John of
Barneveld. The Queen of the Netherlands had made ready a house
for us, and personally superintended every preparation for his
reception. We remained there until the spring, and then removed to
a house more immediately in the town, a charming old-fashioned
mansion, once lived in by John de Witt, where he had a large library
and every domestic comfort during the year of his sojourn. The
incessant literary labor in an enervating climate with enfeebled
health may have prepared the way for the first break in his
constitution, which was to show itself soon after. There were many
compensations in the life about him. He enjoyed the privilege of
constant companionship with one of the warmest hearts and finest
intellects which I have ever known in a woman,--the 'ame d'elite'
which has passed beyond this earth. The gracious sentiment with
which the Queen sought to express her sense of what Holland owed him
would have been deeply felt even had her personal friendship been
less dear to us all. From the King, the society of the Hague, and
the diplomatic circle we had many marks of kindness. Once or twice
I made short journeys with him for change of air to Amsterdam, to
look for the portraits of John of Barneveld and his wife; to
Bohemia, where, with the lingering hope of occupying himself with
the Thirty Years' War, he looked carefully at the scene of
Wallenstein's death near Prague, and later to Varzin in Pomerania
for a week with Prince Bismarck, after the great events of the
Franco-German war. In the autumn of 1872 we moved to England,
partly because it was evident that his health and my mother's
required a change; partly for private reasons to be near my sister
and her children. The day after our arrival at Bournemouth occurred
the rupture of a vessel on the lungs, without any apparently
sufficient cause. He recovered enough to revise and complete his
manuscript, and we thought him better, when at the end of July, in
London, he was struck down by the first attack of the head, which
robbed him of all after power of work, although the intellect
remained untouched. Sir William Gull sent him to Cannes for the
winter, where he was seized with a violent internal inflammation,
in which I suppose there was again the indication of the lesion of
blood-vessels. I am nearing the shadow now,--the time of which I
can hardly bear to write. You know the terrible sorrow which
crushed him on the last day of 1874,--the grief which broke his
heart and from which he never rallied. From that day it seems to me
that his life may be summed up in the two words,--patient waiting.
Never for one hour did her spirit leave him, and he strove to follow
its leading for the short and evil days left and the hope of the
life beyond. I think I have never watched quietly and reverently
the traces of one personal character remaining so strongly impressed
on another nature. With herself--depreciation and unselfishness she
would have been the last to believe how much of him was in her very
existence; nor could we have realized it until the parting came.
Henceforward, with the mind still there, but with the machinery
necessary to set it in motion disturbed and shattered, he could but
try to create small occupations with which to fill the hours of a
life which was only valued for his children's sake. Kind and loving
friends in England and America soothed the passage, and our
gratitude for so many gracious acts is deep and true. His love for
children, always a strong feeling, was gratified by the constant
presence of my sister's babies, the eldest, a little girl who bore
my mother's name, and had been her idol, being the companion of many
hours and his best comforter. At the end the blow came swiftly and
suddenly, as he would have wished it. It was a terrible shock to us
who had vainly hoped to keep him a few years longer, but at least he
was spared what he had dreaded with a great dread, a gradual failure
of mental or bodily power. The mind was never clouded, the
affections never weakened, and after a few hours of unconscious
physical struggle he lay at rest, his face beautiful and calm,
without a trace of suffering or illness. Once or twice he said, 'It
has come, it has come,' and there were a few broken words before
consciousness fled, but there was little time for messages or leave-
taking. By a strange coincidence his life ended near the town of
Dorchester, in the mother country, as if the last hour brought with
it a reminiscence of his birthplace, and of his own dearly loved
mother. By his own wish only the dates of his birth and death
appear upon his gravestone, with the text chosen by himself, 'In God
is light, and in him is no darkness at all.'"
CONCLUSION.--HIS CHARACTER.--HIS LABORS.--HIS REWARD.
In closing this restricted and imperfect record of a life which merits,
and in due time will, I trust, receive an ampler tribute, I cannot
refrain from adding a few thoughts which naturally suggest themselves,
and some of which may seem quite unnecessary to the reader who has
followed the story of the historian and diplomatist's brilliant and
Mr. Motley came of a parentage which promised the gifts of mind and body
very generally to be accounted for, in a measure at least, wherever we
find them, by the blood of one or both of the parents. They gave him
special attractions and laid him open to not a few temptations. Too
many young men born to shine in social life, to sparkle, it may be,
in conversation, perhaps in the lighter walks of literature, become
agreeable idlers, self-indulgent, frivolous, incapable of large designs
or sustained effort, lose every aspiration and forget every ideal. Our
gilded youth want such examples as this of Motley, not a solitary, but a
conspicuous one, to teach them how much better is the restlessness of a
noble ambition than the narcotized stupor of club-life or the vapid
amusement of a dressed-up intercourse which too often requires a
questionable flavor of forbidden license to render it endurable to
persons of vivacious character and temperament.
It would seem difficult for a man so flattered from his earliest days to
be modest in his self-estimate; but Motley was never satisfied with
himself. He was impulsive, and was occasionally, I have heard it said,
over excited, when his prejudices were roughly handled. In all that
related to the questions involved in our civil war, he was, no doubt,
very sensitive. He had heard so much that exasperated him in the foreign
society which he had expected to be in full sympathy with the cause of
liberty as against slavery, that he might be excused if he showed
impatience when be met with similar sentiments among his own countrymen.
He felt that he had been cruelly treated by his own government, and no
one who conceives himself to have been wronged and insulted must be
expected to reason in naked syllogisms on the propriety of the liberties
which have been taken with his name and standing. But with all his
quickness of feeling, his manners were easy and courteous, simply because
his nature was warm and kindly, and with all his natural fastidiousness
there was nothing of the coxcomb about him.
He must have had enemies, as all men of striking individuality are sure
to have; his presence cast more uncouth patriots into the shade; his
learning was a reproach to the ignorant, his fame was too bright a
distinction; his high-bred air and refinement, which he could not help,
would hardly commend him to the average citizen in an order of things in
which mediocrity is at a premium, and the natural nobility of presence,
which rarely comes without family antecedents to account for it, is not
always agreeable to the many whose two ideals are the man on horseback
and the man in his shirt-sleeves. It may well be questioned whether
Washington, with his grand manner, would be nearly as popular with what
are called "the masses" as Lincoln, with his homely ways and broad
stories. The experiment of universal suffrage must render the waters
of political and social life more or less turbid even if they remain
innoxious. The Cloaca Maxima can hardly mingle its contents with the
stream of the Aqua Claudia, without taking something from its crystal
clearness. We need not go so far as one of our well-known politicians
has recently gone in saying that no great man can reach the highest
position in our government, but we can safely say that, apart from
military fame, the loftiest and purest and finest personal qualities are
not those which can be most depended upon at the ballot-box. Strange
stories are told of avowed opposition to Mr. Motley on the ground of the
most trivial differences in point of taste in personal matters,--so told
that it is hard to disbelieve them, and they show that the caprices which
we might have thought belonged exclusively to absolute rulers among their
mistresses or their minions may be felt in the councils of a great people
which calls itself self-governing. It is perfectly true that Mr. Motley
did not illustrate the popular type of politician. He was too high-
minded, too scholarly, too generously industrious, too polished, too much
at home in the highest European circles, too much courted for his
personal fascinations, too remote from the trading world of caucus
managers. To degrade him, so far as official capital punishment could do
it, was not merely to wrong one whom the nation should have delighted to
honor as showing it to the world in the fairest flower of its young
civilization, but it was an indignity to a representative of the highest
scholarship of native growth, which every student in the land felt as a
discouragement to all sound learning and noble ambition.
If he was disappointed in his diplomatic career, he had enough, and more
than enough, to console him in his brilliant literary triumphs. He had
earned them all by the most faithful and patient labor. If he had not
the "frame of adamant" of the Swedish hero, he had his "soul of fire."
No labors could tire him, no difficulties affright him. What most
surprised those who knew him as a young man was, not his ambition, not
his brilliancy, but his dogged, continuous capacity for work. We have
seen with what astonishment the old Dutch scholar, Groen van Prinsterer,
looked upon a man who had wrestled with authors like Bor and Van Meteren,
who had grappled with the mightiest folios and toiled undiscouraged among
half-illegible manuscript records. Having spared no pains in collecting
his materials, he told his story, as we all know, with flowing ease and
stirring vitality. His views may have been more or less partial; Philip
the Second may have deserved the pitying benevolence of poor Maximilian;
Maurice may have wept as sincerely over the errors of Arminius as any one
of "the crocodile crew that believe in election;" Barneveld and Grotius
may have been on the road to Rome; none of these things seem probable,
but if they were all proved true in opposition to his views, we should
still have the long roll of glowing tapestry he has woven for us, with
all its life-like portraits, its almost moving pageants, its sieges where
we can see the artillery flashing, its battle-fields with their smoke and
fire,--pictures which cannot fade, and which will preserve his name
interwoven with their own enduring colors.
Republics are said to be ungrateful; it might be truer to say that they
are forgetful. They forgive those who have wronged them as easily as
they forget those who have done them good service. But History never
forgets and never forgives. To her decision we may trust the question,
whether the warm-hearted patriot who had stood up for his country nobly
and manfully in the hour of trial, the great scholar and writer who had
reflected honor upon her throughout the world of letters, the high-minded
public servant, whose shortcomings it taxed the ingenuity of experts to
make conspicuous enough to be presentable, was treated as such a citizen
should have been dealt with. His record is safe in her hands, and his
memory will be precious always in the hearts of all who enjoyed his
THE SATURDAY CLUB.
This club, of which we were both members, and which is still flourishing,
came into existence in a very quiet sort of way at about the same time as
"The Atlantic Monthly," and, although entirely unconnected with that
magazine, included as members some of its chief contributors. Of those
who might have been met at some of the monthly gatherings in its earlier
days I may mention Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, Motley,
Whipple, Whittier; Professors Agassiz and Peirce; John S. Dwight;
Governor Andrew, Richard H. Dana, Junior, Charles Sumner. It offered a
wide gamut of intelligences, and the meetings were noteworthy occasions.
If there was not a certain amount of "mutual admiration" among some of
those I have mentioned it was a great pity, and implied a defect in the
nature of men who were otherwise largely endowed. The vitality of this
club has depended in a great measure on its utter poverty in statutes and
by-laws, its entire absence of formality, and its blessed freedom from
That holy man, Richard Baxter, says in his Preface to Alleine's
"I have done, when I have sought to remove a little scandal, which I
foresaw, that I should myself write the Preface to his Life where
himself and two of his friends make such a mention of my name, which
I cannot own; which will seem a praising him for praising me. I
confess it looketh ill-favoredly in me. But I had not the power of
other men's writings, and durst not forbear that which was his due."
I do not know that I have any occasion for a similar apology in printing
the following lines read at a meeting of members of the Saturday Club and
other friends who came together to bid farewell to Motley before his
return to Europe in 1857.
A PARTING HEALTH
Yes, we knew we must lose him,--though friendship may claim
To blend her green leaves with the laurels of fame,
Though fondly, at parting, we call him our own,
'T is the whisper of love when the bugle has blown.
As the rider that rests with the spur on his heel,
As the guardsman that sleeps in his corselet of steel,
As the archer that stands with his shaft on the string,
He stoops from his toil to the garland we bring.
What pictures yet slumber unborn in his loom
Till their warriors shall breathe and their beauties shall bloom,
While the tapestry lengthens the life-glowing dyes
That caught from our sunsets the stain of their skies!
In the alcoves of death, in the charnels of time,
Where flit the dark spectres of passion and crime,
There are triumphs untold, there are martyrs unsung,
There are heroes yet silent to speak with his tongue!
Let us hear the proud story that time has bequeathed
From lips that are warm with the freedom they breathed!
Let him summon its tyrants, and tell us their doom,
Though he sweep the black past like Van Tromp with his broom!
The dream flashes by, for the west-winds awake
On pampas, on prairie, o'er mountain and lake,
To bathe the swift bark, like a sea-girdled shrine
With incense they stole from the rose and the pine.
So fill a bright cup with the sunlight that gushed
When the dead summer's jewels were trampled and crushed;
THE TRUE KNIGHT OF LEARNING,--the world holds him dear,--
Love bless him, joy crown him, God speed his career!
HABITS AND METHODS OF STUDY.
Mr. Motley's daughter, Lady Harcourt, has favored me with many
interesting particulars which I could not have learned except from a
member of his own family. Her description of his way of living and of
working will be best given in her own words:--
"He generally rose early, the hour varying somewhat at different
parts of his life, according to his work and health. Sometimes when
much absorbed by literary labor he would rise before seven, often
lighting his own fire, and with a cup of tea or coffee writing until
the family breakfast hour, after which his work was immediately
resumed, and be usually sat over his writing-table until late in the
afternoon, when he would take a short walk. His dinner hour was
late, and he rarely worked at night. During the early years of his
literary studies he led a life of great retirement. Later, after
the publication of the 'Dutch Republic' and during the years of
official place, he was much in society in England, Austria, and
Holland. He enjoyed social life, and particularly dining out,
keenly, but was very moderate and simple in all his personal habits,
and for many years before his death had entirely given up smoking.
His work, when not in his own library, was in the Archives of the
Netherlands, Brussels, Paris, the English State Paper Office, and
the British Museum, where he made his own researches, patiently and
laboriously consulting original manuscripts and reading masses of
correspondence, from which he afterwards sometimes caused copies to
be made, and where he worked for many consecutive hours a day.
After his material had been thus painfully and toilfully amassed,
the writing of his own story was always done at home, and his mind,
having digested the necessary matter, always poured itself forth in
writing so copiously that his revision was chiefly devoted to
reducing the over-abundance. He never shrank from any of the
drudgery of preparation, but I think his own part of the work was
sheer pleasure to him."
I should have mentioned that his residence in London while minister was
at the house No. 17 Arlington Street, belonging to Lord Yarborough.
SIR WILLIAM GULL's ACCOUNT OF HIS ILLNESS.
I have availed myself of the permission implied in the subjoined letter
of Sir William Gull to make large extracts from his account of Mr.
Motley's condition while under his medical care. In his earlier years he
had often complained to me of those "nervous feelings connected with the
respiration" referred to by this very distinguished physician. I do not
remember any other habitual trouble to which he was subject.
74 BROOK STREET, GROSVENOR SQUARE, W.
February 13, 1878.
MY DEAR SIR,--I send the notes of Mr. Motley's last illness, as I
promised. They are too technical for general readers, but you will make
such exception as you require. The medical details may interest your
professional friends. Mr. Motley's case was a striking illustration that
the renal disease of so-called Bright's disease may supervene as part and
parcel of a larger and antecedent change in the blood-vessels in other
parts than the kidney. . . . I am, my dear sir,
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
To OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, ESQ.
I first saw Mr. Motley, I believe, about the year 1870, on account
of some nervous feelings connected with the respiration. At that
time his general health was good, and all he complained of was
occasionally a feeling of oppression about the chest. There were no
physical signs of anything abnormal, and the symptoms quite passed
away in the course of time, and with the use of simple antispasmodic
remedies, such as camphor and the like. This was my first interview
with Mr. Motley, and I was naturally glad to have the opportunity of
making his acquaintance. I remember that in our conversation I
jokingly said that my wife could hardly forgive him for not making
her hero, Henri IV., a perfect character, and the earnestness with
which he replied 'au serieux,' I assure you I have fairly recorded
the facts. After this date I did not see Mr. Motley for some time.
He had three slight attacks of haemoptysis in the autumn of 1872,
but no physical signs of change in the lung tissue resulted. So
early as this I noticed that there were signs of commencing
thickening in the heart, as shown by the degree and extent of its
impulse. The condition of his health, though at that time not very
obviously failing, a good deal arrested my attention, as I thought I
could perceive in the occurrence of the haemoptysis, and in the
cardiac hypertrophy, the early beginnings of vascular degeneration.
In August, 1873, occurred the remarkable seizure, from the effects
of which Mr. Motley never recovered. I did not see him in the
attack, but was informed, as far as I can remember, that he was on a
casual visit at a friend's house at luncheon (or it might have been
dinner), when he suddenly became strangely excited, but not quite
unconscious. . . . I believed at the time, and do so still, that
there was some capillary apoplexy of the convolutions. The attack
was attended with some hemiplegic weakness on the right side, and
altered sensation, and ever after there was a want of freedom and
ease both in the gait and in the use of the arm of that side. To my
inquiries from time to time how the arm was, the patient would
always flex and extend it freely, but nearly always used the
expression, "There is a bedevilment in it;" though the handwriting
was not much, if at all, altered.
In December, 1873, Mr. Motley went by my advice to Cannes. I wrote
the following letter at the time to my friend Dr. Frank, who was
[This letter, every word of which was of value to the
practitioner who was to have charge of the patient, relates
many of the facts given above, and I shall therefore only give
extracts from it.]
December 29, 1873.
MY DEAR DR. FRANK,--My friend Mr. Motley, the historian and late
American Minister, whose name and fame no doubt you know very well,
has by my advice come to Cannes for the winter and spring, and I
have promised him to give you some account of his case. To me it is
one of special interest, and personally, as respects the subject of
it, of painful interest. I have known Mr. Motley for some time, but
he consulted me for the present condition about midsummer.
. . . If I have formed a correct opinion of the pathology of the
case, I believe the smaller vessels are degenerating in several
parts of the vascular area, lung, brain, and kidneys. With this
view I have suggested a change of climate, a nourishing diet, etc.;
and it is to be hoped, and I trust expected, that by great attention
to the conditions of hygiene, internal and external, the progress of
degeneration may be retarded. I have no doubt you will find, as
time goes on, increasing evidence of renal change, but this is
rather a coincidence and consequence than a cause, though no doubt
when the renal change has reached a certain point, it becomes in its
own way a factor of other lesions. I have troubled you at this
length because my mind is much occupied with the pathology of these
cases, and because no case can, on personal grounds, more strongly
challenge our attention.
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
During the spring of 1874, whilst at Cannes, Mr. Motley had a sharp
attack of nephritis, attended with fever; but on returning to
England in July there was no important change in the health. The
weakness of the side continued, and the inability to undertake any
mental work. The signs of cardiac hypertrophy were more distinct.
In the beginning of the year 1875 I wrote as follows:--
February 20, 1875.
MY DEAR Mr. MOTLEY,--. . . The examination I have just made
appears to indicate that the main conditions of your health are more
stable than they were some months ago, and would therefore be so far
in favor of your going to America in the summer, as we talked of.
The ground of my doubt has lain in the possibility of such a trip
further disordering the circulation. Of this, I hope, there is now
On the 4th of June, 1875, I received the following letter:--
CALVERLY PARK HOTEL, TUNBRIDGE WELLS,
June 4, 1875.
MY DEAR SIR WILLIAM,--I have been absent from town for a long time,
but am to be there on the 9th and 10th. Could I make an appointment
with you for either of those days? I am anxious to have a full
consultation with you before leaving for America. Our departure is
fixed for the 19th of this month. I have not been worse than usual
of late. I think myself, on the contrary, rather stronger, and it
is almost impossible for me not to make my visit to America this
summer, unless you should absolutely prohibit it. If neither of
those days should suit you, could you kindly suggest another day?
I hope, however, you can spare me half an hour on one of those days,
as I like to get as much of this bracing air as I can. Will you
kindly name the hour when I may call on you, and address me at this
hotel. Excuse this slovenly note in pencil, but it fatigues my head
and arm much more to sit at a writing-table with pen and ink.
Always most sincerely yours,
My dear Sir William,
J. L. MOTLEY.
On Mr. Motley's return from America I saw him, and found him, I
thought, rather better in general health than when he left England.
In December, 1875, Mr. Motley consulted me for trouble of vision in
reading or walking, from sensations like those produced by flakes of
falling snow coming between him and the objects he was looking at.
Mr. Bowman, one of our most excellent oculists, was then consulted.
Mr. Bowman wrote to me as follows: "Such symptoms as exist point
rather to disturbed retinal function than to any brain-mischief. It
is, however, quite likely that what you fear for the brain may have
had its counterpart in the nerve-structures of the eye, and as he is
short-sighted, this tendency may be further intensified."
Mr. Bowman suggested no more than such an arrangement of glasses as
might put the eyes, when in use, under better optic conditions.
The year 1876 was passed over without any special change worth
notice. The walking powers were much impeded by the want of control
over the right leg. The mind was entirely clear, though Mr. Motley
did not feel equal, and indeed had been advised not to apply
himself, to any literary work. Occasional conversations, when I had
interviews with him on the subject of his health, proved that the
attack which had weakened the movements of the right side had not
impaired the mental power. The most noticeable change which had
come over Mr. Motley since I first knew him was due to the death of
Mrs. Motley in December, 1874. It had in fact not only profoundly
depressed him, but, if I may so express it, had removed the centre
of his thought to a new world. In long conversations with me of a
speculative kind, after that painful event, it was plain how much
his point of view of the whole course and relation of things had
changed. His mind was the last to dogmatize on any subject. There
was a candid and childlike desire to know, with an equal confession
of the incapacity of the human intellect. I wish I could recall the
actual expressions he used, but the sense was that which has been so
well stated by Hooker in concluding an exhortation against the pride
of the human intellect, where he remarks:--
"Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the
doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to
make mention of His Name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that
we know Him, not indeed as He is, neither can know Him; and our
safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess
without confession that His glory is inexplicable, His greatness
above our capacity and reach. He is above and we upon earth;
therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few."
Mrs. Motley's illness was not a long one, and the nature of it was
such that its course could with certainty be predicted. Mr. Motley
and her children passed the remaining days of her life, extending
over about a month, with her, in the mutual under standing that she
was soon to part from them. The character of the illness, and the
natural exhaustion of her strength by suffering, lessened the shock
of her death, though not the loss, to those who survived her.
The last time I saw Mr. Motley was, I believe, about two months
before his death, March 28, 1877. There was no great change in his
health, but he complained of indescribable sensations in his nervous
system, and felt as if losing the whole power of walking, but this
was not obvious in his gait, although he walked shorter distances
than before. I heard no more of him until I was suddenly summoned
on the 29th of May into Devonshire to see him. The telegram I
received was so urgent, that I suspected some rupture of a blood-
vessel in the brain, and that I should hardly reach him alive; and
this was the case. About two o'clock in the day he complained of a
feeling of faintness, said he felt ill and should not recover; and
in a few minutes was insensible with symptoms of ingravescent
apoplexy. There was extensive haemorrhage into the brain, as shown
by post-mortem examination, the cerebral vessels being atheromatous.
The fatal haemorrhage had occurred into the lateral ventricles, from
rupture of one of the middle cerebral arteries.
I am, my dear Sir,
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
FROM THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS SOCIETY.
At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, held on Thursday,
the 14th of June, 1877, after the reading of the records of the preceding
meeting, the president, the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, spoke as follows:
"Our first thoughts to-day, gentlemen, are of those whom we may not
again welcome to these halls. We shall be in no mood, certainly,
for entering on other subjects this morning until we have given some
expression to our deep sense of the loss--the double loss--which our
Society has sustained since our last monthly meeting."--[Edmund
Quincy died May 17. John Lothrop Motley died May 29.]
After a most interesting and cordial tribute to his friend, Mr. Quincy,
Mr. Winthrop continued:
"The death of our distinguished associate, Motley, can hardly have
taken many of us by surprise. Sudden at the moment of its
occurrence, we had long been more or less prepared for it by his
failing health. It must, indeed, have been quite too evident to
those who had seen him, during the last two or three years, that his
life-work was finished. I think he so regarded it himself.
"Hopes may have been occasionally revived in the hearts of his
friends, and even in his own heart, that his long-cherished purpose
of completing a History of the Thirty Years' War, as the grand
consummation of his historical labors,--for which all his other
volumes seemed to him to have been but the preludes and overtures,--
might still be accomplished. But such hopes, faint and flickering
from his first attack, had well-nigh died away. They were like
Prescott's hopes of completing his 'Philip the Second,' or like
Macaulay's hopes of finishing his brilliant 'History of England.'
"But great as may be the loss to literature of such a crowning work
from Motley's pen, it was by no means necessary to the completeness
of his own fame. His 'Rise of the Dutch Republic,' his 'History of
the United Netherlands,' and his 'Life of John of Barneveld,' had
abundantly established his reputation, and given him a fixed place
among the most eminent historians of our country and of our age.
"No American writer, certainly, has secured a wider recognition or a
higher appreciation from the scholars of the Old World. The
universities of England and the learned societies of Europe have
bestowed upon him their largest honors. It happened to me to be in
Paris when he was first chosen a corresponding member of the
Institute, and when his claims were canvassed with the freedom and
earnestness which peculiarly characterize such a candidacy in
France. There was no mistaking the profound impression which his
first work had made on the minds of such men as Guizot and Mignet.
Within a year or two past, a still higher honor has been awarded him
from the same source. The journals not long ago announced his
election as one of the six foreign associates of the French Academy
of Moral and Political Sciences,--a distinction which Prescott would
probably have attained had he lived a few years longer, until there
was a vacancy, but which, as a matter of fact, I believe, Motley was
the only American writer, except the late Edward Livingston, of
Louisiana, who has actually enjoyed.
"Residing much abroad, for the purpose of pursuing his historical
researches, he had become the associate and friend of the most
eminent literary men in almost all parts of the world, and the
singular charms of his conversation and manners had made him a
favorite guest in the most refined and exalted circles.
"Of his relations to political and public life, this is hardly the
occasion or the moment for speaking in detail. Misconstructions and
injustices are the proverbial lot of those who occupy eminent
position. It was a duke of Vienna, if I remember rightly, whom
Shakespeare, in his 'Measure for Measure,' introduces as
'O place and greatness, millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee! Volumes of report
Run with these false and most contrarious quests
Upon thy doings! Thousand 'stapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dream,
And rack thee in their fancies!'
"I forbear from all application of the lines. It is enough for me,
certainly, to say here, to-day, that our country was proud to be
represented at the courts of Vienna and London successively by a
gentleman of so much culture and accomplishment as Mr. Motley, and
that the circumstances of his recall were deeply regretted by us
"His fame, however, was quite beyond the reach of any such
accidents, and could neither be enhanced nor impaired by
appointments or removals. As a powerful and brilliant historian we
pay him our unanimous tribute of admiration and regret, and give him
a place in our memories by the side of Prescott and Irving. I do
not forget how many of us lament him, also, as a cherished friend.
"He died on the 29th ultimo, at the house of his daughter, Mrs.
Sheridan, in Dorsetshire, England, and an impressive tribute to his
memory was paid, in Westminster Abbey, on the following Sunday, by
our Honorary Member, Dean Stanley. Such a tribute, from such lips,
and with such surroundings, leaves nothing to be desired in the way
of eulogy. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, by the side of
his beloved wife.
Back to Full Books