Horace Greeley Knows His Business
IT was in April 1862 that I climbed up the back stairs to the Tribune office, seeking its editor. The principal room was crowded with editors and reporters, and was very dirty and noisy, recalling the soldiers’ barracks I had recently occupied at Bristow Station. Charles A. Dana was still at the post of managing editor, and he gave me the address of his chief. Up to the indicated residence I went — on Nineteenth Street, I believe. There I rang long and repeatedly, and knocked ditto, ditto, and at last a lady came to the door with sleeves tucked briskly up her arm and hair twisted to a knot on top of her head. The following conversation took place: —
‘Is Mr. Greeley in?’
‘He is not.’
‘Can you kindly direct me to him?’
‘I can not.’
‘You do not know where he is?’
‘I do not. He is not living here now.’
‘Can I see Mrs. Greeley, then?’
‘You do. I am Mrs. Greeley.’
‘Do — was — does Mr. Greeley come here sometimes?’
‘ Occasionally. He has not been here this week.’
‘May I inquire — do you know where he is stopping?'
‘I do not. He stopped at the Everett House last week.’
I walked down to that hotel and inquired. No, they said, but they thought he was at the New York Hotel. I shortly found him there, on the third floor, raging up and down the room like a wild man and storming over a pile of dispatches on the table. I seemed very much de trap, and in some alarm inquired what was the matter.
‘Matter?’ he repeated in his high falsetto voice. ‘Enough matter, I should think! Quite enough, I should think! In the battle yesterday at Pittsburg Landing the rebels whipped us, of course. Licked us like hell, apparently. And our soldiers are being driven into the Tennessee to-day — right, now, perhaps! Not their fault, either. Fault of our damned incompetent generals! Both generals drunk! Oh dear!' he said, over and over, as he walked up and down the room. ‘Such a sacrifice! Buell ought to be shot and Grant ought to be hung!’
At the beginning of the Rebellion the chief administration organ of the country was the New York Tribune. Its editorials were read with avidity by the supporters of Mr. Lincoln, and its advice was often taken. As the summer approached, however, a clamor arose for a more energetic prosecution of the war, and the Tribune gave vent to this feeling in the editorial exclamation, ‘On to Richmond!’ This was repeated and reiterated till it seemed like a battle cry. The more conservative of the Republicans deprecated this exhibition of impatience and it was no secret that it seriously embarrassed Mr. Lincoln in his purposes.
One day he said to Mr. Byington, then in charge of the Tribune correspondence bureau at Washington, ‘What in the world is the matter with Uncle Horace? Why can’t he restrain himself and wait a little?’ The correspondent reminded the President that one man did not write everything that went into the paper, although he was responsible for it. ‘Well,’ continued Mr. Lincoln, ‘I don’t suppose I have any right to complain; Uncle Horace agrees with me pretty often after all. I reckon he is with us at least four days out of seven.’
The real author of the slogan that so much troubled the administration was Charles A. Dana, the scholarly managing editor who knew Mr. Greeley better than any other living man and who possessed the rare gift of being able to put the English language into its most concise and attractive form. His echo in the West in this matter was Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune, a man whom Mr. Lincoln esteemed and confided in second only to Mr. Greeley himself.
In 1863 a quarrel broke out in the Tribune office, resulting in Mr. Dana’s resignation after fifteen years of service. He was immediately appointed Assistant Secretary of War, and held the office until after the surrender of Lee. He proved to be an excellent judge of men in t his service, and he and General Hitchcock succeeded in defeating the conspiracy against General Grant.
Can a page or two of this chronicle be spared for a brief record of one of my gallops in Virginia for the Tribune? My first impression of Manassas as I saw it: a junction of railroad tracks in a five-hundred-acre swamp; three very shabby buildings, and the ruins of twenty more; barracks innumerable and mud unfathomable, with strips of board laid end to end from hut to hut, to keep the unhappy inhabitants from premature burial; an acre or two of broken-down and deserted wagons — mere ancient scows with wheels put to them; twenty acres sown with wrecks of every imaginable article — broken bottles, books, provisions, shattered demijohns, rags, furniture, knives, tents, harness, arms and equipments half burnt, tracts, Bibles, musty tobacco, and more bottles; Negroes of every size groping among the rubbish.
From this point I accompanied General Stoneman’s raid toward Richmond. The country was thoroughly desolated. Farms had been plundered of their stock; bridges, depots, and settlements had been burned; the carcasses of thousands of horses tainted the poisoned air, while feebly enriching the exhausted fields. Deserted dogs and hungry cats whined after and followed us from barns that had escaped the torch, as if seeking their faithless masters, and here and there rose, like a grim witness, the blackened shaft that two days before had been the centre of a homestead.
It was April of 1863. We struck south of west to Catlett’s Station, and during the three days we rode it rained incessantly. As we advanced we found the bridges destroyed and had to swim our horses across Broad and Kettle runs. I remember the most vividly the experiences of our first night out. We camped in the field under a drenching rain which poured steadily from night till morning. We — at least, the officers’ squad of Colonel Zook’s 57th New York, which kindly extended to me all the hospitality it had — lay or crouched under a scrub oak. We brought rails from an adjoining fence and stuck one end of them up over the lower branches, while the other end rested on the watersoaked ground. On the outside of these we laid our blankets, which carried off a little of the rain, while we huddled on rails beneath. It was cold, I remember, and after a few minutes of experimentation we hustled out and got more rails and split them up and made a faint fire at the base of the tree. That fitful flame was an immense attraction for visitors, but our rude wigwam would not hold all of Stoneman’s army.
How we entertained ourselves in the hours of sleeplessness is what I most distinctly remember. I had found an old paper-covered copy of Byron in one of the rebel shanties at Manassas that morning, and I sat on a rail during the night and by the wavering light of the bonfire read from ‘Childe Harold’ and ‘Don Juan.’ I smile now as I recall the crowding of squad after squad around the trunk of that tree, each wet squad bringing its quota of rails as a fire offering, and I remember what lively attention was given by the bedraggled audience, with mingled laughter and applause, and how they insisted that the reading should go on till long after midnight. Indeed, it. was only from time to time interrupted, not ended, till daylight superseded the light of the embers. It certainly rendered the rain less wet, the darkness less dark, and threw a glamour of mitigation over the dreariness of the night. At daylight we started again. The details of that cavalry ride are shadowy, although it was punctuated by a skirmish and impressed upon the memory by the loss of several men.
During the first three years of the Civil War, Homer Byington was chief correspondent of the New York Tribune in Washington. When he was absent in the field I often left the Quartermaster’s accounts to look out for themselves and ran out and lent him a hand. He beat all the other newspapers in bringing to Mr. Lincoln and the Tribune the report of the victory of Gettysburg. More than once I heard him tell the interesting story:—
‘It was the latter half of June, 1863, that I got a dispatch from Culpeper Courthouse to hurry out there, for our army was on the move. I went at once; but the army had already started north at a rapid pace, keeping between the rebel army and Washington. Hooker was in command. I went to the headquarters of Meade, at Goose Creek. He told me there was going to be a battle, but my best way was to go back to Washington and hurry up to Harper’s Ferry, where I could head off our army and find ihe 17th Connecticut, whose quartermaster had one of my horses. I followed his directions and he gave me a special pass, taking me anywhere. When I reached Harper’s Ferry 1 found Hooker in a fume. I soon learned that he had demanded to have the ten thousand inactive men on Bolivar Heights attached to his own army for the battle with Lee, and that Halleck had refused. Hooker resigned that afternoon, and Lincoln commissioned Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. General Bob Tyler, of the Connecticut Brigade, was there; and he took my map and marked a red ring on it across the Pennsylvania line and said: “In a few days there will be within that circle one of the biggest fights the world ever saw. Go round to Baltimore and head Lee off at York.”
‘Again I followed directions. I tried Baltimore, but news came that the rebels had burnt the bridges and torn up the tracks. I hurried to Philadelphia and got to York by way of Lancaster, determined to be the first reporter on the ground. The track was torn up, but I hired a minister to carry me twelve miles in his wagon. Stuart’s rebel cavalry had visited York, raided the provision stores, and taken fifty thousand dollars from the bank.
‘Now and then I heard a gun go off in the southwest. I ransacked the town, but Stuart had got all the horses. Finally I found one solitary horse and buggy, and gave the owner an order on the Tribune for the rig. I drove in the direction of the cannonading ten or twelve miles, evaded some rebel cavalry on the way, and got to Hanover. There had been a severe cavalry fight there. The town had a disorderly appearance; people stayed close in their homes, and the debris of arms and accoutrements lay along the road. The wounded were gathered in a church. Telegraph wires were broken and strewn around. I stopped at the hotel and asked the landlord if there was no telegraph operator there. “Yes; there he is, over yonder,” said he, pointing out a little hunchback named Tone, asleep on a bench. I shook him and asked him where his battery was. “Home under the bed,” he said. “Wires ail cut everywhere; no use trying to telegraph.” I persisted, and went over to his house with him and pulled out the battery. After a good deal of parleying I hired some men to go out on a hand car five miles and fix the wires, I paying the men well and making myself responsible for the value of the car. The battery was brought out, the wires hitched together, and the operator swung his hat and shouted that we had got Baltimore. It. was arranged that I should have an absolute monopoly of the wire for two days.
‘Then I rushed off to the battlefield some six miles south. Before reaching there I met General Howard, and he told me about the first day’s fight, of Reynolds’s death, and the present position of the armies. Sypher, one of the Tribune men, had followed me from Lancaster, and we sent off by our private wire an account of the fight of the first two days. It was a magnificent beat. No other account got through that night, and between nine o’clock and midnight the Tribune sold 65,000 copies on the streets of New York.
‘Tone kept getting the strange signal “KI,” “KI.”
‘“What the dickens does KI mean?” he asked. “I’m afraid the rebs have tapped our wire.”
‘Finally we found out that we were communicating with General Eckert in the War Department at Washington. I had signed my dispatches “Byington.” “Who’s Byington?” asked Mr. Lincoln, for he and Secretary Stanton supposed I was still in Washington. “Ask Uncle Gideon,” I replied, referring thus familiarly to the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Gideon Welles of our state. There was great rejoicing at Washington. “We’ve got Byington’s first dispatch,” said Stanton, “and it is our first news. Send along more. We are listening.”
‘For two days I sent exclusive dispatches over my wire, giving all the particulars attainable of the great battle, while the Herald, much handicapped, was running ten-mile relays of horses. I telegraphed to Secretary Stanton that the railroad was whole from York to Baltimore, and the government at once sent out trains for our wounded. The surgeon told me that our railroad saved General Sickles’s life.
‘After the battle I got a horse and hurried on after the rebels, wondering why Meade did not pursue. They were all broken up and demoralized, the roadside strewn with sick and wounded men, with dead horses and abandoned muskets and spiked cannon. Next day I came up with Lee’s main army. It was huddled together in a horse-shaped bend of the Potomac at Williamsport — in a valley surrounded by hills on one side and the swollen and rushing river on the other. It would have been easy to bag them all. Their flight was fatally interrupted. The pontoons they had crossed on were swept away and they had no immediate means of recrossing. By a friend who accompanied me I sent back to President Lincoln and the Tribune the somewhat premature dispatch, “We’ve got Lee’s army tight. It cannot escape.”
‘After waiting there awhile I turned back to meet Meade’s army, which I supposed must be rapidly approaching down the road. In vain I looked and waited. It did not heave in sight. Finally an old man came up out of t he valley where the rebels were encamped, driving a sorry Virginia outfit — a ramshackle of a wagon, a dying horse tied to it bv tow strings, and in it, besides the native driver, a woman and children, each wearing apparently a single garment and all sitting in the straw. He said Lee had encamped right around his house, down in the swale, and he had had to quit it. He said he supposed the whole of Lee’s army would be gobbled right where it lay. I asked him what he would charge to go and tell General Meade all about the situation. He said he would do it for three dollars. I gave him the three dollars, and he moved on toward Gettysburg.
‘Well, you know the rest. Lee’s army stayed right there t hree days and then captured a lumberyard and made rafts and floated across the river at their leisure.
‘I was in Washington when Meade came to report after the battle of Gettysburg. I asked Secretary A dies about the interview.
‘“I was there when he came in,” he said. “‘Do you know, General,’ Mr. Lincoln suddenly broke out with a. laugh, ‘what your attitude toward Lee after the battle of Gettysburg reminded me of?’ ‘No, Mr. President — what is it?’ asked Meade. ‘I’ll be hanged,’ said Lincoln, ‘if I could think of anything but an old woman trying to shoo her geese across the creek!’
‘After that day Meade never quite recovered his own confidence or that of the army.’
In the autumn of 1863, discontented with the dull and monotonous routine of office work, I resigned my position in the Treasury Department and returned to the North to resume my favorite occupation, and during the next fifteen years I had a varied experience in journalism.
The preparation of the introduction to my book, A Helping Hand for American Homes, involved considerable correspondence with Mr. Greeley, and when the volume appeared I obtained the position of reporter on the New York Tribune. We were in the old building, fit only for kindling wood, on the site of which Mr. Whitelaw Reid erected the handsome tower of to-day, and the spacious editorial room on the second floor was reached by climbing dark flights of stairs in the rear.
This room was occupied — I might almost say inhabited, for they were present almost all hours of day and night — by a singularly interesting group of writers. In the front corner was an alcove occupied by Mr. Greeley himself. Near by was Mr. John Russell Young, who had earned an enviable reputation as a war correspondent. Next to him was the seat of William Winter, for nearly fifty years the Tribune’s dramatic editor and critic. Touching his desk under the window was that of Clarence Cook, for a quarter of a century its art editor and editorial writer. Next to him sat George Ripley, even then getting venerable, and one of the most versatile and able writers of his time. At the end of the room was the desk of Bayard Taylor, who was seldom present, but whose name and fame were among the Tribune’s most valuable properties. Taylor was a large man, with a frank and manly countenance, and so Oriental in appearance that he seemed like an enlightened and scholarly pasha. At a farewell banquet which was given to him on the eve of his departure for Europe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, in proposing the principal toast, exclaimed, ‘Reporter, correspondent, editor, traveler, translator, lecturer, poet, novelist, diplomat — it takes nine men to make a Taylor.’
On the remaining side of the room above mentioned were the desks of Amos Cummings and Homer Byington, two of the most active members, presiding over the city staff. It was under their supervision that I had two most interesting experiences. When I had been in the Tribune office three or four months, doing my best to merit promotion, I became conscious that my industry had attracted the eye of managing editor Young; and I felt a pardonable pride when, one afternoon, I saw him talking with Mr. Greeley and looking over at my desk. As I was leaving he called to me and said, ‘I have watched you work; you are not afraid of it; do you think you could run the telegraph desk?’ Joyfully I told him that I could and that I had had experience with telegraphic copy; whereupon he invited me to dine with him the next day, when we would ‘arrange it.’ I dined with him as appointed, and we arranged it, greatly to my satisfaction. I was to report next day for service, at an increased salary. At the appointed hour I appeared, and was surprised to see a stranger at the coveted desk, vigorously sharpening a pencil.
’Oh, yes!’ said Young nervously, as I asked an explanation. ‘Yes; it’s all up, but don’t blame me for it. I could n’t help it. Ben Butler came in last night dragging that fellow with him, and he went for Greeley, and Greeley, for some unaccountable reason, gave him the place. He’s a relative of the General, I believe. Very sorry indeed.’
I was disgusted, and I drew my balance of pay, shook the dust of the antique rookery from my feet, and departed with bitterness in my heart.
I lived to see the intruder at the very bottom of the hill. Within a week about half of the Associated Press news dispatches were missing from the Tribune one morning, and investigation revealed them in the wastebasket weighed down with an empty bottle which exhaled the secret of the failure. He never came back to the office, either to apologize or to inquire. He spent every cent he had, and borrowed from everybody who would trust him. He strayed into John Chamberlin’s place at Saratoga one morning, looking very tired indeed, and asked to borrow twenty dollars. Being refused, he made it one dollar, then fifty cents, then a quarter.
‘No; I won’t give you any more,’ said the proprietor. ‘Every cent I give you hurts you. Not another cent!’
‘Well, never mind the cent,’ pleaded the visitor; ‘make it a dime.’
‘No! Not another dime, you fool! Get out!’ was the inexorable answer.
The doomed man groaned and shaded his eyes with his hand as he turned to quit the gorgeous den, and it was thought he even shed tears; but as he reached the door he suddenly grabbed the clock of ormolu that stood ticking away the wicked hours on a convenient mantel, and ran, shouting back as he went out the door with it, ‘Well, ta-ta! Time is money, John!’
Chamberlin and his guests were paralyzed with astonishment and laughter, and the fugitive got away and pawned the sumptuous horologe for four dollars on the next corner.
Horace Greeley was a queer compound of bone, brain, and self-will. The current impression that he lacked pluck and pertinacity is entirely without foundation. He had indomitable self-assertion, and was game to the last. He cared not a cent about fashion in speech, manners, or dress. While I worked under him, although I saw him every day and heard his voice through the open doors, I never once heard him say ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good evening,’‘How d’ ye do’ or ‘Good-bye,’ or inquire about anybody’s health. But he scrupulously answered every letter that came to him, and generally tilted his chair forward on its legs and answered it on the spot, so that the writer could get a reply in the next mail. His conscience was abnormally developed on that one subject, and he probably wrote many thousand letters which did not need writing, and thus shortened his life.
On the street he seldom spoke to his nearest friends unless he had business with them. He would enter a street car down town, sit by the side of a friend, and ride a mile without speaking, then suddenly nudge him and say, ‘Let me take your paper.’ He would read the paper for another mile, watch for the friend’s house, hand the paper to him just before reaching it, and part company without speaking to him or looking at him. He did not believe in that expenditure of force which conventional civilities require.
In manners he seemed uncouth and uncivilized. In money matters he was a child. Commodore Vanderbilt had a Wayward, half-imbecile son, named Cornelius Jeremiah, an epileptic, indolent, ignorant, and fond of the gaming table. His father kept him on a small allowance, hoping to compel him to work. This ne’er-do-well applied to Mr. Greeley for money when his father would not let him have it, and Greeley gave it to him and continued the reckless habit until the loan was some forty thousand dollars. Vanderbilt wrote protesting letters to the editor, but they did no good. One evening he climbed the stairway to the sanctum. ‘Greeley, see here! I now tell you for the last time that I never will pay back a single cent of the money you keep lending to Corneel.’ Greeley swung round in his chair and cried, ‘Who the devil asked you to pay it back, you damned old skinflint?’ After the Commodore was dead, the friendly services of Whitelaw Reid induced William H. Vanderbilt to pay to Horace Greeley’s two daughters the $75,000 which Corneel had borrowed.
Among Greeley’s characteristics were an extreme irritability and a keen sense of justice. He was a careful political statistician, and nothing disgusted and enraged him more than an error in election returns. One morning, on looking over the Tribune, he saw that an important error had escaped correction. In great rage he climbed to the composing room and wanted to know who had set up that table. Tom Rooker examined the proofs and found that James Bayard had set the matter. The editor charged on Bayard’s tripod.
‘Jim, you’re a damned fool. Will you never learn anything? Look at that!’
‘ What’s the matter with it?’
‘Matter? Why, Great Scott! It’s all wrong!’ (Only Greeley was never known to apostrophize as humble an individual as Scott.)
‘Mr. Greeley, I did n’t do that.'
‘You lie, Jim! Who did?’ was the absurdly impatient response of Greeley. ‘Here you’ve made a damned fool of yourself and me!’
Bayard examined the paper and said he was sure he had followed copy.
‘Followed copy! Followed copy! That’s your get-out! That’s what you always say when you make a blunder! Come into the proof room, Jim. There’s a blankety-blank jackass lying round this office somewhere that ought to be kicked from here to Sing Sing. I’ll see whether it’s you or Clark!’
Clark, the proofreader, brought out the copy, and the moment. Mr. Greeley’s eye fell on the reprint he recollected that he himself had cribbed the table from the Express and sent it to the composing room. He collapsed, called Bayard into the group, turned round facing the window, and exclaimed, ‘Here! Kick me, all of you! Kick me! Kick me!'
Clarence Cook, one of the most conscientious and intelligent art critics in the world, quit the Tribune on account of some difference of opinion with Mr. Reid. I recall a funny incident about Cook and Greeley. When I went to work in the Tribune office in 1868, I was considerably awed by the line of distinguished desks along the side of the big room, where sat the members of Mr. Greeley’s staff. Especially was I awed by the little room in the corner through whose half-open door I could see Mr. Greeley at work.
One day John Russell Young, then managing editor, said: ‘Mr. Cook, I should think you’d go in and see Mr. Greeley. He speaks of liking your work, and you’ve been here now four or five years and have never spoken to him, I believe.’
Cook laughed and said: ‘I’ll go in if you really want me to. You ’ve asked me to do so two or three times before, but it did n’t seem worth while and I have waited till I had business with him. If he sent for me, that would be another thing. However, as you urge me, I’ll go. Here, Jake!’
He called to him the office boy and sent in his card, following it presently. Cook told me about the interview afterward.
‘Greeley was scratching away for dear life, his back to the door. My card was on his desk. He had apparently not seen it. I sat down on a haircloth sofa. He kept scratching away. At last I said, “Mr. Greeley.” He answered in that high, squeaky voice of his, “What is it?" but kept hard at work. “I am Mr. Cook,” I said. “Mr. Clarence Cook of the Tribune.” “Busy now!” he exclaimed, without looking around, and I retreated.
‘I did not try again for years. But when I returned from Europe in 1871 I wanted to get a letter of introduction to A. T. Stewart, in an attempt to interest him in that great picture, Raphael’s “Apollo and Marsyas,”then for sale, but since bought for the Louvre gallery in Paris, instead of being captured for this country as I wished.
‘I went in to the sanctum to see Mr. Greeley. He was scratching away as before, his nose almost touching the paper. I said, “Mr. Greeley!” He looked up at me, but evidently did not know me. “I am Mr. Clarence Cook,” I said. He scratched away again. He did not say “Good morning” or “How do you do?” but only, in that strange high-pitched voice, “What do you want?” I told him. He reached out and grabbed a piece of paper and wrote; reached for an envelope and scratched. He handed it to me and resumed his writing without a word. He had written: “Mr. Stewart: The bearer of this, Mr. Clarence Cook, is well known to me as a journalist and a gentleman, and as one who never wastes anybody’s time.”
’I found a porcupine in Mr. Stewart’s marble mansion — a porcupine no doubt developed by the constant attacks of beggars and swindlers. I sent up my letter. When he appeared in the reception room, where I awaited him, he made no sign of politeness. He did not ask me to sit down, but he put his hands rigidly behind him and said, “What is your business?”
‘As briefly as I could I told him that I had seen a very remarkable picture in Europe and wanted to tell him about if.
‘“You have not been asked to buy it,”I added. “I am not authorized to negotiate.”
‘“I don’t buy any pictures,” said he.
‘“Nobody asked you to buy any!”
‘“What’s your motive in coming here?” he asked suspiciously.
'"My motive, as far as I have one, is patriotic,” I said, “but I see that I have no business with you,” and I turned to go.
‘Surprised at my abruptness into a conciliatory mood, he said, “Hold on; wait a minute. Just glance at some of my statuary here.”
'"Now’s my time,” I thought, and followed him back.
‘“This,” he said, rather grandly, waving his hand toward a well-known and very commonplace example of the stonecutter’s art, “this is Powers’s ‘Greek Slave’!”
‘“Yes,” I said, “I have seen that once before; and nobody who has seen it once will ever want to see it again.”
‘“This,” he said, after some hesitation, turning to another example, “is the ‘Fisher Boy.’”
“‘Oh yes,” I said, “I’ve seen that before, too,” and came away without another word.’
Mr. Greeley tried in vain to keep his sanctum to himself. There was no intermission in his attempt to keep the door of his little quadrilateral locked, or at least shut. But he was always in a state of siege. Charles Congdon, the Tribune’s greatest satirical writer for many years, puts it cleverly as follows : —
‘Almost always overworked, he was naturally irritated by intrusions upon his privacy. For a long time, his efforts to cloister himself up were humiliating failures. All sorts of people, with the greatest possible variety of bees in their bonnets, managed to evade the slight barriers, get into his presence, and interrupt his industry — people with machines of perpetual motion, with theories about spiritualism, with notions about the next election, with business plans requiring only a small loan to launch them upon the full tide of dividend-paying experiment.
‘There were others with a passionate desire to borrow small or large sums of money; with anxiety to become writers upon his newspaper; with manuscripts which they wished to have him recommend to some book publisher; with new religions; with schemes for the abolition of every religion whatever; with mining stocks sure to pay 1000 per cent; with stories of personal destitution harrowing to listen to, and yet requiring only the loan of a few shillings to enable the petitioner to go to his friends; widows whose sole claim on him or on anybody was that they were widows; orphans, sometimes suspiciously well grown, who had nothing to plead but their orphanage; Irishmen who had lost everything in a desperate attempt to give the Green Island a better government; Negroes who perhaps were born free, and were merely fugitives from Maine or Massachusetts —all these and many others besieged the sanctum and devised tricks for swindling its occupant. If Mr. Greeley could have locked his door and kept it locked, he would have died a much richer man. He would try sometimes to be extremely stern and repellent, but it was always a lamentable failure.’
He could generally protect himself pretty well from full-grown masculine mendicants, but women applicants for money were the pest of his life, for he could not order the janitor to throw them downstairs. A woman in black called one afternoon and by a circuitous passage got into his room. ‘No,no! Nothing! Go way!' and he kept on writing while she kept on begging. ‘Go way. I’m busy. Let me alone! Go way!’ And he did his best to keep on writing. She gave him no peace till finally he jumped up, went to the speaking tube which connected with the countingroom, and shouted, ‘Sinclair! For God’s sake send me five dollars this minute!’ This response quieted the applicant, and he had bought rather dearly the right to use his own time. When she occupied some more minutes in prolonged thanks, his stern voice relaxed and a smile illuminated his benevolent face.
Mr. Greeley has been so misrepresented by malignant or ignorant writers that there seems to be a prevalent impression that he was a weak and foolish man. On the contrary, he was perhaps the most powerful and practical editor and controversialist that this country has seen. He was certainly awkward, and his manners never improved. His clothes did not resemble the fashion plates. They were not generally well brushed, or his shoes well blacked. But Thackeray would not have said of him, as he said of George IV, that “he had on his person an overcoat, a dress coat, a waistcoat, and a flannel coat, and that was all there was of him.’ Mr. Greeley seemed to have no idea whatever of the value of money, but he was undoubtedly the chief sufferer from that defect. No other editor this country has ever seen has put his personality so vigorously into his newspaper. The Tribune was always Greeley — echoing not only his principles, but even his personal habits and literary methods. He was fond of beginning a paragraph with a dash and a noun with a capital letter.
If he had been elected President in 1872, as he expected he would certainly be, he could have done the country no harm, and would probably have taught it some useful lessons. He would have reconstructed Reconstruction and he would have introduced a kindlier feeling between victors and vanquished, while surrounding himself with a Cabinet of statesmen at least as wise as those whom General Grant summoned to his side.
An acquaintance of mine told me this story: ‘Packard and I were invited to breakfast with Greeley one morning at nine o’clock. We reached the dining room of the hotel first, inquired for his table, and sat down. Pretty soon he came in, handed his hat and overcoat to a waiter, and, without looking toward us, went over into a corner, sat down, and ordered a breakfast for one — a poached egg, some milk toast, and a cup of tea. I went over and spoke to him. He looked surprised and asked us if we had eaten breakfast. We told him we had not, and we ordered the same that he had done and sat down with him.
‘“What paper you got?” he inquired. “Anything in it?”
‘“Not much except an article attacking you,” said Packard.
‘It was a column long, but Greeley read it through. “Absurd!” he said, “to take so much space for that. It is n’t good journalism. It all ought to have been said in a quarter of a column. That article ought never to have been permitted to go below there,” he said, indicating a place with his finger. He did not allude to the substance of the attack at all, but bitterly denounced the slovenliness of using so much space. We hurried through our breakfasts and departed.’
I knew a lady who was intimately acquainted with the Greeley household for twenty years.
‘Mrs. Greeley,’ she said, ‘never had the knack of making a home. She was always clean, but never neat, — never neat in appearance, I mean, — because she was always washing something and was always disheveled. I have seen her take her children without a garment on out into the street and pump water on them to wash them. When I was there one day the servant washed an apron of her own and hung it out to dry. Mrs. Greeley jumped up, seized the carving knife, rushed out and cut out of the line the piece containing the apron, and flung it to the girl with, “How dare you hang your apron on the same line with my baby’s clothes?” There was neatness for you! Yet when they lived on Nineteenth Street she kept three goats in the house for the children to play with, and when I let one of my servants go there to live she came running back to me, saying, “I won’t live there, Missis, never!” I asked what was the matter. “Sure, I have no bed at all, but must just bunk down on the pile of hay they got for the goats!”
‘Mr. Greeley asked me one Sunday to come round in the morning and go to Chapin’s with him. I went, and when I got to the house there was a fracas in the vestibule — he and his wife and the children and the goats all mixed up together.
‘“The question is,” said Mr.Greeley, “whether the goats shall go up Broadway with us. Mother insists that I shan’t go to church unless at the head of a procession of children and goats. It seems like a secular following.”
‘I believe we got off at last without them, though Mrs. Greeley said, “It’s only your miserable pride.”
‘Mrs. Greeley had an antipathy to kid gloves. She would never put them on. I remember a bout she had with Margaret Fuller on this subject. We all met on the avenue, and instead of saying good-morning, or some such human salutation, Mrs. Greeley touched Margaret’s hand with a little shudder and exclaimed, “Skin of a beast! Skin of a beast!”
‘“Why, what do you wear?” inquired the astonished maiden from Massachusetts.
'"Silk,” said Mrs. Greeley, reaching out her hand.
‘“Silk!” Margaret just touched it and shuddered, crying, “Entrails of a worm! Entrails of a worm!”
‘I was once in a stage with Mrs. Greeley going up Madison Avenue, when she suddenly pulled the strap, whisked a tin pail out from under her shawl, and, reaching it to the Reverend Dr. Brett at the other end of the bus, to whom we had just bowed, said, “You get out, please, and run to that bakery on the corner and get me two cents’ worth of yeast!” Mr. Brett, laughed aloud, but he good-naturedly got out, hurried to the shop, and brought back the coveted bread exhilarator, the driver waiting meantime, his serenity broken only by a smile. When the messenger returned, he handed the little pail to Mrs. Greeley with the remark that bread was evidently “kneaded,” to which she replied, “H’m! Old joke!”
‘She was very eccentric — Mrs. Greeley was. Greeley once told me that the day before, while going down to Staten Island on the ferryboat, she walked calmly up to a passenger who was smoking, snatched the cigar out of his mouth, and flung it overboard. “I expected to be knocked down on the spot that minute,” said Greeley.
‘Before the birth of Raphael, their oldest boy, she told me that she lived on raw rice altogether. She would take it by the handful and chew it up soft. “I can grind it just like a mill,” she said. When Raphael was taken with his last illness, a severe form of croup, the physician fought it for days, and finally made it yield. “Now he will probably live,” he said to Mrs. Greeley, “if you keep him from taking cold. I he catches cold, he dies. Keep him warm. Keep the air from him. Try no experiments. Any little exposure might be fatal.”
‘In two days the mother sent for him again, and on arriving he found the child all choked up with a cold. “What’s the matter with him?” he asked. “What? My God, what have you done? Taken off a warm woolen shirt and substituted a thin cotton one! The child will die. What did you send for me for? Why did n’t you send for an undertaker?”
‘Raphael died that night. She lamented him deeply. She did n’t mean to hurt him, of course, but the clean devil had got hold of her and her frenzy for cleanliness was stronger than almost any other feeling.
‘She once gave me some advice as to how to bring up my children. “Let’s see,” said I. “How many children have you?”
'“I have two,” she replied.
‘“And how many have you had?”
‘“Nine,” she answered.
‘“Then thank you,” I said, “but if it is all the same to you I think I’ll bring up my children my own way.”
‘“Oh, very well,” she exclaimed. “I did n’t raise children for this world, but for the next!”
‘She always called her husband “Greeley,” whether speaking to him or of him. He was rather afraid of her, but once in a while would say his say. I remember once we were assembled at Greeley’s on Saturday evening — Dr. Ripley, Margaret Fuller, George William Curtis, Dana, and half a dozen others, discussing the practicability of associated homes. We talked of turning the Gramercy Park Hotel into a nest of them. “It won’t do,” said Mrs. Greeley. “Everybody will be falling in love with Mrs. —,” naming me.
“Well, Ma,” said Mr. Greeley, “you’ll offset that!”’