Dickens, Stanton, Sumner, and Storey

The record of a dinner held in Washington at which were present the host, Charles Sumner, Charles Dickens, Edwin M. Stanton, and Moorfield Storey, Mr. Sumner’s secretary. This memorandum was written by Mr. Storey the evening of the dinner, immediately after the departure of the guests

February 2, 1868. — I have had a most delightful evening. I dined with Mr. Dickens, Mr. Sumner, and Mr. Stanton, as different types as can well be imagined: Mr. Dickens, whose nature is emotional, sensitive; Mr. Sumner, the man of intellect and principle; Mr. Stanton, the intensely energetic and practical.

Mr. Sumner gave his account of the evening on which Mr. Lincoln was assassinated. He said that between nine and ten of that Friday evening he was just sitting down with Mr. Conness over a bottle of wine, when the door was thrown open and a young man rushed in with his hair almost on end and said, ‘Mr. Lincoln is assassinated in the theatre. Mr. Seward is murdered in his bed. There’s murder in the streets.’ Sumner said he did not credit it, and replied, ‘Young man, be moderate in your statements. Tell us what has happened.’ He replied indignantly, ‘ I have told you what has happened,’ and reiterated it.

Sumner then left and went to the White House, and found the sentinel quietly pacing there. He asked him whether Mr. Lincoln had got home, and the sentinel said ‘no’ and that they had had nothing from him. Sumner then went to the door and asked the porter, who replied in the same way. Sumner then said, ‘They say that the President has been assassinated’; whereupon the porter rushed upstairs and told Robert Lincoln, who came down, and just as Sumner turned to go Robert joined him and they found at the door a hack; who sent it no one ever knew. They jumped in, and Sumner says he never drove so rapidly in his life till they got to the theatre, where they found a startled crowd.

They passed the sentinels, and Sumner found, as he entered the house where Lincoln had been carried, his wife and Miss Harris standing in the entry doing nothing. Mrs. Lincoln rushed up to him with feminine exclamations and asked him whether her husband was dead. He told her he had just come and knew nothing, but had brought her son, and then passed into the room where Mr. Lincoln had been carried.

He found the President lying on the bed, stretched diagonally across it, for he was very tall, and with his head hanging a little over to accommodate the blood, which was flowing freely from the wound. He was breathing heavily, his eyes were half open, and his face looked perfectly fresh and natural.

Sumner said he sat down at the head of the bed, took Mr. Lincoln’s right hand in his, and spoke to him. One of the surgeons said, ‘It’s no use, Mr. Sumner — he can’t hear you. He is dead.’ Sumner resented the idea and said, ‘No, he isn’t dead. Look at his face; he is breathing.’ ‘It will never be anything more than this’ was the answer. There he sat during the whole night, listening to this breathing, and he said it sounded almost like melody, till at twenty minutes past seven it stopped.

He then said, ‘Now for Mr. Seward,’ for he knew nothing of him, and turned to go out . He found Halieck a few feet in front of him, and, finding that he had a carriage, he asked Halieck to carry him as far as Seward’s. The General said he was going to see Johnson and tell him not to stir out that day without a guard, and then he would carry Sumner where he liked.

They got into the carriage, and as they passed through the crowd people asked, ‘How is Mr. Lincoln? Is he alive?’ Sumner shook his head, and they drove on to the Kirkwood House, where Halieck did his errand, and then to Seward’s. Sumner sent up his card to Mrs. Seward, and said that perhaps she might like to see him. She sent down for him, and he went up, and as he started up to the third story he found her halfway on the stairs, seated, and dressed in white. She seized him by both his hands and said, ‘Charles Sumner, they have murdered my husband, they have murdered my boy. Fred is dying. He will never speak to me again.’ Sumner said he tried to say he hoped it was not so bad, and asked how her husband was. ‘Henry is doing better than I expected, but Fred will never speak to me again,’ and then, suddenly rising, she threw off his hands and said, ‘I must fly,’ and disappeared. Sumner said he never saw her again.

Mr. Stanton said that at the Cabinet meeting the day before the assassination Mr. Lincoln was grander, graver, more thoroughly up to the occasion than he had ever seen him, and he remarked upon it to Mr. Speed as they left the room. Lincoln said before the meeting, ‘Some great event is going to happen. What it is I cannot say, but something I am sure of.’ When asked why, he replied, ‘I had a dream last night which I never had but three times in my life, and always before a great event. Once was before the battle of Bull Run, another time before Murfreesboro, the last before Chancellorsville. I seemed to be alone in a boat on a river drifting slowly down —’ Here the entrance of Mr. Stanton interrupted him, and he never finished. Mr. Stanton was told of it afterward.

Mr. Stanton said he went to the War Office, and about three o’clock his wife came in and said that Mr. Lincoln wanted them to go with him to the theatre that night, and she wanted to know how to answer him, Stanton told her to send regrets, for he said he had frequently been asked to go and had always refused, because he thought Mr. Lincoln ought not to go — it was too great an exposure. He went home and dined as usual and then went to see Mr. Seward, who was lying sick from the effects of his accident. He found six or eight people there, and stayed there chatting till he heard the music of a procession which had notified him that it would call on him that night, and would like to find him at home. He went home, made them a little speech, and then a little after ten, all the servants being away, he locked up the house and went upstairs with his wife to go to bed. She went into the nursery to look at the children, and he went into his bedroom.

He was nearly undressed when he heard his wife say, ‘Mr. Seward is murdered.’ He said, ‘Humbug! I left him only an hour ago’; and, coming downstairs half-dressed, he asked the man, ‘What’s this story you’re telling?’for it seemed that a man had come to the door and Mrs. Stanton had let him in. While he was talking, the room was filled with people, who told Stanton of the assassination. He started to go to the scene, but a man threw his arms about him and said, ‘You must n’t go out. They have killed Seward and Lincoln and they will kill you if you go out. They are waiting for you. As I came up to the house I saw a man behind the tree-box, but he ran away, and I did not follow him.’

Stanton replied that he’d risk it, and, going out, found at the door a hack in the same mysterious way that Mr. Sumner did. He jumped in and drove to Mr. Seward’s, and there he found in one room Mr. Seward, in another Fred, in a third the nurse, each ‘weltering in his gore.’ He saw that he could do nothing there, for the surgeons were already in attendance, and he drove to the house where Lincoln lay, stopping on his way to give his orders to officers, and in two hours after the deed was done the city was environed by soldiers.

His account of the scene at the bedside was the same as Mr. Sumner’s. He sent for Johnson, thinking that he ought to be present, but when Mrs. Lincoln wished to come in Mr. Sumner, thinking that she ought not to see Johnson there, and knowing that she had a strong personal dislike for him, suggested to Mr. Stanton that he ought to go. So, said Mr. Stanton, ‘I told him that there was no necessity for his remaining any longer,’ and he went.

Mr. Stanton also told how Booth and Payne were taken and of the scene at Mr. Seward’s, but the papers of the day contain all that he said. He alluded to Mr. Lincoln’s breathing, and said that it sounded like an æolian harp, now rising, now falling and almost dying away, and then reviving, and reminded him of what he had noticed in the case of one of his children, who had died in his arms shortly before.

It was a very interesting evening.

Dickens thought that Longfellow was the most highly thought of American author abroad.

He spoke of Louis Napoleon, whom he knew at Gore House as a young man, and thought that his imprisonment at Ham must have worked marvels, for he never thought him much of a man. Brougham characterized him as a damned fool. Dickens thought his only talent was his genius for silence.