MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.
[SPECIAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THE ENTERPRISE.]
WASHINGTON, February 5, 1868
Another man has arrived here who comes to get the berth of Postmaster of San Francisco. This makes thirty-seven. The new applicant is not posted in office-seeking; he has not had a ripe experience. He is a good enough man, and may get the place, but it will cost him more trouble and vexation than he is promising himself, no doubt. He says he can't see that there is anything to be done but get the President to appoint and the Senate to ratify. Certainly that is all, truly enough. It was all that was to be accomplished by the thirty-six. He says he means to show the President what the Pacific coast papers say about him, and he means also to tell him all about how the Post Office has heretofore been managed and how he would improve that management the moment he got into office. But he don't say he would swear by Andrew Johnson and labor for his behest alone - which is much more important. And he don't take into consideration that the moment he gets the President in his favor the Senate will be down on him for it, and that if he gains the Senate's affections first, the President will be down on him. He only proposes to stay here a week. He says he don't care anything about making an extended stay in Washington - he only wants to get the appointment, and look around the great public buildings a little, and then he is off.
They told him a story, yesterday, but I do not know whether he saw the point of it or not. It was a little story that has been related with great spirit many thousands of times to office-seekers and claim-hunters who were only going to tarry a few days in Washington. It was about
The Man Who Stopped at Gadsby's.
It was a long time ago - thirty long years ago - when Gadsby's was the great hotel. It was snowing. A gentleman in the very prime of life drove gallantly up to Gadsby's with a spanking coach-and-four. The servants ran out to put up his horses, but he said no, he was only going to stop an hour, and was going right on again; he only wished to get a little claim cashed at one of the Departments. And so he blanketed his horses and hitched them, and went away. A week after that he was still in Washington. He sold one of the horses. After a month or two had rolled by he sold another. He said he did not wish to part with the others, because he was going back home as soon as his claim was cashed. Another month or two elapsed, and he sold the carriage and bought a light two-horse buggy with a small part of the money. About four months after that, he sold one of the remaining horses; and after another month or so had gone by, he sold the buggy and bought a saddle. He said he could ride horseback well enough, considering that the roads were likely to be good enough for a week or two to come. But the lingering weeks dragged by, and finally he sold the saddle and concluded to ride bare-back. At last - at last - he sold the other horse, and said that when his claim settled he would walk. He is seventy years old, now, poor old man, and his hair is white, his clothes are threadbare, and his head is bowed with many troubles. But he says it is not for long - he is only waiting a little while to get his claim settled, and then he is going home to see his people again and be happy.
I think No. 37 had better tie his horses up at Gadsby's.
It is reported that Mrs. Lincoln, long threatened with insanity, has really fallen a victim to it at last. The information comes by private letters from Chicago. She is said to be living in a house which is empty of furniture, she having sold it all. She labors under the delusion that she is going to come to want, and she sells everything she can lay her hands on. She is under guard of two old men. It is to be hoped that now, at least, this most unfortunate woman will be spared the pitiless slanders that have assailed her ever since she first entered the White House, and which even the crushing affliction of the murder of her husband was only sufficient to check for a little while.
Can it be possible that she is deserted by her friends and left to the sole charge of the "two old men?" - she whose friendship was so precious and whose society was so coveted a few years ago, when a good word from her was half an aspiring man's ambition gained?
I was striding up Broadway, in the face of a driving snow storm, the other evening in New York, when a man seized me by the hand with a crushing grip and said: "How are you, Mark?" I said I was well enough - it was the weather that most invited solicitude. He said he was very, very glad to see me. I intimated that I was saturated with felicity to see him. But all the time I was wondering who the mischief the fellow was. He said he had always remembered me for saying a merciful word in print for him when he was being so sorely hunted by the press of San Francisco. I never recollected saying a merciful word for anybody, and so I was still in suspense. Finally he said he wished I would call and see him as his offices. ("Offices" sounded sumptuous, and I warmed to him.) He was dealing in steamships; that is, he was engaged in furnishing complements of passengers to them; any business I might happen to have with the great steamer lines he would be happy to conduct for me. I knew the chirping voice then; I remembered the complacent countenance; I recalled the cheerful spirit that never yet had been bowed down by any possible weight of woe; I recognized the royal presence that always, by a destiny, clad in the outward semblance of poverty, was yet always a millionaire within: Felix O'Byrne! Who else, in all the world, would be smiling so blithely out from a gallant costume in ruins and chirping about his offices and his steamships?
Nothing can crush Felix O'Byrne finally and conclusively. Truth and Felix O'Byrne crushed to earth will rise again. Thus there is a marked similarity between Truth and Felix O'Byrne. I hereby locate a discovery claim of four hundred feet on this fact. Felix arrives on the Pacific coast in poverty; shortly he is the honored contributor to Victoria newspapers and the guest of Governors. Next he turns up in San Francisco, poor and accused of a grave offense against the laws; he is wearing diamonds next, and wielding a mighty influence in politics. Crushed again - degraded, disgraced - he disappears from public life, and it is discovered that the notes he gave for clothing, and the baggage he left at first-class hotels, are equally fanciful as to value. Suspected by the police, worried by landlords of low boarding houses, snubbed at third-rate free lunches, he blooms out all at once in a bright, new uniform, as a lieutenant in the 8th California Volunteers. When the mystery of the transformation is solved, it transpires that poor, despised and shunned, the tireless energies of the man have been at work, steady and serenely as ever - and characteristically, their aim was high; let Felix's body be where it would, his soul was always in the clouds! It transpires that he has procured his soldierly position by means of a petition to the Governor, signed by a number of the foremost gentlemen of San Francisco! The confidence, the persistence, the effrontery, and the dazzling successes of this man were bound to provoke some admiration in any soul but an infinitesimally mean one. But the newspapers showed Felix up, immediately, and it was plain to be seen that he was hardly the man to augment the respectability of the military service. He had the glory of a public military trial, though, and the distinction of being the head and front of the chief sensation of San Francisco for nine days, in print, and the principal lion on the street when he went forth to show his uniform. Then he was dismissed, and forthwith sank, down, down, down - clear out of sight. He was out of sight a good while - and also out of mind. But not to stay. The first bubble that rose from the vasty depths of Fenianism brought Felix to the surface. He wrote; he lectured; he stumped the State; he aspired to lead the movement; and lo! in the fullness of time, he bloomed again - this time as high chief editor of the Irish People newspaper. His career was brief but gorgeous. The Fenians got after him, and so did his subscribers. His creditors assaulted him again. He was busted. The waves of oblivion swept over him once more. He ceased to be talked about or even remembered. He sailed for the East, glorified with a parting blast from all the newspapers. After many days we heard of him achieving a precarious living by adventurous ways - unknown, uncourted, poverty-stricken. But so surely as the sun rises out of the night, so surely Felix O'Byrne blazes up out of obscurity in his appointed seasons. The news came that he was gone to Ireland, a lordly commissioner, empowered to disburse three millions of dollars among the Fenians! Everybody said, Alas, for the Fenians! He was in the States again, when we heard of him next, with his periodical poverty upon him. And next he was stumping the State of New York for a great political organization, and spending its money with a lavish hand - for Felix was always free with money of his own, and just as free with it when it belongs to his friends. And afterwards we heard of him dining with the President of the United States and the great officers of the Government, a trusted adviser in the national policy. And next he was leaving his baggage behind him again at the hotels and disappointing landlords as to the quality of its contents. His next year's career was more damaging to his good name than any that had gone before, perhaps, but it is not necessary to give the particulars of it. He is in the mire of poverty once more, now, as to his body, but his regal soul dwells in "offices," and hath dealings with no meaner matters than the nation's great steamship lines. But be patient. The Phenix O'Byrne will rise from his ashes yet again, and perch upon the Temple of Fame! That restless brain of his, so prolific in invention, and those busy hands of his, so cunning in execution, will create new surprises for the public, and a new celebrity and prosperity for himself. What a mine of splendid talent is in this man! what industry, what hopefulness, what perseverance, what ingenuity! Felix would have been a power in the land if his rare intellectual forces had been under the guiding control of principle. The lack of that one quality is his ruin. If I had any principle to spare, I would give it to him as cheerfully as to any man, for I bear him no malice.
Senator Stewart made a long speech and a very able one on the vexed question of reconstruction, a couple of days ago. It is highly praised by Republicans. The whole speech was good, but one of the happiest points in it, perhaps, was toward its close, where he turned a favorite Democratic whine against that party and sang its own tune to it with a different style of words. I speak of that everlasting whine about "conciliating the South" - if there were not rather a properer call to conciliate the North! The North must suffer all he exasperating distresses of a war brought on by the South, yet stand by and see the fact that she can have anything to be conciliated about coolly ignored! I insert a paragraph from the speech:
Again we are appealed to to conciliate the South. What further concessions are we called upon to make? Have we not tried conciliation from the foundation of the Government? Have we not sacrificed justice and humanity to appease the vile passions, prejudice and tyranny of slaveholders long enough? Are not our statute books black with enactments to rivet the bonds of the slave? Are not the reports of the highest judicial tribunal disfigured with elaborate defenses of slaveholders' pretensions? Have we not submitted long enough to be slave-catchers for the South? Have we not bowed low enough in the dust in vain attempts to allay their royal displeasure? And after all this were we not required to make a sacrifice of life and property unparalleled in modern history to restrain the wrath of these haughty rebels, engendered only by the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States? When I reflect upon the crimes committed because of his first election, and when I reflect upon the manner of his death because of his second election, and the fearful results that have followed the commission of that crime, I sometimes feel that the power of conciliation was then exhausted.
Continuing the subject, the Senator launches the following pregnant paragraph at the conciliation-shrieking Democracy. It puts the matter altogether in a new light, and shows that the North has a little unsettled conciliation bill itself that needs liquidation.
But we did not stop at the death of Abraham Lincoln - we tried further measures of conciliation, and offered oblivion for the past and a full restoration in the Union on terms so liberal and magnanimous as to astonish the civilized world, and were again repulsed and defied. And still the Democratic party ask us to conciliate their rebel friends. They say it is impossible to harmonize the conflicting opinions in this country without conciliation. Let loyalty then be conciliated. Let something be done to soothe the bereaved and sorrow-stricken in the North. The passions of the human heart are not monopolized by those who sought to destroy the Government. Let the revels make some atonement for the barbarities of Andersonville and Libby prison! Let them, at least give a pledge in the shape of a constitutional amendment that the widows and orphans of those who have fallen shall not be robbed of their pensions by repudiation of the Federal debt through the instrumentality of rebel votes! Let the world see by their conduct and bearing that they were not victorious in the war and do not propose to humiliate our soldiers or make loyalty odious. Let the rebel press cease to discharge its venom in vile abuse of everything sacred to justice and honor. When force is agitated let the strong be conciliated. When the President betrays his party and, as he tells us "deliberates much upon the very serious and important question" of resistance to the laws for the restoration of the Union, let the scarred veterans of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan, be conciliated. Let those conservatives who cry "keep the peace" conciliate an insulted and outraged people. Those who suppressed the rebellion will secure the fruits of victory - peaceably if they can - forcibly if they must. Let those who believe the people are actuated only by prejudice of race against race re-echo the rebel war cry of "negro equality," "negro supremacy," and bend the pregnant hinges of the knee to haughty rebels for office and power; but let them take warning that they will fall where Buchanan fell, that they will not only merit but receive the contempt of mankind.
Hon. Mr. Axtell, member of the House from California, has also placed himself on record upon reconstruction, in a brief speech a day or two ago, on the Democratic side of the question, and Senator Nye on the Republican.
[photocopy available in Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley, CA]
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