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The New York Times, June 10, 1883



HARTFORD, Conn., June 9. - With his strawberries and cream before him and his NEW YORK TIMES in his hand, Mark Twain sat upon the portico of his handsome home this morning and made merry. He had chanced upon an item concerning an old acquaintance, Capt. C. C. Duncan, New York's Shipping Commissioner and the father of the three illustrious young men whose powers of absorbing the funds of the United States Government are, as far as is now known, illimitable. "Well, well, well! so the old man's in hot water," says the author of "Roughing It" and "Tom Sawyer," with a mock expression of pity on his face, as he pushed aside his strawberries. "Poor devil! I should think that after a while he'd conclude to put a little genius into his rascality, and try to hoodwink the public as his little of game of robbery goes on. It don't become a scoundrel to be an ass. The combination always makes a mix of things, and if Duncan will persist in his wicked ways somebody ought to have a guardian appointed for him - a guardian with sense enough to throw a little gauze over the work of the gouge. He is still Shipping Commissioner, is he? And his dear, noble boys surround him in his old age, supporting his steps, lightening his cares, and helping him to bankrupt the Government. Let us see, what does this item say: A bad man named Root, presuming on his position as a United States District Attorney, is making a war on the magnificent patriot. And Root don't like the way in which the funds of the Shipping Commission are disbursed. He thinks it isn't just the thing for the gallant Duncan, after gobbling $5,000 for personal salary, to give a half-dollar or so to an errand boy and then cut the surplus into three equal parts and to each of the scions of the house of Duncan give an equal and exact third. A hard man to please is this District Attorney Root. He may bless his stars and fervently congratulate the government that Capt. C. C. Duncan has not created a deficit, just to give his sons even money, say $3,650, instead of $3,648.30, as is the case.

"I see THE TIMES says that just abut $2,000 has been turned over to the Government's Treasury by Capt. C. C. Duncan during the 10 years he has been Shipping commissioner. There must be some mistake here. If a single penny in any year, or by any means, has fallen into the Treasury, a doleful error has occurred. Old Duncan never intended it, and I'll wager this new white duck suit I put on this morning that when the old man read THE TIMES this morning and saw that a little cash had glided out of his grip, he hurried down town to cook up some job by which he could make the hoggish Government hand that cash back again.

"So he and his three sons appropriated to themselves $15,944.90 of the Government's funds for the work they profess to have done last year. That's monstrous. There's no joke in that. It's scoundrelly, its nauseating, bald, barefaced robbery; but it's Duncan, through and through. Why, my boy, if I wanted to get rich rapidly the one contract I'd most delight in making would be to hire 150 Duncan families by the year, and get just half of this $15,944.90 which Capt. C. C. and his noble offspring take, and as I calculate it, my profits would be precisely the whole amount the Government gave me if I hired them at their true value, for a Duncan of the C. C. stripe is worthless absolutely. Multiply him by 150, or 150 times 150, it will make no difference.

"Enough brains could not be found in a C. C. Duncan family to run the kitchen of a Sixth Ward restaurant respectably. Brains never were there; brains would not be induced to enter there; it is the old story of water declining to climb up hill. As to the matter of honesty, that always was an absent quality with the old man. Where the honesty ought to have been in his make-up an inscrutable Providence provided a vacuum, walled in by hypocrisy and the meanest of meanness.

"It has been my honor to know the old man for a number of years - longer, much longer, than has been to my profit, perhaps. The honor fell to me away back in 1867, when I got my text for 'Innocents Abroad' in his gorgeous scheme of an 'excursion to the Holy Land, Egypt, the Crimea, Greece, and intermediate points of interest.' People who have read my tract will remember that I was one of the victims of that excursion. And they may remember, too, how I endeavored to immortalize the fair name of Duncan, though through reverence to truth I was obliged faithfully to note some things which a narrow-minded world chose to set not down to the glory and honor of the man who left New York Harbor a Captain, and developed within 24 hours into the ship's head waiter. Queer things happened on that excursion. I performed but my duty to the world and coming generations when I narrated those happenings in words of soberness and truth. But Capt. C. C. Duncan felt aggrieved. For years he kept his galled feelings pent up, but finally the time came when somebody advised him to enter the lecture field. He was going to explain all about the Holy Land as he saw it. He departed a little from his programme, and explained all about me as he did not see me. I smiled and said nothing for a time, and finally only wasted a little ink for a New York newspaper after long and urgent solicitation.

"I don't think Capt. C. C. Duncan was any happier when I got through with him than he was before I began. I put on parade one or two of his little frauds that had not been seen hitherto. I called attention to his advertisements that on his big excursion Henry Ward Beecher, Gen. Sherman, Maggie Mitchell, and other celebrities were to be among the passengers; how none of them appeared; how none of them, I guess, ever had any thought of making the trip. I showed up a few other of his thinly disguised frauds and exposed him pretty thoroughly as an old piece of animated flatulence.

"To excoriate the old rascal began to give me fun. I didn't lack for ammunition. What I did not have in stock came to hand readily. I discovered that the world was fairly jammed with folks who had dealt with C. C. and sadly regretted it. A reputable New York law firm supplied me with a big batch of indictments against the humbug mariner. The papers and documents they gave to support their charges were absolutely convincing. There was a long list of offenses. For instance, it was shown that on Dec. 18, 1867, Duncan filed a petition in bankruptcy, submitting his schedule of liabilities, amounting to $166,000, and that among these debts, as sworn by himself, was one of $5,265.28 to J. G. Richardson, of Liverpool, England. This was the proceeds of a consignment of canvas sold by him on account of Richardson and retained by him. He was also obliged to show an item of $634.42 for money collected by Duncan for Hall, Cornish, & Co. and not paid over to them. Of course, this was rank dishonesty. There were other equally questionable items in the schedule. But this was not all.

"But, bah! It disgusts me to recite this fellow's manifold offenses. A half-dozen years ago I read a paragraph in THE NEW YORK TIMES chronicling some of Duncan's wickedness, and what I wrote for publication then I reiterate now. I have known and observed Duncan for years, and I think I have reason for believing him wholly without principle, without moral sense, without honor of any kind. I think I am justified in believing that he is cruel enough and heartless enough to rob any sailor or sailor's widow or orphan he can get his clutches upon, and I know him to be coward enough. I know him to be a canting hypocrite, filled to the chin with sham godliness and forever oozing and dripping false piety and pharisaical prayers. I know his word to be worthless. It is a shame and a disgrace to the civil service that such a man was permitted to work himself into an office of trust and responsibility. And I repeat today what I said then, that the act creating the 'Shipping Commission,' concocted by himself for his own profit, was simply and purely an act to create a pirate - a pirate that has flourished and still flourishes.

"I tell you, my boy, Judas Iscariot rises into respectability, and the star route rogues are paragons compared with this same canting C. C. Duncan, Shipping Commissioner."

And Mark Twain returned to his strawberries.

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