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HORACE PORTER (1837 —
A BRILLIANT AFTER-DINNER SPEAKER
ENERAL HORACE PORTER was well qualified from personal
experience to describe the stirring events of war times under
Grant, for he served as Brigadier-General under that famous commander during the Civil War, and came very near to him as his private secretary during the eight years of his Presidency. A graduate of West Point in 1860, General Porter served in the field throughout the Civil War, holding in succession every commissioned grade up to that of Brigadier-General. In 1897 he was appointed United States Ambassador to France by President McKinley, holding this important diplomatic post throughout McKinley's term and continuing to represent this country at the French court under President Roosevelt. He has been prominent in business, being president of several railroad corporations. As an orator General Porter delivered the address at the Grant memorial ceremonies, and at the inauguration of the Washington Arch at New York, in 1897. He is especially capable in afterdinner speech-making, his rich vein of humor causing him to be often called upon to respond on such occasions of festivity.
THE HUMOR AND PATHOS OF LINCOLN'S LIFE [At the dinner given by the Republican Club of New York City on the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1889, General Porter responded gracefully to the toast, “ Abraham Lincoln—the fragrant memory of such a life will increase as the generations succeed each other." In Porter's remarks two phases of Lincoln's character were prominently brought out, his fondness for humor. ous story-telling and the innate sadness of his later career. General Porter is best known as a fluent source of amusing oratory ; but in the remarks subjoined he shows that he is master of the element of pathos as well..]
I fear your committee is treating me like one of those toy balloons that are sent up previous to the main ascension, to test the currents of the
air ; but I hope that in this sort of ballooning I may not be interruped by the remark that interrupted a Fourth of July orator in the West when he was tickling the American eagle under both wings, delivering himself of no end of platitudes and soaring aloft into the brilliant realms of fancy, when a man in the audience quietly remarked : “If he goes on throwing out his ballast in that way, the Lord knows where he will land." If I demonstrate to-night that dryness is a quality not only of the champagne but of the first speech as well, you may reflect on that remark as Abraham Lincoln did at City Point after he had been shaken up the night before in his boat in a storm in Chesapeake Bay. When he complained of the feeling of gastronomic uncertainty which we suffer on the water, a young staff officer rushed up to him with a bottle of champagne and said: * This is the cure for that sort of an ill." Said the President: “No, young man, I have seen too many fellows seasick ashore from drinking that very article."
The story of the life of Abraham Lincoln savors more of romance than reality. It is more like a fable of the ancient days than a story of a plain American of the nineteenth century. The singular vicissitudes in the life of our martyred President surround him with an interest which attaches to few men in history. He sprang from that class which he always alluded to as the “plain people,”' and never attempted to disdain them. He believed that the government was made for the people, not the people for the government. He felt that true republicanism is a torchthe more it is shaken in the hands of the people, the brighter it will burn. He was transcendently fit to be the first successful standard-bearer of the progressive, aggressive, invincible Republican party. He might well have said to those who chose to sneer at his humble origin, what a marshal of France raised from the ranks said to the haughty nobles of Vienna boasting of their long line of descent, when they refused to associate with him : “I am an ancestor ; you are only descendants !” He was never guilty of any posing for effect, any attitudinizing in public, any mawkish sentimentality, any of the puppyism so often bred by power, that dogmatism which Johnson said was only puppyism grown to maturity. He made no claim to knowledge he did not possess. He felt with Addison that pedantry and learning are like hypocrisy in religion—the form of knowledge without the power of it. He had nothing in common with those men of mental malformation who are educated beyond their intellects.
The names of Washington and Lincoln are inseparably associated, and yet, as the popular historian would have us believe, one spent his entire life in chopping down acorn trees and the other in splitting them up into rails. Washington could not tell a story. Lincoln always could.
And Lincoln's stories always possessed the true geometrical requisites, they were never too long, and never too broad. He never forgot a point. A sentinel pacing near the watchfire while Lincoln was once telling some stories quietly remarked that, “He had a mighty powerful memory, but an awful poor forgettery.”.
But his heart was not always attuned to mirth ; its chords were often set to strains of sadness. Yet throughout all his trials he never lost the courage of his convictions. When he was surrounded on all sides by doubting Thomases, by unbelieving Saracens, by discontented Catilines, his faith was strongest. As the Danes destroyed the hearing of their warhorses in order that they might not be affrighted by the din of the battle, so Lincoln turned a deaf ear to all that might have discouraged him, and exhibited an unwavering faith in the justice of the cause and the integrity of the Union.
It is said that for three hundred years after the battle of Thermopylæ every child in the public schools of Greece was required to recite from memory the names of the three hundred martyrs who fell in the defence of that Pass. It would be a crowning triumph in patriotic education if every school child in America could contemplate each day the grand character and utter the inspiring name of Abraham Lincoln.
He has passed from our view. We shall not meet him again until he stands forth to answer to his name at the roll-call when the great of earth are summoned in the morning of the last great reveille. Till then [apostrophizing Lincolu's portrait which hung above the President's head], till then, farewell, gentlest of spirits, noblest of all hearts! The child's simplicity was mingled with the majestic grandeur of your nature. You have handed down unto a grateful people the richest legacy which man can leave to man—the memory of a good rame, the inheritance of a great example.
JOSEPH JEFFERSON (1829 —
THE RIP VAN WINKLE OF DRAMATIC ORATORY
OR many decades of the past the lovers of the theatre have
feasted full on one oft served repast, Jefferson's “Rip Van
Winkle,” which is growing to be a tradition even while it remains a living tenant of the stage. Jefferson has so thoroughly identified himself with “Old Rip" that the two have fairly become one. He is growing especially like him in one particular, old age is classing him among its veterans ; but he is unlike him in another, he has not slept away his years. In fact, no man has kept more vitally alive and more fully in the eyes of the people than Joseph Jefferson. He is protean in his changes. We see him now as “Rip,” again as “Bob Eccles," next in some other form ; but in none of them does he obliterate himself. Through all these variations something of the genial-hearted Joe Jefferson shows out. Born of a family of actors, he came to his profession by hereditary right, and has abundantly proved his claim to fill the throne of his father.
MY FARM IN JERSEY (Jefferson is not confined in his powers to repeating the words of others, but cau speak effectively for himself. And as a comedian, he has naturally a sense of humor. As evidence of this we present the closing portion of his remarks made at the tenth annual dinner of the Author's Club, New York, February 28, 1893.]
It is curious that there is one path in which the actor always wanders —he always likes to be land-owner. It is a curious thing that the actors of England—of course in the olden times you must remember that we had none but English actors in this country, -as soon as they came here, they wanted to own land. They could not do it in England. The elder Booth owned a farm at Bellaire. Thomas Cooper, the celebrated English tragedian, bought a farm near Philadelphia, and it is a positive fact that he is the first man who ever owned a fast trotting horse in America. He used
to drive from the farm to rehearsal at the theatre, and I believe has been known, when in convivial company, even to drive out at night afterwards. Following and emulating the example of my illustrious predecessors I became a farmer.
I will not allude to my plantation in Louisiana ; my overseer takes care of that. I have not heard from him lately, but I am told he takes very good care of it. I trust there was no expression of distrust on my part. But I allude to my farm in New Jersey. I have not been so successful as Mr. Burroughs, but I was attracted by a townsman and I bought a farm in New Jersey. I went out first to examine the soil. I told the honest farmer who was about to sell me this place that I thought the soil looked rather thin ; there was a good deal of gravel. He told me that the gravel was the finest thing for drainage in the world. I told him I had heard that, but I had always presumed that if the gravel was underneath it would answer the purpose better. He said : “Not at all ; this soil is of that character it will drain both ways,” by what he termed I think caterpillary attraction.
I bought the farm and set myself to work to increase the breadth of my shoulders, to help my appetite, and so forth, about the work of a farm. I even went so far as to emulate the example set by Mr. Burroughs, and split the wood. I did not succeed in that. Of course, as Mr. Burroughs wisely remarks, the heat comes at both ends; it comes when you split the wood and again when you burn it. But as I only lived at my farm during the summer time, it became quite unnecessary in New Jersey to split wood in July, and my farming operations were not successful.
We bought an immense quantity of chickens and they all turned out to be roosters ; but I resolved—I presume as William Nye says about the farm—to carry it on; I would carry on that farm as long as my wife's money lasted. A great mishap was when my Alderney bull got into the greenhouse. There was nothing to stop him but the cactus. Не tossed the flower-pots right and left. Talk about the flowers that bloom in the spring,—why I never saw such a wreck, and I am fully convinced that there is nothing that will stop a thoroughly wellbred bull but a full-bred South American cactus. I went down to look at the ruins and the devastation that this animal had made, and I found him quietly eating black Hamburg grapes. I don't know anything finer than black Hamburg grapes for Alderney bulls. A friend of mine, who was chaffing me for my farming proclivities, said : “ I see you have got in some confusion here. It looks to me from seeing that gentleman there -that stranger in the greenhouse that you are trying to raise early bulls under glass."