Recollections of Commodore E. C. Benedict
LOOKING out from my study window, there comes into view a little group of trees. They nod their branches in friendly salutation the live-long day.
When November comes and the last leaf is blown from their branches, I know that in a few months they will bedeck themselves anew, and in thus reappearing in life after death, as it were, I seem to feel that the friends whose memories they enshrine, like the trees themselves, will again greet me and know me as they have in the past, and we shall rejoice to be together again with exceeding gladness.
The tree nearest the window that seems greenest and sturdiest was planted by him, who himself was a giant in the forest of men–Grover Cleveland. He was my very dear friend and I, who have been honored by the friendship of many who could be counted good and great, look back upon my intimacy with Grover Cleveland as a blessed privilege. Perhaps the very difference in our natures was what brought us so close together, and for nearly twenty-four wonderful years we enjoyed such friendship as has been rarely vouchsafed to the sons of men.
I first met Mr. Cleveland at the little town of Marion, Mass., on Buzzards Bay. My daughter was paying a visit to the family of Richard Watson Gilder and that evening the Oneida arrived and I went ashore to pick her up. There was some sort of a social affair going on among the summer residents and it was held in an abandoned barn, I think. The Clevelands lived in a modest cottage up the street, and there seemed to be a congenial group among the strangers who had gathered there that summer. Besides the Gilders there was L. Clarke Davis, of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, then under the management of George W. Childs, and his gifted wife, Mrs. Rebecca Harding Davis ; at that time doing much literary work for the Youths’ Companion, in Boston. Their talented young son, Richard Harding Davis, had not yet written “Van Bibber” or a “Soldier of Fortune.” He was still, if I remember correctly, a “cub” reporter on the New York Sun. Charles Dana Gibson was also in the party.
Mrs. Cleveland, then a young bride, was among the friends to whom my daughter presented me and remarked that she had invited her to go sailing next day on the Oneida, an invitation which I cordially endorsed. Toward the middle of the evening two strangers entered, one rather short, but the other a very powerfully built figure, and dressed in a manner some-what in contrast to the rather summery garments of the others present. The suit had evidently seen much wear, and he wore a dark outing shirt. A soft, nondescript hat was crushed in his hand and his whole aspect denoted to my practiced eye the natural born fisherman. A moment later I was shaking hands with Grover Cleveland. The shorter man was “Dan” Lamont, at that time private secretary, but subsequently a member of Mr. Cleveland’s second cabinet.
We had not talked very long before he discovered that I was a Buffalo boy and, like himself, the son of a Presbyterian minister. There was at once a common ground of fellowship. When I later remarked that all I knew of the three R’s was what had been pounded into me through my hands and my jacket by the well-known Doctor Cook, who ran a sort of a private school in Buffalo, his interest in me sensibly increased. We compared many things pertaining to our common bringing up and found, to our delight, that we had both suffered in about the same measure from- the severity of the Calvinistic Puritanical atmosphere which had surrounded our boyish days. This began an intimacy that continued without interruption for nearly a quarter of a century and which, to me, was one of the greatest happinesses in my long life.
The straightened circumstances in which we both grew up formed a common bond of sympathy. I recall one of his letters, out of more than three hundred which he wrote me during his life, with particular gratification. In it he sent me what little money he had been able to save up with the request that I do with it as I would with my own. And if I were to mention the meagreness of this sum it would set at rest, if necessary, all the ridiculous stories that at one time gained credence concerning the vastness of Mr. Cleveland’s private fortune.
Mr. Cleveland liked to put aside the burdens of his great office to find rest and recreation in a day’s fishinga sport he entered into with boyish delight and enthusiasm. Joseph Jefferson and Edwin Booth were often with us.
One of the first trips I made with Mr. Booth was to take him from Narragansett to Crow’s Nest to meet Joseph Jefferson. That was the beginning of a most wonderful and enjoyable acquaintance and companionship with him, for not alone were visits exchanged at our homes but it was the beginning of many fishing trips with him, Grover Cleveland, Captain Robley D. Evans and other prominent people. I remember on one occasion Captain Evans came over from Province-town, where there was practice going on, for a day’s fishing. Captain Evans remarked that he would rather be over in Buzzards Bay fishing with us than to own the whole darn shooting squadron over in Provincetown.
Mr. Jefferson was fond of fishing but not a good fisherman, while Mr. Cleveland was an expert. The last day we three were together the fish were biting fairly well, and every time Mr. Jefferson’s bob would go out of sight he would give a yank, and hook, line, bob and sinker would go skyward. After doing this three or four times Mr. Cleveland, who needed no megaphone to convey his thoughts when aroused, yelled out : “For God’s sake, Jefferson, don’t yank them so.” Jefferson turned around in a most injured way and said: “Well, they yanked me first.”
One day while Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Cleveland and myself were lunching on the Oneida the conversation drifted to the subject of a future life. Mr. Jefferson expressed himself as very grateful for having had more than his share of the joys of this lifea sentiment which both Mr. Cleveland and myself could heartily endorseand as being prepared at any moment to meet the common fate of all. He said he had lately been “scribbling some doggerel” on the subject and he recited to us from memory some lines he had composed. They made a deep impression upon me and I begged him to give me a copy of the poem. He did not possess such a thing at the time, but promised to send me one when he got home.
Along in the following winter I met Mr. Cleveland, who had recently seen Mr. Jefferson in his Florida home, and learned from him that our dear friend was seriously ill. I wrote him a friendly little note expressing my regret and wishing him a speedy recovery. In his reply he enclosed a typewritten page which, to my delight, proved to be a copy of the poem for which I had waited so long. He called it “Immortality,” but Mr. Cleveland and myself always spoke of it as “the Butterfly poem.” It seems as though these lines construct a beautiful bridge between faith and reason.
It was not long after this that Mr. Jefferson answered the final summons. He was laid to rest from the “Little Church Around the Corner,” on Twenty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, and to each of the throng of sorrowing friends gathered upon that sad occasion was presented a leaflet containing this poem.
This particular church was very close to the heart of our beloved friend. Many, many years ago, when he had sought to perform a similar office for his brother actor, George Holland, he had encountered that strange prejudice against members of the theatrical profession which, I think, has greatly diminished in the last half century. The pastor of a fashionable church on Madison Avenue said he could not hold burial services over the body of an actor, but he added, “There is a little church around the corner to which you can go.” “Then all honor to the Little Church Around the Corner,” replied Jefferson; “we will go there.”
From that time to this the church and its rector, Rev. Dr. George H. Houghton (who died in 1897), have always been held in affectionate regard by the stage. The last sad rites over another of our close circle were also held here. The body of Edwin Booth started on its last earthly journey from the portals of the same little church. There is a memorial window in the building presented by the Players in loving memory of this splendid man and gifted actor.
In my observation of great mentruly great menI have invariably observed that in private life and among their intimates they are the most retiring, the most unobtrusive of mortals, ever striving to remain in the background. Mr. Cleveland was essentially so. He was tender-hearted to an inordinate degree. It was impossible, of course, to keep from his notice the bitter attacks that were made on him almost constantly by his political enemies, and occasionally one would come under his eye. It was curious to note the expression on his face at such times. He appeared to be reading about some other person entirely. I remember glancing over what was said to be an impartial attempt to judge Mr. Cleveland. It was far from pleasant reading, as it was by no means what it purported to be. I had seldom read anything more scurillous. Mr. Cleveland read it with his usual concentration. At its conclusion he looked up at me and said, “Commodore, that fellow may be right, after all.”
Only once do I recall him getting into a rage over a newspaper story. As we all remember, there were more foolish slanders printed about Cleveland than were ever printed about Washington or Jacksonand in the former case that is saying a good deal. Well, the occasion I have in mind was when those yarns of Cleveland’s drinking habits first commenced. Not only was he accused of being an habitual drunkard, but the attribute of wife-beating was added to his other accomplishments. To those of us who knew the real home life of the Clevelands this was so absurd as to be laughable, and but for the dignity of the high office involved they would have been allowed to pass unnoticed. It was one of these stories that provoked the outburst of wrath to which I have alluded. We were seated in the cabin of the Oneida when the paper containing it fell into his hands. I saw at once that something unusual had occurred; I saw the color deepen in his face and a look come into his eyes that boded no good for the author of the article he was reading. Throwing the paper from him he brought his clenched fist down on the table and said, “Damn that man, Commodore ; if I could find him tonight I’d ram this fist down his lying throat.”
It was just as well, I thought, that Cleveland was on the Oneida and that the scribe was several hundred miles away. Singularly enough, no further reference was ever made by Mr. Cleveland to this subject again. The stories continued to appear in the papers, and like a snowball gained size from their own momentum. Mrs. W. C. Whitney, the charming wife of the Secretary of the Navy and one of the closest friends of Mr. Cleveland’s young bride, who was simply terrified at the outrageous attacks, finally came out in a special interview and tried to set the calamitous stories at rest. In this she was wonderfully successful and received the support of the leading newspapers through-out the country, regardless of politics. But the yarns of Mr. Cleveland’s limitless capacity for strong drink never wholly died down. I don’t doubt that some perfectly well-meaning people believe it to this day. But in the Cleveland family they were never again mentioned.
As it was my privilege during almost a quarter of a century to be numbered among Mr. Cleveland’s most intimate friends, perhaps my observation of his habit in this particular may be considered competent evidence. My attention was naturally drawn to this subject by the newspaper stories of which I have just spoken, and perhaps the keen distress they caused made me resolve to be in a position to refute them should a recurrence of the attacks be made. As most of Mr. Cleveland’s hours of ease were spent with me, I thought this fact would lend additional weight to the evidence.
So as a matter of record I kept “tabs” for awhile. When Mr. Cleveland returned to the White House from the inaugural ceremonies of his second term, President Harrison was still the host of the White House. A few moments before his departure he poured out three glasses of ryeone for Mr. Cleveland, one for himself and one for me. It was an historic drink, and although I was witnessing an outgoing President of the United States drinking to the health and prosperity of an incoming one, I did not forget to mark it down.
We all three clinked glasses, shook hands heartily and Mr. Harrison at once took his departure. I remarked to Mr. Cleveland, “Thirty-one in nine years.”
There was no liquor kept at Gray Gables. I know this positively, because Mr. Cleveland, who suffered occasionally from indigestion, was obliged to borrow a little brandy more than once from the stores of the Oneida. In Washington the White House cellars were notoriously meagre. I do not say they were absolutely dry. But I do say that it was the exception and not the rule for Mr. Cleveland to engage in a “smile,” and that the stories of his hard drinking had about as much foundation as those other painful stories concerning the physical and mental defects of his children. The press in those days, it seems to me, were allowed a latitude that I do not think would be tolerated today. I am glad to say that Mr. and Mrs. Cleveland lived to see the beginning of this change.
Much used to be written of Cleveland’s tremendously close application to his duties, all of which was true. Much of this time was spent on pardon cases. If there was the least shadow of a doubt, Cleveland always gave the poor devil the benefit. There was one Judge in the NorthwestI will call him Judge Black of Dakota, because that isn’t his namewho was particularly severe. He acted always on the presumption that the prisoner was guilty, else he wouldn’t be before him. And his sentences were without mercy. Cleveland used to examine them very minutely in the hope of finding some loophole of escape for the poor unfortunate. As a general rule, it was not hard to find. Judge Black was merciless. Cleveland was merciful. Three executions and four life terms constituted only a few instances of the severity of this justiceand every sentence was modified by Cleveland.
One afternoon approaching the White House from the rear, I was amazed to see Mr. Cleveland advancing to meet me with a paper, which he waved over his head and his face was wreathed in smiles. When I was within hailing distance he shouted, “Judge Black is dead ! Judge Black is dead!”
Notwithstanding his enormous labors, some very exasperating omissions or commissions nevertheless occurred. When in the privacy of the cabin of the Oneida these incidents would come to mind he would clench his fist and bring it down on his forehead. “Oh ! Commodore,” he would cry, “why am I so stupid; why don’t I see those things ?”
The passage of the now famousor rather infamous Oleomargarine Bill was a case in point. No more demagogic or purely political act was ever framed by Congress. It was solely and simply a sop to the farmer and its sponsors openly admitted the fact. It is filled with fetters and shackles and petty restrictions of all sorts. In fact, the average layman cannot possibly engage in the manufacture of this article without violating some obscure, obtuse provision that makes him liable to a fine or imprisonment or both. In a dozen ways this bill is ridiculously unconstitutional.
Cleveland saw this at once and it was promptly vetoed. At once a clamor was started and a committee waited on Mr. Cleveland to ask his reasons.
“Why, the bill is unconstitutional in a dozen ways,” he replied.
“Of course it is,” they admitted; “but it is for the farmers. It will make the party solid with the farmer.”
“Yes. But there are some who are not farmers, and we haven’t any right to legislate for one class at the expense of another. That isn’t constitutional.”
Nevertheless the bill was promptly passed over his veto and again came to him for signature. It was the last of the session and a multitude of papers rapidly accumulated. The Oleomargerine bill in some way got buried in the pile and was not discovered for nearly two weeksto be exact, eleven daysone more day than was necessary to have it become a law without signature.
As a sequel to this mischievous legislation and as an example of how this industry has been destroyed in consequence, I will relate an instance that came under my personal observation. As it happened to one of Mr. Cleveland’s personal friends, it was the cause of much distress to him and to a large circle of persons as innocent of intentional wrong-doing as the victim himself. It is known as the Tillinghast case.
Mr. Tillinghast, at that time one of the prominent attorneys in New England, organized a small company to manufacture oleomargerine in Vermont. He became possessed of a few shares of stock and because of his legal association was made a director. In course of time an agent from the Department of Justice appeared with a summons and complaint setting forth that the company was violating one of the numerous fetters in the law. Tillinghast himself had been unable to interpret the clause correctly, but upon closer examination decided that the Government was right and agreed to plead guilty at once, without the trouble or expense of a trial.
Up to this time the practice of the courts had been to impose a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars or so and let it go at that. But this case came before a Democratic judge, who was filled with party venom. The opportunity to punish a company of Vermont Republicans was something that might never happen again. So, in addition to the money fine, Mr. Tillinghast was aghast to find that he and all the other officers must also serve a sentence in jail. Mr. Tillinghast was selected, because of his eminence and respectability, for the most severe treatmentone year in the Federal prison at Atlanta ! The rest from three to six months in the county jail.
It is likely that no such severity for a similar innocent infraction of the laws was ever imposed by a court in this country. It was one of the few things that caused Mr. Cleveland much anguish of spirit and it was a long time ere it passed out of his mind.
When Mr. Tillinghast was released from prison an immense reception was planned for him by the citizens of Providence. But he asked that no such demonstration be permitted. His citizenship was subsequently restored and he afterwards became Governor of the State and is today living in dignified retirement.
The morning of the Venezuela message found my office crowded with prominent bankers and brokers, some forty in number. I had not read the papers and was in ignorance of the cause of all the excitement. It turned out to be the now famous message from Mr. Cleveland to Lord Salisbury. I read it very care-fully, particularly the closing paragraph. When I came to that I was satisfied that Mr. Cleveland was sure of his ground and that events would determine the correctness of his position. The more I studied this particular paragraph the more I became convinced that Salisbury knew, as Cleveland knew, what was behind it and that there would be no war with England. I replied to Mr. Seligman, I think it was, who with others was urging me to go to Washington, “I never presume to interfere with Mr. Cleveland’s business ; I would think it strange if he should attempt to regulate mine. He never makes a move like this without knowing just what the next one will be. He can see much further than any of us here and I am satisfied that he will land on his feet.” Subsequent events proved the correctness of my contention. Lord Salisbury thought better of his peremptory declination for arbitration and agreed to a commission to settle the boundary dispute.
It is quite true that Mr. Cleveland wrote the message without consulting any of his colleagues in the Cabinet. Mr. Olney met him on his return from a day’s fishing and handed him Salisbury’s note, curtly refusing to submit the question to further discussion. He joined the family and friends at dinner and appeared to have nothing special on his mind. Immediately the repast was concluded he ascended the stairs to his private office. He completed his task long after midnight and sent the matter direct to the engrosser. By noon it was read to the House and passed unanimously. Word was brought to Mr. Cleveland by a friend, which pleased and surprised him very much. The Senate next day concurred with all but one vote. This member afterwards withdrew his objection, so that the Senate vote was also unanimous.
It created intense excitement and stocks went tumbling. The fact that I was a heavy loser along with the others simply proved what everybody knewthat Mr. Cleveland entertained a proper attitude toward the exalted office he held and never mixed business with friendship.
Notwithstanding this incident and the Sackville-West affair, Mr. Cleveland entertained a high regard for the British Government and realized as few men did at that time the importance of a better understanding between the two nations. The Venezuelan boundary dispute had its origin in Seward’s time and should have been remedied then. Seward, while aware of the situation, concluded that the time was not ripe for action and the question was passed along to succeeding secretaries, until it ultimately reached Mr. Cleveland. In settling this controversy, the way was finally open for an adjustment and rearrangement of many questions. Mr. Cleveland and Lord Pauncefote labored earnestly for a long time to perfect a treaty which would accomplish the purpose they both had in mind.
The rejection of this treaty by the Senate at the behest of Gorman, Murphy and other so-called Irish champions was a bitter blow to Mr. Cleveland. So utter and intense was his disgust that for a time he seriously contemplated resigning. He sent for me and informed me of his intention. Knowing the character of the man I was seriously alarmed. The country as well as myself had already many proofs of his unshakable will ; so it was with genuine alarm that I listened to his remarks. I thought quickly and suddenly asked, “Do you think it the fair thing to the country to turn over the Government to Stevenson ?” The sound money question at that time was beginning to be very prominent, and Stevenson was known as a silverite. Cleveland paused and I saw my remark had made a deep impression.
It was not until late in the afternoon, however, that our interview ended. In a quiet way every point in the situation was gone over. The possibility of still further valuable service to the country was enlarged upon, but the final reason I think that forever disposed of the question was Cleveland’s own dislike of a quitter. He deemed this treaty of such prime importance to his country that he would have appealed directly to the people, had that been possible, and taken his chances of re-election on their decision. As that was out of the question he finally decided to accept the situation. He was a stubborn man when once his mind was made up on a course of action; and while I have been credited with having caused him to change it on that occasion, I have nevertheless thought that on mature reflection he would have reached a similar conclusion. Still I was glad when I left him that night to have his assurance that the incident was closed.
Some persons not in the inner circle, having occasionally heard Mr. Cleveland referred to as “Admiral” by his intimates and having seen him to respond to it have often wondered at the origin of the title. It came about in this way : We were about to reach Washington at the end of one of our many excursions. Mr. Cleveland was an inveterate cribbage playerit was his one absorbing pastime next to fishing. I am happy to know that I still have two or three old cribbage boards on which many a hard-fought battle was won and lost. One in particular is a homemade affair and bears the inscription in his own handwriting : “Made by Grover Cleveland for E. C. Benedict.” I have many treasures vastly more costly than this, but none that I value so highly.
We were in sight of the Monument and within half an hour of the landing. We were near the finish of a game and I was greatly ahead. He looked up with a quizzical expression and said, “Commodore, have you any real sporting blood in you? If so, I’d like to make a little wager that I’ll still beat you.”
“All right,” I said; “unload; what’s your bet?”
“Well,” he said slowly, “I’ve always liked this old tug. I’ll bet the best fishing-rod in my pack against this yacht !”
“Done,” I said, and the bet was on.
We each took up our hands.
I had 14 to go and had 12 in my hand. He had 12 in his hand and 26 to go. We turned up the trump. I did not increase my hand and he doubled his, making 24. We proceeded to play and he paid out making 26. I made but one additional and “died in the hole” as it is called.
The Oneida was his.
I knew it would bust him to run it and so did he. Captain Evans, who was of the party, then wanted to know if the title Commodore went with the boat. We all agreed that it didn’t, particularly as I said I cared more for the rank than the guinea’s stamp. In order that I might not be a Commodore without a command, it was decided to present me with one of the yacht’s tenders; but, as Evans pointed out, it would never do to have the owner of a mere tender outrank the captain of the ship itself. So we then and there promoted him to the rank of Admiral, and for many years afterwards we called him by that title, which he always smilingly acknowledged.
When Mr. Cleveland came to New York after his first term of office expired he lived in the Tiffany House on Madison Avenue. It was too costly and too showy a residence for a man of his simple tastes and he desired to move. I had just bought a place on 51st Street and when I found I could get him for a neighbor I added the next house, No. 12, to mine and offered it to him for a home. The rent was a good deal less than he was paying, and as an added inducement I promised to cut a door to connect the two houses. This proved a great convenience to Mr. Cleveland, for whenever callers appeared whom he could not see he simply walked into my house and the servant could truthfully say Mr. Cleveland was not at home. When the caller disappeared Mr. Cleveland opened the door and was again within his own walls.
While in New York he joined the law firm of Cleve-land, Tracy, Stetson and Bangs. He was the consulting partner. His connection with this firm was interrupted by the exigencies of politics, for the next campaign saw Mr. Cleveland again the standard-bearer of the Democratic party. By this time the whole country had gradually awakened to the strength of his sterling character, and much to the amazement of the Republicans Mr. Cleveland again proved victorious, beating the same nominee who had defeated him four years previously. And he again left New York, this time never to return.
The old adage that “the office should seek the man and not the man the office” was never more strikingly demonstrated than in the case of Mr. Cleveland. He was practicing law in Buffalo in the late 70s when it was first suggested that he enter politics. When the committee from the local organization called upon him to request his acceptance of a nomination for sheriff it met with no encouragement. As Mr. Cleveland explained, his law firm had but recently commenced business and had just begun to get some important clients. Both he and his partner were disinclined to adopt a policy which would affect their natural and legitimate growth. More in a spirit of courtesy than anything else Mr. Cleveland asked to be allowed to consider the matter overnight, promising a definite answer in the morning.
He concluded to decline the honor and was on his way to so inform the committee when he met “Billy” Williams, one of its members. This gentleman thought the decision very unwise in view of certain circumstances, the main reason being that it was an off year for the democrats and not one of them had, as we say today, “a Chinaman’s chance.” He argued that the party would greatly appreciate his sacrifice, and as there could be no work and no expenses it would be a nice thing if Mr. Cleveland would run and perhaps the publicity would be worth the trouble.
Whether it was Cleveland’s innate love for the under dog or whether it seemed an easy way out of a disagreeable situation does not matter. Cleveland accepted, and to the surprise of himself and his friends was triumphantly elected!
Hardly was his term as sheriff well under way ere a demand from a still larger body of his fellow-citizens came for a much more important civic dutythat of running for Mayor. This office was much more to his liking, no doubt, but as before he had made no effort for the nomination and accepted it under similar discouraging aspects. He again was successful, receiving support from a large body of citizens who were tired of the hackneyed nominations of both parties in the past and were attracted by the sincerity of the man and the common-sense fair-mindedness with which he discussed the issues. His success as Mayor and particularly the general good repute in which he was held by men of all shades of political opinion forced his name upon the Democratic State Convention then gathered together to consider the claims of rival aspirants for gubernatorial honors. Outside of Buffalo his name had scarcely- been heard, but already his peculiar independence in office and his absolute freedom from party factions made him acceptable to that large and rapidly-growing body of voters in both parties known as Independents.
His nomination, while still Mayor of Buffalo, and his election as Governor of the great State of New York by a majority of over 160,000 in a State normally Republican, made Cleveland at once an important consideration in plans that were then maturing for the selection of a Democratic standard bearer for the Presidency.
Right here I may relate an incident slight in itself but of great importance in gauging the character of Grover Cleveland. When the knowledge that he would be offered the nomination for Governor was first made known to him, Mr. Cleveland quietly left Buffalo and went to visit his mother. He expressed to her his fear that perhaps he might not be able to successfully discharge the responsibilities of such a high office. It was just such a talk as any boy might have with his best friendhis mother. She heard him in that sympathetic reassuring way that mothers have and was plainly unafraid. “You have served the people twice now, Grover,” she finally remarked, “and I guess they trust you. I think they know what they are doing, my boy, and if they make you Governor, I think you will justfy their confidence in you. I shall pray every night for your guidance.” So reassured and greatly strengthened in his resolve that the confidence of the people in him would be entirely justified, Cleve-land returned to Buffalo.
His term of Governor had not elapsed ere the call came to the most exalted office in the gift of his countrymenthe Presidency.
Again Mr. Cleveland sought the advice and counsel of one whom he knew would speak words of truth and wisdom.
Her face naturally shone with pride that her boy should have been selected as the Knight who should lead the Democratic hosts. Her greeting had none of the solemnity nor apprehensiveness that he feared.
Her low voice alone gave evidence that she realized the sacredness and responsibility of her trust. But again she seemed to draw strength from the people themselves and recalled what she said before: “The people trust you, Grover; they must know. You have discharged your duties faithfully, or they would not have called upon you for higher service. They trust you; you trust them. I am sure it is all right.”
I always look back upon those two visits of Mr. Cleveland to his mother as among the most beautiful incidents in his whole life. It is wonderfully rare for a man of mature years to enjoy such a blessed privilege, and it is rarer still to see him take advantage of it in the solemn and reverent spirit which Grover Cleveland did.
I remember once reading a little story about a small five-year old who always ended every childish story he told with “And then him’s went home to him’s muvver.” To that child’s mind that one fact outshone all other considerations. No matter what ill-fortune befell the hero; no matter what tribulation he was temporarily called to endure, in the end “him’s” always “went home to him’s muvver” and everything was ironed out to the little lad’s perfect satisfaction.
The election of Cleveland in the fall of 1884 marked the advent of the first Democratic President since the Civil War and created great public interest in the new incumbent. It is not my intention to go into the details of his public life, as that is now recorded in history and is already quite familiar to most of my readers. I am only trying to fill in a few vacant lines here and there and I am recalling these events merely to emphasize how conspicuous in Cleveland’s case was the absence of anything on his part that failed to conform to the ideal method of choosing a President. The late Mr. Ingalls remarked upon a memorable occasion, “Purity in politics is an iridescent dream,” but as I look back on the life of my dear friend I am also re-minded that it is the exception that proves the rule.
One day, with many other dear friends of his, I found myself in his old home at Caldwell. We had gathered there to perform a loving tribute to his memory. Mingled with our sadness was a great joy that we were permitted to be among those who had purchased the little home where our dear friend had first seen the light of day, and the time had now come to present it to those who would care for it and keep it always as a memorial of the great soul that had passed away.
As the moment drew near for the beginning of those ceremonies the scene was one long to be remembered. The day was almost perfect. The sun shone brightly and the wind, though a little keen, was not strong enough to be cold. The little village and the old Manse were aflutter with flags and bunting and the bands played merrily. We were gathered in the house and after listening to the formal speakers a request came for me to speak. I was rather taken by surprise, but every one present was a friend of Mr. Cleveland’s, so I spoke what was in my heart and it seemed to please my hearers. I have since received a printed copy of these remarks and as they contain some additional facts about our friendship I will include them here:
“It was quite by accident that I met Mr. Cleveland at a social gathering at Marion, Massachusetts, some twenty-three or twenty-four years ago. We soon learned we were Presbyterian clergymen’s sons, which proved to be an open door to each other’s hearts, and as `birds of a feather flock together,’ we flocked, and at once became close sympathetic friends and even playmates, a companionship which continued until his death, as attested by some three hundred letters from him now in my possession.
“From that inner standpoint in his life I feel justified in making a few remarks. We soon began to compare notes of our experiences and real feelings as the result of our strict bringing up. Expected to be better than other boys and models of everything that was good, we tried to act the part, knowing all the time that we were no better than they, if as good, because of our enforced hypocrisy.
“We envied our unfettered associates who could whittle or whistle or take a swim, or fish on Sundays, or even go barefooted without incurring divine displeasure.
“There was the Saturday night gloom over the approaching Sabbath which we were expected to enjoy but didn’t; and the puritanic and Calvanistic promise of an eternal one in Heaven, if we were good, gave us such a chill that we almost felt like taking a chance in the other place, as the story of its heat might have been much exaggerated.
“But after getting back to earth and cutting out discussion and speculation about a future life, Mr. Cleveland would often say, `Don’t let us forget that all that we are and all that we have worth having we owe primarily to our good fathers and mothers.’
“Mr. Cleveland had not the slightest trace of vanity in him, so far as I could discover. He paid little attention to the flattery in the multitude of papers which lay about us constantly, but if I called his attention to an adverse criticism he would most likely say, `Well, perhaps that fellow is right; time will tell.’ He was by nature extremely modest. I can recall very little that he ever said or did in my presence that would cause modesty to blush or virtue to frown. He was as square as a brick, and some found him just about as elastic. He was extremely tender-hearted. This he manifested in pardon cases, the papers in which he would at times spend the whole night in examining, dreading to be obliged to decide upon questions involving the life or liberty of a fellow mortal.
“It seems to be the rule that they who have been and are most conspicuously successful in all the walks of life have been conspicuously poor at the start, so that it appears after all as if extreme poverty were a priceless inheritance.
“Here in this humble habitation Grover Cleveland was born and from this door his mother led his baby feet out into the sunlight of his public career and on his pathway to the White House. That pathway was full of forked roads, but he followed the finger boards of honesty, fidelity, tireless devotion to duty and patriotic endeavor, none of which led him astray. He has left them as safe guides for all who follow him in official life.
“He was utterly averse to costly monuments, as intimated in his will, but I think he would not have op-posed our maintaining this humble cradle of his career as a shrine and inspiration to the aspiring youth of his beloved land.”
Living again over these happy days, I almost forget that I am now the last leaf on the tree. When I look out on Friendship Grove and recall the namesCleveland, Booth, Carnegie, Smith, Wilson, Carlisle, Fairbanks, Lawrence Barrett, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and others, it is hard to realize that they are goneall gone.
Another tree in Friendship Grove keeps green the memory of Edwin Booth, a friend of Commodore Benedict’s for many years. Commodore Benedict has jotted down his recollections of this great actor and most lovable man, and of many others who have filled a brilliant place in the annals of our old cityJoseph Jefferson, Lawrence Barrett, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Admiral Evans, etc. These recollections will appear in the next number of the Manual.Ed.