Page images
PDF
EPUB

XIV.

SHORTLY after the return of Henry E. Muhlenberg from the court of Austria, to which he had been appointed minister by President Van Buren in 1838, I was invited by General Cameron to take a ride with him from Middletown to Reading, via Pottsville. It was in May of 1841 or '42, the loveliest spring month of the year. We took it leisurely, had a fine pair of horses and a comfortable carriage, and enjoyed the scenery, the weather, and the conversation of the people, with whom General Cameron was, even at that early day, on the most familiar terms. It was very pleasant to notice how intimately he understood the habits and history of the people of the whole country-side through which we passed-how, at intervals, he would stop the carriage, hail the passer-by, ask about his health, joke with him on politics, inquire after his wife, sons, and daughters by name, and enter into a familiar speculation as to the coming crops. I can not recall all the incidents of this delightful drive. There was no railroad in those days from Harrisburg to Lebanon and Reading, and none from Pottsville to Reading, so that after free and cordial intercourse with the politicians at John W. Weaver's old-fashioned hotel in Pottsville, we proceeded to the county seat of Berks, where the carriage was dismissed, as we had determined to go to Philadelphia by the Reading Railroad, which then terminated at that place. Calling upon Mr. Muhlenberg, we found him full of anecdotes of his over two years' residence at Vienna. His son and namesake Henry (who was elected a member of the Thirty-third Congress, in which body he only appeared a single day, having sickened with typhoid fever, from the effects of which he died on the 9th of January, 1854) had accompanied his father as Secretary of Legation, and was present on the occasion of our visit. General Cameron was an ardent partisan of Mr. Muh

HENRY E. MUHLENBERG.

67

lenberg, who was then a prominent candidate for Governor. As my

relations to Mr. Buchanan were close and intimate, and my preferences rather for Francis R. Shunk—the great rival of Mr. Muhlenberg—it was thought that my visit to the Berks County statesman would do much to control the delegates from my native county. I think I preserved a proper neutrality for so young a man—six years younger than Mr. Muhlenberg's son. We conversed freely about Europe and about his father's prospects. It will be recollected that James Buchanan was a candidate for President for more than twenty years before he' attained that high position. He could not afford, therefore, to take part between the competitors for State offices, and it was primarily necessary that the delegates from his own county of Lancaster to the State convention should be divided between the two great men who were then contesting for the gubernatorial prize. I was particularly struck with the affable and cordial manners of Mr. Muhlenberg, and with the foreign graces imported into good old Berks by his brilliant and self-assured

We talked very little politics, but as the object was to make a good impression upon us, Mr. Muhlenberg directed the servant to open a bottle of Johannisberger (the wine celebrated for centuries, yet as utterly unknown to me as if it had been the nectar of the gods), and as he opened the cork he said : “This is the genuine article,” the only wine of the kind that had ever come to America up to that period, “and was presented to me by the Emperor himself”—of whom it is historical justice to say that Mr. Muhlenberg, who was a thorough German scholar and a gentleman, was always a confidant and friend. When the cork was drawn, the aroma of the wine seemed to fill the room, and the first bottle was soon dispatched, when General Cameron, with his own peculiar manner, insisted on another, upon which Mr. Muhlenberg gayly remarked, "You shall have it, although it costs a great deal of money.” The contest between Muhlenberg and Shunk will be remembered by all the Pennsylvania politicians. Muhlenberg won the nomination, and Buchanan lost Muhlenberg's confidence.

son.

He died before the election, on the 12th of August, 1844, and the flag of the party was placed in the hands of his defeated competitor, Francis R. Shunk, who was elected in October of the same year. Had Muhlenberg lived, with his large wealth, fine acquirements, and winning manners, he would have been the most formidable enemy of Buchanan's Presidential aspirations. As it was, his successor, Governor Shunk, soon got into collision with Buchanan, not because he deserved that fate, but because of his inability or the inability of any aspirant for the Presidency to steer by devious courses between rival candidates for other and inferior places. Mr. Buchanan at last secured the nomination for the Presidential bauble, and there was, I think, no living Muhlenberg who supported him, except the venerable Dr. Muhlenberg at Lancaster.

[April 16, 1871.)

XV.

The wit and sentiment of the dinner-table, encircled by intelligent men and women, if they could have been recorded, say for the last thirty years, would be a treasure above price. Flashed out under the influences of generous fare and refined familiarity, they startle or delight, like so many meteors, and are as speedily forgotten, or, if remembered at all, never repeated with their original brilliancy. The only man alive that I know, for instance, who can tell us about Daniel Webster at the dinner-table, is the world-known host of the Astor House, New York, Charles Stetson. I saw him a few weeks since, and found him as genial and as full of incident as he was when I first met, under his storied roof, the leading characters of the

DINNER-TABLE WITS.

69

period—between 1846 and 1851—when John Van Buren, Henry J. Raymond, George Law, Horace Greeley, James T. Brady, E. B. Hart, John Brougham, Daniel E. Sickles, Edwin Forrest, Thurlow Weed, Dean Richmond, Henry G. Stebbins, Peter Cagger, congregated there in social intercourse, to discuss politics and poetry, science and art, steam-ships and railroads, candidates and creeds. This goodly company is now widely scattered. Some have been introduced to the mysteries beyond the grave. Webster, John Van Buren, James T. Brady, Dean Richmond, Peter Cagger, Henry J. Raymond, are entered upon the endless roll of death. Thurlow Weed is writing his memories in honored and philosophical retirement; George Law is living respected upon his immense fortune, the product of a career of unmatched energy; Marshall O. Roberts, after an experience of even greater daring and progress, emerges from his repose to lend his large wealth and ripe judgment to the grandest of all the Pacific railroads; Horace Greeley vibrates between his editorial room and his farm, happy in his perfect independence and in the consciousness that he has secured the golden opinions of all sorts of people; Daniel E. Sickles crowns a stormy and brilliant life as his country's representative at one of the oldest European courts; John Brougham is as fertile, alike as actor and author, as he was in 1851; Forrest, after fifty years' service on the stage, is slowly withdrawing from an arena in which he has all this long period figured as the uncontested monarch, living on the rich harvest of his brain in his noble mansion in Philadelphia, surrounded by his books, which he enjoys with a student's zest, and by his engravings, his photographs, his pictures, and his statuary; Colonel Stebbins is the beloved centre of a circle of devoted friends, the patron of art, the philosopher, the statesman, the advanced Democrat who was chosen to Congress without solicitation, and resigned because if he voted with the men who elected him he would dishonor himself, and if he voted against them he would betray them-the Republican who dines at the Democratic Manhattan Club, and still associates with those who know he differs from them from honest convictions; E. B. Hart, the leading representative and the best type of the Hebrews of New York, watching the vast charities of his race as their trustee and counselor. The Astor House, once the chosen rendezvous of these men and their contemporaries, sees them rarely within its honored walls. The wave of fashion and of wealth has carried them up town. Business holds them only a few hours in its vicinity; the afternoon and night find them in their distant homes, or in the more convenient clubs and hotels that have risen like so many palaces along and near the magnificent avenues stretching toward the Central Park.

Ah! that I could recall and describe the happy hours I have spent with most of these men—the humor, the sentiment, the learning, the information, that made our meetings so pleasant and profitable. They are gone, like many who mingled in our delightful symposia.

One of these I specially cherish. It was a night spent with Forrest, George W. Barton, James T. Brady, E. B. Hart, Elliott (the matchless portrait-painter), William A. Seaver, one of the choice writers for Harper's Magazine and Weekly, Lewis Gaylord Clark, of The Knickerbocker, Captain Hunter, of the navy, and one or two more I can not recollect. The speech of Barton, the anecdotes and imitations of Forrest, the jokes of Clark, the repartees of Brady, the art-history of Elliott, the sealegends of Hunter-I bear them all in memory, and almost see their faces, though more than twenty years have gone, and the flowers and verdure of this early spring are blossoming and

ing above the graves of Brady, Elliott, and Hunter. John Van Buren was the despot of the dinner-table. He had a way of assuming the command that made him resistless, and he had the bearing, the voice, and the domination that

« PreviousContinue »