Page images

the hard realism of the outer world ; but whatever it may be, we are taught one lesson—that no man can enjoy real happiness without occasional recreation and freedom from care.

Abraham Lincoln was a character by himself, incomparable and unique. He was among the saddest of humanity, and yet his sense of the ridiculous was so keen that it bore him up from difficulties that would have broken down almost any other man. That he gave way to uncontrollable fits of grief in the dark hours of the war is a fact beyond question—that sometimes his countenance was clouded with sorrow, all who met him know; and yet he could, so to speak, lift himself out of his troubles, and enjoy his own repartees and the good things of others. Nothing gave me more pleasure in my frequent visits to him, as Secretary of the Senate and editor of The Chronicle, than to take with me men who would tell original stories in an original way; for I felt that if I could lighten his cares and brighten his gloom I would be conferring a real favor, and I never was half so welcome as when in such company. The old quirks and quips of the clown in the circus, the broad innuendoes of the low comedian, the quiet sallies of the higher walks of the drama, interested him more than the heavy cadences and profound philosophy of tragedy. Had his life not been extinguished by the assassin, his rare love of his kind, his perfect disinterestedness, his uncouth, yet entirely natural simplicity of character, and his absolute idolatry of every thing that was happy in nature and in man, would, I believe, have prolonged his life far beyond the Psalmist's age.

[May 21, 1871.)

[blocks in formation]

No Pennsylvania statesman is more kindly remembered than William Wilkins, who was born at Carlisle, Pa., December 20, 1779, and died at Homewood, near Pittsburgh, June 23, 1865, in the 86th year of his age. His career may be said to have been unusually fortunate and distinguished ; and when called away he was sincerely mourned by a community in which he had lived a long period, and taken an active part in public affairs. A Senator in Congress from 1831 to 1834, successor to James Buchanan at the Court of St. Petersburg, Representative in Congress from 1843 to 1844, Secretary of War under John Tyler from 1844 to 1845, member of the State Senate in 1857, and intermediately a successful practitioner of the law and judge in the higher courts of his district, he filled all these diversified stations with signal dignity and tact.

His family was closely identified with the Government in its political, judicial, military, and naval service-many of his connections to this day holding high and responsible positions. Reared to the habits and manners of good society, and well educated, he was one of the most agreeable of men; and yet, while mingling much in fashionable life, he had confessedly few of its vices. I have seen him many an evening, when jollity, wit, and humor ruled the hour, yet he never touched a glass of wine, and was the chief attraction, by his endless flow of spirits and his peculiar magnetic amiability. When I was the Democratic candidate for United States Senator, in 1857, before the Legislature of Pennsylvania, of which Mr. Wilkins was a member, I felt that we should have exchanged places, and that the post for which I was selected ought to have been tendered to him, and called upon him to make the suggestion. His answer was characteristic: "Ah, my young friend, I have seen the elephant, and it is quite time that you should have an opportunity of

making his acquaintance," a luxury, by the way, which General Cameron stepped in and reserved for himself.

I am reminded of this interesting character by a letter which I received a few days ago from my old friend, Dr. Jonas R. McClintock, of Pittsburgh, who attended the venerable statesman during his last illness, and who is devoting himself to the praiseworthy task of reviving the past history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. His materials will run back a hundred years, and will, when embodied in book form, constitute not only a valuable depository of facts, but, if written, as they will be, in the Doctor's pleasant style, one of the most fascinating memoirs of the times. If men like Dr. McClintock would occupy a little of their leisure in the accomplishment of the same purpose, in their respective localities, they would honor themselves and enrich the literature of their country. As a specimen of the work now in course of preparation by Dr. McClintock, he inclosed to me the following striking incident of the last hours of his venerable friend, Judge Wilkins, now for the first time published :

"Judge Wilkins gloried in the unimpeachable integrity that marked the bench,' and jealously guarded his own status in the profession by well and carefully determined opinions. It was a treat to listen to his criticisms on the public acts of the various departments of the Government as they transpired during the recent rebellion. It was a current on which he delighted to glide, affording invigorating exercise and securing an intellectual clearness that accompanied him through life.

“On the occasion of a several days' anticipated visit, during the last few weeks of life, from his nearest neighbor, a medical friend, who was prevented making his customary unprofessional call, the Judge was found in a half-reclining position on his couch, in pleasant conversation with members of his family seated around, while the music of the little birds that had become wedded to the broad eastern portico by his punctual supplies, broke upon his ear their joyous song of thanks.



“ After a pause, hesitating to mar this lovely patriarchal picture, the defaulting visitor entered the open September door, to whom the Judge turned, and after words of sharp but playful rebuke, closing with finding ample apology for apparent neglect in sickness at home, he said: “You can not guess, Doctor, how I have passed some of the tedious hours on my cot.' 'Pausing for a moment, he continued: 'I have been trying Jefferson Davis for high-treason. I have gone through the whole formula with all the solemnity of a great State trial; the court properly constituted, the jury impaneled, and the prisoner arraigned, the latter answering to all counts in the indictment, “Not guilty."

In opening the case for the United States, I took occasion to assure the court that I would economize its valuable time so far as the prosecution was concerned, and close the case of the State in half an hour.

“The first witness called to the stand was General Longstreet, who, having been duly sworn, stated, in answer to an interrogatory, that he had commanded the armed forces of the Southern Confederacy who had invaded the District of Columbia, and within the limits of the city of Washington had killed and wounded more than one hundred Union soldiers, and that in so acting he had but obeyed the order of the chief commander, General R. E. Lee. Waiving further question the witness was discharged, and General Lee called and duly sworn, who testified as to his position in the Confederate service, his directions to Longstreet, and his subordination to Jefferson Davis, president and commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the Confederate States, from whom he had received instructions to invade Maryland and the District for the purposes carried out by his lieutenant-general. At this point I closed and rested my case. After hearing the defense, and without a word of argument, I asked the jury to render a verdict of guilty. His fate was then sealed. The defense of want of jurisdiction-too


late in presenting, and weak if entertained-left the prisoner's counsel to a silent submission, and he was duly convicted.

“Yet in mercy I looked at the matter in another light, and to that end constituted myself the leading advocate of the pris

After solemn arraignment, the calm, worn, but inflexible offender, who did not appear to shrink from the bloody consequences of his acts, or tremble at his own peril, following my judgment and counsel as his only hope for the future, to the question put in the ponderous tones of the clerk—“Guilty or not guilty?” said: "May it please the court, I answer guilty ! not morally, but politically guilty. Permit me to say further, the first lessons that fell on my ears at the hearthstone of my

father —the first political teachings received at the feet of the wise and learned men of the academy and the university, and vindicated by the universal sentiment of those with whom I mingled in Southern homes, comprehended the doctrines inculcated by the Virginia resolutions of 1798, teaching allegiance as first due to the sovereignty of my State, subordinating that of the General Government.

"6" This may in your wisdom, and in the judgment of the world, be determined a high crime; but I submit that it was done in the faith of the right, and with the belief, however misguided, of conscientious duty.

“O“I therefore throw myself on the judgment of the court, and ask its merciful recommendation to pardon."

“'I,' said the Judge, 'felt that this was his only chance of escape.

“Thus I have been filling up my time, dreaming myself away in the sturdy hope for an early return of fraternal feeling among the States.'

Standing on the very verge of the grave, after an eighty years' buffet with the world, pleasantly rehearsing the line of thought that had engaged his last hours, forgetting his weariness and weakness in first grasping treason by the throat, and

« PreviousContinue »