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knew not how to be otherwise. The last fee which he ever received for a single legal argument was $11,000.....
“A sanctimonious lady once called upon Mr. Webster, in Washing. ton, with a long and pitiful story about her misfortunes and poverty, and asked him for a donation of money to defray her expenses to her home in a Western city. He listened with all the patience he could manage, expressed his surprise that she should have called upon him for money, simply because he was an officer of the government, and that, too, when she was a total stranger to him, reprimanded her in very plain language for her improper conduct, and handed her a note of fifty dollars.
“ He had called upon the cashier of the bank where he kept an account, for the purpose of getting a draft discounted, when that gentleman expressed some surprise, and casually inquired why he wanted so much money? * To spend; to buy bread and meat,' replied Mr. Webster, a little annoyed at this speech.
6 + But,' returned the cashier, “you already have upon deposit in the bank no less than three thousand dollars, and I was only wondering why you wanted so much money.'
“ This was indeed the truth, but Mr. Webster had forgotten it.”
Mr. Lanman's assertion that Mr. Webster, with all this recklessness, was religiously honest, must have excited a grim smile upon the countenances of such of his Boston readers as had had his name upon their books. No man can be honest long who is careless in his expenditures.
It is evident from his letters, if we did not know it from other sources of information, that his carelessness with regard to the balancing of his books grew upon him as he advanced in life, and kept pace with the general deterioration of his character. In 1824, before he had been degraded by the acceptance of pecuniary aid, and when he was still a solvent person, one of his nephews asked him for a loan. He replied: “If
He replied : “ If you think you can do anything useful with a thousand dollars, you may have that sum in the spring, or sooner, if need be, on the following conditions: 1. You must give a note for it with reasonable security. 2. The interest must be payable annually, and must be paid at the day without fail. And so long as this continues to be done, the money not to be called for — the principal — under six months' notice
I am thus explicit with you, because you wish me to loc so; and because also, having a little money, and but a little, I am resolved on keeping it.” This is sufficiently business-like. He had a little money then, - enough, as he intimates, for the economical maintenance of his family. During the land fever of 1835 and 1836, he lost so seriously by speculations in Western land, that he was saved from bankruptcy only by the aid of that mystical but efficient body whom he styled his “friends”; and from that time to the end of his life he was seldom at his ease. He earned immense occasional fees, — two of twenty-five thousand dollars each ; he received frequent gifts of money, as well as a regular stipend from an invested capital; but he expended so profusely, that he was sometimes at a loss for a hundred dollars to pay his hay-makers; and he died forty thousand dollars in debt.
The adulation of which he was the victim at almost every hour of his existence injured and deceived him. He was continually informed that he was the greatest of living men, — the “ godlike
Daniel”; and when he escaped even into the interior of his home, he found there persons who sincerely believed that making such speeches as his was the greatest of all possible human achievements. All men whose talents are of the kind which enable their possessor to give intense pleasure to great multitudes are liable to this misfortune; and especially in a new and busy country, little removed from the colonial state, where intellectual eminence is rare, and the number of persons who can enjoy it is exceedingly great. We are growing out of this provincial propensity to abandon ourselves to admiration of the pleasure-giving talents. The time is at hand, we trust, when we shall not be struck with wonder because a man can make a vigorous speech, or write a good novel, or play Hamlet decently, and when we shall be able to enjoy the talent without adoring the man. The talent is one thing, and the man another; the talent may be immense, and the man little; the speech powerful and wise, the
eaker weak and foolish. Daniel Webster came at last to loathe this ceaseless incense, but it was when his heart was set upon ho mage of another kind, which he was destined never to enjoy.
Another powerful cause of his deterioration was the strange,
strong, always increasing desire he had to be President. Any intelligent politician, outside of the circle of his own “friends," could have told him, and proved to him, that he had little more chance of being elected President than the most insignificant man in the Whig party. And the marvel is, that he himse! should not have known it, — he who knew why, precisely why, every candidate had been nominated, from Madison to General Taylor. In the teeth of all the facts, he still cherished the amazing delusion that the Presidency of the United States, like the Premiership of England, is the natural and just reward of long and able public service. The Presidency, on the contrary, is not merely an accident, but it is an accident of the last moment. It is a game too difficult for mortal faculties to play, because some of the conditions of success are as uncertain as the winds, and as ungovernable. If dexterous playing could have availed, Douglas would have carried off the stakes, for he had an audacious and a mathematical mind; while the winning man in 1856 was a heavy player, devoid of skill, whose decisive advantage was that he had been out of the game for four years. Mr. Seward, too, was within
, an ace of winning, when an old quarrel between two New York editors swept his cards from the table.
No: the President of the United States is not prime minister, but chief magistrate, and he is subject to that law of nature which places at the head of regular governments more or less respectable Nobodies. In Europe this law of nature works through the hereditary principle, and in America through universal suffrage. In all probability, we shall usually elect a person of the non-committal species, - one who will have lived fifty or sixty years in the world without having formed an offensive conviction or uttered A striking word, - one who will have conducted his life as those popular periodicals are conducted, in which there are “no allusions to politics or religion.” And may not this be part of the exquis. ite economy of nature, which ever strives to get into each place the smallest man that can fill it? How miserably out of place would be a man of active, originating, disinterested spirit, at the head of a strictly limited, constitutional government, such as ours is in time of peace, in which the best President is he who does the lcast? Imagine a live man thrust out over the bows of a ship, and compelled to stand as figure-head, lashed by the waves and winds during a four years' voyage, and expected to be pleased with his situation because he is gilt !
Daniel Webster so passionately desired the place, that he could never see how far he was from the possibility of getting it. He was not such timber as either Southern fire-eaters or Northern wire-pullers bad any use for; and a melancholy sight it was, this man, once so stately, paying court to every passing Southerner, and personally begging delegates to vote for him. He was not made for that. An elephant does sometimes stand upon his head and play a barrel-organ, but every one who sees the sorry sight Bees also that it was not the design of Nature that elephants should do such things.
A Marshfield elm may be for half a century in decay without exhibiting much outward change; and when, in some tempestuous night, half its bulk is torn away, the neighborhood notes with surprise that what seemed solid wood is dry and crumbling pith. During the last fifteen years of Daniel Webster's life, his wonderfully imposing form and his immense reputation concealed from the public the decay of his powers and the degeneration of his morals. At least, few said what perhaps many felt, that “he was not the man he had been.” People went away from one of his ponderous and empty speeches disappointed, but not ill pleased to boast that they too had “ heard Daniel Webster speak,” and feeling very sure that he could be eloquent, though he had not been. We heard one of the last of his out-of-door speeches. It was near Philadelphia, in 1844, when he was stumping the State” for Henry Clay, and when our youthful feelings were warmly with the object of his speech. What a disappointment ! How poor and pompous and pointless it seemed! Nor could we resist the impression that he was playing a part, nor help saying to ourselves, as we turned to leave the scene, “ This man is not sincere in this: he is a humbvg.” And when, some years later, we saw him present himself before a large audience in a state not far removed from intoxication, and mumble incoherence for ten minutes, and when, in the course of the evening, we saw him
make a great show of approval whenever the clergy were com plimented, the impression was renewed that the man had expended his sincerity, and that nothing was real to him any more except wine and office. And even then such were the might and majesty of his presence, that he seemed to fill and satisfy the people by merely sitting there in an arm-chair, like Jupiter, in a spacious yellow waistcoat with two bottles of Madeira under it.
All this gradual, unseen deterioration of mind and character was revealed to the country on the 7th of March, 1850. What a downfall was there ! That shameful speech reads worse in 1867 than it did in 1850, and still exerts perverting power over timid and unformed minds. It was the very time for him to have broken finally with the “irreconcilable” faction, who, after having made President Tyler snub Daniel Webster from his dearly loved office of Secretary of State, had consummated the scheme which gave us Texas at the cost of war with Mexico, and California as one of the incidents of peace. California was not down in their programme; and now, while claiming the right to make four slave States out of Texas, they refused to admit California to freedom. Then was it that Daniel Webster of Massachusetts rose in the Senate of the United States and said in substance this : These fine Southern brethren of ours have now stolen all the land there is to steal. Let us, therefore, put no obstacle in the way of their peaceable enjoyment of the plunder.
And the spirit of the speech was worse even than its doctrine. He went down upon the knees of his soul, and paid base homage to his own and his country's irreconcilable foes. Who knew better than Daniel Webster that John C. Calhoun and his followers had first created and then systematically fomented the hostile feeling which then existed between the North and the South ? How those men must have chuckled among themselves when they witnessed the willing degradation of the man who should have arraigned them before the country as the conscious enemies of its peace! How was it that no one laughed outright at such billing and cooing as this?
Mr. Webster. — “An honorable member [Calhoun], whose health does not allow him to be here to day"