Six Months at the White House/LII
I have alluded, on a previous page, to the public concerts of the Marine Band,--from the Washington Navy-yard,--given every Saturday afternoon, during the summer, on the grounds in front of the White House; which, on such occasions, were thronged with visitors. The Saturday following the nominations I invited my friend Cropsey, the landscape-painter, from New York,--who, with his wife, was spending a few days in the city,--to come up with Mrs. C. to the studio, which overlooked the pleasure-grounds, and presented a fine opportunity of enjoying both spectacle and music. The invitation was accepted, and the afternoon was devoted to my guests.
Towards the close of the concert the door suddenly opened, and the President came in, as he was in the habit of doing, alone. Mr. and Mrs. Cropsey had been presented to him in the course of the morning; and as he came forward, half hesitatingly, Mrs. C., who held a bunch of beautiful flowers in her hand, tripped forward playfully, and said: "Allow me, Mr. President, to present you with a bouquet!" The situation was momentarily embarrassing; and I was puzzled to know how "His Excellency" would get out of it. With no appearance of discomposure, he stooped down, took the flowers, and, looking from them into the sparkling eyes and radiant face of the lady, said with a gallantry I was unprepared for,--"Really, madam, if you give them to me, and they are mine, I think I cannot possibly make so good a use of them as to present them to you, in return!" Chesterfield could not have extricated himself from the dilemma with more tact and address; and the incident, trifling in itself, may serve to illustrate that there existed in the ci-devant "rail-splitter" and "flat-boatman"--uncouth and half-civilized as many supposed him--the essential elements of the true gentleman.
I was always touched by the President's manner of receiving the salute of the guard at the White House. Whenever he appeared in the portico, on his way to or from the War or Treasury Department, or on any excursion down the avenue, the first glimpse of him was, of course, the signal for the sentinel on duty to "present arms." This was always acknowledged by Mr. Lincoln with a peculiar bow and touch of the hat, no matter bow many times it might occur in the course of a day; and it always seemed to me as much a compliment to the devotion of the soldiers, on his part, as it was the sign of duty and deference on the part of the guard.
The Hon. Mr. Odell gave me a deeply interesting incident, which occurred in the winter of 1864, at one of the most crowded of the Presidential levees, illustrating very perfectly Mr. Lincoln's true politeness and delicacy of feeling.
On the occasion referred to, the pressure became so great that the usual ceremony of hand-shaking, was, for once, discontinued. The President had been standing for some time, bowing his acknowledgments to the thronging multitude, when his eye fell upon a couple who had entered unobserved,--a wounded soldier, and his plainly dressed mother. Before they could pass out, he made his way to where they stood; and, taking each of them by the hand, with a delicacy and cordiality which brought tears to many eyes, he assured them of his interest and welcome. Governors, senators, diplomats, passed with simply a nod; but that pale young face he might never see again. To him, and to others like him, did the nation owe its life; and Abraham Lincoln was not the man to forget this, even in the crowded and brilliant assembly of the distinguished of the land.