Six Months at the White House/XII
As the different members of the Cabinet came in, the President introduced me, adding in several instances,--"He has an idea of painting a picture of us all together." This, of course, started conversation on the topic of art. Presently a reference was made by some one to Jones, the sculptor, whose bust of Mr. Lincoln was in the crimson parlor below. The President, I think, was writing at this instant. Looking up, he said, "Jones tells a good story of General Scott, of whom he once made a bust. Having a fine subject to start with, he succeeded in giving great satisfaction. At the closing sitting he attempted to define and elaborate the lines and markings of the face. The General sat patiently; but when he came to see the result, his countenance indicated decided displeasure. 'Why, Jones, what have you been doing?' he asked. 'Oh,' rejoined the sculptor, 'not much, I confess, General; I have been working out the details of the face a little more, this morning.' 'Details?' exclaimed the general, warmly; '---- the details! Why, my man, you are spoiling the bust!'"
At three o'clock the President was to accompany me, by appointment, to Brady's photographic galleries on Pennsylvania Avenue. The carriage had been ordered, and Mrs. Lincoln, who was to accompany us, had come down at the appointed hour, dressed for the ride, when one of those vexations, incident to all households, occurred. Neither carriage or coachman was to be seen. The President and myself stood upon the threshold of the door under the portico, awaiting the result of the inquiry for the coachman, when a letter was put into his hand. While he was reading this, people were passing, as is customary, up and down the promenade, which leads through the grounds to the War Department, crossing, of course, the portico. My attention was attracted to an approaching party, apparently a countryman, plainly dressed, with his wife and two little boys, who had evidently been straying about, looking at the places of public interest in the city. As they reached the portico, the father, who was in advance, caught sight of the tall figure of Mr. Lincoln, absorbed in his letter. His wife and the little boys were ascending the steps. The man stopped suddenly, put out his hand with a "hush" to his family, and, after a moment's gaze, he bent down and whispered to them, "There is the President!" Then leaving them, he slowly made a half circuit around Mr. Lincoln, watching him intently all the while. At this point, having finished his letter, the President turned to me, and said: "Well, we will not wait any longer for the carriage; it won't hurt you and me to walk down." The countryman here approached very diffidently, and asked if he might be allowed to take the President by the hand; after which, "Would he extend the same privilege to his wife and little boys?" Mr. Lincoln good-naturedly approached the latter, who had remained where they were stopped, and, reaching down, said a kind word to the bashful little fellows, who shrank close up to their mother, and did not reply. This simple act filled the father's cup full. "The Lord is with you, Mr. President," he said reverently; and then, hesitating a moment, he added, with strong emphasis, "and the people too, sir; and the people too!"
The walk, of a mile or more, was made very agreeable and interesting to me by a variety of stories, of which Mr. Lincoln's mind was so prolific. Something was said soon after we started about the penalty which attached to high positions in a democratic government--the tribute those filling them were compelled to pay to the public. "Great men," said Mr. Lincoln, "have various estimates. When Daniel Webster made his tour through the West years ago, he visited Springfield among other places, where great preparations had been made to receive him. As the procession was going through the town, a barefooted little darkey boy pulled the sleeve of a man named T., and asked,--'What the folks were all doing down the street?' 'Why, Jack,' was the reply, 'the biggest man in the world is coming.' Now, there lived in Springfield a man by the name of G.,--a very corpulent man. Jack darted off down the street, but presently returned, with a very disappointed air. 'Well, did you see him?' inquired T. 'Yees,' returned Jack; 'but laws--he ain't half as big as old G.'"
Shortly afterward, he spoke of Mr. Ewing, who was in both President Harrison's and President Taylor's cabinet. "Those men," said he, "were, you know, when elected, both of advanced years,--sages. Ewing had received, in some way, the nickname of 'Old Solitude.' Soon after the formation of Taylor's cabinet, Webster and Ewing happened to meet at an evening party. As they approached each other, Webster, who was in fine spirits, uttered, in his deepest bass tones, the well-known lines,--
"'O Solitude, where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?'"
The evening of Tuesday I dined with Mr. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, of whom I painted a portrait in 1855, upon the close of his term as United States Senator. He said during the dinner, that, shortly after the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, the President told this story at a cabinet meeting. "Thad. Stevens was asked by some one, the morning of the day appointed for that ceremony, where the President and Mr. Seward were going. 'To Gettysburg,' was the reply. 'But where are Stanton and Chase?' continued the questioner. 'At home, at work,' was the surly answer; 'let the dead bury the dead.'" This was some months previous to the Baltimore Convention, when it was thought by some of the leaders of the party, that Mr. Lincoln's chances for a re-nomination were somewhat dubious.
Levee night occurring weekly, during the regular season, was always a trying one to the President. Whenever sympathy was expressed for him, however, he would turn it off playfully, asserting that the tug at his hand was much easier to bear than that upon his heartstrings for all manner of favors beyond his power to grant, to which he had daily to submit. As I took his hand at the levee, which closed my first day's experiences with him, he said in his homely way, "Well, C., you have seen one day's run;--what is your opinion of it?"