The New York Times/Authors at Home: XV. Carl Schurz in East Sixty-fourth Street
Authors at Home — XV.
Carl Schurz in East Sixty-fourth Street.
Carl Schurz occupies a high rank in that distinguished company of Germans who have adopted the United States as their fatherland and English as their mother tongue. Obedient to the law that makes converts more enthusiastic than veterans, he has become a more ardent American than most of those who were born under the Stars and Stripes, and a more virile master of English than many writers who lisped it in their cradles.
A visitor to Mr. Schurz's literary workshop, at 16 East Sixty-fourth Street, finds nothing there that suggests Germany — except the distinctively German face of its master artisan and the Teutonic form of the dachshund that is always curled in a ball on the lounge within easy reach of caresses and kind words. The German language and literature are conspicuously present, but a glance around at other laden book shelves tells one that the treasures of German thought are there because they are valuable — indispensable — and not because they are German. America dominates here, as in all the actual life of this German-American thinker. Half the entire library space is given up to works of American history, politics, biographies, and literature. Germany claims the second largest portion of room, followed closely by France, while a fourth section is devoted to miscellany.
When Mr. Schurz adopted America, he adopted it in true German earnestness and thoroughness. This is largely due to the fact that he left the fatherland because he would not consent to be a slave there, and that he has found here absolute political, literary, and religious freedom. He was born in Liblar, near Coln, (Cologne,) in 1829, and was educated at the gymnasium of Cologne and the University of Bonn. In 1848 he joined Gottfried Kinkel in publishing a liberal paper, and the following Spring he had to fly from Bonn because of the failure of his attempt to start an insurrection. He took part in the defense of the fortress of Rastadt, and after it fell fled to Switzerland. In 1850 he returned to Germany and procured the escape of Kinkel, who was confined in the fortress of Spandau. After a short stay in Paris and a year in London he came to this country, in 1852, and settled first in Philadelphia. Three years later he moved to Watertown, Wis. In 1856 he took part in the political campaign, making speeches in German in behalf of the Republican candidates.
Mr. Schurz's first speech in English was delivered in 1858 in the contest between Douglas and Lincoln for the United States Senate. This was the beginning of his long career of public speaking and writing on historical and political questions. In 1860 he spoke during the campaign in both English and German, and ever since has made use of both languages in addressing political meetings.
From his university career Mr. Schurz has been interested in the study of political movements, considering politics in the higher sense and not mere partisan questions. This independent investigation of public issues has always kept him in the lead of smaller or larger groups of thinkers. It led him into revolt against tyranny in Germany, against slavery in America, and against special privilege — the new form of commercial tyranny — under present political conditions. His literary activity began with a protest against feudal slavery and his entire literary life since has been spent in what may be called perpetual protest against every form of slavery. It is characteristic of his work that it has to do at almost every point with questions that concern human freedom — from bonds or prejudice or avarice. The first of his work that was published was a collection of speeches against slavery in the South, and he is now engaged on a critical biography of that great adversary of slavery, Charles Sumner.
But the workshop in the neighborhood of Central Park, with its front windows affording delightful views of “sunny spots of greenery” even in midwinter, has no appearance of being the armory that it is. Here one would say are strung literary gems — a treatise, an essay, an artistic work, perhaps now and then a poem, as a concession to the near-by Park. He would not think at first that he was in a smithy where bolts are forged and where fetters are broken on the anvil. A glance at the richly laden shelves and you realize where you are; for on them lie thick the weapons of “the invincible knights” of thought. It is not poetry and poetic prose that one thinks of now, but of the long battle for freedom and light. And here, he sees, has been done and is doing some of its most ardent fighting.
Perpetual peace reigns in the workshop, for its victories are those of peace. The din of strife is all without, following the launching of the bolts forged so quietly and in almost monastic seclusion. Heavy rugs and furs muffle the noise of footsteps, and cushioned lounges, chairs, and recessed seats give forth no sound as you sink into their downy depths. Ever the privileged dachshund preserves its inherited Teutonic stolidity, and lies as if in a charmed sleep in its favorite corner of the lounge. It is an ideal place for study, meditation, and thoughtful work.
One is made aware of some of the characteristics of Mr. Schurz as soon as he enters the house. He is ushered at once into a hall that is a veritable portrait gallery of immortals. No one enters this select company without having done something for the world. Warriors, statesmen, musicians, artists, and authors are all represented, but a certain spirit of selection, you can see at once, has directed the formation of the gallery. Men of thought rule here and not “men of destiny” or of empire.
The gallery of portraits continues, as if unfolding, as you pass into the sitting room, up the stairway — two flights — along another hall, and then into the workshop, where are gathered the master spirits of the world. Over this group Voltaire seems to rule. Below him is Napoleon, in abased thought after Waterloo, and Frederick the Great in humiliation after Kolin. On the distinctively American side of the workshop is seen the rugged face of Lincoln.
There is also the inevitable collection of curiosities, knives and swords from the Malay Archipelago and articles of virtu picked up in all parts of the world. Among the more precious things of the collection are the cuff buttons worn by John Quincy Adams when he fell in the Senate Chamber in 1848. These relics passed from Adams to Sumner, from Sumner to Hoar, back again to the family of Adams, and were finally given to Mr. Schurz.
The German nature is averse to trusting success to luck or inspiration. It believes in the good fortune of persistence and the inspiration of work. Mr. Schurz does not wait for moods, but works always, taking the chance of running into his best moments instead of waiting for them to come to him. He applied himself to the task in hand with an industry that would succeed in any department of life. In the morning he begins early and works from three to five hours. He works again for several hours in the afternoon, and, whenever he is not making addresses at political, philosophical, or educational gatherings, he works several hours at night. His desk is not within alluring sight of the Park, but faces books, is touched almost on every side by books, and is encumbered with books, while the stern, reflective face of Lincoln looks down upon it from front and rear.
The great bulk of Mr. Schurz's work was written for newspapers and magazines, or is engulfed in the ocean of pamphleteering. He has published three volumes, two of them being the “Life of Henry Clay,” in the American Statesmen Series, and the third being the “Essay on Lincoln.” Both of these have already become political and historical classics, and are among the most valuable contributions yet made to the writing of American history. They serve to illustrate the theory that very often a foreigner sees more deeply and clearly into a governmental system than native students of that system. Von Holst, Bryce, and Goldwin Smith have also been conspicuously successful in similar studies of the American Government.
The small number of Mr. Schurz's books is more than made amends for by the tremendous volume of his historical and political work published in periodicals and pamphlets. His writings, if brought together, would fill from ten to fifteen volumes. It is probable that they will soon be collected and published in a series.
He has been engaged on the biography of Charles Sumner, at odd moments of leisure from more pressing work, for several years. It is nearly completed, and he intends going earlier than usual this Summer to Lake George in order to finish this volume. He is also at work on several historical subjects, one of them being a political history of the United States from the Missouri Compromise. He recognizes the great value of Rhodes's work, but wishes to treat the subject in an entirely different way and from a different point of view.
Mr. Schurz has not been without honor in his adopted country. He has been editor of several newspapers; he rose to the rank of Major General of Volunteers in the late war; was elected United States Senator from Missouri; was Minister to Spain, and was Secretary of the Interior under Hayes. He has contributed a study of Daniel Webster to The Atlantic, which will be included in “The Library of the World's Best Literature.”
The workshop in East Sixty-fourth Street is occupied only in the Winter. The Summer and Autumn Mr. Schurz spends at Lake George, whither the shop is removed, and where the labor is resumed with fresh vigor.
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