Visit of the Hon. Carl Schurz to Boston/Address by Col. Theodore Lyman
Your suggestion, Mr. President, that I should wind up this demonstration, reminds me of a country organist in Germany, of whom it is said that Handel one day went up into his organ loft and took a seat beside him. When the minister had pronounced the benediction, Handel said, “If you will allow me, I will play the organ while the congregation goes out.” This the organist very gladly allowed him to do. Needless to say, as soon as Handel began to play, the congregation all sat down again; and there they remained glued to their seats. After that had gone on for some time, and the minister in the pulpit began to look rather cross, for his dinner hour pressed, the organist somewhat rudely removed Handel from the seat, and said, “You don't know how to do it; listen to me: I can play them out.” Now, Mr. President, you have picked me out, with a great deal of judgment, to “play them out.”
The sight of our guest tonight makes me feel like an old man; because it suggests one of those events of years and years ago which mark the perspective of life, — just as some fine and great trees in an avenue exaggerate its length. It was in the year 1848 that I found myself, a long-legged Yankee boy, in the city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, where the then celebrated German Assembly, or Diet as it was called, was holding its session. Political questions had come to a head; and the very day I arrived, there was a rising. At midnight a considerable mob attacked the hotel where we were, with the laudable purpose of drawing forth an obnoxious deputy, to make an example of him. And this they might have succeeded in doing, had it not been for an enormous Englishman, who at that moment was sleeping in an upper chamber. I am not aware that this large Englishman had any precise notions on abstract politics; but he strongly objected to being waked out of a comfortable sleep by any body of men, whether Republicans or Legitimists. He descended in extreme wrath, six steps at a time; appeared on the ground floor, literally stripped for action, and fell upon the mob like a pile-driver, just as they were breaking through the porte cochère. Some of them he grievously hit with his fist; and some of them, seizing by the nape of the neck and what Oliver Wendell Holmes has described as the ampler part of the pantaloons, he cast forth. The struggle was still progressing, when the town guard arrived, and, charging bayonets, drove the crowd out of the square. I remember that I pulled a rouleau of Napoleons out of my boot, in which I had prudently placed them, and went to sleep again.
The farce of the night was, I regret to state, followed by a tragedy. The next day the “Reds” rose; pulled up the pavements, confiscated omnibuses, and made barricades. As by magic the city was filled with troops. Those scenes of our youth are pretty vivid to us all through life; and I can hear now, as I did then, the measured, heavy tramp of the Prussian infantry in their coal-scuttle helmets, and that of the Austrians in their white coats, as they marched steadily up the high street to the attack; and the sound of the platoon firing in the upper part of the town, and the rapid spattering shots from the barricades are still in my ears. In those remote days, Mr. President, we had no very high opinion of the German Liberals; and there was some reason in this, for this very Diet whereof I speak, which in the beginning had the power of all Germany between its finger and thumb, instead of proceeding to any organization of government, began to consider the abstract rights of mankind; and, if I recollect right, their first essays were on the system of ballot in the second Egyptian dynasty! By the time they had got down as far as the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the crowned heads, having from their delay taken heart of grace, came with bayonets and put an extinguisher on the whole thing. And another reason we had for undervaluing them was not a reason, but the good old-fashioned British prejudice which we had drunk in with our mother's milk, to look upon all foreigners as outside barbarians; for it is well known that, until a very recent time, our English cousins regarded the Prussians simply as a mob who looked on while the British won the battle of Waterloo. Since then, it has been discovered that the Prussians can not only look on, but, if necessary, take a hand.
See how the wheel of time brings up strange events! One of the young men who then took the Liberal side, and of whom we thought very little, has come to this country to give us the model of all future officers of the Interior, — a man who at that time was ignorant of our language, every word of which is pronounced as it ought not to be pronounced, and every construction or which is entirely against all preconceived ideas; a man who had no knowledge of our government, or, what is quite as important, of our misgovernment, — he came hither and has done all this. There is a lesson to us here, seriously and philosophically, Mr. President, when we think how we used to talk in Know-Nothing times. I suppose most of the gentlemen present are too young to recollect that there ever were Know Nothings: perhaps, however, taking the Greek translation, the Agnostics of to-day are their descendants. We who remember the Know Nothings see what an enormous change has taken place. People used to say that Americans must govern New England. The Puritan English have done great things for this country, and they will continue to as long as it is a country; but the field needs millions of laborers more than the Puritans can ever give to it, and we must have them from all nations. And when you come to talk of a foreigner, what is a foreigner? I am aware that our old ethnology used to speak of Aryans and Basques and Celts, — which some studious ladies pronounced “Kelts,” — and of other strange people. But now comes Virchow and says this is all bosh; there is no such thing as a pure Aryan, or a pure Basque, or a pure anybody; we are all mixed up together, and have been since the neolithic age. And so, whether we like it or not, the Americans of the future will be — as indeed they are to-day — a mixed race of English, Irish, Germans, Welsh, and Scandinavians. Therefore we owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Carl Schurz for having shown that a foreigner, born abroad and coming to this country, can, in a high office, not only be a useful man, but even a blessing to the country.