George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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I made many visits to him at his house on Broad
street ; and had many talks with him on all sorts of
subjects. He was not a secretive man ; on the con-
trary, he conversed with the utmost freedom about
himself, his early life, his residence abroad, his re-
latives and friends, his political associates and op-
ponents, indeed almost everything. Unless he hap-
pened to be out of humor (which was not often the
case at his private residence), he loved to talk; and
though a recluse, he was delighted with the visits of
gentlemen who came without solicitation on his part
and who called in a friendly and social way. He
urged me to visit him at night, and in order to tempt


me to repeat my visits would give me each time
what was then a great and costly treat, a bottle of
English ale. This he repeated several times, but
finding that I did not play chess and was a much
better listener than talker, in fact, that I could not
talk well enough to provoke him to talk, he soon be-
came tired of my visits a fact of which he gave me
convincing proof by yawning in my face !

This house on Broad street and his mode of living
deserve notice. The house was of brick, three stories
high, commodious and comfortable. It was one of
a number of investments in real estate which he
made during the war. Although no human being
but himself inhabited this house the servants being
restricted to the kitchen of four rooms in the back-
yard he lived, literally, all over it. The front room
on the first floor was his parlor. In it were two
large oil paintings, works of decided merit, a mosaic
chess table and a few mahogany chairs. Sometimes
he received his visitors in the parlor, but more often
in the dining-room adjoining, where he kept a table
for writing and his iron safe. A handsome side-
board and a set of solid dining tables of antique
pattern graced this apartment. He was fond of telling
that these tables once belonged to " old Memminger,"
and were bought when the worthy Secretary of the
Treasury broke up house-keeping on Church Hill.
The front room in the second-story was his chamber,
and the passage-room adjoining, his dressing closet.
A tall miror, which reached from the floor almost to
the ceiling, was fastened to the wall between the two


front windows. Hard by was a large cheval glass, by
means of which he w^as enabled to see his whole figure,
front and rear, from head to foot. He was not a
fop, but he was fond of dress, and had an eye to ap-
pearance, not only in person, but in print. He had
a horror of slovenliness. A carelessly written edi-
torial was his abomination. He used to say that a
man who goes into print ought to remember that he
is making his appearance before the very best society,
and that he owes it both to himself and to that society
not to appear in undress. When an acquaintance of
the writer of this article was married in church, one
February afternoon in 1863, John M. Daniel was-
there in a long-tail coat and white waistcoat. He
believed in white waistcoats. He told his manager,
Walker, that he ought never to go to a part}' with-
out wearing a white vest.

" But, Mr. Daniel," objected Walker, " suppose a
man hasn't got a white vest and is too poor, these
war times, to buy one?"

" D n it ! sir, let him stay at home."
Besides the mirror, the cheval glass and a few
chairs, there was no other furniture in his chamber,
except an old-fashioned high-post bedstead, which,
together with most of his furniture, he had bought
at the sales of the effects of refugees once wealthy.
He believed in blood, in families of ancient and
honorable descent, in gentlemen, and preferred the
workmanship and antiquated style of things which
had descended as heirlooms in the houses of gentle-
men to the costliest and most tasteful productions of


modern cabinet-makers. There was no carpet on the
floor of his chamber, and he slept without a fire. In
the morning a fire was built in the room next to his
chamber, and there his breakfast was generally served
between 11 and 12 o'oclock. He seldom went to
bed before 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. This
back room in the second-story had a bed in it and
was used as a guest chamber, but I do not remember
to have known or heard of but one occupant R. W.
Hughes. He made Daniel's house his home when-
ever he came to town.

Adjoining the dressing-room, in the passage of the
second floor, was the bath-room. Leaning against
the door of this bath-room I used to see a bag of
Java coffee, which made my mouth water every time
I looked at it, for coffee, in those days, was twenty
to thirty dollars a pound.

The first room in the third story was used as a sort
of lumber room. A barrel or two of white sugar, a
few boxes of manufactured tobacco, and some large
empty boxes, which had contained books, were there
the last time I looked in. The little room, cut off from
the passage, was the library. The number of books
was not what one would have expected. A complete
set of Voltaire's works ; the Delphin edition of the
classics, complete; Swift's Works, Clarendon's Re-
bellion, and a few miscellaneous books are all that I
can now recall. Most, if not all, of these editions
were old and rare ; and strange to tell, most of them
were bought at private sale or at auction during the
war. Daniel was an omnivorous reader, but had a


sovereign contempt for the so-called "literature of
the day." The first Xapoleon, riding post in his car-
riage to the theatre of war, amused himself by dip-
ping into books just published and pitching one after
another out of the window. This was much the way
with John M. Daniel, before he went abroad, when,
in his capacity as editor of the Examiner, all the
new publications were sent to him. He never cared
to keep them either gave or threw them away, and
if he had occasion to make an extract from one of
them, used his scissors remorselessly.

The back room, in the third story, was a favorite
one with him. Like all the other rooms, it was taste-
fully and cheerfully papered. It commanded a view
of James river, the hills of Henrico, and the wide
lowlands and woods of Chesterfield. Having a
southern exposure, there was always plenty of light
in the afternoon, and the room was easily made warm
and comfortable. Here he loved to sit in a leather-
bottomed chair, with a little table near him, reading
Voltaire, the Latin poets, or contributions and com-
munications to the Examiner. In this room he kept
his collection of medals and seals ; a violin lay in its
wooden case on the floor, stringless and unused. A
moody man, he sometimes deserted this pleasant
room and confined himself for weeks to the rooms
on the lower floors.

He lived well, but not luxuriously. He detested
hotels and boarding-houses. When he lived in rooms
over his office, he had his meals sent to him by Tom
Griffin or Zetelle. After he went to house-keeping,


his negro cook was his caterer. The day I dined at
his house with Wigfall and Hughes, he had but one
course, a single joint of meat, a few vegetables, no
dessert, coffee and wine Madeira from Gov. Floyd's
cellar, which Hughes had brought with him. That
evening he called for " another bottle," after the rest
were satisfied ; but I never saw him intoxicated, and
on one occasion only under the influence of wine
even in a slight degree. Then his eyes were a little
glassy, his manner dogmatic, and he rocked a little
as he stood up in front of me and laid down the law
in regard to things political. Whiskey he hated with
his whole heart. I have heard him curse it and its
effects most bitterly, and once wrote, at his special
request, an article beginning, ''Whiskey, not the
Yankee, is to be the master of the Confederacy."
The feebleness of his digestion compelled him to be
temperate both in eating and drinking. I have heard
him say that a single glass of whiskey and water
taken at night, by prescription of his physician,
would give him headache the next day.

Coffee was his favorite stimulant, but. I do not
think he used it to excess. He was so fond of it
that he would not rest until he had taught his pet ter-
riers to drink it. These dogs " Frank" and " Fan-
ny" were their names, I believe he loved, but in
his own fashion. He delighted in teasing and wor-
rying them ; would pinch and pull their ears until
they yelped with pain, and was never more pleased
than when he succeeded in getting up a mild fight
between them. This was not easy to do, because


"Fanny" was "Frank's" mother; and, when he was
set upon her, went to work with rather a bad grace,
while she bore his attacks with exemplary patience.
When Daniel got tired of playing with his pets, who
were devoted to him, he would drive them away
with his horsewhip. Yet he never laid on with the
full weight of his hand. He was cruel to them at
times, but never brutal.

I asked him one day if his solitary mode of life
did not make him suffer from ennui. "Yes," said
he, wearily, "but I am used to it."

" Don't you find solitary feeding injurious to your
health? I tried it once at college, and, within a
week, I was made positively sick by it."

"You are right," he replied. "It literally de-
stroys the appetite. In Turin, I employed an Italian
count as my chef de cusine. He was really an artist
in his profession, and exerted all his powers to please
me. He had carte 'blanche as to expense, and sent
me up every day the most tempting dishes. I could
taste them that was all. I never enjoyed a meal
at home. Whereas, when invited to dine in the
country with a pleasant party of ladies and gentle-
men would you believe it? I would sometimes be
helped three times to meat."

I asked him then, as I had often done before, why
he did not marry. He wa& always pleased when the
subject was broached, and I am sure we must have
had, first and last, a dozen conversations on this topic
alone. After discussing the pros and cons, he
generally wound up by declaring that, if he ever

married, it must be with the explicit understanding
that himself and his wife should occupy separate
houses. To this end, he often threatened to buy the
house next to his own and have a door cut in the
partition wall, the key of which he would keep in
his own pocket. "The noise of children and the
gabble of a woman with her lady friends was some-
thing which he could not and would not stand."

He was a warm admirer of the female sex, but
his opinion of them was not the most exalted. Social
life on the Continent did not tend to weaken his
natural prejudice against mankind, and probably
lessened his esteem for the fairer portion of human-
ity. Over the mantle-shelf in his chamber hung an
exquisite miniature on ivory. The face was, beyond
question, the most beautiful I have ever seen, and
the execution was worthy of the subject. This pic-
ture was presented to him by the lady who painted
it, and it was her own likeness. According to his
account, she was titled, rich, marvellously accom-
plished in music, painting and poetry, eccentric, reck-
less alike of herself and of others. Her name he
would never tell me. He confessed to other fancies
while in Europe, but did not acknowledge, and I be-
lieve did not have, a serious affair during the whole
seven years of his residence abroad. It is said that
his heart was never touched but once, and then by
a beautiful Yirginian. This was before he left
America. He told me frequently that it was im-
possible for him to love a girl who was not pretty,
and yet he would shudder at the thought of uniting.


himself to " a pretty fool." It was to no purpose
that I insisted that true beauty was of the soul alone.
He hooted at this doctrine as " a stale lie." Beauty
of face he might possibly dispense with, but beauty
of form beauty of some sort a graceful figure and
high-bred manner were absolutely essential. Hap-
pening, one evening, to express in his hearing my
regret that I was not acquainted with some young-
lady in Richmond who played well on the piano,
he started almost as if I had stabbed him, and gave
vent to an exclamation of the most intense disgust
as if the bare idea of a piano-playing young lady
nauseated him. His theory about the management
of women was simple and original. " There are,"
he would say, " but two ways to manage a woman
to club her or to freeze her."

His menage in 1863 '4 consisted of three servants,
all males a cook, an ostler and a valet, who also
acted as his dining-room servant. His manner
towards the boy who waited in the house was rough
even to harshness. He liked his ostler, and spoke
kindly to him, whenever I happened to see them
together. I do not wonder that his house-servants
ran away from him. He lost two within as many
years. One was caught, punished and immediately
sold. The other, for whom he offered a reward of
2,000, made good his escape. After that, he bought
a very likely woman, nearly white, who remained
with him until his death.

Such was John M. Daniel at home. What he
at his office, I will now proceed to tell. Whilst


I was contributing to his paper, my habit was to
hand my article to the manager in the morning, and
at night I would go around to read the proof.
Daniel himself always read the proofs, though not
with as much pains as I liked. He reached the
office generally between 8 and 9 o'clock, and I was
almost always there before him. In those days
garroters were abundant, and the first thing he did,,
after entering the room, was to lay a Derringer pistol,,
which he carried in his hand ready for any emergency,,
on the large table which sat in the middle of the
floor. This done, he would offer me a cigar he-
could never be persuaded to smoke a pipe, and his
cigars were of the weakest and then begin the
work of examining proofs. First, the proofs of the
news columns, then of legislative or congressional
proceedings, next the local news, and lastly the
editorials. All these he examined with care, alter-
ing, erasing, abridging and adding as he thought fit.
Even the advertisements were submitted to him, and
I have known him to become furious over an adver-
tisement which he thought ought not to have been.

He was the only newspaper proprietor I ever heard
of who would throw out, without hesitation, paying
advertisements, sometimes of much importance to
advertisers, in order to make room for editorials, or
for contributions which particularly pleased him.
Oftentimes his news column was reduced to the last
point of compression to make room for editorial mat-
ter. The make-up of his paper engaged his serious-


.attention, and I have known him to devote nearly
half an hour to the discussion of the question where
;such and such an article should go, and whether it
should be printed in "bourgeois," "brevier," or
"leaded minion." He loved to have two or three
really good editorials in each issue of his paper.
Short, pointed articles he had little faith in, believing
that the length of a column, or a column-and-a-half,
was essential to the effect of an article. The London
Times was his model, and he promised himself, in
case the Confederate cause succeeded, to make the
Examiner fully equal to its English model. A pun-
gent paragraph was relished by him as much as by
any human being indeed, he was quick to detect
excellence in anything, long or short but the sub-
editorial, or " leaded minion " column, was left apart
for just such paragraphs, and the dignity of the edi-
torial column was but once, within my recollection,
trenched upon. Even then the article was a short
editorial rather than a paragraph. It was near the
close of the war, when, despairing of the cause, he
urged, in a few strong sentences, the duty of Vir-
ginia to hold herself in readiness to resume her sov-
ereignty, and to act for herself alone in the great
emergency which he felt was approaching. I am in-
clined to think this was the last article he ever

Laying so much stress upon editorials, it was but
natural that he should pay particular attention to cor-
recting them. This, in fact, was his main business
in coming to his office at night. At times he pre-


ferred to do his own writing, but in general, and
certainly in the last year or two of his life, he much
preferred to have his ideas put into words by others.
Then he would alter and amend to suit his fastidious
taste. Any fault of grammar or construction, any
inelegance, he detected immediately. He improved
lay erasure as much, or more, than by addition ; but
-when a thought in the contributed article was at all
suggestive, he seldom failed to add two or three, and
sometimes ten, and even twenty lines to it. This
was a labor of love to him, and did not fatigue him
.as it does most people. On the other hand, he dis-
liked extremely to read manuscript. This sometimes
brought trouble upon him. Coming in one night he
found on the table the proof of an article on finance
which I had written. He read it over carefully, and,
to my surprise, did not put his pencil through a sin-
_gle line of it. Whilst I was pluming myself on this
unusual circumstance, he looked up at me and

" Very well written," said he, " but diametrically
opposed to the view's of the Examiner"

" Too old a hand at the bellows to be disgruntled
by this," I replied quietly.

" Pitch it in the fire."

" What ! and fill two columns myself between this
:and midnight ? This is every line of editorial on hand."

" I am really very sorry. But what is to be done ?
It is impossible for me to write any more. I never
can write after dinner ; besides, I am broken down."

" Let me see. Let me see."


He took up the unlucky editorial, read it over
more carefully than before, and then said, in a tone
of great satisfaction : " I can fix it."

And so he did. Sitting down at the table, he went
to work, and within twenty minutes transformed it
completely. It appeared the next morning. There
were certain awkwardnesses, which we two, who were
in the secret, could detect, but which to the bulk of
the readers of the paper were doubtless quite imper-

AVhen he had to write an article himself, his first
question, after the usual salutation, was, not "What
is the news ?" but " What are people talking about ?"
and he upbraided me continually for not doing what
he himself never did, " circulating among the people."
He aimed always to make his paper interesting by
the discussion of subjects which were uppermost in
the popular mind ; nor did it concern him much
what the subject might be. His only concern was
that it should be treated in the Examiner with dig-
nity and ability, if it admitted of such treatment ; if
not to dispose of it humorously or wittily. But the
humor or wit must be done cleverly and with due
attention to style. He began to write about ten
o'clock ; wrote rapidly, in a crumpled, ugly hand,
and completed his work, revision of proofs, and every-
thing by midnight, or a little thereafter. He then
returned to his house, and either sat up or laid awake
in bed, reading, until two or three o'clock in the

His assistants in 1863-'4, besides reporters, were


the local editor, J. Marshall Hanna ; the news editor,
H. Rives Pollard; and the editor of the "leaded
minion " or war column, P. H. Gibson. He had a
high opinion of them all. Pollard he declared was
" the best news editor in the whole South." Hanna
he pronounced " a genius in his way," and took great
credit to himself for having discovered, developed,
and fostered him. Gibson's ability he acknowledged
and complimented frequently in my hearing.

The business of the office gave him very little trouble.
He had, of course, an eye to everything ; but the
printing floor, the press-room, the sale and distribu-
tion of papers, mailing, the payment of employees,
the settlement of bills, in a word, the finance, out-
door transactions, and banking business, were all at-
tended to by R. F. Walker, the manager. He had
but a single book-keeper, a gentleman of the name
of Gary, who was also his cashier. Walker was his
faithful assistant in everything, from the purchasing
of type, and glue for rollers, to correspondence with
men of business, and oftentimes with politicians and
contributors. At the end of every week Walker
brought to the house, on Broad street, the bank book,
posted up to date. I was permitted several times to
look at this book. The nett receipts per week, in
1863-4, were from $1,000, to $1,200, or $1,500
After deducting personal expenses of every kind
(and Daniel never stinted himself in anything), it may
be safely assumed that in the third year of the war
the paper cleared at least $50,000, perhaps double
that amount. The owner was often on the lookout


for investments, and made a number of purchases of
real estate. He may have speculated, but if he did,
the speculations must have been on a small scale.
During my visits to his house I never saw there
any one of the men who were known in Richmond
to be largely engaged in speculation. Moreover, his
paper, in common with others, contained denuncia-
tion after denunciation of speculators of all sorts, and
was particularly severe upon brokers, gamblers, and
whiskey sellers. Towards the close of the war, when
investments of all sorts were doubtful, I suggested to
him that he had better buy gold. His reply was,
" I have more gold now than I know what to do
with." I am persuaded, however, that this gold was
part of the $30,000 in coin, or its equivalent, which
he brought over with him from Sardinia.

I have said that he never stinted himself, and this
is true. His table, indeed, w T as never loaded with
luxuries and delicacies which might have been
bought at almost any period of the war, if one chose
to pay the enormous prices asked for them for the
reason that his digestion would not tolerate anything
but the simplest food ; but his self-indulgence was
notably shown in articles of dress, in coal, and in
gas. He brought with him from Europe clothes
enough to have lasted him for years, but he never
scrupled to buy a $1,000 suit whenever he fancied
he needed it. When coal was very high, and one
fire would have sufficed him, he kept two or three
burning. Gas was costly in the extreme ; two burn-
ers of his chandelier would have afforded him ample


light for he had excellent eyes but he was not
content until he had all six of the burners at their
full height. In reply to rny remonstrance against
this extravagance, he would say curtly :

" I like plenty of light."

If at his house Daniel was affable and almost
genial, in his office he was, too frequently, on the
other extreme. He loved to show his authority, and,
as the saying is, " to make things stand around." His
scowl at being interrupted, while in the act of com-
posing, or when otherwise busily engaged, will
never be forgotten by any one who ever encountered
it. Holding drunken men in special detestation, he
was, as by a fatality, subjected continually to their
risits, both at his office and at his house. More than
once I have been sufficiently diverted by intoxicated
officers, just from the army, who called in to pay, in
person, their maudlin tribute of admiration to the
editor of the Examiner. Sometimes he bore these
visitations with a patience that surprised me; but he
never failed to remunerate himself by awful impre-
cations upon the intruder as soon as he was out of
hearing. "While his tone to his employees was, as a
general rule, cold, and often intolerably dictatorial, I
have seen him, very frequently, as affable and fa-
miliar as heart could wish. Indeed, I have known
him to go so far as to come out of his sanctum, into
the small room occupied by his sub-editors with the
proof of a contribution in his hand, in order that they
might enjoy it with him. Occurrences of this sort,
however, were rare.


Belonging essentially to the genus irritabile, his
anger was easily provoked. He could not bear to be
crossed in anything. Whoever said aught in print
against " the Examiner newspaper," was sure to
bring down upon himself a torrent of abuse. Pos-
sessing in an eminent degree, and, indeed, priding
himself upon his sense of the becoming and the de-
corous, he was no sooner engaged in a newspaper
controversy than he forgot, or at least threw behind
him, the sense even of decency, and heaped upon his
adversary epithets which ought never to have defiled
the columns of a respectable journal. This was kept,

Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 27)