George William Bagby.

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

. (page 9 of 27)
Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to the minute in all his payments. His printers, his
writers, all in his employ, were better paid than those
in any other newspaper office in the city. If this be
the habit of bad men, what pity it is that the world
is not full of them !

That he treated his relatives with unkindness, and
that the hardships he endured in the days of his pov-
erty were no sufficient excuse for this unkindness, no
one who has heard both sides of the question will
deny. But the man was morbid, both in body and in
mind. One of the evidences of insanity laid down
in the books is a causeless hatred of the nearest and
best relatives and friends. I do not say or believe
that John M. Daniel was insane. Nevertheless, his
bitterness towards people in general, and towards
certain kindred in particular, betokened anything
but mental soundness. His body, perhaps, was
never entirely free from disease. The tubercular
disposition, with a tendency to development in that
part of the system (the digestive organs) the dis-
orders of which are known to affect the mind
more powerfully than any others, may account for



JOHN M. DANIEL'S LATCH-KEY. 101

many of those unfortunate peculiarities which con-
tradistinguished him from healthier and happier men.
Had lie possessed a florid complexion and a robust
organism, who believes that his faults would have
been the same? Temperament is not an adequate
excuse for every failing, but due allowance should
ever be made for its influence.

Added to his bodily infirmities, there was a want
of faith in human nature and its Great Author. Yet
he was by no means an atheist, but rather a deist. I
questioned him very gravely one day concerning his
belief in God. He paused for some time, and then
answered very cautiously and vaguely. The impres-
sion left on my mind was that he believed in a Great
First Cause, but wished for more light. Touching
the revelation of the New Testament, he gave no
opinion. He seemed, however, to think that really
nothing was known in regard to the " bourne
whence no traveller returns."* When this subject

* The following incident, recently communicated to me, may
be relied on as strictly true, and serves still further to illustrate
Daniel's character :

Dr. Kawlings said to Walkei some weeks before Daniel's death :
"Walker, Daniel must die. You seem to be able to talk to him
at all times without offending him, and, if you think proper, the
next time you find him in a calm frame of mind, you may ask him
if he would like to converse with a minister of the Gospel."
Knowing Daniel's dislike to most preachers, Walker thought over
the matter several days before he could muster courage to bring
up the subject. One morning when he seemed stronger and per-
fectly free from pain, Walker sat some moments, very nervous
and almost afraid to allude to the matter ; but at length he said :
" Mr. Daniel, you have always thought a great deal of Dr. Hoge ;
you believe he is a sincere, good man." He replied, very



102

was broached, neither of us dreamed that he was so
soon to explore that unknown world, which lay dark
and unfathomable before him. But a few evenings
before he had congratulated himself upon the posi-
tion he had gained in the world.

"I am still young," said he; "not very young,
either, for I will soon be forty. But I know no
young man who has better prospects than myself,
and few who have done so well. I suppose I am
worth now nearly $100,000 in good money. The
Examiner is very valuable property, and destined to
be much more so. I expect to live long, and, if I do,
I shall be rich. When I am rich I shall buy the old
family estate in Stafford county, and shall add to it
all the land for miles around. I shall build a house
to my fancy, and, with my possessions walled in, I
shall teach these people what they never knew how
to live like a gentleman."

Such, in effect, and almost in words, was the pic-
ture he drew of his future. It was the first and only
time I ever knew him to indulge his fancy in build-
ing air castles.

I may add, as one additional proof that he was not
an atheist, the fact that he made it. a rule to publish

promptly, " Well, what of it ?" Walker answered, " You are very
ill, anc I thought perhaps you would like to have him call on you
and talk with you." He looked up, smilingly, and said, " Walker,
/ am no woman ! I don't want any one but yourself to come
into this room except the doctor." He never alluded to his being
dangerously ill save once, when he said to Walker, "Send word
to your wife that you will sleep in my house to-nigbt. Something
may happen before morning, and I want you with me."



103

in the Examiner, on each succeeding New Year's day,
a poem in honor of the Deity. He did this, not
merely because he thought it a becoming and good
old custom, but because it was a real gratification
to him to do so. He bestowed much thought on the
selection of this New Year's poem, singled it out
months beforehand, and sometimes consulted his
friends to ascertain whether there was not some poem
of the kind with which he was not acquainted. He
certainly asked me to aid him in making such a selec-
tion, and I have no reason to believe that he did not
consult others also.

He hated men, but not mankind. To the latter he
was indifferent. But he despised men more than he
hated them. It had been his misfortune to view
men from two inauspicious standpoints from pov-
erty on the one hand, and from power on the other
and in 'each case the picture was distorted by the
medium of a morbid physical and mental nature.
Proud, with the pride of an acute and bold intellect,
he fancied, in his days of penury, that he was g
contemned and neglected, when he knew he had that
within him which was to be neither neglected nor
contemned. After he had proved this, after he had
become famous, prosperous and powerful, he despised
men, because he fancied they envied him his pros-
perity, feared his power and hated himself. " Man
pleased him not ; no, nor woman either," because his
sad experience had taught him to suspect the purity
of all motives. A little genuine humility, a mod-
erate degree of success, achieved in some other way



104

than by attacking and overpowering antagonists,
would have made him a happier, wiser and better
man. He dreaded power in others, because, as he
confessed to me, he knew its baneful effects upon
himself. He had no faith in men, because he knew
how terrible would be the consequences if no obstacle
stood between men and the accomplishment of their
secret desires. He startled me one day by saying:
" How long do you think you would live, if your
enemies had their way with you? Perhaps you
think you have no enemies who hate you enough
to kill you. You are greatly mistaken. Every man
has his enemies. I have them by the thousand,
and you have them too, though not so numerous as
mine. Neither your enemies nor mine would run the
risk of murdering us in open day. But suppose they
could kill us by simply wishing it ? I should drop
dead in my tracks before your eyes, and you, quiet
and unknown as you are, would fall a corpse in Main
street before you reached home."

He owned that this horrible thought had been put
into his mind by some writer whom he had that day
been reading. But it was precisely such ideas that
fastened themselves in his memory. He brooded
over them until they became a part of his very
being. No wonder he was morbid !

Here I must stop, for I have told all, or nearly all
I know about this remarkable man. The narrative
has spun out under my hand to a length very much
greater than I intended when I began to write. But
I have willingly allowed myself to go on, knowing



105

-.as I do that every word about John M. Daniel will
be read with interest in every Southern State. It is
to be hoped that at some day those who were his
intimate friends will do perfectly what I have done
most imperfectly, for lack of knowledge on the one
hand, and because of countless interruptions on the
other. Written piecemeal, this sketch claims no
other merit than a faithful account of my acquaint-
ance with its subject, and an estimate, which I deem
to be just, of his character. I trust it will be viewed
in this light, and that it may not provoke one harsh
criticism. If Messrs. P. H. Aylett and T. H. Wynne,
or Doctors Rawlings and Petticolas, could be induced
to attempt what I have undertaken, then the South-
ern public would have what so many desire to. see, a
full length portraiture of one of the most gifted and
brilliant men ever born on Southern soil.

A few words about his death, and I have done.
Late in January, 1865, he was attacked the second
time with pneumonia. Treated promptly by skilful
physicians, his disease abated; he rallied, and was
able to sit up and attend somewhat to his duties.
His recovery was deemed certain. But, as the event
proved, tubercles were developed both in the lungs
and in the mesenteric glands. The patient gradually
grew worse, and was at length compelled to return
to his bed. The slow weeks of winter wore them-
selves away. How they passed, I cannot tell, for,
although I made frequent calls at the house on Broad
street, I was always refused admittance. The latch-
iey remained unused in my pocket. Only his phy-



106

sicians and most intimate friends were admitted to
the sick man's chamber. On one occasion, as I was
told by a Kentucky member of the Confederate
Congress, he sent for the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, and
one or two other prominent politicians, and told them
his candid opinion that the Cause was hopeless,,
and that the only course left to us was " reconstruc-
tion on the best terms we could make."

So long as his strength permitted him to take an
interest in any earthly thing, he had the welfare of
the Southern people at heart, and his latest effort
seems to have been to secure by negotiation what he
was persuaded arms could not achieve. Those who
outlived him can decide for themselves whether the
conqueror would have kept the faith which might
have been plighted at Fortress Monroe better than
that which was so solemnly pledged at Appomattox
Court House.

As spring approached, his symptoms became alarm-
ing. Ere long, it was whispered on the streets that
his situation was critical. Relatives and friends
proffered every assistance. They were politely but
firmly told that assistance was not needed. He was
not a man to be " sat up with." His only attendant
was a female servant. Once or twice, perhaps oftener,
he requested his faithful manager, Walker, to sleep
in an adjoining room ; but Walker was hardly warm
in his bed before he was aroused by a message to the
effect that Mr. Daniel wished to see him. Hurrying
on his clothes, he would go at once to the dying



10T

man's bed, where, in a feeble voice, this strange an-
nouncement would be made to him :

" Walker, you must really pardon rne, but the truth
is, that the very fact of your being in the house
makes me so nervous that I cannot rest. Please ga
home."

Home the manager of the Examiner would go,
sometimes long after midnight, leaving the sufferer
to his own thoughts. What those were, no man will
ever tell, for none ever knew. He must have known
that his days were numbered, for when he received
a bouquet of the earliest spring flowers sent him by
the daughter of his friend, Mr. Wynne, he took it in
his wasted hand, returned his thanks for the gift, and
then laid it aside, murmuring "too late now; too
late!"

The editorial conduct of the Examiner had
been in the exclusive charge of John Mitchell for
many weeks. Daniel no longer concerned himself
about it. His will was made ; he was ready to de-
part. His physicians knew he could not live, but
they expected him to linger ten days or a fortnight
longer. Plied with stimulants, he might bear up
yet a good while. But the last hour was at hand.
The exact circumstances of his death, as told to me,
are these. On making his usual morning call, Dr.
Rawlings found his friend's pulse sinking rapidly,
No stimulant being at hand, the supply in the house
having been exhausted, he dispatched a servant in
all haste to get a bottle of French brandy. It was
quickly brought. When it came, he proceeded forth-



108 JOHN M. DANIEL'S LATCH-KEY.

with to make a strong toddy. The patient was then
lying close to the outer edge of the bed. Dr. Haw-
lings stood some distance off, near the window, stir-
ring the toddy. Suddenly his attention was aroused
by a noise behind him. Looking quickly in that
direction, he saw that the patient had, by a strong
effort, turned himself over and lay on his back in the
middle of the bed, with his eyes closed and his arms
folded on his breast. Thinking that he was praying,
he would not disturb him, but continued to stir the
toddy a few minutes longer, so as to give him time
to finish his prayer. A sufficient time having elapsed
.and the need of a stimulant being urgent, the Doctor
went to the bed side and leaned over.
John M. Daniel was not in this world !



THE VIRGINIA EDITOR.



[The following sketch was written and published some time iu
the fifties, when there may have been more to excuse its extrava-
gancies than now. The satire amused the public, and no portion
of it more than the gentlemen who were the object of it.]

THE Yirginia Editor is a young, unmarried, in-
temperate, pugnacious, gambling gentleman.
Between drink and dueling-pistols lie is generally es-
corted to a premature grave. If he so far withstands
the ravages of brandy and gunpowder as to reach the
period of gray hairs and cautiousness, he is deposed
to make room for a youth who hates his life with an
utter hatred, and who can't keep drunk more than a
week at a time.

Deposed, he becomes a literary ostrich, and may
be seen, with swollen red nose and diminished, calf-
less shanks, migrating from court-house to court-
house, laying a newspaper egg, which he leaves to
be hatched into life and permanence by the pecu-
niary warmth of the party to whom he sells out at a
small advance. Or he gets the lofty position of clerk
in Washington. Should he, by rare good luck and
the miraculous interposition of Providence, have
saved any money, he buys a property in the country,
retires to it, debauches himself with miscellaneous
literature, lounges much and does a great deal of



110 THE VIRGINIA EDITOR.

nothing at all. Should he get married, he sinks into
an obscure and decent citizen, and looks back upon
Ms early career as a horrid dream.

Previous to his death, the Virginia editor makes
the most of the short time allotted to him on earth
by living at a suicidal velocity. To test the strength
of his constitution, by subjecting it to the influence
of the most destructive habits and agencies, appears
to be his sole pleasure and aim. He is determined
not to live longer than he can possibly help. A quiet
death at a ripe old age he regards as a disgrace.

His first waking moments in the morning are sat-
urated with a number of powerful cocktails, to cure
a headache, " brought over," as an accountant would
say, from the previous midnight. Cocktailed past
the point of nervousness and remorse, he dresses
himself and wends his way to a barber shop to get
.shaved, if he shaves at all. Not unfrequently he has
himself shaved in bed. Breakfast succeeds, and then,
with a cigar in his mouth, he enters his sanctum and
goes to work : which work consists in hunting for in-
sults in his exchanges, and in laying the foundation,
by means of a scathing article, of a future duel.
'While employed upon his leading article he suffers
no interruption, except from the gentleman who
brings a note from another gentleman, whom he (the
editor) grossly insulted at an oyster supper the night
before. Having no earthly recollection of any such
occurrence, the editor feels no hesitation (unless he
happens to be unusually bilious, or has no " affair "
upon his hands), in saying that he " fully and frankly



THE VIRGINIA EDITOR. Ill

withdraws any and every expression reflecting upon
the character of the gentleman, as a gentleman and a
man of honor."

His editorial labors vary from five minutes to two
hours and a half in duration. If he feels very badly
he won't write at all, but goes armed with a stick to
a neighboring law ofiice, and threatens the occupant
with a caning unless he has a spicy article in the com-
positor's hands by such an hour. The unhappy bar-
rister complies, and spices the editor into a scrape, for
which the editor is unaffectedly thankful, swearing he
would die without excitement.

Before leaving his sanctum he answers a couple of
letters which arrived by the last mail. He engages
to meet " the gallant Democracy of - - district,"
and to address them on " August court-day." He as-
sures a "constant reader" that "the glorious cause is
prospering, the skies brightening;" and suggests, as
the best means of putting the issue of the canvass
"the most momentous canvass that ever occurred in
the history of the Republic " beyond a doubt, that
the " constant reader" shall send in ten new subscrib-
ers to the Keepa P'dchinin . He then huddles a shirt, a
case of dueling pistols, and a bottle of "Otard" into
a small trunk, and goes to the telegraph office to no-
tify a brother editor that he will be in Washington
to-morrow night, waiting for him at the National
Hotel. His mind being thus relieved of business, he
has nothing to do but to wander off to his hotel, to
look at the register and see if anybody has come.
Meets there with another editor a red-headed pro-



112 THE VIRGINIA EDITOR.

vincial fresh from the mountains, and already heavily
laden with " rifle whisky " with whom he proceeds,
without delay, to drink juleps and talk politics until
dinner-time.

After dinner he borrows twice as much money as
will take him to Washington and back, reserving the
surplus to bet that night at the faro-bank.

In his personal appearance, the Virginia editor vi-
brates between positive gentility and absolute shab-
biness, and this irrespective of his condition as to
"funds." At times he is smooth and clean of face,
immaculate in shirt, perfect of boot and hat ; at
others he is great in beard and dirt, resembling an
uncleansed pressman, or a pirate who has cruised for
years upon an ocean of ink. He rarely buys clothes
until he is in immediate need of them ; and, inasmuch
as he lives all over the State, is quite as apt to have
on somebody else's clothes as his own. He despises
a fashionable, dandified man as he does a man who
drinks weak drinks. He vindicates his Democracy,
even in his liquor ; believes in good old brandy or
whisky, calls them "strict construction drinks," while
malt liquors he stigmatizes as " compromise drinks,"
and will have nothing to do with them, except to
"taper off" on.

There is nothing in his form or features to distin-
guish him from other men. A physiognomist might,
perhaps, detect in his face a bloody good-nature an
amiability easily kindled into anger as if the fierce
animal instincts of the man were but imperfectly sub-
dued by the pressure of social refinements..



THE VIRGINIA EDITOR. 113

His negligence in dress is not greater than his
carelessness with regard to another comfort which
the majorit} 7 of mankind deem essential to happiness.
He will live upon the best of food, will drink the
best liquors, and smoke the finest cigars, but is ut-
terly indifferent as to where or how he sleeps, pro-
vided he has a bed-fellow ; for he is greatly social,
and cannot bear ever to be alone. E~o respectable
young man living in the same city is secure against
an invasion of the editor at the most inopportune
hours of the night. How many sweet dreams have
been rudely broken by his assaults upon the front-
door, or his noisy escalade of the back-window, it
would be impossible to tell.

He has a room of his own, originally furnished
with some taste and care, but has a mortal antipathy
to sleeping in it. Nor is this aversion to be won-
dered at. Through a puddle of newspapers, con-
gressional speeches, tobacco juice, cigar stumps,
broken spit-boxes, and pipesterns, he wades to a bed
whose sheets bade adieu to the washerwoman at a
period too remote to be recalled, and whose counter-
pane secretes its primitive tints under a sweet and
greasy scum of spermaceti and spilled brandy toddies.
A candle-stand is drawn conveniently near the yel-
low pillow, and on it lie, disorderly, a candle burned
to the socket, a fragmentary volume of Byron, a plug
of tobacco, a cork (fellow to others on the floor), an
inkstand without any ink in it, and a foolscap scrap
of unfinished editorial. Upon the window-sill, near
the foot of the bed, stands marshaled a platoon of
8



114: THE VIRGINIA EDITOR.

various-sized bottles, from the grenadier champagne
to the squatty porter and the slab-sided tickler. In
the little wardrobe are no clothes, except a skeleton
waistcoat gibbeted upon a broken hook, but a num-
ber of empty cigar-boxes, a bowie-knife and a revol-
ver. In the waistcoat pocket may be found a free
railroad ticket, which ticket he never presents, for the
conductors are much better acquainted with him than
with the schedule. The odor of this apartment is not
inviting. The door is always open, night and day,
and it is the common dormitory of all belated roy-
sterers. Any one may sleep here who chooses.

Notwithstanding his habits, the editor obtains a
popularity wholly disproportioned, one would say, to
his merits. That he should achieve notoriety is no
matter for surprise, when every number of every pa-
per issued in the State contains the name of Derringer
Thundergust, or William Jeems Rawhead, as princi-
pal, second, or adjustant of some personal difficulty ;
but notoriety is one thing and popularity another
and very different thing.

Habits which would outlaw any other man enable
him to ride rough-shod over the inviolable law of
custom. Conduct which would damn a man in busi-
ness endears him to men in whose creed " strict
business habits " rank next to, if they do not take
precedence of, godliness. Grave men the slaves of
routine and propriety appear to take the same de-
light in witnessing his unbridled eccentricities that
inspired the poet Job when contemplating the gam-
bols of the wild ass. There is an airy bravado in his



THE VIRGINIA EDITOR. 115

outrages, a gay candor and naturalness in his excesses,
which extract all their sting. As soon quarrel with
the habits of a strange bird as with those of a being
who is not a man, but an editor, and to whom no
gauge of human morals is in any particular appli-
cable.

His abhorrence of the vice of solitary drinking has
a good deal to do with this popularity. Scarcely a
respectable citizen can be found in the commonwealth
with whom he has not, at some time or other, hob-
nobbed in a friendly manner. Rather than drink
alone he will drink with a negro, provided the negro
is at all genteel, and has a gentleman for his master.
His Ethiopian popularity is immense. It could
hardly be otherwise when, from the White Sulphur
Springs to the city of Norfolk, he has repeatedly
and extravagantly feed everything answering to the
name of " waiter."

The Virginia editor is not a pious, nor, strictly
speaking, a gallant man. Women, children, and
preachers he classes under the common head of
" non-combatants," and views them pretty much in
the light in which he regards flies as species of not
very harmful, somewhat abundant insects, perhaps
useful, but whose uses are not yet well understood.
Still, he makes it a point of honor to place implicit
faith in the truth of the Christian religion and the
virtue of women ; and while he regards the softer
sex as, at best, beautiful toys, they are glass toys,
and he treads respectfully and gingerly among the
frail vessels. He clings with sectarian tenacity to



116 THE VIRGINIA EDITOR.

the belief in future rewards and punishments ; he is-
too brave and resentful a man to think otherwise.
A disbelief in hell he denounces as the "poltroon-
ery of infidelity," nor can any casuistry convince him
that a man is not as responsible for his faith as he i&
for his actions.

He loves to talk, and his great theme, after poli-
tics, is himself. In himself he has the most un-
bounded confidence a confidence which, in the most
trying emergencies, scarcely ever deserts him.
Through difficulties that would appall and crush or-
dinary men, he moves with the smiling abandon of
a knight-errant pricking onward to meet a dragon,
gorgon, or chimera dire. Only in moments of ex-



Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 27)