seemingly utterly unconscious that anything irrelevant had occurred.''
On another occasion, in the presence of several gentlemen, he fell
into one of these reveries, but was silent. When it ended, he began
an earnest argument to prove that the misdeeds of humanity are pun-
ished in this world. To support his views, he adduced many illustra
tions. " How about punishment in the next world, Mr. Hardin."
interrupted one of those present. "I don't know, sir," he rephcd.
" I know nothing about it. I have never been there."
When absorbed in this singular manner, it was imprudent to dis-
turb him. Once he was walking the streets in Bardstown. muttering
to himself and gesticulating, unconscious of surroundings. One of
those impertinent, but well-meaning, fellows, who "rush in where
angels fear to tread," stopped him. "Mr. Hardin," said the man,
" people say that you are losing your mind, and it seems to me to be
true." Hardin glared at him a few seconds as though meditating
means or mode of destruction. "The people say that I am losing
my mind, do they?" "Yes," responded the maladroit, less confi-
dently. " Do you know, sir, what people say of you, sir?" "No."
"Well, I'll tell you, sir. They all agree that you are a d â€” d little
fool." Saying which, Hardin passed on.
Mr. Hardin was accused of being deficient in physical courage. He
lived at a period and in a locality where and when to be so suspected
was to his serious discredit. It has been intimated that the edge of
his invective was sometimes dulled by his fears. It has been said (on
authority not to be disregarded), that when secure from personal
responsibility he could denounce an enemy in the most blood-curdling
way, and profess a fool-hardy daring not surpassed by any age, which
he did not indulge in less secure circumstances. But he was physi-
cally disabled from engaging in personal encounters during the greater
part of his life, and wholly powerless to cope with the pugnacious
citizen, more abundant in his day than now, who had the grit to engage
in fisticuffs, and was always ready for the encounter. One who knew
him, in answer to the author's question as to his courage, responded :
"he was cowardly, sir; he would run like a turkey. I remember, "contin-
ued this informant, "an occasion when he came out of the court house
at Elizabethtown, that a man â€” somewhat of a bully and ruffian, it is
true â€” who was offended at Mr. Hardin's allusion to him in a speech,
met him, and began cursing and abusing him. He followed him to
his hotel and cursed him on his route. He followed him into the bar,
when he ordered his horse, and cursed him there. He followed him
into the dining-room, and, sitting near him at the table, continued to
speak of him in his hearing most offensively. Mr. Hardin neverthe-
less ate a hearty meal, and, during the entire time, paid not the slight-
est attention to the abuse. After dinner he put on his leggins (which
he wore at all seasons, in traveling horseback). His horse was brought,
he mounted, put each foot in the stirrups, examined himself to see
that he was equipped for the journey, and then, for the first time,
turning to his maligner, and in a most savage way, exclaimed: ' Dry
up, you dirty dog, or I will get down there and cut your livers out ! '
Saying which, without waiting response, he gave his horse a keen cut
with a cowhide and rode away, leaving his adversary dumbfounded at
MORAL COURAGE. 57 I
After all, physical courage is a quality in which the most ignorant
are the equals of the most intelligent, in which the brute excels human
kind. " Brute " courage, it is sometimes not inappropriately called,
a term exceedingly descriptive. Mr. Hardin's rare moral courage
amply compensated for any real or supposed deficiency in the respect
referred to. He had strong convictions, and unfalteringly clung to
them in sun and storm. His public career, from the beginning to the
end, was filled with illustrations of this trait. His part in the Old and
New Court struggle, and his contest with Governor Owsley, evinced a
moral courage and an intellectual fortitude rarely equaled.
5/2 BEN HARDIN.
SOME THINGS OTHERS THOUGHT AND SAID OF MR. HARDIN.
GHARACTER, or its manifestations, after all, is a matter resting
much in the domain of public opinion. It is illuminated or dis-
colored by the effect of partiality or prejudice on the lens through which
it is discerned. An enemy and a friend are seen more or less
truly, but on different sides, and in varied lights. Thus they seem
antipodal in characteristics, yet, when beheld in like conditions, and
from similar standpoints, are scarcely distinguishable. These obser-
vations but amplify the old saying: "No one is a hero to his valet."
From the valet's point of observation, one does not so appear.
The witty and philosophic Doctor Holmes was not mistaken when
he said, that when John and Thomas conversed, at least six persons
of them were present. There were the real John and the real Thomas
â€” two. There were John's ideal John, and Thomas' ideal Thomas â€”
four. John's ideal Thomas, and Thomas' ideal John â€” six.* Two
others, the discerning reader will perceive, are omitted in this esti-
mate, assummg, as should be done, that John and Thomas were
friends. The omitted two are by no means so comely as either of
the other six. They are the respective John and Thomas as they
appear to their enemies.
In estimating the character of one not personally known, the true
mean will be found between the extreme opinions of friends and enemies.
Instead of undertaking this formal estimate, a selection of expressed
opinions, emanating from those who were friends and from those who
disliked Mr. Hardin, are here gathered. Many of these were pub-
licly expressed, in his lifetime, and may serve other purposes than
showing what others thought and said of him. They may throw
light on some of his motives, and explain many of his actions. Some
matters that might be alluded to in this connection, will be found
elsewhere, in the estimate of his character as a lawyer and statesman.
During his lifetime, the newspapers teemed with notices of him at
the bar, in Congress, on the stump, and in private life. His large
and angular physical "make-up" indicated a massive intellectuality,
jagged and projecting, with which the public were perpetually com-
* Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, page 6i.
TOM Marshall's CKrricLSM. 5-3
ing in opposing contact. In this contact, the pubhc always came off
second best, and, to attract attention from its discomfiture, assailed
him in some vulnerable part, or resorted, in default of other revenge,
to simple vituperation.
In the brilliant, but erratic, Thomas F. Marshall, of Kentucky,
Mr. Hardin had ever a caustic and relentless critic. So unsparing
were these criticisms as to clearly suggest a feeling of personal hostil-
ity. The origin of this is probably to be traced to a natural antipathy
between two children of genius, rather than to any specific casus belli.
He and Hardin had a debate in the State-house at Frankfort, in Janu-
ary, 1850, on the subject of the new constitution. The resources of wit
sarcasm and invective were in large measure exhausted on either side.
The antagonism of the disputants was thus intensified beyond all
reconciliation. A slight idea of the temper of this encounter may be
formed from Marshall's allusion to it: "We would prefer to hunt
the lion, even though death were certain from his paw, to engaging
with a skunk, whose weapons of offense, though not mortal, are such
as to deprive the conflict of all dignity and honor." Marshall saw
everything in the light of his passions, and the reader need not be
admonished that his estimates of an adversary are little to be trusted.
He thus undertakes a formal estimate of Mr. Hardin's character in
the " Old Guard," of which he was editor:
"Within a narrow and vicious circle, Ben Hardin is a good judge of bad
men. A scoffer and a cynic, with no deep moral sense himself, with neither
relish nor perception of the sublime and great, he has studied nature in its
shameful parts, and thinks he knows the whole anatomy of man. A shrewd
man he certainly is, but shrewdness is not wisdom. He thinks every man
has his price, and can not conceive of the disinterested at all. He con-
ceives himself a statesman and a philosopher. He is about as much of
either as he is of an orator or poet. He could not become the latter, for he
has no imagination; nor the former, for he has no heart. He knows tlie
names of the most celebrated nations of anticiuity, and of the more remark-
able men who flourished then, and has a smattering of modern history and
geography. But of the great and steady movements of human .society, and
of the causes which have retarded or impelled them, of the real prou-
ress of the human understanding, of the i)olitical problems which have
been, or which remain to be, solved, of the philoso])hy of history, or ilu-
science of government, he knows nothing."
On one occasion in the constitutional convention of iS4y, Mr.
Hardin had ridiculed fames Guthrie, the president of that body, for
574 I^'EN HARDIN.
mispronouncing the word tyrannical â€” Hardin imitating him in repeat-
ing it â€” "terinical;" thus afforded Marshall an opportunity for assail-
ing Hardin for pedantry and deficient scholarship â€” an opportunity
which he thus improved:
"We do not criticise Mr. Hardin's ignorance, but his pedantry. For a
man who notices (and cackles over his discovery), the smallest imperfec-
tion in other men's speech, to be guilty of blunders in his most elaborate
discourses that would disgrace a stable-boy, might provoke a castigation
from persons less amiable than we are. Mr. Hardin has fallen in, evidently
late in life, with Pope's translation of Homer, and Tooke's Pantheon, or
some other smaller work on the heathen mythology, and he is everlastingly,
in his talks, boring his unfortunate auditors about Gods and Goddesses,
Heroes and Heroines. Jupiter and Juno, Mars and Venus, Hector and
Andromache, Paris and Helen, Achilles and Briseis, Ulysses and Penelope,
rumble along his discourse like badly-imitated thunder among the wretchedly-
daubed scenery of some provincial theater.
"The only one of Homer's heroes he seems to have selected for his
model is Thersites. Of all the Gods, good or bad, the only one between
whom and himself we detect the faintest resemblance is Saturn â€” that mon-
strous deity who is said to have feasted on his own family, and have
devoured his own offspring. This is the only chance for an apotheosis; the
only means left by which he is to be deified."
It seems quite possible that Mr. Marshall, while berating Hardin
for supposed literary sins, was himself offending quite as seriously.
The above criticism is so very suggestive of Caleb Cushing's attack
in Congress, in 1835, as to create a strong suspicion of plagiarism.
Mr. Gushing, referring to Mr. Hardin's habit of quoting to the House
from Homer, begged "leave to refer to that celebrated author for an
illustration apropos to the occasion." He regretted "to observe
upon the floor a disputant who, with neither the courage of Achilles
for the combat, nor the wisdom of Ulysses for the council, yet with
the gray hairs of Nestor on his head, condescending to perpetually play
the part of the snarling Thersites." *
The next criticism of Mr. Hardin is taken from a very readable
and graphic "Biographical Sketch of Lazarus W. Powell," a former
governor of the State, published under the auspices of the General
Assembly. Its author, Hon. Ben J. Webb, knew Mr. Hardin long
and well ; has himself served the Commonwealth in honorable sta-
tions, and by his graceful pen done signal service to the literature of
the State. He admits, privately, that on one occasion he felt ill-
â€¢ Living Representative Men, by John Savage, page 147. See notes to page 278, ante.
HIS NAME A HOUSEHOLD WORD.
used by Mr. Hardin. While it would be unfair to say the following
reference was resentful, yet it is but just to say it did not emanate
from an admirer of his character:
" The honorable Ben Hardin, or â€¢â€¢ Old Kitchen Knife," by which soubri-
quet he was afterward known in the Congress of the United States, was
undoubtedly one of the shrewdest advocates that was ever intrusted with a
client's interest in any court of the Commonwealth. He affected a simplic-
ity in dress that approached slovenliness. He was lank in person, slightly
stooping from middle age, and exceedingly restless in manner. * * Â«
He possessed in an eminent degree the faculty of ada])ting himself to all
classes of men. At one time he would appear to be as deejily interested in
the result of a foot-race, or a wrestling-match, as the most ignorant boor on
the grounds ; and at other times he would discuss agriculture with the farm-
ers, domestic matters with their wives, science with the learned, and politics
with everybody. With talents so diversified, it is not to be wondered at that
he should have acquired, in the course of time, a reputation for sincerity that
was not particularly enviable."
Said this writer afterward :
" I can not say that Mr. Hardin was regarded with strong affection by
any one. Neither can I say that he had any persistent enemies. The regard
in which he was held was solely due to the public recognition of his great
The next expression as to Mr. Hardin is by a lawyer who has long
stood at the head of the bar where he practices. He knew Mr. Har-
din, and had begun to rise in the profession only as Mr. Hardin was
departing. He pretends no partiality for him, but his well-known
sense of justice gives great weight to his slightest word. Said lie :
" Mr. Hardin was highly endowed with the best of all the senses â€”
common sense. He knew mankind, was a sound lawyer, and a keen
The following description is by a Kentuckian, a lawyer, long a resi-
dent of another State, who may well be supposed to express his impar-
tial impression :
" My memory does not go back to a time when the name of Ben Hardin
was not as familiar as a household word in all circles to whirli I was admit-
ted. I left Kentucky, however, at an early age without ever having seen
him. * * * Some seventeen years afterward, I met him at Jackson, Miss.
He came to argue the great case, then pending in the Sui)reme Court, between
S. S. Prentiss and the heirs of Vick, involving the title to valuable property
*Hon. Jesse W. Kincheloe.
"On that visit 1 had a lew words of private conversation with him, in
which he said nothing worthy of remembrance. I had often heard him
described as sloven in dress, and as negHgent respecting external appear-
ance, but I was not prepared for so wide a departure from the customs of
good society as I then witnessed. An old thread-bare, rusty, and dusty blue
coat, which had been a misfit from the first ; a pair of linsey-woolsey panta-
loons, bagging, misfitting, and worn to threads at the extremity from being
trodden under his heels ; coarse shoes, without strings, and which hadap])a-
rently never known blacking. Such was the outer Ben Hardin. I can not
say that a closer inspection of his features and manners did much to remove
the unfavorable impression made by his general contour. His eye had little
expression, his features were stolid, and his movements devoid of grace or
dignity. His general appearance was about that of a plain Kentucky farmer
in his every-day attire."*
To a lawyer and a statesman â€” one who has held the highest office
in his State, and the highest federal office his State can bestow, one
whose attainments and talents have adorned every station he has occu-
pied, to the late John W. Stevenson â€” Mr. Hardin appeared far differ-
" I have rarely known," says he, '"a more remarkable man. As a law-
yer, a debater in a ])opular representative assembly, or as a strong disputant
on the hustings in the discussion of im])ortant constitutional (juestions before
the peo])le, like the Old and New Court (piestion, or the cut and thrust of
political controversy, Mr. Hardin had few equals. So, too, he was a leader
in every deliberative body of which he was a member.
"Mr. Hardin's success was in some degree attributable to his strong
judgment, sterling common sense, and his accurate knowledge of human
nature. Always ready, original, and suggestive, he was quick, sagacious,
and powerful. He seized upon the strong point of his case, and held on to
it with a i)Ower and force that was wonderful. Mr, Hardin professed to
despise all efforts at eloquence or display, and disdained all ornament. He
spoke with a clearness, directness, and strength that was exceedingly attract-
ive. His mind was well stored with information, and he had a memory as
wonderful as it was accurate. He seemed to forget nothing. He was often
keenly sarcastic and severe â€” not excited or petulant, but cool, classical, and
"Most unfortunate, too, was it for him on whom his sarcasm fell. In
the memorable contest which Mr. Hardin, as secretary of State, had with
( Governor Owsley, he, in his defense before a committee of that body, deliv-
ered a speech, which for power, interest, sarcasm, and originality was une-
qualed since the days of Edmund Burke. Never have T heard a speech
whose popular effect was more overwhelming.
â™¦Preston Hay, of Mississippi.
TRIBUTE OI- A WIT TO WIT. 5-7
" Mr. Hardin abounded in anecdote and illustration. I was fond o: him.
I did not overestimate his power. He was agreeable, edifying, and instruct-
ive in conversation ; kind to his friends, Init hostile to those whom he did
not admire. None can deny him rare gifts."
In "Why We Laugh," Hon. Samuel S. Cox, at present United
States minister at the court of the Sultan, gives the following touches
to the character of Mr. Hardin :
"Governor Corwin once told me that Mr. Hardin was the most enter-
taining man he ever knew. He had an exhaustless fund of anecdote, and
with it great natural parts and acquired culture. * * * *
" It is said that Mr. Hardin was a rough-and-ready debater, that his ora-
tory was racy of the Kentucky stump and soil, and that he had more pug-
nacity than polish. He was known by the soubriquet of * Meat-ax Hardin.'
Randolph said of him that he was ' a butcher-knife sharpened on a brick-
bat. ' This is not my impression from the meager report of his speeches or
from the articles now being published about him by Mr. Haycraft, of Eliza.
bethtown, Ky. It is not the true impression.
" Mr. Hardin was a man of disciplined mind. He was not at all of the
Crockett-Boone order. He had a native chivalry and independence which
were a representative of a border class at that day, but he was a man full oi
classic, historic, legal, and other resources. He had the varied armory which
equips for general or special debate. Like a good lawyer, and with a won-
derful memory and quick perception, he was the very man for the " occa.
sion sudden." But he was of the humorous rather than of the witty kind.
The butcher-knife is too coarse and the vendetta dirk too polished to describe
his qualities. * * * It is related of Mr. Buchanan, that in early life he
went to Kentucky to settle. He saw Mr. Hardin in court, dressed in his
unbleached linen, careless and clownish. But he heard him argue, and, turn,
ing from the court-house, he said : ' If such looking men are so smart in Ken-
tucky, it is no place for me.' 'â– 'â– - * -^' *
" Mr. Hardin's allusions to the classics are not infrecpient. He especially
loved Homer, and, as will be seen hereafter, he became indissolubly linked
with one of the Homeric heroes, the 'snarling Thersites.' Caleb Cushing
foreed the link in a irraceful retort. Was this love of the cla.ssics one of the
levers of this Kentuckian over men ?
"It is related of him that when one of his own side made a speech, he
took his hat and left the House. But when Rufus Choate began his first
mellifluous speech, this ' meat-a.x: ' man lingered and listened, and. listen-
ing, was lost in rapture. This demi-god of the Western hustings sits fasci-
nated and enmeshed by the involutions, all full of dejJth, and all starred
with learning, with which Choate delighted his ear and mind. Was there
no refined susceptibility in tliis rough and hardy man ? Choate brought the
music out of his soul, as the wind does out of the woods. He held Hardin
as with the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. It was done by no other
necromancy than the silver tongue and golden thought, interwoven and
intertwisted by a skill that would puzzle a Genoese filigree-worker."
A distinguished lawyer and ex-meoiber of a former presidential cabi-
net, Hon. Joseph Holt, writes that he does not "feel that he could
contribute any information in illustration of Mr. Hardin's character,"
yet he adds : " He was a man of the most marked individuality of
character, and this individuality was constantly maintained. He was
uniformly kind to me, both personally and professionally, so that,
with a f^lowing admiration of his wonderful intellectual gifts, the recol-
lection of him that I cherish is at once grateful and affectionate."
* Colonel Alfred Allen, of the Hardinsburg bar, once prominent
in State politics, and formerly American minister to China, from his
boyhood knew Mr. Hardin. In a letter to the author, among other
things, he says :
"Mr. Hardin's clothes were loose and ill-fitting, although always made
of the best material suitable to the season. He was studious, and liked all
sorts of reading matter, especially history. He was a splendid historian,
and had a taste for fiction, whether in prose or verse, although his quota-
tions were mostly from the Old Testament, the old poets, and ancient
history. His quotations were always apropos and striking. He never had
justice done him as a man of letters. I can not just now remember suffi-
cient to quote a specimen of his pathos, but do remember that his pathos,
in its place, was as melting as his wit was brilliant and inspiriting."
In a lecture by Colonel James P. Barbour, before the Historical
Society of Lebanon, Ky., in March, 1885, on the subject of Mr. Har-
din's life and character, the speaker commented as follows :
" Mr. Hardin's education has been criticised and underrated, and it is
true that he had not the advantages that the young men of this generation
enjoy. But, with the foundation laid by his teachers in his mother tongue
and in the classics, added to his great natural endowments, his extensive read-
ing, etc., I think that in listening to one of his great speeches the keenest
observer would hardly recognize that the speaker was really suffering from
any embarrassment in that line.
"There was never a more original speaker than Mr. Hardin. Whether
in arc^ument or illustration, in logic or humor, his style and methods were
* President Lincoln, born in the region where Mr. Hardin spent his life, and familiar with his name
and fame from his earliest years, always expressed the heartiest admiration for his talents and genius,
and sometimes entertained his friends by repeating extracts from his speeches.
A DIASYRM. cyq
all his own. It has been said that 'brevity is the soul of wit.' With this
definition admitted, he was certainly not a wit, but in humor and anecdote
he had few, if any, equals, and in these his methods and execution were
"He was emphatically a man of the people, the common people, that
middle class of virtue and intelligence that constitutes the great mass of our
population. With these his tastes were congenial, with them he loved to
associate. From them many of the common sense ideas and happy illustra-
tions that distinguished his most taking speeches were drawn. There was
nothing aristocratic about him either in dress or bearing."
Recently the accomplished writer and author. Dr. Rob Morris, of
Lagrange, Ky., contributed a series of papers to the leading daily of
the State, entitled "Jesters With Whom I Have Jested." From one
of those papers the following extracts are made :
"As I remember him, Ben Hardin was singularly attractive in person
and manner. The pert and nimble spirit of mirth seemed to surround him
as with a halo. His eyes were piercingly bright. His forehead was capa-
cious and square. In his prominent cheek bones there was a sucaestion of
the aboriginal, and the same was apparent in his oratory. Yet his good
things were always dehvered in a fine, quaint, graceful fashion, that reminded