twenty-six chapters between the election and the
inauguration of Lincoln which can be left out, and
only the intelligent reader, if such a being exists,
will miss them. Then there are in all some dozen
long chapters of the war in the West, absolutely es-
sential in the history, which can be cut down to a
paragraph in the Magazine. But it ought to be
settled beforehand whether or not you intend to
make these serious abridgments. Neither Nicolay
nor I can write the work over again for the purpose
of saving a half chapter, here and there. You have
his full consent, and mine, to leave out as much as
you like, but we cannot shorten up a chapter to any
extent by rewriting.
This is in the nature of a caveat. If you hereafter
tell us the infernal thing is too long, we will sweetly
answer, "I told you so."
To J. G. Nicolay
Manitou Springs, Colo., July 22, 1888.
I received your letter of the i6th covering Gild-
er's of the 1 2th, with proofs, last evening. I gave
the night to them and mailed them back to him this
morning. I also wired him to cut as he liked. You
40 JOHN HAY
may do with him as you choose about your military
chapters, but, for my part, I am perfectly willing to
have him cut out every military chapter I have writ-
ten. I am sick of the subject, and I fancy the public
is. I will not, however, rewrite the book and boil
them down. Let him leave them all out and settle
the matter with his readers.
159 Water St., Room 8,
Cleveland, O., Sept. 19, 1888.
I see the Century folks have whacked about all
the life out of the November instalment. I have tele-
graphed my approval ā as they requested ā not
because I think they have improved it, but because
I approve every excision, large or small, that brings
us nearer the end. My complaint is that they are
printing too much. They will never get through, at
this rate, in the time contemplated. I think I shall
suggest that they leave out Vicksburg and Gettys-
burg and the Wilderness campaign in toto, on the
ground that Lincoln did not personally direct those
campaigns. As it is, they cut out about every third
paragraph, destroying the significance of a chapter
without gaining materially in space. The Novem-
ber instalment is, you see, only 18 pages.
I avoid calling there when I go to New York, as
our interviews are invariably disagreeable.
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 41
I hope your summer has profited you more than
mine has me. I have lost 10 pounds since June. I
want to get done with this work.
Evidently, Hay was run down, and the foreor-
dained conflict between author and editor irritated
him. An author today who complained that a maga-
zine editor was printing only eighteen pages of one
article in a series of forty, would have to look far
for sympathy. But when the rasping was over, it
left no scars. He and Gilder remained fast friends
To J. G. Nicolay
Knickerbocker Club, N.Y.,
April 15, 1889.
I told Gilder that he could cut and slash all he
liked, provided we were to do nothing in the way of
rewriting. He expressed his thanks for the permis-
sion, but thought he would not need to avail himself
of it. They are all very cheery in the office about it.
I saw D. [Charles A. Dana?] this morning. He
was quite curious about the process of collaboration,
ā said he had read it all thus far and could see no
difference in manner or style. There is a singular
proof of the nullity of criticism ā coming as it does
from one of the first critics of the age. I gave him no
42 JOHN HAY
satisfaction, but told him I thought no one would
be able to say where one left off and the other
Whitman's lecture ^ yesterday was quite interest-
ing as to audience and accessories. The lecture it-
self is about all in print, ā nothing whatever new.
The Tribune this morning, speaking of the lecture,
calls Lincoln ''this country's greatest President" ā
. . . Let me make one suggestion. In preparing for
the chapters yet to be written, prepare ā as far as
possible ā so that either of us can do the mere writ-
ing, when the time comes, without having to go all
over the subject again. If I come back well next fall,
I may be able, after finishing those I have allotted
myself, to turn in and lend a hand to yours, if you
find it then necessary to spare yourself. In that case
it would be much easier to deal with a few envelopes
than with a library.
That summer the Hays spent in England. Al-
though Hay came back refreshed, he felt more and
more the burden of the History, and the feverish
desire, common to the nerve-harried, to be through
with it, grew on him.
* Several times in his last years Walt Whitman gave his Lin-
coln lecture on the anniversary of the assassination.
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 43
To Henry Adams
London, August 4, 1889.
... I am as anxious to get home and get through
as ever I was to take my quinine when I was young,
and have done. They send me an occasional column
of abuse from some friend of McClellan or Chase
and I can only wonder at the merciful Providence
which keeps my critics away from the weak joints
in my armor. Laws-a-mercy ! If I had the criticising
of that book, what a skinning I could give it! I can't
amend it, but I could ereinter it ā de la belle maniere.
There is nothing left but to read proof and get it
printed, which will take six months, ā forgotten,
which may take six weeks.
From Cleveland, on his return, Hay writes to Mr.
Adams: "The Lincoln peters out in January, and
then there only remains the revision and proof-
reading of the latter half of the impregnable volumes.
You will get through first because you are U7ius
sed leo.'' ^
The next letters, to Mr. Lincoln, explain them-
* Mr. Adams was on the point of completing his American his-
44 JOHN HAY
To R. T. Lincoln
Washington, March 5, 1888.
Thank you for the corrections ā all of which I
have of course adopted. The MS. of all the articles
goes to the publisher to-day. I was sorry to bother
you, but I thought it best in every way to consult
you ā and it was.
I am much gratified at what you tell me about Mr.
Lowell; he has after all said the best things about
your father ā but that's what a poet is for.^
We get thus far very little abuse and most of that
is clearly motives.
Washington, D.C, April 12, 1888.
I own a few of your father's MS. which he gave
me from time to time. As long as you and I live I
take it for granted that you will not suspect me of
boning them. But to guard against casualties here-
after, I have asked Nicolay to write you a line
saying that I have never had in my possession or
custody any of the papers which you entrusted to
I have handed over to Nicolay to be placed among
your papers some of those which your father gave
me. The rest, which are few in number, are very
^ James Russell Lowell, in his "Commemoration Ode."
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 45
precious to me, I shall try to make an heirloom in my
family as long as one of my blood exists with money
enough to buy a breakfast.
We are nearly at the end of our life-long task and
I hope you will think your father's fame has not
suffered any wrong at our hands.
Washington, D.C, Dec. 22, 1889.
It has occurred to me that you might like to get
to the end of the Magazine publication of our book,
without waiting a month, so I send you this last
instalment. They are putting the book into type as
fast as we can revise and read the proof, but it is an
enormous job, and will require several months to
complete it. Think of reading, carefully and criti-
cally (stopping every five minutes to make sure of
a fact or a situation), five thousand pages, four
times over! This we have to do, after the book is
The publishers think best to have the whole book
ready before they begin to publish ā they will then
put out the volumes rather rapidly, two at a time.
There will be ten volumes. It will be dedicated to
Now, in very fact, the fifteen-year-long task was
drawing to a close.
46 JOHN HAY
To W. D. Howells
Washington, Jan. 22, 1890.
. . . And how are you? I have worked so hke a
dray-horse of late that I have seen nothing, heard
nothing, read nothing; our proof-reading is half
over. You know nothing about proof-reading, with
you it is the perusal of a charming author, ā no
more; ā with us it is reading an old story, musty
and dry, and jumping up every instant to consult
volumes still mustier, to see if we have volume and
page right in the margin, ā and the dull story right
in the text. I am aweary of it. . . .
Jan. 23, 1890.
I have just read your study on Lincoln, and will
not wait a moment even to see Nicolay , before thank-
ing you. I should be less than human if I were not
pleased with such generous praise from such an au-
thority ; but I am delighted more than I can tell you
in view of the fact that you selected for approval
precisely those features of the work in which, in
our opinion, its success or failure is involved. I
felt that we had not altogether wasted our time
when I read what you say about our sacrifice to
our task, about Lincoln's treatment of McClellan
and his Cabinet ... I like also what you say about
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 47
Lincoln's use of words, and wish I had said it
The work, big as it is, is really a tour de force of
compression. In nine cases out of ten the people who
criticize it blame us for having treated too briefly
this, that, or the other subject, in which they are
On March 18, 1890, Hay writes from Washington
to Mr. Buel, in characteristic phrase, which seems
to indicate a recovery of spirits at the approach of
freedom: "We have been going on gaily for a week,
and I hope we can keep it up. I shall charge my bill
for quinine to you, if you keep me here till the ma-
laria season. None but cats and congressmen can
stand our August sunshine."
To R. W. Gilder
Washington, June 19, 1890,
I have at last yielded to your furious Importunity
and have written an article on ''Life at the White
House in Lincoln's Time." ^ When will you want it?
Nicolay thinks he will write one or two, but cannot
promise them immediately.
I reserve the privilege of using the article as I
please in future, and expect, of course, a monstrous
* Printed in the Century for November, 1890, vol. XLi, pp. 33-37.
48 JOHN HAY
honorarium for it ā enough to put the Magazine
into the hands of a receiver.
This final note to Nicolay shows the ingenuity on
which an author must sometimes rely in order to
meet the printer's exigence.
To J. G. Nicolay
319 Fifth Ave., July 8 .
They have just put the last page in my hands,
twenty minutes before my train starts for Cleve-
land. There seem to be only two things to do:
shorten p. 348 two words and lengthen the last
page a line or two. P. 348 can be shortened by strik-
ing out "calmer nor" in the first line.
I can't on the spur of the moment invent a sen-
tence or two to lengthen the last page. I will see what
I can do when I get to Cleveland.
I could think of no way to put in the fact of your
absence from the deathbed, after the note was sup-
pressed, other than putting it into the text as you
did ā but it looks very awkward there ā as if
dragged in by the ears.
This hurry-scurry at the end is disgusting. I wish
I could have stayed through ā but I thought I had
made allowance enough, in waiting till the 7th.
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 49
It is frightfully hot to-day and I am sick ā been
taking medicine all day to hold me together so as to
get on the train.
Arrived at the station Hay telegraphed Nicolay:
"To fix last page I can introduce on page 350
what Sherman says: General Grant, after having
met the ruler of [almost] every civilized country on
earth, said Lincoln impressed him as the greatest
intellectual force with which he had ever come in
The insertion was made, and so the vast under-
taking was completed.
The Century Company published the work in ten
volumes that autumn, and sold 5000 sets by sub-
scription within a short time. Since then some 1500
more sets have found a market. Not long before his
death in 1901 Nicolay made a one- volume abridg-
ment, which has reached a sale of about 35,000
copies. Remembering the world-wide publicity given
to the installments of the History which appeared in
the Century, it is evident that no other American
historical work has reached so many readers in so
short a time.
Subsequently the authors, at Mr. Gilder's request,
edited Lincoln's letters and speeches, which were
published in 1894.
50 JOHN HAY
The "Lincoln" calls for no critical comment here.
Nicolay and Hay very properly affixed to it the sub-
title, "A History," for only in the broadest sense
is it a biography. Rather is it an historical quarry
or encyclopedia, to be judged piecemeal, chapter
by chapter, as the builder tests each block of marble,
and not in its entirety, as a finished edifice. Any-
body can point out where it errs in proportion, or
lacks charm ; or where the narrative, instead of flow-
ing forward like a river, seems to stagnate in a lagoon
or to lose itself in some subterranean channel; or
where it suffers from repetition; but such censure
would be beside the mark. The value of the "Lin-
coln" lies in its substance, which is priceless.
Some of its readers have thought they could sort
Hay's chapters from Nicolay's, by the touchstone
of style. The clues I have furnished may enlighten
them. Certainly, Hay's characteristic style ā which
sparkles in "Castilian Days," in passages of "The
Bread-Winners," and in the best letters in the pre-
sent volumes ā rarely peeps through in the pages of
the "Lincoln," where he and Nicolay seem to aim
at being as unindividual as possible. When Hay was
driven to dictation ā the foe to durable writing ā
he further depersonalized his style. Nevertheless,
the great work seldom falls below an excellent aver-
age, and, upon occasion, it rises to a high level. It
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY" 51
will outlast all other histories of the period, and be
kept alive as long as Abraham Lincoln's name sur-
vives. As the Lincoln Legend grows, men will turn
again and again to the record af the two young sec-
retaries who walked and talked with him, saw him
most intimately as man, as statesman, and as savior
of Democracy, and came to revere and love him as
a hero-friend: for no other source can rival theirs.
THE WASHINGTON CIRCLE
THE reader cannot fail to have observed the
quality of casualness in John Hay's Hfe.
Fitted to do many things extremely well, he pur-
sued no one thing long, except the Lincoln history.
Even while he was toiling on that, he appeared to be
engaged on a side-issue rather than on what would
have been, for almost any one else, the culmination
of his life-work. Hay was not an amateur, but he
managed to retain the freshness and ease, and the
freedom from pedantic insistence, which make the
charm of the amateur spirit. Real superiority is so
rare that Americans will only grudgingly admit that
a man may succeed in more than one field. The dip-
lomat must not shine as a novelist or the historian
win a separate fame as a dialect poet : the metropoli-
tan editor must not be confounded with the author
of a fascinating volume of sketches of travel. Hay
discovered all these forbidden combinations ; and as
each achievement left him still unexhausted, he came
to have the air of one who was waiting for an enter-
prise to which he could devote himself heart and soul.
Perhaps it was this which led those who saw only the
THE WASHINGTON CIRCLE 53
surface to surmise, that, as he advanced far into
middle Hfe, he was by preference a man of the world,
a dilettante, a delightful companion when the mood
favored, but not really serious.
No doubt, fortune helped to spread this mis-
conception: because, after the death of Mr. Stone,
who had always given the Hays a liberal allowance,
Mrs. Hay's inheritance made them rich. Then it
was that Hay and his friend Mr. Henry Adams built
their houses side by side on Lafayette Square, em-
ploying as architect Henry H. Richardson, foremost
in his profession, and one of the few American archi-
tects whose talent was so assured that he could bor-
row from the old masters of Europe without having
his borrowing appear mere theft, clumsy and pal-
pable. Washington became thenceforth the home of
Friendship for Mr. Adams was the magnet which
first drew and then held them there. He, the son of the
consummate American Minister to England during
the Civil War, was born in the same year as Hay, and
represented in his derivation the essence of old Bos-
ton, ā of those vigorous, blunt, hard-headed, fear-
less and far-sighted men who led the colony of Mas-
sachusetts into the Revolution, and then shared with
Virginia in leading the Republic. His grandfather
and great-grandfather were Presidents of the United
54 JOHN HAY
States. He himself had gone through Harvard Col-
lege; had served his father as secretary in London;
had known all sorts of English society ā including
the best ; had taught history for seven years at Har-
vard in a way that history had never been taught
before in America; had edited the North American
Review for six years ; and in 1877 had settled in Wash-
ington, convinced, he says, that, "as far as he had
a function in life, it was as stable-companion to
statesmen, whether they liked it or not."
His acquaintance with John Hay, begun many
years before, ripened into the closest friendship. No
other person exercised so profound an influence on
Hay; no other kindled in him such a strong and abid-
ing devotion. Living side by side on H Street, they
made almost a common house. Very dissimilar in
temperament, their tastes bound them together ā
their tastes, and their delight in each other's differ-
ences. Mr. Adams was the more learned, the more
systematic in reasoning, the more resolute and care-
ful in coordinating his knowledge. Life to him was
a cosmic exploration, and when he found himself
baffled in reaching port, he accepted, without flinch-
ing, but not in silence, the sentence of agnosticism.
His autobiography passes from the plane of humor
to that of irony, which he came to inhabit perma-
nently. Fate, he sees, has played a sardonic trick on
THE WASHINGTON CIRCLE 55
him, ā and on all of us, ā in summoning us into
life; but the jest becomes all the more sardonic for
him, because he, unlike the majority, sees that it is
a jest and nothing more.
Whatever his ultimate convictions, however, Mr.
Adams's tastes were too strong and too various to
permit him to stagnate. His intellectual curiosity
never flagged. He loved the fine arts, with a love
controlled by careful study. He not only knew the
contents of books, but had regard for the beauty of
their make. As happens sometimes in the case of
persons without special scientific training, he took
an almost passionate interest in the large specula-
tions of science. He attracted men of natures so dis-
similar that their only common bond might be their
friendship for him.
Mrs. Adams was an admirable ally to him in mak-
ing their house a unique place in Washington; and
more than in Washington, for nowhere in the United
States was there then, or has there since been, such
a salon as theirs. Sooner or later, everybody who
possessed real quality crossed the threshold of 1603
H Street. There was no lionizing. Notoriety gained
no admission. Host and hostess were fastidious, and
only the select came to them. Mr. Adams sought no-
body out; he regarded himself as solitary, and knew
very well that official Washington cared nothing
56 JOHN HAY
for him, and little enough for the intellectual sphere
in which he lived.
Still, the best reached him. One by one, Richard-
son the architect, Saint-Gaudens the sculptor, John
La Farge and John Sargent the painters, and many
a writer, American or foreign, found their way up
to his library. In Washington itself a few of the offi-
cial world became familiars ā Senators Lodge and
Cameron with their wives, and Mr. and Mrs. Theo-
dore Roosevelt, being among them. But the two
chosen friends were John Hay and Clarence King.
Hay we know. Of King, Mr. Adams has written
many noble praises: what, for instance, could be
better than the following characterization?
"King had everything to interest and delight
Adams. He knew more than Adams did of art and
poetry; he knew America, especially west of the hun-
dredth meridian, better than anyone; he knew the
professor by heart, and he knew the Congressman
better than he did the professor. He knew even
women; even the American woman; even the New
York woman, which is saying much. Incidentally
he knew more practical geology than was good for
him, and saw ahead at least one generation further
than the text-books. That he saw right was a dif-
ferent matter. Since the beginning of time no man
has lived who is known to have seen right; the
THE WASHINGTON CIRCLE 57
charm of King was that he saw what others did and
a great deal more. His wit and humor; his bubbling
energy which swept everyone into the current of his
interest ; his personal charm of youth and manners ;
his faculty of giving and taking, profusely, lavishly,
whether in thought or in money, as though he were
nature herself, marked him almost alone among
Americans. He had in him something of the Greek,
ā a touch of Alcibiades or Alexander. One Clarence
King only existed in the world." ^
Mr. Adams goes on to mention some of King's
attainments, and adds: "Whatever prize he wanted
lay ready for him, ā scientific, social, literary, politi-
cal, ā and he knew how to take them in turn. With
ordinary luck he would die at eighty the richest and
most many-sided genius of his day. So little egois-
tic he was that none of his friends felt envy of his
extraordinary superiority, but rather grovelled be-
fore it, so that women were jealous of the power he
had over men; but women were many and Kings
were one. The men worshiped not so much their
friend, as the ideal American they all wanted to be.
The women were jealous because, at heart, King
had no faith in the American woman; he loved types
more robust." ^
These two. King and Adams, were the companions
^ Education of Henry Adams, p. 271. * Ibid., 272.
58 JOHN HAY
of Hay's later life. King came and went, Ariel fash-
ion, according as his geological duties called him to or
fro over the continent: but Hay and Mr. Adams were
well-nigh inseparable ; and a day seldom passed when
they did not see each other. The Adamses had no
children, but to the young Hays and the young
Lodges Mr. Adams was always "Uncle Henry " ; with
the sure intuition of children they saw only his kind-
liness, where strangers were awed by his brusque-
ness. He and Hay took their constitutional together
every afternoon; Hay stopped for Adams, and then
off they went, ā Hay with one arm crooked behind
his back, ā two small men, busily discussing great
topics, or, quite as likely, the fleeting events of the
During the eighties, Mr. Adams was engaged on
his History of the Jefferson and Madison Adminis-
trations, and Hay was collaborating with Nicolay
on the Lincoln biography ; but they both found leisure
for social and other distractions. The Adamses, the
Hays, and Clarence King formed an inner circle,
which somebody named ''The Five of Hearts," and
out of this came, in 1882, a novel entitled "Demo-
cracy," a strikingly clever satire on Washington so-
ciety. Its authorship was at once attributed to them,
but one after another denied it. If it was a joint pro-
duct no individual could monopolize the credit; and
THE WASHINGTON CIRCLE 59
as it seems to have been read chapter by. chapter to
the group, and discussed by them all, it might be
said, technically, to be a composite. Clarence King is
still commonly regarded as its author; and there are
many supporters of Hay; but I believe that only
Mr. Adams possessed the substance, and style, and
the gift of Voltairean raillery which distinguish it.
At the end of 1885, the sudden death of Mrs.
Adams occurred while the Hays and King were ab-
sent from Washington. Hay telegraphed at once;
he was too late, however, to attend the funeral.
To Henry Adams
New York, Dec. 9, 1885.
My dear Henry: ā
I hoped all day yesterday and this morning to hear
from you, and thought it possible you might sum-