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day, as "resting," seated in almost the exact attitude of
the "weary Mercury" of classic sculpture, with a marked
expression of fatigue upon his countenance and in the
whole disposition of his body. 1

During this journey, having revisited Orvieto, Perugia,

1 1 have given a more full discussion of this subject in my " History
of the Warfare of Science with Theology," Vol. I, p. 3.

ITALY- 1894 457

and Assisi, I returned to Florence, and again enjoyed
the society of my old friends, Professor Willard Fiske,
Professor Villari, with his accomplished wife, and Judge
Stallo, former minister of the United States in Rome.

The great event of this stay was an earthquake. Seated
on a pleasant April evening in my rooms at the house
built by Adolphus Trollope, near the Piazza dell' Inde-
pendenza, I heard what seemed at first the rising of a
storm; then the rushing of a mighty wind; then, as it
grew stronger, apparently the gallop of a corps of cav-
alry in the neighboring avenue ; but, almost instantly, it
seemed to change into the onrush of a corps of artillery,
and, a moment later, to strike the house, lifting its foun-
dations as if by some mighty hand, and swaying it to and
fro, everything creaking, groaning, rattling, and seeming
likely to fall in upon us. This movement to and fro, with
crashing and screaming inside and outside the house,
continued, as it seemed to me, about twenty minutes
as a matter of fact, it lasted hardly seven seconds; but
certainly it was the longest seven seconds I have ever
known. At the first uplift of the seismic wave my wife
and I rose from our seats, I saying, " Stand perfectly
still. ' ' Thenceforward, not a word was uttered by either
of us until all was over; but many thoughts came, the
dominant feeling being a sense of our helplessness in
the presence of the great powers of nature. Neither of
us had any hope of escaping alive; but we calmly ac-
cepted the inevitable, thinking each moment would be
the last. As I look back, our resignation and perfect
quiet still surprise me. That room, at the corner of the
Villino Trollope, which an ill-founded legend makes the
place where George Eliot wrote "Romola," is to me
sacred, as the place where we two passed "from death
unto life."

Nearly all that night we remained near the doors of
the house, ready to escape any new shocks ; but only one
or two came, and those very light. Crowds of the popu-
lation remained out of doors, many dwellers in hotels


taking refuge in carriages and cabs, and staying in them
through the night.

Next morning I walked forth to find what had hap-
pened, first to the cathedral, to see if anything was
left of Giotto 's tower and Brunelleschi 's dome, and, to my
great joy, found them standing; but, as I entered the vast
building, I saw one of the enormous iron bars which take
the thrust of the wide arches of the nave pulled apart
and broken as if it had been pack-thread; there were
also a few cracks in one of the piers supporting the dome,
but all else was as before.

At the Palazzo Strozzi a crowd of people were examin-
ing sundry crevices which had been made in its mighty
walls: and at various villas in the neighborhood, espe-
cially those on the road to San Miniato, I found that the
damage had been much worse. A part of the tower of
one villa, occupied by an English lady of literary distinc-
tion, had been thrown down, crashing directly through
one of the upper rooms, but causing no loss of life; the
villa of Judge Stallo, at the Porta Romana, was so
wrecked that he was obliged to leave it ; and in the house
of another friend a heavy German stove on the upper
floor, having been thrown over, had come down through
the ceiling of the main parlor, crashing through the grand
piano, and thence into the cellar, without injury to any
person. One of the professors whom I afterward met
told me that he was giving a dinner-party when, suddenly,
the house was lifted and shaken to and fro, the chandeliers
swinging, broken glass crashing, and the ladies scream-
ing, and in a moment, a portion of the outer wall gave
way, but fortunately fell outward, so that the guests
scrambled forth over the ruins, and passed the night in
the garden. Perhaps the worst damage was wrought at
the Convent of the Certosa, where some of the beautiful
old work was irreparably injured.

It was very difficult next morning to get any real in-
formation from the newspapers. They claimed that but
three persons lost their lives in the city: it was clearly


thought best to minimize the damage done, lest the stream
of travel might be scared away. I remarked at the time
that we should never know fully what had occurred until
we received the American papers ; and, curiously enough,
several weeks afterward a Californian showed me a
very full and minute account of the whole calamity, with
careful details, given in the telegraphic reports of a San
Francisco newspaper on the very morning after the

On the way to America I passed a short time, during
the month of June, in London, meeting various interest-
ing people, a most pleasant occasion to me being a dinner
given by Mr. Bayard, the American minister, at which
I met my classmate Wayne MacVeagh, formerly attorney-
general of the United States, minister to Constantinople,
and ambassador to Rome, full, as usual, of interesting
reminiscence and witty suggestion. Very interesting also
to me was a talk with Mr. Holman Hunt, the eminent
pre-Raphaelite artist. He told me much of Tennyson,
dwelling upon his morbid fear that people would stare
at him. He also gave an account of his meeting with
Ruskin at Venice, when Ruskin took Hunt to task for
not having come to see him more frequently in London;
to which Hunt replied that, for one reason, he was very
busy, and that, for another, he did not wish to be classed
with the toadies who swarmed about Ruskin. Whereupon
Ruskin said that Hunt was right regarding the char-
acter of most of the people about him. Hunt also spoke
of the ill treatment of his beautiful picture, "The Light
of the World. ' ' From him, or from another source about
that time, I learned that formerly the Keble College peo-
ple had made much of it ; but that, some one having inter-
preted the rays passing through the different openings
of the lantern in Christ's hand as typifying truth shining
through different religious conceptions, the owners of the
picture distrusted it, and had recently refused to allow its
exhibition in London.

It surprised me to find Holman Hunt so absorbed in


his own art that he apparently knew next to nothing about
that of other European masters, nothing of Puvis de
Chavannes at Paris ; nothing of Menzel, Knaus, and Wer-
ner at Berlin.

Having returned to America, I was soon settled in my
old homestead at Cornell, as I supposed for the rest of
my life. Very delightful to me during this as well as
other sojourns at Cornell after my presidency were sun-
dry visits to American universities at which I was asked
to read papers or make addresses. Of these I may
mention Harvard, Yale, and the State universities of
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, at each of which
I addressed bodies of students on subjects which seemed
to me important, among these "The Diplomatic Ser-
vice of the United States, ' ' ' * Democracy and Education, ' '
"Evolution vs. Revolution in Politics," and "The Prob-
lem of High Crime in the United States." To me, as an
American citizen earnestly desiring a noble future for
my country, it was one of the greatest of pleasures to look
into the faces of those large audiences of vigorous young
men and women, and, above all, at the State universities
of the West, which are to act so powerfully through so
many channels of influence in this new century. The
last of the subjects above-named interested me painfully,
and I was asked to present it to large general audiences,
and not infrequently to the congregations of churches. I
had become convinced that looseness in the administra-
tion of our criminal law is one of the more serious dan-
gers to American society, and my earlier studies in this
field were strengthened by my observations in the com-
munities I had visited during the long journey through
our Southern and Pacific States, to which I have just
referred. Of this I shall speak later.

Returning to Washington in February of 1897, 1 joined
the Venezuela Commission in presenting its report to the
President and Secretary of State, and so ended my duties
under the administration of Mr. Cleveland. Of my con-
nection with the political campaign of 1896 I have spoken


elsewhere. In May of 1897, having been appointed by
President McKinley ambassador to Berlin, I sailed for
Europe, and my journeys since that time have consisted
mainly of excursions to interesting historical localities
in Germany, with several short vacations in the prin-
cipal towns of northern Italy, upon the Riviera, and in



HUMAN FOLLY 1869-1870

THE traveler from New York to Niagara by the north-
ern route is generally disappointed in the second
half of his journey. During the earlier hours of the day,
moving rapidly up the valleys, first of the Hudson and
next of the Mohawk, he passes through a succession of
landscapes striking or pleasing, and of places interesting
from their relations to the French and Revolutionary
wars. But, arriving at the middle point of his journey,
the head waters of the Mohawk, a disenchantment be-
gins. Thenceforward he passes through a country tame,
monotonous, and with cities and villages as uninterest-
ing in their appearance as in their names ; the latter be-
ing taken, apparently without rhyme or reason, from the
classical dictionary or the school geography.

And yet, during all that second half of his excursion,
he is passing almost within musket-shot of one of the
most beautiful regions of the Northern States, the lake
country of central and western New York.

It is made up of a succession of valleys running from
south to north, and lying generally side by side, each
with a beauty of its own. Some, like the Oneida and the
Genesee, are broad expanses under thorough cultivation ;
others, like the Cayuga and Seneca, show sheets of water
long and wide, their shores sometimes indented with
glens and gorges, and sometimes rising with pleasant
slopes to the wooded hills; in others still, as the Caze-
novia, Skaneateles, Owasco, Keuka, and Canandaigua,

II. 30 465


smaller lakes are set, like gems, among vineyards and
groves; and in others shimmering streams go winding
through corn-fields and orchards fringed by the forest.

Of this last sort is the Onondaga valley. It lies just at
the center of the State, and, although it has at its northern
entrance the most thriving city between New York and
Buffalo, it preserves a remarkable character of peaceful

It is also interesting historically. Here was the seat
the "long house" of the Onondagas, the central tribe
of the Iroquois ; here, from time immemorial, were held
the councils which decided on a warlike or peaceful policy
for their great confederation; hither, in the seventeenth
century, came the Jesuits, and among them some who
stand high on the roll of martyrs; hither, toward the
end of the eighteenth century, came Chateaubriand, who
has given in his memoirs his melancholy musings on the
shores of Onondaga Lake, and his conversation with the
chief sachem of the Onondaga tribe; hither, in the early
years of this century, came the companion of Alexis de
Tocqueville, Gustave de Beaumont, who has given in his
letters the thoughts aroused within him in this region,
made sacred to him by the sorrows of refugees from the
French Revolution.

It is a land of peace. The remnant of the Indians live
quietly upon their reservation, Christians and pagans
uniting harmoniously, on broad-church principles, in the
celebration of Christmas and in the sacrifice of the white
dog to the Great Spirit.

The surrounding farmers devote themselves in peace
to their vocation. A noted academy, which has sent out
many of their children to take high places in their own
and other States, stands in the heart of the valley, and
little red school-houses are suitably scattered. Cling-
ing to the hills on either side are hamlets like Onondaga,
Pompey, and Otisco, which in summer remind one of the
villages upon the lesser slopes of the Apennines. It
would be hard to find a more typical American popula-


tion of the best sort the sort which made Thomas Jef-
ferson believe in democracy. It is largely of New Eng-
land ancestry, with a free admixture of the better sort
of more recent immigrants. It was my good fortune, dur-
ing several years, to know many of these dwellers in
the valley, and perhaps I am prejudiced in their favor
by the fact that in my early days they listened very le-
niently to my political and literary addresses, and twice
sent me to the Senate of the State with a large majority.

But truth, even more than friendship, compels this
tribute to their merits. Good influences have long been
at work among them : in the little cemetery near the val-
ley church is the grave of one of their early pastors, a
quiet scholar, the Rev. Caleb Alexander, who edited the
first edition of the Greek Testament ever published in
the United States.

I have known one of these farmers, week after week,
during the storms of a hard winter, drive four miles to
borrow a volume of Scott's novels, and, what is better,
drive four miles each week to return it. They are a peo-
ple who read and think, and who can be relied on, in the
long run, to take the sensible view of any question.

They have done more than read and think. They took a
leading part in raising regiments and batteries for the
Civil War, and their stalwart sons went valiantly forth
as volunteers. The Onondaga regiments distinguished
themselves on many a hard-fought field; they learned
what war was like at Bull Run, and used their knowledge
to good purpose at Lookout Mountain, Five Forks, and
Gettysburg. Typical is the fact that one of these regi-
ments was led by a valley schoolmaster, a man who,
having been shot through the body, reported dead, and
honored with a public commemoration at which eulo-
gies were delivered by various persons, including my-
self, lived to command a brigade, to take part in the
"Battle of the Clouds," where he received a second
wound, and to receive a third wound during the march
with Sherman to the sea.


Best of all, after the war the surviving soldiers re-
turned, went on with their accustomed vocations, and all
was quiet as before.

But in the autumn l of 1869 this peaceful region was in
commotion from one end to the other. Strange reports
echoed from farm to farm. It was noised abroad that a
great stone statue or petrified giant had been dug up
near the little hamlet of Cardiff, almost at the southern
extremity of the valley; and soon, despite the fact that
the crops were not yet gathered in, and the elections not
yet over, men and women and children were hurrying
from Syracuse and from the farm-houses along the val-
ley to the scene of the great discovery.

I had been absent in a distant State for some weeks,
and, on my return to Syracuse, meeting one of the most
substantial citizens, a highly respected deacon in the
Presbyterian Church, formerly a county judge, I asked
him, in a jocose way, about the new object of interest,
fully expecting that he would join me in a laugh over the
whole matter; but, to my surprise, he became at once
very solemn. He said, "I assure you that this is no
laughing matter; it is a very serious thing, indeed;
there is no question that an amazing discovery has been
made, and I advise you to go down and see what you
think of it."

Next morning, my brother and myself were speeding,
after a fast trotter in a light buggy, through the valley
to the scene of the discovery; and as we went we saw
more and more, on every side, evidences of enormous
popular interest. The roads were crowded with buggies,
carriages, and even omnibuses from the city, and with
lumber-wagons from the farms all laden with passen-
gers. In about two hours we arrived at the Newell farm,
and found a gathering which at first sight seemed like a
county fair. In the midst was a tent, and a crowd was
pressing for admission. Entering, we saw a large pit or
grave, and, at the bottom of it, perhaps five feet below

1 October 16.

THE CARDIFF GIANT-1869-1870 - 469

the surface, an enormous figure, apparently of Onon-
daga gray limestone. It was a stone giant, with massive
features, the whole body nude, the limbs contracted as
if in agony. It had a color as if it had lain long in the
earth, and over its surface were minute punctures, like
pores. An especial appearance of great age was given
it by deep grooves and channels in its under side, ap-
parently worn by the water which flowed in streams
through the earth and along the rock on which the figure
rested. Lying in its grave, with the subdued light from
the roof of the tent falling upon it, and with the limbs
contorted as if in a death struggle, it produced a most
weird effect. An air of great solemnity pervaded the
place. Visitors hardly spoke above a whisper.

Coming out, I asked some questions, and was told that
the farmer who lived there had discovered the figure
when digging a well. Being asked my opinion, my an-
swer was that the whole matter was undoubtedly a hoax ;
that there was no reason why the farmer should dig a
well in the spot where the figure was found ; that it was
convenient neither to the house nor to the barn; that
there was already a good spring and a stream of water
running conveniently to both ; that, as to the figure itself,
it certainly could not have been carved by any prehistoric
race, since no part of it showed the characteristics of any
such early work; that, rude as it was, it betrayed the
qualities of a modern performance of a low order.

Nor could it be a fossilized human being; in this all
scientific observers of any note agreed. There was ample
evidence, to one who had seen much sculpture, that it
was carved, and that the man who carved it, though by
no means possessed of genius or talent, had seen casts,
engravings, or photographs of noted sculptures. The
figure, in size, in massiveness, in the drawing up of the
limbs, and in its roughened surface, vaguely reminded
one of Michelangelo 's ' ' Night and Morning. ' ' Of course,
the difference between this crude figure and those great
Medicean statues was infinite; and yet it seemed to me


that the man who had carved this figure must have re-
ceived a hint from those.

It was also clear that the figure was neither intended to
be considered as an idol nor as a monumental statue.
There was no pedestal of any sort on which it could stand,
and the disposition of the limbs and their contortions
were not such as any sculptor would dream of in a figure
to be set up for adoration. That it was intended to be
taken as a fossilized giant was indicated by the fact that
it was made as nearly like a human being as the limited
powers of the stone-carver permitted, and that it was
covered with minute imitations of pores.

Therefore it was that, in spite of all scientific reasons
to the contrary, the work was very generally accepted
as a petrified human being of colossal size, and became
known as "the Cardiff Giant."

One thing seemed to argue strongly in favor of its
antiquity, and I felt bound to confess, to those who asked
my opinion, that it puzzled me. This was the fact that
the surface water flowing beneath it in its grave seemed
to have deeply grooved and channeled it on the under
side. Now the Onondaga gray limestone is hard and
substantial, and on that very account used in the locks
upon the canals : for the running of surface water to wear
such channels in it would require centuries.

Against the opinion that the figure was a hoax various
arguments were used. It was insisted, first, that the
farmer had not the ability to devise such a fraud; sec-
ondly, that he had not the means to execute it ; third, that
his family had lived there steadily for many years, and
were ready to declare under oath that they had never
seen it, and had known nothing of it until it was acciden-
tally discovered; fourth, that the neighbors had never
seen or heard of it ; fifth, that it was preposterous to sup-
pose that such a mass of stone could have been brought
and buried in the place without some one finding it out;
sixth, that the grooves and channels worn in it by the
surface water proved its vast antiquity.

THE CARDIFF GIANT -1869-1870 471

To these considerations others were soon added. Es-
pecially interesting was it to observe the evolution of
myth and legend. Within a week after the discovery,
full-blown statements appeared to the effect that the
neighboring Indians had abundant traditions of giants
who formerly roamed over the hills of Onondaga; and,
finally, the circumstantial story was evolved that an
Onondaga squaw had declared, "in an impressive man-
ner," that the statue "is undoubtedly the petrified body
of a gigantic Indian prophet who flourished many cen-
turies ago and foretold the coming of the palefaces, and
who, just before his own death, said to those about him
that their descendants would see him again. " * To this
were added the reflections of many good people who
found it an edifying confirmation of the biblical text,
"There were giants in those days." There was, indeed,
an undercurrent of skepticism among the harder heads
in the valley, but the prevailing opinion in the region
at large was more and more in favor of the idea that
the object was a fossilized human being a giant of
"those days." Such was the rush to see the figure that
the admission receipts were very large ; it was even stated
that they amounted to five per cent, upon three millions
of dollars, and soon came active men from the neighbor-
ing region who proposed to purchase the figure and ex-
hibit it through the country. A leading spirit in this
"syndicate" deserves mention. He was a horse-dealer
in a large way and banker in a small way from a village
in the next county, a man keen and shrewd, but merci-
ful and kindly, who had fought his way up from abject
poverty, and whose fundamental principle, as he asserted
it, was "Do unto others as they would like to do unto
you, and do it fust." 2 A joint-stock concern was
formed with a considerable capital, and an eminent show-
man, "Colonel" Wood, employed to exploit the wonder.

1 See "The Cardiff Giant Humbug," Fort Dodge, Iowa, 1870, p. 13.

2 For a picture, both amusing and pathetic, of the doings of this man, and
also of life in the central New York villages, see "David Harum," a novel by
E. N. Westcott, New York, 1898.


A week after my first visit I again went to the place, by
invitation. In the crowd on that day were many men of
light and leading from neighboring towns, among them
some who made pretensions to scientific knowledge. The
figure, lying in its grave, deeply impressed all ; and as a
party of us came away, a very excellent doctor of divinity,
pastor of one of the largest churches in Syracuse, said
very impressively, "Is it not strange that any human
being, after seeing this wonderfully preserved figure,
can deny the evidence of his senses, and refuse to believe,
what is so evidently the fact, that we have here a fossilized
human being, perhaps one of the giants mentioned in

Another visitor, a bright-looking lady, was heard to
declare, 1 1 Nothing in the world can ever make me believe
that he was not once a living being. Why, you can see the
veins in his legs." 1

Another prominent clergyman declared with ex ca-
thedra emphasis : ' * This is not a thing contrived of man,
but is the face of one who lived on the earth, the very
image and child of God. ' ' 2 And a writer in one of the
most important daily papers of the region dwelt on the
"majestic simplicity and grandeur of the figure," and
added, "It is not unsafe to affirm that ninety-nine out
of every hundred persons who have seen this wonder
have become immediately and instantly impressed with
the idea that they were in the presence of an object not

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 40 of 54)