James Kendall Hosmer.

The Last Leaf Observations, during Seventy-Five Years, of Men and Events in America and Europe online

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryJames Kendall HosmerThe Last Leaf Observations, during Seventy-Five Years, of Men and Events in America and Europe → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Richter's special fields, and a contribution or two from the
Mississippi Valley, from me. In the talk that followed the dinner Mr.
Bryce showed himself at home in German as much as in English, but what
surprised me most was his puzzling curiosity about minutiae of our own
politics. Why did the Mayor of Oshkosh on such and such dates veto
the propositions of the aldermen as to the gas supply? And why did the
supervisors of Pike County, Missouri, pass such and such ordinances as
regards the keeping of dogs? These, or similar questions were fired at
me rapidly, uttered with a keen attention as to my reply. I was quite
confused and lame on what was supposedly my own ground. How queer, I
thought, was the interest and the knowledge of this stranger. But in
a few months I felt better. _The American Commonwealth_ appeared,
revealing Bryce as a man who had set foot in almost our every State
and Territory, and who had an intimacy with America such as no
American even possessed.

I am speaking here of historians, but may appropriately give a
little space to an account of that wonderful acre or two of ground
at Westminster, where for so many centuries the history of the
English-speaking race has been to such an extent focused.

In looking up Young Sir Henry Vane, it seemed fitting to have some
knowledge of Parliament, and I welcomed the chance when, on the 19th
of August, 1886, Parliament convened. It was a time of agitation. At
the election just previous the Liberals, with Gladstone at the head
of the Cabinet, had undergone defeat and the Conservatives had come in
with Lord Randolph Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The
first night was sure to be full of turmoil and excitement. Through
Mr. Bryce's good offices I had a seat in the Strangers' Gallery. The
student of history must always tread the precincts of Westminster with
awe. There attached to the Abbey is the Chapter House. The central
column divides overhead into the groins that form the arched ceiling,
the stones at its base still bearing a stain from the rubbing elbows
of mediaeval legislators, the floor worn by their hurrying feet, for
from the time of Edward I. the Chapter House remained for centuries
the legislative meeting-place. The old St. Stephen's Chapel to which
Parliament at length removed was burned some eighty years since, but
Westminster Hall, its attachment - the great hall of William Rufus,
escaped and the new buildings of Parliament stand on the site of its
former home. The present House of Commons occupies the ground of the
old Chapel and in size and arrangement differs little from it. The
Hall is small. The seven hundred members seated on the benches which
slope up from the centre, crowd the floor space, while the galleries
for the press at one end, for strangers at the other, and for the use
of the Lords and the Diplomatic corps at the sides give only meagre
accommodation. I passed into the building at nightfall, getting
soul-stirring glimpses into the great area of Westminster Hall, in
which burned only one far-away light. Its grandeur was more impressive
in the dimness than in the glare. The lofty associations of the spot,
coronations of kings, the reverberations of eloquence, the illustrious
victims that had gone out from its tribunal to the scaffold thronged
in my thought as I momentarily paused. But time pressed and I passed
on to the central Hall where I stood in a jostling crowd, absorbed in
the present with little thought of the fine frescoes that lined the
walls or of the history that had been made in that environment. I was
to send in my card to Mr. Bryce and while I stood puzzled as to what
course to take, a good friend came to my side in the person of Sir
Henry Norman. He had not then received his knightly title but was
simply assistant to W.T. Stead on the _Pall Mall Gazette_,
pushing his way, but already marked for a distinguished and eccentric
career. He came to America as a youth and entered the Harvard
Theological School. Inverting his pyramid, after beginning with the
cone, he put in the base, taking up the work of undergraduate, and
studying for an A.B. At Harvard he is best remembered as Creon in
the _Oedipus Tyrannus_, where his handsome face and figure and
mellifluous Greek won much admiration. Soon after, he cast to the
winds both his Greek and theology and was in London fighting his way
in the Press. Since then he has become famous for Oriental travel and
observation, in which field he is an authority, and also as a member
of Parliament. A friendship with him had been conciliated for me by a
good letter from Edwin D. Mead, and I was glad to have him by my side
that night. Through his help I soon was in the hands of Mr. Bryce and
under his guidance found the way to my appointed seat. The House was
in an uproar as I entered and from my point of vantage I looked down
upon the scene, undignified, but full of most virile life. At the
opposite end of the Hall sat Speaker Peel, in gown and wig, his
sonorous cries of "Order! order!" availing little it seemed, to quiet
the assembly. In the centre of the Chamber stood the famous table,
the mace reposing at the end, the symbol that the House was in formal
session. On one side sat the members of the new Cabinet, the foremost
and most interesting figure, Lord Randolph Churchill. Opposite to
them across the width of the table were the leaders of the opposition,
Gladstone at the fore. The benches were densely crowded with members.
Under my feet where I could not see them were the Irish members, not
visible but noisily audible. Many men of note were in their seats that
night. A powerful voice was ringing through the Chamber as I took my
seat, which I soon found was that of Bradlaugh. His utterance was a
sustained declamation. But there were ejaculations, sometimes mere
hoots and cat-calls, sometimes crisply-shouted sentences rose into the
air. "I belong to a society for the abolition of the House of Lords,"
came thundering up. It was from Sir Wilfred Lawson, the radical from
Carlisle, whose statue now stands on the Thames Embankment. Lord
Randolph Churchill made that night what I suppose was the great speech
of his life, for some two hours facing the Irish members waging a
forensic battle, memorable for even the House of Commons. From my
perch I looked directly into his face at a distance of not many feet
as he confronted the Irish crowd. Rather short of stature, he was a
compact figure, and his face had in it combative energy as the marked
characteristic. He outlined the policy of the new government with
serene indifference to the stormy disapproval which almost every
sentence evoked. When the outcry became deafening, he paused with a
grim smile on his bull-dog face until the interruption wore itself
out. "This disturbance makes no difference to me," he would quietly
say, "I am only sorry to have the time of the House wasted in such
unreasonable fashion." Then would come another prod and a new chorus
of howls rolling thunderously from the cavern under my feet. It is
not in line with my present plan to describe this speech; that may be
found in Hansard under the date. I touch only on the outside manner
as he fought his fight. It was a fine example of cool, imperturbable,
unshrinking assault, and I thought that in some such way his ancestor,
the great Duke of Marlboro, might have ruled the hour at Blenheim and
Malplaquet. Many years after it fell to me to introduce to an audience
his son Winston Churchill who, when his father was Chancellor of the
Exchequer, was a schoolboy at Harrow. I took occasion to describe
briefly the battle I had seen his father wage at Westminster. It
pleased Winston Churchill then fresh from the fields of South Africa.
"That was indeed a great speech of my father's," he said. Since then
the son has developed into a combatant probably not less formidable
than his forebears.

This was well worth while for me, desiring to see the Parliament of
England in its most interesting moods, but something came later which
I treasure more. While the conflict proceeded, in his place near
the mace but a yard or two distant from the conspicuous figure sat
Gladstone. I had seen him enter the House, a massive frame dressed in
a dark frock-coat which hung handsomely upon his broad shoulders, with
the strong head and face above, set in a lion-like mane of disordered
hair. He sat unmoved and quiet throughout the conflict as he might
have done at a ladies' tea-party, but now he rose to speak. At once
complete silence pervaded the Chamber. I believe I have never seen so
impressive an exhibition of the power of a great personality. Foes as
well as friends waited almost breathless for the words that were to
come. It was a time of crisis. He had just met defeat. What could the
discredited leader say?

He began in a voice scarcely above a whisper, though in the silence it
was distinctly audible, but the tones strengthened and deepened as he
proceeded. His audience hung upon his every word, and so he discoursed
for half an hour. It was not a great speech, - a series of calm,
unimpassioned statements in which clearness of phrase and absolute
abstention from aggressive attack upon his opponents were the most
marked characteristics. It was courteous toward friend and foe,
and foes no less than friends received each clear-cut sentence with
attention most respectful. I was a bit disappointed not to see the old
lion aroused and in his grandeur. But it is a thing to prize that I
witnessed a manifestation made in his full strength and in the acme of
his dominance. It was worth while to see that even in no great mood,
the force of his leadership was recognised and reserve power of the
man fully felt. Like every Achilles, Gladstone was held by the heel
when dipped. One may well feel that he came short as a theologian. The
scholars slight his Homeric disquisitions. Consistency was a virtue
which he probably too often scouted, but his high purpose, his
spotlessness of spirit, and strong control of men no one can gainsay.
In the slang of the street of that time he was the "G.O.M.," the Grand
Old Man as well to those who fought him as to those who loved him.
An impressive incident of the session occurred in the address of the
"Mover of the Queen's Speech." The orator in brilliant court attire,
a suit of plum-coloured velvet with full wig and small-clothes which
seemed almost the only bit of colour in the soberly, sometimes rather
shabbily, dressed assemblage, a costume which through long tradition
attaches to the function which he discharged, prefaced his remarks
with this tribute: "However we may differ from the honourable member
for Midlothian, we are all willing to admit that he is the most
illustrious of living Englishmen." In spite of the general bitterness
of the tumultuous controversy, one felt that there lay beneath it
all a certain fine magnanimity. Both Liberal and Tory believed in
the substantial patriotism and good purpose of the adversary as a
fundamental concession and that all were seeking the best welfare
of England. The differences regarded only the expedients which were
proper for the moment. One could see that foes furious in the arena
might at the same time be closest personal friends. It was not a
riddle that in the tea-rooms and the smoking-rooms Greek and Trojan
could sit together in friendly _tête-à-tête_, or that such
incidents could occur as the genial congratulations extended by
Gladstone to Joseph Chamberlain over the fine promise of his son
Austin Chamberlain making his début in Parliament; congratulations
extended when the two statesmen were at swords' points, - a friendly
talk as it were, through helmet bars when the slash was at the

As I went home that night, through the streets of London, my mind and
heart were full. My special studies at the moment were familiarising
me with what lay behind the scene which I had just beheld. In similar
fashion in the days of Edward I. and Simon De Montfort, the Commons of
England, then struggling up, had wrestled in the narrow Chapter House.
And so they had fought in the Lancastrian time; and after the Tudor
incubus had been lifted off. So under the Stuarts had the wrangling
proceeded from which came at length the "Petition of Right."
Substituting the doublet and the steeple hat for their modern
equivalents, the spectacle of the Long Parliament must have been very
similar. Speaker Lenthall no doubt shouted "Order! Order!" as did
his successor Speaker Peel, while Pym, Hampden, Cromwell, and Vane
passionately inveighed against Prelacy and the "Man of Blood," as
I had just heard the Radicals of the Victorian era overwhelm with
diatribe the obstructors of the popular will. Then, during the
subsoiling which the land, growing arid and worthless through
mediaeval blight, underwent in 1832 and after, when the Reform Bill
and its successors, like deeply penetrating plows, threw to the
surface much that was unsightly, yet full of potentialities for good,
the spot was the same. The conditions and the environment looking at
it in the large were not widely different, the ancient Anglo-Saxon
freedom struggling ever for its foothold as the centuries lapse, now
precariously uncertain as Privilege and Prerogative push hotly, now
fixed and strong in great moments of triumph; and the end is not yet.
In the earlier time the destinies of America were closely interlocked
with England and came up no less for decision in the great arena
at Westminster. The destinies of the two peoples are scarcely less
interlocked at the present moment. We are gravitating toward closer
brotherhood, and the thoughtful American sees reason to study with the
deepest interest each passage of arms in the ancient memorable arena.

* * * * *

I saw in Germany in 1870, usually through the good offices of
Bancroft, our minister, the most eminent historians of that day.
Giesebrecht and von Raumur were no longer living, but men were still
in the foreground to the full as illustrious. Heidelberg in those
days was relatively a more conspicuous university than at present. Its
great men remain to it, though the process of absorption was beginning
which at last carried the more distinguished lights to Berlin. The
lovely little town, whose streets for nearly six hundred years have
throbbed with the often boisterous life of the student population,
is at its best in the spring and early summer. The Neckar ripples
tumultuously into the broad Rhine plain, from which towers to the
height of two thousand feet the romantic Odenwald. From some ruin of
ancient watch-tower or cloister on the height, entrancing views spread
out, the landscape holding the venerable towns of Worms and Speyer,
each with its cathedral dominating the clustered dwellings, while the
lordly Rhine pours its flood northward - a stream of gold when in the
late afternoon it glows in the sunset. The old castle stands on its
height, more beautiful in its decay, with ivy clinging about the
broken arches, and the towers wrecked by the powder-bursts of ancient
wars, than it could ever have been when unshaken.

Among the professors at Heidelberg, von Treitschke was one of the
most eminent, and it was my privilege one day to hear him lecture on
a theme which stirred him - the battle of Leipsic, the great
_Völkerschlacht_ of 1813, when Germany cruelly clipped the
pinions of the Napoleonic eagle. The hall was crowded with young men,
_corps-studenten_ being especially numerous, robust youths in
caps and badges, and many of the faces were patched and scarred from
duels in the Hirsch-Gasse. Von Treitschke, a dark, energetic figure,
was received with great respect. Deafness, from which he suffered,
affected somewhat his delivery. He told the story of the great battle,
the frantic effort against combined Europe of the crippled French, the
defection of the Saxons in the midst of the fight, the final driving
of Napoleon across the Elster, the death of Poniatowski and the
retreat to France. His voice was a deep, sonorous monotone and every
syllable was caught eagerly by his auditors. They and the speaker
were thoroughly at one in their intense German feeling. It was a
celebration of triumph of the Fatherland. The significance of it all
was not apparent, that sunny spring morning, but we were on the eve of
a catastrophe which apparently no one foreboded; Metz, Gravelotte, and
Sedan were only a few months away. The fire which I saw burning so hot
in the souls of both speaker and hearers was part of the conflagration
destined to consume widely and thoroughly before the summer closed.

Ernst Curtius was probably the most distinguished Hellenist of his
time. He had studied the Greeks on their own soil and gone with German
thoroughness into their literature, history, and art. He had excellent
powers of presentment, wrote exhaustively and yet attractively and won
early recognition. He was selected for the post of tutor to the Crown
Prince, an honour of the highest. The Crown Prince, afterwards Emperor
Frederick, held him in high regard and in 1870 his position in the
world of scholars was of the best. I had the honour to pay him a visit
in his home one pleasant Sunday afternoon in company with Bancroft. I
remember Bancroft's crisp German enunciation as he presented me; "Ich
stelle Ihnen einen Amerikaner vor," and he mentioned my name. I bowed
and felt my hand grasped cordially in a warm, well-conditioned palm,
while a round, genial face beamed good-naturedly. The interview was in
the Professor's handsome garden, his accomplished wife and daughters
were of the party, and I remember _Maiwein_ with pretzels on a
lawn with rose-bushes close beside and music coming through the open
windows of the house. The hospitality was graceful, there was no
profound talk but only pleasant chatter. The daughters were glad to
have a chance to try their English and I was glad for the moment to
slip out of the foreign bond and disport myself for their benefit in
my vernacular, but the Professor needed no practice. His English was
quite adequate, as, on the other hand, the German of Bancroft was well
in hand.

"What other university people would you like to see?" said Bancroft to
me one day. I mentioned von Ranke, Lepsius, and Mommsen as men whose
names were familiar, whose faces I should like to look upon.

"Find out the _sprech-stunden_ of these men," said Bancroft to
his secretary, and presently a slip was put into my hand containing
the hours at which I could be conveniently received. Following the
direction, I was one day admitted to the library of von Ranke, a plain
apartment walled by books from floor to ceiling, with a desk well-worn
by days and nights of work. As I awaited his entrance the facts of
his career were vivid in my mind. He was a man of seventy-five and had
been a scholar almost from his cradle. He was known to me particularly
through his history of the popes, which was and perhaps is still the
judicial authority with regard to the line of pontiffs, but that was
only one book among many. He belonged to a class of which Germany has
been prolific, whose consciences assault them if they let their pens
lie idle, and who have no recourse in self-defence but building about
themselves a barricade of books. After researches in various fields,
von Ranke now was undertaking a history of the world, with no thought
apparently of a probable touch from the dart of death in the near
future; and he did indeed live until nearly ninety and long produced a
volume a year.

He entered presently from an inner room, rather a short, well-rounded
figure with a face marked by a clear eye and much vivacity. He
conversed well in English and was curious about American education and
offered, rather ludicrously, I remember, to exchange the publications
of the University of Berlin with those of the little fresh-water
college in which I was at that time a young teacher. Could the scholar
be aiming a sly sarcastic hit at the bareness of our educational
outposts in the West? But no, his frank look and voice showed that he
was unaware of the real conditions. The talk was not long, there was a
hearty expression of regard for Mr. Bancroft who was fully accepted by
the German learned world as one of their _Gelehrten_, trained as
he had been in youth in their schools, and in that day our best-known
historian. I bowed myself out respectfully from the presence of the
little man and sincerely hope that the merit of his great history is
in no way abated because I took a half-hour of his time.

I met Lepsius, the great Egyptian scholar, one afternoon in his
garden, a hale, straight man of sixty with abundant grey hair
surmounting a fine forehead, with blue eyes full of penetration behind
his spectacles. I had little knowledge of the subject he had studied
so profoundly and almost laughed outright when his pretty daughter
asked me if I had read her father's translation of the _Book of the
Dead_. Of von Ranke's themes I thought I knew something and was
more at ease with him, as with Mommsen whom I met about the same time.

Theodor Mommsen, more than any other, forty years ago, was the leading
historian of Germany. He began his career as a student of law, in
the antiquities of which he became thoroughly versed. In particular
Justinian and the Roman authorities, among whom he stands as chief,
were the objects of Mommsen's research. From jurisprudence he passed
to the study of general history, and of the most interesting period of
Rome he absorbed into his mind all the lore that has survived. This
he digested and set forth in a monumental work, which, translated into
English, has been, in the English-speaking world of scholars at least,
as familiar as household words. At a still later time he was an active
striver in the political agitations of his day.

I sent in my card to Mommsen with some trepidation and was at
once admitted. I found him sitting at leisure among his books and
Bancroft's introduction brought to pass for me a genial welcome. He
was a man not large in frame with dark eyes, and black hair streaked
with grey. No doubt but that like German scholars in general he could
talk English, but he stuck to German and I was rather glad he did
so; I could take him in better as he discoursed fluently in his
mother-tongue. Mommsen was a man of sharp corners who often in his
political career brought grief to adversaries who tried to handle him
without gloves. I was fortunate in catching him in a softer mood and
witnessed an amiability with which he was not usually credited. His
little daughters were in the room, pretty children with whom
the father played with evident pride and joy, interrupting the
conversation to caress the curly pates, and trotting them on his knee.
He put keen questions to me as regards America, showing that while
busy with Caesar and the on-goings of the ancient forum he had been
wide awake also to modern happenings. He expressed much regard for
Bancroft and praised Grant for selecting as minister to Germany a
personality so agreeable to European scholars. He told me of the
jubilee of Bancroft which was about to be celebrated with marked
honours. Fifty years before Bancroft had "made his doctor" at
Göttingen, one of the earliest Americans to achieve that distinction,
and the German universities meant to show emphatically their
recognition of his merit. The celebration afterwards took place, not
interrupted by the warlike uproar in which the land was about to be
involved. A proud honour indeed for the American minister. It was
a noteworthy occasion to talk thus familiarly with one of the most
illustrious scholars of the time, and I recall fondly the pleasant
details of the picture.

At Heidelberg the February before I had had an interview with
Schenkel, then the leading theologian of that university. Him I found
in his _Studir-Zimmer_ without fire on a cold day. He seemed to
scorn the use of the _Kachelofen_, the great porcelain stove, and
was wrapped from head to foot in a heavy woollen robe which enveloped
him and was prolonged about his head into a kind of cowl. He presented
a figure closely like the portraits of some old reformers heavily
mantled in a garb approaching the monkish _Tracht_ which they
had forsaken. It seemed out of character for Schenkel, for he was an
avowed liberal and particularly far away from old standards, but the
sharp winter drove a champion of heterodoxy into this outer conformity
with the old. In the case of the Berlin _Gelehrten_, however,
the mediaeval dress was quite discarded. I chanced to see them in
the spring with their windows wide open to the perfume of gardens and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJames Kendall HosmerThe Last Leaf Observations, during Seventy-Five Years, of Men and Events in America and Europe → online text (page 12 of 20)