Michael Philip Curran.

Life of Patrick A. Collins, with some of his most notable public addresses; online

. (page 1 of 28)
Online LibraryMichael Philip CurranLife of Patrick A. Collins, with some of his most notable public addresses; → online text (page 1 of 28)
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Two Conies Received
JUL 6 1906

i_CoDyri^M Entry



Copyright, 1906,
By M, p. CURRAN.



l^iss iHarie Eose Collins






He was a man "swift in his work" like one

Of whom the prophet spake, whose eyes could see

Visions denied to us ; and who could hear

Music ineffable of all the spheres —

Who with a soul secure in its desire

To reach the eternal heights, knowing no check

To keep his eagle pinions from the sun —

Went fearless, circling upward, higher and higher,

And while we, breathless watching, gazed aloft,

Swept on beyond our view.


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IT is extremely difficult, if indeed it be not impossible, to
write the life story of a departed friend without being
influenced more or less, in estimating his character, by
tender and affectionate memories which impart to the work a
flavor of eulogy untempered by criticism. However diligently
and dutifufly one may strive, in such circumstances, to avoid
descending "below the dignity of history," the personal
equation is sure to enter in, and the good qualities of the sub-
ject will tower high above any shortcomings that may ob-
trude upon the writer's thoughts or recollection. But
inasmuch as so eminent an authority as Carlyle concedes
the usefulness, nay the necessity, of seeing a man's good
qualities first in order to form a right judgment, lesser
mortals may take comfort in the reflection that no great
violence is done to historic truth if biography be tinged
slightly by the genial rays of friendly bias.

It was my privilege to have known Patrick A. Collins for
over a quarter of a century. During that period our personal,
social, and political relations were very close and intimate.
When he was out of the country or in Washington attending
to his congressional duties, we were in touch through free
and uninterrupted correspondence ; when he was in Boston
we saw each other not less than twice each week, usually
oftener. I was in daily contact with him for nearly four
years during his service as mayor of Boston. My oppor-
tunities therefore for observing his personal characteristics
and the bent of his thoughts were exceptional.

In the pages that follow I have not attempted to analyze
his character, or to form an estimate of the possible influ-
ences which his notable career may exercise upon his own
generation or upon those to come. I have contented myself
with supplying the materials upon which those who read
may base their own estimate. His life activities cover a
remarkably wide range of endeavor. Truly may it be said
of him that in his time he played many parts. He was errand


boy, office boy, farm hand, coal miner, engineer, upholsterer,
state legislator, lawyer, national legislator, administrator,
and executive. He achieved a large measure of success in
all these diversified employments and callings, and this
measure increased as his character developed, as his faculties
matured, and as opportunity for concentration came to him.
To quote Emerson, one of his favorite authors : —

" Born for success he seemed,
With grace to win, with heart to hold."

Of all the qualities which distinguished him and made
him conspicuous, as he developed, the highest and foremost
was his rugged honesty, which Shakespeare terms the richest
form of legacy. He was scrupulously honest in his dealings
with his fellows ; he was strictly honest in his relation to his
clients ; he was morally honest ; he was intellectually honest.
Honesty was an instinct with him ; it was inwoven with the
very fibre of his nature. When he was ten years of age he
insisted upon returning a dime which a Chelsea shopkeeper
had given him in excess of what belonged to him as "change."
The man protested indignantly and vehemently that no
mistake had been made in the transaction. He was talking
with a more important customer and disliked to be inter-
rupted. "Go along, little Paddy boy," he said, "we make
no mistakes here. You must have lost what is missing."

"But there is nothing missing," said the boy. "You
gave me too much."

The shopkeeper, not relishing the exposure of his cash
error and disliking to be lectured in honesty by a "Paddy"
boy, took the coin from his hand and said: "I suppose you
were afraid of the priest; that's why you gave it up. But
he wouldn't know unless you told him."

"I was not afraid of anybody but God," was the sharp
reply. "He knew."

Later in life, while he was in Congress, his vote and his
influence were thrown in favor of a certain measure, the
advocates of which had not tried to "reach" him at all.
After the bill had been passed a representative of those in-
terests offered him $10,000 in cash as a recognition of his
disinterested and successful advocacy of it. He refused the
gift just as he declined to profit by a Chelsea merchant's


error thirty years before. In one case the sum involved
was ten cents; in the other it was $10,000. The principle
was the same. God knew !

Mr. Collins was a lawyer by choice ; he was a politician
through circumstances. When he was working at the bench
by day and studying diligently by night to acquire an edu-
cation which was denied him in early life, his ambition was
to win a high place in the legal profession. He could not
be content with a low place in any walk of life. This im-
pulse grew stronger even after he had had a taste of politi-
cal life, for he was in politics before he was in the law.
When he consented to go to Congress it was with a mental
reservation that he would retire at the end of his second
term and resume his law practice. The only committee
work he relished while in Congress was that which came to
him as a member of the judiciary committee. For six years
he was a member of that committee, and through his experi-
ence there he acquired a knowledge of federal, international,
and interstate law second to none. It was his settled pur-
pose to remain, while serving as a member of Congress, in
the atmosphere of his profession. He often said that his
congressional experience had broadened his range of vision
and materially improved his equipment for his work as a
lawyer. He always regarded that service as a mere incident,
as a short gap in his professional career.

Some of his contemporaries at the bar have contended,
since his death, and with no apparent or even suspected
purpose to detract from his worth or high character as a
public man, that he was not a great lawyer. They justify
this contention by pointing to the fact that his political ser-
vice diverted his attention from his legal practice, and handi-
capped him in the race for supremacy or eminence. But
it must be conceded that while he was in Congress he was
adding to his store of legal lore by constant study of inter-
state and national law, and that while he was serving as
Consul-general at London he was learning international law
and familiarizing himself with international practice. A
great lawyer is not necessarily the man who has the largest
or the most lucrative practice. If he were then some of our
busy corporation attorneys would be in the foremost ranks
of the great. Nor can it be admitted that the lawyer with
the longest list of clients is alone great, otherwise the attorneys


who daily try numerous cases of tort in our minor courts
would monopolize the designation. A great lawyer should
be a man well-grounded in the principles of law ; he should
be a man of unswerving integrity and a high sense of honor ;
he should be a man instinct with justice, fairness, and lofti-
ness of purpose. Hardly any one of the recognized profes-
sions brings its members into more delicate and intimate
relations with the public than that of the law. The lawyer is
the repository often of family secrets and business secrets
confided to no one else. He frequently holds the honor,
the solvency, the credit, and the very liberty of his client
in his keeping.

Mr. Collins was well-grounded in the law. Like most of
the learning which he acquired, his legal learning came from
a systematic course of self-culture, wide reading, and pro-
found study. His knowledge of law, like his knowledge of
history and his intimacy with the standard authors, rested
upon a sound and strong foundation. It was perfected by
the polish of a university course, but its enduring strength
lay in the solid base of self-education and self-training, which
years of untiring industry, of willing sacrifice, and laudable
ambition had set up.

When Lawyer Pleydell took Colonel Mannering into
his library, which was well stocked with the best treatises
on history and the choicest collection of classical as well as
of legal tomes, he said to his guest who had instinctively
passed favorable comment upon the variety as well as the
excellence of the contents of the shelves: "These are my
tools of trade. A lawyer without history or literature is
a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some
knowledge of these he may venture to call himself an archi-
tect." Measured by this standard Mr. Collins might safely
call himself an architect of the very first class, for he had
acquired by omnivorous reading a comprehensive knowledge
of history, biography, philosophy, fiction, and the very best
treatises on the literature of science. Moreover, he had
delved deeply into the ancient classics, from which he ex-
tracted many rare and valuable nuggets of wit and wisdom.
He never read for mere amusement. Every book he perused
increased his store of erudition.

Much stress has been laid by public men and leading
newspapers, since his death, upon Mr. Collins' s fame as a


wit; and there has been a demand for a collection of his
sayings. I am obliged to confess my inability to comply
with this popular desire. Those who knew him intimately
will recall readily his alertness of mind and the many quaint
expressions which he used in private conversation. But a
collection of these or any considerable portion of them would
be impossible. Besides, the circumstances under which
they were employed to "point a moral or adorn a tale"
could not be reproduced. And what is even a rare stone
without its fit setting? Mr. Collins was a philosopher
rather than a wit. True, he had a faculty of effecting a
quick turn of speech, the rapidity of which startled and
thrilled his hearers, while it sharply accentuated the point
he wished to make. Occasionally this mental manoeuvre
had a dash of wit in it, but nearly always the serious and
practical side predominated. This faculty was rarely, if
ever, discoverable in his prepared speeches. It found
illustration almost exclusively in his extemporaneous efforts,
and on occasions calling for prompt and decisive action.
Lowell says that "it is by presence of mind in untried
emergencies that the native metal of a man is tested."
When an active and influential labor agitator and leader
undertook to disrupt a state Democratic convention at
Worcester by pronouncing a eulogy upon the nominated
candidate of the opposite party, while shouts of approval
and of hostility threw the entire body into chaos and con-
fusion, Mr. Collins strode out to the front of the platform,
and the warring factions were still. The delegates knew
instinctively that something out of the ordinary routine was
coming. A crisis had been precipitated which might seriously
affect the fortunes of the knightly young candidate of the
party — William Eustis Russell. In a voice whose silvery
tones rang clear and penetrating through the rafters of the
hall, he flayed the man who sounded the discordant note as
Cicero flayed Catiline. He drew back the veil that hid the
motive of the man's action and laid bare the underlying
purpose; then, after branding him as "a working-man who
never worked," he tossed him into the arena to be dealt with
according to his deserts. The wild outburst of applause
and cheers which the episode drew forth attested the con-
vention's hearty approval of the brief but crushing philippic,
and the popular confidence in its brilliant author. Mr.


Russell was nominated unanimously, and he was elected
at the polls in November.

During a committee recess some years ago, Mr. Collins
was introduced to the Rev. A. A. Miner, D.D., against whose
side of a mooted question he was acting as counsel. Dr.
Miner was a Universalist minister, and one of the foremost
advocates of prohibition in the state. Wherever he went
he unremittingly assailed the "demon Rum," and drew
piteous pictures of the evils which it entailed upon humanity.
Mr. Collins shook the doctor's hand warmly, and turning
to the man who had given the introduction, he said: "Dr.
Miner would be a very worthy citizen, and a great power
in the community if he would only leave rum alone." Dr.
Miner joined heartily in the general laugh which the little
sally drew from the group of listeners, and thus bore testi-
mony to his ability "to appreciate a good thing even when
he was getting the worst of it."

On the occasion of President Roosevelt's first tour of
New England in 1902, he was entertained informally by
Governor Crane during a brief stay in Boston. Mr. Collins,
who was then mayor of the city, agreed to attend a small
dinner party in his honor at a leading hotel, although he was
suffering keenly from rheumatism at the time. He left the
dining hall early and proceeded to his room. After his
guests had separated for the evening, the governor with his
customary kindliness called upon Mr. Collins to inquire
after his health and comfort. Incidentally he and the mayor
discussed the occurrences of the evening. "What do you
think of the President, Mr. Mayor," said the governor.

Mr. Collins replied: "I don't know any man of my ac-
quaintance with whom I would rather go fishing; but I'd
take mighty good care not to let him steer the boat."

A few years later Mr. Crane had occasion as a senator
to realize the force of this little mot, and to leave the boat
temporarily while the President was steering, with Tillman
of South Carolina acting as deck hand.

Mr. Collins's Democracy was not merely a profession
of political faith ; it was a fixed and immutable conviction.
He held that Jefferson was to Democracy what Paul was to
Christianity. Both he regarded as men of transcendent
genius, and without peers as expounders of fundamental
principles. He was proud to be a Christian, and to follow


Paul in spiritual affairs; he was equally proud to be a
Democrat, and to absorb from the writings of Jefferson that
faith in the people which is the essence of Democracy. In
1902 the German government offered him a decoration of
a high order on account of the courtesies which, as chief
executive of the city, he had extended to the Emperor's
brother. Prince Henry of Prussia. To the German consul
who made the offer officially he said: ''I fully appreciate
the honor which the tender of this distinction conveys, but
I feel that I cannot accept it. During my whole life I have
been preaching Democracy in opposition to the form of
government under which the German empire is now happily
flourishing. I could not without self-stultification wear a
decoration which would give the lie to my convictions and
precepts. I say this with all proper respect for the Em-
peror and with a due appreciation of the honor which he so
graciously offers through you. Please convey my senti-
ments so that there shall be no note of disrespect or un-
friendliness. It is simply a matter of personal conviction."
A few months later a similar offer was made by the late
Duncan Bailly-Blanchard, consul of the French Republic
in Boston, on behalf of his government. In considering
the matter Mr. Collins said: "France is a republic, a de-
mocracy. I would be proud to wear a decoration from a
sister republic." He was made an officer of the Legion of
Honor, and proud he was to wear the red button of his rank
on formal occasions.

Mr. Collins while mayor was always conscious of the dig-
nity of his office. To be the executive head of a metropolitan
city of six hundred thousand inhabitants, — a city of wealth,
refinement, and culture, — he regarded as a distinction. His
settled purpose was not to belittle the position by attendance
at every local dancing party, club dinner, or card party to
which he might be and to which he was regularly invited.
He attended only social functions with which the city's
interests were linked in some way. Participation in mis-
cellaneous social affairs might, and doubtless would, bring
popularity, but that consideration did not affect him so long
as he harbored the opinion that such participation might
detract from the dignity of the office he held. Besides, he
loved the easy comfort of his home, the companionship of his
books, and association with his family. He could be found


almost every evening in his cosey library, reading some
standard work of philosophy, fiction, or history, or studying
out some intricate problem of municipal government.

I have said that he had no intellectual slant toward
humor or wit as a feature of his public addresses. He read
a few humorous works like the writings of ''Mark Twain,"
"Artemus Ward," and "Mr. Dooley," and he enjoyed
them. But nowhere in his written or prepared addresses
do we find any attempt at humorous writing. He was in-
tensely serious, and although frequently spurred on by the
congenital impetuosity of his Celtic nature, he was conspicu-
ously conservative. More than that : he had a vein of gloomi-
ness, a sort of penchant for the sombre and sad things of life
that seemed out of keeping with his reputation, and with the
knowledge of his traits that his friends possessed. His favor-
ite poem, "He who died at Azan," had the flavor of Oriental
gloom. Among his papers was a collection, carefully made
and securely kept, of pathetic stories published occasionally
by the Pall Mall Gazette. These he read at times with evi-
dent appreciation and pleasure. He enjoyed the stately
prose and the rhythmic and profound philosophy of Emerson,
whom he set first among the brilliant group of contem-
poraneous writers who gave lustre to Boston as the centre
of American literature in the nineteenth century. How he
loved to quote these lines from "The Problem ": —

"The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity ;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew ;
The conscious stone to beauty grew."

And yet in small social gatherings of an informal nature,
where congenial spirits assembled, where quip and jest
abounded, his ready wit enlivened the circle. It was not
studied or built up ; it flashed like an electric spark, and was
gone. Hundreds of men living to-day on both sides of the
Atlantic Ocean have keen recollections of scenes like these
where he ruled and dominated the situation by sheer force of
his Celtic genius. They will also remember that he was more
of a philosopher than a wit. Even in the few familiar epi-
sodes already mentioned here, his philosophy predominates.


He loved to read Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas pere,
and Balzac, because they pictured French life and French
manners so artistically and so accurately. Sienckiewicz's
stories of ancient Poland had a fascination for him, dark
and gloomy as was their setting. He read Ruskin, Carlyle,
Darwin, and Gibbon for English history, English science,
and English philosophy. As in the case of Pleydell his
library was his workshop, and his books, numerous, well
selected, and rare, were his tools of trade. It was in their
companionship that he found his keenest enjoyment. It was
from their rich stores of wisdom, erudition, and ornate dic-
tion that he derived the faculty and the ability to express his
thoughts with precision and grace, to say what he desired
to say with exquisite nicety and with artistic finish. It was
this quality which made his addresses so pleasing and so
keenly relished.

Let those who think that it would have been better for
his fame and fortune had he devoted himself exclusively
to the practice of the law reflect upon what he achieved
as a public ofhcial. Mr. Collins was bigger and broader
than a profession or a party. It would have been impossible
to circumscribe his talents or to limit his mental activities
to any single line of endeavor. His sphere of intellectual
effort and ambition was broad enough to include the uni-
verse. He stood for humanity. He thought and spoke for
the people: for the mass against the class, for the humble
against the great and mighty, for the down-trodden against
the oppressor. But there was naught of the demagogue in
his make-up ; he believed in fair play for all. He stood for

It has been my purpose in writing and compiling the
subsequent pages, not only to present the life story and life-
work of Mr. Collins, but to offer a historical review of the
political events and movements in which he took an active
and leading part. In following out this plan many details
and minor circumstances of his life have been omitted. I
have passed over trifling incidents, a multiplicity of which
were available. Their inclusion in the volume would un-
necessarily burden and distend it without any compensating
advantages. I prefer to deal with the broader field of na-
tional and international history, and to give him, if possible,
his proper place among those who made that history.


The political history of the United States from 1876
until 1906 is crowded with stirring incidents and fateful
episodes and epochs. Mr. Collins was a factor in many,
if not most, of those. He is universally credited with com-
passing the election of a President of the Republic, by check-
ing a stampede that no other man could check. A brief
speech made at a convention in Worcester, to which allusion
has been made already, made the election of William Eustis
Russell as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
possible. And soon after his return from London he de-
livered an address in Faneuil Hall which prevented the defeat
of Mayor Quincy through a foolish rift in the party ranks.
It is conceded by competent observers, therefore, that his
genius as an orator and the high regard in which he was
held by his fellow-Democrats in the nation, the state, and the
city, elected a President of the United States, a governor of
Massachusetts, and a mayor of Boston at critical stages in
contests for these positions.

To afford an adequate idea of his contribution to the
cause of Irish progress toward self-government during nearly
forty years of earnest activity, it was deemed essential that
a cursory sketch of the social, industrial, and political con-
ditions existing in Ireland during and prior to that period
should be given. This, I feel confident, will lead to a better
understanding of the issues involved and the sacrifices of
life, money, and time which were made in the cause of
human liberty and the emancipation of a race. It will also
help to explain the meaning of Mr. Redmond's assertion
on the day of Mr. Collins's death, that not only in the higher
political and party circles in Ireland would be found mourn-
ing and grief over the great loss sustained, but in the cabins
of the poor, away in the sparsely settled farming districts
of the country.

Thus it will be seen that two continents joined in mourn-
ing for the death of this man who had no birthright of power
or position, who was driven from his native land by mis-
government, who won a high place among men of alien
blood, and who left as a priceless legacy to the struggling
youth of all races, classes, and creeds the example of an
honored name, a record for high achievement in spite of
adverse conditions, and a reputation for honesty, probity,
and justice, which will endure so long as the memory of his


deeds and of his lofty character lasts. He was indeed a

Online LibraryMichael Philip CurranLife of Patrick A. Collins, with some of his most notable public addresses; → online text (page 1 of 28)