Slason Thompson.

Eugene Field, a Study in Heredity and Contradictions — Volume 2 online

. (page 12 of 19)
Online LibrarySlason ThompsonEugene Field, a Study in Heredity and Contradictions — Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and Reform, it would be simply a patriotic, not to say a religious,

Mr. Thompson said he was glad to hear this explanation. It was
eminently satisfactory, and he hoped to have it disseminated through

On motion of Mr. M.E. Stone, Colonel Ela was instructed to deposit
all campaign funds he might collect in the Globe National Bank.

Mr. Thompson then introduced Mr. Franklin H. Head, who, he said, was
a Mugwump.

"Are you a Mugwump?" asked General McClurg.

Mr. Head: "I am, and I wish to join the party in Chicago."

General McClurg: "Do you declare your unalterable belief in the
Mugwump doctrine of free-will and election?"

Mr. Head: "As I understand it, I do."

General McClurg: "The Mugwump doctrine of free-will argues that
every voter may vote as he chooses, irrespective of party, so long
as his vote involves the election of Grover Cleveland."

Mr. Head: "I am a Mugwump to the extent of voting as I choose, and
irrespective of party, but I draw the line at Grover Cleveland this
time." (Great sensation.)

Mr. Stone: "I guess you've got into the wrong 'bus, my friend, and
I'm rather glad of it, for one vice-president of a bank is all the
Mugwump party can stand."

Mr. Thompson: "I supposed he was all right, or I wouldn't have
brought him in."

General McClurg: "No, he is far from the truth. Upon the vital, the
essential point, he is fatally weak. Go back, erring brother - go
back into the outer darkness; it is not for you to sit with the

Mr. Stone invited the party to a grand gala picnic which he proposed
to give in August in Melville Park, Glencoe. He would order a basket
of chicken sandwiches, a gallon of iced tea, and three pink
umbrellas, and they would have a royal time of it.

Mr. Thompson moved, out of respect to the Greatest of Modern
Fishermen, to strike out "chicken" and insert "sardine." Mr. Stone
accepted the suggestion, and thus amended, the invitation was
hilariously accepted.

After adopting a resolution instructing Mr. Stone to buy the
sardines and tea at Brother Franklin MacVeagh's, the party adjourned
for one week.

Field was very fond of describing himself as a martyr to the Mugwump
vapors and megrims that prevailed in the editorial rooms of the Daily
News. He would say that the imperishable crowns won by the heroes of
Fox's "Book of Martyrs" were nothing to what he, a stanch Republican
partisan, earned by enduring and associating daily with the piping,
puling independents who infested that "ranch." He said that he
expected a place high up in the dictionary of latter-day saints and in
the encyclopedia of nineteenth-century tribulations, because of the
Christian fortitude with which he endured and forgave the stings and
jibes of his puny tormentors.

There was a great scene in the reporters' room of the Morning News the
day after Cleveland's first election. The News had been one of the
first of the independent newspapers of the country to bolt the
nomination of Mr. Blaine. It had favored the renomination of President
Arthur, and had convincing evidence of a shameful deal by which
certain members of the Illinois delegation, elected as Arthur men,
were seduced into the Blaine camp. But this alone would not have
decided the course of the paper - that was dictated by the widespread
mistrust felt throughout the country as to Mr. Blaine's entire
impeccability in the matter of the Little Rock bonds. Field,
throughout the campaign, stood by Blaine and Logan and defied the
Mugwumps to do their worst. So on the morning after the election he
was in a thoroughly disgusted mood. He scoffed at the idea of becoming
a Mugwump, but declared himself ready to renounce his Republicanism
and become a Democrat. To that end he prepared a formal renunciation.
It consisted of a flamboyant denunciation of the past glories and
present virtues of the Republican party and an enthusiastic eulogy of
the crimes, blunders, and base methods of the Democratic party. Field
announced that he preferred to be enrolled as a Democrat, and to
accept his share in all the obloquy which he laid at the Democratic
door rather than affiliate with the Mugwump bolters. He said that he
would rather be classed as a thoroughbred donkey than be feared as a
mule without pride of pedigree or hope of posterity, whose only virtue
lay in its heels. Then he swathed himself in a shroud of newspapers
and laid himself out in the centre of the floor in the rôle of a
martyred Republican. He bade the rest of us form a procession and walk
over him, taking care not to step on the corpse. After the ceremony
was carried out he rose up, a Jacksonian Democrat in name, but a bluer
Republican than ever.

There was a sequel to this scene, for which it will serve as an
introduction. In May, 1888, Mr. Stone sold out his interest in the
Morning and Daily News and retired from the editorship of the former.
Under Mr. Lawson, who succeeded him in sole control, both papers
retained their independence, but became less aggressive in the
maintenance of their views. Mr. Lawson sought to make them impartial
purveyors of unbiased news to all parties. Hardly had the blue pencil
of supervision dropped from Mr. Stone's fingers before Field made an
opportunity to unburden his soul upon the subject of his martyrdom in
the following extraordinary and highly entertaining screed:

The second letter which Mr. Blaine has written saying that he will,
under no circumstances, become a candidate for the presidency
refreshes a sad, yet a glorious, memory.

Just about five years ago five members of the editorial staff of
this paper were gathered together in the library. Blaine had just
been nominated for the presidency by the National Republican
Convention. For months the Daily News had advocated the renomination
of Arthur, but now within an hour it beheld its teachings go for
naught, its ambitions swept ruthlessly away, and its hopes cruelly,
irrevivably crushed; Mr. Stone was then editor of the paper; he was
in the convention hall when Blaine's nomination was secured. His
editorial associates waited with serious agitation his return, and
his instructions as to the course which the paper would pursue in
the emergency which had been presented. There were different
opinions as to what Mr. Stone would be likely to do, but there was a
general feeling that he would be likely to antagonize Blaine. One of
the editorial writers, a Canadian, who had just taken out his last
naturalization papers, expressed determination that the paper must
fight Blaine. He hated Blaine, and he had reason to; for Blaine had,
during his short career as prime minister, evinced a strong
disposition to clutch all Canadians who were caught fishing for
tomcod in American waters. Therefore, Carthage _delenda est_.

The debate ran high, yet every word was spoken softly, for the most
violent excitement always precipitates a hush. Even the newsboys in
the alley caught the awful infection; they stole in and out
noiselessly and with less violence than usual, as if, in sooth, the
dumb wheels reverenced the dismal sanctity of the hour. The elevator
crept silently down with the five o'clock forms, so decently and so
composedly as scarcely to jar the bottle of green ink on the Austin
landholder's table. All at once the door opened and in stalked M.E.
Stone, silent, pallid, protentous. His wan eye comprehended the
scene instantaneously, but no twitch or tremor in his lavender lips
betrayed the emotions (whatever they might have been) that surged
beneath the clothes he wore.

Cervantes tells how that Don Quixote, in the course of one of his
memorable adventures, was shown a talking head - a head set upon a
table and capable of uttering human speech, but in so hollow and
tube-like a tone as to give one the impression that the voice came
from far away. A somewhat similar device is now exhibited in our
museums, where, upon payment of a trifling fee, you may hear the
head discourse in a voice which sounds as though it might emanate
from the tomb and from the very time of the first Pharaoh.

Mr. Stone looked and Mr. Stone spoke like a "talking head" when he
came in upon us that awful day. His face had the inhuman pallor, his
eyes the lack-lustre expression, and his tones the distant, hollow,
metallic cadence of the inexplicable machine that astounds the
patrons of dime-museums. He seemed to take in the situation at once;
knew as surely as though he had been told what we were talking about
and how terribly we were wrought up. His right arm moved
mechanically through some such gesture as Canute is supposed to have
made when he bade the ocean retire before him, and from his
bloodless lips came the memorable words - hollow, metallic, but
memorable words - "Gentlemen, be calm! be calm!"

The calmness of this man in that supreme moment was simply awful.

He had been betrayed by one who should have been bound to him by
every tie of gratitude. He had seen his political idol overthrown.
He had witnessed the defeat and humiliation of what he believed to
be the pure and patriotic spirit of American manhood. His highest
ambition had been foiled, his sweetest hopes frustrated. Yet he was
calm. Ever and anon the sky that arches the Neapolitan landscape
reaches down its lips, they say, and kisses the bald summit of
Vesuvius; as if it recognized the grand impressiveness of this
scene, the Mediterranean at such times hushes its voice and lies
tranquil as a slumbering child; all nature stands silent before the
communion of the clouds and the Titans. But this ineffable peace,
this majestic repose, is protentous. To rest succeeds activity;
after calm comes tempest; out of placid dream bursts reality.

Mr. Stone's calmness, like the whittler's stick, tapered up instead
down. He who had, at five o'clock on that never-to-be-forgotten day,
come upon us with the insinuating placidity of hunyadi janos - he who
had addressed us in the tone of prehistoric centuries - he who bade
us be calm, and at the same time gave us the finest tableau of human
calmness human eye ever contemplated - he it was whom we found at
eleven o'clock that very night, frothing at the mouth, biting chunks
out of the hard-wood furniture, and tearing the bowels out of
everything that came his way.

This singular madness has raged, unabated, for four years. It was so
infectious that his associates caught it - all but three. The men
about the Daily News office who clung to the Republican party
through thick and thin, who endured, therefore, every scoff, jibe,
and taunt which sin could devise, and who, preferring honorable
death to the rewards of treachery, proudly cast their votes for the
nominees of the grand old party, - these three men are entitled to
places in the foremost rank of Christian martyrs. Two of them were
Joe Bingham and Morgan Bates. Bingham is dead now; peace to his
dust. He never was his old hearty self after the defeat of Blaine;
and when, upon the heels of this calamity, he moved to Indianapolis,
Ind., he could stand it no longer and yielded up his life. He was a
stanch soldier in a holy cause; and there is consolation in the fact
that he is now at last enjoying the eternal rewards that are
prepared for all true Republicans.

As for Morgan Bates, he got somewhat even with his malicious
persecutors by writing and producing plays; but retaliation is never
satisfactory to a man of noble impulses, and Bates would not pursue
it long. He preferred to go into voluntary exile at Des Moines,
Iowa; and in that glorious Republican harvest-field he accomplished
a great and good work, which being done, symmetrized and
concinnated, he returned to this Gomorrah of Mugwumpery and
identified himself with that sterling trade journal, the Hide and
Leather Criterion.

Next November the two surviving members of the old guard of three
will march, arm in arm, to the polls, and will then and there cast
their individual votes for the nominees of the Republican party - it
matters not whether they be statesmen or tobacco-signs, so long as
they be nominees.

As the blasts do but root a tree more firmly in mother earth, so
have the trials to which we Republicans of the Daily News have been
subjected for the four years riveted us all the more securely to the
faith. We have been forced in the line of professional duty to turn
humorous paragraphs upon the alleged insincerity of our beloved
political leader, but every paragraph so turned shall eventually
come home d.v. (and we hope d.q.) to roost, like an Ossa, upon the
Pelion of Infamy, which shall surely mark the grave of Mugwumpery.
Every poem which we persecuted defenders of the faith have been
bulldozed into weaving for the regalement of our persecutors shall
be sung again when the other shore is reached, and when the horse
and the rider are thrown into the sea. Never for a moment during the
trials of these four years have we doubted (and when we say "we,"
Bates is included) - never have we doubted that there was a promised
land, and that we should get there in due time. What we have needed
was a Moses; to be candid, we still need a Moses; and we need him
badly. We care naught where he comes from - it matters not whither,
from the New York Central or from the Western Reserve or from
Dubuque, so long as he be a Moses, and that kind of an improved
Moses, too, that will not fall just this side of the line.

O brother Republican, what rewards, what joys, what delights are in
store for us twain! Lift up your eyes and see in the East the dawn
of the new day. Its warmth and its splendor will soon be over and
about us. And, mindful of our martyrdom and contemplating its
rewards, with great force comes to us just now the lines of the
inspired Watts, wherein he portrays the eventual felicity of such as

_What bliss will thrill the ransomed souls
When they in glory dwell,
To see the sinner as he rolls
In quenchless flames of hell._

Never did a cheerful sinner extract such entertaining enjoyment for
himself and his friends from a fictitious martyrdom as Field did from
these political tribulations. That he never lost his waggish or
satirical interest in politics is evidenced by the following parody on
his own "Jest 'fore Christmas," written in December, 1894, being at
the expense of the then mayor of Chicago:


My henchmen say "Your Honor," as on their knees they drop;
Some people call me Hopkins, but to most I'm known as Hop!
For pretty nigh a year I've run the City Hall machine,
Protecting my policemen and the gamblers on the green.
Love to boss, an' fool the pious people with my tricks -
Hate to take the medicine I got November 6!
Most all the time the whole year round there ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!

Gran'ma Ela says she hopes to see me snug and warm
In the bosom of Mugwumpery, whose motto is reform;
But Gran'ma Ela he has never known the filling joys
Of bossing "boodle" candidates and training with the boys;
Of posing as a gentleman although at heart a tough;
Of being sometimes out of scalps while some are out of stuff -
Or else he'd know that bossing things are good enough for me,
Except jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!

When poor Rubens, wondering why I've left my gum-games drop,
Inquires with rueful accent: "What's the matter with Hoppy Hop?"
The Civic Federation comes from out its hiding-place
And allows that Mayor Hopkins is chock-full of saving grace!
And I appear so penitent and wear so long a phiz
That some folks say: "Good gracious! how improved our mayor is!"
But others tumble to my racket and suspicion me,
When jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!

For candidates who hope to get there on election day
Must mind their p's and q's right sharp in all they do and say,
So clean the streets, assess the boys for everything they're worth,
Jine all the federations, and promise them the earth!
Say "yes 'um" to the ladies, and "yes sur" to the men,
And when reform is mentioned, roll your eyes and yell "Amen!"
No matter what the past has been - jest watch me now and see
How jest 'fore election I'm as good as I can be!_

I will conclude this exposition of the attitude of Eugene Field to
politics, public affairs, and public men with a whimsical bit of his
verse, descriptive of how business and politics are mixed in a country
store, premising it with the note that Colonel Bunn has since become a
national character:


'Twas in a Springfield grocery store,
Not many years ago,
That Colonel Bunn patrolled the floor,
The paragon of woe.
Though all the people of the town
Were gathered there to buy,
Good Colonel Bunn walked up and down
With many a doleful sigh.

He vented off a dismal groan,
And grunt of sorry kind,
And murmured in a hollow tone
The thoughts that vexed his mind.
"Alas! how pitiful," he said,
"And oh! how wondrous vain,
To run a party at whose head
Stands such a man as Blaine.

"'Tis here, with eager hearts and legs,
Folks come to buy their teas -
Their coffee, sugar, butter, eggs,
Molasses, flour, and cheese -
And every article I keep,
As all good grocers do,
They purchase here amazing cheap -
The very finest, too.

"Yet when a canvass must be won,
He, who presides it o'er,
Is sadly qualified to run
A country grocery store;
His soul, once mesmerized by Blaine,
Is very ill at ease
When lowered to the humble plane
Of butter, eggs, and teas!

"But what precipitates my woe,
And fills my heart with fear,
Is all this happy, human flow,
With not a word of cheer;
They purchase goods of various styles,
Yet, as they swell my gain,
They mention Cleveland's name with smiles,
But never speak of Blaine!"_

Of serious views on political questions Field had none. The same may
be truthfully said of his attitude on all social and economic
problems. He eschewed controversy and controversial subjects. His
study was literature and the domestic side and social amenities of
life; and he left the salvation of the republic and the amelioration
of the general condition of mankind to those who felt themselves
"sealed" to such missions.



In the introduction I have said that if Eugene Field had only written
his autobiography, as was once his intention, it would probably have
been one of the greatest works of fiction by an American. Early in his
career he was the victim of that craze that covets the signatures and
manuscript sentiments of persons who have achieved distinction, which
later he did so much to foster by precept and practice. He was an
inveterate autograph-hunter, and toward the close of his life he paid
the penalty of harping on the joys of the collector by the receipt of
a perfect avalanche of requests for autographs and extracts from his
poems in his own handwriting. The nature of his most popular verses
also excited widespread curiosity as to the life, habits, and views of
the author of "Little Boy Blue" and "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod." The
importunities of this last class of admirers became so numerous that
during the winter of 1894 he wrote and had printed what he called his
"Auto-Analysis." "I give these facts, confessions, and observations,"
wrote he, "for the information of those who, for one reason or
another, are applying constantly to me for biographical data
concerning myself." Such was its author's humor, that behind almost
every fact in this "Auto-Analysis" lurks either an error or a hoax.
Its confessions are half-truths, and its whimsical observations are
purposely designed to lead the reader to false conclusions. And withal
the whole document is written with the ingeniousness of a mind without
guile, which was one of Field's most highly developed literary
accomplishments. No study of Field's character and methods would be
complete without giving this very "human document":


I was born in St. Louis, Mo., September 3d, 1850, the second and
oldest surviving son of Roswell Martin and Frances (Reed) Field,
both natives of Windham County, Vt. Upon the death of my mother
(1856), I was put in the care of my (paternal) cousin, Miss Mary
Field French, at Amherst, Mass.

In 1865 I entered the private school of Rev. James Tufts, Monson,
Mass., and there fitted for Williams College, which institution I
entered as a freshman in 1868. Upon my father's death, in 1869, I
entered the sophomore class of Knox College, Galesburg, Ill., my
guardian, John W. Burgess, now of Columbia College, being then a
professor in that institution. But in 1870 I went to Columbia, Mo.,
and entered the State University there, and completed my junior year
with my brother. In 1872 I visited Europe, spending six months and
my patrimony in France, Italy, Ireland, and England. In May, 1873, I
became a reporter on the St. Louis Evening Journal. In October of
that year I married Miss Julia Sutherland Comstock (born in Chenango
County, N.Y.), of St. Joseph, Mo., at that time a girl of sixteen.
We have had eight children - three daughters and five sons.

Ill-health compelled me to visit Europe in 1889; there I remained
fourteen months, that time being divided between England, Germany,
Holland, and Belgium. My residence at present is in Buena Park, a
north-shore suburb of Chicago.

My newspaper connections have been as follows: 1875-76, city editor
of the St. Joseph (Mo.) Gazette; 1876-80, editorial writer on the
St. Louis Journal and St. Louis Times-Journal; 1880-81, managing
editor of the Kansas City Times; 1881-83, managing editor of the
Denver Tribune. Since 1883 I have been a contributor to the Chicago
Record (formerly Morning News).

I wrote and published my first bit of verse in 1879; it was entitled
"Christmas Treasures" (see "Little Book of Western Verse"). Just ten
years later I began suddenly to write verse very frequently;
meanwhile (1883-89) I had labored diligently at writing short
stories and tales. Most of these I revised half a dozen times. One,
"The Were-Wolf," as yet unpublished, I have rewritten eight times
during the last eight years.

My publications have been, chronologically, as follows:

1. "The Tribune Primer," Denver, 1882. (Out of print, very scarce.)
("The Model Primer," illustrated by Hoppin, Treadway, Brooklyn,
1882. A pirate edition.)

2. "Culture's Garland," Ticknor, Boston, 1887. (Out of print.) "A
Little Book of Western Verse," Chicago, 1889. (Large paper,
privately printed, and limited.) "A Little Book of Profitable
Tales," Chicago, 1889. (Large paper, privately printed, and

3. "A Little Book of Western Verse," Scribners, New York, 1890.

4. "A Little Book of Profitable Tales," Scribners, New York, 1890.

5. "With Trumpet and Drum," Scribners, New York, 1892.

6. "Second Book of Verse," Scribners, New York, 1893.

7. "Echoes from the Sabine Farm" (translations of Horace), McClurg,
Chicago, 1893. (In collaboration with my brother, Roswell Martin

8. Introduction to Stone's "First Editions of American Authors,"
Cambridge, 1893.

9. "The Holy Cross and Other Tales," Stone & Kimball, Cambridge,

I have a miscellaneous collection of books, numbering 3,500, and I
am fond of the quaint and curious in every line. I am very fond of
dogs, birds, and all small pets - a passion not approved by my wife.

My favorite flower is the carnation, and I adore dolls.

My favorite hymn is "Bounding Billows."

My favorites in fiction are Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter," "Don
Quixote," and "Pilgrim's Progress."

I greatly love Hans Andersen's "Tales," and I am deeply interested
in folk-lore and fairy-tales. I believe in ghosts, in witches, and
in fairies.

I should like to own a big astronomical telescope and a
twenty-four-tune music-box.

My heroes in history are Martin Luther, Mademoiselle Lamballe,
Abraham Lincoln; my favorite poems are Körner's "Battle Prayer,"
Wordsworth's "We are Seven," Newman's "Lead, Kindly Light," Luther's
"Hymn," Schiller's "The Diver," Horace's "Fons Bandusiae," and

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

Online LibrarySlason ThompsonEugene Field, a Study in Heredity and Contradictions — Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 19)