William Richards Castle William Roscoe Thayer.

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an American has died whose career was as well worth writing
as John Hay's; and of all living men the author of the Life of
Cavour was the man best fitted to write the Life of John Hay,
Mr. Thayer has produced a book which is a permanent addition both
to American history and to American literature; and surely it is
hard to give greater praise.

In addition to his really great Life of Cavour^ Mr. Thayer has
previously written charmingly on various Italian subjects. Italy he
necessarily approached purely from the standpoint of the scholar
and the traveler, the man of cultivated mind who is given to his-
torical research. In dealing with John Hay he has also, and rather
unexpectedly, shown a sympathetic understanding of what John
Hay did, which could only come from a first-hand knowledge, if
not of political life, at least of many of the men who do the actual
and important work of political life. Without this knowledge it
would have been quite impossible for any man to write adequately
of John Hay. As an instance of sound insight, it may be mentioned
that Mr. Thayer is entirely right when he says that it was a mis-
fortune that John Hay had not himself served in Congress, so that
he might have practically understood the rough^nd-tumble life
of the political world and have been better able to gauge what
could and what could not be expected of the men who take part in
the life of practical politics.

John Hay was one of a very limited number of American public
men who have possessed marked literary ability and that high and
fine quality of inteUectual eminence which Matthew Arnold would
have characterized as '* distinction." In consequence of a rather
curious tradition of American public life, ambassadors and min-
isters have frequently been appointed because they were distin-
guished men of letters. There would have been nothing unusual
in Hay's having come purely in this class. But John Hay, in addi-

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266 W. R. Thaym^s ''Life of John Hay:' [December,

tion to serving abroad in various diplomatic positions, including
that of Ambassador at the Court of St. James, began his public
career by being the private secretary of Abraham Lincoln during
the tremendous crisis of the Civil War and ended it by being Secre-
tary of State during the years which saw the United States, for
good or for evil, forced to take her part among the great powers
of the world and begin to deal with world questions.

There are, as Mr. Thayer acutely points out, two distinct phases
in John Hay's career. During the first phase aU his instincts
and ways of thought were radical. During the second they were
conservative. It is, of course, hardly necessary to say that this fact
does not in itself mean that he was wrong in either attitude. Noth-
ing is surer proof of the label-giving habit of mind than the effort
to class a great man either as a mere conservative or a mere radi-
cal, or the tendency to speak as if either conservatism or radical-
ism was in itself always right. Indeed, as regards many actions,
the use of the words " conservative " and *^ radical'' indicates in-
exactitude in terminology, for the same action may be radical
from one standpoint and conservative from another. At different
stages of their careers, and on different questions, Washington and
Lincoln both occupied very radical, and again very conservative,
positions ; and each was right, both when he was radical and when
he was conservative.

While serving under Lincoln, and for several years afterwards,
John Hay was the ultra-democrat, the ultra-republican, the believer
in the rights of man and in popular rule and an ardent sympathizer,
not only with the Americans who had followed Lincoln in his contest
for human rights as against property rights, but also with the ad-
vanced Qerman and Italian friends of liberty. The almost nation-
wide outburst of violence and lawlessness which accompanied the
railroad riots of 1877 marked the occasion, and was largely the
cause, of the change — which, however, had doubtless already been
slowly in process of preparation. From that time forward his horror
of lawlessness and disorder, and of the brutal violence unleashed
by demagogues who were then powerless to control it, drove him
into an attitude towards the rights of wealth which would unques-
tionably have seemed very strange, indeed, to the young secretary
of Lincoln's day. It was this attitude which made him write his
solitary novel The Breadwinners^ a really powerful presentation

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1916.3 W. B. Th^er'B ^Life of John Hayr 257

of OM md9 of our oonii^lez 9^kl tmi Imhi9tml pirpblems ; ^ side
which needs to be stated, bwt wbifib iimte is » atvtain irony in
li»vi«g stated by Liooobi's biog^ra^lMNr,

Hay's sanrieas aa Saaretejy of State were great ; but it may be
dpubted wWfcber \m semoes as laii^n's biographer ware »ot even
giraater. At any rate« idle «Aoi>«]iiie»tal work, la which ihe was part-
us with Nieolay, taJcan together wiih the two vohuaes of Lincoln's
letters whiah they auheequantly edited, will always ramafai a store-
house, wheveia net laei^ely the Aniaricim historians of (he period of
the Civil War, but Amerieaa politicians aia»oaa tQ daal i» proper
f aahiop with natioaai proble»s» will find a wealtk of material that
they cao find nowhere eke.

As Secretary' of State Hay oeeopied a a«iqiie position. To a
high standard of personal integrity, whieb made him expect and
believe that the nation should observe the same standard of national
integrity, he added a faatidiouaness of temper^ of tastev of refine-
m^it, which was a very real benefit to American public life when
exhibited in high public place by a man of signal and conceded
capacity as a public servant. This sensitive refinement of nature,
like the sheer massiveness of Lincela's character, made it im-
posaible for Hay to tolerate what wm meitetrieious or sentimental ^
<Hr offensive to morals. The rugged simplifcity of Lincoln had in it
not one touch of that ekea^^BOse or vulgarity which in a democracy
is unfortunately sometimes accepted either as a mark of efiEM»ency or
as a sign of qrmpathy with the common people ; and John Hay's
mare presence in paUie life was an antidote and correetive to this
cheap form of spurious democracy. His purpose was single. It
was to serve his country. But he desii«d to serve his country by
making that country rise l^vd to the most exaeting standaids of
courage and of honesty, of faith to its plighted word, of refusal
diher to wirong others or tamely to submit to wrong by others.

The one weakness of Hay was, as hia biographer points out,
his inability to get on with the certainly somewhat exasperating
political leaders with whom he was obliged to transact business.
His extreme sensitiveness and his innate good breeding, joined with
other traits, made association with masterful but often coarse
and selfish politicians peculiarly distasteful to him. His attitude
of mind was humorously but quite truthfully expressed when, in
^ I use sentimentality as the antithesis of sentiment.

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268 W. R. Thayer's ''Life of John Hay:' [December,

response to a qnestion, which Senator he hated most, he instantly
answered, '' The one I have seen last.''

One of the distinctive services rendered by Mr. Thayer, which
shows his peculiar fitness for writing this particular biography, is
his presentation of Hay's relations with the little knot of people
who were his close associates in Washington. The Adamses, the
Ltpdges, and the Camerons were the other members of the little
group, those in whose houses he was as intimate as they were in
his house. But in addition there were many others who did not
live in Washington, but who were continually guests either at John
Hay's or at his next-door neighbor's, Henry Adams ; John LaFarge,
the artist; Richardson, the sculptor ; and, above all, Clarence King,
whose friends always pathetically believed that his brilliant and
infinitely varied promise would some day take shape in perform-
ance. In addition there were all kinds of transients, including
very charming people of every kind from Europe; and at one
period, for many months, a particularly cultivated and delightful
Polynesian prince.

The biography contains an admirable selection of Hay's letters.
He was one of the very limited number of men who, in notes
written on the spur of the moment, and in remarks, made equaUy
on the spur of the moment, really did say things which every one
of us would like to say but never think of until after the opportun-
ity for saying them has passed. Unfortunately the charm of such
conversation is necessarily evanescent; and the charm of the corre-
spondence itself loses a little of its bloom, because of the very fact
that it was so apt, so unforced, so fitted into the thought and ex-
pression of the moment. Nevertheless it has a permanent value in
the letters of John Hay as in the letters of Thackeray or of Lamb.

Again let it be said that there was a real need of a biography
of John Hay, and that no other living man could have met this
need as Mr. Thayer has met it.

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1916.] Etfta Eipley Thayer. 259



EzBA RiPLET Thateb was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on
February 21, 1866, of the best New England ancestry. His father
was James Bradley Thayer, of the Harvard Class of 1852, then
engaged in the practice of law in Boston, but later and for many
years widely known and loved as a professor in the Harvard Law
School. His mother, Sophia Bradford Ripley, was the daughter of
the Reverend Samuel Ripley, of Concord, and a cousin of Ralph
Waldo Emerson. On the father's side the younger Thayer was
descended from John Alden, on his mother's, from Governor Brad-

Soon after James B. Thayer accepted, in 1874, a professorship
. in the Harvard Law School, he moved with his family to Cam-
bridge, and the remainder of his son's boyhood was mainly passed
under the shadow of the University. Many of those living in Cam-
bridge at that time will still recall the unconscious grace and
intellectual beauty of the son at this time. His apparently easy
leadership in his studies at school left abundant time and inclina-
tion for the usual sports of youth. He was prepared for college at
the Cambridge High School and Hopkinson's private school in
Boston. During this period, however, he spent a year abroad,
chiefly in Greece, where, under private tuition, he laid the founda-
tion for a life-long love of the Greek language, literature, and

Entering Harvard CoUege in 1884, he maintained his position
as the first student in his class, but also played on his class nine,
played a game of tennis only just inferior to the best, and was an
active member of many college societies. A first Boylston prize for
speaking, awarded to him in his senior year, indicated that he had
idso capacity for effective oral expression. On graduation the law
was a natural choice of profession, and after entering the Law
School in the autumn of 1888, he never doubted the wisdom of
his choice. Again he led his class, and in his third year success-
fully competed for a prize offered by the Harvard Law School
Association for an essay on ** Judicial Legislation," afterwards
published in the Harvard Law JSeview.

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260 Enta RifA^y TJuj^. [December,

It was the habit of Judge Horace Gray, of the United States
Supreme Court, to eeeure as his seerelary amraally a promising
student of the graduating chus in the Law School. The work of
aiding so distinguished a judge in the preparation of his decisions
and opiaiMM was highly valued by these who had the priTilege tt>
be thus amployecL Thayer spent in this way kk first year after
graduation from the Law School. He then retoraad to Boston
and entered the office of Warren and Braadeis* First lu a clerk
with that firm, and then as a partner in the firm snhsequently
formed of Braodeis, Dovbar, and Nutter, he ma i iitaiao d this ooa-
neotion until 1900, when he became a member of the firm af Storey,
Thorndike, Palmer, and Thaymr, and so remained nniil he gave
«p the ^wctice of the law in 1910. The jnnior partner in a large
law office never leads the life of an idler ; and die eighteen years
during which Thay^er practised law were filled with varied pro-
fessional business. He tried many jury cases and argued many
questions of law, gaining an enviaUe veputatioD for skill, care,
and learning.

During this period he married, in June, 1898, Ethel Randolph
Clark, and three children were bom to him. In his home li& he
found, after his marriage, his highest happiness.

Thayer's intellectnal and personal gifts so admirably fitted him
for a teacher of law that more tiian once he had been asked to ac-
cept a professorship at Cambridge. Indeed the nnnsual compli-
ment had been paid him, inHnediately after his gradnation from the
School, of an offer of a permanent position on its staff. Again, on
his father's death, in 1902, the vacant professorship was offered
to the son. Both offers, after careful consideration, w^re declined.
Thayer did not think he had yet got from practice the development
which it could give. For some years, however, he gave a series of
lectures in the Law School on ** Massachusetts Practice," and later
a series in the Medieal School on the ^ Relaticm of the Medical
Profession to the Law."

In the spring of 1910, after considerable doubt and hesitation,
he accepted the position left vacant by the death of Dean Ames at
the head of the Law School, and assumed the duties of die posi-
tion in the following autumn. He fully appreciated the difficulties
he undertook in changing the character of his work in middle life,
and threw himself wholeJieartedly into his new work. All con-

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Late Dean of the Law SchooL

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19150 E9tra Ripleif Thayer. 261

neetion with praolioe wm absohitdj rMiaimoed, and his energy
devoted mMpMringlj to problems of study, teacbiag, and admia-
istrslion. A few wotds wntten by him fot a Qaee Report in 1912
show hie own feeling about the magnitude of hie task: ^Any
classmate who ie diepoeed to try the e:qMrimeiit will agree with me
that he never had a better ehaaoe to use the twenty-four hours in
the day in his bnsineBs, or to learn things, or to realize his own
prerieviB ignovaoee."

The reader of these words must bear in mind Thayer's habitual
attitude towards his own work. Unstinting in his praise and ad-
miration of good work by ethers, he was an unduly severe critic
of his own performance. Nevertheless, it is true that skill in teach-
ing did not come to him as quickly as did accomplishment in most
directions. His recognition of the fact, his study to perfect him-
self by examining the methods of others, his experimenting, his
steady iauprovement in the art were characteristic of him. As a
scholar his mastery of the subjects of Evidence and of Torts was
great and increasing, and the few essays which he wrote are
enough to show that, had he lived long enough to have written
more fully on his chosen subjects, as be planned to do, he would
have won recognition as one of the foremost legal thinkers of his

In spite of the time and energy which he devoted to study and
teaching, the problems of administration were constantly before
him. His trained business capacity was of the highest value in
keeping in order the every-day affairs of the School, but he never
lost sight of the larger problem of making it of the highest value,
not only to the profession but to the public, during a period when
social and legal theories and ideals were in rapid flux. Not less
was he interested in the personal side of his work. He invited his
students to his house and made friends of them there and at the
School. Like a friend he demanded of them their best and re-
ceived it. His method of marking examination books was so tho-
roughly indicative of his attitude towards his work that it should
be told. To mark 600 books, each containing four hours' written
work, is no slight task. To most of his colleagues it is drudgery
— necessary but painful. Thayer seized upon it as opportunity.
In reading the books he never looked at the name of the writer un-
til the book was marked, and a brief estimate made from its con-

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262 Ezra Ripley Thayer. [December,

tents of the writer's characteristios, — saoh as a *^ hard worker but
a poor reasoner," "brilliant but careless.'* These memoranda were
afterwards correlated and, with other data, they gave the Dean a
surprisingly accurate knowledge of the strength and weakness of
the hundreds of young men under him. He had no patience with
the brilliant idler who tried to make his brilliancy an excuse for
neglecting his daily task, but for one who, though of slow com-
prehension, did honest work, he was ready to make all possible
allowances. Though students found him a kindly dean, he was not
easily deceived. His practice at the Bar gave him a skill in cross-
examination and a readiness in drawing correct inferences of fact
that were disconcerting to the occasional black sheep in the flock.

In 1912 Brown University conferred upon him the degree of
LL.D. In the following year he received the honor of an offered
appointment to the bench of the Supreme Judicial Court The
position would have been eminently suited to his taste and would
have brought association with men for whom he had the highest
admiration. He was urged to accept the appointment by friends
whose opinions he valued, and had he yielded to his personal in-
clination, might have done so ; but he could not think it right to
leave his post at the Law School after so short a service as his had
then been. As he said to a friend, ^^ I left practice to try to help
the School ; and I cannot think it right to do it an injury by now
forcing a rapid and unexpected change in the office of Dean."

He was first Secretary and then chairman of the Committee on
Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association, and had a
large share in the work of drafting for the Association a code of
legal ethics which has been widely recognized as the best state-
ment which has been made of the subject with which it deals. He
was also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
and was selected to speak on behalf of his college class at the Com-
mencement exercises on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his gradua-

A college classmate and lifelong friend, in closing a brief sum-
mary of Thayer's career, has well said : '^ It is when one tries to
portray the man as he was to his friends, apart from titles, posi-
tion, and particular accomplishments, that the readiest pen must
pause. The wit, the kindly, teasing humor, the affectionate loyalty,
the clear, bright intelligence, the vivid life, the speaking eyes —

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1915.] The Making of an Angling library. 263

this was a personality of a power and a charm that carried straight
to the heart.''

Though a continued series of successes might well have forbid-
den him to forget his great ability, he was nevertheless a modest
man. As his father said, things ^^ can be done either well enough
or perfectly." Only the latter way seemed worth while to Thayer,
and to one enamored of perfection his own best accomplishment
seems poor.

In the spring of 1915 he was attacked by a painful illness which
confined him to his bed for many weeks. His recovery was slow
and interrupted by relapses. During his service at the Law School
he had always been solicitous lest bis colleagues should overwork,
but had never spared himself, and he had probably for some years
overtaxed his nervous strength. His physical illness aggravated
the nervous strain. As summer advanced he was troubled with
sleeplessness. He worried about his possible inability to fulfil his
duties to the Law School. The mental stress proved too much for
his reason, and on the 14th of September his useful and beauti-
ful life came to an untimely end.



This library of books on angling, fishing, fisheries, and fish-calture,
now numbering over 12,000 Tolumes and pamphlets in twenty different
languages, had its genesis in the year 1890 in the form of a scrapbook
on tront and trout-fishing. From that scrapbook began the collection of
books entirely on trout and trout-fishing ; then were added books with
chapters on those subjects, and so on until the entire four heads men-
tioned above were gpradually drawn in and the library began to grow.

The foundation-stone of an angling library is naturally the first five
editions of Izaak Walton's The Campleat Angler, the editions that were
printed before his death. Of these five, the first, printed in 1653, the
'< First Walton," stands at the head. The most charming pastoral in the
English tongue, and of which Richard Le Gallienne speaks so feelingly,

^ This aooonnt was written by Mr. Fearing, to be read at a olab. Mr. Fearing has
now presented his wonderhd oollection to Harvard, one of the most important single
gifts ever xeoeived by the Umversity Library.

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264 I%€ MMnff of an Angling lAhrOfy. [Dectmber,

''To kmf tfckr ia hi* IMe librae he h«d ondetgaiie wiHingly nMay pri-
▼atioDs, cheerfully faced hanger and cold rather than let it pa» fnm his
hand ; . < « pevhape, after Bobiman Crusoe^ the moek pepakr el Bng-
lisfa olaeniee^ • « « a paeUural, the freshneaa oi which a hondred editions
have left nneahansted, a book in which the grass is f oarevev green, and
the shining brooks do indeed go on forever." Another lever of old Isaak
has very cleverly adapted the remark of the celebrated Dr. Botteler, of
strawberry fame, — " Doubtless a better angling book there might have
been, but such, doubtless, there never has been yet." It is doubtful if
there is another book in English, save the Holy Bible, that has gone into
so many editions ; at this date, 1915, there are over 170 different editions
of The Compleat Angler. This collection boasts of over 160.

The story of the '* First Walton " reads like a fairy tale. The first that
is known of The Compleat Angler is a smsR advertisement in an old
London newspaper, The Perfect Diurnal^ . . . *'from Munday, May
9, to Monday, May 16, 1662/' reading as follows : '< The Compleat
Angler^ er the Contemplative man's Recreation^ behind a Discourse of
Fish and Fishing, not unworthy the perusal of meet Anglers, of 18 pence
price, written by Iz. Wa." The author's name does not appear on the
title-page until the fifth edition, published in 1676. The commendatory
verses in the second edition, published in 1655, are, however, inscribed
to ** Mr. Izaak Walton."

Probably no book published in the last 300 years has so increased in
value. Published originally at the price of 18 pence, in Dr. Bethune's
time (1847) he values a pei'fect copy at 12 guineas. A copy was offered
to the owner of this library in London in 1889 for 45 guineas ; this copy
was in the original binding, but a little soiled. Unluckily for him he ¥ras
not at that time interested in angling books. At the sale of the Von Ant-
werp Library in London in 1907, Quaritch paid £1290 for a copy in the
original binding and in perfect condition. This copy, which formerly be-
longed to Locker Lampson and has a poem written in pencil by him on
one of the alba, is now in the librarf of J. P. Morgan. So high a price
may never be reached again, but since that date several copies have sold
for over a thousand pounds each.

A small book, some 5| x 3| in pristine binding, no one knows how
many of this edition of 1653 were issued ; as a friend has pleasantly written
concerning it : '^ Its description of nature, its sage reflections on manners
and customs and the everyday problems of life, and, beyond all else, its
genial humanity, which show through its every page, won for it quick
popularity. It was a book to pick up in a leisure half-hour and skim with
the assurance of a quiet pleasure which few volumes of today can convey.
So it happened that The Compleat Angler met with a ready sale in its

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1915.] Tht Mahmg of an Angling Libraty. 265

fint edition. Perhaps it was because of the low price at which it was
told tittt copies of this little book of 250 years ago hare disappeared so

Online LibraryWilliam Richards Castle William Roscoe ThayerThe Harvard graduates' magazine → online text (page 36 of 103)