Famous Americans of Recent Times eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 624 pages of information about Famous Americans of Recent Times.
among a bundle of walking-sticks, was one cut for him from a tree that shaded Cicero’s grave.  There were gorgeous prayer-books, and Bibles of exceeding magnitude and splendor, and silver-ware in great profusion.  On one occasion there arrived at Ashland the substantial present of twenty-three barrels of salt.  In his old age, when his fine estate, through the misfortunes of his sons, was burdened with mortgages to the amount of thirty thousand dollars, and other large debts weighed heavily upon his soul, and he feared to be compelled to sell the home of fifty years and seek a strange abode, a few old friends secretly raised the needful sum, secretly paid the mortgages and discharged the debts, and then caused the aged orator to be informed of what had been done, but not of the names of the donors.  “Could my life insure the success of Henry Clay, I would freely lay it down this day,” exclaimed an old Rhode Island sea-captain on the morning of the Presidential election of 1844.  Who has forgotten the passion of disappointment, the amazement and despair, at the result of that day’s fatal work?  Fatal we thought it then, little dreaming that, while it precipitated evil, it brought nearer the day of deliverance.

Our readers do not need to be reminded that popularity the most intense is not a proof of merit.  The two most mischievous men this country has ever produced were extremely popular,—­one in a State, the other in every State,—­and both for long periods of time.  There are certain men and women and children who are natural heart-winners, and their gift of winning hearts seems something apart from their general character.  We have known this sweet power over the affections of others to be possessed by very worthy and by very barren natures.  There are good men who repel, and bad men who attract.  We cannot, therefore, assent to the opinion held by many, that popularity is an evidence of shallowness or ill-desert.  As there are pictures expressly designed to be looked at from a distance by great numbers of people at once,—­the scenery of a theatre, for example,—­so there are men who appear formed by Nature to stand forth before multitudes, captivating every eye, and gathering in great harvests of love with little effort.  If, upon looking closely at these pictures and these men, we find them less admirable than they seemed at a distance, it is but fair to remember that they were not meant to be looked at closely, and that “scenery” has as much right to exist as a Dutch painting which bears the test of the microscope.

It must be confessed, however, that Henry Clay, who was for twenty-eight years a candidate for the Presidency, cultivated his popularity.  Without ever being a hypocrite, he was habitually an actor; but the part which he enacted was Henry Clay exaggerated.  He was naturally a most courteous man; but the consciousness of his position made him more elaborately and universally courteous than any man ever was from mere good-nature. 

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Famous Americans of Recent Times from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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