I never replied to any such tales except once, and that once came about in the spring of 1888. I regarded it as a joke. Some one reported that one evening, at a little gathering in my house, there were four kinds of wine served. I was much interviewed on the subject. I announced in my church that the report was false, that we had no wine. I did not take the matter as one of offence. If I had been as great a master of invective and satire as Roscoe Conkling I might have said more. In the spring of this year he died. The whole country watched anxiously the news bulletins of his death. He died a lawyer. About Conkling as a politician I have nothing to say. There is no need to enter that field of enraged controversy. As a lawyer he was brilliant, severely logical, if he chose to be, uproarious with mirth if he thought it appropriate. He was an optimist. He was on board the “Bothnia” when she broke her shaft at sea, and much anxiety was felt for him. I sailed a week later on the “Umbria,” and overtaking the “Bothnia,” the two ships went into harbour together. Meeting Mr. Conkling the next morning, in the North-Western Hotel, at Liverpool, I asked him if he had not been worried.
“Oh, no,” he said; “I was sure that good fortune would bring us through all right.”
He was the only lawyer I ever knew who could afford to turn away from a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States. He had never known misfortune. Had he ever been compelled to pass through hardships he would have been President in 1878. Because of certain peculiarities, known to himself, as well as to others, he turned aside from politics. Although neither Mr. Conkling nor Mr. Blaine could have been President while both lived, good people of all parties hoped for Mr. Conkling’s recovery.
The national respect shown at the death-bed of the lawyer revealed the progress of our times. Lawyers, for many years in the past, had been ostracised. They were once forbidden entrance to Parliament. Dr. Johnson wrote the following epitaph, which is obvious enough:—
God works wonders now and
Here lies a lawyer an honest man.
The longer I live the more I think of mercy. Fifty-six years of age and I had not the slightest suspicion that I was getting old. It was like a crisp, exquisitely still autumn day. I felt the strength and buoyancy of all the days I had lived merging themselves into a joyous anticipation of years and years to come. For a long while I had cherished the dream that I might some day visit the Holy Land, to see with my own eyes the sky, the fields, the rocks, and the sacred background of the Divine Tragedy. The tangible plans were made, and I was preparing to sail in October, 1889. I felt like a man on the eve of a new career. The fruition of the years past was about to be a great harvest of successful work. I speak of it without reserve, as we offer prayers of gratitude for great mercies.