« PreviousContinue »
student and spent his youth as a storekeeper, should have cultivated manners of such urbanity and charm as to mark him out as the ideal of senatorial courtesy and give him the sobriquet of the “Courtly Morrill” deserves more than a passing notice. Though he was constant in attendance and frequent in debate, it is a legend in Congress that during his nearly forty-four years of service in the two houses, he never engaged in angry controversy or had any altercation on the floor, so that his name became synonymous with courtesy. Yet, as the episode of the Pennsylvania Railroad showed, it was for no lack of ardor in his blood, but he had schooled himself from his youth to control and subdue his anger. One of the entries in a journal which he kept when he was twenty reads, “It is an irreparable loss of time to get angry. Unless it be thought not a waste of time to sharpen the deadliest animal passion of the human breast. It takes some time to be worked up into a wrathful excitement and none cool down
- not to consider the moments of actual raving—but by the slow process. I believe none can think of anything else to advantage while their veins are absorbed with angry blood.”
While neither was convivial but rather restrained in manner, both loved the society of cultivated men, and from their youth were welcome guests at the tables of the first people; Morrill was as much at home at the White House as Gladstone at Windsor or Balmoral. Both, too, were genuinely hospitable. Readers of Morley's volumes will recall how constant was the stream of visitors at Hawarden, and there is a passage in a letter from Redfield Proctor that shows what a friendly hearth was kept at the Morrills' Washington home: “I always enjoy going to your house, and feel, as I think all other Vermonters do, that a trip to Washington is not complete without it."
In both men the springs of courtesy lay deep in their nature and convictions. Both had a profound sense of per
sonal dignity and a conviction of public duty that raised their daily performance even of routine tasks to the level of a solemn ritual. What Lord Morley wrote of Gladstone, when he spoke of the "arduous aim to reconcile greetings in the market-place and occupation of high seats, with the spiritual glow of the soul within its own sanctuary,” 1 applies with equal justice to Morrill. Both were men who had an inner guidance and marched to the music of moral causes.
With all the differences between them, they were alike in being, far beyond the lot of common men, fortunate and blest in their domestic lives. Happy in the choice of their wives, they were happy in the length of days that gave them unbroken companionship for many years, so that throughout a period of public service extraordinarily prolonged, each found in his home a haven of refuge from the noise of conflict and the cares of office. There is an entry in one of Mrs. Morrill's journals that gives a key to the serenity and contentment which reigned in that home:
Have read an interesting biographical sketch of William Wordsworth, the great poet. His social relations were very pleasant, especially with his sister Dorothy who was his housekeeper for several years before his marriage, and continued with him afterwards. The biographer says, “This house was of his own choosing, in the spot he loved best in the world; and two women, kind and sweet and beloved, were his companions and worshippers. No happier lot could have been.” He experienced a great sorrow in the death of his beloved daughter Dora, from which it is said he never entirely recovered, but “He was a happy, prosperous, and successful man, as well as a great and famous poet.”
Both were religious men, the product of pious homes and habituated to religious usages. In the family letters of both, as well as in their diaries, one meets constant references to preachers and sermons. Beyond this the parallel hardly holds. The type and form of the religion of Morrill differed
i Vol. 11, 460.
widely from that of Gladstone with its orderly and monumental theology, its wealth of historic creed and formula, its range of controversial background. Morrill had grown up in a New England stirred by the great liberalizing and solvent sweep of the Unitarian movement of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. He had seen the traditional creeds shaken if not overthrown; for him the classical theology had lost its authority; the ancient dogma had no grandeur; he was prepared to think for himself, to "try all things and hold fast that which is good," on the sole authority of his own intellect. Some suggestion of whither this was to lead him appears in a letter written to his wife on January 10, 1862, in which he remarks, “If Jimmy under your one hour's Sabbath instruction got a clear apprehension of the birth of Jesus Christ, I should be glad to have him explain it to me. With entire reverence, I say the clergy are not very satisfactory in their unfoldings of this mystery.”
He emerged a Unitarian and for the last thirty years of his life attended the Unitarian Church in Washington. At home in Strafford he continued the family custom of attendance at the Congregational Church where his father had gone before him, but did not always find it edifying, as the following letter to his wife shows, and sympathized with his son's restiveness under the discipline of sitting through two services on Sunday:
WASHINGTON, June 11, 1868 MY DEAR RUTH:
I was glad to hear that you were well enough to go through with two services at church under the ministration of our old and Distinguished Dominie. It argues considerable strength of body and more of will — exceeding, I fear, all that I could command. Jimmy is mistaken in holding that I gave him permission to stay at home after attending service a half-day on the Sabbath for all time. My permission was only for a particular day and he has expanded for all time. Still, if he goes to school every day, sitting
on hard benches, it seems rather tough on the little fellow to force him to go and sit on the church seats all day on Sunday.
The preaching, although well enough, is certainly not very attractive either for matter or manner, and I cannot forget that in all the years of war there was not one prayer, one heart-felt emotion by Mr. D. for the Success of the Union Cause. I believe he was favorable to the continuance of Slavery. I feel kindly to the old man, but I am not extremely anxious that my child should be indoctrinated by him. I should go and hear him a half-day every Sabbath for example's sake. You can do more if you like. When they get a more useful as well as attractive minister I may do more too. But you know that the congregation cannot be increased under the lead of Mr. D., however good a man he may be. But I will not occupy quite so large a share of my letter as you have done with theological subjects.
He was no theologian and carried into the field of religion the same calm and equable disposition that he bore in affairs and in politics, as if he had taken for his motto that great admonition of the Greeks, undév äryav, "nothing too much.”
In September, 1898, as we have seen, Morrill had written to his friend Senator Hoar denying any intention of resigning from the Senate. He had made public a similar denial, and there were those who spoke and wrote of his completing his term and even living to round out a full half-century in Washington. But the time was drawing near when a summons for his retirement would be presented by one who will not take no for an answer.
It was not merely that the weight of years rested heavily on him. A grief still heavier had sapped his strength, and, though he bore up bravely, putting forth great efforts to play the man, he was aware at every turn of a haunting and irreparable loss. The birthday party at No. i Thomas Circle had been a brilliant success that spring. Everywhere it had been described as the social event of the season. Statesmen, jurists, diplomats, travelers, men of letters, and famous folk of all types had crowded the Senator's home to pay homage to him and Mrs. Morrill on his eighty-eighth birthday. And his wife, though she had never been strong and had lately been far from well, had mustered up her spirits to meet the occasion and bravely played her part as hostess. But it had exhausted her vitality. On the 13th of May, scarcely a month after the splendid party, she died.
For forty and seven years they had lived in a companionship serene and happy as a fairy tale, so that her presence had become a part of life to him and her death a visitation almost unrealizable. It was like blindness; he could not adjust himself to it. Though he might busy himself more than ever with the Senate, Hawaii, the Philippine question, the