« PreviousContinue »
It was the fashion during the last decade of Senator Morrill's life and for a brief period after his death to compare him to Gladstone. The outer circumstances of their lives did in fact tempt writers to draw a parallel. The two men were born within half a year of each other; both served for a long period in their country's parliaments; both won renown in the problems of finance; both alike were incorruptible; both grew old in public service and went down to their graves full of years and honors.
It were as easy to draw a contrast as a comparison, and perhaps more enticing, for the differences between the two in estate, equipment, and attainments were many and great. There is, therefore, no need to force the parallel; yet within limits the comparison may serve to bring Morrill's figure and personality more clearly into vision.
Morley attributes Gladstone's achievements very largely to his splendid physical endowment and extraordinary vitality which made him seemingly tireless. Something of the sort might be said of Morrill, for though he could not match the great Englishman in physique and fell short of his tremendous energy, he resembled him in the capacity for sustained attention and continuous labor. Both possessed the rare endurance that enabled them to work smoothly and imperturbably for long hours in conference and committee. Both spent toilsome hours daily at the task of correspondence, for both had the old-fashioned habit of replying to letters personally and by hand. To the prejudice of an earlier day in favor of letters in the hand of the sender, which he never out
grew, but which led him until the last to note on the envelope of such "autograph,” Morrill added the predilection for the quill pen of his youth and never willingly used the steel pens, which offended his taste. Both men cultivated economy in small things as in large and hated waste as a thing of Satan. In Morrill's case, his means, though ample for his modest needs, were never large, and he practiced, from necessity no less than breeding, a careful economy.
Neither of them was ever beguiled by contact with great affairs or responsibility for national revenues into condoning the slightest carelessness in public expenditure, or the most trifling waste of public means. Morley relates of Gladstone that even on his mission to Greece, amid the balmy and seductive airs of the Mediterranean, his habit of rigorous economy held him to such trivial savings as erasing the writing on the address slips so as to use them again. And it was told of Morrill that he was so careful of the quill pens which were supplied new every morning on the Senators' desks that he accumulated a large collection of them. Similarly with the red tape used then for government packages, he was never known to throw it away, but preserved and used it scrupulously, so that his committee never had occasion to make a
requisition for a single yard of tape, but was unique among · Senate committees in this as well as in larger economies.
Both were assiduous in attendance on public duty, and it may be doubted whether the chronicles of Parliament in their long array of volumes contain another record equal to the one, or those of Congress a rival to the other. Morrill carried no such weight of learning as made Gladstone so formidable in controversy or debate, nor wore the academic distinctions which were appropriate to him who represented Oxford for sixteen years in the House. But Gladstone was no more sincere a lover of learning or of books than the modest student from the Vermont valley. Though the volumes in
the narrow library at Strafford were not a tithe of the accumulation at Hawarden, they were fairly representative of the world's literature and were well conned. Both found in books a lifelong resource; the return to his library and to the physical presence and handling of his books was to each of them a rest and a recreation.
It would do him an injustice to imply that Morrill was a scholar in any strict or severe sense; for that his early lack of academic training was too great an obstacle, but he lived much with books and found in his library, whether at Strafford or at Washington, both a work-room and a retreat. The sunny room at Strafford opened directly into the garden and so brought together his flowers and his books, the two great delights of his life. He had begun to collect books as early as 1828 and they were the only objects that ever kept alive in him the zeal of the collector. His early acquisitions were volumes of information, but as he went on his interest in public life asserted itself, and political biography, especially American and British, became the most notable section. After he went to Washington, where there were splendid libraries at his elbow, the rate of accumulation slackened, but as long as he lived he continued to add to the collection at Strafford and to the smaller working library which he built up in Washington. He was never restricted to a mere specialist's choice, but showed a catholic taste.
The first entry in the printed catalogue which he made in 1880 is “Abbeychurch; or Self-Control and Self-Conceit" (London: James Burnes, 1844), and is followed by Baker's “Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia," the “Life and Works of John Adams,” comprising fifteen volumes in all, and Addison's“Works" in four volumes. The second page contains, along with various works in agriculture, Coleridge's “Aids to Reflection"; Hobhouse's “A Journey Through Albania”; the "Autobiography" of Alfieri; the “Life of Alfred the
Great”; “Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Heroes of '76"; and two volumes on the exploration of the Amazon. It is evident from the catalogue that he was never led off by collectors' hobbies; first editions, limited editions, sumptuous bindings, uncut copies, possessed no attraction for him; he sought the book for its contents, not its form.
In one of the dull eulogies pronounced in Congress after his death, a speaker, thinking to praise him, declared, “He never read works of fiction.” But this was merely an extravagance of funereal oratory. As his library testifies, he had a healthy interest in fiction. Here are the works of Dickens, Scott, Smollett, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot, besides odd volumes of Fielding, Cervantes, Thackeray, Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Reade, Kingsley, Victor Hugo, Cooper, Lew Wallace, Disraeli, Madame de Staël, Hawthorne, Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and G. P. R. James. To one of so tolerant a taste as he it would have been extraordinary if, in his sixty years of reading, he had eschewed the great feast of prose fiction. Yet he seldom drew an illustration from a novel, and there is hardly a reference to fiction in his letters, where, in fact, books appear all too seldom. When he does touch a literary topic, he shows a firm grasp. One of his rare letters on a question of the sort was written to President Buckham, of the University of Vermont, who had dismissed an opinion of Milton on the ground that he was a poet. Morrill replied:
... By no means should I presume to place my opinions upon any literary point against yours, for mine are based upon too scanty and too desultory reading for that, though it is true when employed in that direction I find my highest enjoyment.
You object to any opinion of Milton on the historian Sallust because he had, as you think, an undue admiration of the Greek poet, “The effeminate Euripides," and thereby start me on the defense of Milton. I have little knowledge of Euripides save what I have acquired from the judgment of others ... but I have re
garded him as among the first in merits and perhaps in faults. The anecdote given by Plutarch, when such Athenian prisoners as could repeat any verses of Euripides gained their liberty, shows he had won a wide fame, even away from his own country, in ancient times, and in modern, Rachel made her great reputation by portraying Phædra according to the Greek conception rather than that of Racine. To be sure, Aristophanes hated and ridiculed Euripides, and German critics have followed in the track of Aristophanes, but Milton had rare authority for his partiality, whether expressed in prose or in his sonnets, in such names as those of Aristotle, Quintillian, Socrates, and Cicero. These surely are not mere poets, and they are all recorded very heartily for Euripides, and even Tacitus mentions his name as only second to Æschylus. Poets, it is true, belong to the irritable genus, ever envious, and are rarely able to classify even their own productions according to obvious merit, but, like parents with weak or deformed children, most esteem their unhealthiest offspring. Still, Milton was a giant not only among poets, but exerted a powerful influence in the times in which he lived. He was a scholar, traveling and mixing with the world as a red-hot Republican in the days when such principles were rare. Of course he had faults, but his opinions on literary or classic questions were as good as those of any of his contemporaries.
More of the plays of Euripides have endured than of any of the writers of that period - a fact worth something. Of course tragedies are made for the age. The fables of Grecian mythology, though not reverently accepted by the authors, were relished by their audience, but only as fables. The plays where they appear would now be ridiculed. But I only proposed to stand up for that old Puritan Milton, and must crave your pardon for taking up so much of your time with this long yarn.
In another respect, not the least surprising, Morrill bore comparison with his contemporary across the sea. He had an unusual charm of manner. That Gladstone, the pride of Christ Church, the favorite of great houses, the associate of statesmen and rulers, should have had distinguished manners is no matter of surprise, but that the son of a Vermont blacksmith, who never entered the halls of a university as a