previous next
[107] desert the most blooming beauty to talk to the plainest of men. This was a constant source of amusement to us, and we used to lay wagers with the pretty girls, that with all their art they could not keep him at their side a quarter of an hour. Nor do I think we ever lost one of these bets. I remember particularly one dinner at my father's house, when it fell to his lot to take out a charming woman, so handsome and full of esprit that any one at the table might well have envied him his position. She had determined to hold him captive, and win her bet against us. But her efforts were all in vain. Unfortunately, on his other side was a dry old savant, packed with information; and within five minutes Sumner had completely turned his back on his fair companion, and engaged in a discussion with the other, which lasted the whole dinner. We all laughed. She cast up her eyes deprecatingly, acknowledged herself vanquished, and paid her bet. Meantime, Sumner was wholly unconscious of the jest or of the laughter. He had what he wanted,—sensible men's talk. He had mined the savant as he mined every one he met, in search of ore, and was thoroughly pleased with what he got.

Though he was an interesting talker, he had no lightness of hand. He was kindly of nature, interested in every thing, but totally put off his balance by the least persiflage; and, if it was tried on him, his expression was one of complete astonishment. He was never ready at a retort, tacked slowly, like a frigate when assaulted by stinging feluccas, and was at this time almost impervious to a joke. He had no humor himself, and little sense of it in others; and his jests, when he tried to make one, were rather cumbrous. But in “plain sailing” no one could be better or more agreeable. He was steady and studious, and, though genial, serious in his character; while we were all light, silly, and full of animal spirits, which he sympathized with but could not enter into.

He was, as a young man, singularly plain. His complexion was not healthy. He was tall, thin, and ungainly in his movements, and sprawled rather than sat on a chair or sofa. Nothing saved his face from ugliness but his white gleaming teeth and his expression of bright intelligence and entire amiability. None could believe that he was thus plain in his youth, who only knew him in his full and ripened manhood. As years went on, his face and figure completely changed; and at last he stood before us a stalwart and imposing presence, full of dignity and a kind of grandeur. Age added to his appearance as well as to his influence. His genial illuminating smile he never lost; and at fifty years of age he was almost a handsome, and certainly a remarkable, man in his bearing and looks.

I do not think, in his early years, he had any great ambition. That developed itself afterwards. Circumstances and accidents forced him forward to the van, and he became a leader terribly in earnest. He had the same high-mindedness, the same single aim at justice and truth, the same inflexible faith and courage then that ever after characterized him.1

1 Mr. Story contributed an ‘In Memoriam’ tribute to Sumner, in forty-one verses, to Blackwood's Magazine,Zzz Sept., 1874, Vol. CXVI. pp. 342-346.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Charles Sumner (3)
ZZZ (1)
W. W. Story (1)
Blackwood (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September, 1874 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: