previous next

Chapter 30: Appearance—manners—habits.

Horace Greeley stands five feet ten and a half inches, in his stockings. He weighs one hundred and forty-five pounds. Since his return from Europe in 1851, he has increased in weight, and promises to attain, in due time, something of the dignity which belongs to amplitude of person. He stoops considerably, not from age, but from a constitutional pliancy of the back-bone, aided by his early habit of incessant reading. In walking, he swings or sways from side to side. Seen from behind, he looks, as he walks with head depressed, bended back, and swaying gait, like an old man; an illusion which is heightened, if a stray lock of white hair escapes from under his hat. But the expression of his face is singularly and engagingly youthful. His complexion is extremely fair, and a smile plays ever upon his countenance. His head, measured round the organs of Individuality and Philoprogenitiveness, is twenty-three and a half inches in circumference, which is considerably larger than the average. His forehead is round and full, and rises into a high and ample dome. The hair is white, inclining to red at the ends, and thinly scattered over the head. Seated in company, with his hat off, he looks not unlike the Philosopher he is often called; no one could take him for a common man.

According to the Phrenological Journal, his brain is very large, in the right place, well balanced, and of the best form, long, narrow, [422] and high. It indicates, says the same authority, small animality and selfishness, extreme benevolence, natural nobleness, and loftiness of aim. His controlling organs are, Adhesiveness, Benevolence, Firmness, and Conscientiousness. Benevolence is small; Destructiveness and Acquisitiveness less. Amativeness and Philoprogenitiveness are fully developed. The Love of Approbation is prominent; Self-Esteem not so. Resistance and Moral Courage are very full; Secretiveness full; Cautiousness large; Continuity small; Ideality fair; Taste very small; Imitation small; Mirthfulness very large; Eventuality and Comparison large; Language good; Reasoning better; Agreeableness deficient; Intuition great; Temperament active. His body, adds the Phrenologist, is not enough for his head. Time, as I have just remarked, is remedying that.

In manner, Horace Greeley is still a rustic. The Metropolis has not been able to make much impression upon him He lives amidst the million of his fellow-citizens, in their various uniforms, an unassimilated man.

Great, very great, as we all perceive, is the assimilating power of great cities. A youth comes here to New York, awkward, ill-dressed, bashful, and capable of being surprised. He visits his country home, after only a few years' residence in the city, a changed being; his clothes, his manners, his accent, and his affectations, are “town-made.” His hair is shorter and more elaborately brushed; his words are fewer and he utters them in a lower tone; his collar is higher; he wears strange things fastened in a curious way; he gets up late in the morning, and takes his sustenance with a fork. The country people, the younger ones at least, are rather overawed by him, and secretly resolve to have their next coat made like his. What he calls his opinions, too, are not what they were. His talk is a languid echo of the undertone of conservative indifference which prevails in the counting-rooms where he has plied the assiduous pen, or wagged the wheedling tongue. He is, in a word, another man. He is a stranger in his father's house. He comes back to town, and, as years roll on, he hardens and sharpens into the finished citizen.

It is so with most, but not with all. Some men there are—very few, yet some—who resist effectually, and to the last, the assimilating influence of cities. These are the oddities, the stared—at, the [423] men of whom anecdotes are told. They are generally either much wiser, or else much more nearly mad than their fellow-citizens. Girard, the tough, sensible, benevolent banker of Philadelphia was an oddity; and so was that other Philadelphian who placed all his hopes of distinction upon his persistence in the practice of not wearing a hat. Franklin was an oddity; and so was he who, says popular tradition, took his nightly repose in a lime-kiln, and never used a clothes-brush. It is best, perhaps, not to be odd; and, certainly, the wisest man need not be. The saying of Goethe on this subject seems good and commendable, that people who are compelled to differ from the world in important things should take all the more pains to conform to it in things unimportant. Yet all large towns contain one or more—always one—of the eccentric sort. It is a way large towns have.

I have seen Horace Greeley in Broadway on Sunday morning with a hole in his elbow and straws clinging to his hat. I have seen him asleep while Alboni was singing her grandest. When he is asked respecting his health, he answers sometimes by the single word “stout,” and there the subject drops. He is a man who could save a Nation, but never learn to tie a cravat; no, not if Brummell gave him a thousand lessons.

The manner and style of the man, however, can best be shown by printing here two short pieces of narrative, which I chance to have in my possession. An enthusiastic youth, fresh from school and the country, came a few years ago to the city to see the lions. The following is a part of one of his letters home. He describes ‘Horatius’ at church, and does it well:

I have seen Horace Greeley, sister mine, and I am going to tell you all about it.

It is Sunday morning. The weather is fine. The bells are ringing. People are going to church. Broadway, from Grace Church to the Battery, is fringed on both sides with a procession of bright-colored fellow-creatures moving with less than their usual languor, in the hope of not being too late at church. The steps of the crowd, I observe, for the first time, are audible; for, no profane vehicle, no omnibus, cart, hack, or wagon, drowns all other noises in their ceaseless thunder. Only a private carriage rolls along occasionally, laden with a family of the uppermost thousand, [424] bound for Trinity or St. George's, or the Brick Chapel, where Dr. Spring discourses of ‘First Things’ to First Things. It is possible now, and safe, for the admiring stranger, your affectionate brother, to stand in the middle of the street, and to discover that it is perfectly straight, from the rising ground above the Park to where the tall, white spire of Grace Church, so strikingly terminates the beautiful promenade—a feat which no man hath been able to accomplish on a week-day these thirty years. The sun upon this cloudless morning brilliantly lights up the scene, and covers all things with glory.

I am among the church-goers, and I saunter down-town-wards. I make my observations on the passing throng, and marvel chiefly that, among so many countenances, so few should wear an expression of intelligence, so few even of bodily health, and wonder if, after all, the nineteenth century is really and truly so great a century as it thinks it is. But there is walking just before me a man whose contour, walk and attire, are strikingly different from those of every other person in the crowd,—a tall man, slightly made, with a stoop and shamble. I know not why it is, but I immediately take that man to be somebody, a Western member of Congress, perhaps, and I am not at all surprised when I hear it whispered, “That's Horace Greeley.” I prick up my ears, and resolve to follow him wherever he goes.

Horatius, let me assure you, is a person in whose mind there lingers none of childhood's reverence for the institution of Sunday clothes. Do not conclude from this circumstance that he is one of those superfine gentlemen who, in their magnanimous endeavor to differ from the profane vulgar, contrive to be as shabbily dressed on Sundays, when others dress in their best, as they are elegantly attired on Saturdays, when people in general are shabbiest. Horatius is no such person. No fine gentleman could be brought on any terms to appear in Broadway in the rig he wore on this occasion. My eye was first caught by his boots, which were coarse, large and heavy, such as dangle from the ceiling of a country store, such as “stalk a-field” when ploughmen go forth to plough. This particular pair can never, in the whole course of their existence, have added one farthing to the colossal fortune of Day and Martin. They were spattered with mud, and so were the trowsers that, curtailed of [425] fair proportions, hung over their tops. His hat is a large, black beaver, and it certainly has known no touch of the brush since its maker gave it the finishing twirl, and pronounced it good. It differs from the hats of mankind in general, as an enraged porcupine differs from a porcupine whose evil passions slumber. It appears to have been thrown on his head, and has chanced to fall rather behind, like Sam Slick's. Fragments of straw adhere to the nap, as though the owner had been taking morning exercise in a stable. In truth, I hear that he has little faith in Orange County, and keeps a cow. A very long, very loose, well-worn, white over-coat, with the collar standing up, and the long skirts flying behind, envelopes the singular figure. This coat is long, apparently, because it was made a long time ago, before any Parisian or London tailor had from his back-shop issued to Christendom the mandate, “let the over-coats of mankind be worn short till further notice.” There is, indeed, so little of the citizen in the appearance of the individual I am describing, that, if it were not Sunday, he would —be taken, often must be taken, for a farmer just come to town upon a load of produce, who is now hurrying about the streets on errands for the good wife at home.

On he goes, and I at his heels. At the door of the building known as the Stuyvesant Institute, he enters. A slight change, I perceive, has taken place in the exterior of this edifice since I passed it yesterday. The Daguerreotype-cases and exhibition transparences have been removed, and over the door a signboard, similar in style and cost to those which tell a hungry public where Family Baking is done at ten and two, announces, that here the Independent Christian Society holds its meetings, and that the seats are Free. Other sign-boards about the door set forth the same facts. Fired by curiosity, and emboldened by the promised freedom of the seats, I enter, and find my way to the lecture room.

It is a semi-circular apartment of six hundred medical student capacity, slanting steeply downward to the lecturer's platform. It is early, and only a few of the Independent Christians have arrived. Horatius, I see, has taken the seat nearest the door, and is already absorbed in the perusal of a newspaper, the London Times. With his hat off and his coat thrown open, he looks quite a different per [426] son. True, the newly-revealed garments are no more ornamental than those I had already seen. It is clear that Beman's artistic hand bore no part in the production of that crumpled shirt, nor in the getting — up of that overlapping collar, nor in the frantic tie of that disconsolate neckerchief. But the eye of the stranger rests not upon these things; they are remembered afterwards; the stranger is taken up in the contemplation of that countenance, upon which Benignity's self has alighted, and sits enthroned on whitest ivory. Such a face, so fair, so good! No picture has caught its expression, at once youthful and venerable, at once feminine and manly. A smile, like that which plays over a baby's face when it dreams, rests ever on his countenance, and lends to it an indescribable charm. It is expressive of inward serenity, kindliness of nature, and blamelessness of life.

The congregation assembles, and the room becomes half full. The gentleman in the white coat continues to read. The preacher arrives, the “Rev. T. L. Harris,” a slender, pale, dark-haired, black-eyed man, with the youthful look of seventeen. He glances at the extremely Independent Christian with the newspaper, as he brushes by, but receives no nod of recognition in return. He gains his place on the platform, stands up to begin, the people fumbling for their hymn-books. Horatius gives no sign; the Times possesses him wholly. Will he read all through the service, and disconcert the young minister? No. At the first word from the preacher's lips, he drops the paper upon the bench, and addresses himself to—what do you think? Meditation? Finding the hymn? Looking about at the congregation? None of these. Leaning his white head upon his fair, slender hand, and his elbow upon the back of the pew, he closes his eyes, and instantaneously goes to sleep! Not Wellington, nor Napoleon, nor Ney, nor Julius Caesar, ever, after the longest fight, was sooner in the land of dreams. To all appearance— mind, I do not say it was so, but to all appearance—he was asleep before the hymn had been read to the end. Overtasked nature will assert and have her rights, and the weary wanderer find repose at last. Horatius neither stands at the singing, nor during the prayer does he assume any of the singular attitudes which are said to be those of devotion, nor does he pay the slightest attention to the sermon, though it was a truly extraordinary performance, displaying a [427] mighty sweep of intelligence, an amazing fervency of hero-worship, and an unequaled splendor of illustration. It was delivered with a vehemence of affection that made the speaker's frail frame tremble, as though the spirit it encased were struggling to escape its tenement. And still the editor slept. Not a word of the sermon did he seem to hear, unless it was the last word; for, at the very last, he roused his drowsy powers, and as Mr. Harris sat down, Horace Greeley woke up. Refreshed by his slumbers, he looks about him, and, hearing the premonitory tinkle of the collection, he thrusts his hand into his pocket, draws forth a small silver coin, which he drops into the box, where it shines among the copper like a “good deed in a naughty world.” The service over, he lingers not a moment, and I catch my last glimpse of him as he posts down Broadway toward the Tribune office, the white coat-tails streaming behind him, his head thrust forward into the future, his body borne along by the force of to-morrow's leading article. His appearance is decidedly that of a man of progress, and of progress against the wind, for his hat cannot quite keep up with his head. As he threads his way through the well-dressed throng, gentlemen tell ladies who he is, and both turn and gaze after him, till the ghostly garment is lost behind the many-colored clouds of silk and cashmere.

Thus wrote the enthusiastic, lion-loving youth. The scene now changes, and the time is put four or five years forward. Mr. Greeley, in the winter season, is ‘at home’ on Saturday evenings to all callers. A gentleman attended one of the Saturday evenings last winter, took notes of what he saw and heard, which he has since kindly written out for insertion here:

In point of pretension, Horace Greeley's house in Nineteenth street is about midway between the palaces of the Fifth Avenue and the hovels of the Five Points. It is one of a row of rather small houses, two and a half stories high, built of brick, and painted brown; the rent of which, I was told, is likely to be about seven hundred dollars a year. It was a chilly, disagreeable evening. I went early, hoping to have a little talk with the editor before other company should arrive. I rang the bell, and looked through the pane at the side of the door. The white coat was not upon its accustomed peg, and the old hat stuffed with newspapers was not in [428] its usual place at the bottom of the hat-stand. Therefore I knew that the wearer of these articles was not at home, before the “girl” told me so; but, upon her informing me that he was expected in a few minutes, I concluded to go in and wait. The entrance-hall is exceedingly narrow, and the stairs, narrower still, begin at a few feet from the door, affording room only for the hat-stand and a chair. The carpet on the stairs and hall was common in pattern, coarse in texture. A lady, the very picture of a prosperous farmer's wife, with her clean delaine dress and long, wide, white apron, stood at the head of the stairs, and came down to meet me. She lighted the gas in the parlors, and then, summoned by the crying of a child up stairs, left me to my observations.

Neither I nor anybody else ever saw parlors so curiously furnished. There are three of them, and the inventory of the furniture would read thus:—One small mahogany table at the head of the front parlor; one lounge in ditto; eleven light cane-chairs in front and back parlors; one book-case of carved black-walnut in the small apartment behind the back parlor; and, except the carpets, not another article of furniture in either room. But the walls were almost covered with paintings; the mantelpieces were densely peopled with statuettes, busts, and medallions; in a corner on a pedestal stood a beautiful copy of (I believe) Powers' Proserpine in marble; and various other works of art were disposed about the floor or leaned against the walls. Of the quality of the pictures I could not, in that light, form an opinion. The subjects of more than half of them were religious, such as, the Virgin rapt; Peter, lovest thou me? Christ crowned with thorns; Mary, Joseph, and Child; Virgin and Child; a woman praying before an image in a cathedral; Mary praying; Hermit and Skull; and others. There were some books upon the table, among them a few annuals containing contributions by Horace Greeley, volumes of Burns, Byron, and Hawthorne, Downing's Rural Essays, West's complete Analysis of the Holy Bible, and Ballou's Voice of Universalism.

I waited an hour. There came a double and decided ring at the bell. No one answered the summons. Another and most tremendous ring brought the servant to the door, and in a moment, the face of the master of the house beamed into the room. He apologized thus:— “I ought to have been here sooner, but I could n't.” [429] He flung off his overcoat, hung it up in the hall, and looking into the parlor, said: “Just let me run up and see my babies one minute; I have n't seen 'em all day, you know;” and he sprung up the stairs two steps at a time. I heard him talk in high glee to the children in the room above, for just “one minute,” and then he re joined me. He began to talk something in this style:

Sit down. I have had a rough day of it—eaten nothing since breakfast—just got in from my farm—been up the country lecturing —started from Goshen this morning at five—broke down—crossed the river on the ice—had a hard time of it—ice a good deal broken and quite dangerous—lost the cars on this side—went dogging around to hire a conveyance—got to Sing Sing—went over to my farm and transacted my business there as well as I could in the time—started for the city, and as luck would have it, they had taken off the four o'clock train—did n't know that I should get down at all—harnessed up my own team, and pushed over to Sing Sing again—hadn't gone far before snap went the whippletree—got another though—and reached Sing Sing just two minutes before the cars came along —I've just got in—my feet are cold—let's go to the fire.

With these words, he rose quickly and went into the back room, not to the fire-place, but to a corner near the folding door, where hot air gushed up from a cheerless round hole in the floor. His dress, as I now observed, amply corroborated his account of the day's adventures—shirt all crumpled, cravat all awry, coat all wrinkles, stockings about his heels, and general dilapidation.

I said it was not usual at the West to go into a corner to warm one's feet; to which he replied by quoting some verses of Holmes which I did not catch. I entreated him to go to tea, as he must be hungry, but he refused “pine blank.” The conversation fell upon poetry. He said there was one more book he should like to make before he died, and that was a Song-Book for the People. There was no collection of songs in existence which satisfied his idea of what a popular song-book ought to be. He should like to compile one, or help do it. He said he had written verses himself, but was no poet; and bursting into a prolonged peal of laughter, he added, that when he and Park Benjamin were editing the New Yorker, he wrote some verses for insertion in that paper, and showed them to “Park,” and “Park” roared out, “Thunder and lightning, Greeley, [430] do you call that poetry?” Speaking of a certain well-known versifier, he said: “He's a good fellow enough, but he can't write poetry, and if——had remained in Boston he would have killed him, he takes criticism so hard. As for me, I like a little opposition, I enjoy it, I can't understand the feeling of those thin-skinned people.”

I said I had been looking to see what books he preferred should lie on his table. “I don't prefer,” he said, “I read no books. I have been trying for years to get a chance to read Wilhelm Meister, and other books. Was Goethe a dissolute man?” To which I replied with a sweeping negative. This led the conversation to biography, and he remarked, ‘How many wooden biographies there are about. They are of no use. There are not half a dozen good biographies in our language. You know what Carlyle says: ‘I want to know what a man eats, what time he gets up, what color his stockings are?’ (His, on this occasion, were white, with a hole in each heel.) ‘There's no use in any man's writing a biography unless he can tell what no one else can tell.’’ Seeing me glance at his pictures, he said he had brought them from Italy, but there was only one or two of them that he boasted of.

A talk upon politics ensued. He said he had had enough of party politics. He would speak for temperance, and labor, and agriculture, and some other objects, but he was not going to stump the country any more to promote the interest of party or candidates. In alluding to political persons he used the utmost freedom of vituperation, but there was such an evident absence of anger and bitterness on his part, that if the vituperated individuals had overheard the conversation, they would not have been offended, but amused. Speaking of association, he said: “Ah! our workingmen must be better educated: we must have better schools; they must learn to confide in one another more; then they will associate.” Then, laughing, he added: “If you know anybody afflicted with democracy, tell him to join an association; that will cure him if anything will; still, association will triumph in its day, and in its own way.” In reply to G——'s definition of Webster as “a petty man, with petty objects, sought by petty means,” he said: I call him a– —--; but his last reply to Hayne was the biggest speech yet made; it's only so long, “ pointing to a place on his arm, but it's [431] very great.” Another remark on another subject elicited from him the energetic assertion that the “invention of the key was the devil's masterpiece.” Alluding to a recent paragraph of his, I said I thought it the best piece of English he had ever written. “No,” he replied, “there's a bad repetition in it of the word sober in the same sentence; I can write better English than that.” I told him of the project of getting half a dozen of the best men and women of the country to join in preparing a series of school reading books. He said, “ They would be in danger of shooting over the heads of the children.” To which I replied: “No; it is common men who do that; great men are simple, and akin to children.”

A little child, four years old, with long flaxen hair and ruddy cheeks, came in and said, “mother wants you up stairs.” He caught it up in his arms with every manifestation of excessive fondness, saying, “No, you rogue, it's you that want him;” and the child wriggled out of his arms and ran away.

As I was going, some ladies came in, and I remained a moment longer, at his request. He made a languid and quite indescribable attempt at introduction, merely mentioning the names of the ladies with a faint bob at each. One of them asked a question about Spiritualism. He said, “I have paid no attention to that subject for two years. I became satisfied it would lead to no good. In fact, I am so taken up with the things of this world, that I have too little time to spend on the affairs of the other.” She said, “a distinction ought to be made between those who investigate the phenomena as phenomena, and those who embrace them fanatically.” “Yes,” said he, “I have no objection to their being investigated by those who have more time than I have.” “Have you heard,” asked the lady, of the young man who personates Shakspeare? “ ” No, “ he replied, ” but I am satisfied there is no folly it will not run into.

Then he rose, and said, “Take off your things and go up stairs. must get some supper, for I have to go to that meeting at the Tabernacle, to-night,” (anti-Nebraska.)

As I passed the hat-stand in the hall, I said, “Here is that immortal white coat.” He smiled and said, “People suppose it's the same old coat, but it is n't.” I looked questioningly, and he continued, “The original white coat came from Ireland. An emigrant brought it out; he wanted money and I wanted a coat; so I bought [432] it of him for twenty dollars, and it was the best coat I ever had. They do work well, in the old countries; not in such a hurry as we do.”

The door closed, and I was alone with the lamp-post. In another hour, Horace Greeley, after such a day of hunger and fatigue, was speaking to an audience of three thousand people in the Tabernacle.

These narratives, with other glimpses previously afforded, will perhaps give the reader a sufficient insight into Horace Greeley's hurried, tumultuous way of life.

Not every day, however, is as hurried and tumultuous as this. Usually, he rises at seven o'clock, having returned from the office about midnight. He takes but two meals a day, breakfast at eight, dinner when he can get it, generally about four. Tea and coffee he drinks never; cocoa is his usual beverage. To depart from his usual routine of diet, or to partake of any viand which experience has shown to be injurious, he justly denominates a “sin,” and groans' over it with very sincere repentance. A public dinner is one of his peculiar aversions; and, indeed, it may be questioned whether human nature ever presents itself in a light more despicable than at a public dinner, particularly towards the close of the entertainment. Mr. Greeley is a regular subscriber to the New York Tribune, and pays for it at the usual rate of one shilling a week. As soon as it arrives in the morning, he begins the perusal of that interesting paper, and examines every department of it with great care, bestowing upon each typographical error a heart-felt anathema. His letters arrive. They vary in number from twenty to fifty a day; every letter requiring an answer, is answered forthwith; and, not unfrequently, twenty replies are written and dispatched by him in one morning. In the intervals of work, there is much romping with the children. But two are left to him out of six. Toward noon, or soon after, the editor is on his way to his office.

Mr. Greeley has few intimate friends and no cronies. He gives no parties, attends few; has no pleasures, so called; and suffers little pain. In some respects, he is exceedingly frank; in others, no man is more reserved. For example—his pecuniary affairs, around which most men throw an awful mystery, he has no scruples about revealing to any passing stranger, or even to the public; and that [433] in the fullest detail. But he can keep a secret with any man living, and he seldom talks about what interests him most. Margaret Fuller had a passion for looking at the naked souls of her friends; and she often tried to get a peep into the inner bosom of Horace Greeley; but he kept it buttoned close against her observation. Indeed, the kind of revelation in which she delighted, he entirely detests; as, probably, every healthy mind does.

He loves a joke, and tells a comic story with great glee. His cheerfulness is habitual, and probably he never knew two consecutive hours of melancholy in his life. His manner is sometimes exceedingly ungracious; he is not apt to suppress a yawn in the presence of a conceited bore; but if the bore is a bore innocently, he submits to the infliction with a surprising patience. He has a singular hatred of bungling, and rates a bungler sometimes with extraordinary vehemence. But he

Carries anger, as the flint bears fire;
Who, much enforced, shows a hasty spark,
And straight is cold again.

He clings to an opinion, however, or a prejudice, with the tenacity of his race; and has rarely been brought to own himself in the wrong. If he changes his opinion, which sometimes he does, he may show it by altered conduct, seldom by a confession in words.

His peculiarities of dress arise from two causes: 1. He is at all times deeply absorbed in the duties of his vocation, and cannot think of his dress without an effort: 2. He has (I think) the correct republican feeling, that no man should submit to have menial offices of a personal nature performed for him by another man. I mean, such offices as blacking boots, brushing clothes, etc.

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 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.
Horace Greeley (16)
Horatius (7)
Park (2)
T. L. Harris (2)
Child (2)
Wellington (1)
Webster (1)
Spring (1)
Shakspeare (1)
Ney (1)
Louis Napoleon (1)
Wilhelm Meister (1)
Ireland (1)
Holmes (1)
Hayne (1)
Hawthorne (1)
Goethe (1)
Girard (1)
Margaret Fuller (1)
Franklin (1)
Downing (1)
Christ (1)
Thomas Carlyle (1)
Julius Caesar (1)
Byron (1)
Burns (1)
Broadway (1)
Park Benjamin (1)
Beman (1)
Ballou (1)
Alboni (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.
1851 AD (1)
7th (1)
6th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: