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Chapter 34:

Grant as a traveler.

Grant was undoubtedly the greatest traveler that ever lived. Not of course, the greatest discoverer or explorer, though he was admitted to probably more secret and exclusive recesses and haunts than any other one man; but he also visited more countries and saw more people, from Kings down to lackeys and slaves, than anybody who ever journeyed on this earth before. Others, of course, have made the tour around the globe; the Prince of Wales did something of that sort; but he went not so far and saw only the upper strata of society; others have had triumphal processions; some have ascended higher mountains or penetrated nearer to Ethiopia; but no other man was ever received by both peoples and sovereigns, by savans and merchants, by Presidents and Governor-Generals, by Tycoons and Sultans and Khedives, and school children and work-people and statesmen, like Grant.

For him the Pyramids had a special door, and Memphis and Thebes were thrown open as to a successor of the Pharaohs; for him the Pope dispensed with the usual etiquette and welcomed a Protestant and a democrat who did not kneel. With him the King of Siam contracted a personal friendship and kept up a correspondence afterward; while the Emperors of Russia and Germany and Japan, the Viceroy of India and the Magnates of Cuba and Canada and Mexico talked politics to him and religion from their own several standpoints. The greatest potentates of earth laid aside their rules and showed [298] him a courtesy which was due of course in part to the nation he represented; but who ever so represented a nation before? not only the Government, but the plainest people in it from whom he sprang, whom he claimed as his fellows, whom he believed in as his political peers. The multitudes that thronged around him in Birmingham and Frankfort and Jeddo all knew this, and perceived, though dimly, that they were honoring the democratic principle in honoring him; while the sovereigns thought they were acting as became their own dignity in placing him by their side.

It was my fortune to accompany General Grant in many of his journeys on both continents. I traveled with him first of all when he visited his armies. I was of the party when he passed from the Tennessee to the Potomac to lead in person the great forces that were destined to conquer Lee. I marched by his side from Washington to Richmond in 1864-1865; and that journey took us a year. I recollect in the Appomattox campaign, after Richmond had fallen, he once asked a rebel woman something about the Yankees, and she replied, ‘Oh, we are all Yankees now, I guess,’ with a marked emphasis on the guess.

I was with Grant also in his tour through the South during the winter after the war, when he was received, as few conquerors ever were by the people whom they had subdued, looked upon as their best friend, their protector, their savior from the bitterness of successful enemies. Everywhere the most important Southerners, the soldiers who had surrendered last, the civilians who had been most stubborn, as well as the scattered loyalists and the emancipated blacks, greeted Grant. In Charleston General Sickles gave him a dinner, and the party was made up of men like Orr and Aiken and others who had been his enemies. I went with him also on his first visit to Richmond, a year after it fell, for he had not time to stop and enter in the hour of triumph like other victors, but pushed on after Lee. [299]

So too I accompanied him in his journeyings over the North amid the ovations which this generation hardly remembers, but which equaled any ever paid to an American.

I went with him when he left his country for the first time—it was to pass through Canada in 1865. We spent a day or two at Montreal and Quebec, and then came the first premonitions of the honors destined to be heaped upon him abroad twelve and fourteen years afterward. The Governor-General of Canada offered him a dinner, and put him in the royal pew; the Canadian towns welcomed him almost as if he had saved their country or led their armies.

I met him when he landed in England in 1877, and accompanied him, by permission of the Government, wherever he went in Great Britain. I was with him in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. Always he was the same simple, impassive man, the genuine democrat. The compliments of Kings did not disturb him; the adulation offered by whole populations did not elate him unduly that I could ever discern. After his departure from England and his short visit to Belgium he proceeded up the Rhine. At Cologne he was met by two officers of the army sent by the Emperor to welcome him to Germany. He visited the cathedral like any other traveler, and was interested in the villages and the ruins of the Rhine; but he cared more for the fortresses of to-day, for Ehrenbreitstein and the bridge of boats than for the legends and castles of romance. We stopped for a night at Bingen, and after dinner he and I walked out into a fair and saw all the village shows; he liked them quite as well as any palace with a history. He questioned the people through me and was curious about their ways, but he had never heard of Mrs. Norton's poem of ‘Bingen on the Rhine.’

At Frankfort he fell in with some of his Jewish friends, and was quite as much at home with the Seligmans as if they had been princes, though his last host had been the [300] King of the Belgians. Here he was taken to two famous wine-cellars, and tasted in each on the same morning twenty-eight different brands of Rhenish wine, of course only sipping from each glass. We began with ordinary wine and ascended in quality to the Johannisberger, so rare that it is reserved for the Emperor on holidays. The glasses were never filled with this precious liquid, and what was left was passed to the less important people in the party after the guests had been served.

At Geneva for a change he laid the corner-stone of a Protestant church, and dined with an American, Mr. Barbey, at his charming villa. From the piazza we looked up at Mt. Blanc and watched the rose-tinted hues of the sunset as they fell on the distant snows.

From Geneva we went on to Mt. Blanc. I was curious to discover what interest my chief would display in the world-renowned landscape. I fancied he might be indifferent to the marvels of mountain scenery, for I had never been with him in such regions before. But I was wrong. We traveled from Geneva to Chamounix and then by the Tete Noire to the Valley of the Rhone, in one of the ordinary open Swiss carriages, GeneralGrant and Mrs. Grant, Jesse and myself; and from the moment when we first approached Mt. Blanc so as to perceive its majesty, General Grant was as profoundly impressed as any of the party. He betrayed what to me was an entirely new side of his nature. At Chamounix we remained three days because he was so interested. I ascended with him the Montan Vert and crossed the Mer de Glace; and he was full of appreciation. It was not only the crevasses that he wondered at and the glaciers that he admired, but all the stupendous grandeur of the scene was as apparent to him as if he had been a poet. When we were up there together alone with no one but the guide, whose language the General could not understand, I found my chief susceptible to emotions of the sublime to a [301] degree that was a revelation of his character. I kept the alpenstock he carried that day, as a memento of my surprise. It stands in my library now—I can see it as I write,—by the coat that he slept in at Shiloh.

At Chamounix a St. Bernard dog was presented to him, only six weeks old, but he could not carry the creature with him around the world and ordered it sent to my house in London. There two months later the noble brute arrived. It has been one of my most constant companions since; it crossed the ocean with me, and even went to Cuba, far enough from its native snows; and more than once, as friend after friend proved false, the fond fidelity of Ponto has recalled the bitter words of De Stael: ‘The more I see of men, the better I appreciate dogs.’

Chamounix was hung with flags for the ex-President, and Mt. Blanc was illuminated. At night away up at the chalet where the climbers rest we saw a light gleaming over the snows which told that the Swiss mountaineers greeted the American democrat.

We descended, as I said, by the Tete Noire, and all through the great mountain gorge the plain, unsentimental soldier was fully alive to the majestic character of the landscape. From Vernayaz we had intended to return to Geneva, but after reaching the Gorge du Trient, we went up the valley of the Rhone to Brieg. Then we ascended the Simplon, and again Grant was deeply impressed and interested. He often left the carriage to walk, so as the better to drink in the grandeur. At the hospice of the Simplon the monks had heard of him; they got out their choicest home-made wine and spread their frugal lunch for the American commander.

So we went on to Italy, over the road built by another general: Grant everywhere enjoying the novelty, appreciating the scenery, studying the people. But he liked people always more than scenery, and the common people best [302] of all. At every town or village, as soon as we stopped for the night, he wanted to stroll out with me and watch the crowds returning from work, or in their shops, or on their little farms; or at play or festival. At Domo d'ossola there was a charming fete, with fireworks, dances, and music for ‘Our Lady of the Snows.’ He made me ask the peasants questions in their own language, for he was no linguist, as the world knows; but he got at the people quickly and often was himself his own and best interpreter. Nothing in all his travel delighted or interested him more than this going direct to the people themselves. It was Antaeus touching earth.

But he was sufficiently courteous to those who thought themselves ‘the great,’ when they came to offer him civilities. He was by no means indifferent to the evidences of his distinction. At a charming spot on one of the Italian lakes, where we staid for a day cr two, one evening after dinner a Princess was announced—a handsome, sumptuous woman, with a famous Russian name. She came across the lake in her boat through the twilight, with attendants and a female friend, and was dressed in black, with a lace shawl thrown over her head and a blush red rose in her hair. She came to ask the General and his party to visit her villa in the neighborhood, called after herself, the ‘Villa Ada.’ The Princess was an American, she explained, but had married a great Russian, and was living away from home to educate her boys. The Prince unfortunately was absent, but she hoped to receive her great countryman at a mid-day dinner. General Grant accepted the invitation promptly, for he always availed himself of pleasant opportunities, like a true traveler; but Mrs. Grant could not say at once if she was disengaged. With a woman's instinct she wanted to find out more about her hostess.

We learned, however, that the lady was in reality a Russian Princess, though an American by birth, and Mrs. [303] Grant accompanied the General to the luncheon. The villa was charming, the situation perfect; scenery, sky, terraces, flowers—all Italian. The Princess was stately; her manner became her rank; she was not more than forty, if so old; very handsome and especially amiable to Jesse, for Mrs. Grant always awed even Princesses if they paid too much attention to her great husband. We noticed many portraits of the Princess in theatrical costumes, Lucrezia, Semiramide, Norma; and her highness explained that she was fond of fancy balls, and had been painted often after going to one. From the villa we returned to the hotel where a tenor singer wanted General Grant to patronize his concert. The General did not think this worth his while, and then the tenor spitefully exclaimed that General Grant might as well go to his concert as to the house of a former prima donna. The Princess was indeed an American girl who had come to Italy to study for the opera; she had sung at La Scala and San Carlo, and pleased the fancy of the Prince, who married her. But she could not go to court, nor be recognized at St. Petersburg. This was why she lived in Italy. This accounted for the portraits of Lucrezia and Semiramide. There was no harm done; the Princess was married; but she had kept back her story when she invited Mrs. Grant. Her companion had an engagement at the time at the Neapolitan opera. Nevertheless the villa was beautiful, the lake was Italian, and the Princess was real, like her lace and her red rose.

At Thusis there was another incident. One Sunday morning after the late Continental breakfast we were waiting for the vetturino, and sat in an arbor without the inn, looking up to the Via Mala. There was a little gate that opened on the arbor, and to this there came a short but stately woman of sixty years or more, dressed in black without a bonnet, but holding a parasol. She walked straight up to the group and looking over the gate asked if this was [304] General Grant; then made a profound courtesy such as they offer in Europe to sovereigns. Her face and voice seemed strangely familiar to me, but I could not recall where I had known either. I rose, however, of course, and opened the gate, thinking she might be some duchess come to ask General Grant to dine with a Queen, and the visitor entered. She was invited to a seat, but did not tell her name. She had just come from the Engadine, where she had been greatly interested in a Swiss peasant who had served in the American army, and madame had promised if ever she met General Grant to implore him for a pension for her protege. General Grant had no more power than I had to obtain a pension, except according to the rules; and as a consular officer I was familiar with the methods. I endeavored to explain this, but the beneficent stranger did not care for rules, she wanted the interposition of the ex-President; the deus ex machine. Finally, however, she learned just how much or how little General Grant could do in the matter, and turned to take her leave. As she rose she said she had had the pleasure of knowing General Grant's daughter in England; young Sartoris, who had married ‘Nellie Grant,’ was her nephew. Then I knew where I had seen the low forehead and stately air and heard the deep rich tones; for this was Fanny Kemble. The connections exchanged a few further remarks, and the dramatic personage made another courtesy such as Catharine of Arragon performed to Henry VIII., put up her black silk parasol again, and sailed away.

At Heidelberg Grant met Wagner. The King of Music came to call on the man whose deeds were greater than any the other had ever celebrated in song or orchestra. The interview was peculiar; neither of these who had so affected their fellows in so widely different ways could speak the other's language. Wagner, master as he was of expression, was mute in Grant's presence, and Grant, whose character is [305] akin, perhaps, to that of Wagner's heroes, was able only to reach the musician through an interpreter. Yet the meeting at this historic place, under the shadow of the ruined palace with its memories—of the latest master of modern art with the greatest warrior of American history—was an event worth chronicling. If Wagner had written an opera upon the ‘Wilderness’ the grim and terrible fighter might have inspired an utterance equal to any of Tristan or Sigismund. If they have met since it is in that region where bards and heroes perhaps are equal; where the laurel is bestowed alike on deeds and thoughts.

I was with General Grant in Rome, but there is no disguising the fact that he did not appreciate pictures or statuary. He refused to admire the Marcus Aurelius at the Capitol, though I took him to see it especially because it was equestrian: I thought he would like the horse. I went with him to the Vatican, but he passed straight through the wonderful gallery of marble and never wanted to linger; he did not care for the Apollo or the Laocoon. He got tired of the Sistine Chapel, and poked fun at me when I wanted to look once more at the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo. He would not pretend. He was blind always to the beauties of art. I don't think he could ever tell a good picture from a bad one.

In the same way he was utterly deaf to music. He never knew one tune from another; he thought he could distinguish ‘Hail to the Chief,’ it was played so often for him; but if it was changed for Yankee Doodle he did not know the difference. I more than once heard him say at balls, he could dance very well if it wasn't for the music; that always put him out. He took no interest even in Venice, and never wanted to see its famous ‘Stones’ a second time. He had some slight appreciation of architecture, but not a keen one. The grandeur and form of the great cathedrals made an impression on him, but he liked Thebes better than Milan, [306] the Pyramids than Cologne. The preference was typical. It was the colossal character that impressed him, not the artistic elaboration or effect; just as in Nature it was the Alps rather than the smiling villages of the Rhine. Delicate beauties always were too small for him to grasp, both in literature and art. But it was more important for his country that he should be what he was than that he should appreciate the Venus of the Capitol or the Cathedral of St. Mark.

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