previous next

Chapter 35:

The Wanderings of Ulysses.

The modern Ulysses traveled further than his classic namesake; and his Penelope accompanied him. They once came upon the course of the ancient hero, and sailing along the Italian and Sicilian shores the story of the Odyssey was told again. Mrs. Grant liked to be shown where the son of Laertes had landed, where he escaped from Calypso, or avoided Scylla or Charybdis. But the practical General was more curious about geography than mythology. The coasts and channels he inspected closely, but cared nothing for the fables of Homeric origin. Ancient history itself hardly interested him. I remember that in Rome, when I talked of the Forum and the Capitol, he replied that they seemed recent to him after Memphis and the Sphinx, which he had seen. Remote antiquity impressed him; but the venerable associations that scholars prize had no charm for Grant. There was little room in his nature for sentiment, though abundance of genuine feeling.

At Homburg they dug up the grave of a Roman soldier for the American who had fought in a region the Romans never heard of, and Grant was attentive to the coins and the weapons in the tomb, but unmoved by the strangeness of the spectacle—the exhuming of a forgotten warrior for the inspection of another still in the prime of his renown. So, too, on Lake Luzerne, though he was never indifferent to mountains, the railroad on the Righi interested him far more than the famous scenery, and he examined the highway of [308] the Axenstrasse more carefully than the chapel of William Tell. At Cadenabbia he refused to visit the Villa Carlotta to see the marbles of Canova and Thorwaldsen, and at Berne he was vexed with his son, Jesse, and with me, because we insisted on viewing the Cathedral. He said we had seen Cologne and Mayence and Brussels, why should we waste our time on any more architecture. He was indeed a little unreasonable at first, as a traveler. If he could not discern the beauties of a cathedral or a gallery, he would not believe that others did. But later he became more catholic; he found out that there might be things in heaven and earth he had not dreamed of in his earlier philosophy.

In that same Berne he made me walk for hours with him, turning away from the Cathedral and the Bernese Oberland, to stray till we got lost among the narrow streets and the Swiss citizens. It was always indeed in men that he took the keenest interest; in the people, the peasants, the citizens, ‘greasy’ though they often were. For without being coarse or ever in any way vulgar, he still was not over-refined. He had a healthy naturalness that affiliated with plain people, though it was not offended with princes. Yet he did not like these last because they were princes, as so many democrats do. He found out their human traits and touched them there. In this way he liked the Prince of Wales, despite the discourtesy of Marlborough House, because there is in the Prince a vein of heartiness which Grant discovered. If Albert Edward had not been royal he might have been a good fellow; and Grant and he could have played cards or billiards together and enjoyed themselves.

Grant's own naturalness was always as refreshing as a breath of mountain air or the smell of the pine woods. Once, in the Brunig Pass, on the way to Thun, we stopped at a chalet where we dined. It was just beyond the great rock, which travelers will remember, that overhangs the [309] Pass. General Grant, Jesse, and I strolled on after dinner in advance of the vetturino, and the carriage came up to us empty. Mrs. Grant was not within. Her maid was called, and, almost crying, said she had not seen her mistress for nearly a quarter of an hour. We searched and called, but could not find her. The General became anxious, fearful lest she might have fallen over the precipitous sides of the road. But she did not leave us long in doubt. It was a game of hide and seek in the Alps between the Conqueror of Vicksburg and the woman he had wooed and won more than a quarter of a century before.

When we went up from Interlachen to Grindenwald he and Mrs. Grant flirted nearly all the way. They half quarreled as to how they should sit, and wanted always to be by each other's side. Mrs. Grant once changed her seat so as to get a better view of the Wetterhorn; this placed her opposite her husband, and General Grant, who was a grandfather and nearly sixty years old, didn't like it at all. Mrs. Grant perceived this, and coquettishly refused to return till we arrived at a certain point in the valley; and the hero was uncomfortable until Grindenwald was reached, and he could sit by the side of the mother of his grown — up children. Then he was happy again under the snows and the shadows of the Jungfrau. Neither the compliments of palaces nor the plaudits of two continents had lessened his simplicity or his domesticity.

Sometimes, however, he made use of his greatness rather oddly. At a little town in Norway, I think it was Christiana, as soon as he arrived he went out alone to walk, and wandered away till he was lost. He could not speak a word of the language, and found no one who knew any more English than he did Norwegian. His topographical sense, which rarely deserted him, on this occasion was quite at fault; and he was an hour or more trying to find his way. At last he approached an intelligent-looking man of the humbler sort, [310] and said to him distinctly and several times, ‘General Grant, General Grant.’ Then by signs he indicated that he wanted to go to the hotel where General Grant was staying. The citizen did not suspect for a moment with whom he was speaking, but he knew, as every one did in the town, that General Grant had arrived; he could not suppose that so great a personage would be walking unattended, but thought this was one of his party who was lost, and took him to the hotel to rejoin General Grant. There he found out whom he had led in the streets of Christiana; and doubtless in his family the tradition will long be told how their ancestor went about with the republican Haroun al Raschid.

Once, at least, in America his name was of use to him. It was while he lived at Long Branch. He was taking the steamer that sails down New York bay, when a poor woman came aboard with two small children whom she wished to send to Long Branch. She could not herself accompany them, but they were to be met by friends on their arrival. The General was always fond of children, and seeing her anxiety, stepped up and offered to take charge of the little ones. But the mother hesitated to trust her children to a stranger. He delayed a moment, and then, blushing up to the eyes, he stammered: ‘I am General Grant.’ The woman looked at the features that were known to every American, and exclaimed: ‘Why, so you are!’ And he took her babies to Long Branch.

All his experiences were not like these. I had a score of letters from him telling of his reception by Asiatic sovereigns and Egyptian and Indian Viceroys, for I did not go with him further than Marseilles. Some curious things occurred in his Asiatic journey. In India the Governor-General and all the subordinate officials were profuse in courtesy and hospitality, and General Grant never failed to appreciate and remember their behavior. But there were indications after a while that they must have received instructions from home not to pay [311] too much deference to the ex-President. He believed that the British Government was unwilling to admit to the half-civilized populations of the East that any Western Power was important, or that any authority deserved recognition except their own. At least on several occasions in the Chinese waters and around Burmah, Siam, and Japan there were marked failures in those compliments which were paid him everywhere else in Asia. I was then in England, but kept up a constant correspondence with him. Reading of the honors offered him in India, I suggested that when he left the British dominions in the East he should request the American Minister in London to thank the Government for the peculiar distinction with which he had been treated. But this was his reply:

I received your letter suggesting that I should write to Mr. Welsh on my departure from the last British colony, in time to have written from Hong Kong. But I did not do so because I did not feel like making acknowledgments to the Government for any exhibition of respect on their part, while I gratefully acknowledge the most marked hospitality and kindness from all British officials in the East. I do not care to write the reasons for distinguishing the people, official and unofficial, of England and the Government, but I will tell you some day.

He told me fully afterwards. In December, 1878, he wrote to me:
Before your letter suggesting a letter of condolence to the Prince of Wales for the death of the Princess Alice and a letter of thanks to the President for his tender of a ship to take me East, I had written such a letter as the latter, but to the Secretary of the Navy, from whom the tender came, without allusion to the President. On the whole, I thought it out of place, in the estimation of the American citizen, to write to the Queen, or for her.

Nevertheless, a few months before he had said to me: ‘I wrote the Duke of Argyll a letter of condolence the very [312] moment I heard of the death of the Duchess, day before yesterday, I think.’

And so he went on from one potentate and people to another. At Bombay he wrote, four days after his arrival: ‘The reception here has been most cordial from the officials, foreign residents, Parsee merchants, and the better-to-do Hindoo natives. Myself and party were invited to occupy the Government House, where we are now staying, and where we have received princely hospitalities.’ From Calcutta a month later he wrote to me: ‘We have now done India from Bombay to Delhi and back to this place. We leave here to-morrow morning for Singapore. The English people have exceeded themselves in hospitalities. Nowhere but at one place have we been permitted to stop at a hotel, and there—Jubulpore—it was because no official had the spare room for our accommodation.’

The impression made on him in China was profound. I quote a few lines on this theme:

My visit through China was a pleasant one, though the country presents no attractions to invite the visitor to make the second trip. From Canton to Pekin my reception by the civil and military authorities was the most cordial ever extended to any foreigner, no matter what his rank. The fact is, the Chinese like Americans better, or rather, perhaps, hate them less, than any other foreigners. The reason is palpable. We are the only Power that recognizes their right to control their own domestic affairs. My impression is that China is on the eve of a great revolution that will land her among the nations of progress. They have the elements of great wealth and great power too, and not more than a generation will pass before she will make these elements felt.

Grant often said to me that the four greatest men he met abroad were Beaconsfield, Bismarck, Gambetta, and the Chinese statesman, LI Hung Chang. Japan, however, interested him more than any country in the world, except his [313] own and England, where, indeed, he never felt as a foreigner; for he loved England after he knew Englishmen at home.

Of Japan he said:

We have now been in Japan for nearly a month. My reception and entertainment has been the most extravagant I have ever known, or even read of . . . . This is a most beautiful country and a most interesting people. The progress they have made in their changed civilization within twelve years is almost incredible. They have now, military and naval academies, colleges, academies, engineering schools, schools of science, and free schools for male and female, as thoroughly organized and on as high a basis of instruction as any country in the world. Travel in the interior is as safe for an unarmed, unprotected foreigner as it is in the New England States. This is marvelous, when the treatment these people and all Eastern peoples receive at the hands of the average foreigner residing among them [is considered]. I have never been so struck with the heartlessness of nations as well as individuals as since coming to the East. But a day of retribution is sure to come. These people are becoming strong, and China is sure to do so also. When they do, a different policy will have to prevail from that imposed now.

During this time Grant conceived many and large ideas in regard to an Oriental policy for this country, especially toward China and Japan; and had he reached the Presidency again, it would have been a principal object of his Administration to inaugurate this policy.

On the 28th of August, 1879, he wrote to me:

My visit to this interesting country and abroad is now drawing to a close. On the 2d of September we sail for San Francisco. Our reception and entertainment in Japan has exceeded anything preceding it. At the end of the first year abroad I was quite homesick, but determined to remain to see every country in Europe at least. Now at the end of twenty-six months I dread going back, and would not if there was a line of steamers between here and Australia. But I shall go to my quiet little home in Galena and remain there until the cold drives me away.


No man enjoyed ordinary travel, the seeing strange sights and different countries and nations more than Grant; and no man ever had his extraordinary opportunities. Under these his mind and character grew and enlarged; he received all the benefits of contact with so many minds, of witnessing so many civilizations, of studying so many intellectual and moral varieties of man. He had not in his youth the advantage of what is called a liberal education, but no man ever trod this earth more highly educated than Grant by events and experiences and opportunities, and attrition with the highest natures, and association with the grandest companies in the grandest sense of the word.

He kept up his connection with his great compeers after his return. He corresponded with more than one King, and when the history of his campaigns, on which I had been engaged for fifteen years, and in which his interest had been almost equal to my own—was at last complete—he sent a copy to every potentate all over the world by whom he had been entertained; to the Mikado of Japan and to Bismarck; to the Viceroy of India and the Kings of Siam and Sweden and Greece; the Prince of Wales and the Presidents of Switzerland and the French Republic; and every one acknowledged the present except the Prince of Wales.

The collection of these letters was of course peculiarly interesting to me, and he allowed me to keep it for years; but I returned it to him unasked, for his family, whose claims upon it I thought superior to my own. In June, 1882, he wrote me a letter from which I copy the postscript: ‘The mail lying before me when you were in had the acknowledgments from Lytton [Lord Lytton, then Viceroy of India], the first received. Next I believe was from the King of Siam.’ It was the reward of my labors that I was allowed to share these congratulations with the conqueror of Lee and the guest of the nations and the rulers of Europe and Asia.

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.
Heidelberg Grant (23)
Jesse (2)
Bismarck (2)
Welsh (1)
Thun (1)
Thorwaldsen (1)
William Tell (1)
Scylla (1)
Penelope (1)
Lytton (1)
Robert E. Lee (1)
Laertes (1)
King (1)
Gambetta (1)
Albert Edward (1)
Canova (1)
Calypso (1)
Beaconsfield (1)
Argyll (1)
Americans (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.
June, 1882 AD (1)
August 28th, 1879 AD (1)
December, 1878 AD (1)
September 2nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: