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Chapter 19:

  • Mr. Sumner's House at Washington.
  • -- his love of art. -- last Sickness and death. -- obsequies at Washington. -- meeting of the General Court. -- meeting at Faneuil Hall. -- remarks of J. B. Smith. -- remains at the Doric Hall. -- services at King's Chapel. -- at Mount Auburn. -- personal Appearance of Mr. Sumner. -- religious Views. -- his works. -- his style. -- his integrity. -- his consistency. -- his statesmanship and learning. -- his fame.

In the long roll of martyrs in the cause of liberty, the name of Charles Sumner shall stand conspicuous, as worthy of the applause and reverence of manhood. --William L. Garrison.

The dear and noble Sumner! My heart is too full for words; and in deepest sympathy of sorrow I reach out my hands to thee, who loved him so well. He has died as he wished to, at his post of duty, and when the heart of his beloved Massachusetts was turned toward him with more than the old-time love and reverence. God's peace be with him! --John G. Whittier.

He had intense sympathy for moral principles. He was raised up to do the work preceding and following the war. His eulogy will be, a lover of his country, an advocate of universal liberty, and the most eloquent and high-minded of all the statesmen of that period in which America made the transition from slavery to liberty. --Henry Ward Beecher.

Mr. Sumner's house at Washington, a hand — some structure with a facade of brown freestone, was built on an eligible site subsequent to 1867, and overlooks Lafayette Square. It adjoins

The late residence of Charles Sumner, Washington, D. C.

[335] the Arlington Hotel; and the entrance is near the centre of the broad front. The sitting-room is on the right of the hall, which contains an old Dutch clock with a beautiful chime. The parlor, upholstered with yellow satin, is on the left, and above this Mr. Sumner's sleeping-room, which commands a fine view of Lafayette Square and the White House. Contiguous to this room is the library, or what the senator called his “workshop.”

Of refined taste and high culture, Mr. Sumner had surrounded himself with rare and exquisite specimens of the fine arts, in the study of which he found a solace for his senatorial cares. His rooms were crowded with the works of genius,--rare and costly books, beautiful paintings, engravings, illuminated pictures, medallions, statues in bronze and marble,--so that they had almost the appearance of a museum of art. Among other paintings in his bedroom was a landscape representing “Ellen's Isle,” painted by a colored artist. In the dining-room was a bas-relief of Christ as the “Good Shepherd,” taken from the Catacombs of Rome. Among countless curiosities in his study, there was a photograph of John Bright, plainly framed, which was once owned by Mr. Lincoln. Among his other treasures of art were an “Ecce Homo,” after Guido Reni; “The Miracle of the slave,” by Tintoretto (bequeathed to [336] his friend J. B. Smith); a portrait by Sir Peter Lely; and pictures of the Giotto of Florence, the grand staircase of Versailles, and the facade of the Louvre. “These last three things,” said Mr. Sumner to a friend, “are perfect. When I come home from the senate tired and cross, I like to look at them: it comforts me to think there is something perfect and above criticism.” Of his rarest literary treasures was an illuminated prayer-book of Margaret of Anjou, which cost three hundred dollars. The desk in which he was struck in the Senate was not the least interesting of his curiosities.

On Tuesday, the 10th of March, Mr. Sumner in his seat in the Senate complained to Mr. Ferry of painful shocks in his left side: they soon subsided; and in the evening he had as guests at his table two of his intimate friends,--Henry L. Pierce and B. Perley Poore. After the retirement of these gentlemen, he was again attacked with terrible pains in the heart. He was soon, however, somewhat relieved by his physician, Dr. J. T. Johnson, and passed a comparatively comfortable night; but in the morning he was cold and almost insensible. At ten o'clock he recognized Judge Hoar, and said, “Don't forget my Civil-rights Bill.” Observing Mr. Hooper near him, he exclaimed, “My book! My book is not finished.” Later in the day he moaned, “I am so tired! [337] I am so tired!” and, when Judge Hoar brought him a message from Mr. Emerson, he said, “Tell Emerson I love him and revere him.” “Yes, I will tell him,” replied the judge; “for he says you have the largest heart of any man alive.” The judge soon afterward took his hand; and at ten minutes before three o'clock, P. M., March 11, 1874, Charles Sumner ceased to breathe.

The news spread instantaneously over the nation; and millions were in tears. No death since that of Abraham Lincoln had so touched the hearts of the American people. Congress had already adjourned. On Friday, March 13, it assembled to pay tribute of profound respect to the departed senator. The obsequies were simple but impressive. The body of Mr. Sumner, embalmed and enclosed in a massive casket, on which had been placed a wreath of white azaleas and lilies, and a branch of palm-leaves, was lying in the south parlor of his house; and the features presented an appearance of dignity and repose. It was borne thence, in a hearse drawn by four white horses, followed by a body of about, three hundred colored men and a long line of carriages, to the Capitol, where, in the rotunda beneath the dome of that magnificent building, thousands gathered to view the silent face, and shed the parting tear. [338]

At half-past 12 the casket was removed to the Senate-chamber, which, with Mr. Sumner's chair, was draped in mourning. A cross of flowers, sent by Miss Nellie Grant, was placed upon the casket; but a more noticeable offering was a broken column of violets and white azaleas, placed there by the hands of a colored girl. She had been rendered lame by being thrust from the cars of a railroad, whose charter Mr. Sumner, after hearing the girl's story, by a resolution in the Senate caused to be revoked. In the presence of the president and his cabinet, the members of Congress, the Judiciary, foreign legations, and a large concourse of reverent citizens, the Congressional chaplains--the Rev. Drs. Butler and Sunderland — appropriately performed the solemn services.

At the close of the benediction, the president of the Senate, rising, said, “The funeral services having ended, the Senate of the United States intrusts the remains of Charles Sumner to the sergeant-at-arms and the committee1 appointed to convey them [339] to his home, there to commit them, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the soil of the old Commonwealth of Massachusetts Peace to his ashes!”

The remains, attended by a delegation from Congress, arrived by special train in Boston, late on Saturday evening, and were borne to the Doric Hall at the Capitol, when Senator H,. A. Anthony, chairman of the delegation, committed the casket to Gov. W. B. Washburn in this felicitous address:--

May it please your excellence: We are commanded by the Senate of the United States to render back to you. your illustrious dead. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, you dedicated to the public service a man who was even then greatly distinguished. He remained in it, quickening its patriotism, informing its councils, and leading in its deliberations, until, having survived in continuous service all his original associates, he has closed his earthly career. With reverent hands we bring to you his mortal part, that it may be committed to the soil of the Commonwealth, already renowned, that gave him birth. Take it: it is yours. The part which we do not return to you is not wholly yours to receive, nor altogether ours to give. It belongs to the country, to mankind, to freedom, to civilization, to humanity. We come to you with emblems of mourning which faintly typify the sorrow that dwells in the breasts upon which they lie. So much is due to the infirmity of human nature. But, in the view of reason and philosophy, is it not rather a matter of exultation, that a life so [340] pure in its personal qualities, so high in its public aims, so fortunate

in the fruition of noble effort, has closed safely before age had marred its intellectual vigor, before time had dimmed the lustre of its genius?

May it please your excellency: Our mission is completed. We commit to you the body of Charles Sumner. His undying fame the Muse of History has already taken in her keeping.

The body lay in state, attended by a guard of colored soldiers under Major Lewis Gaul, and was visited by throngs of sad and tearful people. On Friday afternoon, by a proclamation from the governor, both branches of the legislature assembled; and eloquent tributes were bestowed upon the departed statesman by Pres. George B. Loring, and Gen. N. P. Banks, of the Senate, and also by Messrs. Phillips, Codman, and Sanger, of the House. While the funeral train was on its way, the sorrow of the citizens of Boston found an expression in a crowded meeting, held in Faneuil Hall (draped for the occasion) at noon on Saturday, when very eloquent and eulogistic speeches were made by Mayor S. C. Cobb, Richard H. Dana, jun., A. H. Rice, N. P. Banks, William Gaston, Rev. E. E. Hale, and J. B. Smith, a noble, warm-hearted, and intimate friend of Mr. Sumner. In the course of his address, he with moving pathos said,-- [341]

I can go back to the time when I sat under the eagle in this hall, and when I saw some one stand on the platform; and I did wish, when I heard certain expressions, that I could sink. I can go back to my boyhood, when I have seen other boys in their sports and plays, and I would walk off in the woods, and say, “O God! Why was I born?”

I can remember forty-five years ago on a Christmas Day passing through the orchard, and saw a silk-worm hanging to the leaf of a tree, when my eyes turned up to my God, and I said, “Why am I here?” There hangs something out in the cold; but it will be a butterfly. I took it home, hung it in the room, put it where it was warm; and it hatched out before the atmosphere was prepared to receive it. I lifted the window; and it flew off, but had to return, as it could not stand the atmosphere. And just so I was brought forth by the eloquence of Charles Sumner; and I have been turned loose on the public atmosphere; for really I had to suffer intensely; and I could only feel at home and feel well when I turned back into his presence; and his arms were always open to receive me. (Applause.)

And now, Mr. Mayor, our ship in which he has commanded is still adrift: we are standing out now in the open sea, with a great storm; and, in behalf of those five millions of people of the United States, I beg of you to give us a good man to take hold where he left off. (Applause.)

We are not educated up to that point. We cannot speak for ourselves: we must depend upon others. We stand to-day like so many little children whose parents have passed away. We can weep; but we don't understand it. We can weep; but we must beg of you to give us a man who will still lead us forward until we shall have accompanied all those thousands for which he offered his life.


The public press throughout the country paid generous tributes to the departed statesman; and many clergymen on the sabbath spoke impressively of the national bereavement. The discourses of the Revs. Edward E. Hale, Dr. C. A. Bartol, James Freeman Clarke, George L. Chaney, T. W. Higginson, C. D. Fradlee, J. W. Hamilton, Samuel Johnson, James B. Dunn, Dr. S. K. Lothrop, Henry Ward Beecher, Dr. E. B. Foster, were particularly eloquent and appropriate. It is estimated that as many as forty thousand people visited Doric Hall to view the remains of the beloved senator. The room was elaborately draped in mourning; and the catafalque and casket resting in the centre were covered with most exquisite floral decorations. At the head of the coffin stood a beautiful cross formed of callas, violets, japonicas, and other flowers; and at the foot a broken shaft of roses, covered with a pall of violets. On the top of the casket the colored citizens placed a large floral heart, with this inscription: “From the colored citizens of Boston. Charles Sumner, you gave us your life; we give you our hearts.” Above the casket was suspended a crown, beneath which floated a white dove holding an olive-branch. At about half-past 2 o'clock on Monday afternoon, the remains were borne to King's Chapel, which was tastefully hung in black and decorated with costly

The body of Charles Sumner lying in State, in Doric Hall, State House, Boston.

[343] flowers, when appropriate funeral services were performed by the Rev. Henry W. Foote, the pastor. At the close of the services, the funeral cortege, in which there was a body of more than one thousand colored citizens, proceeded, through a dense crowd of reverent people, to Mount-Auburn Cemetery. It arrived, just as the sun was setting, at the open grave in the Sumner lot, on Arethusa Path, which winds along the declivity, a little to the westward of the tower. The avenues, the knolls, and hills were crowded with hushed and pensive people. Near the grave stood the Congressional delegation, the surviving members of the class of 1830, H. W. Longfellow, R. W. Emerson, O. W. Holmes, and other intimate friends of the deceased. The Horatian ode, “Integer vitoe scelerisque purus,” was then sung by fifty male voices, accompanied by trombones; and, at the close, the clergyman pronounced the solemn words, “I heard a voice saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” As the body, in the last beam of fading day, was lowered into the grave, the grand old song of Luther, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” arose; and a cross and wreath of rarest flowers, prepared by the request of Mrs. Julia Hastings, sister [344] of the deceased in California, was dropped by Miss Maud Howe upon the casket, amidst the statuesque silence of the surrounding multitude, broken only by the reverberation of the tolling of the distant bells.

God rest his gallant spirit! give him peace,
And crown his brows with amaranth, and set
The saintly palm-branch in his strong right hand.
Amid the conquering armies of the skies
Give him high place forever! let him walk
O'er meads of better asphodel; and be
Where dwell the single-hearted and the wise,--Men
like himself, severely, simply good,
Who scorned to be ambitious; scorned the snares
Of office, station, rank; but stood sublime
In natural greatness . . . O Eternal King,
O Father, Son, and Spirit! give him peace.

In person Mr. Sumner was tall, dignified, and commanding. His countenance generally wore a serious aspect; and his deportment was that of a well-bred and courteous gentleman. The whitened locks and furrowed cheek bespoke in later years the care and suffering to which his iron frame had been subjected. His friends are pleased to fancy that in respect to face and form, as well as character, he somewhat resembled Edmund Burke. Had he been [345] more sensible to the charms of this visible creation, to the harmonies of nature, and to the tones of music; had he more fondly cherished the affections of domestic life,--his heart would have known more consolation, his character would have been more completely rounded out. But, as the ancients often said, “It is not meet that every good should be conferred on one alone.” He held in most profound respect the principles of Christianity, and based thereon his strongest arguments for the freedom of the slave, and his expectations for the future elevation of the human race. To a friend, referring to his religion, he once said, “I take religion differently from other people; nor have I much to boast of, any way.” Just before leaving Boston for the last time, he made an address at the Church of the Disciples, “in which,” says one then present, “with profound and even tearful emotion, he spoke of the love of Christ as no man could speak who had not long and intimately known that love.”

Mr. Sumner's works, published in elegant style by Messrs. Lee and Shepard, received his critical revision, and will constitute his most enduring monument. Well could he say of them,--

Exegi monumentum aere perennius.

His last book, now in press, is entitled “Prophetic [346] Voices concerning America,” and displays to great advantage the extent of his historical researches, and his anticipations of a glorious future for this continent.

The style of Mr. Sumner is clear as sunlight. As the course of some majestic river it flows on, smooth, full, free, and harmonious. It is always elevated, always earnest, often nervous, strong, and impassioned. Every sentence indicates the man of culture: every word is well selected, well wrought in to the solid structure. Though insensible to the charms of music, he had still a fine rhythmical perception, and the art of bringing his periods to a harmonious close. His language teems with classical quotations, drawn from the whole range of ancient and of modern literature; yet they are so aptly chosen, as not only to illuminate his theme, but also to make some compensation for his want of wit and humor. Though he had not the massive strength of Webster, the sententious point of Wirt, or the matchless grace of Everett, he still excelled them all in learning, in earnestness, and in the grandeur of his aspirations. If, as Mr. Webster has remarked, true eloquence must exist in the man and the occasion, then will Mr. Sumner ever stand forth as the great orator of emancipation in America. [347]

As a statesman he was incorruptible. Intrenched in his integrity, no money, gift, nor bribe could move him. Deep in his heart he held that “honesty is the best policy:” he proclaimed this doctrine, and he practised it. Amidst the strategic arts for power, the venality, the duplicity, the gloat and greed for greenbacks, which characterize political life at Washington, he bore a clean, unsullied palm. No Credit-Mobilier scheme, no annexation plot, no “back-pay” subterfuge, could tempt him from his stronghold. “Is it right?” not “Will it pay?” was with him the first, the central, and the last question. “People speak of Washington,” he once naively said, “as being corrupt. I have lived there many years; and I have seen no corruption.” His condemnation and exposure of the corruption, and the connivance at corruption, of the government, demand the gratitude of the people; and his great name will ever plead, as the names of Lincoln and of Washington, for integrity in the head of the nation.

No man was ever more consistent in his political career. While so many others trimmed the sail, and veered with every shifting wind or current to the popular course, he pressed onward by an undeviating line, though lightnings flashed around his head, to the attainment of his end. His defection from the Republican party was but the logical result of his adherence [348] to his principles, or, in other words, of his consistency. True as steel to duty, he expected every other man to do his duty; and hence sometimes he seemed imperious in his exactions; but his desire was never to repress, but to bring others up to his own position. He raised his head above the murky atmosphere of the demagogues at the Capitol; and hence they hated him. But the world will some day reach his level. “No man,” says Mr. Whittier in a recent letter to me, “had ever warmer friends; and no man was ever truer in his friendships;” but those friends breathed with him the upper atmosphere. Congress has had men of originality and wit more brilliant, but none of industry more persistent, or scholarship more profound. His rank will be, not among the politicians, but among the unspotted and prophetic statesmen of the country. He spoke, even on subordinate questions, as if the whole world, and not the members of the Senate only, were his audience. Before the march of modern ideas, slavery, perhaps, without his aid, would soon have fallen; but it became his province to bring the liberal thoughts of the Old World and the New to illumine the question, to strike, with weapons which no other Congressman possessed, and with the force of a God-sustained combatant, the brutal system through and through, up to its final overthrow. His affluence of learning, [349] outflowing in allusions and quotations which his opponents, while denouncing, did not hesitate to borrow, was consecrated to the high and ultimate purpose of his life,--the liberation and the civilization of the captive; and it was no dishonor to the nation that it had one man, at least, in its highest council-chamber, who could speak, and who did speak, Greek. “He consecrated himself,” wrote Mr. Garrison to me the other day, “to the cause of impartial liberty and equal rights with vigilance, an ability, a thoroughness, and a devotion, that cannot be too highly extolled by the historian.” On the record of the grandest movement of the age, culminating in the dominion of right over wrong, in the liberation of millions from thraldom, and in the establishment of freedom over this broad continent, his name will ever stand conspicuous. It will be enshrined in the breast of the freedman as the word of God in the ark of Moses; and, on the banner that waves above the incorruptible, it will be surrounded by an aureole of glory. Wherever in this wide world a human heart quivers beneath the rod of the oppressor, it will derive hope and inspiration from the fearless utterances of this illustrious champion in defence of civil rights, equality, and fraternity.

Passing by the stately mausoleum of titled grandeur, [350] the sons and daughters of freedom will come with reverent step from every clime to cast a chaplet of white lilies, and to shed the tear of gratitude over the grave of Charles Sumner. [351]

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