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Chapter 30:

Grant in England.

when General Grant determined to visit England after the close of his Presidency, I asked him to make my house his home as long as he remained in London. But he thought his party would be too large, and, as he expected to pass the summer in London, the visit might be too long. He promised, however, to stay with me if I would allow him to share the expense. He said we had messed together in the field, and there was no reason why we should not do it again. I was only too glad to have him with me on any terms, and told him he should decide. Circumstances afterward changed this arrangement. He passed only three weeks under my roof, and for this period he consented to become my guest, for he knew the great pleasure it would give me; but he left America intending to go direct to my house, and to mess with me.

Before he arrived at Queenstown, Mr. Pierrepont, the American Minister, who had also been Grant's Attorney-General, determined to ask the ex-President to stay with him. This would be so advantageous from a public point of view that I could offer no opposition. I met General Grant at Liverpool, and he agreed with me that it was more appropriate for him first to visit the Minister. Accordingly, he divided his time between us.

Mr. Pierrepont had taken every step in advance to secure for his former chief a fitting reception. He often said to me, that if he had any influence General Grant should not be [264] treated as the ex-Presidents were who had previously visited England. Mr. Fillmore and Mr. Van Buren had received little or no attention, because of the position they had held. They were both invited by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but each was sent in to dinner without a lady and at the tail of the procession. They were Mr. Fillmore and Mr. Van Buren, and nothing more. Mr. Pierrepont said, that in a country where such matters are regarded as important, he was not willing that General Grant should suffer what might seem like an indignity.

But at first the English were not inclined to make any distinction in favor of General Grant. They said: ‘Americans give their ex-Presidents no rank, why should we?’ When Pierrepont pointed out that ex-Kings received peculiar honors, he was told that they were born in the purple; the ex-King of Hanover was the Queen's own cousin. They forgot that the ex-Emperor of the French, the veriest of pretenders and interlopers, was treated as an equal by Queen Victoria after his downfall; yet he had not even served out his term, but was deposed by the people who, he claimed, had elected him. It was besides incorrect to say that no provision is made in America for honoring ex-Presidents. The regulations of the Navy prescribe that the same salute shall be given to an ex-President as to a President, and although no rules for precedence exist in the United States, except at Washington, there could be no occasion, public or private, when General Grant would not receive the first place, after the actual President.

Mr. Pierrepont discussed these points with Lord Derby, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who finally agreed in behalf of the British Government that General Grant should be received as an ex-sovereign; he was to make the first visit to the members of the royal family, but every other Englishman was to yield him precedence. There was, however, still a question of etiquette with the foreign representatives. The [265] Government could give General Grant precedence over envoys, but the Ambassadors represented the persons of their sovereigns, and would not yield. ‘There would be a war,’ said the Foreign Minister. But even this difficulty was finally disposed of by diplomatic skill. Lord Derby was to give a dinner at the Foreign Office on the night after General Grant arrived in London. It was the Queen's birthday, when there is always a dinner to the foreign representatives. Now if General Grant went to this dinner the great question of precedence would at once arise; so Lord Derby determined not to invite General Grant on this occasion, but to ask him afterward and then leave out the Ambassadors. Mr. Pierrepont was obliged to go to the dinner, for he was an envoy, and to stay away would be a slight to the Queen; but the Duke of Wellington asked General Grant for the same night, and had no Ambassadors.

All this was arranged before General Grant arrived in London, and without his knowledge. Had he been consulted he would probably have said that he wished no question raised, but I am not sure that he was sorry afterward that the point was made. The precedent set in England was followed all over the world, and the success of his wonderful tour was certainly aided by the character of the reception he met from the important personages of England. The distinctive recognition of his consequence as ex-President was due to the efforts of Mr. Pierrepont. Without those efforts General Grant would doubtless have met with the same enthusiastic welcome from the English people, and from other peoples afterward, but he might not have received the distinguished treatment from sovereigns that made his journey around the world unprecedented in history. Some republicans have thought there was too much consequence given to etiquette at the time, but the incidents that happened to Fillmore and Van Buren show what might have occurred to Grant; and some of the good feeling which at present exists between [266] England and the United States might not have been aroused, had the representative American been slighted or officially ignored. The difficulty Mr. Pierrepont had in arranging the matter shows that such an event was not impossible.

But the English Government was as good as its word. Grant had precedence of all Englishmen at every house in England but one, and that house was not the Queen's. Lord Beaconsfield, the Prime Minister, set the example. He invited Grant to dinner before the General had called on him, and attended the party made by the American Minister in Grant's honor. This party was also attended by the foreign Ambassadors, who conceded so much as this, but insisted that their presence should be considered a visit, which was to be punctiliously returned, and I went about with the poor General half the next day leaving cards.

When Mr. Pierrepont gave a dinner to the Prince of Wales for General Grant, the same question came up again; for as Pierrepont was a Minister he could not invite the Prince of Wales without asking the Ambassadors, while they, if they wanted to, could not stay away. The matter was duly considered by the Lord Chamberlain and the envoy and the Ambassadors, and I am not sure that the Prince himself was not consulted, for he is a great authority on etiquette. Finally it was agreed that for this occasion General Grant might precede the Ambassadors; and as there were only two ladies present the Prince took in Mrs. Pierrepont and Mr. Pierrepont took Mrs. Grant. The Ambassadors followed, and there was no war.

Mr. Pierrepont constantly gave up his place to General Grant, for this was necessary according to court rules. No American can properly precede the American Minister at the court to which he is accredited. Mr. Lowell did the same thing in Spain, and General Read in Greece, and others whenever the occasion arose; for Pierrepont's difficulties were presented to other Ministers. [267]

The first dinner General Grant attended in London was at Apsley House, the residence of the Duke of Wellington. The son of the great English soldier said that it was proper for him to welcome the first of American soldiers. He descended to the door to receive General Grant, according to the etiquette maintained with royal personages, and escorted him in the same way on his departure; but I can remember no other occasion when this ceremony was performed by Englishmen.

At Lord Derby's dinner General Grant had precedence of the Prime Minister; at Lord Houghton's he went in before several dukes; and so on. The point was settled and no one questioned it afterward; although in advance I more than once heard English men and women scout the idea that an ex-President could precede a duke. Every one, of course, was polite. The General was incessantly invited by the highest nobility, and during the three weeks that he stayed at my house three thousand cards were left for him. It came to such a pass that people could hardly afford not to call, lest it should be supposed they were not of sufficient consequence. I had a party myself for the General, and English people of rank who didn't know me went down on their knees to my friends, imploring invitations. This sounds preposterous; nevertheless it is true.

All this was very pleasant to those who were fond of the General, and agreeable to any Americans who regarded him as an especial representative; he did not himself pretend to be indifferent; but the aristocratic courtesies were insignificant compared with his reception by the common people of England. The high society has its sensation every season; there is always a Czar, or a Shah, or some other potentate who is the lion of the hour; and that year it was General Grant. For their own sakes the important people paid him compliments; the Government for political reasons, the fashionable sort because they like to know and to say that they know all the great ones of the earth; they are not like [268] American exclusives, civil only to their own kind. A great democrat was to them even more of a curiosity than a king; and their breeding compelled them to show such a stranger the courtesy it had been decided to accord.

But the common people were not included in the diplomatic arrangements, and they took the matter into their own hands, without consulting the Lord Chamberlain. To them the coming of an ex-President was an event. It was the realization of what they had heard of but never seen—that a plain man, without rank, or birth, or fortune, with only native ability and character to back him, could become one of the potentates of the earth. He was the incarnation of Republicanism. He was Democracy itself in the house of Aristocracy.

Besides this, many of the working people had sympathized with the Union in its struggle for existence. They knew that the high society was almost universally on the side of the South, not because it loved the South any better than it did the North, nor in fact as well, but it wanted the Republic destroyed because the Republic was a reproach to aristocracy; for the same reason the workingmen wanted the Republic saved. They knew that Grant had led the Union armies, and they greeted him as the champion of the cause in which they too were interested. All this is not the partial fancy of a friend, nor the rhapsody of a republican; it was said again and again in my hearing, in public speech and private conversation, and repeated in scores of the provincial newspapers.

General Grant was met when he touched English soil by the Mayor of Liverpool. Now a Mayor in England is not an aristocrat; he is usually a tradesman, probably a successful one, but still not of the upper class. The prosperous part of the population of Liverpool is not aristocratic; it is connected with trade. But the ovation General Grant at once received in that city was prodigious. He was taken to the Custom House, and ten thousand respectable citizens crowded [269] into the hall to give him the first promise of what was to follow all over the land. The next day the scene was repeated; and so it went on. At Manchester he was the guest of the city and lodged in the Town Hall, which had never been occupied by State guests before. Banquets and processions were made for him, orations delivered; he was taken to the places of public interest—always by people of the great middle class. Not a lord appeared until he reached London. When he entered a theatre the orchestra played ‘Hail Columbia,’ and the actors stopped the performance while the audience rose as they would for a sovereign.

He had the same sort of reception in every one of the great towns of England. In each place he was the guest of the civic authorities, who, in every one of the large cities, are men of the middle class. In this way he saw more of that great class which constitutes so much of the strength, and owns so much of the wealth, and makes so much of the greatness of England; for lawyers, merchants, manufacturers, editors, artists, literary men,—all that we are in the habit of regarding as constituting the best elements of society—In England belong to the middle class. The cities are filled with a mercantile or manufacturing population, and the aristocracy never live in any city except London. If a person resides in a city in England, you may almost know that he is not an aristocrat.

But it was not only the leaders of the middle class, the wealthy merchants and great manufacturers, the liberal writers and thinkers, who delighted to do General Grant honor, it was those who, in that country, are lower still in the social scale,—the working class. At places like Sheffield, and Sunderland, and Birmingham, and Manchester, and Newcastle, the popular demonstration equaled any in America immediately after the war. Towns were illuminated because of his presence, triumphal arches were erected in his honor, holidays were proclaimed when he arrived, hundreds of thousands [270] turned out to meet him, the banks of the Tyne were covered with working people for twenty miles. The horses were taken from his carriage more than once, and the crowds gathered around to shake his hand, just as if he had led their armies or fought for their cause. They felt, indeed, that the cause was the same, that he was a leader in the same battle in which they have still their fight to make. Then, too, here was a ruler of a great people, and they could shake his hand! Here was a President who was not inaccessible. It was Democracy in the flesh. No wonder the poor who had lived under lords and sovereigns for centuries felt that, whereas they had been blind, now they saw.

While General Grant stayed at my house, I remember two visits that were paid him, peculiar in character. One was from the Comte de Paris, who wrote to me in advance to ask when it would be agreeable to General Grant to receive him. The services of the Orleans Prince in our armies were, of course, known to General Grant, but the two had never met in America. Grant's star had not risen very high when the Comte de Paris was on McClellan's staff, and when General Grant was brought East to command the armies, the descendant of St. Louis had returned to Europe. Of course, the visit was a compliment, and General Grant was gratified. He conversed pleasantly with the Prince and performed the proper etiquettes.

But afterward, on the same day, he received a deputation of English workingmen, and, though he had all respect for the gallant gentleman who had offered his sword in our behalf, and perhaps a shade of personal pity for a discrowned Prince, his livelier interest was excited by the British mechanics and artisans who came to offer their less elegant greeting. There were forty of them, each representing a different trade, and they presented a formal address, assuring him of their deep regard for the welfare and progress of America, where British workmen had always found a welcome. Grant's reply showed [271] that his republican sentiments had not been disturbed by the aristocratic grandeur and ceremony that had surrounded him in London.

‘Since my arrival on British soil,’ he said, ‘I have received great attentions, which were intended, I am sure, for my country. I have had orations, hand-shakings, and presentations from different classes, from the Government, from the controlling authorities of cities, and have been received in the cities by the populace, but there has been no reception which I am prouder of than that of to-day.’

General Grant left England with a profounder impression of the people than of the statesmen or the aristocracy. And well might that be; for many have been received as cordially as he by the upper classes; but I doubt if any foreigner ever awoke such enthusiasm throughout the land among the common English people as Grant.

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