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Judah P. Benjamin. [from the New Orleans, la, Picayune, March 6, 1904.]

Recollections of the great Confederate Secretary of State.

Meetings with him in London in 1873—his Unfailing kindness to Americans.

In a memorable address delivered a few months ago in Richmond, Va., the Honorable John Goode, in speaking of Judah P. Benjamin, described him as ‘the great.’ This ascription of greatness to Benjamin has often been made tentatively, but the time is, without doubt, fast approaching when the fame of this eminent man will be universally recognized. Benjamin was one of the most remarkable men that the United States has produced, and the fact that he was a son of Louisiana is one of which the State may be well proud. It was the writer's honor to meet Mr. Benjamin a number of times and to become well acquainted with him in the summer of 1873. At this time Mr. Benjamin was enjoying a most lucrative law practice, and had his office in Lamb's Building, Temple Bar, London. This pleasant acquaintance was most happily renewed and continued five years later, when I was again sojourning in the great English metropolis.

I had several times seen Mr. Benjamin some ten years previously, when he was a prominent figure in the councils of the Southern Confederacy, filling the positions respectively, of Secretary of War and Secretary of State in President Davis' cabinet. Then I was only a well-grown lad in my teens, serving in the army of the Confederate States. I had often heard of the great reputation he had earned in the United States Senate before the Civil war. I also knew of him as a famous lawyer. I had heard of him getting the best of Daniel Webster in an argument before the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Benjamin, while serving his two terms in the United States Senate, was considered one of the ablest lawyers of the country. The brilliant array of talent and statesmanship furnished the Senate by the South, just preceding the Civil war, was [170] well represented by the leadership of such men as Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, in genus omne.

After the close of the Civil War Mr. Benjamin at once sought refuge in England. He had not been long in London before he published a work that soon became a most citable and standard law authority. This proved an entering wedge for a most successfully paying law practice. For some years the famous lawyer had an annual income of £ 20,000—$100,000. When I first met him he was about 60 years old, then a most active, tireless worker, giving his large practice the closest attention early and late. He was very systematic and painstaking. He always appeared in the courts with his cases well prepared and ready for trial. He did not believe in delays and continuances from term to term; neither did the quibbles and technicalities of the law find any favor with him.

I was once in his office, when two American heirs—so-called—of the celebrated Jennings estate called to consult and employ him to represent their interest. In the politest and firmess manner possible he would not give them a particle of encouragement; he refused to receive a fee, or in any manner represent them—in fact, he told them not to spend good money for bad or doubtful and what they could never realize. He earnestly and positively informed them that no so-called American heirs would ever receive a shilling of the Jennings' reputed millions. He laughingly remarked soon after that that they were a fair type of their countrymen—‘the cleverest and most credulous people ever fashioned by a great and just Creator.’

Mr. Benjamin was much sought after by Southern men who visited London. They all took pride in him and his professional success. They esteemed him for his record before and during the ‘war between the States.’ His good standing abroad was the natural result of his great mental abilities, his perseverance and his determination to rebuild his fortunes among his fellows. He knew well enough how to take the world—how to capture success. He was ever the same suave, polite, considerate gentleman; the man of business and of affairs; and a lover of his profession and the polished man of the world. He left a grand and just reputation in the new world. He was anything but a shiftless adventurer. He soon found an appreciative market for his large stock of brains and tireless energy.

He was a generous-hearted man in every sense. Many and many a kind act and deed did he perform for his needy countrymen so [171] stranded in London, all from his own bounty. He had a most kindly heart for all the men who wore the gray from 1861 to 1865. I well remember his stout figure, pleasant face, curly gray locks and his laughing eyes; a most delightful talker, a brilliant conversationalist, ever ready and willing to entertain.

The vignettes on several issues of the Confederate States' bank notes fairly represent Mr. Benjamin's handsome features.

I once requested his opinion of Gladstone and D'Israeli, not as orators, but simply from a general intellectual point of view, and that comparatively. His answer was brief, positive and conservative, and, as nearly as I can recall, it ran in this wise:

I regard Mr. Gladstone as the strongest and soundest man intellectually. His ideals are nobler, higher. He is the greater statesman, with greater depth and breadth. His versatility as a scholar is marvelous; his capacity for persistent and tireless work wonderful. He is wholesouled and wholehearted in his undertakings. He always convinces you that his impulses are the purest and truest. He is ever in dead earnest in his many efforts along every line of honest, human endeavor.

Mr. D'Israeli is more of a politician and well up in all the sinuous subtlety of statecraft—a very talented man, ever ready to use and adapt all his resources in any emergency. He is a very brilliant and captivating leader of men; the young men of his party are devoted to him, and delight in fondly calling him “Dizzy.” At times he poses as a seeming ripe scholar even of very lavish erudition. He often tries to impress his hearers with the honesty of his convictions; yet many of his most famous and grandest public utterances lack sincerity. He is entirely different and opposite in mind, matter and method from Mr. Gladstone—in fact, the two men are so differently endowed, so variously equipped intellectually, it is difficult, and it may be unfair, to compare them by any ordinary standard of either general or special excellence.

The first time I called on Mr. Benjamin I presented several letters of introduction from prominent ex-Confederates who knew him in the old bellum days. He kindly received me in his pleasant, genial way, and, after a few moments chat, as I was about taking leave, inquired if there was anything he could do for me. I remember I wished to attend Parliament the next day. I knew it required a member's card for admission. I stated my wish. He touched a bell for his office boy and directed him to step over to Mr. Watson's office and request him to call in. In a few minutes a [172] clever-looking middle-aged gentleman made his appearance, to whom I was presented and my wish stated. Mr. Watson very graciously gave me his card, after writing on the back the necessary permission. He received my thanks, and after a few commonplace remarks, bowed himself out. The next day I ‘took in’ the House of Lords and House of Commons; the first I noted with the critical eye of an American, the other in a more kindly spirit.

The next time I met my distinguished friend and compatriot was in the summer of 1878. I had been abroad several months and had returned to London from Paris, only intending stopping in London a few days before going to Liverpool to take a steamer for New York. In this interval I experienced the misfortune imposed by a member of the light-fingered fraternity in being relieved of my purse containing my homeward fare of some $85. My traveling companions were in Liverpool waiting for me to join them. I did not wish them to know of my loss, so I called on Mr. Benjamin and borrowed 17 guineas, which he kindly and cheerfully loaned me; and then, without any solicitation, he also very thoughtfully gave me a most friendly and commendatory letter to Messrs. Cook & Sons, well-known cotton brokers of Liverpool. This firm showed me several kindnesses while in their great commercial city, showing me the immense shipping, etc., of that port. I herewith append a copy of the autographic letter I received from him about the loan and which I value for his well-known signature:

Biarrits, Pyrenees, France, 27th September, 1878.
My Dear Sir,—Your two letters of 27th August and 6th September followed me here from London, and I have since received a cheque for seventeen guineas from the National Bank of New York, in payment of the amount advanced to you, all which is quite in order.

I am glad to hear of your safe return home, and trust you will never in future fall into the hands of the ‘Philistines’ again.

Yours very truly,

After our last meeting in August, 1878, I only saw occasional notices of the great lawyer in some of the English papers, and from time to time they mentioned his declining health. I felt sad when I heard of his death in Paris, May 6, 1884, in the 72d year of his age. [173]

He was one of the gifted sons of the South when the Southland held the ruling power of intellect in the national councils—the peer of any man then on the floor of the United States Senate. The highest law courts of the country were enlightened by his great legal lore, his brilliant oratory, his profound arguments. In all that trying period of fierce struggle and deadly trials and heroic efforts, memorable months and years of glory and renown and final disaster, he was one of the noble and devoted men who gave his all to the glorious cause, even to the sad day of Appomattox, when—

On Flodden's fatal field—
Where shivered was fair Scotland's spear,
And broken was her shield.

He was a noble and gifted man, and, as Hon. John Goode said truly and well, ‘the great Judah P. Benjamin.’

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