Archive for March, 2013
George Alfred Townsend mentioned in “Men and events of forty years” by Congressman Josiah Bushnell Grinnell
Dr. George Alfred Townsend with the non-de-plume of “Gath”, has for a quarter of a century startled the public by discovery, and been feared and berated as the Bohemian of his time. I think he commanded the largest pay by the column of any correspondent, for his original researches, brilliant sketches and political predictions as to success or defeat. Levi P. Morton, our Vice-President, found in him an elegant biographer and friend, whose rare gifts and delineation are known without passing through a forest of verbiage.
Grinnell, Josiah Bushnell, Men and events of forty years: Autobiographical reminiscences of an active career from 1850 to 1890. Boston; D. Lothrop Company, 1901. Pg. 160 – 161
Mark Twain mentioned in 1868 Washington newspaper dispatch from Emily Edson Briggs [The Olivia Letters, 1906]
Mark Twain, the delicate humorist, was present; quite a lion, as he deserves to be. Mark is a bachelor, faultless in taste, whose snowy vest is suggestive of endless quarrels with Washington washer-women; but the heroism of Mark is settled for all time, for such purity and smoothness were never seen before. His lavender gloves might have been stolen from some Turkish harem, so delicate were they in size; but more likely – anything else were more likely than that. In form and feature he bears some resemblance to the immortal Nasby; but whilst Petroleum is brunette to the core, Twain is golden, amber-hued, melting blonde.
Briggs, Emily Edson, The Olivia’s Letters: Being Some History of Washington City for Forty Years as Told by the Letters of a Newspaper Correspondent, New York; The Neale Publishing Company. 1906. “SPEAKER COLFAX. His Affection For His Mother – Other Characteristics. Washington, March 2, 1868.” p. 45 – 47
A single one of these slaves deserves further notice. His body-servant “Billy” was purchased by Washington in 1768 for sixty-eight pounds and fifteen shillings, and was his constant companion during the war, even riding after his master at reviews; and this servant was so associated with the General that it was alleged in the preface to the “forged letters” that they had been captured by the British from “Billy,” “an old servant of General Washington’s.” When Savage painted his well-known “family group,” this was the one slaved included in the picture. In 1784 Washington told his Philadelphia agent that “The mulatto fellow, William, who has been with me all the war, is attached (married he says) to one of his own color, a free woman, who during the war, was also of my family. She has been in an infirm condition for some time, and I had conceived that the connexion [sic] between them has ceased; but I am mistaken it seems; they are both applying to get her here, and tho’ I never wished to see her more, I cannot refuse his request (if it can complied with on reasonable terms) as he has served me faithfully for many years. After premising this much, I have to beg the favor of you to procure her a passage to Alexandria.”
When acting as a chain-bearer in 1785, while Washington was surveying a tract of land, William fell and broke his knee-pan, “which put a stop to my surveying; and with much difficulty I was able to get him to Abington, being obliged to get a sled to carry him on, as he could neither walk, stand or ride.” From this injury Lee never quite recovered, yet he started to accompany his master to New York in 189, only to give out on the road. He was left at Philadelphia, and Lear wrote to Washington’s agent that “The President will thank you to propose it to Will to return to Mount Vernon when he can be moved with safety – but if he is still anxious to come on here the President would gratify him, altho’ he will be troublesome – He has been an old faithful Servant, this is enough for the President to gratify him in every reasonable wish.”
By his will Washington gave Lee his “immediate freedom or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so – In either case however I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life which shall be independent or the victuals and cloaths he has been accustomed to receive; if he chuses the last alternative, but in full with his freedom, if he prefers the first, and this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.”
Ford, Paul Leicester, The True George Washington, Philadelphia. J. B. Lippincott Company; 1898. p. 150 – 152.
I was a very smart child at the age of thirteen — an unusually smart child, I thought at the time. It was then that I did my first newspaper scribbling, and most unexpectedly to me it stirred up a fine sensation in the community. It did, indeed, and I was very proud of it, too. I was a printer’s “devil,” and a progressive and aspiring one. My uncle had me on his paper (the Weekly Hannibal Journal, two dollars a year in advance — five hundred subscribers, and they paid in cordwood, cabbages, and unmarketable turnips), and on a lucky summer’s day he left town to be gone a week, and asked me if I thought I could edit one issue of the paper judiciously. Ah! didn’t I want to try! Higgins was the editor in the rival paper. He had lately been jilted, and one night a friend found an open note on the poor fellow’s bed, in which he stated that he could no longer endure life and had drowned himself in Bear Creek. The friend ran down there and discovered Higgins wading back to shore! He had concluded he wouldn’t. The village was full of it for several days, but Higgins did not suspect it. I thought this was a fine opportunity. I wrote an elaborately wretched account of the whole matter, and then illustrated it with villainous cuts engraved on the bottoms of wooden type with a jack-knife — one of them a picture of Higgins wading out into the creek in his shirt, with a lantern, sounding the depth of the water with a walking-stick. I thought it was desperately funny, and was densely unconscious that there was any moral obliquity about such a publication. Being satisfied with this effort I looked around for other worlds to conquer, and it struck me that it would make good, interesting matter to charge the editor of a neighboring country paper with a piece of gratuitous rascality and ” see him squirm.” I did it, putting the article into the form of a parody on the Burial of ” Sir John Moore” — and a pretty crude parody it was, too. Then I lampooned two prominent citizens outrageously — not because they had done anything to deserve it, but merely because I thought it was my duty to make the paper lively. Next I gently touched up the newest stranger – the lion of the day, the gorgeous journeyman tailor from Quincy. He was a simpering coxcomb of the first water, and the “loudest ” dressed man in the State. He was an inveterate woman-killer. Every week he wrote lushy ” poetry ” for the “Journal,” about his newest conquest. His rhymes for my week were headed, ” To MARY IN H–L,” meaning to Mary in Hannibal, of course. But while setting up the piece I w as suddenly riven from head to heel by what I regarded as a perfect thunderbolt of humor, and I compressed it into a snappy foot-note at the bottom — thus — “We will let this thing pass, just this once; but we wish Mr. J. Gordon Runnels to understand distinctly that we have a character to sustain, and from this time forth when he wants to commune with his friends in h–l, he must select some other medium than the columns of this journal! ”
The paper came out, and I never knew any little thing attract so much attention as those playful trifles of mine. For once the Hannibal Journal was in demand — a novelty it had not experienced before. The whole town was stirred. Higgins dropped in with a double-barrelled shot-gun early in the forenoon. When he found that it was an infant (as he called me) that had done him the damage, he simply pulled my ears and went away; but he threw up his situation that night and left town for good. The tailor came with his goose and a pair of shears; but he despised me too, and departed for the South that night. The two lampooned citizens came with threats of libel, and went away incensed at my insignificance. The country editor pranced in with a warwhoop next day, suffering for blood to drink; but he ended by forgiving me cordially and inviting me down to the drug store to wash away all animosity in a friendly bumper of ” Fahnestock’s Vermifuge.” It was his little joke.
My uncle was very angry when he got back — unreasonably so, I thought, considering what an impetus I had given the paper, and considering also that gratitude for his preservation ought to have been uppermost in his mind, inasmuch as by his delay he had so wonderfully escaped dissection, tomahawking, libel, and getting his head shot off. But he softened when he looked at the accounts and saw that I had actually booked the unparalleled number of thirty-three new subscribers, and had the vegetables to show for it, cordwood, cabbage, beans, and unsalable turnips enough to run the family for two years!
The Galaxy, Volume 11 [January 1871 – July 1871]
p. 615 – 616
1. Twain, Mark “Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?.” North American Review
April, 1902, p. 443 – 444.
Hartford, Feb. 26 [no date]
My dear Friend –
Many thanks for the book. I got it yesterday evening and gave it a chance toward bedtime, but it failed to put me to asleep or even make me drowsy. Few books treat me so unkindly. I read it more than half through, picking out the plums, such as “The Big Idiot,” “The Circuit Preacher,” etc., and greatly enjoyed the entertainment. Thank you again. I will respond when my book comes out, George Alfred.
S. L. Clemens
George Alfred Townsend: One of Delaware’s Outstanding Writers, Ruthanna Hindes, 1946. p. 50
GATH sent a letter to Frederick Douglass dated April 29, 1880 concerning “Tales of the Chesapeake.”
Washington, January 24, 1832
We have been here for a week and shall stay on until February 6. Our sojourn is useful and agreeable. Gathered in Washington at this moment are all the most prominent men in the entire Union. We no longer need to elicit from them ideas about what we don’t know, so we go over more or less familiar ground and concentrate on doubtful points. It’s a very useful kind of counterproof. We are always treated with great respect
At this moment I am revolving many ideas about America. A fair number still in my head: I’ve scattered the seed of many more onto notepaper; others crop up in summaries of conversations I’ve had. All these raw scraps will be served up to you.
A visit to Washington gives one some idea of how wonderfully well-equipped men are to calculate future events. Forty years ago, when choosing a capital for the Union became a matter of public concern, the first step, reasonably enough, was to decide upon the most favorable location. The place chosen was a vast plain along the banks of the Potomac. This wide, deep river bordering one end would bring European goods to the new city; fertile fields on the other side would keep markets well provisioned and nourish a large population. People assumed that in twenty years Washington would be the hub of the Union’s internal and external commerce. It was bound, in due course, to have a million inhabitants. Anticipating this influx, the government began to raise public edifices and lay out enormously wide streets. Trees that might have hindered the construction of houses were felled by the acre. All this was nothing but the story of the milk-jug writ large:
Il etait quand je l’eus de grosseur raisannable
J’aurai … 
The farmer’s wife and Congress reasoned in much the same way. The population didn’t come; vessels did not sail up the Potomac. Today. Washington presents the image of an arid plain scorched by the sun, on which, scattered here and there, are two or three sumptuous edifices and five or six villages that constitute the city. Unless one is Alexander or Peter the Great, one should not get involved in creating the capital of an empire.
* This is an excerpt from the Yale University Press version. The University of Virginia Press version is slightly different in its semantics and sentence structure. *
De Tocqueville, Alexis Letters From America, edited and translated by Frederick Brown. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press. 2010.
Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont in America: Their Friendship and Travels; edited by Olivier Zunz, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press. 2010.