June 21

June Twenty-First

What care I if Cyrus McCormick was born in Rockbridge County? These new-fangled “contraptions” are to the old system what the little, dirty, black steam-tug is to the three-decker, with its cloud of snowy canvas towering to the skies—the grandest and most beautiful sight in the world. I wouldn't give Uncle Isham's picked man, “long Billy Carter,” leading the field, with one good drink of whisky in him—I wouldn't give one swing of his cradle and one “ketch” of his straw for all the mowers and reapers in creation.

George W. Bagby

 

Cyrus Hall McCormick of Virginia patents his reaping machine, 1831

 

 

I worked a fatigue party on a fort all night arriving in camp about 5 o'clock a. m. tired and hungry; slept until about 6 o'clock p. m. when we were ordered to march. We moved out on the Jerusalem plank road to where our cavalry were skirmishing on the ground to the left of our army which we were expected to occupy, and halted about 9 o'clock p. m. Although it was dark we threw out a skirmish line, forced the enemy back, captured several prisoners, camped and commenced to throw up breastworks having joined our line with the Second Corps on our right. The First, Second and Third Divisions, Sixth Corps, in the order mentioned from the right now form the left of our army. General Grant is simply extending his line to the left. Colonel W. W. Henry took command of the regiment last night. I have received a letter from Lieutenant G. E. Davis at Annapolis; is doing well. The One Hundred and Sixth New York captured a Johnny to-night under singular circumstances but I've not room to relate them.

June 21, 1863

Sunday. My diary says to-day is Sunday. If I have kept my reckoning right it is, but nothing else hints at its being the day set apart for rest. Directly in front of our sleeping quarters is a high knob or hill, and directly back of that is the water battery on ground just as high and only separated from it by a V-shaped hollow between. There are men making a road up that knob, and I think it is going to be fortified. The storming party is said to be full, and are to report at General Banks' headquarters to-night. It is said thirty-five go from the 128th. If all the regiments send a like number there will be several thousand instead of one, as was called for. Nearly half from this regiment are from Company C. Company A is next, with nine, and the rest are from the other companies, except B, G, and E, which send none. They go way up to the right of the line, but where they will make the attempt is not told, if it is known. Captain Keese goes in command of the squad from the 128th, and with sixteen from his own Company C, nine from Company A, three from Company D, one from Company F, two from Company H, three from Company I, and two from Company K, making thirty-six in all, making a big showing from our regiment. We bid them good-bye, for some of them, and perhaps all, have gone on their last march. There are men left who have proved themselves just as brave as these have ever done. We don't all see it alike, that's all. We feel as if we had had a big funeral in the family, and are a sober set to-night.

June 21

June 21, 1871.--The international socialism of the ouvriers, ineffectually put down in Paris, is beginning to celebrate its approaching victory. For it there is neither country, nor memories, nor property, nor religion. There is nothing and nobody but itself. Its dogma is equality, its prophet is Mably, and Baboeuf is its god.

[Footnote: Mably, the Abbé Mably, 1709-85, one of the precursors of the revolution, the professor of a cultivated and classical communism based on a study of antiquity, which Babeuf and others like him, in the following generation, translated into practical experiment. "Caius Gracchus" Babeuf, born 1764, and guillotined in 1797 for a conspiracy against the Directory, is sometimes called the first French socialist. Perhaps socialist doctrines, properly so called, may be said to make their first entry into the region of popular debate and practical agitation with his "Manifeste des Égaux," issued April 1796.]

How is the conflict to be solved, since there is no longer one single common principle between the partisans and the enemies of the existing form of society, between liberalism and the worship of equality? Their respective notions of man, duty, happiness--that is to say, of life and its end--differ radically. I suspect that the communism of the Internationale is merely the pioneer of Russian nihilism, which will be the common grave of the old races and the servile races, the Latins and the Slavs. If so, the salvation of humanity will depend upon individualism of the brutal American sort. I believe that the nations of the present are rather tempting chastisement than learning wisdom. Wisdom, which means balance and harmony, is only met within individuals. Democracy, which means the rule of the masses, gives preponderance to instinct, to nature, to the passions--that is to say, to blind impulse, to elemental gravitation, to generic fatality. Perpetual vacillation between contraries becomes its only mode of progress, because it represents that childish form of prejudice which falls in love and cools, adores, and curses, with the same haste and unreason. A succession of opposing follies gives an impression of change which the people readily identify with improvement, as though Enceladus was more at ease on his left side than on his right, the weight of the volcano remaining the same. The stupidity of Demos is only equaled by its presumption. It is like a youth with all his animal and none of his reasoning powers developed.

Luther's comparison of humanity to a drunken peasant, always ready to fall from his horse on one side or the other, has always struck me as a particularly happy one. It is not that I deny the right of the democracy, but I have no sort of illusion as to the use it will make of its right, so long, at any rate, as wisdom is the exception and conceit the rule. Numbers make law, but goodness has nothing to do with figures. Every fiction is self-expiating, and democracy rests upon this legal fiction, that the majority has not only force but reason on its side--that it possesses not only the right to act but the wisdom necessary for action. The fiction is dangerous because of its flattery; the demagogues have always flattered the private feelings of the masses. The masses will always be below the average. Besides, the age of majority will be lowered, the barriers of sex will be swept away, and democracy will finally make itself absurd by handing over the decision of all that is greatest to all that is most incapable. Such an end will be the punishment of its abstract principle of equality, which dispenses the ignorant man from the necessity of self-training, the foolish man from that of self-judgment, and tells the child that there is no need for him to become a man, and the good-for-nothing that self-improvement is of no account. Public law, founded upon virtual equality, will destroy itself by its consequences. It will not recognize the inequalities of worth, of merit, and of experience; in a word, it ignores individual labor, and it will end in the triumph of platitude and the residuum. The régime of the Parisian Commune has shown us what kind of material comes to the top in these days of frantic vanity and universal suspicion.

Still, humanity is tough, and survives all catastrophes. Only it makes one impatient to see the race always taking the longest road to an end, and exhausting all possible faults before it is able to accomplish one definite step toward improvement. These innumerable follies, that are to be and must be, have an irritating effect upon me. The more majestic is the history of science, the more intolerable is the history of politics and religion. The mode of progress in the moral world seems an abuse of the patience of God.

Enough! There is no help in misanthropy and pessimism. If our race vexes us, let us keep a decent silence on the matter. We are imprisoned on the same ship, and we shall sink with it. Pay your own debt, and leave the rest to God. Sharer, as you inevitably are, in the sufferings of your kind, set a good example; that is all which is asked of you. Do all the good you can, and say all the truth you know or believe; and for the rest be patient, resigned, submissive. God does his business, do yours.

Tegernsee June 21, 1880

The Tennysons came and went, I am sorry to say, prematurely. They spent two days with us, and would have gone by Achensee to Innsbruck, but the rain sent them back to Munich, where they took the train for Italy. You will be surprised to learn that the Poet made a favourable impression on my ladies and children. He was not only a gracious Poet, but he told us lots of good stories, read aloud without pressure, walked repeatedly with M., and seemed interested in the books he carried to his room. Lady Acton took him to Kreuth and round the lake, and liked him well. Yet our ways were very strange to him, and he must have felt that he stood on the far verge of civilisation, without the enjoyments proper to savage life. Even I was tamed at last. There was a shell to crack, but I got at the kernel, chiefly at night, when everybody was in bed. His want of reality, his habit of walking on the clouds, the airiness of his metaphysics, the indefiniteness of his knowledge, his neglect of transitions, the looseness of his political reasonings—all this made up an alarming cheval de frise.

But then there was a gladness—not quickness—in taking a joke or story, a comic impatience of the external criticism of Taine and others found here, coupled with a simple dignity when reading ill-natured attacks, a grave groping for religious certainty, and a generosity in the treatment of rivals—of Browning and Swinburne, though not of Taylor—that helped me through. He was not quite well, in consequence of the damp and of the mountain fare.

I write for news to your hotel at Venice, the weather having been against the Dolomites.

Hallam is a much better and clearer politician than his father, and the only time we differed he was the truer Blue. If I add that I discovered why he refused a baronetcy, I suspect it is no more than you know very well already.

*****

I have made Liddon's acquaintance at last. Nothing but Tennyson prevented me from seeing more of him, for I found in him all that I love Oxford for, and only a very little of what I dislike in it.


... Let me suppress truths only when they are pleasant, and confess that I have a doubt about the scene with O'Donnell. Mr. Gladstone brought against him an engine as obsolete as the Veto,[27 ] not for the sake of France, for he could have his say in another way, but for a disorderly act which was not the worst on record. It seemed a stretch of severity when the claim to have been severely treated is the most telling feather in an Irish cap, when the fact of having been silenced in a new way inflates the lungs, if it does not strengthen the hands, of a Home Ruler. But perhaps I am so fresh from the history of the Plebs and their Tribunes that I am not quite sound as to the management of Obstructives.

Challemel Lacour is the scholar, the philosopher, the ascetic of that republican school of which Gambetta is the Tribune and the platform hero. He is their Minister in reserve; and Albert Gate is so manifestly the stepping-stone to power, he is so conspicuous a leader of untried policy, that the civility of his reception will be taken in France as a tribute to his party in a way there has been no example of. He is probably the most interesting specimen in existence of the school from which Robespierre would have chosen his colleagues. I should very, very much like to know how he impresses you; and there is so much more I should very much like to know, that I must learn to be less obtrusive.

... If the Bavarian Fawcett[28 ] opened one of my letters, I suspect it was because they have not got over their perplexity at the Queen informing the King of Bavaria of the Rammingen misalliance. Only, when I ask indiscreet questions do not suspect me of asking for indiscreet answers.

I think Reay deserves a seat in the H. of L. (in the vulgar sense of those mystic letters),[29 ] because he would perhaps not recognise your portrait of a barren, contradictory, envious, dissolving cynic. But the cap fits only too well, and I must acknowledge the fidelity of the likeness, and the art of Lenbach in the deeper shades. Do you remember, now, my prophecy on the Piazzetta, when I rejoiced that you would not stay long enough to learn to hate me?

In worldly quarters you will probably meet with the objection to Reay that he is more instructive than amusing; but I hardly know a more genuine good fellow. Do you know Morier, who is in town? Another man much objected to, but exceedingly able, resolute, and energetic....

*****

I hope you will see Blennerhassett, and think him worthy of his wife, who is still at Munich. Thank you for the good news you give from high places, and for the greasy wheels. Your sister's ears ought to have tingled at the good things said of her here last week.

[27 ] Mr. O'Donnell, an Irish member, moved the adjournment of the House for the purpose of attacking the new French Ambassador, M. Challemel Lacour. Mr. Gladstone moved that he be not heard, and the debate on this motion occupied the whole sitting.

[28 ] Then Postmaster-General.

[29 ] House of Lords, not "History of Liberty."