PERSONAL AND DOMESTIC MATTERS
1891-1897 AGE, 52-58
The wheel brought mental as well as physical good to Mr. George, for it proved to him that he had not lost his active powers; and up to a short time of his death he rode with keen enjoyment, getting much of the kind of exhilaration that in his younger manhood had come from horseback riding. It became at once a means of recreation and method of stirring his mind; and if the origin of some of the boldest conceptions and loftiest passages of his later writings could be traced, it might be found in these wheel rides.
This was Mr. George's second mechanical triumph, his first being over the type-writing machine, which he began to use in 1884 and continued to use until his death. With it he "blocked out" his work, and one of his sons or daughters, whoever at the time was doing amanuensis work for him, used another. The machine in 1884 was unknown in some parts of the world, and a correspondent in Paraguay, South America, inquired how he could afford to have his letters put in type and printed. Mr. George explained that he used a little mechanism having keys for the fingers to play on like a kind of piano.
For a while in 1891, Mr. George tried the phonograph, endeavouring to record dictations and have his amanuensis transcribe at leisure. But he could not habituate himself to talking into the inanimate machine and he succumbed to the disconcerting effects that almost invariably attack the user at the outset. The instrument was delivered at the Nineteenth Street residence one afternoon when Mr. George was at home writing and the other members of the family were absent. He sat down at once to do some dictating, but could not induce himself to take the instrument seriously. He could treat it only as a toy, and accordingly fell to playing with it. Into it he shouted a sailor song of his boyhood to the effect that:
"Up jumped the shark with his crooked teeth,
Saying, 'I'll cook the duff, if you'll cook the beef';"
and then another song about a winsome bumboat damsel, who, saluted by the admiral of the fleet in terms she resented, answered ...
"Kind admiral, you be damned!"
This last line was roared into the machine in a hurricane voice that brought the wondering and dismayed domestics running up-stairs, only to find, when they peered into the room, that Mr. George was alone, seated before a little table and singing into a speaking tube.
During the stay in Bermuda Mr. Simon Mendelson noted some conversations in promise to his daughter, who had remained in New York. Among the notes is this:
"Monday, February 16, 1891
Louis F. Post tells how one day, perhaps a year after the Bermuda trip, when out bicycling with Mr. George and riding a strange wheel, he spoke of the queer fact that one's own wheel comes to seem like part of one's own self. They had just previously conversed about the spirit: Mr. George had been giving reasons for belief in its existence. Upon his friend's remark, Mr. George asked if he saw nothing suggestive in that; if he could not discern an analogy between the relation of the wheel to his body and of his body to his spirit?
At another time while riding slowly along Fifth Avenue, New York, with a son and a daughter, he observed un undertaker's wagon stop before a residence, and two men get down and carry up armfuls of black drapery. "None of that when I am dead," he said to his children. "Death is as natural as life; it means a passage into an other life. If a man has lived well – if he has kept the faith – it should be a time for rejoicing, not for repining, that the struggle here is over."
Death was much in his thoughts from now forward. "How much there is of joy and sorrow and tragedy in the years that have rolled so noiselessly by since we first knew each other!" he wrote to Judge Coffey of California; "and now we are what we then thought were old men, and the years move all the faster." On another occasion he wrote to Thomas F. Walker: "I have long since ceased to have any dread of death, except for the shock of parting." While on a western lecturing trip he wrote to Mrs. George concerning the death of a fine St. Bernard dog they had raised from a pup: "Poor old Thor! I cannot help feeling so sorry for him, and I know that you all must miss him very much. But we cannot tell. Perhaps if not that, something worse might have happened. Even in a dog, though, we feel the mystery of death. Let us love the closer, while life lasts."
Staunch as a rock was his belief in immortality, and many of his friends loved to talk to him about it, even those like Louis Prang of Boston who had little faith. "Do you think we shall ever meet you in California again?" asked Mrs. Francis M. Milne of San Francisco, during the trip around the world. "I don't know," he answered; "for there is much to do. But if not here, then hereafter." Another friend, A. Van Dusen of New York, questioned: "What do you regard as the strongest evidence of the immortality of the soul?" The answer was prompt, and to Mr. Van Dusen, conclusive: "The creation of human beings is purposeless if this is all." Over the body of William T. Croasdale, who died in the single tax faith in August, 1891, and was cremated, Mr. George in a funeral address said:
When a young man, troubled in mind, raised the question of whether or not suicide was justifiable, Mr. George replied: "Many wise men among the ancients thought it was. But what do we know about life; and what do we know about death? We are here, conscious of things to do. We came here not of ourselves. We must be part of a plan. We have work to perform. If we refuse to go forward with the work here, how do we know but that it shall have to be performed elsewhere?"
August Lewis had on Mr. George's setting off for Bermuda given him a translation of Schopenhauer's "World as Will and Idea." Mr. George found it absorbingly in teresting, but "'From A to Izzard' like a red rag to a bull," for the German philosopher represented that hopelessness of things earthly and a negation of life hereafter which proved a direct antithesis to George's ever-strengthening hopefulness and faith. With all that, the brilliant mind of the great German exercised its fascination. Recognising in him a philosopher of rare originality and astonishing versatility, Mr. George became fond of consulting (or rather comparing) his views on the most varied topics. And he seemed to derive satisfaction from the fact that, in spite of its atheism, the underlying principle of Schopenhauer's philosophy was spiritual and not material. Mr. George also seemed to take great delight in Schopenhauer's well known outspokenness against the professors, and indeed saw in the way that Schopenhauer had so long been ignored by them, a case analogous to his own. Perhaps many passages in Mr. George's later works bearing on this subject are somewhat to be ascribed to this influence.
Mr. George's views of the essence of Christianity he set forth in his published writings. His beliefs relative to the person of Christ were, he said one day in the last year of his life to his son Henry, most nearly represented by a short sketch written by Thomas Jefferson, entitled "Syllabus of an estimate of the merits of the doctrines of Jesus," from which he quoted in "The Science of Political Economy."
To take another view of Henry George – here is a further excerpt from the Mendelson Bermuda notes:
"Sunday March 1, 1891
"Mr. George feels not the necessity of talking and of giving his thoughts to others, not even for the purpose of getting at their thoughts. In the latter case, he prefers asking direct questions abruptly. In his talk he seldom gets animated and seldom says things of a higher order. When he does, he looks very absorbed in his subject and quite handsome....
"Though of deep feeling, he does not feel poetically. The poetry which he likes is not of the divine art, but the eloquence of feeling; that which finds its strong echo in his own heart. Of art per se he has no notion.
"His mind is of a beautiful caste – simple, direct and comprehensive."
The reading of Tennyson, Whittier, Swinburne, Browning, Longfellow, Macaulay, Buchanan and Arnold to himself or aloud in the family circle showed the poetic nature; and the frequent word of encouragement to such rising singers as Alice Werner of London, John Farrell of New South Wales and Frances M. Milne of California showed the listening ear. But like the Psalms to Cromwell's Ironsides, the poetry that spoke most strongly to him was that which moved with the intense purpose of his soul. For verses solely of sentiment or reflection, no matter how fine the language or picturing, his feeling was set forth in a note to Dr. Taylor (June 1, 1892): "Thanks for 'The Quiet Wood.' It is good, but – why, when the great struggle is on, and history is being made, will you go off into the woods and play the flute? I should rather see you put your lips to the trumpet."
Perhaps it may be well to add some lines from a letter Mr. George wrote subsequently (April 22, 1893) to his actor friend, James A. Herne, who had just produced a successful play, "Shore Acres":
"I cannot too much congratulate you upon your success. You have done what you have sought to do – made a play pure and noble that people will come to hear. You have taken the strength of realism and added to it the strength that comes from the wider truth that realism fails to see; and in the simple portrayal of homely life, touched a universal chord... In the solemnity of the wonderfully suggestive close, the veil that separates us from heaven seems to grow thin, and things not seen to be felt.
"But who save you can bring out the character you have created – a character, which to others, as to me, must have recalled the tender memory of some sweet saint of God – for such loving and unselfish souls there have been and are. I never before saw acting that impressed me so much as yours last night. I did not feel like talking when I left the theatre; but I wanted to grasp your hand. I did not want to see you in that wonderful piece of acting of which they told me, where you reduced man to the mere animal. I am glad to have seen you in this, where the angel gleams forth."
In early life Richard III. and Hamlet of the Shakespearian plays most attracted Mr. George; but towards the close of life the vaulting ambition pictured in Macbeth made him think that in that the poet had reached his supreme conception. He himself, who had come out of obscurity and won intellectual triumphs such as no man in his domain of thought had ever before so quickly won, was keenly conscious of the dangers of ambition; and the poet's impersonation stood forth as the very incarnation of this tremendous human passion.
Reflecting upon the personality of Shakespeare and history's brief account of him, Mr. George once in conversation with his elder son said: "No man can do great writing without being conscious that it is great. But the great man is a modest man, and may be careless of his fame further than his achievements will speak for him. England's greatest poet, like the great poet whose memory Scotland reveres to-day, Burns, was contented, after doing his work, to live in retirement; feeling probably that 'not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes' would outlive his 'powerful rhyme.'"
But always in comparing man with man, there entered the relation of proportion. In answer to a question put by one of his family he said: "Napoleon's mind at his downfall was in no worse plight than that of the poor devil who cannot make or borrow ten dollars is relatively to the things that enter into his life." Edward McHugh tells how, being out for a stroll with Mr. George at Fort Hamilton, they dropped into the branch post office. There they met a man who wished to send away some money, but did not know how to fill out the official order. Mr. George did it for him. "It is not every day that such a man can have a philosopher to write for him," said Mr. McHugh when the stroll was resumed. "A philosopher," was the reply, "is no better than a bootblack. Such terms are only relative to our own small affairs."
As President Lincoln modestly said he would hold McClellan's horse if that would help the general win the country a battle, so Henry George always refrained from assuming leadership. It was never "my principles," "my movement," "my cause"; but always "our principles," "our movement," "our cause." To Dr. Taylor he wrote (April 28, 1891): "How persistent is the manner in which the professors and those who esteem themselves the learned class ignore and slur me; but I am not conscious of any other feeling about it than that of a certain curiosity." This was not assumed humility. He spoke in the simplicity of his nature – a simplicity that shone out in his private life, as witness in a letter to Mrs. George, during the summer of 1893:
As with many famous men, money matters gave Mr. George much worry. Very little money would put him at his ease, although to get it he was often put to borrowing. But unlike many celebrities, borrowed money with him was always a sacred debt, and he never failed to return a loan punctually, if a time had been set; borrowing elsewhere, if he could meet the payment in no other way. One of his last acts before leaving New York in 1890 for the trip around the world was to send a check to John Russell Young in final settlement of loans that enabled the philosopher to leave California in 1880 and helped to sustain him until he got his start in New York.
Personal homage in every form Henry George treated with disfavour. "I do not like your over-praise," he wrote to Mrs. Milne, who sent him greetings on his return to New York from around the world. "If my words have spoken to your heart, it was because they came from my own; and though we may like to be praised for the little things, we do not for the big things." Once when an enthusiastic young chairman at a large meeting in Harlem, New York City, was making an earnest and sincere but very flattering speech in introducing Mr. George, the latter wriggled and writhed as though his character was being aspersed, instead of praised. Unable to bear it longer, he suddenly leaned forward and poked the chairman in the back with a walking-stick he had found beside him. The chairman, in a flood of bellowing eloquence, chopped off in the middle of a word, looked behind him, had a whispered conference with the philosopher, turned back to the audience, and said quietly: "Mr. George don't want me to get the rest of that off"; which tickled the assemblage into spasms of laughter.
The dislike of his younger manhood to social forms Mr. George never conquered. He could not endure the accompanying vapid, small talk. Moreover, he found the necessity of giving special attention to his raiment particularly irksome, a dress coat and its adjuncts amounting to an affliction; but he nevertheless tried to bear these ills with tranquillity, because as he reasoned, to conform to the small, polite usages tended to disarm antagonism to his crusade against giant wrongs in the vast body politic and body social. Yet a preoccupied mind often interfered with the carrying out of his good intentions, as for instance, he appeared at a reception at his home in Nineteenth Street with the studs of his shirt bosom wrong side out, the ladies of the family being busy with the guests. At a later period, when residing at suburban Fort Hamilton, he spent a whole day in the business portion of New York and the night at the somewhat formal Hotel Waldorf with Tom L. Johnson without discovering that he had been going about with very dusty boots. But he made amends by having them polished before starting back for Fort Hamilton.
This carelessness about dress led to many minor adventures, one of which was in a sleeping-car, of which Mr. George was the sole occupant. The colored porter, whose livelihood largely depended upon fees from passengers, lamented to him the "po'ness of business." He made out such a deplorable case that Mr. George was inspired to surprise him with a large tip, mentally resolving to give him all the change in his pocket. This proved to be much more than Mr. George expected and four or five times the customary fee, but he offered it nevertheless.
"Dat all fo' me?" exclaimed the man incredulously, looking from the money to Mr. George's not over-fastidious clothes, and then back to the money. And when Mr. George assured him that all the money was for him, the porter accepted it with a burst of thanks, adding: "I ofen heard it said, but I never would believe it; yo' never can tell about a frog until yo' see him jump!"
Forgetfulness from preoccupation brought many petty losses. Once on a lecturing trip, with mock gravity he upbraided his wife, who travelled some of the way with him, for forgetting her umbrella at one of the stops. "And what have you to report, sir?" she retorted. A smile swept his gravity aside. "Only that I left my night apparel in one place, my tooth brush at another and my overshoes with the Governor of Missouri." Half an hour later he might have added the loss of his watch, which he left in a hotel at the first stopping place, though this was speedily recovered. So common were losses of this kind with him that he was positively relieved when he found that other members of the family could lose things, too. Returning with one of his sons from a Western journey, he saluted Mrs. George on reaching home with: "I can see that your children grow more like you every day." "In what way?" asked Mrs. George. "Why, in losing things. Your son here lost our tickets from St. Louis back to New York." Neither Mrs. George nor the son saw much in the loss of two one-thousand-mile tickets to smile at, but to Mr. George the incident had something of humour, because, while the tickets were lost, he himself was not this time the culprit.
Abstraction not uncommonly carried him into a wrong street, took him to a wrong house and gave a wrong direction to a letter, but perhaps his most surprising experience was while travelling with one of his sons in a sleeping-car from Cincinnati to Cleveland, Ohio. They went to bed in opposite, lower berths. Unable to sleep part of the night, Mr. George arose, put on some of his clothes, went to the smoking section and enjoyed a cigar. Drowsiness at length creeping upon him, he returned to bed and slept until the breakfast call of the porter awoke him in the morning. Reaching across the passageway, he gave the curtains of the berth opposite a vigorous shake, calling out: "Do you hear the joyful cry?" But instead of his son's voice, a feminine voice replied: "I think you have made some mistake." Mr. George drew back in confusion. He looked about him to get his "bearings," only to find that on returning from his smoke during the night, he had taken the berth that some one else had apparently vacated, and so had finished his night's sleep in wrong quarters.
It has been said that Mr. George dreaded social occasions. Yet there were gatherings of a social nature which he really enjoyed attending. These were little private dinners that John Russell Young gave, sometimes at the Astor House in New York and sometimes at the Union League in Philadelphia. At one or the other of these dinners he met John Mackay, William Florence, Joseph Jefferson, General Sherman, Colonel Alexander McClure, Murat Halstead, Judge Roger A. Pryor, Chauncey M. Depew and Grover Cleveland. He had never before met the ex-President, and was much pleased with him, believing from what fell in conversation, that if re-nominated for the Presidency in 1892, Cleveland would make a radical fight.
John Russell Young, though he was always a strict party Republican, was at heart a radical – an absolute free trader and a good deal of a single taxer. But though he talked unreservedly in private, his public utterances were veiled, one of his signed newspaper articles drawing out this message from his downright friend, George:
Henry George's judgment had to most of his friends a very singular quality. Of this Louis F. Post speaks, having many occasions, both public and private, for putting his impressions to the test:
An instance of the highly practical cast of Mr. George's mind when responsibility concentrated his faculties was given in 1893, when a general financial stringency was squeezing the banks of the country, and crippling and destroying strong and weak industrial enterprises. The large steel rail manufacturing company named after Tom L. Johnson, and located at Johnstown, Pa., was soon brought face to face with this problem. The president of the company, Arthur J. Moxham, had come into the single tax faith soon after Mr. Johnson's conversion in the middle eighties. His strength of character and high executive ability were attested by the people of Johnstown when the never-to-be-forgotten flood lay the centre of the city in ruins, killed thirty-six hundred persons, and sweeping away all established authority and order, gave place to horror, terror and frantic confusion. In that time of disaster Mr. Moxham was made dictator, with life and death powers; and for three days he held that extraordinary office. Mr. George happened to visit Johnstown and Mr. Moxham in 1893, at the moment when the financial stringency had brought the affairs of the Johnson Company to a crisis. He was told by Mr. Moxham that no course seemed to be left but to shut down, for while he could get plenty of orders for rails, he could get no money in payment. Whereupon Mr. George suggested that the bonds of the street railroad companies ordering rails should be taken in payment of their orders; and that certificates to be used as money be issued against them. Mr. Moxham took the idea and developed a plan, calling a meeting of his employees, explained to them the proposal to take steel railroad bonds, place them in the hands of a trustee mutually acceptable to the company and its men, and against these bonds to issue certificates in small denominations with which to pay salaries and wages by the Johnson Company. The employees gladly accepted the proposal and appointed a committee to act for them, and the plan was put into execution, one-third of all salaries and wages being paid in currency and the other two-thirds in these bond certificates. The store keepers and other townspeople accepted the certificates as readily as money; and the company, with its several thousand employees, passed through the "tight" period without further trouble. Indeed, the earnings of the employees were greater at this time than at any other period in the history of the company. Subsequently every one of the certificates was drawn in and redeemed. Mr. George regarded this as an illustration of what the United States Government could do to clear up the currency difficulties – issue from its own treasury a paper currency, based upon its credit and interchangeable with its bonds.
Mr. George lived in the Nineteenth Street house, New York, until the spring of 1895, when the family stored the furniture and went to Merriewold Park – a little unpretentious, woodland resort in the hills of Sullivan County, New York State, where some single taxers had built a few houses and had commenced to go each summer as early as 1889. In the fall of 1895 the Georges came down from Merriewold and occupied a house at Fort Hamilton, Long Island, which had probably been standing there thirty or forty years when Henry George, as a boy, had sailed out of the harbour past it on the ship Hindoo, bound for Australia and India. It stood on the bluffs at the "Narrows," between the inner and outer bays. The house belonged to Tom L. Johnson, who, with his father, had bought considerable land there with a view to making themselves summer homes. "In the moving and arranging," Mr. George wrote to his friend, "I have not been able to get fairly to work, but shall tomorrow, and thanks to you, in the most comfortable quarters I have ever worked in since 'Progress and Poverty' was written."
The first marriage among the children had occurred in 1888; the second son, Richard, having wedded Mary E. Robinson of Brooklyn; and to this couple several children had been born. Another marriage came in the spring of 1895, Jennie, the third child and first daughter, being united to William J. Atkinson of New York. The good friend in the cause, Rev. James O.S. Huntington, had performed the first marriage ceremony in a little Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. Dr. McGlynn, who had now been restored to his priestly offices in the Catholic Church, performed the second marriage at the George residence on Nineteenth Street.
Up to the Doctor's reinstatement in December, 1892, Edward McGlynn and Henry George had had no written communication since their separation during the presidential campaign of 1888 and had met only casually. The clergyman, while living the exemplary life of a priest, just as though exercising his full office, had meanwhile, with unabating persistence, preached the single tax faith at his Anti-Poverty meetings in New York and in lectures in many other cities. At length the wise men of the Church concluded that justice required a reconsideration of the case. Many have thought that the reply that Henry George made to the papal encyclical in 1891, of which we shall speak later, had influenced the broad-minded Leo XIII. to review the case. This may have been a contributing cause. When the Pope sent Archbishop Satolli to this country as his representative, Rev. Dr. Burtsell called upon him to suggest a reversal of the act of excommunication. Archbishop Satolli, evidently following instructions of the Pope, suggested that Dr. McGlynn should present to him a full explanation of his doctrine on the land question. Dr. Burtsell first presented an exposition of the doctrine, which Dr. McGlynn indorsed as clear and accurate. Later Dr. McGlynn presented his own statement of his teachings. It was direct and explicit, without extenuation, just as he had been teaching it from the beginning. These written statements were carefully considered by a committee of the professors of the Catholic University in Washington, who declared that they contained nothing contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. These professors were the Revs. Thomas Bouquillon, D.D. (Dean of the Theological Faculty), Thomas O'Gorman, D.D. (since appointed Bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D.), Thomas J. Shahan, D.D., and Charles Grannan, D.D. Dr. McGlynn subsequently made a profession of his adhesion to the teachings of the Church and of the Apostolic See, and in general terms he recalled any word that may have escaped him not in conformity with the respect due to the Holy See. The papal representative suggested that, as Dr. McGlynn had not been able to join with the clergy in the regular annual retreat, he should go on retreat preparatory to reinstatement; but when he was made to realise that this was likely to be construed as a punishment, the ablegate refrained from urging it, and left the matter to Dr. McGlynn's judgment. The latter expressly stipulated that he should be free to continue to expound the single tax as long as he thought proper, to the Anti-Poverty Society or any gathering, at Cooper Union or elsewhere. With these things clearly understood, Dr. McGlynn gave his word to Archbishop Satolli to present himself to the Pope within three or four months to obtain his blessing. Then Archbishop Satolli in formal words, and in the name of the Pope, removed the ban of excommunication from Dr. McGlynn, and the first announcement of the Doctor's reinstatement was made by the papal representative from the Catholic University at Washington.
The next day, Christmas day, 1892, for the first time since 1887, Dr. McGlynn celebrated mass. In the evening he addressed the Anti-Poverty Society as usual. It was a time with him for great rejoicing. He had made the long fight and had triumphed. The odds had been tremendous, but he had overcome them. Never again could any man say that the teachings of the Catholic Church were opposed to the single tax. And he celebrated mass with a thankfulness that he had been given the strength to fight the great battle. He went to Rome some months afterwards and was accorded an interview by the Pope. The reference to the social question was of the briefest description. "Do you teach against private property?" asked his Holiness. "I do not; I am staunch for private property," said the Doctor. "I thought so," said his Holiness, and he conferred his blessing.
When Henry George heard of Dr. McGlynn's restoration, his own rejoicing swept all other considerations aside. He at once sent a telegram: "My wife and I send heartfelt congratulations." Sentiments of warm feeling were returned, and thus the relations of friendship, interrupted for four years, were re-established; and they lasted until death.