Sunday, October 16, 2016

John L. Motley to Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., November 2, 1862

Vienna, November 2, 1862.

My Dear Holmes: More and more does it become difficult for me to write to you. I am greedier than ever for your letters, but the necessary vapidity of anything I can send to you in return becomes more apparent to me every day. It seems to me that by the time one of my notes makes its way to you in Boston it must have faded into a blank bit of paper. Where there is absolutely nothing in one's surroundings that can interest a friend, the most eloquent thing would seem to be to hold one's tongue. At least, however, I can thank you most warmly for your last letter. You know full well how interested I am in everything you can write, whether of speculation or of narration. Especially am I anxious to hear all that you have to say of Wendell's career. Of course his name among the wounded in the battle of Antietam instantly caught our eyes, and though we felt alarmed and uncomfortable, yet fortunately it was stated in the first intelligence we received that the wound, although in the neck, was not a dangerous one. I could not write to you, however, until I felt assured that he was doing well. I suppose Wendell has gone back to his regiment before this, and God knows whether there has not already been another general engagement in the neighborhood of the Potomac. What a long life of adventure and experience that boy has had in the fifteen months which have elapsed since I saw him, with his Pylades, seated at the Autocrat's breakfast-table in Charles Street!

Mary told me of his meeting with Hallowell, wounded, being brought from the field at the same time with himself, and of both being put together in the same house. We are fortunate in having a very faithful little chronicler in Mary, and she tells us of many interesting and touching incidents that otherwise might never reach us. She has also given us the details of the noble Wilder Dwight's death. It is unnecessary to say how deeply we were moved. I had the pleasure of knowing him well, and I always appreciated his energy, his manliness, and his intelligent, cheerful heroism. I look back upon him now as a kind of heroic type of what a young New-Englander ought to be and was. After all, what was your Chevy Chase to stir blood with like a trumpet? What noble principle, what deathless interest, was there at stake? Nothing but a bloody fight between a set of noble gamekeepers on one side, and of noble poachers on the other! And because they fought well and hacked each other to pieces like devils, they have been heroes for centuries.

Of course you know of Cairnes's book, and of John Mill's article in the “Westminster Review” for October, and of the sustained pluck and intelligence of the two Liberal journals in England, the “Daily News” and the “Star.” As for John Bright, I hope one day to see a statue raised to him in Washington. We must accept our position frankly. We are mudsills beloved of the Radicals. The negro-breeders are aristocrats, and, like Mrs. Jarley, the pride of the nobility and gentry.

Tell me, when you write, something of our State politics. It cannot be that these factionists can do any harm. But it is most mortifying to me that Boston of all the towns in the world should be the last stronghold of the pro-slavery party. I was interested in the conversation which you report:  “How many sons have you sent to the war? How much have you contributed? How much of your life have you put into it?” I hope there are not many who hold themselves quite aloof. For my own part, I am very distant in body, but in spirit I am never absent from the country. I never knew before what love of country meant. I have not been able to do much for the cause. I have no sons to give to the country. In money I have contributed my mite. I hope you will forgive me for mentioning this circumstance. I do so simply that you may know that I have not neglected a sacred duty. In these days in our country of almost fabulous generosity, I am well aware that what I am able to give is the veriest trifle; but as it is possible you might hear that I have done nothing, I take leave to mention this, knowing that you will not misunderstand me. I am not able to do as much as I ought. Your letters are intensely interesting. It isn't my fault if mine are stupid. Mary and Lily join me in sincerest regards to you and yours.

Ever your old friend,
J. L. M.

SOURCE: George William Curtis, editor, The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley in Two Volumes, Library Edition, Volume 2, p. 291-3

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