Tuesday, November 29, 2016

John Hay to Mrs. Frances Campbell Eames, August 19, 1861

Executive Mansion,
Aug. 21, 1861.
DEAR MRS. Eames:

If the events of the last few days were to be taken as an earnest of the future, I would invest my surplus shekels in a cheap tombstone, write “Miserrimus” on it, and betake myself to Prussic acid glacé I have been like Poe's Raven's “unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster followed fast and followed faster, till he thought all life a bore.” It is not a particularly hilarious chronicle, but here it is.

Finding it hideously dull at Long Branch (the gay and festive Jenkins of the Herald is paid by the line for making the world believe that the place is not ghastly and funereal, the crowd a sort of queer half-baked New Jersey confectionery, with a tendency to stammer when spoken to and to flatten its nose against our windows while we ate), I determined to go up to New York and accept a most kind invitation from Col. Hamilton to come to him Saturday. Arriving there I found there was no telegraph to Irvington or Dobb's Ferry. I could not apprize him of my coming or arrange for him to meet me. I blasphemed at this a little, and went quietly down town and was busy for an hour or two. Coming back I found Mr. Hamilton's card at the Hotel. He had been and gone.

My rage transcended grief. I was so mad at myself that I was uncivil to everyone else. Mr. Dennison came in with brilliant plans for the next day. I mildly but firmly requested him to mobilize himself for an instant trip to the Court of His Most Sulphurous Majesty. I concluded to take a royal revenge on myself by ordering myself back to Washington.

I came and found the air like a damp oven. They are painting the White House, and the painters from their horrid hair (I mean their brushes) shake pestilence and things. The people in the streets are stupid or scared. It is a bad neighborhood.

I can do nothing but wish it were “not me but another man.”

Let me tell you a fact which proves me insane or Washington preternaturally dull. Yesterday I went to dinner at Willard's late, and after taking my seat I saw a solitary diner at a distance. I took up my soup and walked. I sat down and ate dinner with


I was so dull he was almost endurable.

I have not seen Mr. Eames since I returned. I have not felt like proper company for a gentleman and a Christian. I have felt as outlawed as a hasheesh eater.

There is another offshoot of English nobility coming over in a day or two, a son of the Earl
of Mayo, Hon. Robert Bourke. I hope Willis will find it out, and by way of showing him a delicate attention, take him to the observational settee whence, on clear afternoons is to be seen, windows favoring, the Presidential ensarking and bifurcate dischrysalisizing. In view of his late letter, I would mildly inquire "What next?" Please make your brother and sister remember me, and give my love to F .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 35-8; Michael Burlingtame, Editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p.11-2.

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