I presume that I could write an entire library of personal reminiscences relative to the eminent people with whom I have been thrown during a busy life, but I hate to do it, because I always regarded such things as sacred from the vulgar eye, and I felt bound to respect the confidence of a prominent man just as much as I would that of one who was less before the people. I remember very well my first meeting with General W.T. Sherman. I would not mention it here if it were not for the fact that the people seem so be yearning for personal reminiscences of great men, and that is perfectly right, too.
It was since the war that I met General Sherman, and it was on the line of the Union Pacific Railway, at one of those justly celebrated eating-houses, which I understand are now abandoned. The colored waiter had cut off a strip of the omelette with a pair of shears, the scorched oatmeal had been passed around, the little rubber door mats fried in butter and called pancakes had been dealt around the table, and the cashier at the end of the hall had just gone through the clothes of a party from Vermont, who claimed a rebate on the ground that the waiter had refused to bring him anything but his bill. There was no sound in the dining-room except the weak request of the coffee for more air and stimulants, or perhaps the cry of pain when the butter, while practicing with the dumb-bells, would hit a child on the head; then all would be still again.
General Sherman sat at one end of the table, throwing a life-preserver to a fly in the milk pitcher.
We had never met before, though for years we had been plodding along life’s rugged way–he in the war department, I in the postoffice department. Unknown to each other, we had been holding up opposite corners of the great national fabric, if you will allow me that expression.
I remember, as well as though it were but yesterday, how the conversation began. General Sherman looked sternly at me and said:
“I wish you would overpower that butter and send it up this way.”
“All right,” said I, “if you will please pass those molasses.”
That was all that was said, but I shall never forget it, and probably he never will. The conversation was brief, but yet how full of food for thought! How true, how earnest, how natural! Nothing stilted or false about it. It was the natural expression of two minds that were too great to be verbose or to monkey with social, conversational flapdoodle.
I remember, once, a great while ago, I was asked by a friend to go with him in the evening to the house of an acquaintance, where they were going to have a kind of musicale, at which there was to be some noted pianist, who had kindly consented to play a few strains, I did not get the name of the professional, but I went, and when the first piece was announced I saw that the light was very uncertain, so I kindly volunteered to get a lamp from another room. I held that big lamp, weighing about twenty-nine pounds, for half an hour, while the pianist would tinky tinky up on the right hand, or bang, boomy to bang down on the bass, while he snorted and slugged that old concert grand piano and almost knocked its teeth down its throat, or gently dawdled with the keys like a pale moonbeam shimmering through the bleached rafters of a deceased horse, until at last there was a wild jangle, such as the accomplished musician gives to an instrument to show the audience that he has disabled the piano, and will take a slight intermission while it is sent to the junk shop.
With a sigh of relief I carefully put down the twenty-nine pound lamp, and my friend told me that I had been standing there like liberty enlightening the world, and holding that heavy lamp for Blind Tom.
I had never seen him before, and I slipped out of the room before he had a chance to see me.