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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter VII: The Martyr

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There is but one picture on the marble mantel over the cold grate--John Bright, a photograph.

I can well imagine how the mind of Mr. Lincoln often went afar to the face of Bright, who said so kindly things of him when Europe was mocking his homely guise and provincial phraseology. To Mr. Lincoln, John Bright was the standard-bearer of America and democracy in the old world. He thrilled over Bright's bold denunciations of peer and "Privilege," and stretched his long arm across the Atlantic to take that daring Quaker innovator by the hand.

I see some books on the table; perhaps they have lain there undisturbed since the reader's dimming eyes grew nerveless. A parliamentary manual, a Thesaurus, and two books of humor, "Orpheus C. Kerr," and "Artemus Ward." These last were read by Mr. Lincoln in the pauses of his hard day's labor. Their tenure here bears out the popular verdict of his partiality for a good joke; and, through the window, from the seat of Mr. Lincoln, I see across the grassy grounds of the capitol, the broken shaft of the Washington Monument, the long bridge and the fort-tipped Heights of Arlington, reaching down to the shining river side. These scenes he looked at often to catch some freshness of leaf and water, and often raised the sash to let the world rush in where only the nation abided, and hence on that awful night, he departed early, to forget this room and its close applications in the abandon of the theater.

I wonder if that were the least of Booth's crimes--to slay this public servant in the stolen hour of recreation he enjoyed but seldom. We worked his life out here, and killed him when he asked a holiday.

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Outside of this room there is an office, where his secretaries sat--a room more narrow but as long--and opposite this adjacent office, a second door, directly behind Mr. Lincoln's chair leads by a private passage to his family quarters. This passage is his only monument in the building; he added nor subtracted nothing else; it tells a long story of duns and loiterers, contract-hunters and seekers for commissions, garrulous parents on paltry errands, toadies without measure and talkers without conscience. They pressed upon him through the great door opposite his window, and hat in hand, come courtsying to his chair, with an obsequious "Mr. President!"

If he dared, though the chief magistrate and commander of the army and navy, to go out of the great door, these vampires leaped upon him with their Babylonian pleas, and barred his walk to his hearthside. He could not insult them since it was not in his nature, and perhaps many of them had really urgent errands. So he called up the carpenter and ordered a strategic route cut from his office to his hearth, and perhaps told of it after with much merriment.

Here should be written the biography of his official life--in the room where have concentrated all the wires of action, and where have proceeded the resolves which vitalized in historic deeds. But only the great measures, however carried out, were conceived in this office. The little ones proceeded from other places..

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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