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

Letter VII: The Martyr

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"I always used a cane when I was a boy. It was a freak of mine. My favorite one was a knotted beech stick, and I carved the head myself. There's a mighty amount of character in sticks. Don't you think so? You have seen these fishing poles that fit into a cane? Well, that was an old idea of mine. Dogwood clubs were favorite ones with the boys. I 'spose they use'em yet. Hickory is too heavy, unless you get it from a young sapling. Have you ever noticed how a stick in one's hand will change his appearance? Old women and witches would'nt look so without sticks. Meg Merrilies understands that."

In this way my friend, who is a clerk, in a newspaper office, heard the President talk for an hour. The undress of the man and the witness of his subject would be staples for merriment if we did not reflect that his greatness was of no conventional cast, that the playfulness of his nature and the simplicity of his illustration lightened public business but never arrested it.

Another gentleman, whom I know, visited the President in high dudgeon one night. He was a newspaper proprietor and one of his editors had been arrested.

"Mr. Lincoln," he said, "I have been off electioneering for your re-election, and in my absence you have had my editor arrested. I won't stand it, sir. I have fought better administrations than yours."

"Why, John," said the President, "I don't know much about it. I suppose your boys have been too enterprizing. The fact is, I don't interfere with the press much, but I suppose I am responsible."

"I want you to order the man's release to-night," said the applicant. "I shan't leave here till I get it. In fact, I am the man who should be arrested. Why don't you send me to Capitol Hill?"

This idea pleased the President exceedingly. He laughed the other into good humor.

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"In fact," he said, "I am under restraint here, and glad of any pretext to release a journalist."

So he wrote the order, and the writer got his liberty.

It must not be inferred from this, however, that the President was a devotee to literature. He had no professional enthusiasm for it. The literary coterie of the White House got little flattery but its members were treated as agreeable citizens and not as the architects of any body's fortune.

Willis went there much for awhile, but yielded to his old habit of gossiping about the hall paper and the teapots. Emerson went there once, and was deferred to us if he were anything but a philosopher. Yet he so far grasped the character of his host as to indite that noble humanitarian eulogy upon him, delivered at Concord, and printed in the WORLD. It will not do to say definitely In this notice how several occasional writers visited the White House, heard the President's views and assented to them and afterward abused him. But these attained no remembrance nor tart reproach from that least retaliatory of men. He harbored no malice, and is said to have often placed himself on the stand-point of Davis and Lee, and accounted for their defection while he could not excuse it.

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

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