Tuesday, January 24, 2012

James's Bond

I just finished reading the book "Destiny Of The Republic" by Candice Millard; the New Yorker and NPR liked it so I gave it a shot and I'm glad I did.  James A. Garfield, the subject of the book, was the 20th president of the United States, and, chiefly because his term was only of 200 days' duration, he is today not one of the presidents whose name is on the lips of the electorate.  I mean, he really didn't have chance to do very much in that short a time.  

We talked about him another time because of the circumstances of his assassination at the hands of "disappointed office seeker Charles Guiteau."  Guiteau might be better known today than Garfield, come to think of it: there have been far fewer assassins than presidents, thank Heaven.  But Garfield was an interesting guy, once you read more about him.  He didn't even want to be president, and went to the Republican convention in 1880 to make the nominating speech in support of General Sherman, who had such a hot time in Atlanta.  Next thing you know, it was Sherman's turn to be all burned up, because Garfield made such a great speech about Sherman, the crowd went nuts and nominated Garfield instead.

That is sort of like being Cyrano for a friend and going to ask a girl to marry that friend and then she says, "No, but you'll do!" 

So, long story short, Garfield gets elected and then Guiteau does his dastardly deed, and Garfield might have lived anyway but the doctors refused to practice antiseptic treatment in those days and so they infected him with fatal sepsis while trying to remove the bullet that Guiteau put in him. 

What I really found interesting about the man was that he was a self-made man.  His father died when JAG was but a tad, and he had to make it on his own.  He was self-educated, and spoke very formally, like this:

Territory is but the body of a nation. The people who inhabit its hills and valleys are its soul, its spirit, its life.

A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.

If wrinkles must be written on our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old. 
James A. Garfield
So, clearly he was an introspective, thoughtful man, old Garfield.  Ms Millard brings out the fact that when he married his wife, Lucretia, he wasn't that into her for many years, and the marriage was hardly the stuff of romance novels.  Then he had an affair with a woman who was a news reporter in Washington, and when Lucretia found out, he not only begged her forgiveness, but fell deeply in love with his wife because she was so cool about it all.  According to the book, here is what he said to his wife:

"I here record the most deliberate conviction of my soul.  Were every tie that binds me to the men and women of the world severed, and I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are."

This is all the more remarkable when we consider that he said it fifty years before the Wright Brothers' first flight, so history cannot account for how exactly he planned to "fly" to his wife.  Perhaps he had reservations on Air Tran.

I also feel deeply that the average philanderer of today would never be able to speak in such a flowery manner to his aggrieved wife.  The best that today's Newts could come up with would be, "Hey, it was only once or twice, and she tricked me into it anyway, ya know whattamean?"

Note to 21st-Century guys who think this might be a nice way to have a little somethin'-somethin' and get away with it: this only worked in 1863.  After all, he didn't have to worry about YouTube and TMZ.  Neither will you, if you just bring it on home!

No comments: