Leonard Grover

“Act from a Favorite Child”

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There was one night when Mr. Lincoln came alone, and invited me to sit for a while. After half an hour, Mr. Stanton, who had followed in pursuit, entered the box unannounced, and seated himself, giving me a glance that might have been construed as a suggestion that I was in the way. Mr. Lincoln introduced me to the Secretary, and after an interchange of courtesies, I was about to withdraw, when Mr. Lincoln asked me impressively to remain. Inferring that my presence might be useful to him, I sat slightly behind them and in the center, leaving the President in front nearest the stage, and the Secretary beside him and slightly to his left. Now this of itself would scarcely deserve chronicling, but the incident illustrates the masterful, somewhat aggressive methods of the Secretary, and the gracious, forbearing nature of the President, who, with ever polite tenacity, insisted on having hie own way .

Mr. Stanton immediately began a conversation in a low tone of voice, the nature of which I made it my business not to hear. Mr. Lincoln responded in a short sentence and let his eyes drift away to the stage. Mr, Stanton resumed in a longer statement. Mr. Lincoln turned quietly, nodded two or three times gently, and again his eyes sought the stage. This was repeated, Mr. Stanton’s speeches, always low, as both were in sight of the audience, growing in length, and Mr. Lincoln listening, nodding in an affable manner that said neither yes nor no, and then turning to the stage. This continued for some minutes until Mr. Lincoln’s nods grew more infrequent, till finally he would do the nodding while his face wae turned away, and he was apparently occupied with the performance. Then Mr. Stanton twice deliberately reached out, grasped Mr. Lincoln by the lapel of his coat, slowly pulled him round face to face, and continued the conversation. Mr. Lincoln responded to this brusque act with all the smiling geniality that one might bestow on a similar act from a favorite child, but soon again turned his eyes to the stage.

I had pushed myself a little to the rear, to indicate that I was not listening, and in fact, I don’t think I heard a word from first to last. I imagined that Mr. Stanton might be pursuing a subject that Mr. Lincoln had come away from the White House to avoid, and that Mr. Lincoln was not so much interested in the play, as desirous that Mr. Stanton should think he was.

Finally, impressed with the futility of his efforts, Mr.Stanton arose, said good-night and withdrew. Mr. Lincoln vouchsafed no explanatoin to me, but appeared to get much satisfaction out of the play.

Quoted in Leonard Grover,“Lincoln’s Interest in the Theater,” Century (1909), pp. 946, 944-45.