January 8. At Seward’s last night, who gave a party to the scientific men of the Academy now here. The Cabinet, heads of the foreign missions, the learned gentlemen and the committees on foreign relations of the two houses were present, with a goodly number of ladies. Agassiz, Silliman, Professors Story and Caswell, etc., etc., were present.
To-day at the Executive Mansion. Only Usher with myself was present, and no business transacted. Mr. Hudson of Massachusetts, formerly Member of Congress, was with the President. Conversation was general, with anecdotes as usual. These are usually very appropriate and instructive, conveying much truth in few words, well, if not always elegantly, told. The President’s estimate of character is usually very correct, and he frequently divests himself of partiality with a readiness that has surprised me. In the course of conversation to-day, which was desultory, he mentioned that he was selected by the people of Springfield to deliver a eulogy on the death of Mr. Clay, of whom he had been a warm admirer. This, he said, he found to be difficult writing so as to make an address of fifty minutes. In casting about for the material, he had directed his attention to what Mr. Clay had himself done in the line of eulogy and was struck with the fact that though renowned as an orator and speaker, he had never made any effort of the sort, and the only specimen he could find was embraced in a few lines on the death of Mr. Calhoun. Referring to the subject and this fact on one occasion when Seward was present, that gentleman remarked that the failure was characteristic and easily accounted for, — Mr. Clay’s self-esteem was so great, that he could tolerate no commendation of others, eulogized none but the dead, and would never himself speak in laudatory terms of a contemporary.
Both the President and Seward consider Clay and Webster to have been hard and selfish leaders, whose private personal ambition had contributed to the ruin of their party. The people of New England were proud of the great mind of Webster, his great intellect, but he had no magnetism, there was not intense personal devotion for him such as manifested itself for Clay. For years the Whig cause consisted in adulation of these two men, rather than in support of any well-established principles. In fact, principles were always made secondary to them.
I see by the papers that John P. Hale made an assault on the Navy Department, and tried to secure the adoption of a drag-net resolution, placing the Department on the defensive for the residue of the session. Under pretense of great regard for the country, he is really reckless and indifferent to its interests. Instead of encouraging and aiding the Department in its labors, he would divert it into a defense against groundless attacks from interested persons.