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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Horace Greeley (1811–1872)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Clarence Clough Buel (1850–1933)
 
TWENTY-FIVE years after his death, Horace Greeley’s name remains at the head of the roll of American journalists. Successors in the primacy of current discussion may surpass him, as doubtless some of them already have, in consistency and learning, but hardly in the chief essentials of a journalistic style; others may exert a more salutary influence, if not so personally diffused: but in the respect of high ideals, courage, intellectual force, and personal magnetism, the qualities which impel a man of letters to be also a man of action, Horace Greeley was of heroic mold. He was no popgun journalist firing from a sky-sanctum, but a face-to-face champion in the arena of public affairs, laying about him with pen and speech like an ancient Bayard with his sword. The battles he fought for humanity, and the blows he gave and received, have made him for all time the epic figure of the American press.  1
  Born in rural New Hampshire, of English and Scotch-Irish descent, he epitomized his heritage and his attainment in the dedication of his autobiography: “To our American boys, who, born in poverty, cradled in obscurity, and early called from school to rugged labor, are seeking to convert obstacle into opportunity, and wrest achievement from difficulty.”  2
  Though physically a weak child, his intellect was strong, and when near his tenth year his father removed to Vermont, the boy took with him the reputation of a mental prodigy; so, with little schooling and much reading, he was thought when fourteen to be a fit apprentice to a printer, setting forth four years later as a journeyman. His parents had moved to western Pennsylvania, and he followed; but after a desultory practice of his art he came to the metropolis on August 17th, 1831, with ten dollars in his pocket, and so rustic in dress and manners as to fall under suspicion of being a runaway apprentice. Later in life, at least, his face and his figure would have lent distinction to the utmost elegance of style: but his dress was so careless even after the long period of comparative poverty was passed, that the peculiarity became one of his distinguishing features as a public character; and to the last there were friends of little discernment who thought this eccentricity was studied affectation: but manifestly his dress, like his unkempt handwriting, was the unconscious expression of a spirit so concentrated on the intellectual interests of its life as to be oblivious to mere appearances.  3
  After eighteen months of dubious success as a journeyman in the city, in his twenty-first year he joined a friend in setting up a modest printing-office, which on March 22d, 1834, issued the New-Yorker, a literary weekly in the general style of Willis’s Mirror, under the firm name of H. Greeley & Co. For four years the young printer showed his editorial aptitude to such good effect that in 1838 he was asked to conduct the Jeffersonian, a Whig campaign paper. This was so effective that in 1840 he was encouraged to edit and publish the Log-Cabin, a weekly which gained a circulation of 80,000, brought him reputation as a political writer, and active participation in politics with the Whig leaders, Governor Seward and Thurlow Weed. It contributed much to the election of General Harrison, but very little to the purse of the ambitious editor. On April 10th of the following year, 1841, he issued the first number of the New York Tribune, as a Whig daily of independent spirit. He was still editing the New-Yorker and the Log-Cabin, both of which were soon discontinued, the Weekly Tribune in a way taking their place. Though the New-Yorker had brought him literary reputation, it had not been profitable, because of uncollectible bills which at the end amounted to $10,000. Still, at the outset of the Tribune he was able to count $2,000 to his credit in cash and material. He was then thirty years of age, and for thirty years thereafter the paper grew steadily in circulation, influence, and profit, until, a few weeks after his death, a sale of the majority interest indicated that the “good-will” of the Tribune, aside from its material and real estate, was held to be worth about a million dollars. The Greeley interest was then small, since he had parted with most of it to sustain his generous methods of giving and lending.  4
  He had great capacity for literary work, and when absent for travel or business was a copious contributor to his paper. To his rather delicate physical habit was perhaps due his distaste for all stimulants, alcoholic or otherwise, and his adherence through life to the vegetarian doctrines of Dr. Graham; another follower of the latter being his wife, Mary Young Cheney, also a writer, whom he married in 1836. His moderate advocacy of temperance in food and drink, coupled with his then unorthodox denial of eternal punishment, helped to identify him in the public mind with most of the “isms” of the time, including Fourierism and spiritualism; when in fact his mind and his paper were merely open to free inquiry, and were active in exposing vagaries of opinion wherever manifested. Protection to American industry, and abolitionism, were the only varieties which he accepted without qualification; and while the pro-slavery party detested him as a dangerous agitator, it is possible at this day even from their point of view to admire the moderation, the candor, and the gentle humanity of his treatment of the slavery question. In all issues concerning the practical affairs of life, like marriage and divorce, he was guided by rare common-sense, and usually his arguments were scholarly and moderate; but in matters of personal controversy he was distinctly human, uniting with a taste for the intellectual fray a command of facts, and a force and pungency of presentation, which never seem admirable in an opponent.  5
  He was in great demand as a lecturer and as a speaker at agricultural fairs, his addresses always being distinguished by a desire to be helpful to working humanity and by elevated motives. Though not a jester, genial humor and intellectual exchange were characteristic of his social intercourse. His books, with one or two exceptions, were collections of his addresses and newspaper articles. His first book, ‘Hints Toward Reforms,’ appeared in 1850, and was followed by ‘Glances at Europe’ (1851); ‘A History of the Struggle for Slavery Extension or Restriction’ (1856); ‘The Overland Journey to California’ (1859); ‘An Address on Success in Business’ (1867); ‘Recollections of a Busy Life,’ formed on a series of articles in the New York Ledger (1869); ‘Essays Designed to Elucidate the Science of Political Economy’ (1870); ‘Letters from Texas and the Lower Mississippi, and an Address to the Farmers of Texas’ (1871); ‘What I Know of Farming’ (1871); and ‘The American Conflict,’ written as a book, the first volume appearing in 1864 and the second in 1867. This work on the Civil War is remarkable, when considered in the light of his purpose to show “the inevitable sequence whereby ideas proved the germ of events”; but it was hastily prepared, and while strikingly accurate in the large sense, will not bear scrutiny in some of the minor details of war history.  6
  Neither his political friends, nor his party, nor the causes he espoused, could hold him to a course of partisan loyalty contrary to his own convictions of right and duty. As a member of the Seward-Weed-Greeley “triumvirate,” he was often a thorn in the flesh of the senior members; his letter of November 11th, 1854, dissolving “the political firm,” being one of the frankest documents in the history of American politics. During the Civil War he occasionally embarrassed Mr. Lincoln’s administration by what seemed then to be untimely cries of “On to Richmond!” immediate emancipation, and peace. On the whole, his influence for the Union cause was powerful; but when, the war being over, he advocated general amnesty, and finally as an object lesson went on the bail bond of Jefferson Davis, he lost the support of a large body of his most ardent antislavery admirers. The clamor against him called forth a characteristic defiance in his letter to members of the Union League Club, who were seeking to discipline him. Having further alienated the Republican party by his general attitude in “reconstruction” matters, he became the logical candidate for the Presidency, in 1872, of the Democrats at Baltimore and the Liberal Republicans at Cincinnati, in opposition to a second term for General Grant. Though personally he made a brilliant canvass, the influences at work in his favor were inharmonious and disintegrating, and the result was a most humiliating defeat. This he appeared to bear with mental buoyancy, despite the affliction of his wife’s death, which occurred a week before the election, he having left the stump in September to watch unremittingly at her bedside. On November 6th, the day after his defeat, he resumed the editorship of the Tribune, which six months before he had relinquished to Whitelaw Reid. Thereafter he contributed to only four issues of the paper, for the strain of his domestic and political misfortunes had aggravated his tendency to insomnia: on the 12th he was seriously ill, and on the 29th he succumbed to inflammation of the brain. The last few months of his eventful career supplied most of the elements essential to a Greek tragedy. On December 23d, the Tribune having been reorganized with Mr. Reid in permanent control, there first appeared at the head of the editorial page the line “Founded by Horace Greeley,” as a memorial to the great journalist and reformer. A bronze statue has been erected in the portal of the new Tribune office, and another statue in the angle made by Broadway and Sixth Avenue, appropriately named “Greeley Square,” after the man who was second to no other citizen in establishing the intellectual ascendency of the metropolis.  7
 
 
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