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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Hay (1838–1905)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
BORN in 1838 at Salem, Indiana, of Scotch ancestry, John Hay passed his early years as does the average intelligent Western boy. When only twenty he was graduated from Brown University, where his work in English composition was thought to indicate literary ability. Studying law at Springfield, Illinois, he began practice there in 1861; but soon after accompanied President Lincoln to Washington as his assistant secretary, and acting as adjutant and aide also, grew into close intimacy with the statesman whose biographer he became. Like most ardent young men of his time, he entered the army, attaining the brevet rank of colonel and assistant adjutant-general. His large opportunities for meeting men, his gift for making friends, and his tactful good sense, especially qualified him for his later diplomatic career.  1
  Soon after the war Colonel Hay went as Secretary of Legation to Paris, where his careful study of French political conditions appears in several of his poems; among them ‘Sunrise in the Place de la Concorde,’ ‘The Sphinx of the Tuileries,’ and ‘A Triumph of Order.’ Sent afterwards to Vienna, he was presently transferred to Madrid as chargé d’affaires. ‘Castilian Days’ reflects in delightful colors the pleasure he found in the history, the romance, and the beauty of Spain; a pleasure which shows an odd background of American practicality, and a democratic conviction that kings and nobles are as fallible as other men. He greatly admired Castelar, whose acquaintance he made, and translated for American readers his treatise upon ‘The Republican Movement in Europe.’  2
  Returning to New York in 1871, Hay joined the staff of the New York Tribune. ‘Pike County Ballads,’ his second publication, issued in 1871, celebrated in Western dialect the heroism of drinking pilots, swearing engineers, and godless settlers, and caught the fancy of the public by means of its vivid local color and dramatic quality. Some years later these verses were republished in the same volume with his miscellaneous poems, his ‘Wanderlieder,’ and his translations.  3
  His most important work is the comprehensive history of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, written in collaboration with John George Nicolay, the great President’s private secretary. Appearing first in the Century Magazine, this was published in ten large volumes, which offer a careful historical survey of the whole period of the Civil War, and of the conditions which made it inevitable. Thoroughly understanding the character and motives of Lincoln, and himself a spectator and an actor in the great drama he describes, Colonel Hay’s pages are vividly written, and often touched with personal emotion.  4
  Valuable as this history may prove, however, to the serious reader, in ‘Castilian Days’ lies the true obligation of the lover of literature to Colonel Hay. When it appeared, the general voice of criticism pronounced it the best book on Spain in the English language. Wide knowledge of the great monarchy of the past, full sympathy with the new republic of the hour, the point of view of the man of letters, the poet, the curious student of social life, and the observer of politics rather than the politician,—these the Western critic brought to the occasion. He saw everything; he weighed and measured customs, institutions, and men; and he wrote down his descriptions and conclusions in a style whose brilliancy would have degenerated into hardness, had it not been saved by a good-natured humor, and a temper of unusual moderation. And if the republic in which the sound republican so hopefully believed is long since swept away, his book remains no less faithful an interpretation of the Spanish character, and no less possible a forecast of the future of the Spanish people.  5
  During the administration of Hayes he became first assistant Secretary of State. McKinley appointed him U. S. ambassador at London and on the retirement of Judge Day he became Secretary of State, which position he retained under Roosevelt’s administration until his death, July 1, 1905. It is difficult to enumerate briefly Hay’s manifold diplomatic successes which made him the idol of his own country and the most conspicuous American in the eyes of all the civilized world. After the Spanish War he handled with remarkable diplomacy the intricate problems which arose in connection with the Philippines, and whether it was with Great Britain over the Alaskan boundary, Samoan negotiations, the question of Chinese trade or the reciprocity treaties for the British West Indies, Secretary Hay’s manipulation was always supremely tactful, skillful, and far-sighted. Under his administration of the State department American interests in all the world were maintained with a strong hand, while his peaceful and conciliatory spirit strengthened the friendship which existed between the United States and all other nations.  6
 
 
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