Sunday, August 18, 2013

Varina Davis on Senator Thomas Hart Benton


For reasons unknown, I was leafing (virtually) the other day through Varina Davis's memoir of her late husband, Jefferson Davis, entitled (as you might expect) Jefferson Davis: Ex-President of the Confederate States of America (1890).  Mrs. Davis, it turns out, is an engaging writer with a knack for sketching lively portraits of many of the famous figures she encountered.

Here, for example, is an endearing story about Senator Thomas Hart Benton, which casts a softer light on the craggy and somewhat forbidding public persona of the pugnacious "Old Bullion" Benton:


[T]here was an hour in the day that came to be recognized as one that Mr. Benton would have.  About midday, or perhaps three o'clock, he always rose and left the [Senate] chamber to take his paralyzed wife out for an airing.  Generally he brought her, with infinite tenderness, to the Capitol grounds, seated her on a bench in a pleasant shade, and no young lover could try more sedulously than he to amuse and comfort her.  She seemed to be most happy when with him, and it was a familiar sight to see him picking flowers for her as they first peeped up in the early Spring.  He introduced me to a lady once - "Mrs. C., a friend of my wife's, madam; need I say more?

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