I have met in our country all the men of my time who have won fame in this branch of public address. The most remarkable in effectiveness and inspiration was Henry Ward Beecher. A banquet was always a success if it could have among its speakers William M. Evarts, Joseph H. Choate, James S. Brady, Judge John R. Brady, General Horace Porter, or Robert G. Ingersoll.
After General Grant settled in New York he was frequently a guest at public dinners and always produced an impression by simple, direct, and effective oratory.
General Sherman, on the other hand, was an orator as well as a fighter. He never seemed to be prepared, but out of the occasion would give soldierly, graphic, and picturesque presentations of thought and description.
Not to have heard on these occasions Robert G. Ingersoll was to have missed being for the evening under the spell of a magician. I have been frequently asked if I could remember occasions of this kind which were of more than ordinary interest.
After-dinner oratory, while most attractive at the time, is evanescent, but some incidents are interesting in memory. At the time of Queen Victoria's jubilee I was present where a representative of Canada was called upon for a speech. With the exception of the Canadian and myself the hosts and guests were all English. My Canadian friend enlarged upon the wonders of his country. A statement of its marvels did not seem sufficient for him unless it was augmented by comparisons with other countries to the glory of Canada, and so he compared Canada with the United States. Canada had better and more enduring institutions, she had a more virile, intelligent, and progressive population, and she had protected herself, as the United States did not, against undesirable immigration, and in everything which constituted an up-to-date, progressive, healthy, and hopeful commonwealth she was far in advance of the United States.
I was called upon immediately afterwards and said I would agree with the distinguished gentleman from Canada that in one thing at least Canada was superior to the United States, and it was that she had far more land, but it was mostly ice. I regret to remember that my Canadian friend lost his temper.
One of the historical dinners of New York, which no one will forget who was there, was just after the close of the Civil War, or, as my dear old friend, Colonel Watterson, called it, "The War between the States." The principal guests were General Sherman and Henry W. Grady of Atlanta, Ga. General Sherman, in his speech, described the triumphant return of the Union Army to Washington, its review by the President, and then its officers and men returning to private life and resuming their activities and industries as citizens. It was a word-picture of wonderful and startling picturesqueness and power and stirred an audience, composed largely of veterans who had been participants both in the battles and in the parades, to the highest degree of enthusiasm. Mr. Grady followed. He was a young man with rare oratorical gifts. He described the return of the Confederate soldiers to their homes after the surrender at Appomattox. They had been four years fighting and marching. They were ragged and poor. They returned to homes and farms, many of which had been devastated. They had no capital, and rarely animals or farming utensils necessary to begin again. But with superb courage, not only on their own part but with the assistance of their wives, sisters, and daughters, they made the desert land flourish and resurrected the country.
This remarkable description of Grady, which I only outline, came as a counterpart to the triumphant epic of General Sherman. The effect was electric, and beyond almost any that have ever occurred in New York or anywhere, and Grady sprang into international fame.