There are centripetal and centrifugal spirits, spirits which naturally turn within, however they may be forced without, which live interior lives, sometimes tormented and perturbed, sometimes sunny, tranquil, and serene, and spirits which shrink from themselves or forget themselves, finding their activity if not their happiness in the turmoil of the outward world. Assuredly Mrs. Madison’s spirit was centrifugal, if any ever was. She loved life in all its whirl and movement. She had long, pleasant, even merry years of it. In the main outward good fortune waited upon her, with a varied if not always uninterrupted felicity, and she had in herself those rich resources of spiritual sunshine which give a golden tinge to even gray days and sombre moments. A lady who had known her intimately for many years says of her when she was sixty years old: “She certainly has always been and still is one of the happiest of human beings . . . , she seems to have no place about her which could afford a lodgement for care or trouble. Time seems to favor her as much as fortune.” John Quincy Adams reports much the same thing, in his dry, crusty fashion: “She is a woman of placid, equable temperament, and less susceptible of laceration by the scourges of the world abroad than most others.” But the Shakespearean way of touching such a temperament, as of touching anything, is the loveliest and most satisfying:
“Happy is your grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.”
Dorothea Payne Madison’s external life was certainly varied and picturesque enough to involve any sort of experience. Her parents were well to do Virginians, but she was born, in 1772, when they were visiting North Carolina. Her father became affiliated with the Quakers and removed to Philadelphia when she was a girl. There she was brought up in Quaker surroundings and there, in 1790, she married a young Quaker named John Todd. She bore two children, of whom the eldest, a boy, survived, and after less than four years of marriage her husband perished in the yellow-fever epidemic. Two years later she married Madison and was swept into the whirl of his political fortunes. For eight years she was the wife of the Secretary of State and practically the head of the national hospitality, since Jefferson was a widower. For another eight years she was the wife of the President. In 1817 she and her husband retired to Madison’s estate, Montpelier, in Virginia, and they had no further connection with public life. But, though retired, they were anything but solitary, and till her husband’s death in 1836 and till her own in 1849, she was always the centre of a crowding, hurrying, shifting pressure of human interest.
It is hardly fair to infer that the woman had no inner fife because we hear nothing of it. But it is safe to assume that the rush of external impressions left her little time to brood upon her own soul, or its nature, or its workings. The brief records of conversation with her suggest little of inward experience; but they are brief. On the other hand, we have a considerable number of her letters and it must be confessed that they are d’stinctly external and trivial, the letters of a woman of the world, kindly, affectionate, tender, but not revealing much of spiritual activity and suggesting that there was not much to reveal.
She had the elements of the feminine education of that day, but little more, and she had never the time or the inclination to educate herself in the field of books. Her letters give astonishingly little evidence of any familiarity with the thought of the world. In later years she does ask for a novel: “By the bye, do you ever get hold of a clever novel, new or old, that you could send me? I bought Cooper’s last, but did not care for it, because the story was so full of horrors.” She even pushes her enthusiasm so far as to call for the “Romance of History.” But we do not hear that she got it or read it. Her knowledge of the human heart, which was probably extensive in its kind, was not obtained from books.
Nor did her Quaker training give her much in the way of accomplishments or prepare her for aesthetic enjoyment. Montpelier was situated in a beautiful region and the natural beauty was heightened by art. She must have felt all this, but she does not speak of it. It is said that she was an ardent gardener and tended her flowers with much devotion. We have a charming picture of her, rising very early, while her visitors were asleep, and working in her long apron among the dewy blossoms. She plucked them and then bestowed them lavishly upon her friends. For her existence seems to have been mainly one of give, give, give, give time, give goods, give life. As was said of another lady, of equally abundant temper, “She was too generous with herself.” And giving is no doubt an excellent and charming thing. Only perhaps those give best who also sometimes take, at least a little.
Thus, if religion consists in charity and external kindliness, it is evident that Mrs. Madison was rich in it, and certainly this is the part of religion that is most serviceable. Again, I should not undertake to deny that she had depths of spiritual experience. But there are no signs of it, and the signs are mainly the other way. In a talk with Ticknor she defended the Quakers, as she would have defended any friend. In later years she was a faithful attendant upon the Episcopal service. But she had comparatively little suffering or depression to drive her to God, and she lived curiously remote in spirit from the evil of the world. What is most noticeable about her spiritual attitude is a large and sweet tolerance, which she may well have imbibed from her husband and from her great friend Thomas Jefferson. This open and sunny charity is by no means the worst of religions, though perhaps even Jefferson would have been hardly ready to accept Anatole France’s charming formulation of it: “Tolerance is so dear to me that I would sacrifice for it the sweetest of beliefs.”
And so Mrs. Madison’s life is to be studied chiefly in her relations to other human beings, and we may begin with the nearest, her husband, or husbands. As to the first, John Todd, we know less than we could wish, and we are not even quite clear as to Dolly’s feeling about him. It is said that she was averse to the marriage and only yielded to pressure from her father; but such stories count for little. In any case, there is sufficient evidence of later affection and Todd appears to have been a sober, manly, hard-working, devoted fellow who would have made her happy if he had lived. Her circumstances after his death are again somewhat doubtful; but for a time she lived with her mother, who, in Dolly’s delicate phrase, “after my father’s death, received into her house some gentlemen as boarders.” Among these boarders was Aaron Burr, and it was through Burr that Madison was introduced to the lady who had attracted his attention at first sight.
In Mrs. Todd’s acceptance of this new suitor there was probably a complication of motives. He was twenty years older than she. He had already made unsuccessful attempts at marriage, the young lady in one case having lightly tossed him aside for a showy young parson. Though his face was distinguished and even handsome, he was far from imposing in appearance, and in later life Irving said of him, “poor Jemmy! he is but a withered little apple-john.” On the other hand, he was prominent politically and seemed destined to be more so, and there was a rather remarkable similarity of temperament between the two. Dolly may not have conceived a romantic passion for him, but she cherished a warm sincere affection which lasted all his life.
And Madison thoroughly deserved it. He played a great part in his country’s history and on the whole played it adequately. It must be understood at the start that he was essentially an intellectualist, a thinker rather than a doer. From his youth he read widely and thought widely also, if not always very deeply. The critical value of this broad and temperate study in the building of the national Constitution was immense, and Madison’s sober and solidly reasoned judgment most ably balanced and sustained the ardent enthusiasm of Hamilton. When it came to executive government later, the intellectualist was somewhat less successful, and the ill managed war of 1812 did not help his reputation, while his naturally impartial and judicious temper became more or less involved in the party passions of the time. Still, even in this regard he was much more moderate than Jefferson, and in the main he will always stand in history as a wise, discreet, and luminous spirit.
To these more publicly conspicuous qualities must be added the charming humor which rendered Madison delightful in private intercourse. In public he was formal and conventional enough; but with his intimates he had a graceful gayety which seems rarely to have failed. Indeed it clung to him to the very last. In his fatal illness a friend begged him not to try to talk in his enforced recumbent position. He answered, summing up the career of the statesman and diplomat, “Oh, I always talk most easily when I lie.” And his credibly reported dying words have a grace and significance which seldom appear in such a situation. On the morning of his death his niece brought him his breakfast, and was struck by the pitiful change in him. “What is the matter, Uncle Jeames?” “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.” He never spoke again.
It is generally supposed that Mrs. Madison was not closely involved in her husband’s political interests. This is probably true. At the same time, there are bits in her letters which seem to indicate that she followed the general movements of the time with intelligent attention, and her husband’s letters to her also show that he confided in her and trusted her. On one occasion she writes to Madison, with a simplicity, sweetness, and dignity which would be becoming to any wife in any age: “You know I am not much of a politician, but I am extremely anxious to hear (as far as you think proper) what is going forward in the Cabinet. On this subject I believe you would not desire your wife to be the active partisan that our neighbor is, Mrs. L., nor will there be the slightest danger, while she is conscious of her want of talents, and the diffidence in expressing those opinions, always imperfectly understood by her sex.”
It is again a question, how far the wife shared and stimulated her husband’s political ambition. That she liked and appreciated his high standing and office is evident enough. What woman would not? But it seems quite clear that she early made up her mind that her part in the matter was social. She would see to it that the Madisons were generally known and well beloved, that the rancor of party was softened as much as possible in social relations, and most admirably and successfully did she labor to that end.
Nor is there any direct proof that she often endeavored to exert her influence for political purposes. If she put her friends into office, we do not hear of it. In 1806 and 1807 there was a rather sharp rivalry between Madison and Monroe for the presidential succession and Mrs. Madison is said to have spoken bitterly about Monroe. But it is probable that the wife’s broad, kindly, and tolerant temper, so akin to his own, sustained and strengthened the husband in a habitual attitude of lenience and generosity.
Mrs. Madison’s most intense and direct contact with politics undoubtedly came during the trying years of the war. She may not have taken great interest in the more abstract aspects of the matter; but there were personal features that could not but come home to her. There were too brief moments of triumph, chiefly in connection with the brilliant naval operations. One bit of anecdote crystallizes the twinkling gleams of glory in an effective manner. A great ball was given in Washington, to celebrate the captures of the Alert and the Guerriere. In the midst of all the gayety Lieutenant Paul Hamilton arrived with the news of the taking of the Macedonian and bearing her flag. He was ushered into the hall with shouts of joy and congratulation, and presented the flag to Mrs. Madison before it was hung on the wall with those of the other captured vessels.
One likes to afford her at least this fleeting instant of enjoyment, for the remainder of the war period was mostly a time of anxiety and annoyance. The culmination came in the British burning of the capital. Such a disaster was hardly looked for, even up to the last moment. Mrs. Madison sat in the White House, waiting for the return of her husband and the Cabinet, who had gone out to see the fighting. Dinner was on the table and every one expected a safe, if not a triumphant return. Then a messenger came hurrying in, with word that the British were advancing and the White House must be abandoned in the utmost haste. Mrs. Madison gathered up what she could and went. The story that she herself cut the portrait of Washington from the frame will probably never be quite disposed of, though she could not have done it, as the picture could be reached only by a ladder and was removed under her direction by the servants. But she took the valuables that seemed to her most essential and hurried in her carriage across the Potomac, taking refuge with friends while her home and most of her possessions were destroyed almost before her eyes. In a short time it was all over, the British had retired, and she was able to go back. But the shock and strain of it must have been severe, and such agonizing memories made peace doubly welcome, when at last it came.
Through all these agitations, and through all the varied experiences of a long career it is evident that Madison clung to his wife with constant and untroubled affection. He was a man who, for all his public activity, loved home and domestic tenderness, and he appreciated them where he found them. And the wife’s affection for her husband was equally undisputed. They had no children, and though they both were fondly devoted to the son by her first marriage, they both felt that they had little in the world besides each other. High-wrought romantic ardor was hardly in Dolly’s nature; but perhaps she was all the more capable of a gentle glow of persistent attachment. In later years, during her husband’s long illness, she is most faithful in attendance, and for months she remains near at hand, ready to minister to all his wants. After his death, she clings to the tradition of his glory and I like especially her desperate determination to save his precious papers when they were threatened by fire. It is true that the papers represented a substantial money value when she sorely needed it, but they represented far more than money, the memory of past glory and delight. How vivid is the picture of her, suddenly awakened from sound sleep, with the smoke swirling about her, but refusing to be saved till the servants had gathered together the papers, and then when the fire was extinguished, “laughingly returning, clad in a black velvet gown and nightcap, with bare feet.”
This episode, together with her conduct during the British invasion and in many other instances, proves that Mrs. Madison was no weakling, given over to merely external diversions, however she may have liked the flutter and turmoil of the outer world. She was perfectly capable of a firm and quiet self-possession and she had a solid, though dignified, gift for managing herself and others. She swayed her household skilfully and successfully for many years, and seems to have had all the qualities necessary to do so. Her health was not at all times perfect, and when illness overcame her, she fell very briefly into a tone of discouragement. But in the main she had ample vigor, which lasted into advanced life, as is shown in the pretty story of her athletic prowess when she was nearly sixty. “One time on the portico, she took Anna by the hand, saying, ‘Come, let us run a race. I do not believe you can outrun me. Madison and I often run races here when the weather does not allow us to walk.’ And she really did run very briskly.” The picture of the fourth ex-President of the United States and his wife running rainy day races when they were approaching three and four score has a peculiar gayety.
To have carried on such a vast establishment as hers at all obviously required considerable executive ability. Madison himself had a natural instinct of order and system; but he left the domestic management mainly to her, and she was altogether adequate to it. I should like a little more light on the question of servants. These were all, of course, or almost all, slaves, and there seems to have been the horde of them usual in large Virginian establishments at that time. The colored man, Jennings, who lived long in the family, both slave and free, declares that Madison himself was always lenient and gentle, would never strike a slave or allow any one else to do so, and it is said that the servants turned rather to him than to his wife. But this was natural enough, since the domestic discipline doubtless chiefly fell to her.
Her own maid, when told by Mrs. Smith that she had a good mistress, answered with the greatest warmth, “Yes, the best, I believe, in the world—I am sure, I would not change her for any mistress in the whole country.”
The crucial question in all these domestic matters is money, and here it cannot be said that Mrs. Madison distinguished herself quite so much as in some other aspects. It is notable that the three great Virginian presidents, who followed Washington and Adams, were all unfortunate in money matters, all lived with a rather unwarrantable profusion and all died poor or left embarrassed estates. Madison himself was not inclined to personal extravagance. But both he and his wife were accustomed to Virginian hospitality, and their position in Washington and at Montpelier almost necessitated vast and constant entertaining, which could not be carried on without expense. They had numbers of guests at table, and the table was always bountifully supplied. Critics from foreign countries even suggested that the display in this regard approached the vulgar; but Mrs. Madison laughed and said that Europeans might consider that scarcity was elegance, but that the exhaustless wealth of our country was best shown in liberal entertainment. Yet it all cost money. The wines at least had to be imported from niggard Europe, and niggard Europe charged a round price for them. Then if you had guests, you had to have furniture. The White House was large, and the house at Montpelier far from small, and the rooms had to be made and kept habitable, and it could not be done for nothing. Also, to come and go everywhere, you had to have conveyances. Coaches did not cost like limousines, but they cost enough, more than it was always convenient for a hard-pressed Virginia planter to pay.
And there was giving as well as spending, giving to relatives, giving to friends, giving to the world at large. Mrs. Madison was interested in all sorts of charities, she was ready and anxious to extend her kindness to all who came within reach of it. It is said that, during the war, whenever soldiers marched by, “she always sent out and invited them in to take wine and refreshments, giving them liberally of the best in the house.” Such little acts are charming, but they do have their effect on the bills.
Consequently Madison, even in his most flourishing period, was more or less embarrassed. There was money to be had, but it did not always come easily or at once. And while it is said that his wife was a good manager, and she probably was, it is not likely that she was a great force for thrift. After her husband’s death, the situation was by no means improved. In fact, the pressure was so great that, if the stories are to be believed, she was reduced to absolute need. Jennings says that she “sometimes suffered for the necessaries of life. While I was a servant to Mr. Webster, he often sent me to her with a market-basket full of provisions, and told me whenever I saw anything in the house that I thought she was in need of to take it to her. I often did this and occasionally gave her small sums from my own pocket.” It would take a sunny disposition indeed to endure this sort of thing patiently; but it did not last, as Congress relieved the distress of the ex-president’s widow by purchasing his papers and putting the money paid into trust for her benefit.
It must at least be remembered, however, that Mrs. Madison’s fault was not self-indulgence, and that, if she ruined herself, it was largely for the sake of those she loved. She was devoted to her relatives. Her younger sister lived with her almost as a daughter, and the letters written to her after her marriage are full of singular and penetrating tenderness. It is said that at first the Madisons felt that Dolly’s own family predominated among her guests and that she was inclined to make more of her relatives than of his. But she soon disposed of this criticism and proved that she had quite tenderness enough for all. One of the most charming things about her is her devotion to Madison’s mother, who lived on at Montpelier to the age of ninety-seven. In speaking of her daughter-in-law’s care and solicitude, the old lady said to a friend: “In other respects I am feeble and helpless, and owe everything to her: she is my mother now.”
The greatest burden on Mrs. Madison’s purse and on her thoughts was undoubtedly the son of her first marriage, Payne Todd. Payne seems to have been a handsome and attractive boy, and his step-father was almost as fond of him as his mother was. But he received more fondness than discipline. His education was erratic, and the great position of his parents gave him social advantages and social temptations which he was but ill-fitted to resist. His temper was rather easy and self-indulgent than vicious; but the results were the same. He drank, he spent, he gambled, and then his father and mother were called upon repeatedly to pay his debts. His mother’s letters have no bitterness, and if there is reproach in them, it is so gentle that it merely emphasizes her affection. “Every one inquires after you; but, my dear son, it seems to be the wonder of them all that you should stay away from us so long a time. And now I am ashamed to tell, when asked, how long my only child has been absent from the home of his mother.” To the criticism of friends and enemies she had but the one mother’s answer: “My poor boy! Forgive his eccentricities, for his heart is right.” To her the heart was all. And maternal pity and anxiety seem to be the last emotions that hovered about her in this world, for as she was dying, she was heard to murmur repeatedly, “My poor boy!” Yet even this constant trial could not essentially sour her or shadow the sweetness of her spirit. That serenity and good humor, which her great friend Jefferson esteemed the most valuable of all human gifts and qualities and which perhaps in the beginning spoiled her son, made her suffer less than some might have suffered over the results of the spoiling.
Moreover, from this misery, as from others, she sought refuge in the amusing tumult of the world. Her natural bent was centrifugal, to turn always outward to the swift commerce of mankind. This bent, I think, was almost too strong for her to form and maintain intimate friendships: she was generally too expansive for them. It may be that married women rarely have such friendships any way, except as they hold over from pre-marital youth. The shadow of a husband, always likely to overhear the most intimate confidences, naturally affects such confidences with a sort of chilling reserve. At any rate, I see no sign of intimate friendships in Mrs. Madison’s case, and we have no letters of personal outpouring to any one but her own family, if even with them it may be called such. Yet it is clear that she had the qualities that make for friendship, directness, sincerity, cordiality. When Mrs. Smith visits her, she is taken at once into the inmost family life. “No restraint, no ceremony. Hospitality is the presiding genius of this house, and Mrs. Madison is kindness personified.” She was willing to give her self, if you could take it; but it had to be snatched in passing, for always it was on the way somewhere else.
And she did enjoy a crowd, liked to live in the tide, in the flood, to have people coming and going about her perpetually: “you know I usually like the routs all too well.” There was once a lady who said that she should like to meet and talk for a few minutes with everybody in the world, and the same lady declared that she never saw a visitor coming to her door without being pleased, a statement which might provoke some cynical persons to the assertion of the exact opposite. But clearly Mrs. Madison had precisely the temper of that lady. When she was in Washington, either entertaining for Jefferson, or as mistress of the White House, it might be expected that she would be the centre of ever-shifting throngs, and of course she was. Guests of all sorts crowded about her, and she had a word and a smile and a heart for all of them. But when she retired into the country, it was very much the same. It is true that Montpelier was by natural environment a solitary place. But the genius of this lady constantly contrived to fill it. There were swarms of relatives, there were swarms of Virginians, there were swarms of Republicans, with not a few Federalists mixed in; and no stranger of importance came from Europe without visiting both Monticello and Montpelier. A few more or less could make no possible difference. When Mrs. Smith arrived, the hostess asked why she did not bring her little girls. Mrs. Smith had feared they might be troublesome. But the lady laughed: “I should not have known they were here among all the rest, for at this moment we have only three and twenty in the house.” “Three and twenty!” gasped Mrs. Smith. “And where do you store them?” “Oh, we have houseroom in plenty.” And where houseroom failed, heart-room made up for it. Ninety to dine, “at one table—put up on the lawn under a thick arbor,” was a casual occurrence. Even after her husband’s death it was much the same: she was still the centre of a throng of people, people of all sorts who observed her curiously and were observed by her and made life twinkle and sparkle to the very verge of the grave.
After this elaborate development of the Book of Numbers, it is hardly necessary to say that she was socially successful. In her youth she seems to have been extremely lovely. People stopped to look at her in the street and a friend remonstrated with her laughingly, “really, Dolly, thou must hide thy face, there are so many staring at thee.” And the beauty was apparently of a lasting sort, a matter of grace and charm which endure through the changing years. She understood the art of dress. Sometimes she clung to early Quaker simplicity, and again she sought the aid of all the fashions, appearing in silks and satins, feathers and the turbans which seem so odd to us at present. Also, there were what would appear to some of us drawbacks to> her charm. She used paint and powder with a freedom and constancy which her great-grand-daughters might envy, used them skillfully and without excess, say some; but there was a grim Federalist parson who visited her and declared with rude vigor: “Mrs. Madison, though originally of a Quaker family, was dressed very splendidly, with a crown on her head. Her face and neck were obviously daubed with paint so as fairly to glisten.” Also, she had the even more deplorable habit of using snuff. Theodosia Burr visited her and says, “She is still pretty; but, oh, the unfortunate propensity to snuff-taking.” And there is the homely anecdote in connection with Henry Clay, which can hardly be omitted. Mrs. Madison offered Clay a pinch, which he accepted with his usual dignity. Then she “put her hand into her pocket and pulling out a bandanna handkerchief, said, ‘Mr. Clay, this is for rough work,’ at the same time applying it in the proper place, ‘and this,’ producing a fine lace handkerchief from another pocket, ‘is my polisher.’ She suited the action to the words, removing from her nose the remaining grains of snuff.” Truly, other times, other manners.
Yet these things do not seem in the least to have detracted from the lady’s charm, and one of the most delightful stories about her is the remark of an admirer, who was defending her against the charge of vanity. “But you tell me she used rouge and powder.” “Yes, yes,” said the admirer, “she did; but it was to please and gratify those who were thrown with her, not because she was fond of admiration.” Which recalls the character in the French comedy who was accused of vanity because he looked constantly in the glass: “It is not vanity, but simply because it gives me such pleasure to see myself.”
And apparently her popularity was almost universal, as universal as popularity can ever be in this critical world. I have looked quite widely for fault-finding, but discover astonishingly little. Now and then a note of dissonance does occur. Her friend Mrs. Smith, after a paragraph of ecstatic praise, makes this comment, which I do not in the least understand: “An, why does she not in all things act with the same propriety? She would be too much beloved if she added all the virtue to all the graces.” Seward, who was inclined to be critical, protests against her social prominence in later years: “I had little opportunity, however, to judge of Mrs. Madison. But her dress, conversation, air, and everything showed me that she was a woman to whom fashion was necessary in her old age.” Yet this querulousness is rare. The general tone of admiration and affection among her friends appears in the words of Mrs. Smith, “It seems to me that such manners would disarm envy itself, and conciliate even enemies;” and the colored man Jennings gives the same testimony as to inferiors: “She was beloved by everybody in Washington, white and colored.”
She enjoyed the popularity, and why should she not? Her husband was sometimes bored and wearied with it. At his first Inaugration Ball, in 1809, he confided to Mrs. Smith, “I would much rather be in bed.” After the same grand occasion, which might probably be regarded as the acme of American social entertainment, Mrs. Smith herself, a young and eager woman, notes: “Never do I recollect one night retiring with such a vacuum, such a dissatisfied craving, such a restlessness of spirit, such undefined, vague desires, as I do now.” But we get nothing of this sort from Mrs. Madison. The rush of people was the breath of life to her, and the emptiness came when she was cut off from it. When she is ill, she does murmur a little. “We have a continual round of company, which has been burdensome.” But even in illness people help rather than hinder. And, to be sure, in such a vast human contact there were bound to be disagreeable incidents. There was the evening when President Jefferson insisted on throwing over etiquette and giving her precedence of the wife of the British ininister, which caused a storm, as Mrs. Madison foresaw it would. Again, when she fled from her burning home and tried to take refuge with a former acquaintance, all the welcome she got was, “Miss Madison! if that’s you, come down and go out! Your husband has got mine out fighting, and damn you, you shan’t stay in my house; so get out.”
But these jarring notes were few and rare, since she had in such an eminent degree the social qualities which subdue or avert them. One such quality, indeed, seems not to have been present to any great extent: She was not a brilliant or witty talker. The best that a keen observer like Ticknor can find to say of her in this line, is: “Her conversation was somewhat formal, but on the whole appropriate to her position and now and then amusing.” But clever talking, like Madame de Stael’s or Madame Du Deffand’s, often hurts rather than helps. Mrs. Madison knew how to ask kindly questions, and to smooth asperities. She hated argument and gently got rid of it: “I would rather fight with my hands than with my tongue.” As to the latter member, she early devoted herself to the most important of lessons: “I am learning to hold my tongue well.”
In other words, she was by nature and by vast experience a sovereign mistress of the exquisite virtue of social tact, knew how to adapt herself to people and how to adapt people to each other. She entered into the lives of others, into the hearts of others, knowing that what went on there was very much what went on in her own, and using the knowledge for the increased comfort and happiness of everybody. I relish one little anecdote which shows how such a social being will instinctively follow Sarah Ripley’s admirable rule, that the law of love is higher than the law of truth. In her old age, when it was difficult for her to write, Mrs. Madison taught her niece to imitate her own writing so that friends might feel that they were getting letters directly from herself. But by far the best and noblest testimony to Mrs. Madison’s social tact is the remark of her niece in regard to her: “I always thought better of myself when I had been with Aunt Dolly.” How many people there are of whom the reverse is true! And can there be a higher triumph of social achievement?
One of the most notable elements in Mrs. Madison’s social tact was her remarkable memory. It is said that, with all her vast acquaintance, she rarely forgot a face or a name: “Possessing a most retentive memory, she never miscalled a name, or forgot the slightest incident connected with the personal history of any one, arid therefore impressed each individual with an idea of their importance in her esteem.” She would probably have agreed with General Lee, who possessed a similar gift, that it was no special mental endowment, but simply a matter of courteous attention to everybody, thus confirming the theory of Lord Chesterfield, that a discreet, quick, constant attention is the most important of social qualities.
However this may be, it is interesting to think what a vast personal storehouse the woman’s memory must have been, how thronged with faces of all sorts, faces quick, gay, delightful, no doubt sometimes distorted or hideous, but always interesting. And the memory clung by her to the end, and the people clung by her to the end. As Philip Hone recorded in his Journal, in 1842, “She is a young lady of fourscore years and upward, goes to parties and receives company, like the ‘Queen of the New World.’ ” And finding her own life thus in the busy life that was whirling all about her, she was able to keep up to the end that impression of felicity, felicity of circumstances, and still more of temperament, which is always associated with her. Yet her final comment, on leaving this earth, on which she had lived so widely, was, “My dear, do not trouble about it; there is nothing in this world worth really caring for.” And I should like to know whether it is true that she emphasized this; but in any case there are not many men or women who have been in a better position than she for making such a statement.