[Unsigned editorial] "The Blot on the Great Man's Name." Saturday Evening Post, 21 February 1903, p. 12.

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[Unsigned editorial] "The Blot on the Great Man's Name." Saturday Evening Post, 21 February 1903, p. 12.


The Blot on the Great Man's Name

Now it is our friend—the country’s friend—Edward Everett Hale[1] who has robbed us of a popular belief: Daniel Webster[2]was not a drunkard! In the twenty-six years in which Mr. Hale “knew him intimately he saw him thousands of times, read thousands of his letters, ran in and out of his house constantly, and never once saw him under the influence of liquor.”

Of course we all will say we rejoice to hear it. But in our secret souls we don’t altogether rejoice.

Why is this? Are we at bottom a kind of malignant animal? Is there a nasty vein of malice in every heart?

Or is it only that the ordinary man and woman are chilled and stifled by these faultless ruling folk—Powers and Dominions, as John Milton[3] would call them? The dazzle and shine of an archangel awes us, but a dab of coal-soot on his wing makes him human at once. He is our brother now. We can claim fellowship with him at last: he “calls cousin” with us on account of that smut on his wing.

We all remember when Edward Lear, Washington’s secretary,[4] first told the story of how the Father of His Country rushed one day out of his room half shaved to resent an insult, given to a poor little maid, by a kick and an oath, how the whole nation chuckled with delight! After all, then, he was no deity, but a man! And we all secretly thanked God.

The votaries of the godlike Daniel in Massachusetts elevated him above humanity, until he was as remote and icy as a peak in Labrador. Then came this ugly slander which Dr. Hale now beats to death so vindictively. It gave red blood to the idol. Every well-meaning bloated loafer at the Cross-Roads now struck hands in his secret mind with the demigod and did him honest homage.

All of this is but another way of showing that plain human nature is the base of all power. It is not the statesman we reverence, nor beauty, nor royalty—not even many-sided William—but the man underneath—who is like ourselves.

The ugly old Queen who in her nightgown rushed into her box at the theater crying out, with sobs, “Our Charlotte has got a boy!”[5] won the hearts of the English people to her family by that one sentence, when all expedients and diplomacy had failed.

The advice which every young worker in the world can gain from these vain hints—whether he wants to win fortune or fame or the other and better successes is: Make your leverage on humanity. That—not money nor rank nor reputation—is the real stuff out of which to make life.


1. Hale (1822-1909), American author.

2. Webster (1782-1852), American politician, US Senator, and Secretary of State in the Harrison and Filmore administrations.

3. English poet (1608-1674).

4. Washington’s secretary was Tobias Lear (1762-1816).

5. Princess Charlotte (?-1817) died a few days after giving birth.


S. M. Harris



S. M. Harris, “[Unsigned editorial] "The Blot on the Great Man's Name." Saturday Evening Post, 21 February 1903, p. 12.,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed January 27, 2023, https://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/10.

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