A Note From Chauncey Depew

Chauncey Depew
Chauncey Depew

In the mail today I received a letter from the president of Harvard University. “Would it be agreeable to you,” he asks, “to give a short course of lectures here upon certain banking questions which we want to have treated by an expert?”

I’m saying, and I’m sure you are too, “It’s about time!”

There’s also a letter from some guy from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale with the same request. And a nice note from Chauncey Depew. Remember Chauncey? He was the secretary of state in New York in 1864.

I received all these missives in an envelope from my Uncle Nat, also my godfather, who is a guy who knows how to be an uncle. He’s told me everything — about chorus girls and everything else.

Now he has sent me some historical documents belonging to  his great-grandfather John J. Knox, Comptroller of the Currency, husband of Granny Knox, Tibby’s mother, Essie’s grandmother.

Essie is his mother, my grandmother, who taught me and my cousins how to be decent human beings, in spite of what our parents tried to teach us.

Turns out John J. Knox had the singular privilege, along with Horace Greeley, of serving as an elector in the election of 1864, the winner of which was… anyone? George B. McClellan? No, I think it was his opponent, Abraham Lincoln.

It struck me kind of funny, reading about Lincoln. He once aspired to be “the Dewitt Clinton of Illinois.” Dewitt Clinton helped get the Erie Canal built.

Chauncey Depew, who made most of his money as a lawyer for Cornelius Vanderbuilt, went down in history for many memorable quotations, but he was also interviewed by Walt Disney Productions about his memories of Lincoln on a new (then) process called Phonophone.

I’m quite sure that his inclusion on that Phonophone list had something to do with the Warner Brothers cartoon character, a skunk called Pepe Lepew, who has a Wikipedia entry of his own.

But let’s not sell Chauncey short. Here are a few of his quotable quotes:

“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.”

“I get my exercise acting as a pallbearer to my friends who exercise.”

“It is a pity that instead of the Pilgrim Fathers landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had not landed on the Pilgrim Fathers.”

“The enjoyment of life would be instantly gone if you removed the possibility of doing something.”

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”

“The government of the United States is and always has been a lawyer’s government.”

“A pessimist is a man who thinks all women are bad. An optimist is one who hopes they are.”

There’s also a letter from an investment counselor named A. E. Randall to Granny Knox. He explains that he has put some of her money in a land deal that went South because some buyer got skittish.

“Mrs. Knox, you don’t know how badly I feel about this as I was so delighted to make this sale as I am so anxious to make you  money. I hold myself personally responsible for this investment which you made and will protect you in all events…”

A. E. Randall, where are you now when we need you.