“Well, Ulysses, You’ve Become a Great Man, Haven’t You?”
On the American fifty dollar bill, a chunk of chump change not as useful as our twenty dollar bill from which Andrew Jackson peers in need of a barber, is a somewhat shifty and bearded gentleman who looks like he could use a drink, and this is Ulysses S Grant, who graduated at the bottom of his class but served bravely in a war he hated (the Mexican war) and then saved the Union for President Lincoln by fighting the Rebs every time he his boys met them. For now let us praise famous men.
Grant was blessed to have his Mother survive so long, and she without comment witnessed her rather feckless and heretofore unsuccessful son get in the papers first at a little place called Shiloh, and then at Vicksburg, and then at Cold Harbor, each time exhibiting a tenacity she may have sensed in her boy who nonetheless had been theretofore a failure. When he visited her in Galena, today a quiet little town on the Mississippi, Grant’s Mother said only, “Well, Ulysses, you’ve become a great man, haven’t you?”.
And then she returned to her housework.
Later on, after serving as President and finding himself flat broke in that distant era when being President didn’t make you rich, Grant decided to publish his Memoirs in order to stump up cash for his beloved Julia and their children so that his family might not starve, for Grant’s doctor found that Grant’s habit of smoking cigars in the fury of battle had given Grant a throat cancer, for which medical science of the 1870s had nothing, not even palliative care. The Chinese knew opium but it wasn’t used by doctors nor was its active ingredient known.
Grant proposed the idea to the publisher Charles Scribner who was enthusiastic but a sharp operator, as sharp as Grant was naive.
Scribner gave the former President a standard, preprinted contract which all of his authors modified with pen and ink, that was wildly in Scribner’s favor rather like my own contract with Apress-Springer, but, more so. Grant didn’t question it, he “figgered” it was the standard deal.
Grant proudly showed his friend Mark Twain the contract, but it appears that Twain said something like, “Sam, you have been had.”
Twain went right on down to Scribner’s and said to the publisher that it was a shame to so deceive the man who’d saved the Union and only screwed up a little as President, allowing other sharp operators to invest in Credit Mobilier, a complete scam which nonetheless financed the first transcontinental railroad.
Twain returned in triumph to Grant who then proceeded to apply himself diligently to writing his Memoirs, in prose as simple and noble as another warrior’s, that of John Bunyan, who wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which is to Come”, and “God’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, both of which Grant read, in all probability. Grant and Bunyan were masters of prose yet would be considered “verbose”, today, by morons and psychopaths who prefer lies writ simply.
People would stop by Grant’s home in Galena where, dying and in agony, he continued to write in order that he might keep his promise to Charles Scribner. At one point, Grant was reduced to strange utterances as was the New Jersey mobster Charles “Dutch” Schulze fifty years later, who was interrogated by the cops as he lay dying, and said, a boy has never wept, nor dashed a thousand kim: Grant said I seem to be pain itself.
Thanks to the wise if otiose Chinese for their despised drug opium, for from it doctors, after Grant but by World War I and the 1930s of Dutch Schulze, had isolated morphine for the dying so their children might not see them suffer. As my father said, the Enlightenment gave us simple things we take for granted, such as eyeglasses so we are not Eliot’s Gerontion, an old man in winter being read to by a boy.
And God’s deep curse follow after anyone who would repeal enlightenment such as jag off Republican politicians and may they rot in hell.
But that is the story of Grant. That is what Ulysses S Grant did.