For my 6ooth post, I had elected to give you a view of a historical personage – the 18th president of the United States, not to mention one of its most successful and celebrated military commanders. And the best is that it is all in George McDonald Fraser’s matchless prose which is a combination of incisive characterisation, understated humour and irony which makes reading it such a pleasure, even though I have to inform you its fiction, inspired no doubt but still fiction.
The passages are about President Grant through the eyes of his former subordinate, the renowned “hero’, Sir Harry Flashman as brought out in his celebrated papers which are a kaleidoscopic view of something of the most significant events of the 19th century and its most remarkable characters.
The scene that I related continues to feature Grant, but it is not significant for my purpose (though very much for the book’s plot). No, I will choose to jump forward many days and pages forward in the future to bring to you another scene starring President Grant and Sir Harry….. and how this happens I will let the latter tell you in his own words…..
As Flashman (I aplogise for using this common, and wrong form of address but it will be somewhat convenient) notes he had met Custer and sometime after the passage recounted to you in the last post, runs into him. When he does, the description is a comic marvel (but you have to read the book for that, I am afraid). How Grant comes in, the following paragraphs may help to explain….
~~ (Flashman) “What’s the row in Washington? I thought you were out in Fort Lincoln.”
(Custer) “So I was, and so I should be! It’s a conspiracy, I tell you! A foul, despicable plot by that scoundrel who masquerades as President- “
“Sam Grant? Come now, George,” says I, “he’s a surly brute, we agree and his taste in cigars is awful – but he ain’t a plotter.”
Then follows Custer giving an account of the Bellknap scandal (Consult a good encyclopaedia) and his role in its denoument and what effect it had on him professionally. He beeseches Flashman’s intervention….
(Custer) “You know Grant,” says he fiercely. “He respects you, and he is bound to listen to you! You are his old friend and comrade- if you were to urge him to let me go, he could not ignore you. Will you? You know what this campaign means to me.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh more at his brazen cheek or his folly in supposing Grant would pay the least heed to me. I started to say so, but he brushed it violently aside.
“Grant will listen to you, I say! Don’t you see, you must carry weight? You’re neutral, and free of all political interest – and you have the seal of the greatest American who ever lived! Didn’t Lincoln say:’When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman?’ Besides, Grant appointed you to the Indian Commission, didn’t he? He cannot refuse you a hearing. You must speak up for me. If you don’t, I can’t think who will – and I’ll be finished, on the brink of glorious success!”
At length, Flashman agrees…. for reasons that are far from altruistic.
~~ The man was plainly barmy. If I carried weight in Washington it was news to me, and bearding Sam Grant on this crackpot’s behalf wasn’t my idea of a jolly afternoon. On the other hand, it was flattering to be asked, and it might be fun to help stir up what sounded like an uncommon dirty kettle of fish… and to see what effect my unorthodox approach might have on Grant – not for Custer’s sake, but for my own private amusement. I was at a loose end in New York, anyway. So I hemmed a bit, and finally said very well, I’d come to Washington to oblige him, not that it would do the least good, mind…
But as Custer profusely thanks Flashman, the latter’s attention has been caught somewhere else (with rather dangerous consequences for him later as it turns out, but all this not germane to our post. Read the book yourself if it interests you….)
Flashman goes to meet Grant…..
~~ From that exotic vision to the surly bearded presence of Ulysses S.Grant was a most damnable translation, I can tell you….
To be continued….