SHORTLY before noon on a hot July day in 1857 passengers crowded the wharf at the foot of Beach Street, New York, as the steamer Arago of the French Line prepared to sail for Havre. Porters were struggling aboard with trunks, stewards bustling about, visitors saying goodbye, hawkers selling conveniences. Amid the throng suddenly appeared the tall figure of ex-Senator Fish, escorting his wife, his four elder daughters, and his three sons--a group ranging in years from nineteen to six. A nursemaid carried the baby, Edith, now fifteen months old. Numerous friends had come to take leave of the "Governor," and Fish was cordially greeted by Captain Lyons of the Arago. At noon precisely, the sun blazing down on banks of waving handkerchiefs and parasols on decks and wharf, the ship moved into the channel. At two o'clock, with a squall coming up, it was outside Sandy Hook.1 Fish was off for at least a year of European travel.
He had taken leave of politics with relief. An autobiographical fragment tells us2 that he had left the Senate "with the full determination that I would not again enter into public or active political life." For fifteen years he had been almost continuously in office. "If public offices are to be regarded as honors, I felt that more than any merit of mine could claim had been most generously bestowed; and if they are to be regarded as duties and as service, that having given so long a period of the best and most active years of my life I had served out my time, and was entitled to a discharge." In letters to friends he confessed some resentment that Seward, Thurlow Weed, and other leaders had shelved him because of a mere political bargain. One of these letters shortly came to Weed's notice, and he wrote to Fish protesting that he had always wished him kept in the Senate, and had taken no part in the manoeuvres that defeated him. But Fish realized that he was as ill-fitted for practical politics as he was well-equipped for administration or diplomacy.
He was specially ill-attuned to the political world of the latter fifties. As late as 1853 the pacific spirits of Clay and Webster had still ruled____________________