The Four Ages Of Joseph Choate


In private life again: more speaking invitations, bar association gatherings, Harvard dinners, fumings at Tammany, rejoicings over new acquisitions by the Metropolitan, a golden-wedding celebration at Stockbridge with hundreds of guests and a gold piece for everyone who worked on the place—and growing intimations of mortality: “Our meeting of the Peabody Trust today … was a little gruesome, for the two Trustees who sat on my right and left were wheeled in in chairs by their nurses and were both a little incoherent. We must wind up before the rest qf us get that way.”

Strongly pro-Ally when war came in 1914, Choate foresaw that it would last a long time. He hoped that the United States would get into it. When that happened and the British and French sent special missions to America, Mayor Mitchel appointed Choate “as leading citizen of New York” to receive them on the city’s behalf. He met each when it landed at the Battery and escorted its leader—former Prime Minister BaIfour and Marshal Joffre—in the parade up to City Hall. At the formal banquet to both commissions at the Waldorf Astoria he said that when Congress declared war on Germany, “for the first time, after two years and a half, I was able to hold up my head as high as the weight of eighty-five years would allow.”

A week like that was hard on a man of eighty-five. The morning after it was over, Choate complained of a pain around his heart. That evening he turned to the Saint and muttered, “I am feeling very ill. I think this is the end.” Shortly before midnight he died, alert to the last.

In the following months men and institutions stood in line to do him honor: Chauncey Depew at the Union League; Elihu Root at the bar association; Nicholas Murray Butler at the chamber of commerce; and, at the Century, no less than T.R. himself, who called Choate “one of the great assets of our national life,” then added, in a rarer accolade, that “he himself in his person was greater than anything that he did"—larding these encomia with a string of Choate anecdotes, including an episode he had witnessed himself: I shall never forget one incident at a reception at the then Vice President Morion’s. There was present a thoroughly nice lady—of possibly limited appeal—to whom Choate spoke; whereupon, with a face of woe, she began to relate how much she had suffered since she had last seen him on account of an attack of appendicitis and of the operation thereby rendered necessary. After Choate had expressed his sympathy two or three times the lady said, “I didn’t know whether I had changed so that you would not recognize me.” Mr. Choate replied, “Madame, I hardly did recognize you without your appendix.”

(Laughter, followed by applause.) It was almost as good as hearing Joe Choate himself.