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- The Letters of Franklin K. Lane - 4/86 -





Although Franklin Knight Lane was only fifty-seven years old when he died, May 18, 1921, he had outlived, by many years, the men and women who had most influenced the shaping of his early life. Of his mother he wrote, in trying to comfort a friend, "The mystery and the ordering of this world grows altogether inexplicable. ... It requires far more religion or philosophy than I have, to say a real word that might console one who has lost those who are dear to him. Ten years ago my mother died, and I have never been reconciled to her loss." Again he wrote of her, to his sister, when their brother Frederic--the joyous, outdoor comrade of his youth--was in his last illness, "Dear Fritz, dear, dear boy, how I wish I could be there with him, though I could do no good. ... Each night I pray for him, and I am so much of a Catholic, that I pray to the only Saint I know, or ever knew, and ask her to help. If she lives, her mind can reach the minds of the doctors. ... I don't need her to intercede with God, but I would like her to intercede with men. Why, Oh! why, do we not know whether she is or not? Then all the Universe would be explained to me."

From those who knew him best from childhood, no word of him is left, and none from the two men whose strength and ideality colored his morning at the University of California--Dr. George H. Howison, the "darling Howison" of the William James' Letters, and Dr. Joseph H. Le Conte, the wise and gentle geologist. "Names that were Sierras along my skyline," Lane said of such men. To Dr. Howison he wrote in 1913, when entering President Wilson's Cabinet, "No letter that I have ever received has given me more real pleasure than yours, and no man has been more of an inspiration than you."

The sealing of almost every source of intimate knowledge of the boy, who was a mature man at twenty-two, has left the record of the early period curiously scant. Fortunately, there are in his letters and speeches some casual allusions to his childhood and youth, and a few facts and anecdotes of the period from members of his family, from school, college, and early newspaper associates. In 1888, the story begins to gather form and coherence, for at that date we have the first of his own letters that have been preserved, written to his lifelong friend, John H. Wigmore. With many breaks, especially in the early chapters, the sequence of events, and his moods toward them, pour from him with increasing fullness and spontaneity, until the day before he died.

All the later record exists in his letters, most of them written almost as unconsciously as the heart sends blood to the remotest members of the body; and they come back, now, in slow diastole, bearing within themselves evidence of the hour and day and place of their inception; letters written with the stub of a pencil on copy-paper, at some sleepless dawn; or, long ago, in the wide- spaced type of a primitive traveling typewriter, and dated, perhaps, on the Western desert, while he was on his way to secure water for thirsty settlers; or dashed off in the glowing moment just after a Cabinet meeting, with the heat of the discussion still in his veins; others on the paper of the Department of the Interior, with the symbol of the buffalo--chosen by him--richly embossed in white on the corner, and other letters, soiled and worn from being long carried in the pocket and often re-read, by the brave old reformer who had hailed Lane when he first entered the lists. This is the part of the record that cannot be transcribed.

Franklin Knight Lane was born on July 15, 1864, on his father's farm near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, the eldest of four children, all born within a few years. The low, white farmhouse that is his birthplace still stands pleasantly surrounded by tall trees, and at one side a huge, thirty-foot hedge of hawthorn blooms each spring. His father, Christopher S. Lane, was at the time of his son's birth a preacher. Later, when his voice was affected by recurrent bronchitis, he became a dentist. Lane speaks of him several times in his letters as a Presbyterian, and alludes to the strict orthodoxy of his father's faith, especially in regard to an active and personal devil.

In 1917, when in the Cabinet, during President Wilson's second term of office, Lane wrote to his brother, "To-night we give a dinner to the Canadians, Sir George Foster, the acting Premier, and Sir Joseph Polk, the Under-Secretary of External Affairs, who, by the way, was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and says that he heard our father preach."

But it was from his mother, whose maiden name was Caroline Burns, and who was of direct Scotch ancestry, that Franklin Lane drew most of his physical and many of his mental traits. From her he derived the firmly-modeled structure of his face; the watchful Scotch eyes; a fine white skin, that weathered to an even brown, later in life; remarkably sound teeth, large and regular, giving firm support to the round contour of the face; and the fresh line of his lips, that was a marked family trait. A description of him, when he was candidate for Governor of California, at thirty-eight, was written by Grant Wallace. Cleared of some of the hot sweetness of a campaign rhapsody it reads:--

"Picture a man a little above the average height ... with the deep chest and deep voice that always go with the born leader of men; the bigness and strength of the hands ... the clear eye and broad, firm, and expressive mouth, and the massive head that suggests irresistibly a combination of Napoleon and Ingersoll."

These two resemblances, to Napoleon and to Robert Ingersoll, were frequently rediscovered by others, in later years.

The description concludes by saying, "That Lane is a man of earnestness and vigorous action is shown in ... every movement. You sit down to chat with him in his office. As he grows interested in the subject, he kicks his chair back, thrusts his hands way to the elbows in his trouser pockets and strides up and down the room. With deepening interest he speaks more rapidly and forcibly, and charges back and forth across the carpet with the heavy tread of a grenadier." As an older man this impetuosity was somewhat modified. What an early interviewer called his "frank man-to-manness" became a manner of grave and cordial concentration. With the warm, full grasp of his hand in greeting, he gave his complete attention to the man before him. That, and his rich, strong laugh of pleasure, and the varied play of his moods of earnestness, gayety, and challenge, are what men remember best.

Lane's native bent from the first was toward public life. His citizenship was determined when his father decided to take his family to California, to escape the severity of the Canadian climate. In 1902, Franklin Lane was asked how he became an American. "By virtue of my father's citizenship," he replied, "I have been a resident of California since seven years of age, excepting during a brief absence in New York and Washington."

In 1871, the mother, father, and four children, after visiting two brothers of Mrs. Lane's on the way, finally reached the town of Napa, California.

"They came," says an old schoolmate of Napa days, "bringing with them enough of the appearance and mannerisms of their former environment to make us youngsters 'sit up and take notice,' for the children were dressed in kilts, topped by handsome black velvet and silk plaid caps. However, these costumes were soon discarded, for at school the children found themselves the center of both good--and bad-natured gibes, until they were glad to dress as was the custom here." The "Lane boys," he says, were then put into knee-trousers, "and Franklin, who was large for his age and quite stout, looked already too old for this style," and so continued to be annoyed by the children, until he put a forcible end to it. "He 'licked' one of the ringleaders," says the chronicler, and won to peace. "As we grew to know Franklin ... his right to act became accepted ... . There was always something about his personality which made one feel his importance."

The little California community was impressed by the close intimacy of the home-life of the Canadian family--closer than was usual in hurriedly settled Western towns. The father found time to take all three boys on daily walks. Another companion remembers seeing them starting off together for a day's hunting and fishing. But it was the mother, who read aloud to them and told them stories and exacted quick obedience from them, who was the real power in the house. There were regular family prayers, and family singing of hymns and songs.

This last custom survived among the brothers and sister through all the years. Even after all had families of their own, and many cares, some chance reunion, or a little family dinner would, at parting, quicken memory and, with hats and coats already on, perhaps, in readiness to separate to their homes, they would stand together and shout, in unison, some song of the hour or some of their old Scotch melodies with that pleasant harmony of voices of one timbre, heard only in family singing.

Lane had a baritone of stirring quality, coming straight from his big lungs, and loved music all his life. In the last weeks of his life he more than once wrote of his pleasure in his brother's singing. At Rochester, a few days before his operation, he reassured an anxious friend by writing, "My brother George is here, with his splendid philosophy and his Scotch songs."

His love and loyalty to past ties, though great and persistent, still left his ideal of loyalty unsatisfied. Toward the end of his life he wrote, "Roots we all have and we must not be torn up from them and flung about as if we were young things that could take hold in any soil. I have been--America has been--too indifferent to roots--home roots, school roots. ... We should love stability and tradition as well as love adventure and advancement." But the practical labors of his life were directed toward creating means to modify tradition in favor of a larger sort of justice than the past had known.

Resignation had no part in his political creed. "I hold with old Cicero 'that the whole glory of virtue is in activity,'" comes from him with the ring of authentic temperament. And of a friend's biography he wrote, "What a fine life--all fight, interwoven with

The Letters of Franklin K. Lane - 4/86

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