Thursday, October 15, 2015

To Senator H.C. Lodge: A Call for Reform in the Congo

Leopold II
King Leopold II of Belgium

Published in the Boston Daily Globe on January 12, 1907, the following letter expressed Charlie Gibson, Jr.’s support of a Senate resolution introduced by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge the previous year:

Hon. H. C. Lodge, Senior Senator from Massachusetts, US Senate:
            Dear Sir—I have learned with much gratification of the resolution which you have introduced in the senate, to empower this government to take such steps as may be possible to urge the government of the Congo to carry out, with some degree of effectiveness, reforms in the administration of that state.
            I have been cognizant, in company with many thousands of others in this state, for some years of the oppression and cruelties inflicted upon natives of the Congo by officials and others there.
            I believe there is a strong feeling upon the part of bankers and business interests, entirely apart from the religious movement, that in the cause of humanity such brutalities and oppression should, if possible, be stopped at the earliest moment.
            May I, therefore, in company with them, respectfully urge you to use every power at your command to induce the US senate to take such action as is desirable and at the present time. Believe me to be, with high regard, yours very truly,
            Charles Gibson.
            Boston, Jan. 5, 1907.

In writing the above letter in support of the senator’s resolution (full text provided below), Charlie added his voice to the growing international movement against the cruel and oppressive policies that Belgian King Leopold II inflicted upon the Congolese. Since 1885 the king had ruled the Congo Free State, a central African colony, as a personal kingdom separate from the Belgian nation. And as horror stories of slavery, torture, and other heinous crimes taking place in the Congo were brought to the world’s attention, King Leopold II became an increasingly repugnant figure to the international community. Senator Lodge’s resolution, which was adopted by the Senate on February 15, 1907, is one small example of the western world’s opposition to the king:

            WHEREAS, It is alleged that the native inhabitants of the basin of the Congo have been subjected to inhuman treatment of a character that should claim the attention and excite the compassion of the people of the United States, therefore be it
            RESOLVED, That the President is respectfully advised that in case he shall find such allegations are established by proof he will receive the cordial support of the Senate in any steps, not inconsistent with treaty or other international obligations or with the traditional American foreign policy which forbids participation by the United States in the settlement of political questions which are entirely European in their scope, he may deem it wise to take in co-operation with or in aid of any of the powers signatory of the Treaty of Berlin for the amelioration of the conditions of such inhabitants.

King Leopold II had ostensibly assumed control of the Congo to Christianize and “civilize” the native peoples living there—the same justification often employed by other European powers as they colonized different parts of Africa. Leopold’s imperial policy, however, is held up as one of the greatest crimes perpetrated upon an innocent people in this period. Some historians estimate that as many as 10 million people died as a result of the king’s crushing and merciless reign of terror, as he transformed the Congo region into what has been described as a “massive labor camp.” He used the resources and labor of the Congo for his own personal gain, as the rubber and minerals found in the region proved enormously profitable.

In 1908, a year after the adoption of Senator Lodge’s resolution, the Belgian parliament succumbed to international pressures and annexed the Congo Free State from King Leopold II. And although exploitative policies continued to be implemented, the Congolese were at least free from the unrestrained cruelties of Leopold, who died a year later.

Unfortunately, the extent of the king’s crimes will never be known. Shortly after losing the Congo, he burned all of the financial and government records, reducing the best evidence against him to ash.

By Timothy Spezia, museum docent

Image Source:


Mark Dummett, “King Leopold’s Legacy of DR Congo Violence,” BBC News, accessed August 18, 2015,

Charles Hammond Gibson, Jr. letter to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Boston Daily Globe, January 12, 1907, accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Congo Reform Association, “Congo Resolution Adopted by Senate,” The Congo News Letter, April 1907, 7, accessed August 19, 2015, via Google Books.

White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, directed by Peter Bate (2003; Belgium: Periscope Productions and British Broadcasting Corporation), accessed August 17, 2015, via

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Charles Gibson Remembers Mark Twain

Travelling with members of the Boston Authors Club, including club president and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” author Julia Ward Howe, Charlie Gibson, Jr. attended the dedication ceremony of the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Memorial Museum (author Aldrich’s childhood home) in 1908. Held in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the event featured many distinguished speakers, including Mark Twain, who had been Aldrich’s close friend.

Nearly forty years later, Charlie wrote a short article on Twain’s tribute to Aldrich that day, which was published in late 1945 in the Mark Twain Quarterly, the official publication of the International Mark Twain Society. Entitled, “My Last Impression of Mark Twain,” Charlie wrote that Twain would “always remain the picture indelibly imprinted upon my mind, as he appeared on the stage” at the Aldrich Memorial. For Charlie, Mark Twain’s performance stood out as an example of the author’s great genius and extraordinary abilities.

Twain, “who wound up the occasion with a literary and dramatic flourish, that woke the audience, [who had] wilted into somnolence,” according to Charlie, spoke without notes and in an off-the-cuff manner. This was a radical departure from the approach of those who had taken the stage before him and had read directly from their notes.

According to his autobiography, Mark Twain had grown frustrated with the other speakers’ decision to read from manuscripts, a practice that annoyed him tremendously. The whole affair had reached the point of becoming “ludicrous,” in his opinion: “In my lifetime I have not listened to so much manuscript-reading before upon any occasion. . . . [N]o poet who isn’t one of the first class knows how to read, and so he is an affliction to everybody but himself when he tries it.”

For that reason, Twain abandoned his memorized remarks and decided to speak about Aldrich extemporaneously: “I abolished my prepared and vaguely ineffectually memorized solemnities and finished the day’s performance with twelve minutes of lawless and unconfined and desecrating nonsense.”

But what Twain described as “nonsense,” Charlie remembered as exquisite and powerful poetry:  “He was the outstanding figure of the occasion. His was the star performance. He was the protagonist who projected the soul of Aldrich once more into our midst.”

Unfortunately, neither Charlie nor Mark Twain provided any specifics regarding what Twain actually said. Instead, Charlie wrote the following:

But what was he saying to this exhausted audience, to make it come to life and lay down its palm leaf fans? I listened almost aghast. He seemed to be shattering the conventional precedent of the eulogy. His tribute was built up by circumlocution. He launched into a sea, that seemed at first almost irreverent; his arms waved in those long, familiar gestures, that reminded one at times of the side paddles of a Mississippi steamboat. We found ourselves catching our breath.
            The whole method of approach, the plan of attack, to the subject in hand, was so different from what had gone before, that it was difficult to realize we were actually in the same place and surrounding. Was this a literary circus we were attending, and he the showman in the center ring, shouting to the galleries? But the galleries responded. He drew a smile and laughter; his humor was irresistible, and the Housier[sic] style of his language gradually became a natural part of the atmosphere he created.

Charlie was so moved by Twain’s eulogy that he noted it was as if Twain’s soul had touched his own. He wrote, “It showed that mysterious power, that nature gives to genius, to project its mystic meaning to mankind with dramatic effect. . . . That great quality of imagination, perhaps the greatest endowment of the poet, as well as of the master of creative prose, was his, and he used it to his advantage.”

And that is what stood out in Charlie’s mind, years afterward: those twelve minutes of unscripted and honest “nonsense” one friend used to commemorate another that, at least in Charlie’s view, did more to honor the late author’s memory than the other eulogies given that day.

Charlie concluded his article, “The picture is there today as I write, indelibly engraved upon the memory, the ineradicable impression of a great mind, a great artist, possessed of great human sympathies.”

By Timothy Spezia, museum docent 

Image source:


“Aldrich House,” Strawberry Banke Museum, accessed August 18, 2015,

Charles Hammond Gibson, “My Last Impression of Mark Twain,” Mark Twain Quarterly 7, no. 2(1945): 5–6.

Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (California: University of California Press, 2015), 251, accessed August 18, 2015, through Google Books.