Page images
PDF
EPUB

sion instantaneously flashed across the stripling's mind, when Mr. Emery, smiling, added, “ Report yourself to the teacher of the next class ;'' " and you, young gentlemen,” he continued,“ take an affectionate leave of your class-mate, for you will never sce him again."

Mr. Webster left Exeter in December, 1796, and in February of the ensuing year began to read Virgil and Cicero, under the tuition of the Rev. Samuel Wood, of Boscawen. It was on the way to this excellent man's house that Judge Webster made known to his son his intention of sending him to college; and in after life the statesman most touchingly refers to the emotions which the announcement awakened in his youthful breast. "The very idea thrilled my whole frame. The thing appeared to me so high, and the expense and sacrifice it was to cost my father so great, I could only press his hands and shed tears. Excellent, excellent parent! I cannot think of him even now without turning child again.” [Autobiography, p. 10.]

IIe began to study Greek in the spring of the same year, and made such rapid progress that in August following, Mr. Wood pronounced him qualified to enter Dartmouth College.

During his whole collegiate course Mr. Webster devoted himself most assiduously to the study of those branches of learning then prescribed and taught, and with the exception of Greek, which he never loved, he met the difficulties face to face and nastered them. The Latin classics were his specialty, his comfort and delight; and of these, Virgil and Cicero were his most intimate companions. In the beautiful words of the latter, he could well say of them- Pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur. [Pro Archia, p. 187.] In his philosophical studies it was his method, and it is the best, to seize upon the spirit, rather than the letter of his text book, and to read by subject rather than by continuous course.

“ I know not,” says Professor Shurtleff, one of his classmates, “I know not that he was absent from a recitation, or from morning and evening prayers in chapel, or from public worship on the Sabbath ; and I doubt if ever a smile was seen upon his face during any religious exercise. He was always in his place, and with a decorum suited to it. He had no collision with any one, nor appeared to enter into the concerns of others, but emphatically minded his own business."

Mr. Webster spent his winter vacations in teaching school, or in perusing the Latin classics and the best works in English literature. He was extremely fond of poetry, and contributed, while in college, meritorious productions of his muse to the “Dartmouth Gazette,” al paper sustained by the faculty and students of the institution ; he also delivered an oration before the citizens of Ilanover, on the 4th of July, 1800, which for a youth of 18 years was a very creditable effort, and gave earnest of that lofty and impassioned style of eloquence to which he ultimately attained. * But the most beautiful and finished performance of his college life, was an eulogy pronounced by him on his classmate, Ephraim Simonds, who died in 1801. This eulogy was considered one of the best specimens of that kind of style which the halls of Dartmouth had then produced; it was printed, and from it the students sometimes selected passages for declamation.

Mr. Webster graduated in the summer of 1801, holding a very

* The oration may be found in Gen. S. P. Lyman's Public and Prirate Life of Daniel Webster, Vol. i. p. 23).

high, though not the first rank, in his class. His subject at commencement was, “The recent discoveries in chemistry, especially those of the celebrated Lavoisier.” The story of his tearing up his diploma in disgust, says Mr. Everett, is a myth. On leaving college he entered the law office of his old and valued friend Thomas W. Thompson, Esq.,* of Salisbury ; but res anguste domus soon compelled him to engage in some employment which would yield immediate remuneration. Through the aid of the Rev. John Smith, D.D., whose edition of “ Cicero's Orations” now lies before me, he obtained the office of Principal of the academy in the romantic town of Fryeburg, Me., at a salary of $350 per annum. IIere he remained nine months, spending his leisure hours in reviewing his college studies, copying deeds for Mr. Osgood, the Registrar of the county, with whom he boarded, or in rambling with his gun and fishing rod along the shores of “ Captain Lovewell's Pond," or by the secluded margin of some fresh aud frolicsome trout-bearing tributary of the river Saco.

While at Fryeburg, Mr. Webster read, for the first time, Blackstone's Commentaries, and committed to memory the celebrated speech of Fisher Ames on the British Treaty. On leaving this place in September, 1802, with between two and three hundred dollars in his exchequer, he returned immediately to the study of law in Mr. Thompson's office, in Salisbury, where he continued, reading Coke upon Littleton, a quarter part of which he says he did not understand; Espinasse's “ Law of Nisi Prius," which delighted him ; Hume's England, Cicero, Sallust, Cæsar, Horace and Juvenal, and amusing himself in fishing, shooting and riding, without companions, solitary and alone, until February, 1804, when, finding himself almost pennyless, he came to Boston, " prospecting" for employment. Here he met his old friend, Dr. Cyrus Perkins, arranged with him for a small private school in Short street, for his brother Ezekiel ; and then by a bold stroke in July following, introduced himself to the Hon. Christopher Gore, one of the most learned and accomplished lawyers of that day, and became a student in his office, then recently opened in Scollay's building.

This, he says, was “ a good stride onward.” It gave him the opportunity of studying “ books and men and things.” In this office he read Vattel for the third time, “ Ward's Law of Nations,” Lord Bacon's “ Elements of Common Law," Puffendorf's “ Latin History of England,” Gifford's “ Juvenal” she says he never could master the original], Boswell's “ Tour to the IIebrides,” Moore's “ Travels,” &c., and kept a brief diary of his life.

While in Mr. Gore's office, he was appointed to the clerkship of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Hillsborough, N. H. ; but by the advice of that gentleman, he declined the situation and pursued his studies. This was a kind of turning point in his career; for had he accepted that appointment, it is fair to presume that on such a narrow field his talents would have remained undeveloped, and that he would have lived and died unknown to fame. In March, 1805, he was admitted, on the recommendation of Mr. Gore, to prac

A scholar and a gentleman; fitted for college by Samuel Moody ; H. C. 1786 ; tutor ; studied law with Theophilus Parsons; aid to Gen. Lincoln in “Shays's Rebellion;" Representative to Congress, 1805–7; afterwards U. S. Senator, and died 1819. VOL. XXI.

1*

tise in the Suffolk Court of Common Pleas. He, however, determined to practise, during the life of his father at least, in New Hampshire. He therefore opened a law office in the town of Boscawen, and in September of the same year first appeared at court for the trial of a cause at Plymouth, in the County of Grafton, his father, then in his 67th year, being on the bench. Just previous to the close of his legal studies, Mr. Webster said, in a letter to his friend, Mr. James M. Bingham-" If I am not earning my bread and cheese in exactly nine days after my admission [to the bar] I shall certainly be a bankrupt." His success in his first case settled the question of his daily bread, and convinced his aged father that the pains bestowed upon the education of his son would be repaid with usury. “Study,” said Mr. Webster while at Boscawen, “is truly the grand requisite of a lawyer;and during his residence of about two years in this place, he gave himself con amore to the investigation of the subtleties of the law, and to the business of his profession. On the 4th of July, 1806, he delivered an oration before the citizens of Concord ; he also contributed at this period several able articles to the Monthly Anthology, then edited by his friend and former teacher, Joseph Stevens Buckminster.

Those who stop to consider the secret of Mr. Webster's success, will notice that he had a good mother. * She was pious, benevolent, beautiful; and capable of enduring great physical suffering. She took a deep interest in the education of her children, and taught, as the mother of Lamartine, her gifted son to read the Bible, and also to repeat the hymns of Dr. Watts, while sitting on her knee at home. She infused into his tender mind something of her own profound reverence for God and sacred things, and inspired him with a love of learning and of his native land. Like almost all other eminent men, he had a noble mother; he revered her counsels and her memory, and kept, always hanging near his bed, her portrait, on which he had inscribed" To my EXCELLENT Mother."

It will also be observed that his father's dwelling was surrounded by most charming natural scenery, which must have had a genial and ennobling influence over young Webster's mind. He early learned to “ thread the mazes of the brake” in quest of gamc; to lure the trout from the fresh streams that glided through the lonely valleys ; to climb the craggy mountains, and to breast the winter storm. He loved to look upon the warring of the elements, and to listen to the thunder peals reëchoing from mountain peak to mountain peak, and to study nature in lier moods of grandeur and sublimity. This gave a freshness and originality to his thoughts and meditations which no amount of scholastic training could inspire.

It was fortunate, also, for him, in early days, that he had access to but a slender stock of books, and that those were of the highest order. The Bible, the noble hymns of Dr. Watts, the most perfect philosophic poem of modern times, Pope's “Essay on Man,” the charming papers of Addison's “Spectator,” were almost the only books which came into his hands in early life; he read and re-read

# “The first durable impressions of our moral nature come from the mother. The first prudential wisdom to which genius listens falls from her lips, and only her caresses can create the moments of tenderness. The earnest discerninent of a mother's love survives in the imagination of manhood.”—D'Israeli.

these sterling volumes, and committed page after page of them to inemory. Incessant reading of a multiplicity of ill-written books tends to distract the mind and to pervert the taste; and to this cause may we not attribute something of the superficiality of the learning of the present day? By necessity, Mr. Webster, in his boyhood, was compelled to adhere to the system, multum non mulla, which he conscientiously followed to the close of life. He digested what he read ; it became a part of his being, and by it he “waxed valiant in strength.”

On arriving at maturity the Latin classics became to him a source of perpetual delight, and he carried the Horatian precept, Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna," into life-long practice. He perused and re-perused the Æneid of Virgil, and has introduced many of its finest passages into his discourses ; he committed to memory many of the most eloquent parts of Cicero's orations ; he caught their inspiration. At home a copy of old Quintilian, of “ De Amicitia,” or of the elegant Tacitus, was ever near him, into which he peered, when opportunity occurred, with strange delight; abroad, he almost always had with him a copy of his favorite Sallust, or some other classic, to break up the monotony of the journey, or to occupy his leisure moments at an inn. “A copy of Livy,” says Judge Smith, "used invariably to glide into the green bag with his books for court," and the ever genial Horace, or the moralizing Seneca, would attend him in his strolls among the hills and divert him as he sat beneath the alder boughs, wearied in dropping in his fly for trout; nor would he unmoor his dory with “his bob and line and sinker," for a haul of cod or hake or haddock, without his Ovid, or Agricola, or Pharsalia, in the pocket of his old gray overcoat, for the “still and silent hour" upon the deep. Thus Mr. Webster loved and lived in Latin literature; nay, indeed, he died with some choice portions of it lying near his bedside. When we attempt to ascertain the secret of his intellectual energy ; of his power of rapid combination ; of his logical acumen ; of his ability to divest the most complicated subject of its difficulty ; of the splendor of his Miltonic imagination ; of the affluence of his language; of the purity, the dignity, the fulmen sweeping everything before it, of his style-must we not take into large account his intense. love and study of the immortal pages of Maro, Tully and the kindred geniuses of Rome when Rome was in her prime? Yet, after all, the chief secret of this distinguished man's success, so far as what we term education goes, I apprehend, lies coiled up in that hard wordLabor. He was from boyhood to the end of his life an earnest worker. His early motto was : “Since I kuow nothing and have nothing, I must learn and earn." While a boy at Exeter, on the same form with Lewis Cass, he studied like a man ; he prepared for college in less than nine months under the Rev. Samuel Wood, at Boscawen ; in college, says Mr. Hotchkiss,“ he was never an idle student ;' at Fryeburg he performed the labor of at least three ordinary men; on coming into public life he wrought upon his speeches with toil that wrung the sweat from his brow. Ile sometimes became so absorbed in working up a case that he seemed -- with eyelid closed and brow as still as marble-to be locked in the very arms of death itself. IIis arguments in such cases as those of “ Girard College," Gibbons & Orden," and the “ Rhode Island Government,” he constructed with as much mental toil as Chantry bestowed upon the form

of Washington. He studied the details with the most minute, painstaking accuracy ; he corrected with the eye of the severest critic. “ Most of my life," he once said, in conversation with a friend, “has been spent in scratching out." He certainly has left but little of it for us to do,

To secure time for labor, Mr. Webster, like Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson, was an early riser. He loved the beauties of the morning, and was often heard to say, “What little I have accomplished in my life has been done in the morning.”*

What, then, in brief, to sum this matter up, were the elements of Daniel Webster's greatness ? Many, I reply, conspiring: the spirit of the times, the counsel of his father, early competitors in the law, slender income, manly frame, majestic brow, harmonious voice; but primarily and especially, that great God-gift, a poble soul, baptized in mother wit, scenes of Alpine grandeur rising around his early home, words of genius dropping, as from tongues of angels, into his young ear, kindling his imagination, and inspiring love of the grand and beautiful, love of country, love of glory and of God; and out of these proceeding, and to these ministering, the invincible determination to conquer difficulties or to die.

In May 1807, Mr. Webster was admitted to the Superior Court of New Hampshire, and, in the following September relinquished his office in Boscawen to his brother Ezekiel, and removed to Portsmouth. He boarded here with a widow lady, whose house he afterwards purchased. In June, 1808, he married in Salisbury, Miss Grace Fletcher, a lady distinguished for the sweetness of her temper as well as for her personal charms, the daughter of the Rev. Elijah Fletcher, I of Hopkinton, N. H. Mr. Webster now came in contact at the bar with such

* “ My morning haunts are where they should be, at home. Not sleeping, or concocting the surfeits of an irregular feast, but up and stirring, in winter often ere the sound of any bell awake men to labor or devotion: in summer as oft with the bird that first rises, or not much tardier, to read good authors, or cause them to be read till attention be weary, or memory have its full freight."-John Milton.

+ Mr. Webster married Grace Fletcher, June 10, 1898, and had issue:

1. FLETCHER, b. July 23, 1813, H. C. 1833, m. Caroline Story, daughter of Stephen White, of Salem ; was Colonel of the Massachusetts 12th Regiment, V. M., and fell in the service of his country, Aug. 30, 1862, leaving issue :

(a) Harriet Paige, b. Sept. 6, 1843, and d. March 2, 1845.
(6) Daniel, d. Aug., 1866.
(c) Caroline S., b. at Detroit, Aug. 29, 1837, and d. at Boston, Feb. 7, 1844.

(d) Ashburton, now at the Naval School, Annapolis. 2. GRACE, died 1817. 3. JULIA, 6. Jan. 16, 1818; m. in London, Samuel Appleton Appleton, of Boston, Sept. 24, 1839. She d. April 28, 1848, and he, June 4, 1861-leaving issue:

(a) Caroline Le Roy, m. Newbold Edgar, of New York, Nov. 28, 1860.
(6) Samuel, m. Mary Ernestine, dau. of Brig. Gen. J.J. Abercrombie, June 22,1843.

) Julia Webster.
(d) Daniel Webster; and

(e) Mary Constance, b. Feb. 7, 1848, and d. March 15, 1849. 4. EDWARD, b. July 20, 1820, and d. at San Angel, Mexico, Jan. 23, 1848. 5. CHARLES, b. Dec. 31, 1821, and d. Dec. 19, 1824. Mr. Webster married, for his second wife, Caroline Bayard Le Roy, in 1832, who is still living.

I He was the son of Mr. Timothy and Bridget Fletcher, of Westford, Mass., was graduated at H. C. 1769, ordained at Hopkinton, N. H., Jan. 27, 1772, and d. April 8, 1786, at the age of 39 years. He m. Rebecca Chamberlain, and had issue:

1.' Bridget, m. Josiah White, of Pittsfield, N. H. 2. Rebecca, m. Israel Webster Kelly, of Salisbury. 3. Timothy, a merchant in Portland. 4. Grace, b. Jan. 16, 1781, m. Daniel Webster, June 10, 1808, and d. Jan. 21, 1828. Mr. Fletcher's widow m. the Rev. Christopher Paige, and d. July, 1821, aged 67 years.

« PreviousContinue »