صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

CHAPTER III.

Opens a school in Providence.-Reads law with Judge Barnes.-The lottery ticket, and its result.-Admitted to practice in Rhode-Island, in 1799.—His marriage. His standing at the Bar.-Sketches of the Rhode-Island Bar.David Howell.-James Burrill, Jun.-Asher Robbins.-William Hunter.Samuel W. Bridgham.---Philip Crapo.-Benjamin Hazard.--Nathaniel Searle.

IMMEDIATELY after Mr. Burges graduated, he commenced school-keeping in Providence. His circumstances being known, and the remarkable talent which he had formerly displayed in the profession of an instructor, both contributed to increase the number of his scholars. He continued to teach then, about twelve months; and by frugality, was enabled to discharge all his debts, and to begin the world again, comparatively independent in his pecuniary affairs.

In October, 1797, he left Providence, to visit his mother in Rochester, intending to return in a few days, and re-open his school. While on the way to his mother's house, he was suddenly taken ill; and six weeks elapsed before he was well enough to return to Providence. During his absence, a new instructor had taken possession of his room, and secured a number of his scholars. He was obliged therefore to seek another place, and finally obtained "Hacker's Hall," which accommodated one hundred and twenty pupils. School-keeping, was the only employment of which he has boasted that he was a perfect master. Many of his pupils have since been distinguished at the Bar, and in other pursuits. To his efforts in moulding their characters and minds, they are indebted for much of their present distinction. The school was not abandoned until he was sufficiently in funds to complete the study of Law, to which profession his thoughts had been long directed.

While in college, he had commenced the study with Judge Barnes, of Providence; who was a distinguished lawyer and most estimable gentleman. Although his school occupied six hours in every day, yet he never failed to spend six hours in reading Law. A few weeks before the time fixed for the termination of his school-keeping career, one of the managers of a lottery, pressed him to purchase a ticket. The price was five dollars; and he utterly refused at first, because he had not that amount of money in possession. The gentleman observed that he would accept a note payable at a convenient time. Mr. Burges would not then accede to this proposition, but afterwards consented to give his note. The ticket drew a prize of two thousand dollars, which afforded him permanent relief. For he had looked forward to another period, when he would be just even with the world; a period too, full of doubt and apprehension in relation to his professional career. Now, he devoted day and night to Law; and when admitted to practice in Rhode-Island, in 1799, he was thoroughly versed in all the principles of that profound science.

In the year 1801, he married the daughter of Mr. Welcome Arnold; who was an eminent merchant of Providence. They have travelled long together, sometimes in the sunshine of gladness, and sometimes in the gloom of deep distress; but they have learned to look at that light which cheers the pilgrimage of time.

Perhaps no circumstance is more favorable for the full developement of talent and character, than conflict with superior minds. To this cause may be attributed in part the distinction of the legal profession. The hall of Justice is rife with important questions, and opportunities for the display of genius. There, the majesty of law is proclaimed in its great and in its minute principles. The questions are of necessity numerous, complicated, and extensive in their range. No man can succeed, unless he is master of all these principles. He must bring therefore to this work, a heart engaged, a mind ready to impart and receive instruction. His thoughts must be ever marshalled, and like an army in an enemy's country, always prepared for

conflict. Added to these, industry, perseverance; never exulting in victory, nor cowering in defeat; calm, yet prompt in reply; incorruptible in morals, and ambitious to press forward in the path of excellence.1

This description of what a lawyer ought to be, applies in its prominent parts to Mr. Burges. But a few years after he was

1 The profession of the law is held in the highest estimation in those countries, observes a late writer, where civil liberty exercises a salutary influence. In England, for example, we know it is associated with titles of nobility, and general confidence. Individuals of humble origin have enjoyed public esteem and been promoted to stations of honor and emolument, by means of their legal reputation. In former times, Lord Kenyon and Edmund Saunders were of this class. In later days, Copley, (Lord Lyndhurst) Lord Chancellor Eldon, Lord Stowell, and Lord Gifford, all attained exalted places without the aid of family or wealth.

In the United States, the profession is honored with like distinctions. Eminent lawyers are in all our legislative bodies, framing and enacting statutes, and receiving tokens of confidence. There are strong prejudices against them among a certain class; but these are fast giving way. The profession however, with us is different in its character, customs, and attainments, from that of England; although we might select many individuals equal to the most illustrious of that nation. Lawyers in this country.are not only burthened with the preparation of causes, but they are obliged to yield to importunate claims on their time and labor. They must not only be versed in theory and practice, in most of the liberal sciences, politicians, and legislators, but familiar with commercial and other interests. From the necessity of the case, therefore, but few excel as lawyers, in the true sense of that term. Yet with such obstacles to surmount, how many names among the dead and the living, have been conspicuous in our country!

On the other hand, where civil freedom is not prized, as in Spain, lawyers are among the lower orders of men. Official influence is obtained through favor and flattery, seldom by merit. In Germany, and Poland, their condition is not much better. As the doctrines they inculcate, conflict with the arbitrary will of despotism, they cannot enjoy the same privileges, as those in a free community.

Another general remark may be here made. The eloquence of the Bar is not what it might be, if better advantages were offered for display. Almost all its speaking is confined to tedious facts, minute investigations of the common law, or commentaries on statutes. Effective appeals to passion can rarely be made; popular questions are seldom discussed. It is admitted, however, that when a lawyer speaks elsewhere, on any interesting topic, his eloquence may be of the highest order. Then exciting points may be introduced, and the finer feelings aroused.

admitted to practice law, he had attained signal influence as an advocate. The powers of his mind, and his enthusiastic feelings, were enlisted in every cause which he argued. So deeply was he interested, so persuaded of the justice of his side of the question, that he was never known to admit his client to be in the wrong. If doubts were suggested by the opposite party, before trial, he would repel them in an instant, as if they reflected upon his own honor and judgment. His practice was very extensive; and few important causes were argued, in which he was not engaged. The power of his eloquence was supreme over judges, jurors, and spectators. When he spoke, the Court House was often thronged, and none listened without a tribute of admiration.1

Many circumstances aroused his ambition, and contributed to his success; and none more than the reputation of those men who were then in practice.

The Bar of Rhode-Island, about that time, in proportion to its numbers, was as eminent as any in the United States. David Howell, afterwards appointed a District Judge of the United States Court, was among the number. Mr. Howell was a thorough lawyer, a fine scholar, and deeply versed in the liberal sciences.

James Burrill, Jun. was a member of the same Bar; and was acknowledged to be at its head. His public and personal qualities were held in the highest repute.

2

The members of the Providence County Bar, requested Mr. Burges, in January, 1821, to pronounce his Eulogy. To pay a just and appropriate tribute to departed excellence, requires fine taste and accurate discrimination. The Eulogy of Mr. Burges is a choice specimen of a peculiar kind of writing; affectionate, and fully comprehensive in its view of the mind, character, and

1 We might add here, numerous anecdotes, in relation to Mr. Burges's legal arguments, his wit, and unrivalled talent at repartee. But, from motives of delicacy towards individuals, who at the time were interested, and who might now feel injured by their repetition, although they do not reflect upon private character; yet on account of their severity they had better be suppressed.

"A notice of this Eulogy belongs strictly to another part of this volume. We have introduced it here, as the sketch of Mr. Burrill could not with propriety occupy any other place.

services, of its lamented subject. In its delivery, Mr. Burges was perhaps more successful in exciting delicate feeling, than he had ever been on any previous occasion. This may be attributed in part to the theme, and the grief pervading that community of which Mr. Burrill had so lately been the pride and ornament.

It is difficult to describe the excitement of that occasion. Imagine a multitude gathered in a spacious temple, to manifest sorrow at the death, and esteem for the memory of a great man. Imagine a friend speaking of the virtues of his brother and companion. Look on that assembly, and you see the tear of sympathy, falling from the eye; and, as the orator dwells on the solemn theme, mark the change in his own features, and his faltering accents; until utterance is choked by the power of contending emotions, and one universal burst of lamentation only, is heard. This is not exaggeration. Mr. Burges's eloquence on that occasion, cannot be adequately described. It sprung from the heart, and touched the tenderest chords of the heart.

[ocr errors]

He thus began: "The living ever cherish a memory of the dead. Their features are placed on the canvass, their form and stature given to the marble. In some countries, art has labored for the entire preservation of the body; in others, changed by that element which has been deified for its purity, their ashes, inurned, are preserved by family affection or national gratitude. Sepulchral monuments are scattered over the world, and differ only in form and masonry. Their object is the same; whether the cairn of the Gael, the Scythian tumulus, the Asiatic mausoleum, the pyramid of Egypt, or the green hill-top and unlettered stone of our own country's primitive children. They seem to form a kind of gloomy frontier between the two worlds; the great world of the living, and the greater world of the dead; and we may sometimes read upon them something concerning those who have past from this region of shadows, to that realm of realities.

"Where letters were unknown, the achievements of departed worthies have been committed to historic tradition and parol

« السابقةمتابعة »