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son was a gentleman of education and intelligence, and, at a later period, a respectable member, successively, of the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States. He maintained a high character till his death. Mr. Webster remained in his office as a student till, in the words of Mr. March, "he felt it necessary to go somewhere and do something to earn a little money." In this emergency, application was made to him to take charge of an academy at Fryeburg in Maine, upon a salary of about one dollar per diem, being what is now paid for the coarsest kind of unskilled manual labor. As he was able, besides, to earn enough to pay for his board and to defray his other expenses by acting as assistant to the register of deeds for the county, his salary was all saved, — a fund for his own professional education and to help his brother through college.
Mr. Webster's son and one of his friends have lately visited Fryeburg and examined these records of deeds. They are still preserved in two huge folio volumes, in Mr. Webster's handwriting, exciting wonder how so much work could be done in the evening, after days of close confinement to the business of the school. They looked also at the records of the trustees of the academy and found in them a most respectful and affectionate vote of thanks and good-will to Mr. Webster when he took leave of the employment.*
These humble details need no apology. They relate to trials, hardships, and efforts which constitute no small part of the discipline by which a great character is formed. During his residence at Fryeburg, Mr. Webster borrowed (he was too poor to buy) Blackstone's Commentaries, and read them for the first time. "Among other mental exercises," says Mr. March, "he committed to memory Mr. Ames's celebrated speech on the British treaty." In after life he has been heard to say, that few things moved him more than the perusal and reperusal of this celebrated speech.
In September, 1802, Mr. Webster returned to Salisbury, and resumed his studies under Mr. Thompson, in whose office he
* The old school-house was burned down many years ago. The spot on which it stood belongs to Mr. Robert J. Bradley, who has inherited from his father a devoted friendship for Mr. Webster, and wiio would never suffer any other building to be erected on the spot, and says that none shall be during his life.
remained for eighteen months. Mr. Thompson, though, as we have said, a person of excellent character and a good lawyer, yet seems not to have kept pace in his profession with the progress of improvement. Although Blackstone's Commentaries had been known in this country for a full generation, Mr. Thompson still directed the reading of his pupils on the principle of the hardest book first. Coke's Littleton was still the work with which his students were broken into the study of the profession. Mr. Webster has condemned this practice. "A boy of twenty," says he, "with no previous knowledge of such subjects, cannot understand Coke. It is folly to set him upon such an author. There are propositions in Coke so abstract, and distinctions so nice, and doctrines embracing so many distinctions and qualifications, that it requires an effort not only of a mature mind, but of a mind both strong and mature, to understand him. Why disgust and discourage a young man by telling him he must break into his profession through such a wall as this?" Acting upon these views, even in his youth, Mr. Webster gave his attention to more intelligible authors, and to titles of law of greater importance in this country than the curious learning of tenures, many of which are antiquated, even in England. He also gave a good deal of time to general reading, and especially the study of the Latin classics, English history, and the volumes of Shakspeare. In order to obtain a wider compass of knowledge, and to learn something of the language not to be gained from the classics, he read through attentively Puffendorff's Latin History of England.
In July, 1804, he took up his residence in Boston. Before entering upon the practice of his profession, he enjoyed the advantage of pursuing his legal studies for six or eight months in the office of the Hon. Christopher Gore. This was a fortunate event for Mr. Webster. Mr. Gore, afterwards Governor of Massachusetts, was a lawyer of eminence, a statesman and a civilian, a gentleman of the old school of manners, and a rare example of distinguished intellectual qualities, united with practical good sense and judgment. He had passed several years in England as a commissioner, under Jay's treaty, for liquidating the claims of citizens of the United States for seizures by British cruisers in the early wars of the French Revolution. His library, amply furnished with works of professional and general literature, his large experience of men and things at home and abroad, and his uncommon amenity of temper, combined to make the period passed by Mr. Webster in his office one of the pleasantest in his life. These advantages, it hardly need be said, were not thrown away. He diligently attended the sessions of the courts and reported their decisions. He read with care the leading elementary works of the common and municipal law, with the best authors on the law of nations, some of them for a second and third time; diversifying these professional studies with a great amount and variety of general reading. His chief study, however, was the common law, and more especially that part of it which relates to the now unfashionable science of special pleading. He regarded this, not only as a most refined and ingenious, but a highly instructive and useful branch of the law. Besides mastering all that could be derived from more obvious sources, he waded through Saunders's Reports in the original edition, and abstracted and translated into English from the Latin and Norman French all the pleadings contained in the two folio volumes. This manuscript still remains.
Just as he was about to be admitted to practise in the Suffolk Court of Common Pleas in Massachusetts, an incident occurred which came near affecting his career for life. The place of clerk in the Court of Common Pleas for the county of Hillsborough, in New Hampshire, became vacant. Of this court Mr. Webster's father had been made one of the judges, in conformity with a very common practice at that time, of placing on the side bench of the lower courts men of intelligence and respectability, though not lawyers. From regard to Judge Webster, the vacant clerkship was offered by his colleagues to his son. It was what the father had for some time looked forward to and desired. The fees of the office were about fifteen hundred dollars per annum, which in those days and in that region was not so much a competence as a fortune. Mr. Webster himself was disposed to accept the office. It promised an immediate provision in lieu of a distant and doubtful prospect . It enabled him at once to bring comfort into his father's family, while to refuse it was to condemn himself and them to an uncertain and probably harassing future. He was willing to sacrifice his hopes of professional eminence to the welfare of those whom he held most dear. But the earnest dissuasions of Mr. Gore, who saw in this step the certain postponement, perhaps the final defeat, of all hopes of professional advancement, prevented his accepting the office. His aged father was, in a personal interview with his son, if not reconciled to the refusal, at least induced to bury his regrets in his own bosom. The subject was never mentioned by him again. In the spring of the same year (1805), Mr. Webster was admitted to the practice of the law in the Court of Common Pleas for Suffolk county, Boston. According to the custom of that day, Mr. Gore accompanied the motion for his admission with a brief speech in recommendation of the candidate. The remarks of Mr. Gore on this occasion are well remembered by those present. He dwelt with emphasis on the remarkable attainments and uncommon promise of his pupil, and closed with a prediction of his future eminence.
Immediately on his admission to the bar, Mr. Webster went to Amherst, in New Hampshire, where his father's court was in session; from that place he went home with his father. He had intended to establish himself at Portsmouth, which, as the largest town and the seat of the foreign commerce of the State, opened the widest field for practice. But filial duty kept him nearer home. His father was now infirm from the advance of years, and had no other son at home. Under these circumstances Mr. Webster opened an office at Boscawen, not far from his father's residence, and commenced the practice of the law in this retired spot. Judge Webster lived but a year after his son's entrance upon the practice of his profession; long enough, however, to hear his first argument in court, and to be gratified with the confident predictions of his future success.
In May, 1807, Mr. Webster was admitted as an attorney and counsellor of the Superior Court in New Hampshire, and in September of that year, relinquishing his office in Boscawen to his brother Ezekicl, he removed to Portsmouth, in conformity with his original intention. Here he remained in the practice of his profession for nine successive years. They were years of assiduous labor, and of unremitted devotion to the study and practice of the law. He was associated with several persons of groat eminence, citizens of New Hampshire or of Massachusetts occasionally practising at the Portsmouth bar. Among the latter were Samuel Dexter and Joseph Story; of the residents of New Hampshire, Jeremiah Mason was the most distinguished. Often opposed to each other as lawyers, a strong personal friendship grew up between them, which ended only with the death of Mr. Mason. Mr. Webster's eulogy on Mr. Mason will be found in one of the volumes of this collection, and will descend to posterity an enduring monument of both. Had a more active temperament led Mr. Mason to embark earlier and continue longer in public life, he would have achieved a distinction shared by few of his contemporaries. Mr. Webster, in the lapse of time, was called to perform the same melancholy office for Judge Story.
During the greater part of Mr. Webster's practice of the law in New Hampshire, Jeremiah Smith was Chief Justice of the State, a learned and excellent judge, whose biography has been written by the Rev. John H. Morison, and will well repay perusal. Judge Smith was an early and warm friend of Judge Webster, and this friendship descended to the son, and glowed in his breast with fervor till he went to his grave.
Although dividing with Mr. Mason the best of the business of Portsmouth, and indeed of all the eastern portion of the State, Mr. Webster's practice was mostly on the circuit, He followed the Superior Court through the principal counties of the State, and was retained in nearly every important cause. It is mentioned by Mr. March, as a somewhat singular fact in his professional life, that, with the exception of the occasions on which he has been associated with the Attorney-General of the United States for the time being, he has hardly appeared ten times as junior counsel. Within the sphere in which he was placed, he may be said to have risen at once to the head of his profession; not, however, like Erskine and some other celebrated British lawyers, by one and the same bound, at once to fame and fortune. The American bar holds forth no such golden prizes, certainly not in the smaller States. Mr. Websters practice in New Hampshire, though probably as good as that of any of his contemporaries, was never lucrative. Clients were not very rich, nor the concerns litigated such as would carry heavy fees. Al