« PreviousContinue »
ANECDOTES OF PUBLIC
JAMES W. NYE, THE HUMOROUS ORATOR.
When James W. Nye was a very young man, not more than thirty, he was appointed one of the Common Pleas judges for his native county of Madison, N. Y., and gave great satisfaction by his popular manners, personal courage, and large humanities. Nye was always a favorite with the old Democratic leaders of the Empire State, especially with Martin Van Buren and William L. Marcy. Although an extreme Democratic partisan, his ready humor and instinctive generosity made him the chief of a considerable following. Few men surpassed him in private conversation or public speaking, as those who enjoyed his society and heard his speeches during the war need not be reminded. But to the incident I intended to relate : When he became Judge of the Madison courts, he one day visited the county prison in the character of an inspector, and was surprised to find among the inmates a lad of twelve or thirteen years
of age, sent there to await his trial on a charge of theft. Struck by his youthful appearance, he asked him whether he was guilty of the charge laid against him, to which the boy at once replied in the affirmative. He said his father and mother were miserably poor, and that, in desperation, he had broken into a corn-crib and supplied the family with corn. Believing, from the lad's manner, that he was worthy of
being reclaimed, he called on a neighbor and had him bailed out to make his appearance at court. At the opening of the sessions the lad and his surety were on hand, and the young judge appealed to the District Attorney to enter a nol. pros., which that officer sternly declined, on the ground that the accused had confessed his guilt, and that the ends of justice must be vindicated. “Well, then,” said Judge Nye, “I will state the facts to the jury and take the responsibility.” The jury was empanelled, and the case came on, and the District Attorney presented the facts with much feeling, after which the judge said that he would simply state what he knew of the case without calling counsel for the defence. After relating what he had heard in the jail from the lips of the boy (and you may be sure he did his best to correct the emphatic presentation by the officer of the law), he turned to the jury-box and declared that he did not believe there was a man of the twelve that would coolly vote to send this young creature with a blasted reputation out upon a cold and heartless world.
It is needless to say that an instantaneous acquittal followed. After the adjournment of the court, the judge sent for the boy and found that he and his parents were very destitute, but that he was naturally bright and intelligent, ambitious to learn, in good health, and had previously borne an excellent character. Governor Marcy was at that time Secretary of War under President James K. Polk. To him, therefore, as one of his closest friends, whose lead he had followed in the Democratic party from his first vote, Judge Nye wrote a letter relating the story as I have tried to tell it, and asking him to secure for the lad the appointment of cadet at the Military Academy. In answer, Governor Marcy said that he regretted his inability to comply with this request; that the possible vacancies at West Point had been filled in advance both by the Congressmen and the President from his list at large, but that he had it in his power to send him to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. The lad was accordingly entered among the acolytes of that admirable institution, and, by good conduct and close application, rose rapidly in the service. During the war he was one of the ablest of Admiral Farragut's captains; and it was always very agreeable to sit by and hear Nye, who himself grew rapidly in the esteem and confidence of his country, relate this simple story, and especially the success which had crowned his efforts to save his protégé from a life of shame, and set him forward in the path of honorable distinction. The rescued boy became in afteryears a brave and brilliant seaman, and Nye grew from a county judge to be Governor of Nevada in 1861, and then a Senator in Congress when the Territory became a State, beginning his term in 1865 and closing it in 1873. So that it may be said that in his case, at least, the best way to help one's self is to help our fellow-creatures. James W. Nye was born in Madison County, New York, June 10, 1815, and died December 25, 1876.
EDWARD EVERETT, THE CLASSIC ORATOR.
EDWARD EVERETT, of Massachusetts, was the ideal of public and private virtue. He was placid, cool, exact, and conscientious, yet always imaginative, and sometimes impassioned. Daniel Webster, who was in most things a highly contrasted character, summarized his friend and biographer as follows:
“We all remember him-some of us personally; myself, certainly, with great interest-in his deliberations in the Congress of the United States, to which he brought such a degree of learning and ability and eloquence as few equalled and none surpassed. He administered afterwards, satisfactorily to his fellow-citizens, the duties of the chair of the Commonwealth. He then, to the great advantage of his country, went abroad.
He was deputed to represent his Government at the most important court of Europe; and he carried thither many qualities, most of them essential, and all of them ornamental and useful, to fill that high station. He had education and scholarship. He had a reputation at home and abroad. More than all, he had an acquaintance with the politics of the world, with the laws of this country and of nations, with the history and policy of the countries of Europe. And how well these qualities enabled him to reflect honor upon the literature and character of his native land, not we only, but all the country and all the world, know. He has performed this career, and is yet at such a period of life that I may venture something upon the character and privilege of my countrymen when I predict that those who have known him long and know him now, those who have seen him and see him now, those who have heard him and hear him now, are very likely to think that his country has demands upon him for future efforts in its service."
And on the 21st of July, 1852, three months before his own death, Mr. Webster wrote to Everett: “We now and then see stretching across the heavens a clear, blue, cerulean sky, without cloud or mist or haze. And such appears to me our acquaintance, from the time when I heard you for a week recite your lessons in the little school-house in Short Street to the date hereof."
I met Mr. Everett several times, but the occasion most to be remembered was my interview with him at the residence of Charles Macalester, 1016 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, May 12, 1859, when he was called here to pronounce his splendid oration on “The Character of Washington," for the benefit of the Mount Vernon fund, then admirably administered by the ladies of America, of whom Madam Berghmanns, the accomplished daughter of Mr. Macalester, now Mrs. Leighton, was the acting regent. This was the fourth time it was heard in Philadelphia. The effect produced by that consummate intellectual picture