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Chapter 5: year after College.—September, 1830, to September, 1831.—Age, 19-20.

Sumner left Cambridge with grateful recollections of college life. Revisiting, as the new academic year opened, the familiar scenes, he saw the Seniors taking possession of the rooms which his class had vacated, and described, in a letter to Browne, the desolation of 23 Holworthy. He kept up his interest in the exhibitions, parts, prizes, clubs, and personal incidents of the college, and reported them to the distant classmates with whom he corresponded. Harvard never sent forth a son whose affection was warmer at the parting, or endured more faithfully to the end.

He passed the next year at home,1 without daily cares and with his time fully at his command. He was uncertain what path of life to pursue, his associations drawing him to the law, but as yet no strong current of his nature carrying him to a decisive choice. If he were to study law, he would be content only with the best advantages,—those offered by the Law School at Cambridge; and he was anxious—almost morbidly so—not to subject his father to any further expense in his education. But while postponing the choice of a profession, he was not idle. He rose at quarter-past five in the morning, and retired at midnight, often later. Having no private room for the purpose, he used as a study one of the parlors, where he was much interrupted by the children. He took but little exercise, and did not go into society. His readings were, in the classics, Tacitus, Juvenal, Persius; in poetry and general literature, Shakspeare and Milton,2 Burton's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy,’ ‘The Correspondence of Gilbert Wakefield with Charles James Fox, Chiefly on [72] Subjects of Classical Literature,’ Moore's ‘Life of Byron,’ Butler's ‘Reminiscences,’ Hume's ‘Essays;’ and, in history, Hallam, Robertson, and Roscoe. He copied at great length into his commonplace-book—soon after laid aside—the narrations and reflections of these historians. He read both the ‘Lorenzo de Medici’ and the ‘Leo X.’ of Roscoe; and on completing the former, Oct. 29, he wrote:—

The character of Lorenzo de Medici appears to be one of the most estimable which history records. A man with so great an ambition, and yet with one so well controlled and directed, with so much power in his hands and so little disposition to increase it by any infringement of the rights of his countrymen, with so many temptations in his path, and so firm and Hercules-like always in his choice; so great a statesman and magistrate, so strict a scholar, and so fine a poet; so great a friend of the ingenious, and patron of talent in every shape,—the annals of no country but Florence can show. In him seemed to centre all those talents which Heaven scatters singly; and these were moulded and directed by a temper soft and amiable. He united in himself the almost diverse professions of a merchant and a scholar, superintending at the same time his ships and his studies, and receiving in the same keel merchandise and manuscripts.

Advectus Romam quo pruna et cottana vento.3

Lorenzo is fortunate in a historian who is his most ardent admirer; whether the truth has been warped or concealed in any parts I cannot tell, but Roscoe surely presents us with an elegant character. His work to me is not so attractive in point of composition as Hume or Gibbon. It has not the charming ease of the former or the commanding periods of the latter; but it is chaste, ornate, classical, rather deficient in spirit and in philosophy, and unsound in several instances in the general reflections or propositions deduced from particular cases. It is deficient in dates.

At this time he set himself to a study, always disagreeable to those who, like him, have for it no natural aptitude. Mathematics, to which, as already stated, he gave very little attention in college, he now felt to be a necessary part of a complete education, and determined to overcome his deficiencies in the neglected science. He at once entered with zeal on the study of geometry, and found it less difficult than before. From geometry he passed to algebra, the abstruseness of which he was less able to overcome. It is seldom that a young man to whom mathematics has been an uncongenial study returns to it merely for the purpose of supplying a defect in his education. His classmates were much impressed with the resolution which he showed [73] in his private studies, and particularly with his grappling with the branch which had annoyed him so much in college.

Frost wrote, Sept. 25, ‘Before closing, I cannot omit expressing my strong approbation of the rigid discipline to which you have subjected yourself. Such voluntary sacrifices in a man of your age and circumstances augur well of his coming years. Persevere!’ Browne wrote, Sept. 28, ‘You have begun well. Quarter-past five in the morning is auspicious. Macte! Walker's geometry, with its points, lines, angles, &c., is a good employment for an adept in mathematics, like yourself. ... Read your course of history by all means. If you mean to grapple with the law, dissect the feudal system. Your reading is a fortune.’ Stearns wrote, Oct. 8, ‘Hopkinson tells me you are all absorbed in mathematics, and are making rapid progress in the study of that long neglected science. I am glad to hear this news.’ Tower wrote, Nov. 1, recommending Dibdin's ‘Introduction to the Greek and Latin Classics,’ and said, ‘I should certainly think it indispensable to every one who loves the old Latin and Greek writers and venerable tomes as you do, as soon as he begins to form his library.’

Soon after leaving college, Sumner sought an ushership in the Boston Latin School, but did not succeed in obtaining it. He was pressed by Stearns, then teaching an academy at Northfield, to become his assistant, and afterwards to take the sole charge of the institution; the latter urging that, with his attainments in the classics, he would have ample leisure to pursue his reading; but he was unwilling to separate himself from Boston and Cambridge, and declined the offer. In January, he taught for three weeks at Brookline, filling a temporary vacancy in the school of Mr. L. V. Hubbard (where his classmate McBurney was an usher), which was kept in a stone building modelled after the Greek style, and is still standing on Boylston Street. This brief experience as a school-teacher, while not attended with any unpleasant occurrence, did not give him a taste for the occupation.

In the latter part of December he composed an essay on commerce, the subject of a prize, limited to minors, which had been offered by the ‘Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,’—a society formed after the example of the famous English association. Its president at that time was Daniel Webster, and its vice-president, John Pickering. The society [74] gave public notice that, on April 1, the envelope corresponding to the manuscript which had been approved as the best would be opened at the Athenaeum Hall. On the evening appointed, at the close of a lecture by Chief-Justice Shaw, Mr. Webster opened the envelope in presence of the audience, and announced ‘Charles Sumner’ as the name enclosed. He requested Sumner to come forward; and, taking him by the hand, called him his ‘young friend,’ adding the remark that the public held a pledge of him, and other kindly words. Little thought the great orator that he was greeting one who was to succeed him in the Senate, with a longer term and, as time may show, a more enduring fame than his own. The prize was given in Lieber's ‘Encyclopaedia Americana,’ valued at thirty dollars. The books were afterwards sent to Sumner, with a note signed by Mr. Webster, certifying that they were awarded as a premium for the essay.

His classmates were greatly pleased with his success. Tower wrote, June 5, ‘I rejoice with you, Sumner, in your late success. I wish I could take you by the hand, and assure you by look and sensibly how glad I am for the new honor you have won. It is a good thing; and, I hope, only one of many laurels which are to garland your life. I hope so,—I know so; and not I alone. One of our friends has predicted high places for Sumner. Therefore, on! on! Follow your spirit.’

Browne wrote, in reference to the prize, to Stearns, April 5:

I had a letter from friend Charles on Saturday. He has stepped to the pinnacle of fame. Our friend outstrips all imagination. He will leave us all behind him; and, for my single self, I care not how far he may leave me. He is a good man; and, so far as a mortal may speak with confidence, my joy at his success would be unalloyed with envy. He has been working hard to lay a foundation for the future. I doubt whether one of his classmates has filled up the time since Commencement with more, and more thorough labor; and to keep him constant he has a pervading ambition,—not an intermittent, fitful gust of an affair, blowing a hurricane at one time, then subsiding to a calm, but a strong, steady breeze, which will bear him well on in the track of honor.

Sumner neglected no opportunity to listen to the best public speakers. In September, he heard Josiah Quincy's address in the Old South Church, in commemoration of the close of the second century from the first settlement of Boston.4 He attended [75] a course of lectures given under the auspices of the ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.’ Among the lectures, of which he wrote out full notes, were those of Judge Davis on ‘Natural History,’ James T. Austin on the ‘History of Massachusetts,’ and John Pierpont on ‘Useful Knowledge the Ally of Religion.’

The great orator of the period, Daniel Webster, was then in his prime. Aspiring young men spared no pains to obtain sitting or standing room at political meetings and in court-rooms where he was to speak. Sumner, accompanied by Browne, who came from Salem for the purpose, heard Webster's tariff speech, which was begun at Faneuil Hall, Oct. 30, and concluded the next (Sunday) evening at Quincy Hall. A few days later, Sumner went to Salem, as Browne's guest, and attended the trial of Joseph J. Knapp, as accessory to the murder of Stephen White. He heard Mr. Webster's closing argument for the government. It was in this address, which according to the newspapers of the day ended with ‘a peroration of surpassing pathos,’ that Mr. Webster, alluding to the suggestion that the jury should have compassion on the prisoner, said that their compassion should be for his internal, not his external, condition; ‘it is,’ he added, ‘his greatest misfortune to be what he is, not where he is.’ Knapp was convicted and executed.5

Rev. Dr. Emery, a classmate of Sumner, writes:—

Immediately after graduating, I opened a private school in Beverly; and, while residing in that town, the great trial of Knapp, as an accomplice of Crowninshield in the murder of Mr. White, took place in Salem. Mr. Franklin Dexter and Mr. W. H. Gardiner were Knapp's counsel, and Webster was on the side of the State. The trial attracted many from the neighboring towns,—law-students and young lawyers. Among them Sumner was present. I recollect how delighted he was with the keenness of Dexter in worming the truth out of witnesses on their cross-examination, and especially in summing up the evidence in the prisoner's behalf. I met him at the trial several times, and he seemed to take as much interest in it as if he were one of the lawyers. He was not a member of the Law School at the time; and I could not help thinking that, if he had not decided what profession to study, the dignity and even solemnity of that trial, conducted by the ablest counsel to be found, must have decided him to study law.


Soon after leaving college, Sumner became warmly interested in the Anti-masonic movement, then at its height.6 He resented the annoyances and unfriendly criticisms to which his father had been subjected on account of his participation in this controversy. He was a diligent reader of the newspapers and pamphlets on the subject, with which the period abounded, particularly of Mr. Hallett's ‘Free Press,’ which he frequently posted to his friends. He is supposed to have contributed articles to this newspaper, and even to have had charge of it for a short time, during the editor's absence. He was an admirer of eminent Anti-masons, like Richard Rush and William Wirt, the latter of whom he hoped to see elected President at the next election, of 1832. He pressed ‘the great and good cause’ of Anti-masonry, as he called it, on his favorite classmates, Browne, Hopkinson,7 Tower, Stearns, and Frost; but, while they were not partisans of the Order, they did not sympathize with his ardent support of its political opponents. When he portrayed in his letters the dangers which the Order threatened to liberty and the administration of justice, they quite coolly reproved what they regarded as an intense and exaggerated view. Browne, who always dealt very plainly with him, rallied him for his ‘knight-errantry.’ Sumner himself, as the season of professional study drew near, was persuaded that he had allowed the exciting topic to occupy his thoughts more than would be consistent with the student's work which was to be his first duty; and, while not appearing to undergo any change of opinion, abstained from any further participation in the controversy. Perhaps the direction then given to his mind led him afterwards to favor publicity in the proceedings of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and the discontinuance of the secret sessions of the United States Senate. ‘The genius of our institutions,’ he said in the Senate, ‘requires publicity. The ancient Roman, who bade his architect so to construct his house that his guests and all that he did could be seen by the world, is a fit model for the American people.’8 [77]

Sumner and the classmates with whom he had been intimate kept up their interest in each other. Gifts of books were interchanged. He gave a Byron to Browne, and a Milton to Hopkinson; and received from Browne Sterne's ‘Sentimental Journey,’ and from Hopkinson a polyglot Bible.9 Having access to bookstores and libraries, he was often the agent of his classmates in borrowing and purchasing books. He maintained a frequent correspondence with Browne, who was studying law with Rufus Choate at Salem; with Hopkinson, who was first a tutor at Cambridge and then a law-student at Groton; with Tower, who was teaching school at Waterville, N. Y., and afterwards studying law with Hermanus Bleecker, in Albany; and with Stearns and Frost,—who were teaching, the former at Northfield, and the latter at Framingham. The letters which they wrote to him are familiar and affectionate, usually addressing him by his Christian name, and most of them quite extended. Of these he kept during his life more than fifty, written from Sept., 1830, to Sept., 1831.

Once a week, or oftener, he sent long letters to Browne.10 Browne was fearless in his treatment of received opinions, but his radical notions were under the control of good sense. The two friends discussed political topics, like Masonry, and the public men of the day; literary themes, like the characters of Shakspeare, Milton's poetry, and Moore's ‘Biography of Byron;’ ‘Hallam's’ ‘History of the Middle Ages,’ and the historical characters of Francis I. and Charles V. They criticised for mutual improvement each other's style of writing so plainly and unreservedly, that only their assured confidence in each other's sincerity and friendliness prevented their keen words from leaving a sting behind. Sumner thought Browne's style ‘Byronic,’ and invited a criticism of his own. Browne, while appreciating Sumner's as one which ‘every man not a critic and many who are would be delighted with,’ and as ‘flowing smoothly, rapidly, clearly, and full of bright images,’ objected to it as ‘too ornate and embellished, too exuberant, and too full of figures and figurative language; and, while correct and not violating the proprieties of nature, as wanting generally in [78] simplicity and directness.’ He wrote, March 6, ‘Either send me a Lempriere, or be less lavish of your classical allusions; for so thickly was your epistle, especially the first page, bedizened with gems, that my mineralogy was all at fault. I could neither measure nor sort them.’ Three weeks later, he wrote, ‘Your last letter was full of bone and muscle and figures,—of the last an excess, though invariably bold and strong, remarkably and unusually so. I am right glad to see this improvement in your style. It was a desideratum; almost the only one. Macte nova virtute

Sumner's letters to Tower and Stearns, which are preserved, are playful, abound in Latin phrases and other quotations, and are rather carelessly written. Neither in thought nor in style are they superior to the similar compositions of most young men of his age and education.

As the summer of 1831 waned, Sumner felt seriously that he must, without delay, begin in earnest the study of a profession, or take up some occupation which would be at once remunerative. He was very reluctant to draw any further on his father, who had now to provide for the education of younger sons and daughters. He questioned, too, his chances of success in the legal profession, or at least of attaining his ideal in it. His thoughts turned to school-keeping for a time, as assuring immediate revenues; but a teacher's duties did not attract him. He was troubled in spirit, even unhappy; and he opened his heart frankly to Hopkinson, —a young man of mature reflection and six years his senior. The classmate replied at length, reviewing Sumner's difficulties, which he thought exaggerated, and mingling gentle reproof with good counsel. The father, he thought, with his improved fortunes, could not spend money better than in educating a son of promise; and he added, ‘If, then, you really wish to go on immediately with the profession, there is no lion in the way. You may do it with strong grounds to hope for success, and with a clear conscience and cheerful heart.’ Sumner feared that an engagement as teacher for a few years would consume time which ought to be appropriated to preparation for his life-work, whatever that was to be; but his classmate thought well of such a temporary experience, as it would occupy his mind, promote cheerfulness, and give him a knowledge of the world, which, with his too great seclusion, he much needed; and besides it would not conflict with his admission to the bar [79] at as early a period as was desirable. ‘You would,’ he said, ‘then come to the sturdy science with nerves and muscles hardened for the combat, and with a mind better stored than that of any of your class.’ Hopkinson rebuked Sumner's apprehension of failure in life, his indecision, his chosen abstinence from society, which had brought on an unhealthy gloominess of mind, and his too absorbing contemplation of extraordinary characters in history, which are not, except in rare instances, attainable ideals. ‘That vague ambition which looks at ends and overlooks means is the cause of half your troubles, and is caused by your overmuch reading and ignorance of men. Your thoughts have conversed only with kings, generals, and poets. Come down to this tame world and this tame reality of things.’ Hopkinson thus closed this thoughtful letter, which must have affected Sumner's immediate purpose, and probably his whole future: ‘Be assured of my high regard, of my high opinion of your talents; and if you do not make a strong man of yourself, on you rests the sin of throwing away talents and education which I might envy, and which might make your name familiar in men's mouths. The following passage I transcribe from a letter of our Salem friend [Browne]. You know he does not calculate highly on puny geniuses. Speaking of your prize lately obtained, he writes: “ Charles looms in the world. We glory in his present success. May we not assuredly hope that it is but the beginning of the end?” This I send because the circumstances are a warranty of his sincerity. Had he said as much of me, I should have respected myself the more for it.’

Among other expressions of interest in his career which belong to this transition period of life are the following: Browne wrote, July 26, ‘Do you go to Cambridge next year? You have put your hand to the plow, you have even broken ground, and now look back. There is no going back, and you have duty and all hope to draw you forward.’ And, a few weeks later, he wrote: ‘Did you ever read Dean Swift's life? If you have not,—but you have: you have read every thing. Have you brought your Law-School resolution to a focus, and made preparation for next year in any way?’ Stearns wrote, Aug. 3, ‘What are your plans for the coming year? I hope you mean to grapple with the law. That is the profession you are made for, and the sooner you prepare for it the better.’

After a considerable period of perplexity and indecision, Sumner [80] chose the law. He made the choice without enthusiasm; but, when once made, he formed a plan of severe and comprehensive study, which he pursued with patience and enthusiasm. The question of a profession being determined, he was vexed with no hesitation as to the place where he should prepare himself for its duties, but was drawn irresistibly to Cambridge, where he had passed four happy years.

This year at home, intervening between College and Law School, Sumner himself did not, at its close, regard as profitably spent. It began with the study of mathematics, which does not seem to have been kept up more than five months. He read much, but in a desultory way. What he wrote was wanting in careful reflection and finish of style. His mind, as he saw the year in retrospect, had been prematurely agitated with political strifes which were not likely to be of permanent interest. Manhood had now come with its work and duties, and he entered upon it in a serious and resolute spirit.

Letters to classmates.

To Charlemagne Tower, Waterville, N. Y.

Boston, Sept. 27, 1830.
Scene.—Fourth-story, House 53 Hancock Street, half-past 10 in the evening.

my friend,—

Truditur dies die,
Novaeque pergunt interire Lunae.

Horace, Ode II. XVIII. 15, 16.

Yes, a month has now passed since we bade adieu to college pleasures and labors; and, if I mistake not, just a month since I last saw you in Holworthy, 4. You and I, I believe, had some sympathies with one another on departure; we both of us looked upon Cambridge with rather warmer feelings than most, and dreaded to sunder ourselves from so many kindly associations. One month ‘hath not a whit altered me;’ my mind is still full of those feelings of affection which bound me to the place and the friends I there enjoyed. I find it hard to untie the spell that knits me so strongly to college life. I never had a more melancholy time in my life than for the four hours after I last saw you. I went to my room, and found it usurped by a ‘new race,’ and my furniture on the road to Boston. Like Noah's dove, then, with nowhere to rest the sole of my foot, I went from room to room, and saw [81] everywhere the signs of approaching departure. Juniors were parading round, the almost ‘undisputed lords and masters’ of what we Seniors a day before alone enjoyed. Excuse this sentimentality.

Two days after you had read your dissertation, the fame whereof was in the land when I arrived, I underwent the most unwelcome drudgery of reading mine,—namely, of going through the form,—in order to satisfy the requisitions of the will. Be assured it was only a form. I did not read in all more than a third, and that I cantered through as fast as my tongue (naturally a ‘fast goer’) could carry me. I did not read along in course, but took shreds and patches from one page and another through the whole forty-five. How absurd to make us thus murder our own children! The whole dissertation ought to be read, for it cannot be properly judged except as a whole. The pedant of olden times, who offered a brick as a specimen of a house he had for sale, acted about as wisely as the Faculty in this particular, thus forcing us to slice off a few bits and offer them as the successful Bowdoin dissertations. . . . Just a week ago yesterday, I commenced Walker's Geometry, and have now got nearly half through. All those problems, theorems, &c., which were such stumbling-blocks to my Freshman-year career, unfold themselves as easily as possible now. You would sooner have thought, I suppose, that fire and water would have embraced than mathematics and myself; but, strange to tell, we are close friends now. I really get geometry with some pleasure. I usually devote four hours in the forenoon to it. I have determined not to study any profession this year, and I have marked out to myself a course of study which will fully occupy my time,—namely, a course of mathematics, Juvenal, Tacitus, a course of modern history, Hallam's ‘Middle Ages’ and ‘Constitutional History,’ Roscoe's ‘Leo’ and ‘Lorenzo,’ and Robertson's ‘Charles V.;’ with indefinite quantities of Shakspeare, Burton, British poets, &c., and writing an infinite number of long letters. I have doomed myself to hard labor, and I shall try to look upon labor as some great lawyer did, as pleasure,—‘Labor ipse voluptas.’ And the gratification from labor is, indeed, the surest and most steadfast pleasure. . . . President Quincy has been completely successful; has done himself, the city, the State, honor.11 Webster, I understood, said it was the best discourse he ever heard from a pulpit in his life. It was two hours long; the whole of this time he held the attention of a most numerous audience, among whom was myself, squeezed and pushed round amidst the crowd of groundlings in one of the aisles, standing up during all the two performances, about three hours. The first part of Quincy's oration, I thought, was not well digested; but he grew better and better the more he got heated with his subject, and held the attention of the audience better the last hour than he did the first. His vindication of the bigotry and intolerance of our ancestors was the best I ever heard, and was too good for them. His delivery, also, was fine,—full, loud, energetic, frequently eloquent. Sprague's poem was beautiful; its most prominent parts were on the Indians. There was an immense procession to the [82] meeting-house, in which our friend Hopkinson walked amongst the corporation, professors, and tutors of Harvard University. . . .

I should have liked to roam round with you through those New York bookstores. In fact, a bookstore or a library is my paradise. I have been doing something here, as you did in New York, to invest my prize-money; and, depend upon it, I often sighed from the bottom of my spirit when I felt the hollowness of my pockets. I bought me a Burton's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy,’ a Hazlitt's ‘British Poets,’ a Byron, and a fine one volume 8vo Shakspeare, called the London ‘Stage Edition,’ with which I am much pleased. It contains Shakspeare's poems, in addition to his plays. I should like to know what some of those fine editions were which you saw at New York. I take such an interest in books that I like to hear about them though I do not see them. I presume from your habits that you have been accustomed to keep a commonplace-book or scrap-book or something of the kind. I wish you to tell me whether you kept it on any philosophical plan, and what that plan was,—si tibi placeat. I wish you to draw upon me for information about what is going on, to any amount whatever, and be assured I shall answer your bills most cheerfully. My father is full of good wishes for your well-doing and happiness.12

C. S.

To Charlemagne Tower.

November 4, 1830.
. . . The exhibition took place at the College on Oct. 19. I had little desire to hear all the performances, so I did not get there till about twelve o'clock, when, as I was ascending the steps with Hopkinson, Browne presented himself before us. The exhibition for the time was deserted, and we repaired to Hopkinson's proctorial room, there to have a short, friendly chat, which was prolonged till the oration came on. The subject of that was ‘Specks in the Literary Horizon.’ Simmons13 did nobly. His oration was over half an hour in length. It was marked by a plenitude of thought and a strength of expression, and showed an ease of composition, which in a painter we should call a ‘free pencil.’ . . . I know you will wish you were here during this last week. The election for member of Congress has taken place, and, as it turned upon the tariff and anti-tariff, it produced a considerable excitement. Nathan Appleton, father of Appleton in the present Senior class, was the tariff candidate, and Henry Lee the anti-tariff one, both merchants. The Tariffites held one caucus just a fortnight ago, at which Evarts, author of ‘William Penn,’ J. B. Davis, A. H. Everett, J. T. [83] Austin, Ben. Gorham (present Representative), and William Sullivan spoke; and lastly the huge leviathan of New England, Webster himself. He spoke but a few minutes, simply expressing his wish to address his fellow-citizens at length on this subject; and, as it was then late, moving an adjournment to Saturday, Oct. 30. On Saturday evening, the hall [Faneuil] was crowded to excess an hour before the time (to which the meeting adjourned) had arrived. Never had the ‘Cradle of Liberty’ more within its sides than on that evening. He spoke three and a half hours, and then had not concluded his remarks; when the meeting adjourned to Quincy Hall for Sunday evening. When Sunday evening arrived, Quincy Hall was crowded to overflowing, and Mr. Webster concluded. His peroration brought to my mind the admirable one in his speech in the Senate. Between every one of about the last four sentences he was greeted with three cheers by that immense audience; and when he had finished, with repeated cheers, wavings of hats, kerchiefs, &c. What a day of glory to him! I cannot paint the impression he made, neither can I the strong, convincing argument and eloquence he displayed. I leave it to your imagination. Webster was followed by H. G. Otis, who spoke about two hours, beautifully, of course. His voice was melodious and liquid; but the whole character of his oratory was a contrast to the bold, nervous delivery of Webster. He plainly showed that age had slackened his fires, and that he was no longer what he was twenty years ago, when he might almost be said to have

Wielded at will the fierce democratie

of Boston. The caucus of the Anti-tariffites was nothing. The result of these great exertions of the Tariffites was the election of Appleton. You can well imagine that this rich feast of eloquence relished well, and with no one better than myself. . . .

Your friend,

To Jonathan F. Stearns, Northfield, Mass.

Boston, Nov. 24, 1830.
my friend,—Here I am fairly located in house No. 20, Hancock Street, on the opposite side and lower down than that where I have had the pleasure of seeing you occasionally. For the last month, the thoughts of moving and a visit to Salem to see John,14 and attend the notorious trials, completely filled my mind. Besides, mathematics, my chiefest foe, buckles on daily more impenetrable armor. I am now digging among the roots of algebra, and believe your opinion will bear me out when I say that these roots, when obtained, are but bitter. If I had accepted your kind invitation and posted up to Northfield, it would have been a month before I could have got my mind again into the right train to have prosecuted all the studies I am bearing [84] up under. I fear that mathematics will yet conquer me. Browne appears in as good spirits as I ever knew him to be. I spent three days with him, the greater part of which time was spent both by him and myself in the court-room. While there, he gave me a ‘Sterne's Sentimental Journey,’ neatly bound. . . .

Your friend,

C. S.

To Charlemagne Tower.

Boston, Dec. 8, 1830.
Never, my friend, when the heavens have been dressed in their scorching robes of brass for weeks, was a drop of rain more grateful than your most timely epistle. It found me about one and a half o'clock to-day mired among the roots of algebra, clawing around in vain, involved in Cimmerian darkness, looking and finding no dawn. Algebra was closed, and myself was deposited safely in the chair, whence my mathematical exertions had abstracted me, to read and re-read, and read again the letter of a friend. . . .

My study! mehercle! it would require the graphic pencil of Hogarth to set it before you,—children and chairs, bores and books, andirons and paper, sunlight and Sumner; in short, a common resting-place for all the family. I often think of you and your neat premises when I am sitting, like Chance amidst the little chaos around. . . . I was sorry not to find on your table Juvenal, one of the first poets and moralists the world ever saw, the Roman Shakspeare in the ripeness of his thoughts and the strength of his expressions, in his expanded views of human nature and intensity of conception. Juvenal I shall make my Latin text-book; I study him every afternoon, reading about one hundred lines at a time. I frequently find it hard to unfold his meaning; but the richness of the fruit will repay any labor in gathering. . . . I have just read ‘Fox and Wakefield's Correspondence, Chiefly on Subjects of Classical Literature.’ How could a man in Fox's situation, with so many diverse and enfolding cares, surrender himself so devotedly to the study of the classics, rivalling an old scholiast in astuteness and critical inquiry, and seemingly as conversant with all as any man who had made them the study of his life? And yet this man was then employed upon a portion of English history, and was supporting the Atlantean weight of a party which held divided empire with the king himself. Tower, you and I are both young, and the world is all before us. You are ambitious, I know; and I am not ashamed to confess, though ‘by that sin fell the angels,’ that I also am guilty. We are then fellow-laborers in the same field; we are both striking our sickles at the same harvest. Its golden sheaves are all pointing to you. You have been laborious, and I have not. I have trod the primrose, and you the thorny, path. . . . There is no railway to fame. Labor, labor must be before our eyes; nay, more, its necessity must sink deep in our hearts. This is the most potent alchemy to transmute lead into gold.

One o'clock at night!

C. S.


To Jonathan F. Stearns.

Sunday, Feb. 13, 1881.
my friend,—. . . I have for three weeks been trying to rear the tender thought, as an assistant to our old friend, McBurney, at Mr. Hubbard's school. Mr. H. had to go to Vermont, and he engaged me to assist in the duties of instruction during his absence. And oh!—quorum magna pars fui —the harassing, throat-cutting, mind-dissolving duties: pounding knowledge into heads which have no appetency for it, and enduring the arguing of urchin boys, and all those other ills to which schoolmaster-flesh is heir. . . . But the cares of Mr. H.'s school are more severe than those of most schools, on account of the want of classification in the boys, and the being obliged to drudge through lessons with single boys without any of the excitement of hearing a large class, and also the attention bestowed on them out of school. You must see that my experiences are rather unfavorable. Shall I, then, take the responsibility of a school like that of which you are the head,—an academy upon which many look with an eye of jealousy, and others with an interest which would keep a watchful eye upon the instructor, and feel itself wronged if his exertions and abilities did not come up to a standard already fixed? Further, I have a natural aversion to keeping school. Yet again, it does not seem right that I should stand all the day idle, dependent upon my father for support and a profession, when the means are placed before me of gaining a little of that aliquid immensum infinitumque, not of the Roman but of the modern. Which of the two to choose? Here I am wavering, veering from point to point as of old, distrustful of myself. I feel unsettled in my condition. My age begins to tell me I ought to stand on my own legs, and loosen the chain which has ever held me to home. I see no means of making money or reputation anywhere, with the exception of the former, as a schoolmaster.

The secrets of the Φ. B. K. are shortly to be published. I have seen the manuscript myself, in the handwriting of one of the oldest ministers of this State, initiated in 1790. . . . A gentleman told me he had conversed with J. Q. Adams, and he said he was opposed to all secret societies, and should like to assist in removing the secrecy from the Φ. B. K. It will not hurt it; it will benefit it. There is nothing for which they need blush.

McBurney and Hopkinson were here last evening, and spent in my room a kind of old college evening. I shall expect to pass a like time with you soon.

C. S.

To Charlemagne Tower, Albany, N. Y.

Boston, Friday Evening, May 27, 1831.

Quid? quasi magnum
     Nempe diem donas?

Persius, Sat. V. 66, 67; quoted with reference to Tower's remissness in correspondence.

. . . Your method and application are to me an assurance that the studies of the law office will be fruitful; but excuse the impertinence of a friend. I [86] fear that Blackstone and his train will usurp your mind too much, to the exclusion of all cultivation of polite letters. The more I think of this last point, the more important it seems to me in the education of a lawyer. ‘Study law hard,’ said Pinckney, ‘but study polite letters as hard.’ So also says Story. The fact is, I look upon a mere lawyer, a reader of cases and cases alone, as one of the veriest wretches in the world. Dry items and facts, argumentative reports, and details of pleadings must incrust the mind with somewhat of their own rust. A lawyer must be a man of polish, with an omnium gatherum of knowledge. There is no branch of study or thought but what he can betimes summon to his aid, if his resources allow it. What is the retailer of law-facts by the side of the man who invests his legal acquisitions in the fair garments of an elegantly informed mind? Every argument of the latter is heightened by the threads of illustration and allusion which he weaves with it. Besides, it is more profitable as to legal knowledge for a student to devote but a portion of his time to the law. A continual application to it would jade the mind, so that it would falter under the burden imposed by its own ardor. There must be a relaxation. And the best relaxation for a scholar will be found in a change of studies. . . . Your ambition has kept you employed and happy all this winter, I will engage, while lassitude and negligence have been preying upon me. . . . One little feat I did, which I now tell in the fulness of friendship rather than vanity. The ‘Boston Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,’—D. Webster, President, John Pickering, V. P.,—offered a premium in books to the author (a minor) of the best dissertation on any thing relating to commerce, trade, and manufactures, to be handed up Jan. 1. It popped into your friend's head, about a week before Jan. 1, that he might spend a day or two in throwing together some ideas on commerce, and the time would not be lost, whether he was successful or not. I wrote about thirty pages, and handed it up, Bowdoin-like, anonymously. After several months, a committee of twelve unanimously awarded the premium to me, or rather to my signature,—my name not being known till the night the premium was presented; when the envelope inclosing it was opened (after Judge Shaw had finished the evening lecture) by Mr. Webster himself, in presence of the society, and found to contain my name. I had to step out and receive some compliments from the ‘godlike man,’ and the information that the society awarded to me Lieber's ‘Encyclopaedia Americana,’ price thirty dollars. Surely the prize and praise were most easily gained. Mind you, I tell this with no vanity. It requires, though, the eye of a friend not to read in the foregoing lines a self-praising disposition. With you I trust them. . . .

From your true friend,

C. S.

To Charlemagne Tower.

Boston, Friday, June 10, 1831.
my dear friend,—. . . Your letter, just handed to me by my father, has called me from a most listless, fruitless perusal of Hallam's ‘History of [87] the Middle Ages.’ The book now lies open on the sofa, where I was lounging. My paper is before me, and pen in hand. The past has gone through my mind with its thronging associations. . . . You have quite introduced me to your master [Mr. Bleecker]. I should like him for his law, his literature; and should not dislike him for the singleness of his life. My own reflections though, and the advice of others, tell me that it is better to study with one whose business is other than that of a counsellor; the drudgery, writ-making, &c., of an office is what a young student ought to undergo. Give me my first year and a half in the entirely theoretical studies of a law-school and my remainder in a thronged business office, where I can see the law in those shapes in which a young lawyer can alone see and practise it. It is years which make the counsellor.

I have just read Persius. I value him little. My mind, like yours, is full of plans of study, few of which I am ever able to compass. My reflection calls up such a multitude of books unread, that I am lost,—like Spenser's Una and the Redcrosse Knight,—

So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
That which of them to take, in diverse doubt they been.

The Faerie Queene.

I wish to read the principal classics, particularly Latin ones. I fear I shall never reach the Greek. I have thought of Thucydides, the hardest but completest historian. I shall not touch him probably. Tell me your experiences of Herodotus. . . .

From your true friend,

C. S.

To Jonathan F. Stearns, Bedford, Mass.

Sunday eve, Aug. 7, 1831.
my friend, my old College Fiend,—. . . You ask if I hold fast to Anti-masonry? When I do not, pronounce me a recreant. I hold fast to it through some ridicule, and, I dare say, slurs upon my sense. Truth has ever been reviled when she first appeared, whether as the bearer of a glorious system of religion, or of the laws which govern this universe. Time is her great friend. I do not hardly understand from your letter whether you join with me or no. Dr. Beecher has come out manfully. At the celebration in Boston, he prayed that the great and good cause in which we are engaged might find acceptance above; and if ever cause did find that acceptance, this will.

I think of hitching upon the law at Cambridge this coming Commencement. I am grateful for the encouraging word you give me. I am rather despondent, and I meet from none of my family those vivifying expressions which a young mind always heartily accepts. My father says nought by way of encouragement, He seems determined to let me shape my own course, so that if I am wise, I shall be wise for myself; and if I am foolish, I alone shall bear it. It may be well that it is so. I do not revolt from taking my fate [88] into my own hands. I shall go to Cambridge with a cartload of resolves, and I believe with enough of the firmness of a man to abide by a five-hundredth part. Law, classics, history, and literature; all of them shall meet my encounter. Methinks I must read some of the Greek tragedians. . . .

Your friend truly,

C. S

To Charlemagne Tower, Waterville, N. Y.

Boston, Monday Evening, Aug. 29, 1831.
my dear friend,—. . . I can fully sympathize in your feelings arising from the severance from your studies.15 Yet I see in it much room for hope. Your mind will be brought at once into the hard conflict of the world. You will transact business; and get initiated into those perplexities which, sooner or later, all of the sons of Adam must meet. You will confirm yourself in a knowledge of the world, and wear off the academic rust with which exclusive students are covered. Time will allow you, I know (for I know you will lose no time), to prosecute your law with profit; and you will find in your newly assumed cares a grateful change, perhaps, from the abstract speculations in which Blackstone and Kent and Fearne will engage you. And more than all, you will have the consciousness that you are forwarding the wishes of your father, and giving up your time, perhaps, that it may be added to his days.

It is now two days before Commencement. I am stiff in the determination to commence the coming year in the study of law at Cambridge. . . . I intend to give myself to the law, so as to read satisfactorily the regular and parallel courses, to take hold of some of the classics,—Greek, if I can possibly gird up my mind to the work,—to pursue historical studies,—to read Say and Stewart;16 all mingled with those condiments to be found in Shakspeare and the British poets. All empty company and association I shall eschew, and seek in the solitariness of my own mind the best (because the least seducing from my studies) companion. Can I hold fast to these good determinations? I fear much the rebellious spirit of the mortal. However, I will try. I must endeavor to redress by future application my past remissness. The latter part of this year has been given up to unprofitableness. I have indeed studied, or passed my eyes over books; but much of my time, and almost my whole mind, have been usurped by newspapers and politics. I have reached in anxiety for the latest reports from Washington, and watched the waters in their ebb and rise in different parts of the country. No more of this though. With Boston I shall leave all the little associations which turned aside my mind from its true course. [89]

In the way of classics, I wish to read Tacitus, Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Sallust, Cicero, Horace, Homer, Thucydides, and choice plays of the great tragedians. Do you start? I only say I wish to do it; but I mean to do it if impossibility is not written upon it. I wish also to reacquaint myself with political economy and intellectual philosophy. I find myself nonplussed daily in my own reflections by my ignorance of these subjects. . . .

J. Q. Adams has written a letter on Masonry. I will send it to you as soon as I can lay my hands upon it. Rumor says something on this may be expected soon from Webster. He is an Anti-mason, and in this I speak from more than report.17

Your true friend,

1 The family moved, in November, from No. 53 (now 63) Hancock Street to 20 Hancock Street.

2 Finished, Oct. 12.

3 Juvenal, Sat. III. 83.

4 An account of this occasion, with an extract from the address, is given in Mr. Quincy's Life, pp. 443-448.

5 The points contested at this trial between Franklin Dexter, the defendant's counsel, and Mr. Webster are given in Commonwealth v. Knapp, 10 Pickering's Reports, p. 477. The celebrated argument of Mr. Webster on the earlier trial of John F. Knapp as principal is printed in his Works, Vol. II. pp. 41-105. See Curtis's ‘Life of Webster,’ Vol. I. pp. 378-385.

6 Browne wrote to Stearns, May 23, 1831. ‘Sumner feels unutterably on the subject, and he is pricked on by the wrongs done his father by Masons. His resentment is worthy of all commendation. I wish it had exploded in a different way.’ And again, July 12: ‘He holds to it [Anti-masonry] as to the ark of the nation's safety. I saw him in Boston last month, very well in body, low in spirits.’

7 Hopkinson wrote, May 10, ‘Leave off reading newspapers, and forget politics till you are thirty; by so doing you may redeem the pledge which Webster says “the public hold of you.” ’

8 Speech in the Senate, April 6, 1853 Works, Vol. III. pp. 212-214.

9 Sumner gave his classmate Kerr, in their Senior year in college, the ‘Apothegms of Paulus Manutius,’ an edition printed in Venice in 1583.

10 Of the letters to Browne and Hopkinson, the two classmates to whom he wrote most confidentially, none exist; but the letters written to him at that period were carefully preserved by him.

11 Centennial Oration, ante, p. 74.

12 The letters which Sumner wrote at this period, and also those which he wrote at the Law School, contain many references to his classmates and other students, with details of their experiences and plans of life, most of which it has seemed proper to omit. They show a friendly, and in many instances an affectionate, interest in those with whom he had been associated as a student.

13 William H. Simmons.

14 Browne.

15 Tower had been obliged to suspend his studies in order to take charge of the mercantile business of his father, who was then ill.

16 J. B. Say's ‘Treatise on Political Economy,’ and Dugald Stewart's ‘Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind.’

17 Curtis's Life of Webster, Vol. I., pp. 391-393, 508-511, refers to Mr. Webster's course on this question.

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