Chapter 5: year after College.—September, 1830, to September, 1831.—Age, 19-20.
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
's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy,’ ‘The Correspondence of Gilbert Wakefield
with Charles James Fox
, Chiefly on
Subjects of Classical Literature,’ Moore
's ‘Life of Byron
's ‘Reminiscences,’ Hume
's ‘Essays;’ and, in history, Hallam
, 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.’
; 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
in his private studies, and particularly with his grappling with the branch which had annoyed him so much in college.
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.
wrote, Sept. 28, ‘You have begun well.
Quarter-past five in the morning is auspicious.
'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.’
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.’
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
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 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
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.
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.
so,—I know so; and not I alone.
One of our friends has predicted high places for Sumner
on! Follow your spirit.’
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.
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
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.
, 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.’
was convicted and executed.5
Rev. Dr. Emery
, a classmate of Sumner
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
, 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.
, who always dealt very plainly with him, rallied him for his ‘knight-errantry.’
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
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
; 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
,—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
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
's poetry, and Moore
's ‘Biography of Byron
'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.
'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
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
's letters to Tower
, 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.’
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
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.’
'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.’
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
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
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?’
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
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.