Chapter 7: study in a law office.—Visit to Washington.—January, 1854, to September, 1834.—Age, 23.
Having finished his studies at Cambridge
in Dec., 1833, Sumner
entered as a student, Jan. 8, 1834,1
the law-office of Benjamin Rand
, Court Street, Boston
; a lawyer having a large practice, but distinguished rather for his great learning and faithful attention to the business of his clients than for any attractive forensic qualities.2
He had access to the remarkably well-stored library of Mr. Rand
, which was enriched on the arrival of almost every English packet.
He followed very much his tastes while in the office, doing little drudgery as a copyist, and seizing every opportunity of conversation with his learned master.
He was missed at Cambridge
, where teachers and friends had parted reluctantly from him. Already Story and Greenleaf
counted on him as an associate instructor, and spoke of the separation as likely to be but temporary.
The judge wrote to him from Washington
, Feb. 4:—
Professor Greenleaf has written me a letter full of lamentations at your departure, and he complains of being now left alone.
I grieve also, but not as those who are without hope; for, if the Law School succeeds, I am sure you will be with us again at no distant period. ... It would have been delightful to have had Mr. Livermore's bequest incorporated into your excellent catalogue.
But, as it is, we must have it in an appendix.
I wish exceedingly for two or three copies of your catalogue to present to some gentlemen here.
The preface will do you, as well as them, good.
's contributions to the ‘Jurist’ at this time were an article on the ‘Lex Loci
,—Can the Assignee of a Scotch bond maintain an Action in his own name in the Courts
of this Country?’3
containing citations from the Roman
and the French
as well as from the common law,—a paper which grew out of his argument of a moot-court case before Professor Ashmun
, the previous year; a ‘Review of “Chitty
's pleadings,” ’4
in which some technical questions are treated; ‘Characters of Law Books and Judges,’5
a voluminous collection of opinions; ‘Replevin of Goods taken in Execution,—Error in the Books,’6
an elaborate discussion of a technical question; and a caustic notice of ‘Tayler's “Law Glossary
To the July number alone he contributed more than one hundred pages.
In May, he became one of the editors.
His classmate Browne
, whose advice he sought in relation to this connection, did not think the effect of habitual writing for law magazines upon a lawyer's mind to be wholesome, and strongly urged that, if he accepted the offer, he should limit his engagement to a year and a half.
His studies with Mr. Rand
were soon interrupted by a journey to Washington
, with an absence from the office from Feb. 17 to April 4.
He had for some time felt a strong desire to visit the national Capital.
He wished to see and hear the eminent statesmen of the time, and particularly to attend a session of the Supreme Court.
It would be a satisfaction also to see Judge Story
, whom he had known so well as professor, performing his high duties as judge.
The Supreme Court of the United States
, with Marshall
as chief-justice, held at that period, —when the States were few and the best professional training was confined very much to the Atlantic States
,—a larger place relatively than it now holds among the judicial institutions of the country.
Young lawyers then, more than at present, sought as pilgrims this fountain of learning and authority.
National politics then drew to the seat of government the highest talent more than now, when intellectual power finds a larger opportunity than formerly at the bar of commercial cities, or in other fields of distinction.
Neither before nor since in our history
have three men of equal fame as orators with Webster
, and Clay
ever contended with each other in our national Senate.
The love of travel was with Sumner
an inherited passion, which his brothers also shared.
The journey to Washington
now accomplished in seventeen hours, in a railway carriage furnished like a drawing-room by day and provided with couches at night, is at once an easy and a commonplace experience.
It was then made only by stage-coach and steamboat, except a short railway ride from Amboy
(thirty-seven miles）, and another from the Delaware River
to the head of the Elk
(sixteen and a half). With the dispatch of these days Sumner
would, by the time he then reached Hartford
, have been some hours at his journey's end.
he passed a month, occupying a room in the house of Mrs. Eliza Peyton
, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Four-and-a-half Street.
Among her guests were several members of Congress and other persons of distinction; most worthy of note among them was Dr. Francis Lieber
, between whom and Sumner
a long intimacy now began.8 Mrs. Peyton
recalls the tall youth from Boston
, sitting with the guests who gathered at the fireside in the large parlor.
Dr. John B. Blake
, a fellow-boarder, still living in Washington
, remembers him as modest and deferential, attracting attention by his remarkable attainments and manly presence, and receiving from the judges unusual civilities.
went so far at the time as to predict for him the highest judicial station, unless he should be diverted by literary tastes.9
The commendation of Judge Story
opened to him the best social opportunities.
He dined with the judges; made the acquaintance of Henry Wheaton
; and ‘dined repeatedly with Horace Binney
, and received many marks of friendly attention from him.’10 Richard Peters
, the official reporter of the decisions of the Supreme Court,—whom he had previously
met at Cambridge
, and who was a devoted friend of Judge Story
,—conceived a strong regard for him at this time, and a frequent correspondence between them followed.11 Mr. Peters
kindly said to him, in Washington
, that he should before long have occasion to print his name in his reports as counsel before the Supreme Court.
During this visit he first met Samuel Lawrence
, who afterwards showed him substantial kindness.
He undertook to serve a lawyer, a college friend, who was prosecuting a claim against the United States
,—and this friendly agency brought him into personal relations with Rufus Choate
, then a member of the House of Representatives.
He left Washington
, after a month's sojourn, with little expectation of ever seeing the city again, with an increased love of his chosen profession, and with a strong aversion to politics.
On his way home he passed some days in Philadelphia
, where he seems to have enjoyed himself heartily; dining one day at the house of Joseph R. Ingersoll
‘in a large and splendid company,’ and passing his evenings with the family of Mr. Peters
He left the city with a lively impression of the hospitality of the people.
One of the daughters of Mr. Peters
pleased him much with her excellent imitation of Miss Kemble
With another daughter, then quite a young girl, he talked much concerning her studies, and afterwards sought, by his letters, to foster her literary inclinings.
Her vivid recollections of him, as he appeared at this period, find a place in this chapter.
His father wrote to him, while he was in Washington
, a letter as stately as it was paternal, sending a friendly message to Governor Lincoln
, enjoining upon his son to visit the grave of Vice-president Gerry
, and also that of William Wirt
who had died Feb. 18, and ending with ‘macte virtute, puer
His brother Henry and his sister Mary added playful postscripts to the father's letter.
gratefully acknowledged his reports of his visit to Chancellor Kent
and of life in Washington
One of the daughters of Mr. Peters
thus describes him at this time:—
It was somewhere about 1832 I think, in the summer-time, that Charles Sumner led me—then a little girl—and my father over Harvard Library; and it has always been to me a beautiful memory,—the recollection of this slender, bright-eyed youth, with what seemed to me an adoring reverence for the hallowed spot, so that his voice was subdued and his touch rested tenderly on the dear books as he stood showing them to my father.
When he came to Philadelphia in 1834, he had finished his course at the Law School, I think; but had almost put his eyes out with hard study, and was forced to come away for rest.
He was then a great, tall, lank creature, quite heedless of the form and fashion of his garb, “ unsophisticated,” everybody said, and oblivious of the propriety of wearing a hat in a city, going about in a rather shabby fur cap; but the fastidiousness of fashionable ladies was utterly routed by the wonderful charm of his conversation, and he was carried about triumphantly, and introduced to all the distinguished people, young and old, who then made Philadelphia society so brilliant.
No amount of lionizing, however, could then affect him. His simplicity, his perfect naturalness, was what struck every one, combined with his rare culture and his delicious youthful enthusiasm.
My mother became very much interested in him, and thought his mother must be very proud of him.
He was almost beside himself then over Fanny Kemble's acting; used to walk, he said, that winter to and from Boston, through snow and storm, to see her act. One of my sisters had a singular ability in imitating this gifted woman's acting and reading, and it was Charles Sumner's delight to insist on this rather shy lady's “performing” for him. His exclamation was, “By George, that's fine!
By George, that's fine, Miss S.! Give it to us again: now, Miss S.! The ‘Do it’ point,—the ‘Do it’ point” (from Sheridan Knowles' “ Hunchback ” ).13 And striking his great hands together and heaving them about like Dominie Sampson, and striding up and down the room, he would keep repeating, “By George, that's fine!”
Every one was sorry when he left town, and from that time his name was really a household word with us. There was a sweetness and tenderness of character about him, and an entire unworldliness that won all hearts, while his delightful culture completed the charm.
My father was exceedingly fond of Mr. Sumner from his youth.
He knew all about him, sometime before the visit to Philadelphia in 1834, from Judge Story; and believed with that dear friend that all possibilities for a legal and literary career of great brilliancy lay before this young man, so gifted, so fond of culture, so persevering in the study of his profession, so appreciative of, and so enthusiastic for, all that is good and fine.
Shortly after Sumner
's return from Washington
, Judge Story
pressed him to accept a connection with the Law School as instructor; but the offer was declined.
An extract from his
's letter, of May 2, shows the latter's view of Sumner
's probable future:—
In the concluding lines of your letter, which I received this morning, you seemed to see and lament the course which fortune and your stars appear to have marked out for you. I see no reason for lamentation, but rather much for congratulation and rejoicing.
The course of events, or rather your own might and main, have opened to you the very path your feet were made to tread.
Let me speak plainly what I plainly discern and feel.
You are not rough-shod enough to travel in the stony and broken road of homely, harsh, every-day practice.
You were neither made for it by the hand of Nature, nor have you wrought and fashioned yourself to it by that less cunning but still most potent artificer,—practice.
All your inclinations (I do not see through a glass darkly) and all your habits set you on with a strong tendency toward a green eminence of fame and emolument in your profession; but you are not destined to reach it by travelling through the ordinary business of a young lawyer in the courts.
You see that yourself, and you affect to be sad thereat.
Instead of looking back with regret to the practice which you are to leave to other spirits touched less finely, and to far less fine issues, you should reserve both your eyes to look forward and see the reasons of rejoicing.
By all means take up the offer of the judge, and never think of opening an office in the city.
If, before the day of service upon your post, you have an offer from some established man with large business and a good library, then deliberate, then suffer yourself to institute comparisons between that and the station in the Law School; but not till then.
If such a chance should occur, the judge would be one of the foremost to relinquish his hold on you.
A few weeks before Sumner
's admission to the bar, the Ursuline Convent
was burned, Aug. 11, by a mob. The authorities of Harvard College seriously apprehended a retaliatory attack by the Catholics upon the college buildings, and particularly upon the library, then kept in Harvard Hall.
The students were absent upon their vacation; and Rev. Mr. Palfrey
of the Divinity Faculty
, undertook to collect a volunteer guard among the recent graduates.
One of seventy men was gathered for one night, commanded by Franklin Dexter
; and another of like number for the next night, commanded by David Lee Child
and George W. Phillips
,—and the two guards alternated.
was a private in the second guard; and, armed with a musket, left his father's house at evening to do duty at Cambridge
, while the alarm lasted.
The story is told of him, that, as they were quartered in Harvard Hall for the night, he started the question whether the guard had been assembled and was acting under due corporate authority,—a legal inquiry,
which, under the circumstances, somewhat amused his companions.
At the beginning of September, 1834, Sumner
, anxious to enter at once on practice,—there being no court in session at Boston
having authority to grant admissions to the bar,—applied to the Court of Common Pleas, sitting in Worcester
(Chief-Justice John M. Williams
, presiding), where on the third of that month he was admitted as an attorney, after a recommendation by the bar of Worcester County
, of which Pliny Merrick
and Charles Allen
were then the leaders.
D. Waldo Lincoln
a fellow student in College and at the Law School, who was admitted at the same time, interested himself in the preliminary arrangements for Sumner