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[287]

This toil, which one with Sumner's capacity for higher work ought never to have undertaken, proved too much for him. No labor presses so heavily, or tries body and mind alike so severely as plodding among heaps of law books, condensing the substance of many pages into a single paragraph, adjusting cases to general statements, calling attention to nice distinctions, and guarding against errors of statement or reference which beset the annotator on every side,—a dreary, never-lightening task, which only he knows who has attempted it.

With four volumes completed, his constitution, which had hitherto withstood disease, broke down. As he began his work, he wrote of his ‘redundant health;’ and this until now had been his good fortune, bating an occasional cough or headache. In June he was taken ill with a slow fever, but rallied by the first of July, when he wrote with some difficulty a brief letter to his brother George. On the 15th, the fever continuing, he attempted to write another to his brother, but was obliged to finish it by dictation. The disease then set in with greater vigor, and for the next ten days he was entirely prostrated. Besides the faithful attentions of the eminent physician, Dr. James Jackson, his friend Dr. Fisher came often to see him. Dr. Jackson thought his symptoms alarming, and had but slight hope of his recovery, and so frankly informed his patient,—a communication, however, which did not in the least disturb him. The few friends who were admitted to his bedside shared the physician's fears for the worst. Though these apprehensions were not realized, there was good cause for them. His escape was a narrow one; and his extraordinary vitality,—partly physical, partly spiritual, alone rescued him from the untimely fate which befell so many of his family.

With Sumner the instinctive love of life was weaker than with most men. He had a dread of living with decayed powers, but never of dying. From his youth to the end, he would have listened to the summons of certain death with perfect serenity, except as the event might have left some task unfinished or some cause undefended. He never knew what fear was, least of all the fear of death. At times he spoke of dying relatives and friends who loved life, and wondered why he, who did not care for it, was left and they taken. This indifference to what instinct has made the dearest possession is to be ascribed, in his case as generally, more to original constitution than to philosophy.

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