Chapter 6: Law School.—September, 1831, to December, 1833.—Age, 20-22.
joined the Law School of Harvard University, Sept. 1, 1831.1
This school grew out of the Royall Professorship
of Law, which was established in 1815.
It was organized as a distinct department two years later; but its vigorous life began in 1829, with the appointment of Judge Story
and John H. Ashmun
The character of Story as jurist and teacher, his immense learning, copious speech, great enthusiasm, and kindly interest in students have been often commemorated.2 Ashmun
was remarkable for his acumen and logical method; and the two professors were well mated.
At that time the method of teaching was, not only to illustrate the topic of study by decided or supposed cases, and to comment upon and criticise the text-book, but also to examine most of the students quite closely upon the lesson of the day. The exercise was a recitation rather than a lecture,—a mode of instruction which becomes inconvenient when a professional school is largely attended.
was the sole instructor when Judge Story
was absent on judicial duty at Washington
, or on his circuit.
His service as teacher was cut short by his death, April 1, 1833.
alone was with him when he died, his sole watcher for the night.3
He afterwards collected the funds for a monument to his teacher, and revised his manuscripts for posthumous publication in the ‘American Jurist.’
He was admitted to the professor's
confidence, and received peculiar help from his severe method of legal investigation.
insisted always on definiteness of thought and exactness of expression, and was in the habit of testing the knowledge of his favorite pupils by close scrutiny and criticism.
This was a healthy discipline for one of Sumner
's tastes and habits of study, and he profited much by it.
was succeeded, in July, by Simon Greenleaf
the author of the treatise on ‘The Law of Evidence;’ the vacancy being filled during the intervening period by James C. Alvord
, of Greenfield
, a young lawyer of marked ability.
Both saw in Sumner
a student of large promise, and became at once his friends.
's interest in him was hardly second to Judge Story
's, and was prolonged after the close of Sumner
's connection with the school as pupil or instructor.
was at first attracted to Sumner
by a long-existing friendship with his father; and he had been in the school but a short time before a very close intimacy was established between them.
Biography gives no instance of a more beautiful relation between teacher and pupil.
The judge admired Sumner
's zeal in study, enjoyed his society, and regarded him like a son. Sumner
conceived a profound respect for the judge's character and learning, and was fascinated by his personal qualities.
This friendship entered very largely into Sumner
's life, and for many years gave direction to his thoughts and ambition.
The eloquent tributes which he afterwards paid to the memory of his master and friend are the witnesses of his veneration and love.5
, during the early part of his course at the Law School, occupied room Number 10 Divinity Hall, the most retired of the college buildings, and took his meals in commons.
Afterwards, he became librarian of the school, and, as one of the privileges of his office, occupied as a dormitory room Number 4 Dane Hall, from the time that building was opened for use in Oct., 1832.6
The Law School then numbered forty students,7
and was divided into three classes,—the Senior, Middle, and Junior.
There were three terms a year, corresponding to the college terms; and the instruction was given, prior to the erection of Dane
, in College House, Number 1, nearly opposite to its present site.
Of the law-students, Sumner
associated most with his college classmate Browne
, who, entering at the same time, was, on account of a year's study in an office, advanced to the Middle Class
; with Wendell Phillips
, who, graduating from college a year later than Sumner
, now entered with him the Junior Class
; with Henry W. Paine
, of Winslow, Me.
who entered Sumner
's class in the spring of 1832, and whose acquaintance he then made; and with his classmate Hopkinson
, who joined the school in the autumn of that year.9
With each of these he discussed common studies and plans of life, in his room and in occasional walks.
had been fellow-students, though in different classes, at the Latin School and in college; but their familiar acquaintance dates from their connection with the Law School.10
had now attained the full height of his manhood,— six feet and two inches. He was tall and gaunt, weighing only one hundred and twenty pounds. His hair was dark-brown; his eyes hazel, and inflamed by excessive use; his face sharp-featured; his teeth gleaming with whiteness; his complexion dark and not clear; his visage and person not attractive to the eye, and far unlike his presence in later life, when with full proportions and classic features he arrested attention in the Senate and on the street.
He was never disabled by illness, and seemed exempt from the physical limitations which beset others, denying himself the exercise and sleep which Nature commands.
He was swift on his feet, striding from Boston
at the pace of nearly five miles an hour, and putting out of breath any companion who had been unlucky enough to undertake the walk with him. His voice was strong, clear, and sonorous.
His countenance was lighted up with expression, and his genial smile won friends upon an introduction.
His spirits were buoyant
in company, and his laugh was loud and hearty.
But, whatever were his physical characteristics, there was a charm in his perfect simplicity and naturalness, his absolute sincerity of heart, his enthusiasm and scholarly ambition, his kindness to fellows-students, his respect for older people, his friendliness for all,— qualities which never fail to win interest and affection.
Many who knew him in early days, parted afterwards by divergent tastes or sharp political antagonisms, now recall the memory of this period only to speak pleasantly and even tenderly of him.
The beginning of his studies in the Law School marks a distinct transition in Sumner
's early life.
To the classmates who were nearest to him in sympathy he frankly confessed his ambition.
It had, while in college and the year after, been stirred by the great names of history; but, until he decided to study at the Law School, it was vague and unsettled.
Having chosen his profession, the jurist
became his ideal.
He aspired to know the law as a science, and not merely to follow it as a lucrative occupation.
Such names as those of Grotius
, Pothier, Mansfield
, and Blackstone
dwelt much in his thoughts.
Fascinated by Story
's learning and fame, he looked probably to the bench or the professor's chair as the highest reward of his unwearied toils.11
He entered on his chosen study with the greatest ardor and enthusiasm.
To a classmate he wrote of the law as ‘a noble profession, an immense field.’
He husbanded his time, and grudged every moment of diversion.
Early and late at his books, limiting personal associations to a narrow circle, abstaining from needful recreation even in vacations, chary of evenings spared for amusements, and only yielding to the attractions of some eminent actor, he devoted himself to his studies, not only during the day and evening, but prolonged them past midnight till two in the morning,—his usual hour of retiring.
Once, when poring over his books, he was startled by the janitor's tread and the breaking daylight.
He knew the place of each book in the library so well, that he could readily find it in the dark.
No monk ever kept his vigils with more absorbing devotion.
The tone of his letters changed perceptibly at this time; no longer light and sportive as before, they are altogether serious, and relate chiefly to his studies, with only brief references to the incidents of college life and tidings from classmates.
Shortly after he entered the Law School, he procured a ‘Lawyer's Commonplace-Book,’ in which he wrote out tables of English kings and lord-chancellors, with dates of reigns and terms; sketches of lawyers, drawn largely from Roscoe
's ‘Lives;’ extracts from Sir Matthew Hale
's ‘History of the Common Law
;’ and the definitions and incidents of ‘Estates,’ as laid down by Blackstone
The list of books read by him at the school, as noted in his commonplace-books, is remarkable for its wide range, and begins with this memorandum and extract from Coke's First Institute: ‘Law reading commenced Sept., 1831, at Cambridge
“Holding this for an undoubted verity, that there is no knowledge, case, or point in law, seeme it of never so little account, but will stand our student in stead at one time or other.”
1 Inst. 9.’
Besides his common-law studies, he read widely in French law.
's memory was not less extraordinary than his industry.
Students applied to him for guidance in their investigations, and even lawyers in practice sought, in a few instances at least, his aid in the preparation of briefs.
While his friends admired his zeal and enthusiasm, they were not altogether pleased with his excessive application, and advised greater moderation in his studies.
There was reason in their caution.
It is possible to task the receptive capacity of the mind to the injury of its creative power; and Sumner
, perhaps, gathered his knowledge too fast for the best intellectual discipline.
His notes of the moot-court cases heard by the professors, in several of which he was counsel,12
In Feb., 1833, he maintained (Wendell Phillips
being of counsel on the other side) the negative of the question, whether a Scotch bond, assignable by the law of Scotland
, can be sued by the assignee in his own name in our courts.
He seems to have been dissatisfied with his argument, and wrote to Browne
, stating his hesitation in public speaking, and his difficulty in selecting fit language for his thoughts.
replied, saying that he had overstated the difficulty, which was not peculiar to him; and advising a simpler style, with less effort and consciousness, and the rejection of large words,—sesquipedalia verba
(‘to which you know you are addicted’),—and ‘uncommon, brilliant, and Gibbonic phrases.’
‘You do not stumble,’ he said; ‘you utter rapidly enough.
To be sure, you have not the torrens dicendi
, and that is a very fortunate thing.’
competed successfully for a Bowdoin prize offered to resident graduates for the best dissertation on the theme, ‘Are the most important Changes in Society effected Gradually or by Violent Revolutions?’
His manuscript bore a motto from the ‘Agricola
’ of Tacitus
: ‘Per intervalla ac spiramenta temporum.’
It was written in a fortnight, without interfering with his regular studies, and covered fifty pages.
Some of its quotations may be traced in his orations.
The early part is elaborate, but the latter hurriedly written.
Much space is taken with a review of the condition of Europe
in the ‘Dark Ages,’ and of the agencies which promoted modern civilization,—a line of thought probably suggested by his recent reading of Hallam
's ‘Middle Ages
This progressive development, he maintained, shows that the improvement of society is effected by gradual reforms, often unobserved, rather than by revolutions.
The former are always to be encouraged; the latter become necessary when society has outgrown its institutions, and peaceful changes are resisted by the governing power.
The dissertation bears the marks of haste in composition, and is marred by digressions and wanting in compactness.13
He did not then apply the labor of assiduous and repeated revision, which was afterwards habitual with him. While not falling below the similar efforts of clever young men, it is not prophetic of future distinction.
One passage is interesting, when read in the light of his subsequent career:–
Times like these (when revolutions become necessary) call for the exertions of the truly brave man. The good citizen may revolt at violence and outrage, and all the calamities which thicken upon a people divided with itself; but if he be true to his country, he will incur the risk for the prize in store.
“ For surely, to every good and peaceable citizen,” said Milton,14 himself an actor in scenes like these to which I am referring, “ it must in nature needs be a hateful thing to be the displeaser and molester of thousands.
But when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say or what he shall conceal.”
The question is one upon which hangs the prosperity and happiness of his country for years to come.
A great battle is to be fought; but the fruits of the victory are not to him alone.
The honor and garland are his; but the benefit goes
down to the latest posterity.
The toil and danger are his; but, in Milton's words again, “ he shall have his charter and freehold of rejoicing to him and his heirs.”
It was Sumner
's purpose to leave the Law School in July, 1833, at the end of a two years course; but he yielded to the persuasions of Judge Story
, who urged him to remain during the next term, which would close with the year.
The judge wrote to him from Washington
, July 12: ‘I am very glad that you have concluded to remain at the Law School another term.
It will, I think, be very profitable to you, and not in the slightest degree affect your means of practical knowledge.
Let nothing induce you to quit the law. You will, as sure as you live, possess a high rank in it, and need not fear the frowns of fortune or of power.’
While Judge Story
was absent at Washington
was his correspondent at Cambridge
, and served him in forwarding books, distributing presentation copies of his works, and in similar good offices.
The judge wrote, Feb. 6, 1833,15
‘There are not many of whom I would venture to ask the favor of troubling themselves in my affairs; but I feel proud to think that you are among the number, and I have, in some sort, as the Scotch would say, a heritable right to your friendship.’
And again, on Feb. 4, 1834: ‘You must begin to be chary of your intellectual as well as physical strength, or it may be exhausted before you reach the fair maturity of life.’
During the summer
of 1833, while serving as librarian, Sumner
prepared a catalogue of the library of the Law School.
His work, for which he was voted one hundred and fifty dollars by the corporation, was carefully done and much approved at the time.
It contains, besides the list of books, an interesting sketch of the growth of the library, and of the gifts of the second Thomas Hollis
, of Lincoln's Inn, which was republished in the ‘American Jurist.’16
In 1833, he contributed two articles to the ‘American Monthly Review:’17
one, a review of the impeachment trials before the Senate of the United States, and particularly that of Judge Peck
; and the other, a notice of an edition of Blackstone
's ‘Commentaries,’ with special reference to the notes of Christian
wrote to him in relation to the former article:—
It is learned without a show of learning.
To have been able to accomplish such a matter is no small subject of rejoicing.
I am glad to see you grow.
You have improved your style in proportions and muscle.
It bears in that article a favorable comparison with a strong, healthy, well-built man. Did you get that Latin quotation from Persius?
That was the only thing I would ask to strike out. It was far-fetched, knotty, and hard to be translated.
Near the close of his second year in the Law School, he began to write for the ‘American Jurist,’ a law periodical which maintained a high rank, and numbered among its contributors Theron Metcalf
, Simon Greenleaf
, Luther S. Cushing
, George S. Hillard
, and Dr. I. Ray
Some of its series of articles—notably, Judge Metcalf
's on Contracts—afterwards grew into treatises.
—author of the treatise on ‘The Law of Insurance’—was the editor.
's first contribution was to the number for July, 1833,—a notice of a lecture before King's College, London
, by Professor J. J. Park
, on ‘Courts of Equity.’18
The article defines at some length and with happy illustrations the distinction between law and equity, then much misconceived.
noted it, in his ‘Equity Jurisprudence
,’ as ‘a forcible exposition of the prevalent errors on the subject,’ and as ‘full of useful comment and research.’19
It is a thoughtful and well-written paper, entirely worthy of a lawyer who had added practice to his professional studies.
's method of composition changed perceptibly while he was in the Law School.
His style became more compact, his vocabulary more select, his thought clearer and more exact.
His topics exercised the critical faculty, and the discipline of legal studies counteracted his tendency to diffuseness.
He was, more than before, the master of his material.
There was not as yet the glow, the earnestness, or the moral inspiration which were afterwards the peculiar traits of his writings; these were reserved for a period when his life was to be among events rather than among books.
His freedom of thought, and his sympathy with new ideas and reforms, checked probably in some measure by his association with conservative teachers, appear thus early
warm and active.20
His intellect lacked subtlety; it was generally repelled by abstruse and technical questions, and, led by Story
's example, sought the more congenial domains of international and commercial law. Some of his surviving fellow-students recall that he was not thought to have what is called ‘a legal mind;’ though Story and Greenleaf
, each of whom counted on him as colleague or successor, do not appear to have observed this defect.
His classmate Browne
took exception at the time to his articles in the ‘Jurist,’ as being speculative rather than practical in their topics; and certainly his contributions to that magazine, then and later, show that he preferred to write upon the literature of the law rather than upon the law itself.
One with his qualities of mind would be more likely to find his place in the profession as author or teacher, than among the details of office-business or the hand-to-hand contests of the court-room.
Contemporaneous letters, written chiefly by his classmates, show his habits at this time, and the expectations entertained as to his future.
His father wrote to him, April 4, 1832, ‘Charles, while you study law, be not too discursive.
Study your prescribed course well.
That is enough to make you a lawyer.
You may bewilder your mind by taking too wide a range.’
, in a similar tone, wrote, Sept. 19, 1831, ‘You
were cut out for a lawyer. . . . I cannot altogether applaud your resolution to include so much in your system of study for the coming year.
“Law, classics, history, and literature” is certainly too wide a range for any common mind to spread over at one time.
Better follow Captain Bobadil
's example; take them man by man, and “kill them all up by computation.”
, Jan. 6, 1832, calls him ‘the indefatigable, ever-delving student, and amorous votary of antiquity;’ and refers, May 12, ‘to the study and diligence for which the world gives you credit.’
wrote from Cambridge
, May 6, 1832:—
We, in Cambridge here, are studying law at a trot, or rather I should say, reciting it. Some study hard,—among them your good friend Charles, hater of mathematics; but as to your other friend [himself], he studies the books but little.
Sumner will be a vast reservoir of law, if he lives to be at the bar; which, if you take the bodings of a harsh, constant cough and a most pale face, might seem doubtful.
Yet his general health seems perfect.
He eats well, sleeps well, and so through all the functions of the animal man.
We often laugh together in speaking of the time to come, when I tell him 1 will send to him for law when I have a case to look up. He is to the law what he used to be to history,—a repertory of facts to which we might all resort.
Let him speed in his studies, increase in the color of his cheeks, expel his cough from a dominion whose title is almost confirmed by prescription, and he will hold himself higher than his legal brethren by the head and shoulders.
wrote to Sumner
, May 14:—
Browne tells me you are studying law with all the zeal and ardor of a lover.
But by all means do not sacrifice your health.
You must take care of that.
You owe it as a duty to yourself, a duty to your friends and country, a duty to your God.
It will be too late to think of this when disease has taken a firm grapple on the body. . . . You cannot be a man and reach the lawful height to which your intellect is capable of being raised, unless you carefully watch over and preserve your health.
You may think these remarks are frivolous, but I consider them as serious truths.
I look forward to the time, if you do not kill yourself prematurely, when I shall see you a decided, powerful champion of the cause of justice, patriotism, and the true Christian faith.
wrote, July 17:—
‘Congratulations are matter of course; but I hope you will consider it equally a matter of course that a friend should feel great joy in your success.21 Your pen was always that of a ready writer, once indeed racy and loose.
But words were always your obedient slaves.
They came and ranged themselves at your bidding; nay, seemed often to outrun your swift intent, and marshal you the way. But I have for two years been observing your pen to grow stiffer.
Your crude troops have been growing more disciplined and forming in straighter lines, till you have a numerous and well-ordered army. . . . Be this a foretaste of many successes in laudable undertakings.’
Again, on July 30:—
You never think of bodily health.
Do you have the folly to spend this vacation in poring?
Take a country tour,—a long pedestrian tour.
It will be the best way to further your intellectual progress.
Give that pallid face a little color, those lean limbs a little muscle, and the bow of your mind a greater elasticity.
Again, on May 9, 1833, Hopkinson
wrote from Lowell
, where he was practising law as the partner of Mr. Luther Lawrence
Had I but your application, I might consider myself in a good way. Not, indeed, that I could grasp such honors as are within your reach; not that I could walk over the heads of all young practitioners, and be in fact a counsellor during my attorneyship: but I could take an immediate practice and
Your chance at Cambridge, had I your fitness for the place, would tempt me more than a tour to Washington, which has so kindled your imagination. . . . As to your despondency, or whatever other name you please to give it, take exercise!—exercise!—exercise!—and it will vanish like the morning dew.
Henry W. Paine
, having left the Law School, wrote from Winslow, Me.
, March 12, 1833:—
There is not one among my friends in whom I feel a more lively interest, whose prosperity would more essentially contribute to my happiness.
Be careful of your health, my friend, and the day is not distant when I shall have the proud satisfaction of saying that Sumner was once my classmate.
Again, on May 25:—
Since my last, you have been called to mourn the departure of poor Ashmun.
Indeed, we all mourned the event; but you must have felt it more sensibly than the rest of us, situated so near him as you were, and so intimate with him as you had been for the past two years. You were present, too, at the last solemn scene, performing those acts of kindness which you must now reflect upon with satisfaction. . . . If you could realize what a treat is one of your letters, you have too much of the milk of human kindness to withhold the favor.
I seem to see in them once more Old Harvard, and to be seated again in the librarian's room of Dane Law College.
But you are soon to leave, and thus the strongest chain that binds me to the “ sacred ” spot is to be severed.
I have always supposed that the place of your ultimate destination was certain.
Surely you cannot hesitate.
You were made for Boston.
There your talents and attainments will be appreciated, and cannot fail of securing you that reputation which all who know you would rejoice to see you attain.
But, as you have been so incessant in your application, I am sincerely concerned for your health; and, if my poor advice could avail, you would spend your coming vacation in journeying.
Come “down East.”
Dismiss your books and the toils of study.
You may think this “interested advice;” and in part it is, though not wholly so. I feel it would be beneficial to you. It would be a joyous event to me.
wrote from Lowell
, July 13:—
Dear Charles,—I regret to learn that you are to stay yet a term further at Cambridge, for I had calculated on your coming here this fall.
Yet nothing is so like yourself as to stay to please your friend [Judge Story],— and such a friend!
I most earnestly congratulate you on having gained the confidence, esteem, and friendship of that truly great man. It will fix your life's direction, and I would not have you forego the advantages which that situation and that intercourse will secure to you for my pleasure or gratification.
You will find your employment probably in the science of the law, and will escape its drudgery.
In March, 1833, a temperance society was formed in the college, which included members of the professional schools, as well as undergraduates.
It was a period of special interest in this reform.
The pledge of this society admitted the use of wines, excluding only that of spirituous liquors, and was binding only during the signer's connection with the college.
The meeting for organization was held in a room in University Hall, which was used for commons.22 Sumner
was chosen President
; Abiel A. Livermore
, of the Divinity School, Vice-President
; and Samuel Osgood
, of the Divinity School, Secretary
Among the members of the Executive Committee were Barzillai Frost
, of the Divinity School, and Richard H. Dana, Jr.
, of the Sophomore Class
Public meetings were held in the City Hall, or one of the churches; at one of which Rev. John G. Palfrey
delivered an impressive address, still well remembered for its effective reference to graduates of the college who had fallen victims to the vice.
He then, for the first time, met Sumner
, who presided; and was attracted by his manly presence and genial smile.
In the autumn of 1833, Sumner
invited George S. Hillard
to repeat before the society a temperance lecture which he had delivered in other places.
Rev. A. A. Livermore
, of Meadville, Penn.
, a living officer of the society, writes:—
A peculiar life-and-death earnestness characterized even then all that Sumner did and said.
His voice had a trumpet tone, and he was a good leader to rally under; but temperance was not popular.
Rev. Dr. Osgood
, of New York, also writes:—
Sumner was then a law-student, and I saw a good deal of him. He talked much of ethics and international law. He had great strength of conviction on ethical subjects and decided religious principle; yet he was little theological, much less ecclesiastical.
He was connected, at least during his first year in the Law School, with a debating society, and bore his part in discussions which related to the utility of trial by jury and of capital punishment, and the value of lyceums.
He was not fluent in speech, but he prepared himself with care, as his minutes still preserved show.
One attraction at this time proved stronger with Sumner
even his books.
Miss Frances A. Kemble
, the daughter of Charles Kemble
, the English
actor, and the niece of Mrs. Siddons
, came with her father to this country in 1832, three years after her debut
at Covent Garden
in the character of Juliet.
She was then but twenty-one years old; and her youth added to the fascination of her brilliant talents.
Wherever she played, her acting was greatly admired; and by no class so much as by students.
After fulfilling engagements in New York and other cities, she made her first appearance in Boston
in April, 1833.
was an enthusiast in his devotion, walking again and again to the city during her engagement at the Tremont Theatre
, witnessing her acting with intense admiration, and delighting to talk of her with his friends.23
He did not know her personally at this time, but greatly enjoyed her society some years afterwards, during a visit to Berkshire County
visited, while a student in the Law School, but few families.
He was a welcome guest at the firesides of the two professorsStory
, and Mrs. Story
and Mrs. Greenleaf
took an interest in him almost equal to that of their husbands.
His friendship with the family of President Quincy
, which began at this period, remained unbroken through life; and from them, in all the vicissitudes of his career, he never failed to receive hearty sympathy and support.
While he entered sympathetically into the household life of his friends, he was, at this period,—which is marked by an absorbing, almost ascetic, devotion to the pursuit of knowledge,—indifferent to the society of ladies whose charms were chiefly those of person and youth; and his preference for the conversation of scholarly persons gave at times much amusement to others; but, as some lifelong friendships attest, no one was ever more appreciative of women of superior refinement and excellence.
, a daughter of President Quincy
Charles Sumner entered his Senior year in 1830.
The son of an old friend of my father's, he must have had an early invitation to our house.
The first distinct remembrance I have of him personally was on one of my mother's reception evenings, held every Thursday during the winter, and
open to all acquaintances and the students.
I was standing at the end of one of the long, old-fashioned rooms, and saw, among a crowd of half-grown youths and towering above them, the tall, spare form and honest face of Charles Sumner.
Years after we recalled that evening; and from his wonderful memory he mentioned a little fact.
“ A three-cornered note was brought to you,” said he, “and you said to the gentlemen round you, ‘it is from Miss M.; she cannot be here this evening.’
” “Why were you not introduced to me?”
said I. “Oh, I did not dare to be; I only looked at you from afar with awe.”
I was, in fact, a year younger than himself; but in those simple days the chasm was wide between a raw collegian, as he then was, and a young lady in society.
I recall him very distinctly in his seat on Sundays.
It was in the old chapel in University Hall, before any alteration had been made.
The President's pew was in the gallery, on the right of the pulpit.
Perched there, I looked down, first on good Dr. Ware, Sr., in his professor's gown; and, while he discoursed “furthermore,” I looked beyond and below on the very young Sophomores, and saw Sumner's long proportions in the front seat of the Seniors.
It was during his residence as a law-student that he was most frequently at our house.
I do not think he ever sought ladies' society much, though I remember we always enjoyed his conversation, and that my mother foresaw a future for Charles Sumner.
It was during his law-studies that Judge Story and my father recognized his uncommon abilities.
On one of those memorable Sunday evenings, when the judge, seated by my mother, drew all present around them, he spoke of Sumner, and said: “ He has a wonderful memory; he keeps all his knowledge in order, and can put his hand on it in a moment.
This is a great gift.”
On July 28, 1833, the new First Parish church was in progress; and the steeple, after being finished inside, was to be raised entire and placed on the tower.
I give an extract from my journal: “We sent Horace to ask Mr. Sumner, the law-student, to let us come over to the Law School and see the raising.
In a few moments, mamma, Margaret, and myself were joined by Mr. Sumner, who escorted us not only to the Law School, but all over the building, even into his own room, as, being librarian, he lives there.
This youth, though not in the least handsome, is so good-hearted, clever, and real, that it is impossible not to like him and believe in him. JudgeStory and Mrs. Story and several other ladies joined us, and we sat on the portico; for Judge Story, fearing some accident would occur, would not let any of us go over to the church to see how the raising was managed.
The steeple went up so slowly that mamma and my sister could not wait for it; but I staid with Mrs. Story until it rose to its full height and was safely moored on the tower.
Mr. Sumner walked home with me arm in arm.”
This latter clause is underlined, as I suppose it was a very remarkable attention; at least he had now no “ awe” of the young lady.
It was in the preceding April, 1833, that John Hooker Ashmun died,— the Royall Professor of Law,—and Sumner must have been present at Judge Story's eulogy on Mr. Ashmun.
In my journal of that day I write: “ After the services closed and the men came forward to remove the body, a number of Mr. Ashmun's students, as if moved by an irresistible impulse, pressed
forward and surrounded him for the last time.
They were to see his face no more.”
Mr. Alvord took Mr. Ashmun's place as professor, but, in the summer of 1833, he also was taken very ill. During the weeks after the notice of the steeple-raising, I find Mr. Sumner's name mentioned constantly, coming in to report Mr. Alvord's state, as he visited him daily.
One extract more from the journal: “Charles Sumner came to give his account of Mr. Alvord, which is more favorable.
He paid me a long visit, and we talked at the rate of nine knots an hour.
He gave a curious account of a young man who has been studying Latin and Greek in a lighthouse, to prepare for college.
The reason of his choosing a lighthouse is to save the expense of oil!
We agreed that he deserved all success.
Mamma returned from Dedham while Mr. Sumner was still here, and he staid and had a good long talk with her.”
His classmate, Rev. Dr. Emery
In Oct., 1833, I returned to Cambridge and became a resident graduate.
I found Sumner in the Law School, pursuing his studies with great enthusiasm, and we were often in each other's rooms.
He was the same scholarly person then as when in college, and he lived, as it were, in intimate converse with the learned of ancient and modern times.
I have no doubt his mind was better stored with accurate and critical knowledge than that of any other student in the school.
He occupied as librarian one of the front rooms in the second story of Dane Hall, “ the pleasantest room in Cambridge,” as he told me. If he had at that time any thought of being one of the foremost public men in the country beyond that of an eminent lawyer, he certainly kept it to himself, for he seemed to take but little interest in political matters.
He came one day to my room in Massachusetts Hall, and told me how he had unfortunately just congratulated a professor, recently resigned, on his election to the State Senate, not knowing that he had been defeated.
His mind was wholly absorbed in other pursuits, which, perhaps unconsciously to himself, were preparing him for the lofty stand he attained in after life.
Professor William C. Russell
, of Cornell University, who saw much of Sumner
in 1832-33, writes: —
He was a tall, thin, bent, ungainly law-student; his eyes were inflamed by late reading, and his complexion showed that he was careless of exercise.
I was from New York, and he had less experience of life; and from that cause, I suppose, liked to talk to me. He certainly was very kind, very simple, and very easily pleased.
I rather think, however, that I owed a great deal of the kindness with which he treated me to the fact that I was personally acquainted, though very slightly, with “ Fanny Kemble,” as we boys used to call her. He was, as much as any of us, infatuated by her acting; and I remember his one day stopping me in the street, and drawing me out of the thoroughfare, and saying, “ Come, Russell, tell me something about Fanny Kemble,” with all the interest of a lover.
His personal kindness never ceased while I remained at Cambridge, and
he helped me on one occasion when I needed a friend, with the tenderness of a girl.
When I left, in 1834, to no one of the friends whom I had gained there was I more attached.
A lady, then a fiancee
of one of his most intimate classmates, writes:—
As a young law-student, I remember very well the first impression he made upon me of a certain dignity and strength, which supplied the want of grace, and which was as perceptible in his conversation as in his person.
You would have said then that he was a man of ideas, and that the ideas of other people would never be trammels, only steps, for him.
William W. Story
writes from Rome
I was a mere boy when I first knew him, but the affectionate kindness which he then showed me remained unclouded by the slightest shadow until the day of his death.
His father was in a class two years before my father at Harvard; and when Charles Sumner entered the Law School, my father took an interest in him at first, because of his father, and this interest soon ripened into a warm affection.
My first recollections of him are at this period.
He used to come to our house some two or three evenings in the week, and to his long conversations I used to listen night after night with eager pleasure.
His simplicity and directness of character, his enthusiasm and craving for information, his lively spirit and genial feeling, immediately made a strong impression on me. My father was very fond of him, always received him with a beaming face, and treated him almost as if he were a son; and we were all delighted to welcome him to our family circle.
He was free, natural, and naive in his simplicity, and plied my father with an ever-flowing stream of questions; and I need not say that the responses were as full and genial as heart and mind could desire.
When I heard that he was in the room, I quitted all occupations to see and hear him, though for the most part I only played the role of listener.
When other persons came in, he would turn to me and make inquiries as to my studies, and endeavor to help me in them; and at last, out of pure good nature, he proposed to me to come to his room in the Dane Law College, and read Latin with him and talk over the ancient authors.
I gladly accepted the offer, and many an evening I used to spend with him in half study, half talk.
He had the art to render these evenings most agreeable.
He talked of Cicero and Caesar; of Horace, Virgil, Tacitus, Sallust, and indeed of all the old Latin writers; of the influence they had on their age, and their age had on them; of the characteristics of their poetry and prose; of the peculiarities of their style; of the differences between them and our modern authors: and he so talked of them as to interest and amuse me, and bring them before me as real and living persons out of the dim, vague mist in which they had hitherto stood in my mind.
We used then, also, to cap Latin verses; and he so roused my ambition not to be outdone by him that I collected from various authors a book full of verses, all of which I committed to memory.
Of course he beat me always, for he had
a facile and iron memory which easily seized and steadily retained every thing he acquired.
English poetry was also a constant subject of our talks; and he used to quote and read favorite passages which we earnestly discussed together.
Among all the poets, at this time certainly, Gray was his favorite;24 and I have still a copy of his poems, presented to me by him, and full of annotations, many of which are due to these conversations.
I shall never cease to feel grateful to him for these happy evenings, so full of interest and instruction.
Then, as afterwards, his judgment in respect to poetry was not a keen one.
The higher flights of the imagination, or the rapid ranges of fancy, were above him; and I think his noblest idea of poetry was embodied in Gray's “Elegy,” which he would repeat with sonorous tones.
But poetry was with him more all acquired taste than a natural one.
He had himself little imagination or fancy, and better loved strong manly sentiments and thoughts within the range of the understanding, and solid facts and statements of principles.
When he could steady himself against a statement by an ancient author he felt strong.
His own moral sense, which was very high, seemed to buttress itself with a passage from Cicero or Epictetus.
He seemed to build upon them as upon a rock, and thence defy you to shake him.
He was then, as ever in after life, an indefatigable and omnivorous student.
He lived simply, was guilty of no excesses of any kind, went very little into society, and devoted his days and nights to books.
Shortly after my first acquaintance with hi, he became librarian of the Dane Law School, and I think there was scarcely a text-book in the library of the contents of which he had not some knowledge.
Nor was this a superficial knowledge, considering its extent and his youth.
He had acquainted himself, also, with the lives, characters, and capacity of most of the authors, and could give a fair resume of the contents of most of their works.
His room was piled with books: the shelves overflowed and the floor was littered with them.
Though a devoted student of law, he did not limit his reading to it, but ranged over the whole field of literature with eager interest.
He was at this time totally without vanity, and only desirous to acquire knowledge and information on every subject.
Behind every work he liked to see and feel the man who wrote it, and, as it were, to make his personal acquaintance.
Whenever a particular question interested him, he would come to my father and talk it over with him, and discuss it by the hour.
He had no interest in games and athletic sports; never, so far as I know, fished or shot or rowed; had no fancy for dogs and horses; and, in a word, was without all those tastes which are almost universal with men of his age. As for dancing, I think he never danced a step in his life.
Of all men I ever knew at his age, he was the least susceptible to the charms of women.
Men he liked best, and with them he preferred to talk.
It was in vain for the loveliest and liveliest girl to seek to absorb his attention.
He would at once
desert the most blooming beauty to talk to the plainest of men. This was a constant source of amusement to us, and we used to lay wagers with the pretty girls, that with all their art they could not keep him at their side a quarter of an hour.
Nor do I think we ever lost one of these bets.
I remember particularly one dinner at my father's house, when it fell to his lot to take out a charming woman, so handsome and full of esprit that any one at the table might well have envied him his position.
She had determined to hold him captive, and win her bet against us. But her efforts were all in vain.
Unfortunately, on his other side was a dry old savant, packed with information; and within five minutes Sumner had completely turned his back on his fair companion, and engaged in a discussion with the other, which lasted the whole dinner.
We all laughed.
She cast up her eyes deprecatingly, acknowledged herself vanquished, and paid her bet. Meantime, Sumner was wholly unconscious of the jest or of the laughter.
He had what he wanted,—sensible men's talk.
He had mined the savant as he mined every one he met, in search of ore, and was thoroughly pleased with what he got.
Though he was an interesting talker, he had no lightness of hand.
He was kindly of nature, interested in every thing, but totally put off his balance by the least persiflage; and, if it was tried on him, his expression was one of complete astonishment.
He was never ready at a retort, tacked slowly, like a frigate when assaulted by stinging feluccas, and was at this time almost impervious to a joke.
He had no humor himself, and little sense of it in others; and his jests, when he tried to make one, were rather cumbrous.
But in “plain sailing” no one could be better or more agreeable.
He was steady and studious, and, though genial, serious in his character; while we were all light, silly, and full of animal spirits, which he sympathized with but could not enter into.
He was, as a young man, singularly plain.
His complexion was not healthy.
He was tall, thin, and ungainly in his movements, and sprawled rather than sat on a chair or sofa.
Nothing saved his face from ugliness but his white gleaming teeth and his expression of bright intelligence and entire amiability.
None could believe that he was thus plain in his youth, who only knew him in his full and ripened manhood.
As years went on, his face and figure completely changed; and at last he stood before us a stalwart and imposing presence, full of dignity and a kind of grandeur.
Age added to his appearance as well as to his influence.
His genial illuminating smile he never lost; and at fifty years of age he was almost a handsome, and certainly a remarkable, man in his bearing and looks.
I do not think, in his early years, he had any great ambition.
That developed itself afterwards.
Circumstances and accidents forced him forward to the van, and he became a leader terribly in earnest.
He had the same high-mindedness, the same single aim at justice and truth, the same inflexible faith and courage then that ever after characterized him.25
In an address to the students—colored—of Howard University, Washington, D. C.
, Feb. 3, 1871, Sumner
These exercises ‘carry me back to early life, when I was a student of the Law School of Harvard University as you have been students in the Law School of Howard University.
I cannot think of those days without fondness.
They were the happiest of my life. . . . There is happiness in the acquisition of knowledge, which surpasses all common joys.
The student who feels that he is making daily progress, constantly learning something new,—who sees the shadows by which he was originally surrounded gradually exchanged for an atmosphere of light,—cannot fail to be happy.
His toil becomes a delight, and all that he learns is a treasure,—with this difference from gold and silver, that it cannot be lost.
It is a perpetual capital at compound interest.’
Letters to classmates.
to Jonathan F. Stearns, Andover, Mass.37