« ForrigeFortsæt »
No man could have resisted it with a more firm yet gentle spirit. He saw the danger without dismay, and struggled to meet and overcome it. Whatever medical skill could bring to his aid, to alleviate, or subdue it, was faithfully administered. Without being confident, that he should triumph over this constitutional infirmity, he seemed constantly encouraged by the consciousness, that it was worth the trial. No man ever bore himself, through every change of its aspect, with a more uncomplaining moderation, or more unshrinking fortitude. He sought concealment of his sufferings; and was even sensitive to inquiries on the subject. He buried in his own bosom both his hopes and his fears ; and seemed, most of all, anxious to avoid giving trouble and inconvenience to others. There were periods, when the disease seemed, in a great measure, to have lost its potency; and there were other periods, in which it seemed to move on, with a hurried process, to an immediate catastrophe. Yet in every vicissitude the same imperturbable resolution and the same unrepining calmness marked his conduct. His intellectual energy seemed rather heightened, than impaired, by the gradual diminution of his physical strength. Its activity seemed to furnish a salutary stimulus, if it did not administer a necessary aliment to bis existence. I have sometimes been led to doubt, whether, if he had had less professional excitement, he would not earlier have fallen a victim.
Although, for the few last days, it was obvious to those of us, who had most intercourse with him, that he could not live many weeks, or, at most, many months; yet the actual occurrence his death was a calamity so sudden and startling, that all his friends were awakened, as it were, from a dreadful dream. He was himself without the slightest suspicion of the impending event.
He sought repose at the usual hour on Sunday evening, being for the first time watched by the care of an interesting friend, without any wish expressed on his own part. He retained his senses almost to the last ; and sank away in a gentle, child-like sleep, without the smallest struggle, and almost without observation. moment when he was breathing his last breath, the first beams of the morning were beginning to blend their beautiful and softened lights. His spirit, as it bore itself away from the earth, seemed almost to whisper in our ears the affecting aspiration of the Psalmist,
At the very
* The Right Honorable George Canning's Epitaph on his eldest so
“Oh! that I had wings like a dove; for then would I flee away, and be at rest."*
Such is the simple narrative of the life of Mr. Ashmun, and such the enviable felicity of his death. Yet, brief as was his career, there was much in it calculated to awaken our admiration, as well as to engage our affections. Few men have impressed upon the memory of their friends a livelier sense of excellence and unsullied virtue. Fewer have left behind them a character so significant in its outlines, and so well fitted to sustain an enduring fame.
My own acquaintance with him commenced only with his residence in Cambridge. But ever since that period I have counted it among my chief pleasures to cultivate his friendship, and justify his confidence. Engaged as we have been, in kindred pursuits and duties, it has been almost of course, that our intercourse should be frank, as well as frequent; and I feel a pride in declaring, that we have worked hand in hand with the most cordial fellowship, and with a union of opinion, which nothing but the strongest mutual attachment could have successfully cherished. I can, therefore, with all sincerity of heart, join the general voice of his afflicted relatives and friends, in bearing testimony to his rare endowments and exalted merits.
In the private and domestic circle he was greatly beloved, as well as respected. He was confiding and affectionate ; and, as an elder son, occupying the place of a parent, he indulged a truly paternal kindness towards the younger branches of the family, mixed up with the eager solicitude and sympathy of a brother. In his feelings he possessed an enlightened benevolence, and sibility; and was gratified by an opportunity to advance those, who were within the sphere of his influence. He was a man of the most inflexible honor and integrity, a devout lover of truth, conscientiously scrupulous in the discharge of his duties, and constantly elevating the standard of his own virtue. His candor was as marked, as his sense of justice was acute and vivid. He held in utter contempt that low and grovelling spirit, which contented itself with common observances, so as not to offend against the established decencies of life; which was sordid, as far as it dared ; and
mean, as far as it was safe. And yet the voice of censure rarely escaped from his lips; and he seemed solicitous to moderate the language of the sentence, even when truth demanded that he should not
† Mr. Ashmun died on Monday morning, the first day of April, 1833.
withhold it. He habitually softened the lineaments of the portraits, which he had no wish to gaze on, or to sketch.
He had also, as might easily be gathered from what has been already said, a deep sense of the value and importance of religion ; though, from his ill health, he was of late years compelled to abstain a good deal from its public solemnities. In his opinions he was unequivocally a Unitarian, without the slightest propensity to proselytism or bigotry. His great aim was to be good, and not merely to seem so. He had a profound feeling of his responsibleness to God for all his actions, and clung with devout reverence to the doctrines of life and immortality, as revealed in the gospel. His opinions on these subjects were not built upon transitory emotions ; but they grew up and mingled with all his thoughts, and gave to them a peculiar transparency and force. They imparted a serenity and confidence, which may be truly enumerated, as among the choicest of human blessings.
In his general deportment, he was modest and reserved, less desirous to please than his high powers would have justified, and never eager either for contest or victory. On this account, as well as on account of his thoughtful aspect, he was often supposed, on the first approaches, to be cold or indifferent, having little relish for social scenes and the lighter pleasures of life. This was far from being true; for among those with whom he was intimate, no man was more social in bis temper, more indulgent in playful and delicate humor, or more familiar in easy conversation. His abstinence from general society was partly from choice, and partly from duty. Besides ill health, he felt another disadvantage from the infirmity of a slight deafness, with which he had been long afflicted. Time, also, was to him inestimable. It was a prize, not to be thrown away, but to be employed in intellectual advancement, in widening and deepening the foundations of his constantly accumulating knowledge. Though he read much, he thought still more ; and there was a freshness in all his views, which stamped them at once with the impress of originality.
But it is chiefly in a professional point of view, that he should be remembered in this place, as at once an ornament to be honored, and an example to be followed. If we look at his years, it seems almost incredible, that he should have attained so high a distinction in so short a period. Let it be recollected, that he died before he had attained the age of thirty-three; and that he had then gathered about him all the honors, which are usually the harvest of the ripest life.
The law is a science of such vast extent and intricacy, of such severe logic and nice dependencies, that it has always tasked the highest minds to reach even its ordinary boundaries. But eminence in it can never be attained without the most laborious study, united with talents of a superior order. There is no royal road to guide us through its labyrinths. They are to be penetrated by skill, and mastered by a frequent survey of landınarks. It has almost passed into a proverb, that the lucubrations of twenty years will do little more than conduct us to the vestibule of the temple; and an equal period may well be devoted to exploring the recesses. What, then, shall we think of man, who in ten years had elevated himself to the foremost rank, and laid the foundations of deep, various, and accurate learning ? What shall we think of a man, who, at that early period, was thought as worthy, as any one in the profession, to fill the chair just vacated by the highest judicial officer of the Commonwealth, in the full vigor of his own well earned fame?
There were yet difficulties to be overcome in the case of Mr. Ashmun, which bring out in stronger relief the traits of his professional character, and invest it with a peculiar charm and dignity. He was defective in some of the most engaging and attractive accomplishments of the bar. Owing to ill health, he could not be said to have attained either grace of person, or ease of action. His voice was feeble ; his utterance, though clear, was labored ; and his manner, though appropriate, was not inviting. He could not be said to possess the higher attributes of oratory, copiousness and warmth of diction, persuasiveness of address, a kindling imagination, the scintillations of wit, or the thrilling pathos which appeals to the passions. Yet he was always listened to with the most profound respect and attention. He convinced, where others sought but to persuade ; he bore along the court and the jury by the force of his argument; he grappled with their minds, and bound them down with those strong ligaments of the law, which may not be broken, and cannot be loosened. In short, he often obtained a triumph, where mere eloquence must have failed. His conscientious earnestness commanded confidence, and his powerful expostulations secured the passes to victory. It has been said, and I doubt not with entire correctness, that, in the three interior counties of the state, to which his practice extended, he was, during the last years of his professional residence, engaged on one side of every important cause. Certain it is, that no man of his years was ever listened to with more undivided attention by the court and bar, or
received from them more unsolicited approbation. If, to the circumstances, already alluded to, we add his ill health and deafness, his professional success seems truly marvellous. It is as proud an example of genius subduing to its own purposes every obstacle, opposed to its career, and working out its own lofty destiny, as could well be presented to the notice of any ingenuous youth. It is as fine a demonstration, as we could desire, of that great moral truth, that man is far less what nature has originally made him, than what he chooses to make himself.
If I were called upon to declare, what were the most characteristic features of his mind, I should say they were sagacity, perspicacity, and strength. His mind was rather solid than brilliant ; rather active than imaginative ; rather acute in comparing than fertile in invention. He was not a rapid, but a close thinker; not an ardent, but an exact reasoner; not a generalizing, but a concentrating speaker. He always studied brevity and significance of expression. And hence bis remarks were peculiarly sententious, terse, and pithy; and sometimes quite epigrammatic. He indulged little in metaphors; but when used, they were always direct, and full of meaning. Few persons have left upon the minds of those, who have heard them, so many striking thoughts, uttered with so much proverbial point, and such winning simplicity. They adhered to the memory in spite of every effort to banish them. They were philosophy brought down to the business of human life, and disciplined for its daily purposes. He possessed, in a remarkable degree, the faculty of analyzing a complicated case into its elements, and of throwing out at once all its accidental and unimportant ingredients. He easily separated the gold from the dross, and refined and polished the former with an exquisite skill. He rarely amplified by illustrations; but poured at once on the points of his cause a steady and luminous stream of argument. In short, the prevailing character of his mind was judgment, arranging all its materials in a lucid order, moulding them with a masterly power, and closing the results with an impregnable array of logic.
I had almost forgotten to add, that when, about a year ago, the legislature of this Commonwealth authorized the formation of a new code of our laws, he was selected, in connexion with two of our most distinguished jurists, to give it its appropriate form and body. To such a task, what rare qualifications must be brought ! If I have but succeeded in impressing upon others my own deep sense of his capacity for the task, who is there, that will not join me in lamenting his death, as a public calamity ?