Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

impartiality, and dignity; as a citizen, for public spirit and elevated consistency of conduct; as a man, for generosity, gentleness, and moral purity. His fame must rest, where it is fit it should, upon the printed reports of his own decisions. These will go down to future ages; and though, perlaps, beyond the circle of the profession, they may not attract much general observation, (for the misfortune of the profession is, that great judges and great lawyers cannot enjoy a wide-spread popular favor,) they will yet be read and honored by the jurists of succeeding times with undiminished reverence, when those of us, who have known and loved him, shall be mingled with the dust, that now gathers round his remains. They will often recall to the classical reader the beautiful eulogy of Cicero, upon a great character of antiquity, so applicable to his : “Erat in verborum splendore elegans, compositione aptus, facultate copiosus ; eaque erat cum summo ingenio, tum exercitationibus maximis consecutus; rem complectebatur me dividebat acute, nec praetermittebat fere quidquam, quod esset in causâ, aut ad confirmandum aut ad refellendum.”

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

SKETCH

OF THE CHARACTER OF THE HON. WILLIAM PINKNEY, OF MARYLAND.*

bis age.

William PINKNEY died at Washington on the twenty-fifth of February, of the present year, (1822,) in the fifty-eighth year of

He had been long distinguished among the statesmen of this country, and had enjoyed many public honors. He had been a commissioner, under the Britislı treaty of 1794 ; Minister Plenipotentiary, successively, at the Courts of Great Britain and Russia ; and Attorney General of the United States. At the time of his death, he was a Senator in Congress, from the State of bis birth, (Maryland,) a situation, which he filled with the most distinguished ability.

of his character, as a statesman, or a scholar, it is not the design of this sketch to present any outline. It is, as an advocate and lawyer, that he has a claim to receive a faint, but reverential memorial in these pages. For many years he stood at the head of the bar of Maryland; and, for the last ten years of his life, (the period, during which he principally devoted himself to the business of the Supreme Court of the United States,) he was universally admitted to be in the first rank of the profession of the law, never supposed, by any one, to be excelled by any other advocate, and rarely deemed to be equalled. His

person was strong, compact, and muscular, exhibiting great vigor of action, with no small grace and ease of movement.

His countenance, without being strikingly interesting for its intelligence, or suavity, was manly and open ; and, when excited by any discussion, was capable of the most powerful and various expression, suited at once for the playfulness of wit, the indignation of resentment, or the

* This Sketch was originally written at the request of a friend, and sent to him. It is now printed from a rough copy, made at the time, with some few alterations.

solemn dignity of argumentation. His mind was singularly subtile and penetrating, equally rapid in its conceptions, and felicitous in the exposition of the truths, which it was employed to develope or analyze. In native genius, or, in other words, in the power to invent, select, illustrate, and combine topics for the purposes of argument, few men have been his superiors. But he did not rely exclusively on the resources of his genius. He chastened, improved, and invigorated it by constant study, and laborious discipline. He was from early life a diligent student, not only of the law, but of general literature, and especially of classical literature. He was ambitious to be not only a good, but an exact scholar; not only a persuasive, but an elegant writer ; not only a splendid, but a solid speaker ; full of matter, as well as of metaphor; able to convince, as well as to instruct and please. His professional learning was very extensive, deep, and accurate. It was the gradual accumulation of nearly forty years' steady devotion to the science, as well as practice, of jurisprudence. He possessed a minute acquaintance with the ancient common law. Its technical principles, and feudal peculiarities, its quaint illustrations, its subtile distinctions, and its artificial, but nice, logic, were all familiar to his early thoughts, and enabled him, in the later periods of his life, to expound the abstruse doctrines of modern tenures and titles, with great facility and perspicuity. But his studies were not confined to mere researches into the doctrines of the old law. His reading was very extensive in all the departments of modern jurisprudence; and his practice, which was, perhaps, more various than that of any other American lawyer, led him to a daily application of all his learning in the actual business of the forum. Few men, in our country, had attained so exact, thorough, and methodized a knowledge, as he, of the general principles of the Law of Nations ; of the doctrines of the Prize and Admiralty Courts ; of the broad and various foundations of Equity Jurisprudence; and of the admirable theories, as well as practical developments, of all the branches of Maritime and Commercial Law.

In another department of professional learning, peculiar to these United States, he had attained a proud eminence. It was in the thorough mastery of the principles of Constitutional Law. His public life commenced about the period, when the constitution of the United States was formed and adopted by the people. He was familiar with all the early controversies, to which it gave rise, and with the commentaries and glosses, as well of its enemies as of

[ocr errors]

its friends. And his large experience, as a statesman and advocate, gradually fixed in his mind all the rules for the true interpretation of its powers, its spirit, and its language. No one, perhaps, had weighed with more exactness or deliberation the bearing and tendency of its various complicated provisions. No one felt more deeply its absolute and indispensable importance to the existence of the nation. No one more sincerely and uniformly contended for a liberal exposition of its granted powers and privileges. Hence bis arguments upon all constitutional questions in courts of justice, as well as in the halls of legislation, were characterized by an earnestness, a gravity, an eloquence, and force of reasoning, which convinced every man, who heard him, that he spoke his own opinions, under the deepest sense of responsibility to his country, and that he sunk the advocate in the bigher duties of the statesman.

His last thoughts rested with an anxious solicitude upon the future destinies of his country. His last moments were employed in profound investigations, to sustain the constitution against the attacks, made upon it, in the then pending struggles for state sovereignty. And the writer of this sketch heard the declaration from his own lips, a short period before the illness, which terminated his life, that he was then preparing the materials, for a last and great effort on this subject, which, as a commentary upon the principles and powers of the constitution, he intended to bequeath to his country, as the closing labor of his political life.

The celebrity of Mr. Pinkney, as a public speaker, requires some notice, in this place, of the nature and character of his oratory. It was, in manner, original, impressive, and vehement. He had some natural, and some acquired defects, which made him, in some degree, fall short of that exquisite conception of the imagination, a perfect orator. His voice was thick and guttural. It rose and fell with little melody and softening of tones, and was, occasionally, abrupt and harsh in its intonations, and wanting in liquidness and modulation. At times, his utterance was hurried on to an excess of vehemence; and then, as it were, per saltum, he would suffer it to fall, at the close of the sentence, to a low and indistinct whisper, which confused, at once, the sense and the sound. This inequality of elocution did not seem so much a natural defect, as a matter of choice, or artificial cultivation. But the effect, from whatever cause it arose, was unpleasing; and sometimes gave to his speeches the air of too much study, measured dignity, or dramatic energy. These, however, were venial faults, open to

observation, indeed, but soon forgotten by those, who listened to his instructive and persuasive reasoning; for no man could hear him, for any length of time, without being led captive by his eloquence. His imagination was rich and inventive ; bis taste, in general, pure and critical ; and his memory uncommonly exact, full, and retentive. He attained to a complete mastery of the whole compass of the English language ; and, in the variety of use, as well as the choice of diction, for all the purposes of his public labors, he possessed a marvellous felicity. It gave to his style an air of originality, force, copiousness, and expressiveness, which struck the most careless observer. His style was not, indeed, like that of Junius ; but it stood out, among all others, with that distinct and striking peculiarity, which has given such fame to that truly great unknown author. His powers of amplification and illustration, whenever these were appropriate to his purpose, seemed almost inexhaustible ; though he possessed, at the same time, the power of condensation, both of thought and language, to a most uncommon degree. He never used his powers of amplification and illustration for mere ornament; but as auxiliaries to the main purposes of his argument, artfully interweaving them with the solid materials of the fabric. Occasionally, indeed, he would indulge himself in digressions, of such singular beauty and brilliancy, such a magnificence of phrase, and an appropriateness of allusion, that they won applause, even from those, whose functions demand a severe and scrutinizing indifference to every thing, but argument. In general, bis speeches did not abound with rhetorical Aourishes, or sparkle with wit, or scorch with sarcasm ; though he possessed the faculty of using each of them with great skill and promptitude. But when the occasion seemed to him, from its extraordinary interest, or the state of public excitement, to require it, his speeches abounded with poetical imagery, and ambitious ornaments, and were elaborated with all the studied amplitude of phrase of Burke and Bolingbroke.

But the principal and distinguishing faculty of Mr. Pinkney's mind, (in which few, if any, have ever excelled him,) and which gave such solid weight to his arguments, and carried home conviction to the doubting and the reluctant, was the closeness, acuteness, clearness, and vigor of his power of ratiocination. His luminous analysis of the merits of his

case,

his severe and searching logic, .his progressive expansion of the line of argument, sustaining itself at every step, by a series of almost impregnable positions,

« ForrigeFortsæt »