Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

and his instantaneous perception of the slightest infirmity in the arguments or concessions of bis adversary, gave bim, in most debates, a captivating, if not a dangerous superiority, and made bim, at the bar, a formidable antagonist, always to be watched with jealousy, and always to be approached with caution.

Mr. Pinkney entertained the loftiest notions of the dignity and utility of the profession ; and he endeavoured, on all occasions, to diffuse among the members of the bar the deepest sense of its importance, and responsibility to the public. He was desirous of fame, of that fame, which alone is enduring, the fame, which reposes on sound learning, exalted genius, and diligent, nay, incessant study. Whatever might be the success of bis oratory in the estimate of other persons, it never seemed to reach his own standard of excellence. He was, therefore, engaged in a constant struggle, not merely to excel others, but to excel himself; and thus, bis orations, (for such many of his speeches were,) and his juridical arguments, were perpetually enriched by the last accumulations of a mind, whose ambition never tired, and whose industry never slackened, in its professional meditations and readings. In these respects, his example may fitly be propounded to all, who seek solid reputation at the bar. He knew well, that genius without labor could accomplish little ; and that he, who would enlighten others, or be foremost in the race of life, must quicken his own thougbts, by giving his days and nights, not to the indulgences of pleasure, or the soft solicitudes of literary ease, but to severe discipline, and the study of the great instructers of mankind in learning and science. His loss, in this edifying and cheering career, will long be felt. It has cast a gloom over the profession, which can be dissipated only by the rise of some other master spirit, to guide, to cheer, and to instruct us.

But it is time to close these hasty sketches. Peace to the memory of so great a man. Whoever recollects him, will, almost involuntarily, recur to a passage of Cicero, in his work on the famous orators of antiquity, descriptive of the character of L. Cras

“ Crasso nibil statuo fieri potuisse perfectius. Erat summa gravitas ; erat cum gravitate junctus facetiarum et urbanitatis oratorius, non scurrilis, lepos; loquendi accurata, et sine. molestia diligens, elegantia ; in disserendo, mira explicatio; cum de jure civili, cum de æquo et bono disputaretur , argumentorum et similitudinum copia.*

sus :

• Cicero, De Claris Orat. cap. 38.

SKETCH

OF THE CHARACTER OF THE HON. THOMAS A. EMMET.

(Copy of a Letter addressed to Williara Sampson, Esq.)

ments.

Washington, February 27, 1829. DEAR SIR, I had the pleasure of receiving your letter yesterday. I should long since have complied with your request in regard to Mr. Emmet, if I could have found suitable leisure to sit down and make even a sketch of him, such as I thought him to be in character and attain

Hitherto I have sought such leisure in vain. It was in the winter of 1815, that I first became acquainted with Mr. Emmet. He was then, for the first time, in attendance upon the Supreme Court at Washington, being engaged in some important prize causes, then pending in the court. Although, at that period, he could have been but little, if any, turned of fifty years of age, the deep lines of care were marked upon his face ; the sad remembrances, as I should conjecture, of past sufferings, and of those anxieties, which wear themselves into the heart, and corrode the very elements of life. There was an air of subdued thoughtfulness about him, that read to me the lessons of other interests than those, which belonged to mere professional life. He was cheerful, but rarely, if ever, gay; frank and courteous, but he soon relapsed into gravity, when not excited by the conversation of others.

Such, I l'emember, were my early impressions ; and his high professional character, as well as some passages in his life, gave me a strong interest in all that concerned him, at that time. There were, too, some accidental circumstances, which were connected with his arguments on that occasion, which left a vivid impression upon all, who had the pleasure of hearing him. It was at this time, that Mr. Pinkney, of Baltimore, one of the proudest names in the

annals of the American bar, was in the meridian of his glory. He had been osten tried in the combats of the forum of the nation ; and, if he did not stand quite alone, the undisputed victor of the field, (and it might be deemed invidious for me to point out any one, as primus inter pares,) he was, nevertheless, admitted by the general voice not to be surpassed by any of the noble minds, with whom he was accustomed to wrestle in forensic contests. Mr. Emmet was a new and untried opponent, and brought with him the ample honors, gained at one of the most distinguished bars in the Union. In the only causes, in which Mr. Emmet was engaged, Mr. Pinkney was retained on the other side ; and each of these causes was full of important matter, bearing upon the public policy and prize law of the country. Curiosity was awakened ; their mutual friends waited for the struggle with impatient eagerness; and a generous rivalry, roused by the public expectations, imparted itself to their own bosoms. A large and truly intelligent audience was present at the argument of the first cause. It was not one, which gave much scope to Mr. Emmet's peculiar powers. The topic was one, with which he was not very familiar. He was new to the scene, and somewhat embarrassed by its novelty. His argument was clear and forcible; but he was conscious, that it was not one of his happiest efforts. On the other hand, his rival was perfectly familiar with the whole range of prize law; he was at home, both in the topic and the scene. He won an easy victory, and pressed bis advantages with vast dexterity, and, as Mr. Emmet thought, with somewhat of the display of triumph. The case of the Nereide, so well known in our prize history, was soon afterwards called on for trial. In this second effort, Mr. Emmet was far more successful. His speech was greatly admired for its force and fervor, its variety of research, and its touching eloquence. It placed him at once, by universal consent, in the first rank of American advocates. I do not mean to intimate, that it placed him before Mr. Pinkney, who was again bis noble rival for victory. But it settled, henceforth and for ever, his claims to very high distinction in the profession. In the course of the exordium of this speech, he took occasion to mention the embarrassment of his own situation, the novelty of the forum, and the public expectations, which accompanied the cause. He spoke with generous praise of the talents and acquirements of his opponent, whom fame and fortune had followed both in Europe and America. And then, in the most delicate and affecting manner, he alluded to the events of his own life, in which misfortune and sorrow had left many deep traces of their ravages. “My ambition,” said he, “was extinguished in my youth ; and I am admonished by the premature advances of age, not now to attempt the dangerous paths of faine.” At the moment when he spoke, the recollections of his sufferings melted the hearts of the audience, and many of them were dissolved in tears. Let me add, that the argument of Mr. Pinkney, also, was a most splendid effort, and fully sustained his reputation.

From that period, I was accustomed to hear Mr. Emmet at the bar of the Supreme Court, in almost every variety of causes ; and my respect for his talents constantly increased until the close of his life. I take pleasure in adding, that his affability, bis modest and unassuming manner, his warm feelings, and his private virtues, gave a charm to his character, which made it at once my study and delight.

It would ill become me to attempt a sketch of the character of Mr. Emmet. That is the privilege, and will be (as it ought) the melancholy pleasure, of those, who were familiar with him in every walk of life, to whom he unbosomed himself in the freedom of intimacy, and who have caught the light plays of his fancy, as well as the more profound workings of his soul.

That he had great qualities as an orator, cannot be doubted by any one, who has heard him. His mind possessed a good deal of the fervor, which characterizes his countrymen. It was quick, vigorous, searching, and buoyant. He kindled as he spoke. There was a spontaneous combustion, as it were, not sparkling, but clear and glowing. His rhetoric was never florid; and his diction, though select and pure, seemed the common dress of his thoughts, as they arose, rather than any studied effort at ornament. Without being deficient in imagination, he seldom drew upon it for resources to aid the effect of his arguments, or to illustrate his thoughts. His object seemed to be, not to excite wonder or surprise, to captivate by bright pictures, and varied images, and graceful groups, and startling apparitions; but by earnest and close reasoning to convince the judgment, or to overwhelm the heart by awakening its most profound emotions. His own feelings were warm and easily touched. His sensibility was keen, and refined itself almost into a melting tenderness. His knowledge of the human heart was various and exact. He was easily captivated by the belief, that his own cause was just. Hence, his eloquence was most striking for its persuasiveness. He said what he felt; and he felt what he said. His command over the passions of others was an instantaneous and sympathetic action. The tones of his voice, when he touched on topics calling for deep feeling, were themselves instinct with meaning. They were utterances of the soul, as well as of the lips.

« ForrigeFortsæt »