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the rest of us that give to such men their preposterous impor tance. It were a calamity to America if, in the present rage foj ball-playing and boat-rowing, which we heartily rejoice in, the debating society should be forgotten. Let us rather end the gway of oratory by all becoming orators. Most men who can talk well seated in a chair can learn to talk well standing on their legs; and a man who can move or instruct five persons in a small room can learn to move or instruct two thousand in a large one.
That Henry Clay cultivated his oratorical talent in Richmond, we have his own explicit testimony. He told a class of law students once that he owed his success in life to a habit early formed, and for some years continued, of reading daily in a book of history or science, and declaiming the substance of what he had read in some solitary place, - a cornfield, the forest, a barn, with only oxen and horses for auditors. “It is,” said he, “ to this early practice of the art of all arts that I am indebted for the primary and leading impulses that stimulated my progress, and have shaped and moulded my entire destiny.” We should be glad to know more of this self-training; but Mr. Clay's “campaign” biographers have stuffed their volumes too full of eulogy to leave room for such instructive details. We do not even know the books from which he declaimed. Plutarch's Lives were favorite reading with him, we accidentally learn; and his speeches contain evidence that he was powerfully inf'enced by the writings of Dr. Franklin. We believe it was from Franklin that he learned very much of the art of managing men. Franklin, we think, aided this impetuous and exaggerating spirit to acquire his habitual moderation of statement, and that sleepless courtesy which, in his keenest encounters, generally kept him within parliamentary bounds, and enabled him to live pleasantly with men from whom he differed in opinion. Obsolete as many of his speeches are, from the transient nature of the topics of which they treat, they may still be studied with profit by young orators and old politicians as examples of parliamentary politeness. It was the good-natured and wise Franklin that helped him to this It is certain, ton, that at some part of his earlier life he rean
translations of Demosthenes; for of all modern orators Henry Clay was the most Demosthenian. Calhoun purposely and consciously imitated the Athenian orator; but Clay was a kindred spirit with Demosthenes. We could select passages from both these orators, and no man could tell which was American and which was Greek, unless he chanced to remember the passage. Tell us, gentle reader, were the sentences following spoken by Henry Clay after the war of 1812 at the Federalists who had opposed that war, or by Demosthenes against the degenerate Greeks who favored the designs of Philip?
“ From first to last I have uniformly pursued the just and virtuous course, — asserter of the honors, of the prerogatives, of the glory of my country. Studious to support them, zealous to advance them, my whole being is devoted to this glorious cause. I was never known to walk abroad with a face of joy and exultation at the success of the enemy, embracing and announcing the joyous tidings to those who I supposed would transmit it to the proper place. I was never known to receive the successes of my own country with trembling, with sighs, with my eyes bent to the earth, like those impious men who are the defamers of their country, as if by such conduct they were not defamers of themselves.”
Is it Clay, or is it Demosthenes? Or have we made a mistake, and copied a passage from the speech of a Unionist of 1865 ? After serving four years as clerk and amanuensis, barely earning a subsistence, Clay was advised by his venerable friend, the Chancellor, to study law; and a place was procured for him in the office of the Attorney-General of the State. In less than a year after formally beginning his studies he was admitted to the bar. This seems a short preparation ;. but the whole period of his connection with Chancellor Wythe was a study of the law. The Chancellor was what a certain other chancellor styles “a full man,” and Henry Clay was a receptive youth.
When he had obtained his license to practise he was twenty years
of age. Debating-society fame and drawing-room popular. ity do not, in an old commonwealth like Virginia, bring practice to a lawyer of twenty. But, as a distinguished French author has recently reinarked of Julius Cæsar, “ In him was united the elegance of manner which wins, to the energy of character which commands.” He sought, therefore, a new sphere of exertion far from the refinements of Richmond. Kentucky, which Boone explored in 1770, was a part of Virginia when Clay was a child and only became a State in 1792, when first he began to copy Chancellor Wythe's decisions. The first white family settled in it in 1775; but when our young barrister obtained his license, twenty-two years after, it contained a white population of nearly two hundred thousand. His mother, with five of her children and a second husband, had gone thither five years before. In 1797 Henry Clay removed to Lexington, the new State's oldest town and capital, though then containing, it is said, but fifty houses. He was a stranger there, and almost penniless. He took board, not knowing where the money was to come from to pay for it. There were already several lawyers of repute in the place. “I remember,” said Mr. Clay, forty-five years after, “how comfortable I thought I should be if I could make one hundred pounds a year, Virginia money; and with what delight I received my first fifteen-shilling fee. My hopes were more than realized. I immediately rushed into a successful and lucrative practice.” In a year and a half he was in a position to marry the daughter of one of the first men of the State, Colonel Thomas Hart, a man exceedingly beloved in Lexington.
It is surprising how addicted to litigation were the early settlers of the Western States. The imperfect surveys of land, the universal habit of getting goods on credit at the store, and “ difficulties” between individuals ending in bloodshed, filled the court calendars with land disputes, suits for debt, and exciting murder cases, which gave to lawyers more importance and better chances of advancement than they possessed in the older States. Mr. Clay had two strings to his bow. Besides being a man of red tape and pigeon-holes, exact, methodical, and strictly attentive to business, he had a power over a Kentucky jury such as nu other man has ever wielded. To this day nothing pleases aged Kentuckians better than to tell stories which they heard their
“ Ah! my poor
tathers tell, of Clay's happy repartees to opposing counsel, his ingenious cross-questioning of witnesses, his sweeping torrents of invective, his captivating courtesy, his melting pathos. Single gestures, attitudes, tones, have come down to us through two or three memories, and still please the curious guest at Kentucky firesides. But when we turn to the cold records of this part of his life, we find little to justify his traditional celebrity. It appears that the principal use to which his talents were applied during the first years of his practice at the bar was in defending murderers. He seems to have shared the feeling which then prevailed in the Western country, that to defend a prisoner at the bar is a nobler thing than to assist in defending the public against his further depredations; and he threw all his force into the defence of some men who would have been “none the worse for a hanging." One day, in the streets of Lexington, a drunken fellow whom he had rescued from the murderer's doom cried out, “ Here comes Mr. Clay, who saved my life.” fellow," replied the advocate, “ I fear I have saved too many like you, who ought to be hanged." The anecdotes printed of his exploits in cheating the gallows of its due are of a quality which shows that the power of this man over a jury lay much in his manner. His delivery, which “bears absolute sway in oratory,” was bewitching and irresistible, and gave to quite commonplace wit and very questionable sentiment an amazing power to please and subdue.
We are far from thinking that he was not a very able lawyer. Judge Story, we remember, before whom he argued a cause later in life, was of opinion that he would have won a high position at the bar of the Supreme Court, if he had not been early drawn away to public life. In Kentucky he was a brilliant, successful practitioner, such as Kentucky wanted and could appreciate. In a very few years he was the possessor of a fine estate near Lex. ington, and to the single slave who came to him as his share of his father's property were added several others. His wife being a skilful and vigorous manager, he was in independent circumstances, and ready to serve the public, if the public wished him, when he had been but ten years in his Western home. Thus he had a basis for a public career, without which few men can long serve the public with honor and success. And this was a prin. cipal reason of the former supremacy of Southern men in Washiington ; nearly all of them being men who owned land, which slaves tilled for them, whether they were present or absent.
The young lawyer took to politics very naturally. Posterity, which will judge the public men of that period chiefly by their course with regard to slavery, will note with pleasure that Clay's first public act was an attempt to deliver the infant State of Kentucky from that curse. The State Constitution was to be remodelled in 1799. Fresh from the society of Chancellor Wythe, an abolitionist who had set free his own slaves, — fresh from Richmond, where every man of note, from Jefferson and Patrick Henry downwards, was an abolitionist, — Henry Clay began in 1798, being then twenty-one years of age, to write a series of articles for a newspaper, advocating the gradual abolition of slavery in Kentucky. He afterwards spoke on that side at public meetings. Young as he was, he took the lead of the public-spirited young men who strove to purge the State from this iniquity; but in the Convention the proposition was voted down by a majority so decisive as to banish the subject from politics for fifty years. Still more honorable was it in Mr. Clay, that, in 1829, when Calhoun was maturing nullification, he could publicly say that among the acts of his life which he reflected upon with most satisfaction was his youthful effort to secure emancipation in Kentucky.
The chapter of our history most abounding in all the elements of interest will be that one which will relate the rise and first national triumph of the Democratic party. Young Clay came to the Kentucky stump just when the country was at the crisis of the struggle between the Old and the New. But in Kentucky it was not a struggle; for the people there, mostly of Virginian birth, had been personally benefited by Jefferson's equalizing measures, and were in the fullest sympathy with his politica, doctrines. When, therefore, this brilliant and commanding youth, with that magnificent voice of his, and large gesticulation, mount ed the wagon that usually served as platform in the open-air