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In these pleasant early letters of Daniel Webster there are a thousand evidences of a good heart and of virtuous habits, but not one of a superior understanding. The total absence of the sceptical spirit marks the secondary mind. For a hundred and fifty years, no young man of a truly eminent intellect has accepted his father's creeds without having first called them into question ; and this must be so in periods of transition. The glorious light which has been coming upon Christendom for the last two hundred years, and which is now beginning to pervade the remotest provinces of it, never illumined the mind of Daniel Webster. Upon coming of age, he joined the Congregational Church, and was accustomed to open his school with an extencpore prayer. He used the word “ Deist” as a term of reproach ; he deemed it “ criminal ” in Gibbon to write his fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, and spoke of that author as a “ learned, proud, ingenious, foppish, vain, self-deceived man,” who " from Protestant connections deserted to the Church of Rome, and thence to the faith of Tom Paine.” And he never delivered himself from this narrowness and ignorance. In the time of his celebrity, he preferred what Sir Walter Scott called “the genteeler religion of the two," the Episcopal. In his old age, his idea of a proper Bermon was incredibly narrow and provincial. He is reported to have said, late in life :
“Many of the ministers of the present day take their text from St. Paul, and preach from the newspapers. When they do so, I prefer to enjoy my own thoughts rather than to listen. I want my pastor to
ome to me in the spirit of the Gospel, saying, 'You are mortal! your probation is brief; your work must be done speedily; you are immortal too. You are hastening to the bar of God; the Judge standeth before the door.' When I am thus admonished, I have no dispositior to muse or to sleep."
This does not accord with what is usually observed in our churches, where sermons of the kind which Mr. Webster extolled dispose many persons to sleep, though not to muse.
In the same unquestioning manner, he imbibed his father's political prejudices. We hear this young Federalist call the Republican party " the Jacobins," just as the reactionists and
tories of the present day speak of the present Republican party as “the radicals.” It is amusing to hear him, in 1802, predict the speedy restoration to power of a party that was never again to taste its sweets. “ Jacobinism and iniquity,” he wrote in his twentieth year, “are so allied in signification, that the latter always follows the former, just as in grammar 'the accusative case follows the transitive verb."" He speaks of a young friend as “too honest for a Democrat.” As late as his twenty-second year, he was wholly unreconciled to Napoleon, and still wrote with truly English scorn of “ Gallic tastes and Gallic principles.” There is a fine burst in one of his letters of 1804, when he had been propelled by his brother to Boston to finish his law studies:
“ Jerome, the brother of the Emperor of the Gauls, is here; every day you may see him whisking along Cornhill, with the true French air, with his wife by his side. The lads say that they intend to prevail on American misses to receive company in future after the manner of Jerome's wife, that is, in bed. The gentlemen of Boston (i. e. we Feds) treat Monsieur with cold and distant respect. They feel, and every honest man feels, indignant at seeing this lordly grasshopper, this puppet in prince's clothes, dashing through the American cities, luxuriously rioting on the property of Dutch mechanics or Swiss peasants.”
This last sentence, written when he was twenty-two years old, is the first to be found in his published letters which tells anything of the fire that was latent in him. He was of slow growth ; he was forty-eight years of age before his powers had reached their full development.
When he had nearly completed his studies for the bar, he was again upon the point of abandoning the laborious career of a lawyer for a life of obscurity and ease. On this occasion, it was the clerkship of his father's court, salarv fifteen hundred dollars a year, that tempted him. He jumped at the offer, which promised in immediate competency for the whole family, pinched and anx- . ious for so many years. He had nc thought but to accept it. With the letter in his hand, and triu.nphant joy in his face, he communicated the news to Mr. Gore, his instructor in the law : thinking of nothing, he tells us, but of “ rushing to the immediate enjoyment of the proffered office.” Mr. Gore, hower 21, exhibited a provoking coolness on the subject. He said it was very civil in the judges to offer such a compliment to a brother on the bench, and, of course, a respectful letter of acknowledgment must be sent. The glowing countenance of the young man fell at these most unexpected and unwelcome words. They were, to use his own language, “a shower-bath of ice-water.” The old lawyer, observing his crestfallen condition, reasoned seriously with him, and persuaded him, against his will, to continue his preparation for the bar. At every turning-point of his life, whenever he came to a parting of the ways, one of which must be chosen and the other forsaken, he required an impulse from without to push him into the path he was to go. Except once !
Except once! Once in his long public life, he seemed to venture out alone on an unfamiliar road, and lost himself. Usually, when great powers are conferred on a man, there is also given him a strong propensity to exercise them, sufficient to carry him through all difficulties to the suitable sphere. Here, on the contrary, there was a Great Eastern with only a Cunarder's engine, and it required a tug to get the great ship round to her course.
Admitted to the bar in his twenty-third year, he dutifully went home to his father, and opened an office in a New Hampshire village near by, resolved never again to leave the generous old man while he lived. Before leaving Boston, he wrote to his friend Bingham, “ If I am not earning my bread and cheese in exactly nine days after my admission, I shall certainly be a bankrupt";
and so, indeed, it proved. With great difficulty, he “hired” eighty-five dollars as a capital to begin business with, and this great sum was immediately lost in its transit by stage. To any other young man in his situation, such a calamity would have peen, for the moment, crushing; but this young man, indifferent to meum as to tuum, informs his brother that he can in no conceivable way replace the money, cannot therefore pay for the books he had bought, believes he is earning his daily bread, and as to the loss, he has “no uneasy sensations on that account." He concludes his letter with an old song, beginning,
“ Fol de dol, dol de dol, di dol,
In the New Hampshire of 1805 there was no such thing posB)--le as leaping at once into a lucrative practice, nor even of slowly acquiring it. A country lawyer who gained a thousand dollars a year was among the most successful, and the leader of the bar in New Hampshire could not earn two thousand. The chief employment of Daniel Webster, during the first year or two of his practice, was collecting debts due in New Hampshire to merchants in Boston. His first tin sign has been preserved to the present day, to attest by its minuteness and brevity the humble expectations of its proprietor. “ D. Webster, Attorney,' is the inscription it bears. The old Court-House still stands in which he conducted his first suit, before his own father as presiding judge. Old men in that part of New Hampshire were living until within these few years, who remembered well seeing this tall, gaunt, and large-eyed young lawyer rise slowly, as though scarcely able to get upon his feet, and giving to every one the impression that he would soon be obliged to sit down from mere physical weakness, and saying to his father, for the first and last time, “ May it please your Honor.” The sheriff of the county, who was also a Webster, used to say that he felt ashamed to see the family represented at the bar by so lean and feeble a. young man. The tradition is, that he acquitted himself so well on this occasion that the sheriff was satisfied, and clients came, with their little suits and smaller fees, in considerable numbers, to the office of D. Webster, Attorney, who thenceforth in the country round went by the name of “ All-eyes.” His father never heard him speak again. He lived to see Daniel in successfulpractice, and Ezekiel a student of law, and died in 1806, prema-turely old. Daniel Webster practised three years in the country, and then, resigning his business to his brother, established himself at Portsmouth, the seaport of New Hampshire, then a place of much foreign commerce. Ezekiel had had a most desperate struggle with poverty. At one time, when the family, as Daniel observed, was “ heinously unprovided,” we see the much-endur.ing “ Zeke” teaching an Academy by day, an evening school for sailors, and keeping well up with his class in college besides. But these preliminary troubles were now at an end, and both
the brothers took the places won by so much toil and self sacrifice.
Those are noble old towns on the New England coast, the commerce of which Boston swallowed up forty years ago, while it left behind many a large and liberally provided old mansion, with a family in it enriched by ventures to India and China. Strangers in Portsmouth are still struck by the largeness and elegance of the residences there, and wonder how such establishments can be maintained in a place that has little “ visible means of support.” It was while Portsmouth was an important seaport that Daniel Webster learned and practised law there, and acquired some note as a Federalist politician.
The once celebrated Dr. Buckminster was the minister of the Congregational church at Portsmouth then. One Sunday morning in 1808, his eldest daughter sitting alone in the minister's pew, a strange gentleman was shown into it, whose appearance and demeanor strongly arrested her attention. The slenderness of his frame, the pale yellow of his complexion, and the raven blackness of his hair, seemed only to bring out into grander relief his ample forehead, and to heighten the effect of his deepset, brilliant eyes. At this period of his life there was an air of delicacy and refinement about his face, joined to a kind of strength that women can admire, without fearing. Miss Buckminster told the family, when she went home from church, that there had been a remarkable person with her in the pew, - one that she was sure had “ a marked character for good or evil.” A few days after, the remarkable person came to live in the neighborhood, and was soon introduced to the minister's family as Mr. Daniel Webster, from Franklin, New Hampshire, who was about to open a law office in Portsmouth. He soon endeared himself to every person in the minister's circle, and to no one more than to the minister himself, who, among other services, taught him the art of preserving his health. The young man, like the old clergyman, was an early riser, up with the dawn in summer, and long before the dawn in winter; and both were out of doors with the sun, each at one end of a long saw, cutting wood for an appetite. The joyous, uncouth singing and shouting of the new