Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. X. Lectures and Biographical Sketches
XVI. Samuel Hoar
Magno se judice quisque tuetur;
Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni.
A YEAR ago, how often did we meet
Beneath these elms, once more in sober bloom,
Thy tall, sad figure pacing down the street,
And now the robin sings above thy tomb!
Thy name on other shores may neer be known,
Though Rome austere no graver consul knew,
But Massachusetts her true son shall own;
Out of her soil thy hardy virtues grew.
She loves the man that chose the conquered cause,
With upright soul that bowed to God alone;
The clean hands that upheld her equal laws,
The old religion neer to be outgrown;
The cold demeanor, the warm heart beneath,
The simple grandeur of thy life and death.
F. B. SANBORN.
HERE is a day on which more public good or evil is to be done than was ever done on any day. And this is the pregnant season, when our old Roman, Samuel Hoar, has chosen to quit this world. Ab iniquo certamine indignabundus recessit.1
He was born under a Christian and humane star, full of mansuetude and nobleness, honor and charity; and whilst he was willing to face every disagreeable duty, whilst he dared to do all that might beseem a man, his self-respect restrained him from any foolhardiness. The Homeric heroes, when they saw the gods mingling in the fray, sheathed their swords. So did not he feel any call to make it a contest of personal strength with mobs or nations; but when he saw the day and the gods went against him, he withdrew, but with an unaltered belief. All was conquered præter atrocem animum Calonis.
At the time when he went to South Carolina as the Commissioner of Massachusetts, in 1844, whilst staying in Charleston, pending his correspondence with the governor and the legal officers,2 he was repeatedly warned that it was not safe for him to appear in public, or to take his daily walk, as he had done, unattended by his friends, in the streets of the city. He was advised to withdraw to private lodgings, which were eagerly offered him by friends. He rejected the advice, and refused the offers, saying that he was old, and his life was not worth much, but he had rather the boys should troll his old head like a football in their streets, than that he should hide it. And he continued the uniform practice of his daily walk in all parts of the city. But when the mob of Charleston was assembled in the streets before his hotel, and a deputation of gentlemen waited upon him in the hall to say they had come with the unanimous voice of the State to remove him by force, and the carriage was at the door, he considered his duty discharged to the last point of possibility. The force was apparent and irresistible; the legal officers part was up; it was now time for the military officer to be sent; and he said, Well, gentlemen, since it is your pleasure to use force, I must go. But his opinion was unchanged.
In like manner now, when the votes of the Free States, as shown in the recent election in the State of Pennsylvania, had disappointed the hopes of mankind and betrayed the cause of freedom, he considered the question of justice and liberty, for his age, lost, and had no longer the will to drag his days through the dishonors of the long defeat, and promptly withdrew, but with unaltered belief.
He was a very natural, but a very high character; a man of simple tastes, plain and true in speech, with a clear perception of justice, and a perfect obedience thereto in his action; of a strong understanding, precise and methodical, which gave him great eminence in the legal profession.3 It was rather his reputation for severe method in his intellect than any special direction in his studies that caused him to be offered the mathematical chair in Harvard University, when vacant in 1806. The severity of his logic might have inspired fear, had it not been restrained by his natural reverence, which made him modest and courteous, though his courtesy had a grave and almost military air. He combined a uniform self-respect with a natural reverence for every other man; so that it was perfectly easy for him to associate with farmers, and with plain, uneducated, poor men, and he had a strong, unaffected interest in farms, and crops, and weathers, and the common incidents of rural life. It was just as easy for him to meet on the same floor, and with the same plain courtesy, men of distinction and large ability. He was fond of farms and trees, fond of birds, and attentive to their manners and habits; addicted to long and retired walks; temperate to asceticism, for no lesson of his experience was lost on him, and his self-command was perfect. Though rich, of a plainness and almost poverty of personal expenditure, yet liberal of his money to any worthy use, readily lending it to young men, and industrious men, and by no means eager to reclaim of them either the interest or the principal. He was open-handed to every charity, and every public claim that had any show of reason in it. When I talked with him one day of some inequality of taxes in the town, he said it was his practice to pay whatever was demanded; for, though he might think the taxation large and very unequally proportioned, yet he thought the money might as well go in this way as in any other.
The strength and the beauty of the man lay in the natural goodness and justice of his mind, which, in manhood and in old age, after dealing all his life with weighty private and public interests, left an infantile innocence, of which we have no second or third example,the strength of a chief united to the modesty of a child. He returned from courts or congresses to sit down, with unaltered humility, in the church or in the town-house, on the plain wooden bench where honor came and sat down beside him.
He was a man in whom so rare a spirit of justice visibly dwelt, that if one had met him in a cabin or in a forest he must still seem a public man, answering as sovereign state to sovereign state; and might easily suggest Miltons picture of John Bradshaw, that he was a consul from whom the fasces did not depart with the year, but in private seemed ever sitting in judgment on kings.4 Everybody knew where to find him. What he said, that would he do. But he disdained any arts in his speech: he was not adorned with any graces of rhetoric,
So cautious was he, and tender of the truth, that he sometimes wearied his audience with the pains he took to qualify and verify his statements, adding clause on clause to do justice to all his conviction. He had little or no power of generalization. But a plain way he had of putting his statement with all his might, and now and then borrowing the aid of a good story, or a farmers phrase, whose force had imprinted it on his memory, and, by the same token, his hearers were bound to remember his point.
The impression he made on juries was honorable to him and them. For a long term of years, he was at the head of the bar in Middlesex, practising, also, in the adjoining counties. He had one side or the other of every important case, and his influence was reckoned despotic, and sometimes complained of as a bar to public justice. Many good stories are still told of the perplexity of jurors who found the law and the evidence on one side, and yet Squire Hoar had said that he believed, on his conscience, his client entitled to a verdict.6 And what Middlesex jury, containing any God-fearing men in it, would hazard an opinion in flat contradiction to what Squire Hoar believed to be just? He was entitled to this respect; for he discriminated in the business that was brought to him, and would not argue a rotten cause; and he refused very large sums offered him to undertake the defence of criminal persons.
His character made him the conscience of the community in which he lived. And in many a town it was asked, What does Squire Hoar think of this? and in political crises, he was entreated to write a few lines to make known to good men in Chelmsford, or Marlborough, or Shirley, what that opinion was. I used to feel that his conscience was a kind of meter of the degree of honesty in the country, by which on each occasion it was tried, and sometimes found wanting. I am sorry to say he could not be elected to Congress a second time from Middlesex.
And in his own town, if some important end was to be gained,as, for instance, when the county commissioners refused to rebuild the burned court-house, on the belief that the courts would be transferred from Concord to Lowell,all parties combined to send Mr. Hoar to the Legislature, where his presence and speech, of course, secured the rebuilding; and, of course also, having answered our end, we passed him by and elected somebody else at the next term.
His head, with singular grace in its lines, had a resemblance to the bust of Dante. He retained to the last the erectness of his tall but slender form, and not less the full strength of his mind. Such was, in old age, the beauty of his person and carriage, as if the mind radiated, and made the same impression of probity on all beholders. His beauty was pathetic and touching in these latest days, and, as now appears, it awakened a certain tender fear in all who saw him, that the costly ornament of our homes and halls and streets was speedily to be removed. Yet how solitary he looked, day by day in the world, this man so revered, this man of public life, of large acquaintance and wide family connection! Was it some reserve of constitution, or was it only the lot of excellence, that with aims so pure and single, he seemed to pass out of life alone, and, as it were, unknown to those who were his contemporaries and familiars?7
[The following sketch of Mr. Hoar from a slightly different point of view, was prepared by Mr. Emerson, shortly after the above paper appeared in Putnams Magazine (December, 1856), at the request of the Editor of the Monthly Religious Magazine, and was printed there, January, 1857. It is here appended as giving some additional traits of a characteristic figure which may serve as a pendant in some respects to that of Dr. Ripley.]
Mr. Hoar was distinguished in his profession by the grasp of his mind, and by the simplicity of his means. His ability lay in the clear apprehension and the powerful statement of the material points of his case. He soon possessed it, and he never possessed it better, and he was equally ready at any moment to state the facts. He saw what was essential, and refused whatever was not, so that no man embarrassed himself less with a needless array of books and evidences of contingent value.
These tactics of the lawyer were the tactics of his life. He had uniformly the air of knowing just what he wanted and of going to that in the shortest way. It is singular that his character should make so deep an impression, standing and working as he did on so common a ground. He was neither spiritualist nor man of genius nor of a literary nor an executive talent. In strictness, the vigor of his understanding was directed on the ordinary domestic and municipal well-being. Society had reason to cherish him, for he was a main pillar on which it leaned. The useful and practical super-abounded in his mind, and to a degree which might be even comic to young and poetical persons. If he spoke of the engagement of two lovers, he called it a contract. Nobody cared to speak of thoughts or aspirations to a black-letter lawyer, who only studied to keep men out of prison, and their lands out of attachment. Had you read Swedenborg or Plotinus to him, he would have waited till you had done, and answered you out of the Revised Statutes. He had an affinity for mathematics, but it was a taste rather than a pursuit, and of the modern sciences he liked to read popular books on geology. Yet so entirely was this respect to the ground-plan and substructure of society a natural ability, and from the order of his mind, and not for tickling commodity, that it was admirable, as every work of nature is, and like one of those opaque crystals, big beryls weighing tons, which are found in Acworth, New Hampshire, not less perfect in their angles and structure, and only less beautiful, than the transparent topazes and diamonds. Meantime, whilst his talent and his profession led him to guard the material wealth of society, a more disinterested person did not exist. And if there were regions of knowledge not open to him, he did not pretend to them. His modesty was sincere. He had a childlike innocence and a native temperance, which left him no temptations, and enabled him to meet every comer with a free and disengaged courtesy that had no memory in it
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.8
No person was more keenly alive to the stabs which the ambition and avarice of men inflicted on the commonwealth. Yet when politicians or speculators approached him, these memories left no scar; his countenance had an unalterable tranquillity and sweetness; he had nothing to repent of,let the cloud rest where it might, he dwelt in eternal sunshine.
He had his birth and breeding in a little country town, where the old religion existed in strictness, and spent all his energy in creating purity of manners and careful education.9 No art or practice of the farm was unknown to him, and the farmers greeted him as one of themselves, whilst they paid due homage to his powers of mind and to his virtues.
He loved the dogmas and the simple usages of his church; was always an honored and sometimes an active member. He never shrunk from a disagreeable duty. In the time of the Sunday laws he was a tithing- man; under the Maine Law he was a prosecutor of the liquor dealers. It seemed as if the New England church had formed him to be its friend and defender; the lover and assured friend of its parish by-laws, of its ministers, its rites, and its social reforms. He was a model of those formal but reverend manners which make what is called a gentleman of the old school, so called under an impression that the style is passing away, but which, I suppose, is an optical illusion, as there is always a few more of the class remaining, and always a few young men to whom these manners are native.
I have spoken of his modesty; he had nothing to say about himself; and his sincere admiration was commanded by certain heroes of the profession, like Judge Parsons and Judge Marshall, Mr. Mason and Mr. Webster. When some one said, in his presence, that Chief Justice Marshall was failing in his intellect, Mr. Hoar remarked that Judge Marshall could afford to lose brains enough to furnish three or four common men, before common men would find it out. He had a huge respect for Mr. Websters ability, with whom he had often occasion to try his strength at the bar, and a proportionately deep regret at Mr. Websters political course in his later years.
There was no elegance in his reading or tastes beyond the crystal clearness of his mind. He had no love of poetry; and I have heard that the only verse that he was ever known to quote was the Indian rule:
When the oaks are in the gray,
Then, farmers, plant away.
But I find an elegance in his quiet but firm withdrawal from all business in the courts which he could drop without manifest detriment to the interests involved (and this when in his best strength), and his self-dedication thenceforward to unpaid services of the Temperance and Peace and other philanthropic societies, the Sunday Schools, the cause of Education, and specially of the University, and to such political activities as a strong sense of duty and the love of order and of freedom urged him to forward.
Perfect in his private life, the husband, father, friend, he was severe only with himself. He was as if on terms of honor with those nearest him, nor did he think a lifelong familiarity could excuse any omission of courtesy from him. He carried ceremony finely to the last. But his heart was all gentleness, gratitude and bounty.
Note 1. This paper reflects the gloom which settled on the friends of Freedom in the North on the fourth of November, 1856, when James Buchanan was chosen President of the United States. On that day this sketch was written. It was first printed in Putnams Magazine. [back]
Note 2. The State of South Carolina having, between the years 1820 and 1835, passed several Acts with purpose to restrain the emancipation of slaves and to prevent free persons of color from entering the State, resulting in the imprisonment of many citizens of Massachusetts (seamen on coasting vessels) during the stay of the vessels at Charleston, and the whipping or selling them as slaves should they return, various resolves of protest against this outrage were passed by the General Court of Massachusetts. To these the offending State turned a deaf ear. The Acts of South Carolina being obviously unconstitutional, it was desired to bring some cases before the Supreme Court, but it proved impossible to do so without collecting evidence in Charleston. After all other means had failed, the General Court passed in 1844 the following resolve concerning the imprisonment of citizens in other States: Resolved, That His Excellency the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Council, be hereby authorized to employ an agent for the port of Charleston, South Carolina, and an agent for the port of New Orleans, whose duty it shall be to reside in said port, for a term not exceeding one year, for the purposes specified in the resolves relating to this subject, passed on the twenty-fourth of March, in the year one thousand eight hundred and forty-three. And that His Excellency the Governor be hereby authorized to draw his warrant to cover any necessary expenses incurred in carrying into effect this or the aforementioned resolves, after the same shall have been audited and allowed by the Council, to be paid out of the public treasury. I copy from the Report of the Joint Special Committee of the Senate of Massachusetts their statement as to the treatment of the Agent of Massachusetts by the people of Charleston, and the subsequent Acts of the Legislature of South Carolina. This report was made February 3, 1845 (Senate Document, No. 31), and is signed by Charles Francis Adams: Under the authority conferred by this resolve the Governor of the Commonwealth appointed Samuel Hoar, a respected citizen of Massachusetts, the agent for the port of Charleston, to perform the duty specifically assigned him and no more. That gentleman repaired to Charleston, endeavored to commence upon his task, and, simply because he attempted so to do, was driven by threats of personal violence of a mob from the territory of South Carolina. And the Legislature of that State subsequently sanctioned the act of the people, by recording on her statute-book an order for the expulsion, as a dangerous emissary of sedition, of this single, inoffensive, unarmed man. And the same Legislature has passed a law making it a highly penal offence in any person, whether citizen or stranger, ever to attempt the like again. This Committee made a Protest and a Declaration of the history of maltreatment of our citizens and the measures taken in the case by Massachusetts and South Carolina, which they recommended should be sent to the President and to the Governors of all the States. [back]
Note 3. Mr. Hoar was born in May, 1778, in Lincoln, the portion that belonged to Concord until the incorporation of Lincoln in 1754. He graduated at Harvard College in 1802, was admitted to the bar and moved to Concord in 1805. He was a member of the Convention for revising the Constitution of Massachusetts in 1821, and was in the State Senate in 1825. Two of his sons attained eminence in public life, Ebenezer Rockwood at the bar and on the bench, and as Attorney-General of the United States during Grants administration, and George Frisbie as Representative and Senator through many Congresses. [back]
Note 4. Journal. The beauty of character takes long time to discover. Who that should come into Concord but would laugh if you told him that Samuel Hoar was beautiful, yet I thought one day when he passed, the rainbow, geometry itself is not handsomer than that walking sincerity, straitly bounded as it is. Journal, 1838. I know a man who tries time. The expression of his face is that of a patient judge who has nowise made up his opinion, who fears nothing, and even hopes nothing, but puts nature on its merits. He will hear the case out and then decide. [back]
Note 6. A client met his counsel at the courtroom door in Concord, and said, How is our case getting on? We are nowhere! snapped the disgusted lawyer; theres only one man of any sense on the jury, and he thinks that Sam Hoar was the making of him. Journal, 1849. It is not any new light he sheds on the case, but his election of a side and the giving his statuesque dignity to that side, that weighs with juries or with conventions. For he does this naturally. Journal, 1864. I should say of Samuel Hoar what Clarendon writes of Sir Thomas Coventry, that he had a strange power of making himself believed, the only justifiable design of eloquence. [back]
Note 7. The following passage from the journal of 1844 occurs with slight changes, and the omission of the name, in the chapter on Montaigne, in Representative Men: Men are edificant or otherwise. Samuel Hoar is to all mens eyes conservative and constructive: his presence supposes a well-ordered society, agriculture, trade, large institutions and empire; if these things did not exist, they would begin to exist through his steady will and endeavors. Therefore he cheers and comforts men, who feel all this in him very readily. The reformer, the rebel, who comes by, says all manner of unanswerable things against the existing republic, but discovers to my groping Dæmon no plan of house or empire of his own. Therefore, though Samuel Hoars town and State are a very cheap and modest commonwealth, men very rightly go for him and flout the reformer. [back]
Note 9. The father of Squire Hoar, as he was called in Concord, was also Samuel Hoar, who represented Lincoln in the General Court almost continuously from 1794 to 1808, and was Senator from 1813 to 1817. John Hoar, an ancestor, was the first representative of the law in Concord, during the seventeenth century. He was independent and eccentric, and incurred censure and fine for speaking with disrespect of the minister. During King Philips War he displayed great courage and humanity on behalf of the Praying Indians. [back]