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I do not know why I tell it here; except that both stories belong in some sort to my garden, and that both relate to men eminent in America as lawyers and as statesmen; although of my
friend's hero, for obvious reasons, I do not venture to give the name. Many years have passed since I heard that interesting narrative, and in small circumstances of detail I mistake; but the one great fact, the admirable self-denial and self-sacrifice can never be forgotten. It strikes too deep a root in the heart.
The story was of a father, one of those sturdy pioneers of American civilization, who hew their way through the Western Forest, and of his two stalwart boys. They had built a homestead, and cleared many acres around them, when, during a pause in their labours, one of the sons (I think the younger) addressed his father to this effect : Father! the house is raised; the trees are down; the fields' are fenced. You have my brother to help you and can do without me. Let me go to the town and study. I feel that I was born to fight my way amongst men, and not to wear out my days in the toils of a husbandman."
The father must have been worthy of such a son, for he understood him, and felt the full force of the appeal. “Well, my boy,” said he; "go where you will, and my blessing shall go with you. Take these dollars and make them last as long as you can, for I have no more to give."
So the bold adventurer sallied forth to the nearest town where education was to be won. The dollars were but few; and the young pupil, although a model of frugality and application, found himself penniless long before he had fought his way through the college course. His courage, however, never failed. By that time he had discovered his own strength. He engaged with a lawyer to write for him during the evenings and by night, whilst he pursued his regular studies by day; thus defraying his own expenses, whether for education or for living; and evincing in his legal avocations such extraordinary ability and aptness, that by time he had arrived at the head of his class, his friend the lawyer furnished him with a letter to his own brother, then in high practice in the chief town of the State, assuring him “that the recommendation which that letter contained would secure to him immediate employment, and eventually, with his own powers and perseverance, all that he required for a high success in life.”
Enchanted with his prospects, our adventurer set forth upon a visit to his forest home, to take leave of his parents before the long absence which he anticipated.
On his arrival at the farm, he found the delight and pride which such a career could hardly fail to claim ; but he found also that which he had seen no cause to expect-the brother whom he had left
behind content with healthful labour sickening and drooping under the same hunger and thirst for mental improvement that he himself had experienced some years
before. What was the resolve of that noble heart? How did he act under such a trial ? He laid his letter of introduction aside—that letter which was to command fortune! He took his brother with him to the town which he had quitted as he thought for ever; placed him in the college where he himself had studied ; returned to his old friend the lawyer; resumed his labours in the office, and worked calmly on until the brother, whom he wholly supported, aided by his instructions, had overcome all his disadvantages and attained the high place in the classes that he himself had occupied.
This was my visitor's story. I only wish I could tell it to my readers as he told it to me.
But even under all the imperfections of my poor narrative, and lacking the crowning name that gives to it such a power of contrast, it still seems to me almost unequalled in its simplicity and grandeur of selfsacrifice.
When some powerful monarch, like Charles the Fifth, abdicates the thrones of Germany and Spain and the Indies, it sounds much. But then it is a sickly, aged, disenchanted man, who knows full well the vanity and nothingness of what he resigns; who has felt for a many a year how weary a thing it is to be an Emperor. Besides, he
is an Emperor still. The eyes of the world are
He has only put on a new form of royalty. Now here is a young, an ambitious, a selfreliant spirit, who puts aside, not by one grand and solemn abdication, but by the quiet, silent, painful effort of days and months and years, the most precious crown of all the world, the bright crown Hope.
After some natural exclamations of admiration, came the equally natural question, “Did that favoured brother prove himself worthy of such a sacrifice ?"
“Alas !” said my friend," he lived only long enough to show how worthy he would have proved. He had already taken his place amongst the most eminent lawyers of Massachusetts when he was snatched away by death.”
To return to Mr. Webster: I quote (from a fine American edition of his speeches, sent to me by a friend, who gave every promise of following in the same track) part of an “argument on the trial of John F.Knapp, for the murder of Joseph White, Esq., of Salem in the county of Essex, Massachusetts, on the night of the 6th of April, 1830."
I choose this thrilling story of a great crime, not merely on account of the fine picture which it presents of an old man murdered in his sleep, and the state of mind of the murderer, but because, as a subject of universal interest, the eloquence
bestowed on such a theme will be better appreciated in England, than those speeches which, referring to national policy, demand of the reader a certain acquaintance not only with the internal government, but with the position of conflicting parties in the United States. I might also have another reason for my selection : a desire to adduce the authority of so eminent a statesman trained under the freest of all institutions and the most sparing of capital punishment, and passing his life in the vindication of individual and national liberty, against the unhealthy and morbid sympathy with crime and criminals, which is one of the crying evils of our day.
Short as my extracts from this magnificent speech must necessarily be, the introductory statement is essential to their comprehension.
“ Mr. White, a highly respectable and wealthy citizen of Salem, about eighty years of age, was found on the morning of the 7th of April, 1830, in his bed murdered, under such circumstances as to create a strong sensation in that town and throughout the community.
“Richard Crowninshield, George Crowninshield, Joseph J. Knapp and John F. Knapp were, a few weeks after, arrested on a charge of having perpetrated the murder, and committed for trial. Joseph J. Knapp soon after, under the promise of favour from Government, made a full confession of the crime and the circumstances attending it.