صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

of his studies: he got his force from rapidity of utterance, and thus counteracted the slow strength of Webster.

As an orator, he had not only great rapidity of speech but often too violent action. Rather tall, dark, but striking in person, his action was not so much studied as his utterance and style. He had not the finish of Everett, nor the majesty of Webster in his delivery, but he had a fire and animation which they did not possess. He had practised oratory and the daily reading of the orators, for nearly forty years, to get expression; and that grand organ, though quite monotonous in tone, never failed to animate his eloquence. He never overcame a somewhat awkward manner, with all his self-discipline, nor, like Demosthenes, made his natural defects wholly yield to his genius. It is said that his action on one occasion was so violent that his coat yielded to the exertion; but it is also said that this violence of action gradually yielded to the subduing effects of age, as was the case with his great model, William Pinkney. In the Dalton case, this calmness was observable, and still more marked when he made his last remarks upon Webster, in 1859.

Thus Rufus Choate, with all his vivid, glowing, passionate and animated rhetoric, was not the first forensic orator of our country, though, in many respects, he was a marvel in speech. He never reached the calm grandeur of Webster, or his great style and force. Choate fell back on a wider reading and study, but he never possessed Webster's solidity. Yet it is equally certain that Choate was more exciting and stirring than Webster. Quite sure we are that Choate never could have made Webster's reply to Hayne. He had the words but not the strength to make such a speech. But on an ordinary occasion, and in the usual trial of such a cause, Choate was more successful than Webster.

As already intimated, Mr. Choate was an exact and thorough scholar. His translations at Dartmouth were as brilliant as those of William Pitt. He took the first honors and carried away the prize of scholarship. He surpassed Webster in the achievements at their alma mater ; and, like Webster, at college he was a general and devouring reader. Choate accumulated about 7,000 assorted volumes in his private library, and in later years, every Saturday found him, as a habit, wending his way home with a new book for the studies of that day. He became entirely domesticated and absorbed in his books. Society intruded not much upon his studies of Burke and Shakespeare; for these, with Bacon and Milton, he pronounced the four greatest authors of our langaage. Ilis order of precedence was, Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton and Burke. Choice selection and well judged. Indeed we learn much of deep interest out of that book of Parker, concerning the Chotean talks; and these talks we have never tired of reading, because of their rare and intelligent criticism. Had Parker kept up this recording upon all kinds of subjects he would have made Choate famous. One chapter of conversation almost redeems Parker's books. This chapter shows that Choate was ever studying and talking about eloquence and great writers. He was absorbed by the reading of the first geniuses of our language. He also had a familiarity with the best French productions, and finally studied German with one of his daughters, that he might make a wider examination in literature. How far he mastered the German and its literature does not appear, though it is known that he read the great German thinkers in their native tongue. Thus his studies took a wide scope, for with him to know a language was to master its great works, as his opportunity allowed. So Choate brought to his advocacy the large studies of many years, for he was rich with the spoils of all time; and these spoils are poured out in his orations with a generous copiousness.

Indeed, the eulogium upon Webster is pronounced by Everett the greatest of its kind in our language ; and it must be allowed to be worthy of this praise for the amplitude of its utterance, its characterization and analysis. It will remain for ages as the only oration worthy of Webster's greatness, while Theodore Parker's will go down to posterity as a brilliant but unjust accusation of his fame. Choate seized upon the accusations of Parker and he tore them to pieces. It involved no less a problem than the duties of a statesman to the State when in peril. Here is the best ethical vindication of Mr. Webster's course that has ever been written ; and from Choate's standpoint it is a masterpiece of reason and eloquence.

His addresses upon literary occasions show that he was a scholar equal to such demands, notwithstanding the exigencies of his profession. Instance his description of the lawyer who returns home to his books to recruit his drooping spirits from his arduous toil, after a week's trial, shattered in nerves, with temples throbbing, pale with anxiety about the verdict, disappointed in the charge of the judge, recalling with dread and self-disparagement the brilliant effort of his antagonist, and tormenting himself with the vain wish that he could have replied to it, and being then altogether a very miserable subject, and in as unfavorable a condition to accept comfort from wife and children as poor Christian in the first pages of the Pilgrim's Progress. Then he describes with what a superhuman effort he opens his books and soon is lost to all those toils and disappointments of some great cause when the poets come to sing and the great orators to refresh him with the charms of their genius. So he says, “ Let the case of a busy lawyer testify to the priceless value of the love of reading. Well may he prize that endeared charm, so effectual and safe, without which the brain had long ago been chilled by paralysis, or set on fire of insanity.” And “ to these uses and enjoyments," he adds, speaking of the Peabody Institute, "to mental culture and knowledge and morality, the guide, the grace, the solace of labor on all fields, we dedicate this charity.”

His address upon the eloquence of revolutionary periods presented new thoughts and brought him to describe the foremost speakers in the annals of time. He here depicted the misfortunes of great states, and how a Demosthenes and a Cicero toiled with all supreme orators to save their country in its last agony. Here was a genial field, and he has left this tribute to oratory and statesmanship. But his address upon the conservative force of the American bar is equally an appreciation and a tribute to his profession : it delineates the character of the profession and of its tendency to sustain the Constitution. Mr. Choate delivered this discourse in 1845, to the Cambridge Law School, and it was intended to enlighten those young men upon the necessity of stability in American institutions, and of the obligations of the profession to the country. He said the leanings of the bar are to the people and to liberty. He illustrates that by examples from the Roman, from the French and from our own and the British bar. He speaks of our organic forms, our Constitution, and declares that liberty is blended with order, and that conservation is the chief end, the largest duty and the truest glory of American statesmanship. He declares that “this is a government of laws and not of men ; of reason, not of will; of justice and not of fraud; in that grand dogma of equality--equality of right, of burdens, of duty, of privileges, and of chances, which is the very mystery of our social being—this constitutes our strength, our glory.” Ile then pronounces for the Constitution as it is, for jurisprudence substantially as it is, the general arrangements of liberty substantially as they are; and this he declares to be wise according to American wisdom. “ To the conservation, then, of this general order of things,” he thinks, the profession of the bar may be said to be assigned.

He finally deprecates the tendency to regard the actual will of the majority as the law of the state, as dangerous to the principle that this is a government of laws. This address considers at large the obligation of the bar to the state, and no jurist can read it without regarding Choate as one of the most enlightened members of the profession. This discourse does not deprecate reform, but he claimed that our system established by the Constitution was to be sustained as essential to all progress and order, and hence he thought the conservation of the laavs was a primary object of that time. Ile was then a senator in Congress, and saw that the great danger of our time was disruption. Still it must be conceded that Choate by constitution was a Conservative rather than a Progressist. If he erred it was in devotion to mere advocacy of things as they are; and yet it would be difficult to except to his general views as uttered upon this occasion, as to the primal conservation of our system of laws.

We may here say that as a statesman and a successor to Webster, in 1841, in the United States Senate he always took a liberal and enlightened conrse upon all the questions presented in his time; and he conserved the national polity existing. Indeed, we have not thought it important to speak of him as a statesman except that he was one of the ablest speakers of his time, and was always a great power upon the hustings. He first examined a subject, and when he spoke he shed light upon it, and his historical references were always pertinent and forcible. He has left several political speeches, which are among his best. But Mr. Choate had little ambition for place, though he was one of the most brilliant speakers of his time, and resigned nearly all the great offices that he ever held except that of attorney-general. He always labored to advance Webster to the presidency ; but seemed indifferent to his own political advancement. As a statesman he performed his duty and sought to keep the state from evil courses. He was the confiding friend of Webster, and nobly did he repay the confidence reposed in him. He and Webster were very playful and full of compliments to each other; and one day Webster, after some effort, found Choate, and jocosely said, “ Long sought for, but worthy the search!"

It was Mr. Choate's habit to meditate and write out his speeches in advance, and quite often they were committed to memory. IIis arguments were always subjected to laborious preparation where the occasion permitted. Choate had a tenacious memory, and when he had prepared his argument it remained substantially in his inemory, though he always spoke from copious notes that lay before him. He did not need words, but wrote to elevate and give force to his style. Everett could read over an address two or three times and then repeat it nearly verbatim. Calhoun prepared all his speeches with great ease, and seldom spoke in the Senate what had not been considered and shaped in his study. Webster usually spoke

« السابقةمتابعة »