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CHAPTER XV. THE NEXT TWO YEARS.
The die was cast! Daniel decided to forego the small but comfortable income insured to him as a teacher, and in accordance with his father’s wishes, as well as his own inclination, returned to the study of the law. He resumed his place (September, 1802) in the office of Mr. Thompson, at Salisbury, and there he remained till February or March, 1804. Before leaving Fryeburg, at the request of the citizens he delivered a Fourth of July oration (his second), for which he received from the trustees of the academy a gratuity of five dollars! It was not many years before five hundred dollars would not have been considered too much for such a service from the then obscure teacher.

My young readers would not feel particularly interested in the details of Daniel’s professional studies during the eighteen months he spent in the office of Mr. Thompson. From the larger biographies such information may be obtained by law students and those who take an interest therein. I shall content myself by extracting from Mr. Webster’s autobiography some account of the manner in which he employed his time.

“I do not know whether I read much during this year and a half besides law books, with two exceptions. I read Hume through, not for the first time; but my principal occupation with books, when not law books, was with the Latin classics. I brought from college a very scanty inheritance of Latin. I now tried to add to it. I made myself familiar with most of Tully’s Orations, committed to memory large passages of some of them, read Sallust and C?sar and Horace. Some of Horace’s odes I translated into poor English rhymes; they were printed. I have never seen them since. My brother was a far better English scholar than myself, and, in one of his vacations, we read Juvenal together. But I never mastered his style, so as to read him with ease and pleasure. At this period of my life I passed a great deal of time alone. My amusements were fishing and shooting and riding, and all these were without a companion. I loved this occasional solitude then, and have loved it ever since, and love it still. I like to contemplate nature, and to hold communion, unbroken by the presence of human beings, with ‘this universal frame—thus wondrous fair.’ I like solitude also, as favorable to thoughts less lofty. I like to let the thoughts go free and indulge excursions. And when thinking is to be done, one must, of course, be alone. No man knows himself who does not thus sometimes keep his own company. At a subsequent period of life I have found that my lonely journeys, when following the court on its circuits, have afforded many an edifying day.”

It will be seen that young Webster aimed to be something more than a lawyer. Instead of throwing aside his law books when his daily reading was over with a sigh of relief that he could now devote his time to mere enjoyment, he closed them only to open the English and Latin classics, with a view to broaden his culture and qualify himself for something better than a routine lawyer, to whom his profession presents itself only as a means of livelihood. Pressed as he had been, and still was, by the burden of poverty, he never appears to have set before himself as a principal object the emoluments to be gained by legal practice. During his busy years his receipts were indeed very large, but they came to him as a consequence of his large and varied ability, and not because he had specially labored to that end.

I have already mentioned the young man’s modesty. He did not apparently suspect the extent of his own powers, and did not look forward to fill any conspicuous place in his profession. He hoped indeed for “the acquirement of a decent, competent estate, enabling us to treat our friends as they deserve, and to live free from embarrassment.” This was the measure of his expectation.

Yet it did occur to him at times that an office in a small country town hardly afforded the facilities for acquiring professional knowledge which it would be desirable to enjoy. Sometimes he hoped that he might be able to finish his studies in Boston, where he would meet with men of large ability, and where the practice of law took a larger range. But if he found it hard work to maintain himself in Salisbury, how could he hope to pay his way in Boston?

But a way was unexpectedly opened to him. Before Ezekiel had completed his college course it was necessary for him to teach in order to fill his exhausted coffers, and by a lucky chance he obtained the charge of a small private school in what is now Kingston Street, Boston. He had eight scholars in Latin and Greek, but found himself unable to do justice to them on account of the long list of branches which he had to teach. He wrote to Daniel, offering him a sum sufficient to pay his board, if he would assume the charge of these pupils. This would require but an hour and a half daily, and would leave the law student ample time to prosecute his studies.

It may readily be supposed that Daniel did not decline this offer. It was an experiment, perhaps, but it was worth trying. So he packed up his clothes and repaired to Boston, where he joined his brother, whom he arranged to assist in his duties. Now the relations of the brothers were again reversed, and it was the elder who took his turn in helping along the younger. The most eminent of the pupils thus coming under the instruction of Daniel Webster was Edward Everett, worthy as an orator to be named with his master. Webster, Everett, Choate! Nine out of ten, if called upon to name the three most renowned orators of New England, would single out these names, and it will indeed be a fortunate age that can boast three who can equal them. Among the pupils of Ezekiel Webster was George Ticknor, another eminent man who will need no introduction to my readers.

Daniel had entered a new and auspicious period of study and opportunity. He had gained a foothold in Boston. How was he best to improve his residence? What great lawyer would open his office to the young New Hampshire student?

Among the most eminent citizens and lawyers of Boston at that time was Christopher Gore. He had served the American Government at home and abroad, as district attorney for Massachusetts, and as a commissioner to England under Jay’s Treaty, for the settlement of claims brought by citizens of the United States for spoliation by British cruisers during the war of the French Revolution. A higher honor was in store for him, since in 1809 he was elected Governor of Massachusetts by the Federal party. In 1804, when young Webster arrived in Boston, he was in practice as a lawyer, his specialty being commercial law.

Daniel learned that Mr. Gore had no clerk, and ambition led him to apply for the situation. He did not know any near friend of the distinguished lawyer, but a young man, whose acquaintance with him was nearly as slight as his, undertook to introduce him.

When the two young men entered the office, Daniel, according to his own account, was shockingly embarrassed. But Mr. Gore, with his old-fashioned courtesy, speedily put at him at ease. The rest of the interview we will let Mr. Webster tell for himself.

“I had the grace to begin with an unaffected apology; told him my position was very awkward, my appearance there very like an intrusion, and that, if I expected anything but a civil dismission, it was only founded in his known kindness and generosity of character. I was from the country, I said; had studied law for two years; had come to Boston to study a year more; had some respectable acquaintances in New Hampshire, not unknown to him, but had no introduction; that I had heard he had no clerk; thought it possible he would receive one; that I came to Boston to work, not to play; was most desirous, on all accounts, to be his pupil; and all I ventured to ask at present was, that he would keep a place for me in his office till I could write to New Hampshire for proper letters, showing me worthy of it.”

This speech Daniel delivered fluently, having carefully considered what he intended to say.

Mr. Gore heard him with encouraging good nature, and kindly invited the young visitor to sit down.

“I do not mean to fill my office with clerks,” he said, “but am willing to receive one or two, and will consider what you have said.”

He inquired what gentlemen of his acquaintance knew Daniel and his father, and in reply Daniel mentioned several, among others Mr. Peabody, who was Mr. Gore’s classmate.

A pleasant conversation continued for a few minutes, and Daniel rose to go.

“My young friend,” said Mr. Gore, “you look as if you might be trusted. You say you came to study and not to waste time. I will take you at your word. You may as well hang up your hat at once. Go into the other room, take your book and sit down to reading it, and write at your convenience to New Hampshire for your letters.”

Daniel could hardly credit his good fortune in this prompt assent to his wishes. He felt that he had made an auspicious beginning in Boston, and made “a good stride onward” in securing admission to such an office.


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