Edwin David Sanborn.

A eulogy on the life of Daniel Webster online

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DECEMBER 29, 1852,






Phillips Academy, Jan. 26, 1853.

Dear Sir,

In appreciation of the interesting and instructive Eulogy

on the late Daniel Webster, which you recently delivered to the

Students of this Academy, the undersigned were appointed a Committee

to request in their behalf a copy for publication.

Yours very respectfully,






Prof. E. D. Sanborn.


Nature's noblemen ought to be tried by their peers.
Those illustrious patriots, whose words and deeds consti-
tute the materials of history, should be portrayed by men
who can fully comprehend them. The actions and opin-
ions of the honored dead should be scanned and weighed
by such of their disciples as are competent to appreciate
and imitate them. To hold up their virtues to the admi-
ration of posterity is the office of kindred spirits possess-
ing like tastes and endowments.

" What light is, 't is only light can show."

But Webster has gone and left no peer. The man who
can justly estimate his mind and heart, his character and
influence, does not live. Centuries may elapse before the
advent of his equal ; for Nature is not prodigal of such
gifts. Those epochs, in human history, which have been
distinguished by the life and services of truly great men
are separated by centuries and not by generations. Poets,
philosophers and statesmen of commanding genius, only
appear, when the common mind is prepared, by previous
developement, to take an onward step in social improve-
ment. Then God condescends to raise up and educate
a leader.

" Such men are rais'd to station and command,
When Providence means mercy to the land.
He speaks and they appear ; to him they owe
Skill to direct and strength to strike the blow *
To manage with address, to seize with pow'r
The crisis of a dark decisive hour.

Such men are commissioned to perform their service
at the proper time and are removed at the proper time ;

for, " the Judge of all the earth doeth right." It hath
pleased Almighty God to take from this nation its coun-
sellor ; from the civilized world, its pacificator. Dan-
iel Webster is no more ! In his own appropriate words,
uttered on a similar occasion, we may now say : " It is
fit that, by public assembly and solemn observance, by an-
them and by eulogy, we commemorate the services of na ■
tional benefactors, extol their virtues, and render thanks
to God for eminent blessings, early given and long con-
tinued, through their agency, to our favored country.''
The true artist admires the most perfect specimens of art
though he never hopes to equal them. The genuine pa-
triot loves the noblest exhibitions of patriotism and de-
lights to commemorate those virtues which ennoble the
land of his birth. When he sees them embodied in hu-
man character and exhibited in human conduct, he ren-
ders to their living exemplars the sincere homage of a
grateful heart, though they walk in paths far above his
own highest aspirations. When the light which cheered
and guided him is quenched in death and a night of sor-
row broods over the land, he bewails the nation's loss and
commends his country to God. Such is our duty. The
lights of the age are leaving us. From eternity, these
great souls that have gone before, are beckoning their
companions home. The stars of our political heavens
are going down. Like the Grecian navigator, of old,
cased in oak and triple brass, whom winds and currents
bore over the Mge&n, till the guiding constellations, one
by one, disappeared from his view, we feel that night
and storm have drifted us far over the ocean of time, till
the last luminary to which we looked for guidance has
sunk from our sight. It is never right to despair of the
republic ; still we may borrow the touching language of
poetry when we would express the sense of our irrepara-
ble loss :


" We liave fallen upon evil days,
Star after star decays ;
The brightest names that shed
Light o'er the land, have fled.

The history of Daniel Webster is known. It is iden-
tified with that of his country. Its laws, its literature,
its arts, have all felt the influence of his great mind for
half a century. There is no public interest, in the land,
that has not been controlled by his wisdom and fostered
by his care. It is not my purpose, therefore, to speak,
particularly, of his public life and services ; but, of these
less obvious and comparatively unnoticed agencies which
moulded his mind and heart, and gave direction and force
to his native endowments. Every truly great man is the
joint product of genius and culture. Mind and affections
expanding, from within, and precept and example ope-
rating, from without, form the character. The relative
influence of the natural faculties and education, in pro-
ducing the best specimens of our race, was as well under-
stood and defined by Horace, as it now is, after two
thousand years of discussion and experience.

" Doetrina sed vim promovet insitam,
Rectique cnltus pectora rohorant :
Uteumque defecere mores
Indecorant bene nata culpse."

Mr. Webster's condition in early life, explains many of
his prominent characteristics. His fondness for rural life
and manly exercises grew directly out of the occupations
of Ms childhood. His reverence for the Bible, his hatred
of violence and cruelty, and his earnest devotion to the
institutions of his country, are the result of parental in-
struction. His love of liberal learning, his cultivated
taste, his elevated aims in life, his intense scorn of all
affectation, pretence and intrigue are the spontaneous de-
velopements of the intellect and heart with which the
Creator endued him. The entire biography of Mr. Web-


ster gives new confirmation to a very common maxim of
teachers :

That the habits formed in early life, determine the des-
tiny of the man. Happy is lie, whose habits are his
friends. I shall now attempt to follow out some of those
prominent traits of his character, which run, like golden
threads, through the whole tissue of his history, begin-
ning with the first activities of buoyant childhood, and
terminating in the sublime close of the most eventful life
of the age.

Mr. Webster was passionately fond of the country. He
loved its green fields and sombre forests, its rugged
mountains and quiet vales ; its summer toils and winter
sports. With Cowper he could cordially say :

'• Not rural sights alone, but rural sounds
Exhilarate the spirit and restore
The tone of languid nature." — ■

The lowing of herds and the bleating of flocks cheered
him like strains of music. Such scenes brought back the
recollections of his early days. His love of rural life was,
perhaps, his ruling passion. It never forsook him. The
purchase of land and the regulation of his estates were
among the last business transactions of his life. Farm-
ing, with him was a reality. He gave personal atten-
tion to the most minute arrangements upon his farms, as
his letters to his tenants abunclatly show. John Taylor
has hundreds of Mr. Webster's letters containing specific
direction respecting the time and place of ploughing,
sowing and planting. The amount and kind of seed and
manure, for each piece, are mentioned. The various an-
imals, upon the farm, are spoken of by their appropriate
names, or peculiar marks ; and particular directions are
given for the feeding of them or for their sale and the
purchase of others. He was seldom deceived, in the qual-
ities of the animal that he had examined. In the man-

agement of his farms he was as careful and judicious as
in the administration of the State. The highest pleas-
sure he ever knew was in retirement ; in inspecting his
crops, examining his stock, preparing tools and seed for
future use and planning extensive improvements in every
department of rural industry. Like Antieus, he seemed
to acquire new strength, by touching the earth. His
spirits rose ; the feelings of childhood revived and with
them, the artlessness, the simplicity and playfulness of
childhood. The stately reserve of the Senator was laid
aside ; the cares of the diplomatist were forgotten while
he re-enacted the scenes of his youth. He donned the
farmer's dress. His discourse was of bullocks, of horses,
of flocks and of swine. The farmer's vocabulary was as
familiar to him as the technicalities of the law. All the
common processes of agriculture were as vivid in his re-
collection as when he followed the plough and " drove
the team a-field."

Daniel Webster performed the ordinary services of a
boy, on his father's farm, till the age of fourteen. Im-
agine to yourself a slender, black-eyed, serious lad, with
raven locks, leading the traveller's horse to water when
he alighted at his father's inn, driving the cows to pas-
ture, at early dawn, and returning them at evening,
riding the horse to harrow between the rows of corn, in
weeding time, and following the niowers, with a wooden
spreader, in haying time, and you have the portrait.
His early opportunities for improvement were far less
than those of farmers' sons at the present day. Schools
were few and short. In Salisbury, they were migrato-
ry, kept in each of three districts, which comprised the
town, in turn. Sometimes the school was more than
three miles from his father's house. Two or three months
in winter, with constant occupation in summer, furnish-
ed but limited means of improvement to the lover of

learning. Books and periodicals were almost unknown.
The few books, which his father owned, were thoroughly
conned. The Bible, Watts' s Psalms and Hymns, Shaks-
peare and Pope constituted his literary treasures. He
could recite the whole of Pope's " Essay on Man," when
he was twelve years of age. Being once asked, why he
committed this philosophic poem to memory, at that time
of life, he replied, "Because I had little else to commit."
He said that he could not remember the time when he
could not read. He learned his letters and infant pray-
ers from the lips of his mother. He was an accom-
plished reader very early in life. He once told me that
he recollected, when a very small boy, that the teamsters
from the North, who called at his father's tavern for re-
freshment, used to insist on his reading them a psalm.
They leaned upon their long whip-stocks and listened,
with delighted attention, to the elocution of the young
orator. There was a charm, in his voice, at this early
age. The hymns which he then committed, he recited
with pleasure to the close of life. He was often heard
singing or reciting stanzas from "Watts as he walked about
his house or grounds. At Franklin, in September, 1851,
while he was laboring under severe indisposition, I often
heard the clear, silvery tones of his voice ringing through
the old house as he sung,

" Our lives through various scenes are drawn,

And vex'd with trifling cares ;
While thine eternal thoughts move on

Thine undisturbed affairs."

The last line was often heard alone. The contrast of
human government with the divine, undoubtedly, sug-
gested it. At midnight, while the rapt singer was tortur-
ed with pain, the same strain was heard, from his sickroom.
I have known him to repeat a psalm of Watts and pro-
nounce it unsurpassed in beauty and sublimity. ' ' Where-
ever you find Watts" said he, "you find true devotion."

He showed the same love for the sweet minstrel during
his last illness. The impressions of youth grew stronger
with age. Near the close of his life, he expressed a wish
to leave his testimony in favor of early piety ; declaring
that the hymns of Watts, from his cradle hymns to his
version of the Psalms, were always uppermost in his
mind ; oftener occurring to his memory than the writings
of his favorite poets, Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Milton and
Shakspeare. He wished his friends to understand, that
the early religious instruction and example of his parents
had moulded and influenced his whole subsequent life.

Daniel Webster ivas a serious, earnest and truthful boy.
The reverence for God's word and ordinances which his
parents inculcated, never forsook him. On this point,
he being dead yet speaketh. His earliest written and
published productions evince an elevation of thought and
a solemnity of style above his years. " Erat in verbis
gra vitas, et facile dicebat, et auctoritatem naturalem
quandani habebat oratio."

He entered College, with very imperfect preparation,
at fifteen. He had devoted only about ten months to the
preparatory studies ; and, less than three months of that
time, to Greek. In College, he early became a contrib-
utor for the press. His first printed production is on
" Hope." It is written both in prose and verse. This
passage occurs in it :

" Through the whole journey of man's life, however deplora-
ble his condition, Hope still irradiates his path and saves him
from sinking in wretchedness and despair. Thanks to Heaven
that human nature is endowed with such an animating principle !
When man is reduced to the lowest spoke of fortune's wheel ; when
the hard hand of pinching poverty binds him to the dust ; when
sickness and disease prey upon his body ; yea, when meagre death
approaches him, what then supports and buoys him safe over the
abyss of misery ? 'Tis Hope."

The close is as follows :

" But first of all, go ask the dying soul,
Whose all. -who?e only portion lies beyond


The narrow confines of this earthly realm,
How thus he can support affliction's weight
And grapple with the mighty foe of man ;

He says, 'tis faith ; 'tis hope ;

By these he penetrates death's dreary vale,
And lo ! a blest Eternity appears."

His next piece is on "Charity." A brief extract
will show its character :

" Let hate and discord vanish at thy sight,
And every fibre of the human breast
Be tun'd to genuine sympathy and love.
When thou, in smiles, deseendest from the skies,
Celestial radiance shines around thy path,
And happiness, attendant or. thy steps.
Proclaims, in cheerful accents, thine iv proach."

The next article is on " Fear," written partly in prose
and partly in blank verse. I find others upon the sea-
sons of the year, upon war and upon political topics, both
in prose and verse. The style is somewhat ambitious as
is natural, at that early age, but the thoughts are always
elevated and serious. Almost every composition is im-
bued with religious sentiments.

Mr. Webster possessed one of those well-balanced
minds which can find pleasure in the acquisition of all
truth. He did not adopt one study and neglect another,
in his College course ; but pursued them all with equal
ardor and manifest delight. If he had continued to cul-
tivate poetry he would, undoubtedly, have excelled in
that species of composition.

During the first term of his Senior year, he was called
to mourn the death of a classmate, to whom he was fond-
ly attached. He was invited to pronounce his eulogy.
A copy was requested for publication. " This oration,''*
says a classmate, " was full of good sentiments. It would
have done honor to one of long-improved privileges."
It shows very clearly what his views of religion then were.
Speaking of his deceased classmate, he said :


" To surviving friends gladdening is the reflection, that he di-
ed, as lie had lived, a firm believer in the sublime doctrines of
Christianity. Whoever knew him, in

life, and saw him in death, will cordially address this honorable
testimony to his memory :

' Fie taught us how to liva ; and oh ! too high
The price of knowledge, taught us hov,- to die.'

Religion dissevers the chain that binds man to the dust and
bids him be immortal. It enables the soul to recline on the arm
of the Almighty, and the tempest beats harmless around her. In
the smooth seasons and the calms of life, the worth of religion is
not estimated. Like every thing else which has in it the genu-
ine marks of greatness, it is not captivated with the allurements
of worldly grandeur, nor the soft and silken scenes of luxury.
Amidst the gaiety and frivolity of a Parisian court, the philoso-
pher of Ferney could curse religion without a blush ; Hume,
proud of that reputation which his talents had acquired him,
could play it off in a metaphysical jargon ; and Paine disposes
of it with a sneer and a lie. But let religion be estimated by
him who is just walking to the stake of the martyr ; by him who
is soon to smTer the tortures of the inquisition ; by him who is
proscribed and banished from his family, from his friends and
from his country : — these will tell you that religion is invalua-
ble : that it gives them comfort here ; that it is the earnest of
life eternal; the warrant that gives possession of endless felicity."

These are the opinions of his youth. How like the
matured convictions of age ; like that solemn declara-
tion of his sentiments which he subscribed, with his own
hand, on his dying bed :

" My heart has always assured and re-assured me that the
gospel of Jesus Christ must be a divine reality. The Sermon en
the Mount cannot be a merely human production. This belief
enters into the depths of my conscience. The whole history of
man proves it."

As a teacher, while he was preceptor of Fryeburg
Academy, in 1802, then a youth of twenty years, he ex-
hibited the same serious deportment and respect for re-
ligion. An old pupil of his, Dr. T. P. Hill of Planover,
N. H. says : " It was his invariable practice to open
and close the school with extempore prayer ; and, I shall
never forget the solemnity with which the duty was al-
ways performed." Mr. AVebster was never known to


trifle, with the affairs of time, much less with the reali-
ties of eternity. In his public speeches, he always al-
luded to the Scriptures, with profound reverence, and
never uttered the name of the Supreme Being but with
manifest awe. He was a careful reader of the Bible and
delighted to repeat passages of elevated poetry and sub-
lime devotion from its pages, in contrast with the inferi-
or productions of uninspired poets and philosophers. His
early poetic productions are all redolent of the truths of
God's word. From a religious poem published April 28,
1800, I quote the introduction and close :

" When that grand period in the eternal mind,

Long predetermined, had arrived, behold

The universe, this most stupendous mass

Of things, to instant being rose. This globe

For light and heat dependent on the sun,

By power supreme, was then ordained to roll

And on its surface bear immortal man,

Complete in bliss, the image of his God.

His soul to gentle harmonies attuned,

Th' un<rovern'd rage of boisterous passions knew not ;

Malice, revenge and hate were then unknown ;

Love held its empire in the human heart,

The voice of love alone escaped the lip

And gladd'ning nature echoed back the strain.

Oh happy state ! too happy to remain ;

Temptation comes and man, a victim, falls !

Farewell to peace, farewell to human bliss !

Farewell ye kindred virtues, all farewell !

Ye tlee the world and seek sublimer realms.

Passions impetuous now possess the heart

And hurry every gentler feeling thence.
* * ♦ *****

Is it now asked why man for slaughter pants,

Raves with revenge, and with detraction burns ?

Go ask of Aetna why her thunders roar,

Why her volcanoes smoke, and why she pours,

In torrents, down her side, the igneous mass

That hurries men and cities to the grave.

These but the effects of bursting fires within ;

Convulsions that are hidden from our sight

And bellow under ground. Just so in man ;

The love of conquest and the lust of power

Are but the effects of passion unsubdued.


T" avert th' effects then, deeply strike the cause,
O'ercome the rage of passion and obtain
The empire over self. This once achieved,
Impress fair virtue's precept on the heart,
Teach man t' adore his God and love his brother ;
War then no more shall raise the rude alarm,
Widows and orphans then shall sigh no more,
Peace shall return and man again be bless'd."

Another prominent element of his character was re-
spect for law. In youth, ho practised obedience to his
parents and teachers with Spartan equanimity ; and, in
manhood, he inculcated the same principle with Roman
firmness. You know how he loved and honored his pa-
rents ; how he delighted to recall their pious instructions;
how he made an annual pilgrimage to the place, where
their honored dust reposes, to weep over their graves ;
how he delighted to take his children to the site of the
old log cabin which his father built, in the forest, beyond
every vestige of civilized man ; how he delighted to re •
count to them the toils, the sufferings and victories of
that heroic father through the blood and fire of two long
protracted wars. You know, too, how fully he appreci-
ated the sacrifice made by his parents, in their deep pov-
erty, to give him an education which seemed beyond their
means and thus to raise him above their own condition.
You know, too, how timidly, after a sleepless night, spent
in conference with Ezekiel, he ventured to ask that his
beloved brother might leave the farm for the halls of
learning. In the family council which was called in con-
sequence, when the father, bowed with toil and suffering
and oppressed with pecuniary burdens, was speechless
with grief at the thought of losing the supports of his age,
then that strong-minded, generous mother having a pre-
sentiment of the future eminence of her sons decided the
question. Her verdict was : " I have lived long in the
world and have been happy in my children, and I wish
them to be happy. If Daniel and Ezekiel will promise


to take care of their father and mother, in their old age,
I will consent to the sale of all our property, at once, that
they may enjoy the benefit of what remains after our debts
are paid." The memory of that fond mother was very
dear to her illustrious sons. She was a woman of com-
manding presence and great personal beauty. The only
representation of her face extant is a small profile like-
ness, at Marshfield, handsomely framed, with this title,
"My excellent Mother," written by Mr. Webster and
subscribed with his own name.*

When Daniel and Ezekiel had completed their collegi-
ate education, they consecrated their first earnings to the
support and comfort of their parents. When Daniel
Webster attained his majority, he hired money, in his
own name, went to Salisbury and notified all the credit-
ors of Judge Webster to present to him their claims for
settlement. This was at the time when his father had
secured for him the Clerkship of the Court of Common
Pleas, in Hillsborough County, with a salary of $1,500
per annum. He was very anxious that his son should
accept it as it would place the family above want. But
Daniel had resolved to influence the decisions of Courts
rather than record them. I have heard him say that his
father's black eyes flashed with momentary displeasure,
when he respectfully declined this tempting offer, and he
added with some spirit, " well Daniel, your mother has
often said that you would make something or nothing,

* Every thing which reminded him of his mother was very precious. In
one of his letters to John Taylor during the last year, he bids him be care-
ful to cultivate his mother's garden, if it required the expense of an extra
hand. The flowers that grew there were his favorites. On the evening of
his triumphant reception in Boston, in July last, after entering the Hotel,
exhausted by the fatigues of the day, a lady who knew his favorite flower,
selected from the thousands of elegant boquets, that were showered upon
him, as he passed through the streets, a little bunch of carnation pinks and
presented them to him. He kissed her hand with inimitable grace and
said : " How fragrant, how beautiful ! thev remind me of my mother's gar-


and I think you have decided the question." He had
d ecided it ; and, that was the turning point in his lii'e. His
brother Ezekiel, as I find from their correspondence, de-

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Online LibraryEdwin David SanbornA eulogy on the life of Daniel Webster → online text (page 1 of 4)