Alexander Young.

The stay and the staff taken away : A discourse occasioned by the death of the Hon. William Prescott, LL.D., delivered in the church on Church green, December 15, 1844 online

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Regarding him as a statesman and a patriot, he
died at a fortunate time for himself — at a moment-
ous crisis in our affairs — out of which may God,
in his infinite mercy, bring us with our national
escutcheon unstained, and with no drops of blood
upon our garments ! He was spared the shame and
mortification of seeing our territory enlarged by the
indefinite extension of slavery, with its intolerable
evils and accursed wrongs. I say he died at a for-
tunate time for himself; for the infirmities of age
would have prevented him from taking an active
part in the decisive measures necessary to check
and prevent this great national calamity. Had this
object been attempted some years ago, in the time
of his vigorous manhood, he would have been among
the first, I doubt not, to meet it, calmly, yet man-
fully, and fearlessly. For he was a man of indom-
itable moral courage. I have myself heard him say,
that it behooved every New-England man, who con-
sented to take a seat in the great council of the na-
tion, to go there resolved to submit to no affi'ont to
the North, and steadily to repel every encroachment
on the rights of the free States. And was he not
right ? Do we not need more such men there, at
this crisis, as that " old man eloquent " and brave.



20

who has for so many years fought, almost single-
handed, the battles of liberty against a host of foes,
and has at last triumphantly vindicated the right of
petition ? Do we not now greatly need the pru-
dence, the calmness, and the courage of such men
as William Prescott, who might tell us what we
ought to be prepared to do in case this dreadful evil
is fastened upon us ? Never has there been a time,
since the first outbreak of the Revolution, when the
wisdom of the ancient judge and the prudent coun-
sellor was more needed. Yet, as I have intimated,
God may have taken him away in mercy from wit-
nessing this foul blot upon his country's character
and honor. Tacitus, in his life of Agricola, men-
tions it as some alleviation of his premature death,
that he escaped the worst times, and did not see the
courts of law closed, the senate surrounded with
an armed force, and havoc and slaughter stalking
through the land ; and then adds, " Tu vero, felix,
Agricola, non vitse tantum claritate, sed etiam op-
portunitate mortis." And may we not deem it
fortunate, rather I should say providential, that our
venerable friend did not live to see this dark deed
consummated — did not live to see the constitution
violated, or the union shaken to its centre, or the
nation plunged into a foreign or a civil war ?

" He sleeps well.
Treason may do its worst ; nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can reach him further."



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2. Again. In the decease of this venerable man,
a strong stay and staff is taken away from this
Church. We lose in him one of our oldest and
best parishioners — one of the firmest pillars and
brightest ornaments of our congregation. Judge
Prescott connected himself with this parish on his
coming to Boston in 1808, under the brilhant min-
istry of Dr. Kirkland ; and from that day to this he
has continued a steady supporter of our religious
institutions, and, until prevented by illness and the
infirmities of age, a regular and constant attendant
upon our services of worship. In his earlier days
he took an active part in managing the prudential
affairs of the Society, and has always been ready by
his counsels, his labors, and his purse, to promote
its interests. You know, my friends, that he was
ever among the foremost and largest contributors
to the advancement of every good work proposed
in our religious community. The Theological
School at Cambridge and the Ministry to the Poor
in this city have received often and largely from his
bounty.^ And the cheerfulness with which he con-
tributed to every object which he thought would
promote the prosperity of this Church, rendered his
gift doubly valuable, proving that it was indeed a
gift of love. The last, and a very recent instance of

* Among other legacies, Judge Prescott bequeathed five hundred
dollars to the Boston Asylum for Female Orphans, and thiee thousand
dollars to the Corporation of Harvard College, for the purchase of
books for the Library.



22

this kind, which will always be gratefully remem-
bered by us, was his generous donation for the pur-
chase of that noble Organ, which is now called,
alas ! too soon, to chant his requiem.

Judge Prescott is the last of that remarkable class
of clear-headed and strong-minded men, all emi-
grants from the county of Essex, whom this Church
adopted, and fostered in her bosom, and is proud of
enrolhng among her children. Theophilus Par-
sons, George Cabot, Nathaniel Bowditch, Wil-
liam Prescott — I name them in the order of
their decease — where will you find in any church
among us another such brilhant galaxy of names —
such a combination of talent, wisdom and virtue —
men who have stamped their characters upon this
community, and will be held here in everlasting
remembrance ?

Brethren, I love to reflect that such men have
been of us and with us — that they have lived
with us, and worshipped with us, and died with us
— that they have been with us in heart and soul, in
unity of religious sentiment and principle. And
when doubts are at any time expressed in my hear-
ing of the efficacy of our peculiar system of Chris-
tian faith, I point to the characters of these men,
formed under the influences of this faith and the in-
structions of this pulpit. I say " By their fruits ye
may know them. He that doeth righteousness is
righteous."



23

My friends, it is a precious privilege which we
of this ancient church enjoy, that we have a no-
ble and sacred ancestry — that we can look back
in our annals to hoary heads that have been found
in the way of righteousness, to venerable names that
make a part of the history of the commonwealth
and country, and stand high on the rolls of juris-
prudence and science. We have a glorious history,
that yet remains to be written, and which will in-
clude the biographies of the learned and eloquent
ministers of this church, and of its eminent laymen,
and of its cultivated and pious women, not a few —
may the living ones return late to the stars ! — who
have been full of good works and alms-deeds which
they did.

Let us cherish their memories — the memories of
the sainted dead. Especially let the young men
who are now coming on the stage of life, look to
the example of integrity and lofty principle which
these great and good men have left. Let them be
taught by their success in life, by the enviable fame
which they gained, and, more than all, by the affec-
tion and reverence which are cherished for their
memories, and by the tears and regrets with which
they were followed to their graves, — that the only
path of honor is the path of virtue, — and that if
they would be remembered hereafter, they must first
be respected and loved by a hving generation whom
they have served and blessed.



24

3. But a stay and staff has been taken away not
only from this church, but from its Pastor. Judge
Prescott has always been not only a valuable mem-
ber of this parish, but a steady friend and unwaver-
ing supporter of its ministers. He was the model
of a good parishioner — wise, considerate, sympa-
thizing, kind. My illustrious predecessors in this
honored place, Kirkland, Thacher, Greenwood, suc-
cessively enjoyed the benefit of his counsels and
affections. And for myself I am bound to say that
in him I lose my greatest benefactor in the parish.
I can almost literally apply to myself the words of
Roger Ascham, when speaking of the death of his
patron. " In the midst," says he, ''of outward in-
juries and inward cares, to increase them withal,
good Sir Richard Sackville dieth ; - — that worthy
gentleman ; that earnest favorer and furtherer of
God's true religion ; that faithful servitor to his
prince and country ; — a lover of learning and all
learned men ; wise in all doings, courteous to all
persons, showing spite to none, doing good to
many ; and, as I well found, to me so fast a friend,
as I never lost the hke before. When he was gone,
my heart was dead. There was not one that wore
a black gown for him, who carried a heavier heart
than I." When I was settled in this parish twenty
years ago, an inexperienced young man, ready to
sink under the crushing labors and responsibilities
of the place, Judge Prescott took me kindly by the



25

hand ; and that hand was never afterwards with-
drawn. His countenance and encouragement have
often strengthened my heart and nerved my soul
amidst the trials and anxieties of my professional
life. In this way I have been laid under a load of
obhgation which now I can never hope to discharge.
But if I forget it, let my tongue cleave to the roof
of my mouth, and my right arm fall palsied from its
socket.

4. Finally. In the decease of our lamented friend,
a stay and staff has been taken away from his Fa-
mily. How great a loss they have thus sustained,
they alone can understand. That loss is enhanced
by the circumstances of his life, and the dispositions
and quahties of his heart. That life had been, for
the most part, a quiet and uneventful one, and
therefore all the happier. His social and domestic
affections were strong and tender. He loved his
home, and the circle of his chosen friends, more
than the conflicts of ambition and the scenes of po-
litical strife. And although he was ready to make
sacrifices of personal ease and enjoyment for the
common good, yet he was always glad to be re-
leased from public cares, that he might spend his
evenings around his own fireside, in the bosom of
his family.

He lived to enjoy a serene and happy old age.
Never has it been my privilege to witness one more
tranquil and delightful. His last years, which with



26

the old man are usually a burden and a toil, were
amongst the best and happiest of his happy life.
How much pure and rational enjoyment did he re-
ceive, and how much did he impart, in his truly
patriarchal abode, in the midst of his children's
children ! It was in his old age, too, that a grateful
country honored him for the services which his fa-
mily, in three successive generations, had rendered
it by the sword, the tongue, and the pen. Fortu-
nate indeed was he in the ascending and the de-
scending line of his generation ; looking backward
with filial admiration to the brightening fame of his
brave progenitor, and forward with paternal pride
to the widening reputation of a descendant who, by
his writings, has done so much to instruct and de-
light the world. ^

Our venerated fellow-worshipper died suddenly,
on the morning of the last Lord's day, without a
struggle or a pang, in the full possession of his fa-
culties, and with a hope full of immortality, in the
83d year of his age.

" Of no distemper, of no blast he died ;

But fell like autumn fruit that mellowed long- ;
E'en wondered at because he dropped no sooner.
Fate seemed to wind him up for fourscore years ;
Yet freshly ran he on two winters more :
Till, like a clock worn out with eating time.
The wheels of weary life at last stood still."

^ William H. Prescott, Esq., the author of the " History of the
Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic," and of the " History
of the Conquest of Mexico."



27

It has been affectionately and beautifully said by
another,^ that " the objects on which his eyes were
fixed, for the last time, before they should be closed
to open no more, were the objects nearest and
dearest to his affections and his heart. This must
have been as he could have wished. He could not
but have prayed, that, with a body unracked by
disease, an unclouded mind, and a perfect con-
sciousness, he might enjoy this, as his last earthly
wish. Not unmindful of the approach of that
change, which was to call him to another state of
being, he met the moment, when at last it came,
with serenity, and submitted himself to the will of
his Creator with cheerfulness and trust."

Such a departure was a euthanasia indeed — a
fitting close to such a career.

A life, a character, a death like this, need no
comment from me to explain or enforce their les-
sons. I leave them to make their own impression.

*' Why weep ye then for him, who, having won
The bound of man's appointed years, at last.
Life's blessings all enjoyed, life's labors done,

Serenely to his final rest has past ;
While the soft memory of his virtues, yet,
Lingers like twilight hues, when the bright sun is set.

*' His youth was innocent ; his riper age

Marked with some act of goodness every day ;
And watched by eyes that loved him, calm and sage,
Faded his late declining years away.

* Mr. Webster.



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Cheerful he gave his being up, and went

To share the holy rest that waits a life well spent.

" That life was happy ; every day he gave
Thanks for the fair existence that was his ;

For a sick fancy made him not her slave,
To mock him with her phantom miseries.

No chronic tortures racked his aged limb,

For luxury and sloth had nourished none for him.

" And I am glad that he has lived thus long.
And glad that he has gone to his reward ;

Nor deem that kindly nature did him wrong,
Softly to disengage the vital cord.

When his weak hand grew palsied, and his eye

Dim with the mists of age, it was his time to die."



APPENDIX.



PROCEEDINGS OF THE SUFFOLK BAR.

A MEETiNGof the Suffolk Bar was held in the Law Library, on
Tuesday morning, December 10th, 1844. It was called to order
by Charles P. Curtis, Esq. and proceeded to the choice of a
President and Secretary, pro tem.

The Hon. Jeremiah Mason was chosen President of the
meeting, and William H. Gardiner, Esq. Secretary.

The Hon. Daniel Webster then made some appropriate re-
marks, substantially as follows : —

Mr. President and Brethren of the Suffolk Bar:

We have met together on one of those solemn occasions, com-
mon to so numerous a body, but which must, in this instance,
cause an unusual degree of regret and pain. The oldest member
of our Association has departed this life. He had lived to an
extraordinary age, and though retired for many years from active
life, he was known and respected by all of us ; to some of us
known very long and intimately. No man has ever lived among
us, of more amiable demeanour, or purer character. No man has
ever possessed, in a more eminent degree, those qualities which
create public confidence for the members of this profession.
William Prescott was a man, whose integrity was incorrupti-
ble, and whose manners were most gentle and kind ; but whose
firmness of principle, and at the same time independence of
character, were never to be questioned. It is fit that they, who
have not only known, but who, as members of a common pro-
fession, have been honored by his virtues, should now do honor



30

to his memory. I have been requested, a few moments since, to
move Resolutions, appropriate to this occasion, and I cheerfully
comply ; for though there has been little time for their prepara-
tion, and none for premeditated remarks, no length of time can
be needful for the purpose of expressing, in a simple and re-
spectful forrn, bur affectionate reverence for the character of our
deceased brother.

Mr. Webster then moved the following Resolutions, which
were seconded by the Hon. James Savage, and unanimously
adopted.

Resolved, That the members of this Bar have heard, with sincere sor-
row, of a recent mournful event, which strikes from the head of their
roll, a name which they had long been accustomed to venerate.

Resolved, That the late William Prescott, whose sudden decease,
at a good old age, calls forth this tribute of respect, presented to his as-
sociates, throughout a long life, whether at the Bar, or on the Bench,
or in the dignified retirement of his late years, such an eminent example
of modest talent, substantial learning, and unpretending wisdom, with
aiFable manners, strong social affections, absolute fidelity in every rela-
tion of life, and probity beyond the slightest suspicion of reproach, as
rarely adorns even the highest walks of professional excellence. Con-
cerning whom may it be more appropriately asked than of him,

" Cui Pudor, et Justitise soror,
Incorrupta Fides, nudaque Veritas,
Quando ullum invenient parem 7 "

Resolved, That the members of this Bar will long cherish the memory
of the character of their deceased brother, as an honor to his profession,
a model to themselves, and an example of virtue and excellence to all.

Resolved, therefore, That the members of this Bar tender their re-
spectful sympathies to the family of the deceased, and respectfully ask
permission to attend the funeral of their late oldest associate.

Resolved, That the President and Secretary of this meeting be re-
quested to present to the family a certified copy of these proceedings.

Resolved, That the same officers also cause the proceedings of this
meeting to be communicated to the Honorable the Justices of the
Supreme Judicial Court, now in session.



31



PROCEEDINGS OF THE SUPREME COURT.

The death of the Hon. William Prescott was announced
in the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning, December 11th,
by Mr. Webster, who presented the Resolutions which had
been adopted by the Bar, with the following remarks : —

May it please your Honors :

I rise to perform a duty, of a kind new to me here, and as
sad as it is new. I rise, in behalf of the Bar of the County of
Suffolk, to communicate to the Court its proceedings on a late
mournful occurrence. The oldest member of that Bar is now
no more. William Prescott has departed this life. He died
suddenly, at his own house, and in the bosom of his family, on
Sunday morning, the 8th instant, without pain, and without loss
of faculties, or mental aberration, at the age of eighty-two.

The objects, on which his eyes were fixed, for the last time,
before they should be closed to open no more, were the objects
nearest and dearest to his affections and his heart. This must
have been as he could have wished. He could not but have
prayed, that, with a body unracked by pain, an unclouded mind,
and a perfect consciousness, he might enjoy this, as his last
earthly vision.

Not unmindful of the approach of that change, which was to
call him to another state of being, he met the moment, when at
last it came, with serenity, and submitted himself to the will of
his Creator with cheerfulness and trust.

Mr. Prescott retired from the practice of the Bar in 1828 ;
and it will not be thought in any degree unjust to others, to say^
that at the moment of his retirement, he stood at its head, for
legal learning and attainment.

Although thus withdrawn, for several years, from the active
scenes of his profession, yet, having constantly cherished a warm
interest for its character and usefulness, and derived pleasure, as
great and as sincere as those felt who were younger, from every
evidence of the advancement of the noble science of Jurispru-
dence, his brethren of the Bar could not but feel the magnitude



32



of the loss which they have sustained by his death ; nor could
they withhold the tender of a sincere and affectionate tribute
to his character.

Others know, and will record, his worth in other relations of
life. We contemplate him, on this occasion, only as he stood,
for a long time, among us, as a Lawyer and an Advocate, and
for a short period sat before us, as a Judge.

Assembled in full meeting yesterday, the Bar of Suffolk unan-
imously adopted these Resolutions.

In the necessary absence of our learned brother, the President"
of the meeting, and at his request, and that of the Secretary,
I now communicate these proceedings to the Justices of the
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, here sitting ; and
respectfully beg leave to say, that it would gratify the feelings
of the members of the Bar, if the Court would relieve them from
their attendance on their duties before it to-day, that they may
all have an opportunity to follow the remains of their lamented
brother to the tomb.

To this address Chief Justice Shaw replied as follows : —

Gentlemen of the Bar :

This Court receive, with the deepest sensibility, these Resolu-
tions of the Bar, and do most sincerely sympathize with the
members of the Bar, and the people of this community, in the
emotions of sorrow with which they have been struck, by the
sudden, melancholy, and impressive event, to which these pro-
ceedings relate.

The decease of such a man as Mr. Prescott, so long known,
so highly and universally respected, and so sincerely loved,
thouo-h at an advanced ao;e, though withdrawn from the con-
spicuous stations of public life, which he so long held and
adorned, cannot occur without a severe shock to the feelings of
those who survive. Such feelings are natural ; they are not
without their beneficial uses ; and, to a certain extent, it is fit
that they should be indulged. It is fit that those, who are still
engaged in the more active and absorbing duties of professional
and official life, should pause, to receive with deference and
submission, the monitory lesson it imparts, to pay a just and



S3

heartfelt tribute to the memory of a deceased brother, and pre^
pare for the great change, in which they are so soon to follow
him.

Mr. Prescott was most known as a lawyer, at once learned
and practical. By persevering industry, by an ardent devotion
to his high and responsible duties, without extraordinary advan-
tages, he had attained the highest rank in his profession, both as
a counsellor and an advocate.

He was distinguished for patient investigation, for great power
of discrimination, and practical sagacity, in separating what was
essential from what was accidental, in whatever was presented
for his consideration. But to these characteristics of an emi-
nent jurist, he added the crowning grace, without which all
other qualities must fail to command the confidence of others,
that of professional integrity. It was a full reliance upon his
known purity and singleness of purpose, which induced all those
who had occasion for counsel and assistance to believe, with
entire confidence, that in his care their dearest rights and most
important interests would be safe. These slight, but highly
gratifying views of his professional character, views which, if
the time and opportunity would permit, might be greatly ex-
tended, while they bring back a grateful and vivid recollection
of his excellence to those who were contemporary with him, and
knew him personally, present a bright example to those members
of the profession who have entered on its honorable career since
his retirement.

But although Mr. Prescott devoted most of the active part of
his life, and the energies of his mind, to the duties of the profes-
sion he loved, yet he was not unknown to his countrymen as
a patriot and statesman. Though mostly regarded by the peo-
ple as the trusted counsellor and faithful advocate of their
personal and private mterests, yet when the emergency called,
when their public rights and social interests were in peril, he
was looked to as the advocate and supporter of these great in-
terests ; nor was he looked to in vain. He was surpassed by no
man in that purity of purpose and disinterestedness, that sterling
integrity and unyielding resolution, in support of what he con-
sidered right, which are among the highest qualities of a sage
and patriot.

5



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* Of Mr. Prescott's private life and character, gratifying as it
would be, it does not become me to speak upon this occasion.
It is sufficient, and it is gratifying to know, that since his retire-
ment from the duties of his profession, he has passed an elegant
leisure in those intellectual occupations and literary pursuits,
which a life of honorable and useful industry had prepared him
to enjoy, and in those graver studies which befit the dignity, and
add brightness to the prospects of advancing years.

The Court will pass an order that the proceedings of the Bar
be entered on their record, as a memorial to future times of the
respect and veneration in which our lamented brother was held,
and will adjourn ^ till to-morrow, to enable us personally to join
with the Bar in paying our tribute of respect to his memory, by
attending his remains to the tomb.

i The Court were at this time engaged in a capital triali



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Online LibraryAlexander YoungThe stay and the staff taken away : A discourse occasioned by the death of the Hon. William Prescott, LL.D., delivered in the church on Church green, December 15, 1844 → online text (page 2 of 3)