Joseph Palmer.

Necrology of alumni of Harvard college, 1851-52 to 1862-63 online

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They were also gentlemen. of high moral character, upright in
all their dealings, and honorable in all their practice. Mr.
Porter was a worthy pupil of such teachers, and in these
schools acquired all which could be expected to be acquired in
the time, an accurate knowledge of the general principles of
law, and sound professional ethics. He was admitted to the
bar in the county of Middlesex in the fall of 1817, and opened
an office, at first in Medtord, and about a year afterwards in
Boston. His intellectual endowments were well suited to the
study of the law as a science. His mind was acute, discrimi
nating, and logical ; and his memory was retentive and ready.
A patient, persevering, and critical investigation was to him an
agreeable exercise ; and he was unwilling to relinquish a sub
ject, once taken in hand, until it was mastered and exhausted.
He took pleasure in working out, with steady, patient thought,
and thorough, laborious research, perplexed and difficult ques
tions of law. He read much ; and his legal learning was


accurate and entensive. There can be no doubt that he was
capable of reaching a high rank as a lawyer. But the practice
of the law, as a business, was not so well suited to his tastes
and habits. He was a scholar, fond of books and study and
retirement, but had no fondness for the turmoil and strife, the
"pert dispute" and "babbling hall," of professional practice.
Still he had considerable business, which was always well and
faithfully managed. He argued some questions of law before
the Supreme Court with decided ability. He was patient, labo
rious, and conscientiously scrupulous and exact in the perform
ance of all his duties. In his professional as in his private life,
he was just and upright, and incapable of any unworthy arti
fice or trick. His principles and practice were pure, elevated,
and honorable. He did not, upon coming to the bar, as is too
often the case with men of the law, relinquish all attention
to liberal studies. The classics still continued to be his com
panions. So far as he could command the time, he continued
his application to general literature, and was a diligent student
of metaphysics, mathematics, and the exact sciences. In 1822,
he delivered the oration before the Phi Beta Kappa at Cam
bridge. At that time, he was in feeble health. His infirmity
was such, that he thought, from time to time, that he should be
obliged to relinquish the task he had undertaken ; but he strug
gled on to the fulfilment of his engagement. Of the literary
merit of his performance we have not been informed, and have
no knowledge ; but are apprised of the fact, that the oration was
prepared and delivered under much bodily weakness and suffer
ing. In 1830, the complaint ^which clung to him ever after
wards made its presence known. In the summer of that year,
he made a voyage to Europe, in the hope of improving his
health. In the spring of 1831, he returned with his health
apparently somewhat improved. But, soon after resuming his
business, the disease gained strength, and became more alarm
ing. Now succeeded a period of much anxiety and suffering.
He still hoped that recovery to health was possible, and was
earnest and persevering in the use of means to that end. At
times he would seem to be improved, and be encouraged ; he

1858-59.] OF HARVARD COLLEGE. 247

would then become worse, and fall into despondency. So he
continued on, hoping and desponding, until at length he was
compelled to settle down in the conviction, that there was no
prospect of his restoration to health, and that his professional
and all other active pursuits must be finally and for ever relin
quished. Then began a distinct and peculiar period of his life.
His complaint was supposed to be a spinal affection, the precise
character and extent of which was never fully ascertained.
The disease gradually increased, until it deprived him of the
power of moving, about ; and he was obliged to remain con
stantly in a lying or sitting posture. In this condition he
remained to the end of life. Until within a year or two of
his decease, he was, from time to time, subject to much pain
and suffering. All the alleviation which the most affectionate
and untiring attention and efforts of his family could afford he
had. AY hen all hope of recovery or amendment was extin
guished, he became perfectly resigned to his condition. There
was never the slightest murmuring or discontent or impatience
or dejection. He was calm and cheerful, and grateful for the
many mercies he enjoyed. His chamber was not shrouded in
gloom, but lighted up with the mild and cheering rays of con
tentment and peace. He felt that the best place, the happiest
place, the most honorable place, for him, was his own place,
the place which Providence had assigned him. In that place
he was willing and happy to remain until removed to another
state of existence. Though his body was feeble, his mind
retained its activity and vigor. Though confined within the
narrow limits of his own room, his life was not an idle one, or
without significance. For some years, he was constantly occu
pied in the education of his children ; an employment which he
greatly enjoyed, and for which he was admirably qualified.
The daughters were wholly and thoroughly educated by him.
He was himself, at all times, a diligent student, and never
unoccupied. He was particularly fond of Greek literature, and
took much interest in reading the Greek poets and historians.
He was also a good English scholar ; read extensively moral
and religious works, and kept along with the current literature


of the day. He enjoyed the visits of his friends, and took an
interest in whatever interested them or the public. He saw
with pleasure, and without repining, his classmates successful
in the world, and winning the prizes of life. For himself, he
was entirely content with his own little spot, as the theatre of
his action. Thus year after year wore away, and the time
of his departure drew on. There was no suffering, no new
complaint, no apparent increase of the old one. His strength
gradually failed ; he was confined to his bed ; he lost the power
of speech, though evidently conscious of what was passing
around him ; his pulse stopped, but he still breathed : at length
his lungs ceased to heave, and he ceased to live.

Mr. Porter gave ample evidence of a high order of intellectual
endowments. He had a calm, well-balanced, active, and vigor
ous mind, an ardent desire of knowledge, and firm and unwaver
ing moral and religious principles. Thus qualified, he might
well be expected to achieve much in any field of intellectual
labor. But he was suddenly stopped in his course, and his
work remains incomplete. His manners were simple, unassum
ing, and courteous ; and his feelings were liberal, social, and
obliging. He was a steadfast and true-hearted friend. He
loved his friends, and secured their enduring affection. His
friendships ended only with his life. His large attainments as a
scholar, and his pure principles, made his conversation always
interesting and improving. He had no idle or frivolous talk, no
gossip, no slander, no censoriousness. He was kind and chari
table from principle and feeling, and gave liberally to charitable
and other objects which he thought deserving. The respect in
which he was held by all who knew him bore evidence to his
sterling worth. Of Mr. Porter in the privacy of his domestic
life this is not the fitting occasion particularly to speak. But it
was in his own home where the sympathies, affections, and
amenities of his daily life best exhibited the excellence of his
true character. " A man s religion is the chief fact in regard to
him." Mr. Porter was a religious man. He had deep religious
feelings and principles. He was connected with the church
under the pastoral charge of the Rev. Andrew Bigelow (H.C.

1858-59.] OF HARVARD COLLEGE. 249

1814) in Medford, and afterwards united with the Episcopal
Church by the rite of confirmation. He reverenced Christian
ity, and had a firm belief in the Christian Scriptures as a divine
revelation. He was a constant, earnest, humble student of the
Bible. His patience, resignation, and cheerfulness, during the
long period of his confinement and suffering, were the triumph
of his Christian faith. In the remembrance of what he was,
and how he lived, his family have found consolation in their be
reavement. The many years during which he was shut out
from the world were not lost. This life is not the end of
our being. The fruit of cultivated intellect, of chastened, puri
fied, elevated, Christian affections, will be gathered, either in this
life or a life hereafter.

28 January, 1859, aged 62. He was son of Hon. William
(H.C. 1783) and Catharine Greene (Hickling) Prescott, and
was born in Salem, Mass., 4 May, 1796. His father was born
in Pepperell, Mass., 19 August, 1762 ; was an eminent lawyer
and judge ; and was distinguished for his social qualities, which
won for him troops of friends. He was admitted to the bar in
1787, and began the practice of his profession in Beverly. He
soon afterwards removed to Salem, where he practised extensively
and successfully for nineteen years, when he removed to Boston,
his son being at that time twelve years of age ; and there he
continued his professional business until 1828, when his health
obliged him to relinquish it. He twice had the offer of a seat
on the bench of the Supreme Judicial Court, but in both in
stances declined it. He was afterwards induced to accept the
office of judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Boston; but
having filled it about a year, and finding its duties irksome, he
resigned it. He died 8 December, 1844, aged 82. Mr. Pres-
cott s mother was one of the noblest women that ever lived.
She was the daughter of Thomas Hickling, Esq. , who for nearly
half a century was the American consul at the Island of St.
Michael s. His grandfather, Col. William Prescott, as is well
known, commanded the American forces at the battle of Bunker
Hill. He died 13 October, 1795, at the age of 69.



Soon after the removal of the family to Boston, Mr. Prescott
was placed under the charge of the Rev. John S. J. Gardiner,
D.D., of Trinity Church, where he pursued his preparatory
studies, and entered the sophomore class in 1811. He imme
diately gained a high rank of scholarship, and graduated with
distinction. He had intended to devote himself to the profes
sion of law ; but in his junior year he lost the sight of one
of his eyes, from an accidental blow ; and the other, sym
pathizing with it, soon became enfeebled : his general health
failed, and he was obliged for a time to relinquish all studies.
Happily his father s circumstances were such that he was not
necessitated to toil for his bread. He early determined to de
vote himself to a life of literature. Soon after leaving college,
being advised to travel, he went to Europe, where he passed
two years in an extended journey through England, France,
and Italy, and vainly sought aid from the most eminent foreign
oculists. He returned home restored in health, but with his
sight permanently impaired. He was never able to use his own
eyes for more than a short time in the day ; but was constantly
obliged to use the eyes of others for his studies and researches,
as well as for recording the results of them. His quiet perse
verance and continuous industry enabled him to triumph over
this difficulty, and to achieve an amount of literary labor which
is not only most honorable to his intellectual powers, but conveys
a noble moral lesson to all who may be afflicted in a similar
manner. His earliest literary efforts were contributions to the
"North- American Review." These show the tendencies of his
mind and his favorite studies. In October, 1824, he contrib
uted a paper on "Italian Narrative Poetry," which called out
some strictures from an Italian teacher in New York ; to which a
reply was made in the " North- American " for July, 1825. A
paper on "Scottish Song" appeared in July, 1826; one on
" Moliere " in October, 1828 ; one on Irving s " Conquest of
Granada" in October, 1829. The titles and dates of his other
contributions are as follows : " Instruction of the Blind," July,
1830; "Poetry and Romance of the Italians," July, 1831;
"Cervantes," July, 1837; "Sir Walter Scott," April, 1838;

1858-59.] OF HARVARD COLLEGE. 251

Chateaubriand s "English Literature," October, 1839 ; Bancroft s
"United States," January, 1841 ; Madame Calderon s "Life in
Mexico," January, 1843 ; Ticknor s " History of Spanish Liter
ature," January, 1850. These essays, except the last, were
printed in one volume, in London and Boston, in 1845 ; and
several editions have since been called for. The memoir of
Charles Brockden Brown, the novelist, published in Sparks s
" American Biography "in 1834, was written by Mr. Prescott.
But he had long cherished a hope of being able to write a his
tory; and, as he prosecuted his researches into Spanish literature
and annals, his design assumed form. The friendly offices of the
late Hon. Alexander H. Everett, then United-States minister at
Madrid, were of great service in enabling him to obtain a rich
and extensive body of materials for his work. These valuable
books, manuscripts, and copies of official documents, reached
him at a time when most men, under like circumstances, would
have abandoned all hope of executing the task he undertook.
An extract from the preface of his "History of Peru," dated
April, 1847, will best explain what these w^ere, and most authen
tically describe that peculiarity of his literary history which is
so remarkable in itself, and so valuable and encouraging to
others who may suffer under any physical infirmity. He

" While at the university, I received an injury in one of my
eyes, which deprived me of the sight of it. The other, soon after,
was attacked by inflammation so severely, that for some time I
lost the sight of that also ; and, though it was subsequently
restored, the organ was so much disordered as to remain perma
nently debilitated ; while, twice in my life since, I have been
deprived of the use of it, for all purposes of reading or writing, for
several years together. It was during one of these periods that I
received from Madrid the materials for my " History of Ferdinand
and Isabella ;" and in my disabled conditon, with my transatlan
tic treasures lying around me, I was like one pining with hunger
in the midst of abundance. In this state I resolved to make the
ear, if possible, do the work of the eye. I procured the services
of a secretary, who read to me the various authorities ; and, in


time, I became so familiar with the sounds of the different foreign
languages (to some of which, indeed, I had been previously ac
customed by a residence abroad) , that I could comprehend his
reading without much difficulty. As the reader proceeded, I dic
tated copious notes ; and, when these had swelled to a consider
able amount, they were read to me repeatedly, till I had mastered
their contents sufficiently for the purpose of composition."

After some deliberation and hesitation, he selected the reign
of Ferdinand and Isabella as the subject of an extended historical
work ; and to this the assiduous labor of many years was cheer
fully and patiently given. The work was published in 1838, in
three volumes, and was received with the utmost enthusiasm
both in Europe and America. Scholars and philosophers ad
mired its depth of research, while general readers were charmed
by the limpid ease and natural grace of its style, his brilliant
descriptions and animated pictures. It was soon translated into
French, Spanish, and German. Its author was immediately
elected a member of the Eoyal Academy of Madrid. The popu
larity which, it gained upon its first publication it has since
steadily maintained. The seventh revised edition of the work
appeared in 1854 ; and it is one of the established classics in the
language. Mr. Prescott s literary industry was not checked by
the success of his first work. He did not, for a moment, repose
under his laurels. He immediately devoted himself to the inves
tigation of another brilliant period in the history of Spain, the
fruits of which appeared in 1843, in a work in three volumes,
entitled the " History of the Conquest of Mexico, with a Prelimi
nary View of the Ancient Mexican Civilization, and the Life of
the Conqueror Hernando Cortez." This work was received
with no less favor than that which had greeted the " History of
Ferdinand and Isabella." The literary world recognized in it
the same careful research, the same accuracy of statement, the
same persuasive sweetness and magic beauty of style. In 1847,
was published, in two volumes, the "History of the Conquest of
Peru, with a Preliminary View of the Civilization of the Incas ; "
a work of kindred and commensurate excellence to that of the
"History of the Conquest of Mexico."

1858-59.] OF HARVARD COLLEGE. 253

Mr. Prescott now devoted himself with unabated ardor to
the preparation of a work of wider range and a broader scope,
a work which he was not permitted to finish , the " History of
the Reign of Philip the Second." This was a theme requiring
a larger and more comprehensive treatment than his previous
works. He had now become one of the great literary names of
the age, and found everywhere persons who were ready to give
him assistance. Everywhere, both public and private collections
and private archives were thrown open to him. It was w r hile
preparing for this work that he indulged himself with a brief
excursion to England, where he was received with the utmost
enthusiasm by persons of the highest distinction in literature and
social life, and where the favorable impression created by his
works was confirmed by his prepossessing appearance and delight
ful manners. He took ample time for the task which he destined
to be the crowning work of his life. In the latter part of 1855
appeared the first two volumes of this work, under the title of
the " History of the Reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain."
The highest expectations of the public were gratified by it.

In 1856, he published an edition of Robertson s "History of
the Reign of Charles the Fifth," with notes and a valuable sup
plement, containing an account of the emperor s life after his

But a few weeks before his death, the third volume of his
M History of Philip the Second " appeared ; and the public journals
and reviews on both sides of the Atlantic were speaking its
praises, as a work worthy the fame of its distinguished author,
when the news of his decease was received.

No native author has shed more lustre on American litera
ture than Mr. Prescott. The highest acknowledgments of
literary distinction were liberally showered upon him. The
University of Oxford, in 1850, conferred upon him the degree
of doctor of laws. He received the same degree from Co
lumbia College, N.Y., in 1840; from South Carolina College
in 1841 ; and from Harvard College in 1843. He was elected
a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Northern Anti
quaries, Copenhagen, in July, 1837 ; of the Royal Academy


of History, Madrid, May, 1839 ; of the Royal Academy of
Sciences, Naples, September, 1839 ; of the Herculanean Acad
emy, Naples, May, 1841 ; of the Institute of France, Paris,
under the division of moral and political science, and in the
section of general history succeeding Navarete, the Spanish
historian, without the previous knowledge or solicitation of him
self or friends, being the highest of all distinctions of its
class, an honor said never before to have been conferred on
any native of New England, except Dr. Franklin, 1 Feb
ruary, 1845 ; of the Prussian Imperial Academy of Berlin,
February, 1845. He was an honorary-member of the Royal
Society of Literature, London ; of the Royal Irish Academy ;
of the Literary and Historical Society, Quebec ; of the Mexi
can Society of Geography and Statistics : and was elected, in
1850, an honorary-fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Lon
don. He was also a member of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and
the Massachusetts Historical Society. In private life, he was
a most entertaining and genial companion. He was as rich in
the love of his friends as in the admiration of the literary
world. His character was thus beautifully and eloquently
described, a few days after his death, by his former pastor :
"The man was more than his books. His character was loftier
than all his reputation. So simple-minded, and so great-
minded ; so keen in his perceptions, but so kind in his judg
ments ; so resolute, but so unpretending ; so considerate of
every one, and so tasking of himself; so full of the truest and
warmest aifections ; so merry in his temper, without overleaping
a single due bound , such spirit, but such equanimity ; so much
thoughtfulness, without the least cast of sickliness ; doing good
as by the instinct of spontaneous activity, and doing labor with
out a wrinkle or a strain ; unswerving in his integrity, and
with the nicest sense of honor ; whom no disadvantage could
dishearten, no prosperity corrupt, no honors and plaudits elate
or alter one whit ; modest as if he had never done any thing ;
retaining through life all the artlessness of the highest wisdom ;
with a liberal heart and open hand ; the ingenuousness of youth

1858-59.] OF HARVARD COLLEGE. 255

flashing to the last from his frank face ; walking in sympathy
with his fellows, and humbly before God."

Mr. Prescott married, 4 May, 1820, Susannah, daughter of
Thomas C. and Hannah R. Amory, of Boston. They had
three children, two sons and a daughter, who with their mother
survived him.

1815. Hon. GEORGE EUSTIS died in New Orleans, 22
December, 1858, aged 62. He was the oldest son of Jacob
and Elizabeth (Gray) Eustis ; and was born in Boston, 20
October, 1796. He was fitted for college at the Boston Latin
School. Soon after his graduation, he went abroad in the
capacity of private secretary to his uncle, Gov. William Eustis
(H.C. 1772), then minister to the Hague ; the secretary of the
legation being Hon. Alexander Hill Everett (H.C. 1806), so
well known for his varied attainments, with whom he formed a
friendship that was life-long. At the Hague he began his legal
studies, and drew, from the clear fountains of the civil law of
Holland, France, and Germany, those elementary principles and
stores of learning, which, at a later period, he was destined to
exhibit to such advantage in his career at the bar and on the
bench. On his return from Europe, he went to New Orleans,
where he completed his professional studies with Abner L.
Duncan of that city, and where, on his admission to the bar
about the year 1822, he established himself in the practice of
law. He soon began to attract notice as an able jurist, a
keen logician, and a speaker and writer of great pith and
terseness. The bar of New Orleans then embraced some of the
ablest juridical minds in the country. The learned, laborious,
and eloquent Livingston ; the vigorous, ponderous, and sar
castic Mazureau ; the fluent, graphic, and sensible Grymes ;
the well-read, sagacious, and vigilant Hennen ; and a host
of other younger attorneys, many of whom have since
reached the highest places in the profession, were the for
midable rivals among whom young Eustis was thrown to strug
gle and contend for the prizes of professional distinction. He
was not unequal to the contest. Discarding the arts of the
advocate, the strategy of the mere attorney, he based his claims


to consideration as a lawyer upon his logical power, his thor
ough knowledge of the science of law, his fine analytical talent,
and his clear, perspicuous, laconic style. Oratory, or elo
quence, he held in little esteem ; and quibbling technicalities
were his special disgust. The reason of the law, its equity and
philosophy, were the objects of his constant study and search ;
and, in the pursuit of these, he deemed it necessary to render
himself perfectly familiar with the history of jurisprudence.
He was a thorough civilian, one of the most accomplished in
the United States.

He was several times elected a member of the state legisla
ture ; was secretary-of-state of Louisiana ; and was for several

Online LibraryJoseph PalmerNecrology of alumni of Harvard college, 1851-52 to 1862-63 → online text (page 23 of 49)