by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
I presume that Daniel Webster was as good an off-hand speaker as this country has ever produced. Massachusetts has been well represented in Congress since that time, but she has had few who could successfully compete with D. Webster, Esq., attorney and counsellor-at-law, Boston, Mass.
I have never met Mr. Webster, but I have seen a cane that he used to wear, and since that time I have felt a great interest in him. It was a heavy winter cane, and was presented to him as a token of respect.
This reminds me of the inscription on a grave stone in the 280-year-old churchyard at LaPointe, on Lake Superior, where I was last week. It shows what punctuation has done for a lost and undone race. I copy the inscription exactly as it appears:
LOUIS ROC DE DEAU SHOT –– AS A MARK OF ESTEEM BY HIS BROTHER
Daniel Webster had one of the largest and most robust brains that ever flourished in our fair land. It was what we frequently call a teeming brain, one of those four-horse teeming brains, as it were. Mr. Webster wore the largest hat of any man then in Congress, and other senators and representatives used to frequently borrow it to wear on the 2nd of January, the 5th of July, and after other special occasions, when they had been in executive session most all night and endured great mental strain. This hat matter reminds me of an incident in the life of Benjamin F. Butler, a man well known in Massachusetts even at the present time.
One evening, at a kind of reception or some such dissipation as that, while Jim Nye was in the Senate, the latter left his silk hat on the lounge with the opening turned up, and while he was talking with someone else, Mr. Butler sat down in the hat with so much expression that it was a wreck. Everyone expected to see James W. Nye walk up and smite Benjamin F. Butler, but he did not do so. He looked at the chaotic hat for a minute, more in sorrow than in anger, and then he said:
“Benjamin, I could have told you that hat wouldn’t fit you before you tried it on.”
Daniel Webster’s brain was not only very large, but it was in good order all the time. Sometimes Nature bestows large brains on men who do not rise to great prominence. Large brains do not always indicate great intellectual power. These brains are large but of an inferior quality. A schoolmate of mine used to wear a hat that I could put my head and both feet into with perfect ease. I remember that he tied my shirt one day while I was laying my well-rounded limbs in the mill pond near my childhood’s home.
I was mad at the time, but I could not lick him, for he was too large. All I could do was to patiently untie my shirt while my teeth chattered, then fling a large, three-cornered taunt in his teeth and run. He kept on poking fun at me, I remember, till I got dressed, and alluded incidentally, to my small brain and abnormal feet. This stung my sensitive nature, and I told him that if I had such a wealth of brain as he had, and it was of no use to think with, I would take it to a restaurant and have it breaded. Then I went away.
But we were speaking of Webster. Many lawyers of our day would do well to read and study the illustrious example of Daniel Webster. He did not sit in court all day with his feet on the table and howl, “We object,” and then down his client for $50, just because he had made a noise. I employed a lawyer once to bring suit for me to recover quite a sum of money due me. After years of assessments and toilsome litigation, we got a judgment. He said to me that he was anxious to succeed with the case mainly because he knew I Wanted to vindicate myself. I said yes, that was the idea exactly. I wanted to be vindicated.
So he gave me the vindication and took the judgment as a slight testimonial of his own sterling worth. When I want to be vindicated again I will do it with one of those self-cocking vindicators that you can carry in a pocket.
Looking over this letter, I am amazed to see the amount of valuable information relative to the life of Mr. Webster that I have succeeded in using. There are, of course, some minor details of Mr. Webster’s life which I have omitted, but nothing of real importance. The true history of Mr. Webster is epitomized here, and told in a pleasing and graceful manner, a style that is at once accurate and just and still elegant, chaste and thoroughly refined, while at the same time there are little gobs of sly humor in it that are real cute.