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Lawyers and Poetry
"James T. Brady," in Walter R. Houghton, In Kings of Fortune, or the Triumphs and Achievements of Noble, Self-Made Men 459-476 (Chicago: Loomis National Library Association, 1888):
James T. Brady grew up with a sound, vigorous constitution, and at an early age was put at his studies in his father's school. He was only seven years old when he began, and though so young, he worked hard, storing his "big head" — which seemed too big for the little feet below it — with knowledge. He endeared himself very greatly to his school-fellows, and formed with several of them friendships which continued through life. "He was so noted," says one of his former school-fellows, "for his loving kindliness as a boy, that it almost obliterates every other recollection." His amiable traits developed with his years. He always delighted in acts of kindness, and could never bear to give pain, even to the most insignificant animal or insect. He detested hunting and fishing, which he regarded as a needless sacrifice of life. Yet while so tender and gentle in his disposition, he was brave and fearless, unusually independent, and, above all, as mirthful and fond of a jest at fifty as at sixteen.
Before he had completed his education, his father abandoned the profession of teaching for that of a lawyer, and young Brady entered his office as office-boy and student, it being his desire to become an advocate. He was bright, quick-witted, and remarkably apt in his studies. His buoyant spirits and ready repartee often led him into encounters with his elders, who were generally forced to confess that his tongue was too much for them. His father encouraged him to form his own opinions, and to hold them tenaciously until convinced of his error. He made rapid progress in his legal studies, and soon acquired such proficiency in the management of the details of the office business that every thing which did not absolutely need his father's personal attention was left to him.
Although fond of social enjoyment, and full of the fire and joyfulness of youth, he knew how to seclude himself from the pleasures he relished so much. He was a hard and faithful student, allowing nothing to draw him from his books when he meant to devote himself to them. He read not only Previous HitlawNext Hit, but history, poetry, biography, romance, in short, every thing that could store his mind with useful knowledge or add to its natural graces. He slept at the office, and often sat up the entire night engaged in study. Abbott speaks as follows of the early studies of Napoleon II., and it requires no straining of language or
In the year 1835, when but twenty years old, Mr. Brady was admitted to the bar. "There were giants in those days" at the New York bar, and the young man was now entering an arena in which his powers were to be tested to the utmost. His native eloquence was well known to his friends, and naturally he was not ignorant of it; but he did not, like so many young men in his calling, trust entirely to his powers of pleading. He had long since recognized the truth of Lord Erskine's declaration that "no man can be a great advocate who is no lawyer," and had stored his mind with a knowledge of the theories of his profession which few men in coming to the bar have ever equaled.
In his first important case he was opposed to Charles O'Conor, and was unsuccessful. He was engaged in a suit to recover a certain sum of money from an insurance company, which his client claimed was due him for certain goods which had been destroyed by fire. As Brady himself saw, he had a very weak case, and Mr. O'Conor had no trouble in demolishing it; yet the young counsel conducted it with a skill and an eloquence which made him from that hour a marked man in his profession. Yet he had to contend against that obstacle which meets most public men at the outset of their careers — the feeling which actors call "stage fright." He said that on this occasion every thing around him grew suddenly black, and he could not even see the jury. By steadying himself against his table, and keeping his eyes in the direction of the jury, he continued to speak until he had recovered his self-control.
The case which brought him most prominently before the public, and which may be said to have established his fame as a lawyer, was a peculiar one. Some newsboys had been arrested for selling the "Sunday Morning News" on the morning of the Sabbath day. It was claimed that the selling of the paper on the streets on Sunday was contrary to Previous HitlawNext Hit, and that the boys disturbed the congregations in the churches by their cries. One of these boys had been arrested at the instance of Mr. Gerard, and this brought on a suit to determine the rights of the lads, in which Mr. Brady appeared for the newsboys. Considerable feeling was manifested on the subject, and when the trial came on the court-room was crowded. The verdict of the jury was against him, but Mr. Brady won a remarkable triumph by his management of the case, and the whole city rang with his eloquence. So great was the effect of his speech upon the audience, that many of them who were total strangers to him crowded around him as he left the court-house to congratulate him. Though defeated in the verdict of the jury, this case was a great triumph for Mr. Brady. It established his fame as an advocate, and advanced him at once to a foremost place at the bar. Business flowed in upon him more rapidly than he could attend to it, and from this time to the close of his labors he was always in the possession of a large and lucrative practice.
Mr. McKeon has said of him: "We may refer to the period of his introduction to the bar of this city as an epoch in its history. In looking back at the past, we see rising before us George Wood, treading with no uncertain step through the labyrinth of the Previous HitlawNext Hit of real property; Daniel Lord, following, with his legal eye, commerce over the long and dreary waste of waters; David Graham, the younger, and Ogden Hoffman, standing in full panoply of intellectual power before our criminal tribunals. Into the lists where stood these proud knights young Brady sprang, ready to contend with the mightiest of them. How well he contended many of you well remember, and the honors paid to his memory are justified by the triumphs he has won."
He grew rapidly in popularity, and in the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens, and was intrusted with numerous cases of a class which had rarely until then been seen in the hands of a young lawyer. His practice soon extended into the Supreme Court of the State, which at that time met quarterly, at New York, Albany, Utica, and Rochester. The practice of this court was entirely in the hands of men of high standing in their profession, — the great Previous Hitlawyers of the State, — and it was no slight honor to our young lawyer to hold a place, and a proud place, too, among them.
He won additional honors in the famous India-rubber suits, which ahve been mentioned elsewhere in this volume, acting as one of the counsel of Charles Goodyear, and being associated with Daniel Webster. Brady applied himself with intense energy to master the case, and when the trial came off at Trenton, in the United States Circuit Court, before Justices Grier and Dickerson, he opened the case in a speech which lasted two days, and which Daniel Webster said in the beginning of his remarks had so exhausted it as to leave him nothing to say. Turning to Mr. Brady, Mr. Webster said, "You have cut a highway through this case, and if it is won, it will be because of the manner in which you have brought it before the court." The suit was won by Goodyear.
"In connection with the India-rubber cases is a fact which testifies to his character. A salary of twenty-five thousand dollars a year for life was offered to be settled on him by the rubber company, if he would advise a certain course; but not deeming it right, he rejected the offer. When in France, in 1851, the rubber cases coming in controversy there, Mr. Brady substantially gave in French, to Etienne Blanc, the French advocate, the materials for his brief."
Mr. Brady practiced Previous HitlawNext Hit for thirty-four years, and during the major part of that time there was scarcely a case of great importance, in either the civil or criminal courts, in which he did not figure. He was compelled to refuse case after case from lack of time to give to it; and yet he frequently found time to respond to the appeals of the courts to defend men indicated for capital offenses who were unable to procure counsel. In some of these cases he had scarcely any chance of preparation, but he always managed to secure the acquittal of his client, in spite of this drawback. The spirit of kindliness which had so endeared him to his boyhood's friends pervaded every action of his maturer life, and he never displayed more energy, more unceasing vigilance, more irresistible eloquence, than when pleading the cause of some poor wretch who could only reward him with his thanks.
His readiness in mastering a case was remarkable, and was greatly assisted by his profound knowledge of the Previous HitlawNext Hit. As a rule, in the ordinary run of cases, it was merely necessary for him to comprehend the particular case under consideration, since he was already familiar with the bearing upon it.
This readiness is admirably illustrated in the following reminiscence related of him by the Hon. Luther R. Marsh. Mr. Marsh was engaged in a case of great importance, in which he desired Mr. Brady's assistance in the trial. Marsh had thoroughly and patiently studied the case, but Brady was totally ignorant of it. Nevertheless, he told Mr. Marsh he would do his best, and that he (Marsh) must open the case as fully and exhaustively as he could, without reference to him. Mr. Marsh did so, and says that when he sat down he thought he had exhausted the case, and was wondering what Brady could find to say in addition to it. To his astonishment and delight, Brady rose, and in his argument presented seven new and telling points.
In the examination of a witness, he could be severe and decisive when he had occasion to suspect that the person was trying to evade the truth; but in general his manner was kind and considerate, and he succeeded in eliciting evidence by his forbearance which others could not have extorted by bullying. Upon one occasion, he was convinced that a witness was about to relate a "made-up" story, and he at once fixed upon the man a look so piercing that the fellow was overwhelmed with confusion and could not go on with his evidence. Brady promptly changed his tactics, sent for a glass of water for the witness, and soothed him so effectually that the heart of the man was won, and, abandoning his false tale, he made a simple statement of the truth.
The independence of character exhibited by Mr. Brady has already been adverted to. Having once traced out the line of duty, nothing could make him swerve from it, and he was as bold in the defense of the rights of his clients as of his own. Mr. Edwards Clarke, from whose excellent memoir is gleaned much of the information upon which this sketch is based, relates the following incidents in illustration of this quality of the man:
Perhaps one of the best instances of his moral courage to be found was his conduct with reference to the late Edwin M. Stanton. He was associated with Mr. Stanton in the Sickles trial, and conceived a warm personal attachment to him. Mr. Brady remained a Democrat to the last, and was an active member of Tammany Hall. Upon one occasion, during a meeting of the Tammany Committee, when the name of Stanton was received with hisses and yells of objurgation, Brady rose, and facing the crowd told them "that he knew they hated Edwin M. Stanton, but he, a Democrat, knew him, and held him in his heart of hearts." It was a bold declaration, considering the time and place, even for one so highly esteemed as James T. Brady.
As before remarked, Mr. Brady never relied upon his eloquence alone for success at the bar. He had a profound respect for his profession, and scorned its trickeries. He worked faithfully over the cases intrusted to him, studied them carefully, and never brought them to trial till he was thorough master of the Previous Hitlaw bearing upon them. This enabled him frequently to present issues which a less learned man would not have dreamed of. When he was retained as counsel for Huntington the forger, he conceived the idea that the man was morally unaccountable for his deed, and his theory of moral insanity, as developed by him in this case, is one of the most powerful arguments upon the subject to be found in any language. He read every thing he could find on the subject of insanity, and when he went into court there was not a physician in the land better informed with respect to it than he. The cases in which he was frequently engaged required an unusual acquaintance with medical jurisprudence, and he was regarded as one of the best authorities on the subject in the country.
His power over a jury was remarkable. He never lost sight of the "twelve peers," and by his dexterous management soon had them so thoroughly under the influence of his magnetic mind that they hung upon his words, followed his every act, laughed or cried as he willed, and seemed capable of thinking only as he permitted them. He defended fifty-one men for their lives in the course of his practice, and brought them all off in safety.
Mr. Clarke, from whose memoir I have already quoted, relates the following incidents in his career:
In politics Mr. Brady was a Democrat of the States-Rights school, yet he always maintained that it was the duty of the citizen to render the promptest obedience to the General Government. At the outset of the late war he gave his support to the Government in its war measures, though he did not separate himself from the Democratic party. He was frequently solicited by his friends to accept political honors, but he steadily refused, saying that he wanted no honors outside of his profession.
In person Mr. Brady was slender and delicate in appearance. What attracted the gazer at once was his massive head — a head which measured in its circumference twenty-four and three-eighths inches. Age seemed to have no effect upon his face. Severe mental labor in the course of years took away some of the rosy hues of youth, but otherwise it continued as fresh and as winning as when a boy.
Mr. Brady never married, but no one was more widely removed from the typical old bachelor than he. If he had no family of his own, he was the head of a family of devoted relatives, who gave him ample scope for the exercise of the domestic affections which were so strong in him. Very soon after entering upon the practice of his profession his parents died, leaving his brother and five sisters, all much younger than himself, helpless. The young lawyer at once declared that the care of these dear ones should be his first thought, and he devoted himself to his practice with redoubled energy, in order to provide for them. He brought his personal expenses down to a low figure, and resolutely kept them there, yet all the while he was lavish in his generosity to those whom he loved. He once said to a friend who asked him why he had never married: "When my father died he left five daughters, who looked to me for support. All the affection which I could have had for a wife went out to those sisters, and I have never desired to recall it." He transferred a share of this affection to the children of those sisters and of his brother, and was never so happy as when in their company. In his will he mentions one of his nieces as his "dearly beloved Toot."
He was very fond of Previous HitliteratureNext Hit, especially of poetry, and
In the exercise of his profession Mr. Brady won a large fortune. His income was princely during the greater part of his life, but he saved comparatively little. He delighted in giving to others. His relatives were the constant recipients of substantial evidences of his affection for them, and his charities to the poor were in keeping with his generous nature. He could not look upon suffering unmoved, and "never turned his face from any poor man."
His last appearance in public was at the Gerard dinner, where he was as brilliant and genial as ever. He seemed to have a foreboding of his approaching end, however, for the next day he said to one of his family: "I feel that it is the last time I shall ever appear on a like public occasion." His fears were prophetic. He was seized with an attack of paralysis on the morning of the 9th of February, 1869, and breathed his last at five o'clock in the afternoon of the same day. He died in the communion of the Catholic Church, and was buried from St. Patrick's Cathedral, in the city of New York. His death drew forth expressions of sympathy and respect from all parts of the Union and from men of all shades of opinion. All felt that a good and useful man, a great advocate, and an incorruptible citizen had been taken away.
His was a happy fate. He died in the fullness of his fame, before age had weakened his faculties or chilled his heart, and dying thus, it may be said of him, as he once said of another, that he was "a man who had no guile in his nature, and who died leaving no living creature to rejoice at his death."