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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Portrait of a Great Lawyer

By Daniel Webster (1782–1852)

[In a Diary kept by Webster while a student at law in Boston, 1804.—The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster. Edited by Fletcher Webster. 1856.]

THEOPHILUS PARSONS, Esq. is now about fifty-five years old; of rather large stature and inclining a little to corpulency. His hair is brown and his complexion not light. His face is not marked by any striking feature, if we except his eyes. His forehead is low and his eyebrows prominent. He wears a blue coat and breeches; worsted hose, a brown wig, with a cocked hat. He has a penetrating eye of an indescribable color. When, couched under a jutting eyebrow, it directs its beams into the face of a witness, he feels as if it looked into the inmost recesses of his soul. When Parsons intends to make a learned observation, his eyebrow sinks; when a smart one, for he is, and wishes to be thought, a wit, it rises. The characteristic endowments of his mind are strength and shrewdness. Strength, which enables him to support his cause; shrewdness, by which he is always ready to retort the sallies of his adversary. His manner is steady, forcible, and perfectly perspicuous. He does not address the jury as a mechanical body to be put in motion by mechanical means. He appeals to them as men, and as having minds capable of receiving the ideas in his own. Of course, he never harangues. He is never stinted to say just so much on a point, and no more. He knows by the juror’s countenance, when he is convinced; and therefore never disgusts him by arguing that of which he is already sensible and which he knows it impossible more fully to impress. A mind thus strong, direct, prompt, and vigorous is cultivated by habits of the most intense application. A great scholar in everything, in his profession he is peculiarly great. He is not content with shining on occasions; he will shine everywhere. As no cause is too great, none is too small for him. He knows the great benefit of understanding small circumstances. ’Tis not enough for him that he has learned the leading points in a cause; he will know everything. His argument is, therefore, always consistent with itself; and its course so luminous that you are ready to wonder why any one should hesitate to follow him. Facts which are uncertain, he with so much art connects with others well proved, that you cannot get rid of the former, without disregarding the latter. He has no fondness for public life, and is satisfied with standing where he is, at the head of his profession.