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R. ADAMS continued his office as teacher of the Worcester school,
and his studies under Mr. Putnam, until the month of October, 1758. Then, being entitled to admission to practice, he desired to present his application for a license, and set out for Boston with that intent. Arrived in that city he discovered that he had neglected to obtain his certificate from Mr. Putnam. The horseback journey of sixty miles, to Worcester, with the return, was no light matter to undertake for the reparation of this mistake, and desiring, if possible, to avoid it, Mr. Adams betook himself to Mr. Gridley, then attorney-general of the province, and, as a lawyer and scholar, second to none of his time. After a few moments' conversation, Mr. Gridley seems to have been fully satisfied as to the attainments of the young aspirant, for he took the unusual responsibility of giving him a personal recommendation to the court, which procured him instant admission to practice. This kind and flattering act on the part of Mr. Gridley was only the first of a long succession of demonstrations of affection and confidence. He gave Mr. Adams, at that time and later, much invaluable advice as to his professional and personal future, and later supplemented it by giving more substantial aid, throwing business into the hands of his younger brother at the bar, when such help was sadly needed. So was Adams launched upon the uncertain waters of his chosen profession.
Mr. Adams selected his native village, Braintree, as the place for practicing his profession, settling there immediately after his admission to the bar. He resided with his father in the homestead until May 25, 1761, when the latter died. After this event, and until his own marriage, in 1764, he continued with his mother. There is little of incident in those early days of his legal life. Braintree was far from a promising place of settlement; small as it was, its population does not convey to us at this day any just idea of the difficulty of there making even a bare living by the law, during the last
century. It has been said that the people of Massachusetts were but ill disposed toward lawyers. The most controversial people in America, they were perhaps the least litigious; they would quarrel sooner over a dogma than a question of property, and more readily forgive an injury to themselves than the heresy of a neighbor. They went little to law, and, when arbitration would not suffice, and they were driven or dragged into court, were apt to think themselves fully equal to the trial of their own causes. So Braintree was to a lawyer, much what a church is to a mouse,-a middle ground between living and starvation. Yet the time spent by Mr. Adams in the little village was far from lost. If there was little to do and less to make, it was also true that little was needed ; that the village was primitive; that neither display nor more than the simplest hospitality was called for. Then, too, such practice as there was, offered, as elsewhere in a country town, the best of discipline for a young lawyer. The attention to minute points of law and practice, the careful devotion to detail in preparation, the guarding against the arts of pettifogging opponents, all these laid the fourdation of valuable habits, little likely to be acquired in a larger field, where small cases are rather despised. Then, too, when a trial was held, it was an event of universal interest in the contracted field. It was protracted unconscionably; the evidence was sifted with industry, if not with the greatest skill; arguments were as long and labored in a case involving the value of a sheep, as they would be in the heaviest action in a community where litigation was more common and important. Then, too, there was the inspira. tion of an audience, the praise, the condemnation, the applause of neigh. bors and friends. The bar was usually present as a unit, and gave the force of its criticism to place counsel upon their mettle, and, after the cause was tried and determined, it was the talk of the village, until another sheep was killed. So, surrounded by these influences, which, continuing for many years, tend to make the lifelong country lawyer narrow and mechanical, Adams, during his few years at Braintree, learned only to be painstaking and exact, doing everything that he undertook, great or small, to the best of his ability. He was wise enough, too, to regard his admission to the bar as a form, neither the necessary end of preparation, of study and development, nor certainly the gate to wealth and reputation. While he awaited clients, he made himself, day by day, more worthy of their confidence and trust. Again it is best to turn to the words of his journal to obtain a view of his plans and resolves. It reads almost like a treatise on professional ethics, though written by a man then but twenty-five years of age.
“Labor to get distinct ideas of law, right, wrong, justice, equity; search for them in your own mind, in Roman, Grecian, French, English treatises, of natural, civil, common, statute law. Aim at an exact knowledge of the rature, end, and means of government. Compare the different forms of it cith each other, and each of them with their effects on public and private
happiness. Study Seneca, Cicero, and all other good moral writers; study Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, Vinnius, er, and all other good civil writers.
“* 1760. I have read a multitude of law books; mastered but fev. Wood, Coke, two volumes Lillie's abridgement, two volumes Salkeld's reports, Swinburne, Hawkins' Pleas of the Crown, Fortescue; Fitzgibbon, ten volumes in folio, I read at Worcester quite through, besides octavos and lesser volumes, and many others, of all sizes, that I consulted occasionally, without reading in course, as dictionaries, reports, entries, and abridgements. I cannot give so good an account of the improvement of my last two years spent in Braintree. However, I have read no small number of volumes upon law the last two years. Justinian's Institutes I have read through in Latin, with Vinnius perpetual notes; Van Muyden's Tractatio Institutionum Justianiani, I read through and translated mostly into English from the same language."
Then follows a long list of other works read, many of them very abstruse and far out of the ordinary course of legal study. The journal is thus continued:
“I must form a serious resolution of beginning and continuing quite through the plans of my Lords Hale and Reeve. Wood's Institutes of the Common Law I never read but once, and my Lord Coke's Commentaries on Littleton I have never read but once. These two authors I must get and read over and over again. And I will get them, too, and break through, as Mr. Gridley expresses it, all obstructions. Besides, I am but a novice in natural and civil law. There are multitudes of excellent authors on natural law, that I have never read; indeed, I never read any part of the best authors, Puffendorf and Grotius. In civil law there are Hoppius and Vinnius, commentators on Justinian, Domat, etc., besides institutes of canon and feudal law that I have never read.” This attributing to himself, as a fault, ignorance of the text of authors whom the majority of lawyers of to-day know only by name or not at all, is sufficient index of the standard of scholarship which Adams had set for himself. His habit of self-scrutiny and criticism was not confined to matters of attainment. He was no less censorious in regard to morals and manners, as the following self-arraignment shows: Pretensions to wisdom and virtue superior to all the world, will not be supported by words only. If I tell a man that I am wiser and better than he, or any other man, he will either despise or hate or pity me, perhaps all three. I have not conversed enough with the world to converse rightly. I talk to Paine about Greek; that makes him laugh. I talk to Sam Quincy about resolution, and being a great man, and study, and improv. ing time; which makes him laugh. I talk to Ned about the folly of affecting to be a heretic; which makes him mad. I talk to Hannah and Esther about the folly of love; about despising it; about being above it; pretend to be insensible of tender passions; which makes them laugh. I talk to Mr.
Wibird, about the decline of learning; tell him I know no young fellow who promises to make a figure; cast sneers on Doctor Morse for not knowing the value of old Greek and Roman authors; ask when will a genius rise, that will not shave his beard, or let it grow rather, and sink himself in a cell in order to make a figure. I talk to Parson Smith about despising gay dress, grand buildings and estates, fame, etc., and being contented with what will satisfy the real wants of nature. All this is affectation and ostentation. It is affectation of learning and virtue and wisdom, which I have not; and it is a weak fondness to show all that I have, and to be thought to have more than I have. Besides this, I have insensibly fallen into a habit of affecting wit and humor, of shrugging my shoulders and moving, distorting the muscles of my face. My motions are stiff, uneasy, and ungraceful, and my attention is unsteady and irregular. These are reflections on myself that I make. They are faults, defects, fopperies, and follies, and disadvantages. Can I mend these faults and supply these defects?"
What an invaluable knowledge of the methods of self-education, character-building, and discipline, do these quotations give. After reading them, considering that they were written in a private journal, where, if anywhere, we may look for sincerity, it is no longer a matter of surprise that, from so grave and conscientious a youth, Adams attained a maturity so grand and noble.
While a student at Worcester, Mr. Adams made the acquaintance of David Sewall, a man several years his senior, but who was admitted to the practice of the law but a short time before himself. Sewall possessed brilliant ability, and was, in mind and character, fitted to be a congenial friend of the younger man. Such he became, and nothing broke the perfect harmony and confidence of the two, until arose the issues between Great Britain and her colonies, which led to the War of Independence; then Adams entered, body and soul, into the patriot cause, while Sewall, with no less vigor and honesty, embraced that of the king. After the peace, Sewall went to Eng. land, where, after remaining for some time, he secured an appointment as colonial judge in Nova Scotia, and, buried in that then wild and remote province, ended a disappointed and embittered life. During the residence of Adams at Braintree, the two maintained a correspondence which was of great value to both. Their letters contained no commonplaces or gossip, and were largely devoted to abstract discussions of philosophy, morals, and law. Sprinkled through their pages were actual or supposititious problems in law, propounded by one for the solution or advice of the other, and usually answered with care, if not elaborately or profoundly. Such a correspondence was useful to both, and, did it exist in its entirety, would to-day be a most important assistance to the biographer. Those letters which are still extant cast much light upon the genesis of Adams' ideas, principles, and methods, and, did space permit, the author would gladly transfer them
bodily to his work. One quotation must, however, be sufficient; this from a letter of Adams to Sewall, dated February, 1760:
“There is but little pleasure, which reason can approve, to be received from the noisy applause and servile homage that is paid to any officer, from the lictor to the dictator, or from the sexton of a parish to the sovereign of a kingdom. And reason will despise, equally, a blind, undistinguishing adoration of what the world calls fame. She is neither a goddess to be loved, nor a demon to be feared, but an unsubstantial phantom, existing only in the imagination. But, with all this contempt, give me leave to reserve (for I am sure that reason will warrant) a strong affection for the test approbation of the wise and good, both in the present and all future generations. Mistake not this for an expectation of the life to come, in the poet's creed.
Far otherwise. I expect to be totally forgotten wiihin seventy years of the present hour, unless the insertion of my name in the college catalogue should luckily preserve it longer. When heaven designs an extraordinary character, one that shall distinguish his path through the world by any great effects, it never fails to furnish the proper means and opportunities; but the common herd of mankind, who are to be born, and eat, and sleep, and die, and be forgotten, is thrown into the world, as it were at random, without any visible preparation of accommodations. Yet, though I have very few hopes, I am not ashamed to own that a prospect of immortality, in the memories of all the worthy, to the end of time, would be a high gratification of my wishes."
In the spring of 1765, Mr. Adams obtained his first important retainer, being engaged by the Plymouth company, to try a case in its interest, at Pownalborough, on the Kennebec river, then almost at the limit of civilization. He had the good fortune to win his cause, and, from that time, became general counsel of the company, a lucrative post, which not only gave him a comfortable income, but brought him into relation with the legal public, earned him notice, and, indirectly, a largely increased practice.
The interval between Mr. Adams' settlement in Braintree, and his entry into public life, must be very briefly discussed. His practice increased, but very slowly, and he had time, and to spare, for the reading and study which he had planned. On the 25th of May, 1761, his father died, leaving him the head of the house, with the care of his mother and two younger brothers. His townsmen honored him with an election to the office of surveyor of highways, to the not difficult duties of which position he devoted himself with the greatest assiduity. On the 25th of October, 1764, he married Abigail Smith, daughter of the Rev. William Smith, pastor of the Congregational church, at Weymouth. Mrs. Adams was descended, on the mother's side, from the Quincys, a family which had stood out in relief from the earliest days of the colony, holding high places in the church, in politics, literature, and society. She was, in common with all the women