Dartmouth College is at Hanover, New Hampshire. It is one of the oldest colleges in America and among its students have been many of the foremost men of New England.
It was in the fall of 1797, that Daniel Webster entered this college.
He was then a tall, slender youth, with high cheek bones and a swarthy skin.
The professors soon saw that he was no common lad. They said to one another, "This young Webster will one day be a greater man than any of us."
And young Webster was well-behaved and studious at college. He was as fond of sport as any of the students, but he never gave himself up to boyish pranks.
He was punctual and regular in all his classes. He was as great a reader as ever.
He could learn anything that he tried. No other young man had a broader knowledge of things than he.
And yet he did not make his mark as a student in the prescribed branches of study. He could not confine himself to the narrow routine of the college course.
He did not, as at Exeter, push his way quickly to the head of his class. He won no prizes.
"But he minded his own business," said one of the professors. "As steady as the sun, he pursued, with intense application, the great object for which he came to college."
Soon everybody began to appreciate his scholarship. Everybody admired him for his manliness and good common sense.
"He was looked upon as being so far in advance of any one else, that no other student of his class was ever spoken of as second to him."
He very soon lost that bashfulness which had troubled him so much at Exeter. It was no task now for him to stand up and declaim before the professors and students.
In a short time he became known as the best writer and speaker in the college. Indeed, he loved to speak; and the other students were always pleased to listen to him.
One of his classmates tells us how he prepared his speeches. He says: "It was Webster's custom to arrange his thoughts in his mind while he was in his room, or while he was walking alone. Then he would put them upon paper just before the exercise was to be called for.
"If he was to speak at two o'clock, he would often begin to write after dinner; and when the bell rang he would fold his paper, put it in his pocket, go in, and speak with great ease.
"In his movements he was slow and deliberate, except when his feelings were aroused. Then his whole soul would kindle into a flame."
In the year 1800, he was chosen to deliver the Fourth of July address to the students of the college and the citizens of the town. He was then eighteen years old.
The speech was a long one. It was full of the love of country. Its tone throughout was earnest and thoughtful.
But in its style it was overdone; it was full of pretentious expressions; it lacked the simplicity and good common sense that should mark all public addresses.
And yet, as the speech of so young a man, it was a very able effort. People said that it was the promise of much greater things. And they were right.
In the summer of 1801, Daniel graduated. But he took no honors. He was not even present at the Commencement.
His friends were grieved that he had not been chosen to deliver the valedictory address. Perhaps he also was disappointed. But the professors had thought best to give that honor to another student.
While Daniel Webster was taking his course in college, there was one thing that troubled him very much. It was the thought of his brother Ezekiel toiling at home on the farm.
He knew that Ezekiel had great abilities. He knew that he was not fond of the farm, but that he was anxious to become a lawyer.
This brother had given up all his dearest plans in order that Daniel might be favored; and Daniel knew that this was so.
Once, when Daniel was at home on a vacation, he said, "Zeke, this thing is all wrong. Father has mortgaged the farm for money to pay my expenses at school, and you are making a slave of yourself to pay off the mortgage. It isn't right for me to let you do this."
Ezekiel said, "Daniel, I am stronger than you are, and if one of us has to stay on the farm, of course I am the one."
"But I want you to go to college," said Daniel. "An education will do you as much good as me."
"I doubt it," said Ezekiel; "and yet, if father was only able to send us both, I think that we might pay him back some time."
"I will see father about it this very day," said Daniel.
He did see him.
"I told my father," said Daniel, afterwards, "that I was unhappy at my brother's prospects. For myself, I saw my way to knowledge, respectability, and self-protection. But as to Ezekiel, all looked the other way. I said that I would keep school, and get along as well as I could, be more than four years in getting through college, if necessary, provided he also could be sent to study."
The matter was referred to Daniel's mother, and she and his father talked it over together. They knew that it would take all the property they had to educate both the boys. They knew that they would have to do without many comforts, and that they would have a hard struggle to make a living while the boys were studying.
But the mother said, "I will trust the boys." And it was settled that Ezekiel, too, should have a chance to make his mark in the world.
He was now a grown-up man. He was tall and strong and ambitious. He entered college the very year that Daniel graduated.
As for Daniel, he was now ready to choose a profession. What should it be?
His father wanted him to become a lawyer. And so, to please his parents, he went home and began to read law in the office of a Mr. Thompson, in the little village of Salisbury, which adjoined his father's farm.
The summer passed by. It was very pleasant to have nothing to do but to read. And when the young man grew tired of reading, he could go out fishing, or could spend a day in hunting among the New Hampshire hills.
It is safe to say that he did not learn very much law during that summer.
But there was not a day that he did not think about his brother. Ezekiel had done much to help him through college, and now ought he not to help Ezekiel?
But what could he do?
He had a good education, and his first thought was that he might teach school, and thus earn a little money for Ezekiel.
The people of Fryeburg, in Maine, wanted him to take charge of the academy in their little town. And so, early in the fall, he decided to take up their offer.
He was to have three hundred and fifty dollars for the year's work, and that would help Ezekiel a great deal.
He bade good-bye to Mr. Thompson and his little law office, and made ready to go to his new field of labor. There were no railroads at that time, and a journey of even a few miles was a great undertaking.
Daniel had bought a horse for twenty-four dollars. In one end of an old-fashioned pair of saddlebags he put his Sunday clothes, and in the other he packed his books.
He laid the saddlebags upon the horse, then he mounted and rode off over the hills toward Fryeburg, sixty miles away.
He was not yet quite twenty years old. He was very slender, and nearly six feet in height. His face was thin and dark. His eyes were black and bright and penetrating—no person who once saw them could ever forget them.
Young as he was, he was very successful as a teacher during that year which he spent at Fryeburg. The trustees of the academy were so highly pleased that they wanted him to stay a second year. They promised to raise his salary to five or six hundred dollars, and to give him a house and a piece of land.
He was greatly tempted to give up all further thoughts of becoming a lawyer.
"What shall I do?" he said to himself. "Shall I say, 'Yes, gentlemen,' and sit down here to spend my days in a kind of comfortable privacy?"
But his father was anxious that he should return to the study of the law. And so he was not long in making up his mind.
In a letter to one of his friends he said: "I shall make one more trial of the law in the ensuing autumn.
"If I prosecute the profession, I pray God to fortify me against its temptations. To be honest, to be capable, to be faithful to my client and my conscience."
Early the next September, he was again in Mr. Thompson's little law office. All the money that he had saved, while at Fryeburg, was spent to help Ezekiel through college.
For a year and a half, young Daniel Webster stayed in the office of Mr. Thompson. He had now fully made up his mind as to what profession he would follow; and so he was a much better student than he had been before.
He read many law books with care. He read Hume's History of England, and spent a good deal of time with the Latin classics.
"At this period of my life," he afterwards said, "I passed a great deal of time alone.
"My amusements were fishing and shooting and riding, and all these were without a companion. I loved this solitude then, and have loved it ever since, and love it still."
The Webster family were still very poor. Judge Webster was now too old to do much work of any kind. The farm had been mortgaged for all that it was worth. It was hard to find money enough to keep Daniel at his law studies and Ezekiel in college.
At last it became necessary for one of the young men to do something that would help matters along. Ezekiel decided that he would leave college for a time and try to earn enough money to meet the present needs of the family. Through some of his friends he obtained a small private school in Boston.
There were very few pupils in Ezekiel Webster's school. But there were so many branches to be taught that he could not find time to hear all the recitations. So, at last, he sent word to Daniel to come down and help him. If Daniel would teach an hour and a half each day, he should have enough money to pay his board.
Daniel was pleased with the offer. He had long wanted to study law in Boston, and here was his opportunity. And so, early in March, 1804, he joined his brother in that city, and was soon doing what he could to help him in his little school.
There was in Boston, at that time, a famous lawyer whose name was Christopher Gore. While Daniel Webster was wondering how he could best carry on his studies in the city, he heard that Mr. Gore had no clerk in his office.
"How I should like to read law with Mr. Gore!" he said to Ezekiel.
"Yes," said Ezekiel. "You could not want a better tutor."
"I mean to see him to-day and apply for a place in his office," said Daniel.
It was with many misgivings that the young man went into the presence of the great lawyer. We will let him tell the story in his own words:
"I was from the country, I said;—had studied law for two years; had come to Boston to study a year more; had heard that he had no clerk; thought it possible he would receive one.
"I told him that I came to Boston to work, not to play; was most desirous, on all accounts, to be his pupil; and all I ventured to ask at present was, that he would keep a place for me in his office, till I could write to New Hampshire for proper letters showing me worthy of it."
Mr. Gore listened to this speech very kindly, and then bade Daniel be seated while he should have a short talk with him.
When at last the young man rose to go, Mr. Gore said: "My young friend, you look as if you might be trusted. You say you came to study and not to waste time. I will take you at your word. You may as well hang up your hat at once."
And this was the beginning of Daniel Webster's career in Boston.
He must have done well in Mr. Gore's office; for, in a few months, he was admitted to the practice of law in the Court of Common Pleas in Boston.
It was at some time during this same winter that Daniel was offered the position of clerk in the County Court at home. His father, as you will remember, was one of the judges in this court, and he was very much delighted at the thought that his son would be with him.
The salary would be about fifteen hundred dollars a year—and that was a great sum to Daniel as well as to his father. The mortgage on the farm could be paid off; Ezekiel could finish his course in college; and life would be made easier for them all.
At first Daniel was as highly pleased as his father. But after he had talked with Mr. Gore, he decided not to accept the offered position.
"Your prospects as a lawyer," said Mr. Gore, "are good enough to encourage you to go on. Go on, and finish your studies. You are poor enough, but there are greater evils than poverty. Live on no man's favor. Pursue your profession; make yourself useful to your friends and a little formidable to your enemies, and you have nothing to fear."
A few days after that, Daniel paid a visit to his father. The judge received him very kindly, but he was greatly disappointed when the young man told him that he had made up his mind not to take the place.
With his deep-set, flashing eyes, he looked at his son for a moment as though in anger. Then he said, very slowly:
"Well, my son, your mother has always said that you would come to something or nothing—she was not sure which. I think you are now about settling that doubt for her."
A few weeks after this, Daniel, as I have already told you, was admitted to the bar in Boston. But he did not think it best to begin his practice there.
He knew how anxious his father was that he should be near him. He wanted to do all that he could to cheer and comfort the declining years of the noble man who had sacrificed everything for him. And so, in the spring of 1805, he settled in the town of Boscawen, six miles from home, and put up at his office door this sign: