calm eye that seeks
’Midst all the huddling silver little worth
The one thin piece that comes, pure gold.”
The anecdote further illustrates the use which Mr. Webster made of the ideas of other people. He did not say to Mr. Bosworth, here is the true point of the case, but he saw that something was wanting, and asked the young lawyer what it was. The moment the proposition was stated he recognized its value and importance at a glance. He might and probably would have discovered it for himself, but his instinct was to get it from some one else.
It is one of the familiar attributes of great intellectual power to be able to select subordinates wisely; to use other people and other people’s labor and thought to the best advantage, and to have as much as possible done for one by others. This power of assimilation Mr. Webster had to a marked degree. There is no depreciation in saying that he took much from others, for it is a capacity characteristic of the strongest minds, and so long as the debt is acknowledged, such a faculty is a subject for praise, not criticism. But when the recipient becomes unwilling to admit the obligation which is no detraction to himself, and without which the giver is poor indeed, the case is altered. In his earliest days Mr. Webster used to draw on one Parker Noyes, a mousing, learned New Hampshire lawyer, and freely acknowledged the debt. In the Dartmouth College case, as has been seen, he over and over again gave simply and generously all the credit for the learning and the points of the brief to Mason and Smith, and yet the glory of the case has rested with Mr. Webster and always will. He gained by his frank honesty and did not lose a whit. But in his latter days, when his sense of justice had grown somewhat blunted and his nature was perverted by the unmeasured adulation of the little immediate circle which then hung about him, he ceased to admit his obligations as in his earlier and better years. From no one did Mr. Webster receive so much hearty and generous advice and assistance as from Judge Story, whose calm judgment and wealth of learning were always at his disposal. They were given not only in questions of law, but in regard to the Crimes Act, the Judiciary Act, and the Ashburton treaty. After Judge Story’s death, Mr. Webster not only declined to allow the publication by the judge’s son and biographer of Story’s letters to himself, but he refused to permit even the publication of extracts from his own letters, intended