List Of Contents | Contents of Elinor Wyllys, by Susan Fenimore Cooper
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to decide. The individual appearing before you this day, claiming
that the strong arm of the law be raised in his behalf, first
presented himself to me, with the very same demand, six years
since; to my shame I confess it, he was driven unaided from my
door--I refused to assist him; he had already carried the same
claim to others, and received from others the same treatment. And
what is this claim, so difficult to establish? Is it some
intricate legal question? Is it some doubtful point of law? Is it
a matter which requires much learning to decide, much wisdom to
fathom? No, gentlemen; it is a claim clearly defined, firmly
established; never yet doubted, never yet denied: it is a claim,
not only recognized in the common-law of every land, protected in
the statute-books of every nation, but it is a claim, gentlemen,
which springs spontaneously from the heart of every human
being--it is the right of a son to his father's inheritance. A
right, dear alike to the son of one of our merchant princes, and
to the son of the porter on our wharves."

"Mr. Clapp paused; he looked about the court, rested his eyes on
his client, ran his fingers through his curls, and then

"Gentlemen; I have told you that it is the right of a son to his
father's inheritance, which we this day call upon you to uphold.
It is more; it is the sacred cause of the orphan that you are to
defend. Yes, gentlemen; at the moment when William Stanley should
have taken possession of the inheritance, which was his by the
threefold title of nature, of law, and of parental bequest, he
was a mere boy, a minor, a wanderer on the deep; one of that
gallant class of men who carry the glorious colours of our great
and happy country into every port, who whiten every sea with
American canvass--he was a roving sailor-boy!"

And setting out from this point, Mr. Clapp made a general
statement of the case, coloured by all the cheap ornaments of
forensic eloquence, and varied by allusions to the glory of the
country, the learning of all judges, particularly American
judges, especially the judges then on the bench; the wisdom of
all juries, particularly American juries, especially the jury
then in the box. He confessed that his client had been guilty of
folly in his boyhood; "but no one, gentlemen, can regret past
misconduct more than Mr. Stanley; no son ever felt more deeply
than himself, regret, that he could not have attended the
death-bed of his father, received his last blessing, and closed
his eyes for the last time!" Mr. Clapp then read parts of Mr.
Stanley's will, gave an outline of his client's wanderings, and
was very particular with names and dates. The sailor's return was
then described in the most pathetic colours. "He brought with
him, gentlemen, nothing but the humble contents of a sailor's
chest, the hard-earned wages of his daily toil; he, who in
justice was the owner of as rich a domain as any in the land!"
The attempts of this poor sailor to obtain his rights were then
represented. "He learned the bitter truth, gentlemen, that a poor
seaman, a foremast hand, with a tarpaulin hat and round-jacket,
stood little chance of being heard, as the accuser of the rich
and the powerful--the men who walked abroad in polished beavers,
and aristocratic broad-cloths." Aristocracy having once been
brought upon the scene, was made to figure largely in several
sentences, and was very roughly handled indeed. To have heard Mr.
Clapp, one would have supposed aristocracy was the most sinful
propensity to which human nature was liable; the only very
criminal quality to which republican nature might he inclined. Of
course the defendants were accused of this heinous sin; this
brilliant passage concluded with a direct allusion to the "very
aristocratic trio before him." Mr. Stanley was declared to be no
aristocrat; he was pronounced thoroughly plebeian in all his
actions and habits. "Like the individual who has now the honour
of addressing you, gentlemen, Mr. Stanley is entirely free, in
all his habits and opinions, from the hateful stain of
aristocracy." He continued, following his client's steps down to
the present time, much as they are already known to the reader.
Then, making a sudden change, he reviewed the conduct of the
defendants as connected with his client.

{"Aristocracy" = Susan Fenimore Cooper was very familiar with
court proceedings in the 1840s. Her father was at this time
involved in a series of generally successful libel suits against
newspapers, which defended themselves by accusing him of being
"aristocratic," a sore point, as he had repeatedly denounced
aristocracy as the worst of all forms of government}

"What were their first steps at the death of Mr. Stanley, the
father? Merely those which were absolutely necessary to secure
themselves; they inquired for the absent son, but they inquired
feebly; had they 
waited with greater patience he would have appeared, for the
story of his disinheritance would never have reached him. Whence
did that story proceed from? It is not for me to say; others now
present may be able to account for it more readily. No,
gentlemen, it is a bitter truth, that the conduct of the
executors has been consistent throughout, from the moment they
first took possession of the Stanley estate, until their
appearance in this court; the conduct of the rival legatee has
also been marked by the same consistent spirit of opposition,
from the time of his first interview with Mr. Stanley, after he
had arrived at years of discretion, and knew the value of the
estate he hoped to enjoy; from the moment, I say, when he coolly
ordered the unfortunate sailor to be locked up in Mr. Wyllys's
smoke-house, until the present instant, when his only hope lies
in denying the identity of Mr. Stanley's son." Mr. Clapp dwelt
for some time upon this first interview, and the smoke-house; as
he had previously hinted to Hazlehurst, he laboured to make that
affair "look ugly," to the best of his ability. If the language
of the Longbridge lawyer had been respectful throughout the
preliminary proceedings, his tune in the court-room changed
completely. As he drew towards the close of his speech, he gave
full scope to a burst of virtuous indignation against wickedness
and hypocrisy in general, and particularly against the conduct of
the defendants. He declared himself forced to believe, that both
Mr. Wyllys and Hazlehurst had suspected the existence of William
Stanley from the first--others might have the charity to believe
they had been ignorant of the young man's existence, he only
wished he could still believe such to have been the fact--he had
believed them honestly ignorant of it, until it was no longer
possible for the prejudices of a long-standing friendship and
intimacy to blind his eyes, under the flood of light presented by
proofs as clear as day--proofs which his respected brother, the
senior counsel, and himself, were about to lay before the court.
He wished to be understood, however; he never for one moment had
included in these suspicions--so painful to every candid, upright
mind, but which had recently forced themselves upon him--he
repeated, that in them he had never included the respected lady
who filled the place of step-mother to his client, whose
representative he now saw before him, in the person of a highly
distinguished lawyer of the Philadelphia bar; he did not suppose
that that venerable matron had ever doubted the death of her
husband's son. He knew that excellent lady, had often met her in
the social circle; none admired more than he, the virtues for
which she was distinguished; he had never supposed it possible,
that if aware of the existence of William Stanley, she could have
sat down calmly to enjoy his inheritance. Such a case of
turpitude might not be without example; but he confessed that in
his eyes, it would amount to guilt of so black a dye, that he was
unwilling to accuse human nature of such depravity; it went
beyond the powers of his, Mr. Clapp's, imagination to comprehend.
No, he acquitted Mrs. Stanley of all blame; she had been
influenced and guided by the two gentlemen before him. He had
himself observed, that during all the preliminary proceedings,
the venerable step-mother of his client had shown many symptoms
of doubt and hesitation; it was his firm conviction, it was the
opinion of his client, of his brother counsel, that if left to
her own unbiassed judgment, Mrs. Stanley would immediately have
acknowledged her husband's son, and received him as such. He
appealed to the defendants themselves if this were not true; he
called upon them to deny this assertion if they could--if they
dared! Here Mr. Clapp paused a moment, and looked towards Mr.

The defendants had already spoken together for an instant; Mr.
Ellsworth rose: "The answer which the counsel for the plaintiff
was so anxious to receive, was reserved for its proper place in
the defence. Where so much might be said, he should scarcely be
able to confine himself within the bounds necessary at that
moment. Let the counsel for the plaintiff rest assured, however,
that the answer to that particular question, when given, would
prove, like the general answer of the defence, of a nature that
the interrogator would, doubtless, little relish."

During Mr. Clapp's abusive remarks, and impudent insinuations
against himself and Mr. Wyllys, Hazlehurst, placing one arm on
the table before him, leaned a little, forward, and fixed his eye
steadily, but searchingly, on the face of the speaker. It proved
as Harry had expected; the lawyer looked to the right and left,
he faced the judges, the jurors; he glanced at the audience,
raised his eyes to the ceiling, or threw them upon his papers,
but not once did he meet those of Hazlehurst.

"Gentlemen of the jury; you will observe that the question
remains unanswered!" continued Mr. Clapp, with a triumphant air.
He then contrived to appeal to his brother counsel to declare his
own impressions, and gave Mr. Reed an opportunity of affirming,
that he had believed Mrs. Stanley inclined to acknowledge their
client; he spoke calmly and impressively, in a manner very
different from the hurried, yet whining enunciation, and
flourishing gestures of his colleague.

Mr. Clapp now proceeded to prepare the way for the evidence: he
gave a general idea of its character, expressing beforehand the
firmest conviction of its effect on the court. "I have been
engaged in hundreds of suits, gentlemen; I have been a regular
attendant in courts of law from early boyhood, and never, in the
whole course of my experience, have I met with a case, so
peculiar and so important, supported by a body of evidence so
clear, so decided, so undeniable as that which we shall
immediately lay before you;" and Mr. Clapp sat down, running his
fingers through his curls.

The court here adjourned for an hour. The curiosity of the
audience seemed thoroughly excited; when the judges reassembled,
the room was even more crowded than in the morning.

Before calling up the witnesses, Mr. Reed spoke for five minutes;
his dignified manner was a favourable preparation for the
testimony in the plaintiff's behalf.

The first fact proved, was the resemblance of the plaintiff to
William Stanley; this point was thoroughly investigated, and
settled without difficulty in favour of the plaintiff--some
half-a-dozen witnesses swearing to the identity, according to the
best of their belief. The fact that the defendants themselves had
acknowledged the personal resemblance, was also made to appear;
and Mr. Reed introduced the identity of handwriting to strengthen
the personal identity--several witnesses giving their testimony
on the subject. It seemed indeed, clear, from the whole of this
part of the evidence, that there was no rational ground to doubt
any other difference, either in the personal resemblance or the
handwriting, than what might naturally exist in the same man, at
the ages of eighteen and thirty-seven.

The statement offered to the defendants some months since,
tracing the last career of the plaintiff was now introduced, and
the principal facts legally proved by different witnesses.
Officers and sailors of different vessels in which he had sailed,
were sworn. Among others, Captain -----, of the packet ship ***,
testified to the plaintiff's having sailed in his vessel, under
the name of William Stanley, nine years previously; and it was
very clearly proved, that at different intervals since then, he
had continued to bear the same name, although he had also shipped
under those of Bennet, Williams, and Benson. The statement, as
given already in our pages, was borne out satisfactorily in most
of its important facts by the evidence; although on some points
the counsel for the plaintiffs confessed, that they had not been
able to obtain all the legal proofs they had wished for. After
tracing the plaintiff's steps as a sailor, the fact of his having
been long endeavouring to bring forward the claim he now made,
was examined. Mr. G-----, a highly respectable lawyer of
Baltimore, testified to the fact that several years previously,
the plaintiff had applied to him to undertake the case then
before the court; to speak frankly, this evidence surprised the
defendants, who were scarcely prepared for it. Then came proof of
the different applications to Mr. Clapp, his several visits to
Longbridge, and his presence at Wyllys-Roof six years previously,
when locked up in the out-house by Hazlehurst; Mr. Clapp
repeating at this moment, a very broad insinuation, that the
defendant knew the claims of the individual he had put in
confinement. His willingness to be examined, his ready consent to
an interview with Mr. Wyllys, Mrs. Stanley, and Hazlehurst, the
close examination which he bore at Wyllys-Roof, were brought
forward; and Mr. Clapp managed to introduce most of the important
questions of the defendants at that time, with the accurate
answers of the plaintiff, in his account of that meting.

The court adjourned at this time, and many individuals among the
audience seemed to incline very decidedly towards the plaintiff.
The personal friends of the defendants looked somewhat anxious,
although Mr. Wyllys and Hazlehurst still showed a steady front.
The testimony which we have given so briefly, as much of it has
already appeared in the narrative, occupied the court more than
one day, including the different cross-examinations of several
witnesses, by the defendants: this duty fell to the lot of Mr.
Grant, who carried it on in his usual dry, sarcastic manner, but
was unable to effect any important change in the state of things.

The following morning, the plaintiff's papers were laid before
the court. The volume of the Spectator, and the letters already
produced at Wyllys-Roof, were shown. In addition to these, the
following papers were now brought forward: A letter addressed to
the name of Benson, on board the British sloop-of-war, Ceres;
another directed to William Bennet, on board the Dutch barque
William, when at Batavia, nearly eighteen years since; this
letter was important, as it was evidently written to an American

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