List Of Contents | Contents of Elinor Wyllys, by Susan Fenimore Cooper
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character, and natural feeling would wish to assume, unless
acting from conscientious motives, and guided by sound reason.

"I have no wish to parade a stoical indifference to the pecuniary
interests at stake to-day; they are such as must seriously affect
my fortunes for years, possibly for life. A cause involving so
large a sum of money, so fine a landed estate, honourably
acquired by the late proprietor, and generously bequeathed to
myself, must necessarily include many interests of a varied
character. Many grateful recollections of the past, many hopes
for the future, have been connected in my mind with the house at
Greatwood; from early boyhood I have been taught to look forward
to it, as a home and a resting-place, when the busiest years of
life shall have passed. These interests, however, although among
the best enjoyments of existence, are of a nature entirely
personal, forgive me, if for a moment I have glanced at them.
But, gentlemen, if I have always valued the bequest of Mr.
Stanley, from its own intrinsic importance, from the many
advantages it has already procured me, from the hopes with which
it is connected, and from the grateful recollection, that to the
friendly affection of my benefactor I owe its possession, yet, I
solemnly affirm, in the hearing of hundreds of witnesses, that
there is no honest occupation, however humble, no labour, however
toilsome, that I would not at this instant cheerfully exchange
for it, rather than retain that inheritance one hour from its
rightful owner, could I believe him to be living.

"No human being, I trust, who knows the principles from which I
have hitherto acted, can show just ground for mistrusting this

"But, fellow-citizens of the jury, to you I am a stranger. There
is not one of your number, as I now scan the faces in your box,
that I recognize as that of an acquaintance. I cannot, therefore,
expect you to believe this assertion, unsupported by evidence of
its truth. I willingly leave vain declamation to those who have
no better weapon to work with; were it in my power to influence
your decision, by volleys of words without meaning, sound without
sense, such as only too often assail the ears of judges and
juries, respect for the honourable office you now fill, would
deter me from following such a course; self-respect would
naturally prevent me from following so closely the example of the
orator who first addressed you on behalf of the plaintiff. I have
often before heard that orator, fellow-citizens of the jury; this
is not the first occasion upon which I have listened with simple
wonder, to a fluency which ever flows undisturbed, undismayed,
whether the obstacles in its way be those of law or justice,
reason or truth. But if I have wondered at a facility so
remarkable, never, for a single instant, have I wished to rival
this supple dexterity. It is an accomplishment one can scarcely
envy. On the other hand, these wholesale supplies of bombastic
declamation form so large a part of the local stock in trade of
the individual to whom I refer, that it would seem almost cruel
to deprive him of them; we have all heard a common expression,
more easily understood than explained, but which would be quite
applicable to the pitiable state of the counsel for the
plaintiff, when deprived of his chief support, his favourite
modes of speech--he would then be reduced, gentlemen, to LESS
THAN NOTHING." Hazlehurst's face was expressive enough as he
uttered these words.

"No, fellow-citizens of the jury, I shall not ask you to believe
a single assertion of my own, unsustained by proof. At the proper
moment, the testimony which we possess in favour of the death of
Mr. Stanley's son, and the facts which have led us to mistrust
the strange story which you have just heard advanced in behalf of
the plaintiff, will be laid before you. At present, suffer me,
for a moment longer, to refer to the leading motives which have
induced us to appear in this court, as defendants, under
circumstances so singular.

"The importance which, as legatee of Mr. Stanley, I attach to his
generous gift has not been denied. But, independently of this,
there are other causes sufficient in themselves to have brought
me into this hall, and these motives I share with the friends
associated in the same defence. If we conceive ourselves to be
justified in refusing the demand of the plaintiff, as a
consequence of this conviction, we must necessarily hold it to be
an imperative duty to repel, by every honest means in our power,
a claim we believe false. This is a case which allows of no
medium course. On one hand, either we, the defendants, are guilty
of an act of the most cruel injustice; or, on the other, the
individual before you, assuming the name of William Stanley, is
an impostor. The opinion of those most intimately connected with
the late Mr. Stanley, is clearly proclaimed, by the stand they
have deliberately taken, after examining the evidence with which
the plaintiff advances his extraordinary claim. This individual
who, from his own account, was content to remain for years in a
state of passive indifference to the same important inheritance,
now claimed so boldly, in defiance of so many obstacles, we
believe to be an impostor; not a single, lingering scruple
prevents my repeating the declaration, that I believe him to be a
bold and daring impostor.

"With this opinion, is it expected that I shall calmly endure
that one, whose only title consists in his cunning and his
audacity, should seize with impunity, property, legally and
justly my own? Is it believed that I shall stand idly by, without
a struggle to defend the name of my deceased benefactor from such
impudent abuse? That I should be content to see the very
hearth-stone of my friend seized, by the grossest cupidity? That
I should surrender the guardianship of his grave to one, with
whom he never had a thought, a feeling, a sympathy in common?--to
one, who would not scruple to sell that grave for a bottle of

"Every feeling revolts at the thought of such a shameful neglect
of duty! No; I acknowledge myself bound, by every obligation, to
oppose to the last extremity, such an audacious invasion of right
and truth. Every feeling of respect and gratitude to the memory
of my benefactor, urges me forward; while all the attachment of
the friend, and all the affection of the widow, revive, and unite
in the defence.

"But, fellow-citizens of the jury, my own personal rights,
sufficient on a common occasion to rouse any man, the duties owed
by each of the defendants to the memory of Mr. Stanley--duties
sacred in the eyes of every right-thinking man, these are not the
only motives which call upon us to oppose the plaintiff, to repel
with all the strength we can command this daring act of piracy.

"There is another duty still more urgent, a consideration of a
still higher character, involved in the course we pursue to-day.
There is one object before us, far surpassing in importance any
to which I have yet alluded; it is one, fellow-citizens of the
jury, in which each individual of your number is as deeply
concerned as ourselves, in which the highest earthly interests of
every human being in this community are included; it is the one
great object for which these walls were raised, this hall opened,
which has placed those honourable men as judges on the seat of
justice, which has called you together, from the less important
pursuit of your daily avocations, to give an impartial opinion in
every case brought before you; it is the high object of
maintaining justice in the community to which we all equally
belong. I am willing to believe, fellow-citizens of the jury,
that you are fully aware of the importance of your own office, of
the dignity of this court, of the necessity of its existence, of
its activity to protect the honest and inoffensive citizen,
against the designing, the unprincipled, and the violent. Such
protection we know to be absolutely binding upon every community
claiming to be civilized; we know that without it no state of
society, at all worthy of the dignity of human nature, at all
worthy of the dignity of freemen, can exist; without active
justice, indeed, the name of Freedom becomes a mere sound of
mockery. I have been taught to hold the opinion, gentlemen, that
if there is one obligation more imperative than any other,
imposed upon an American by the privileges of his birth-right, it
is this very duty of maintaining justice in her full integrity;
of raising his voice in her behalf when she is threatened, of
raising his arm in her defence when she is assailed. To move at
the first clear appeal of justice, is surely one of the chief
duties of every American citizen, of every man blessed with
freedom of speech and freedom of action; and, surely, if this be
a general rule, it would become a double act of moral cowardice,
to desert the post, when those individual rights, confided
especially to my own protection, including interests so important
to myself, are audaciously assailed. If there are circumstances
which partially remove the weight of this obligation, of this
public struggle for justice, from portions of the community, from
the aged, who have already firmly upheld every honourable
principle through a long course of years, and from those who are
confined by their natural position to the narrow but holy circle
of domestic duties; if such be honourable exemptions from bearing
the brunt of the battle, it is only to open the front rank to
every active citizen, laying claim to manliness and honesty. Such
I conceive to be the obligation imposed upon myself, by the
demand of the plaintiff. Upon examination, I can find no
sufficient evidence to support this claim; it becomes therefore,
in my belief, by its very nature, an atrocious outrage alike to
the living and the dead--an insulting violation of natural
justice and the law of the land, sufficient to rouse every
justifiable effort in resistance.

"Whenever attention may be called to a question, of a character
audaciously unprincipled, even when quite independent of personal
advantage and personal feeling, I should still hope that duty as
a man, duty as a freeman, would have sufficient influence over my
actions, to urge me forward in opposition to its unrighteous
demands, just so far as common sense and true principle shall
point the way. Such I conceive to be the character of the present
question; were there no pecuniary interest, no individual feeling
at stake, I should still conceive it a duty to hold on the
present occasion the position in which I now stand.

"The grounds upon which this opinion as to the character of the
case has been formed, the grounds upon which we base our defence,
must now be laid before you."

After this opening, Harry proceeded with an outline of the
testimony for the defence. His statement was very clear and
accurate throughout; but as it contained nothing but what is
already known to the reader, we shall omit this part of his

After he had given a general account of the conduct and views of
the defendants, Mr. Ellsworth proceeded to lay the legal evidence
in their possession, before the court. The first point examined,
was the testimony they had received as to the death of William
Stanley. The wreck of the Jefferson was easily proved, by a
letter from the captain of the American ship Eagle, who had
spoken the Jefferson the morning of the gale in which she was
lost, and having safely rode out the storm himself, had
afterwards seen the wreck. This letter was written on Captain
Green's arrival in port, and was in answer to inquiries of Mr.
Wyllys; besides an account of the gale, and the wreck of the
Jefferson, it contained the united opinions of his mates and
himself, that no one could have escaped, unless under very
extraordinary circumstances, as the vessel herself had foundered,
and no boat could have lived in such a tempest. During a calm
which had followed the gale, they had fallen in with fragments of
the wreck, some of which had been used in repairing their own
vessel; they had seen several dead bodies, and had taken up an
empty boat, and several other objects, but nothing which threw
farther light on the subject. William Stanley's name, as one of
the crew of the Jefferson, was next produced; this part of the
testimony came through our acquaintance, Mr. Hopkins, who had
been the owner of the Jefferson. Then came proofs of the many
efforts made by the executors, to obtain accounts of Mr.
Stanley's son, by advertisements to sailors and shipmasters, in
all the great ports of the country, repeated during five years;
many letters and communications were also produced, all
strengthening the report of the young man's death. An agent had
been employed by Mrs. Stanley, for one year, with no other object
than that of searching for intelligence of her step-son; the man
himself was dead, but his letters were read, and sworn to by his
wife. Only once had the executors obtained a faint hope of the
young man's existence; the second-mate of a whaler reported that
he had known a William Stanley, a foremast hand, in the Pacific;
but eventually it appeared, that the man alluded to was much
older than Mr. Stanley's son, and his name was SANLEY. Nothing
could be more clearly proved, than the efforts of the executors
to obtain accurate intelligence as to the young man's fate; and
it was also evident from the reports received, that they could
have had no good reason to doubt his death. The next points
examined, included the person and conduct of the plaintiff. The
bad character of the plaintiff was made to appear in the course
of this examination; "a character which seems at least to have
always clung to that individual, under the various names it has
pleased him to assume at different times," observed Mr.
Ellsworth. It was clearly shown that he was considered a man of
no principles, even among his comrades. The personal identity was
fully examined; this part of the testimony excited intense
interest among the audience, while even the court seemed to
listen with increased attention. The opinions of the different
witnesses on this point were not disputed; the general
resemblance of the plaintiff to the Stanleys was not denied; the
similarity of handwriting was also admitted; but Mr. Ellsworth
argued, that such resemblances, among persons who were in no way
related to each other, were not uncommon; probably every
individual in that court-room had been told fifty times, that he
was like A., B., or C. Occasionally, such resemblances were
really very marked indeed. He then cited the instance of a man
who was hanged in England, on this very ground of personal
identity, sworn to by many individuals; and yet, a year after, it
was discovered that the real criminal was living; and these two
men, so strikingly alike, had never even seen each other, nor
were they in any manner related to each other. But who could say
whether the plaintiff were actually so much like William Stanley?
It was not certain that any individual in that room had seen the
young man for eighteen years; but one of the defendants had any

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