Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 35, page(s) 605-612


CHARLES CHAPMAN, the most brilliant advocate of the Connecticut bar, died at Hartford, where he resided, on the 7th day of August, 1869, in the seventy-first year of his age. He was born in Newtown in this state on the 21st of June, 1799. His father was Asa Chapman, a Judge of the Supreme Court of the state. He commenced his law studies with his father, pursued them for a time at the Litchfield Law School, and completed them with the late Chief Justice Williams, then in practice in Hartford. He commenced the practice of law in New Haven, and in 1832 removed to Hartford, where he spent the remainder of his life. He six times represented the town of Hartford in the state legislature, and was elected to Congress in 1851 by the Whig party, to which he was then attached. He was also United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut from the spring of 1841 to the close of 1844.

Mr. Chapman had a very large professional practice, especially in criminal cases. There was hardly a criminal trial in the state of special importance in which he was not employed for the defence, and he often went into neighboring states upon such cases. Over-work in the trial of a protracted case in Northampton, Mass., a few months before his death, undoubtedly hastened that event.

Mr. Chapman seemed to be in his natural element in the trial of causes before a jury. The more desperate his case the more he seemed to be inspired by it. His resources were inexhaustible. His power in addressing a jury was very remarkable. In the examination of witnesses and the sifting of evidence he had no superior; it seemed impossible for a falsehood to elude him. His sarcasm, when he thought the occasion demanded it, was terrible. He had command of a masterly English, which he compacted into sentences generally of finished elegance, often of dramatic power. His wit was always keen and ever in hand; nobody approached him in readiness of retort. He did not move his hearers as the greatest orators do, by being profoundly impressed himself and carrying them along by sympathy. The process with him was wholly intellectual. Cool himself and with a perfect comprehension of the subtlest springs of human feeling and action, he played with his audience like a magician. Wit, pathos, humor, invective, fancy, logic - all seemed to combine or take their turn in sweeping every thing before them. In his delivery he was entirely natural and his manner unstudied. He was very social in his nature, a remarkably good talker, and incomparable and inexhaustible as a story-teller. Many of his felicities of speech and story will long survive among the festive traditions of the bar.

His character, especially in its professional relations, is admirably sketched by the Hon. Richard D. Hubbard, in remarks made by him at a meeting of the Hartford County Bar called on the occasion of Mr. Chapman's death, and by the Hon. William D. Shipman, Judge of the U. S. District Court, in his address to the Superior Court on presenting the resolutions of the Bar.



Will my professional brethren indulge me in a word of retrospect suggested by the occasion?

When I first came to the bar of this county, the chiefest honors of the profession were worn by six stately leaders - Parsons, Ellsworth, Toucey, Chapman, and by two of our brethren who still abide among us in the plenitude of a cheerful and respected old age. Long, very long may the survivors continue to wear the honors which they have so richly earned and so long enjoyed.

In rising to pay a passing tribute to the memory of our brother who has just deceased, I do it with somewhat of the feeling of a soldier in the middle rank of the advance, who suddenly finds a gap opened in his immediate front, and who is hurried forward in the order of events and by the allotments of battle into the perilous breach which faces the common enemy.

Nor can I forget - as, in the pause which this event occasions, I look back to the beginning of the march, or to what to me at least was its beginning - how the whole column has been pierced from front to rear and from side to centre. There are not only Parsons, Ellsworth, Toucey, and Chapman, whom I have already named, but a longer catalogue which my memory scarcely suffices to fill. There are Williams, Day, Mitchell, Welles, Robinson, the two Drakes, Lowry, Woodruff, Smith, Giddings, and Case, - all fallen out from our ranks in less than a score of years.

I recall this dead-roll of our profession not without sadness, but with a sadness tempered by time and distance. It tells us the old tale - that in the very blossom of our years there is " a smell of mortality."

But what fitting expressions to represent a fresh and untempered grief shall I find for the friend and brother who has so long walked among us in honor, and whom a few short hours will hide from our sight in the eternal silence of the grave.

Let me speak of him, not in the language of fulsome and undiscriminating eulogy, but in a few temperate words which shall express a just and truthful estimate of his character and genius.

I have know him for the last twenty-five years; for much of that time have been in professional association with him - for the most part as an adversary, not unfrequently as a colleague. I know what succors of courage and resource he brought as an associate. I know what destructive weapons he wielded as an adversary.

In professional attainments purely scientific he was, I think, excelled by some of this brethren. His taste did not run largely into the field of dry science or technical law. But in natural parts, in the ready command of all his resources, in strategic skill, and the graces of oratory, he had, as I think, no equal at the bar. In that kind of labor and research which precedes the trial of a case and which we call preparation, he was excelled by many of his brethren. But when the hour of trial came, and the harness was to be put on, he addressed himself to the work with a will and with a marvelous intuition.

In the delicate duty of examining witnesses - above all in that most important and most difficult of all professional functions, a cross-examination - he was not only distinguished, he was consummate. A cross-examination with him was a hot and running fire of scathing inquisitions. He searched the very reins of a witness. A perjurer in his hands was not merely unmasked, he suffered on the spot a part at least of the punishment due to his crime.

But after all, it was perhaps in the summing up of a case to the jury that the whole range of his faculties found their fullest play. In the ready analyzing of a chaotic mass of evidence, in the skillful selection and use of materials, in the orderly and logical distribution of an argument, in the matchless architecture of his sentences, in fertility of illustration, in vigor of attack and coolness in retreat, in pungency of satire for his adversaries and opulence of wit for all, both friend and foe - in all these he was great, in some of them he had no superior, in few of them an equal. If he was not a great lawyer in the special sense in which Coke and Saunders and Eldon were great lawyers, he was certainly a most brilliant advocate, possessed of rare faculties of reason and imagination, of rhetoric, pathos, humor, and that strange magnetic force which with the others make up the secret and gift of eloquence.

This in a few words is my estimate of the genius and character of our deceased brother. We shall miss henceforth from the contentions of the forum a chief of marvelous strength and grace, and from the walks of professional fellowship and social life a friend of the most kindly and genial instincts.

With these broken and imperfect utterances, in this place which was the theatre of his life-work, and in this presence which was the witness of his brilliant triumphs, I take my leave, with bended head I take my leave, of an adversary whose steel I have had occasion to know was sharp and piercing, and at the same time of a friend and brother whose heart, I have had not less cause to know, was generous and loving. From my heart of hearts I drop, as I turn away, these words of valediction. Peace to the sleeper who has gone from us, and honor to his name and memory which are left with us.


The address of JUDGE SHIPMAN to the Superior Court on presenting the resolutions of the Bar was as follows: -

May it please your Honor, - Since the last session of this court, the HON. CHARLES CHAPMAN, an eminent member of the bar of this county and state, has closed his earthly career. He died at his residence in this city on the 7th instant. At a meeting of his professional brethren held in this room on the 9th, the resolutions which have just been read were passed, and my associate and myself were directed to present them to this court, and move that they be entered on the minutes. We know that your Honor will readily grant this motion, while fully appreciating the sad event which has called for this mournful but appropriate formality.

Though these resolutions express the sense of the bar at the loss we have all suffered in the death of this distinguished lawyer, I deem it proper to submit a few suggestions in this place where he so well performed his duties and won his renown. And yet, neither his labors nor his honors were confined to this court room. He was well known in every part of the state. His striking personal qualities, his keen, polished intellect, and his peculiar eloquence, are familiar to the public, and especially to the profession of which he was so conspicuous an ornament, throughout the bounds of Connecticut. Nor was his fame or services as an advocate wholly limited to his native commonwealth. He was not unfrequently engaged in important causes in several neighboring states, and I have had occasion to know that he sustained abroad that reputation which he so well earned at home.

Charles Chapman was endowed by nature with rare and peculiar gifts which found an appropriate theatre for their exercise in the profession he so assiduously followed for more than forty years. He did not mistake his vocation. He was born for the contests of the bar, and for the duties of an advocate - that department of his profession in which he was pre-eminently distinguished. Here his original, vigorous and brilliant qualities were constantly displayed. In saying this I do not go beyond the simple truth. I am aware how poorly I should emulate his clear and accurate discrimination if I were to indulge in mere vague and exaggerated eulogy. He did not pretend to be profoundly versed in the merely technical and abstruse learning of the books. His preparation for his duties was not drawn from the laborious examination of authorities, but from a peculiar mental organization, instinct with life, intelligence and force. His power as an advocate was not altogether, nor mainly, due to his humor, his pathos, and his flashing wit, though these were all displayed in striking and spontaneous fertility. But his great strength lay in his clear and accurate intellectual vision. His comprehension of the facts of a case, the relation of these facts to each other, and their exact force and bearing upon the main issue, was unsurpassed. His matured conceptions were not the result of slow and toilsome mental processes, but of a vivid, often instantaneous, insight. This peculiar intellectual trait was well known to all who were associated with him in the trial of a cause, especially where at the close of the evidence he was immediately called to enter upon the argument. The very suddenness of the emergency seemed to summon every resource and electrify every faculty of his mind. On such occasions he often exhibited throughout his efforts a sustained and commanding power.

The popular estimate of this great advocate's abilities, rests upon his eloquence and upon what non-professional observers sometimes denominate his ingenuity - occasionally by way of disparagement, his cunning. That he was often eloquent, no one who has heard him on a variety of occasions will deny. But his eloquence was the natural product of strong intellectual powers animated by strong feelings and fired by an unreserved and enthusiastic devotion to the cause of his client. There was nothing artificial in his diction or address. He displayed few of the borrowed ornaments of literature. His style was always simple, clear, often beautiful, and though never gorgeous or affluent, abounded in allusions to human traits, experience, and events, both apt and instructive. There was no rouge or tinsel on his rhetoric. The tints and glow came from the light and heat of his own genius. It was not the beauty of his style, nor his impassioned declamation, that his antagonist had most to fear. It was rather that sleepless, vigilant intelligence. the lucid and natural order in which he marshaled his materials, and the fervor and cogency with which he addressed himself to the good sense and innate love of justice and fair dealing in the mind of the triers.

It is undoubtedly a just criticism which attributes to him ingenuity. He had what, if not genius, approached very near it. He was witty, extremely acute in the range of observation, where his mind worked with uncommon precision and force. He was skillful in the use of his materials. But he never constructed elaborate and ingenious theories. There was nothing abstruse or theoretical in the operations of his mind. His intellectual lights played on the substantial and concrete, and revealed rather the result of his clear and acute observation than artful or elaborate theories. No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that mere ingenuity and adroitness were the main weapons which made Charles Chapman, for nearly forty years, a singular power at the bar of this state. His capacity to maintain a high position in a large class of cases with the able leaders of the profession, was due to quite other and higher qualities than mental dexterity.

The features of his mind which I have thus rudely sketched must, in the very nature of things, have made him an able advocate in criminal causes. In this field he is admitted on all hands to have been without a superior, I may say without an equal, at the bar of this state. The importance of his labors in this class of cases will be apparent when we remember the character of the antagonists he had constantly to meet in forensic debate. It has always been the policy of the appointing power in this state to select able lawyers for prosecuting attorneys. The truth of this remark will be apparent when we recall the fact that during nearly all the thirty-seven years of Mr. Chapman's practice at the bar of this city, Isaac Toucey, Thomas C. Perkins, and Richard D. Hubbard, successively filled the office of State Attorney for this county. It was against such official accusers, furnished with every intellectual and professional resource, that he had to stand in defence of persons charged with crime. In the performance of this duty he was faithful in all things. I say duty, for the defence of persons accused of crime is a duty which the public cannot afford to see neglected or underrated. So tender and mindful is our law on the subject, that it not only discards the barbarous usage once prevailing in England, by which alleged criminals were denied counsel, but, if the accused is destitute, it is the duty of the court to assign him counsel. Whether originally employed by the defendant or assigned by the court, the path of the lawyer is plain. He is bound by the law itself to use, with honor and rectitude, every intellectual and professional weapon to the utmost of the ability which God and the law have given him, in defence of his client. This Charles Chapman did, and the faithful manner in which he performed this duty constitutes one of his highest titles to honor. He defended men only by the open use of the legitimate weapons of professional warfare. Some may have been acquitted who really deserved conviction. But it is idle to charge the lawyer who honorably and successfully defends an accused man, with wrongfully shielding the guilty. He interposes no shield but that which the law puts into his hands, and which is necessary for the proper defence of every defendant, whether innocent or guilty. The question before the triers is never that of absolute guilt, but whether upon the evidence presented in the court all reasonable doubt is excluded. No higher duty can devolve on the lawyer than to see to it that no man is convicted upon unworthy or insufficient evidence, for in doing so he preserves the only safeguard which innocence has against popular rage or official tyranny. Our deceased brother well understood this duty, and performed it with fearlessness and ability; often in behalf of the poor and friendless, without hope of reward.

Mr. Chapman won his distinction in competition with a large number of very able contemporaries. Such names as William Hungerford, Roger S. Baldwin, Ralph I. Ingersoll, Charles A. Ingersoll, Dennis Kimberly, Charles Hawley, Samuel Ingham, Charles J. McCurdy, William W. Ellsworth, Isaac Toucey, Henry Strong, Thomas C. Perkins, Henry Dutton, Francis Parsons, Martin Welles, and perhaps others that escape my recollection at this moment, will readily occur. I mention these because they spent their lives mostly at the bar, and the period of their practice covered nearly the same time as that of Mr. Chapman. With many of these great lawyers he was repeatedly associated, very often in civil causes of great importance. I think it is safe to say that for the last twenty-five years he has taken a prominent part in as many interesting trials as any member of the profession in the state. His masterly skill in the cross-examination of witnesses, his quick and comprehensive survey of the facts, his consummate ability in their presentation, especially to the jury, his racy, original and dramatic narrative, his intuitive knowledge of every corner of the human heart, and his entire devotion to the cause on trial, made him a welcome and valuable associate, and a formidable antagonist.

I should fail in my duty and in accurately conveying the sentiments of this bar did I omit to notice his kindness to his juniors. Both at the bar meeting and in private conversation the younger members of the bar have expressed themselves with grateful appreciation on this point. I can testify to his kindness to me in my early professional years, and to confidence reposed in me greater than I deserved.

In private life Mr. Chapman was an interesting and entertaining companion. With his never failing fund of anecdote and humor, his quaint, epigrammatic, incisive comments upon phases of character and incidents of daily life, and the usual gaiety of his temper, he threw a charm over the hours of relaxation. Though living to the age of seventy, his youthful tastes and feelings never forsook him. He loved his profession to the last. He relished the applause which success in that profession brought him. The love of distinction may be pronounced by the moralist an infirmity, but an austere genius has declared it to be

"The last infirmity of noble mind."

It undoubtedly is a powerful incentive to excellence, and, when seeking its triumphs in the fields of intellectual renown, it is, next to the spirit inculcated by Christianity, the most mighty agent in developing and nourishing those virtues which give dignity and ornament to human character.

With these remarks we submit our motion to the Honorable Court, and leave the name of Charles Chapman to be inscribed on what was impressively termed at our bar-meeting "the dead-roll of our profession" - a roll which has been fearfully lengthened during the last few years, as, one after another, our great legal lights have been eclipsed by that shadow which steadily advances and sooner or later falls across the path of every mortal.