Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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FRANCIS FELLOWES, the oldest member of the Hartford County bar, died in the city of Hartford, where he had resided during his professional life, on the twenty-fifth day of April, 1888.
He was born in Montville in this state, November 20th, 1803, and graduated at Amherst College in 1826. Afterwards he took a post-graduate course of a year at Yale College, and in the fall of 1827 founded the Mt. Pleasant Institute at Amherst, Mass., which afterwards became widely known as a classical school. He conducted the school for four years, and in 1832 came to Hartford and took charge of the Hartford Grammar School, and here edited the Connecticut Observer, a weekly religious paper maintained by the Congregationalists, and the Advocate of Peace, a monthly periodical, and did much other literary work, some of it in connection with the revision of school books. At the same time he pursued the study of law, and was admitted to the bar in Hartford in 1835 and thenceforth devoted himself to the practice of that profession as his life work. His progress was slow at first, for he had none of the natural gifts or acquired arts by which popularity is gained, but by unremitting attention to business and a laborious and thorough preparation of the cases that were placed in his hands, he ultimately acquired a large and lucrative practice. About the year 1877, while still retaining his residence in Hartford, he opened an office in New York City, where he was consulted in cases of magnitude and difficulty, and employed in the trial of some of them before the higher courts. During that time he argued several important insurance and railroad cases before the United States Supreme Court at Washington, and in the spring of 1887, then in his eighty-fourth year, he prepared an elaborate brief and made a lengthy argument before that court.
As a lawyer Mr. Fellowes was a thorough master of his profession. He was very familiar with the principles of the common law and had made a special study of equity jurisprudence. His discussion of legal questions before the higher courts was in a rare degree upon the abstract principles involved. He was very accurate in his statements of legal points, and probably the state has never had a more exact special pleader. It was indeed an education in special pleading to be associated in trials with him, and still more of one to be compelled to prepare to meet him. He was much given to making technical points, and relied upon them in the conduct of his cases, and had no patience with the equitable notions that have found their way of late years into the administration of the common law. He was quick to perceive and ready to take advantage of any weak point, upon fact or law, in his opponent's case, and seemed always to carry concealed weapons for every possible legal fray. Indeed with him the trial of a case was a hand to hand combat, in which he gave no quarter and asked none. He was very pertinacious of his points of law and if the court ruled against him was sure the court was in error and left no means untried to set aside the decision. He was a good representative of the English lawyers of a century ago, and as he came into court with his green bag and rather shuffling gait, he seemed to have come directly from one of the old Inns of Court. He had no graces of oratory, no persuasiveness of manner, no personal magnetism; but his diction was that of a scholarly man, and his presentation of his cases before a court or jury was clear, forcible and always exhaustive. He had great power of endurance and seemed to know no fatigue in his professional work.
But he was far from being a student of mere law. He had kept up his early knowledge of the classics and continued through life a good Greek scholar. He was also familiar with the French and Italian languages and was able to converse fluently in them both. He also studied German, and was able to read books in that language, but had not acquired so complete a mastery of it, and he began the study of Hebrew when he was eighty years old. He kept up a knowledge of the best English literature, and was fond of gathering choice books for his library. He had a taste for the best binding for his books and few bookshelves present a more elegant array of books than did his.
With all his faculty for earning money in his profession and all his untiring industry, he never succeeded in accumulating property. An intercepting providence not infrequently found an ally in his own misjudgments. The autumn of his life found very little harvest from the unremitting toil of so many years.
Mr. Fellowes became a member in his early manhood of a Congregational church, and when he came to Hartford connected himself with that to which the celebrated Dr. Horace Bushnell ministered. He had the public confidence as a man of strict integrity. He never mingled in public affairs or held any political office, nor did he seem ambitious of office within the lines of his profession.
Mr. Fellowes was twice married; his second wife surviving him. One son, Charles E. Fellowes, Esq., is clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of Hartford County; another son, Francis, died several years ago at Hartford, where he was a practicing lawyer. He left also one daughter, who was the constant companion of his life for his later years, and who inherited his literary tastes and shared his literary studies.
At a meeting of the Hartford County bar, held immediately after the death of Mr. Fellowes, the following resolutions were offered by Franklin Chamberlin, Esq., and passed: -
Whereas, after a life of untiring industry and professional success, Francis Fellowes, an honored member of the Hartford County bar, has at a ripe and mature old age, been gathered to his rest, therefore: -
Resolved - That in his death this bar has lost an able, learned and industrious member, whose integrity, force of will, and of character, thorough education and extensive knowledge of law, commanded the respect of his associates.
Resolved - That his legal arguments in our state and national tribunals and his printed essays upon a variety of interesting legal questions, covering as they do more than a half century of time, are monuments of clear, logical and vigorous style, and of faithful and exhaustive treatment of the subjects and the causes which came under his consideration, and entitle him to the respectful remembrance of his associates of this bar.
Mr. Chamberlin, after reading the resolutions, spoke as follows: -
My acquaintance with Mr. Fellows began about thirty years ago, when he was in the prime of professional life and vigor, and had at this bar a highly respective practice. I was then located in Springfield, Mass. He was retained with me in a case of some importance in this state, in the preparation of which I found him an able and agreeable associate. After my removal here in 1862 I was frequently associated with him in the preparation and trial of causes and came to know him professionally and also personally quite well. His intellect and his will were strong and forceful, and while his controversial tendencies marked and vigorous, very few men were more fond of, or gave more attention to, classical and literary acquisitions. His learning in all directions, perhaps more especially in languages, ancient and modern, was broad and liberal and always seemed to be a source of great pleasure to him. He read the Bible in Greek, daily and with facility, and conversed in their own language with the Italian, French and German clients and acquaintances who came to his office. He was fond of books of the best kind and he loved to see them clothed in the best possible dress.
I should say that his habits of life were of the old school, and in his dress, in care of his papers, as in his literary and legal work, he illustrated the dignity, propensities and habits of days which are nearly gone by.
He used the old fashioned professional bag and his papers were carefully arranged and carried to the court room so as to be readily referred to. He was annoyed by the departure of the bar from what he considered the more appropriate dress of a lawyer in court, and its somewhat general adoption of the sack coat and the undress garments of the present day. His personality of character was in all respects marked and individual. As a lawyer he had few equals in logic and force of argument, and no man was more than he at home in the subtleties and casuistries of the common law, and he was also quite familiar with the general principles and the learning of the mercantile law of equity. The earliest of his legal essays which I have seen, is a discussion of " The Legal and Equitable Rights of Individual and Partnership Creditors," published in the American Jurist in October, 1841. The article covers thirty pages of that magazine, is a clear and logical presentment of his subject and a fair beginning of the numerous essays and reviews and the legal arguments in our state and national courts which occupied the subsequent years of his industrious life. He had none of the arts of the rhetorician, and his oral efforts and personal delivery of his arguments were sometimes perhaps less effective than a careful reading of them.
He had none of the tact and persuasiveness which are, when prudently used, so valuable to the lawyer, and perhaps despised them as surface work, often leading to a wrong result. His cases were always prepared with great care and research, and his legal arguments were thorough and exhaustive. His mind was in the highest degree logical, though he was perhaps too much inclined to trust to nice discriminations and legal refinements of precedents, but no lawyer can read the masterly arguments upon important and interesting legal questions prepared and delivered by him even within the last few years, during which his practice has been mainly confined to the national courts, without being impressed by their clearness and learning and exhaustive force.
Mr. William R. Cone spoke as follows: -
I cannot let this occasion pass without saying a few farewell words in relation to my life-long friend and one whom I knew well at the bar and as a neighbor.
When I saw in the Post of last Wednesday that Francis Fellowes, aged eighty-five, was dead, and that Julius Catlin, aged nearly ninety, was to be buried the next day, it carried me back a long life time, fifty-six years, when, after being admitted to the bar in New Haven in September, 1832, I became a permanent resident of Hartford, and very soon these two men became my familiar acquaintances and friends, and if I except two whose acquaintance I did not so early make, were the last survivors, so far as I know, of those in active business when I came here. As I look over the little city as it then was, bounded on the west by a line just east of the residence of Mr. Catlin, and on the north by a line extending east from the tunnel to the river, and on the south by the South Green, with a population of some four or five thousand people within these boundaries, I call up to myself what changes have taken place in these years, in the population, the resources, the prosperity and wealth and the whole aspect of the city.
Very soon after my settlement here I came to know almost every man I met upon the street; to-day how few! Then every member of the bar I knew intimately and well. Every judge throughout the state I could address as a personal acquaintance; to-day I cannot call their names even; and of the lawyers at this bar I scarcely know any. How very few of you here to-day ever heard Mr. Fellowes try a case. It is too true that another generation has taken our places, and I come here to-day, upon the very verge of life, scarcely knowing one in this court room, claiming my place as a member of the bar to say a word of my early and constant friend. So it is, time and tide wait for no man.
When I first knew Mr. Fellowes he was engaged in teaching, for he did not come to the bar until 1835. As a teacher and a thorough scholar he had few equals. At the bar his scholarly attainments and classical learning enabled him to speak with ease and fluency, using the most appropriate language to present his views clearly, and everything he did marked him as a scholarly man. Besides his legal studies he was well up in the current literature of the day and able to read and converse correctly and fluently in French and Italian, and to some extent in German. As a scholar I have never known his superior at the bar.
He was a hard worker, thorough in the preparation of his cases, leaving no stone unturned either in their preparation or on their trial, and quick to see and avail himself of every expedient which would make for his client. As a special pleader his accuracy in the use of language often gave him an advantage over his adversary. In the examination of witnesses, though sometimes severe, he was hardly excelled by any of the profession then in practice. He was exceedingly tenacious of his rights, unyielding whenever he thought the right on his side; expecting himself to be met with every possible objection, he asked no favor of his opponent and granted none. With no sharp practices or narrow ways he prepared his cases and tried them without concessions on his part or asking any favor of his opponent.
He was not given to displays of eloquence, but he was a thoroughly good lawyer, making his points well. He was sometimes captious in the management of his cases, and in the excitement of the trial at times restive and reluctant to submit to the ruling of the court against him, and sometimes, to the trying of the patience of the judge, if not to the prejudice of his case, he would most earnestly protest against an adverse ruling. He was an honorable man in his practice and had a clientage which ought to have ensured him a competent fortune.
Mr. Fellowes has not been without his trials, misfortunes and disappointments. Visited by long and severe illness, at one time his professional labors were seriously interrupted. Just as an ample fortune was within his grasp, which would have secured to himself and family independence and ease and comfort for his declining years, his hopes were defeated. An engrossed contract, upon which his rights depended, was never signed, its execution being prevented by the sudden death of the other party the night previous to the date fixed for its completion. Yet he was never discouraged or disheartened. He had only to work on, and he did so, with patience, perseverance, and the most indomitable energy and endurance, keeping in the harness to the end of a long life, having the respect and confidence of all who employed or knew him, and the esteem of his early acquaintances and friends as a man of inflexible integrity and uprightness.
Speeches were also made by other members of the bar, and the resolutions were unanimously adopted.