Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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CHAUNCEY HOWARD, a member of the Hartford County bar, and for many years clerk of the Superior Court in that county, died at Hartford on the 12th of August, 1891, in the eightieth year of his age.
Mr. Howard was born in 1812, in Coventry in this state, where the family had resided for several generations and where he kept up a country home through life. He never married, and had but one brother, John Ripley Howard, who lived at the old home, a man of remarkable literary ability and strong mental powers, who was a great sufferer from heart disease and who died many years ago. To the care and comfort of this brother, while he lived, Mr. Howard gave constant thought, and devoted much of his time and means. No mother could ever watch over a child with more affection and constancy. At one time, though it had been the dream of his life to go abroad, he declined an offer made by a gentleman to send him to England on important business from unwillingness to leave his brother.
Mr. Howard graduated at Amherst College in 1835, and soon after came to Hartford and began the study of law in the office of Hon. William W. Ellsworth, afterwards governor of the state and a judge of the Supreme Court. He was admitted to the bar in 1839. In 1844 he was appointed clerk of the Superior Court, which office he held, with some interruptions prior to 1857, until 1873 when, against the wishes of the judges and the bar, he resigned the office, having held it during his last occupancy sixteen years and in all twenty-two years. With his resignation of this office his professional life ended, and he soon after retired to his country home, where he spent most of the remainder of his life. He was however elected to the lower branch of the General Assembly as a representative from Hartford in 1874, and from Coventry in 1877, and was a member of the state senate in 1875. From 1879 to 1881 he was state comptroller.
While clerk of the Superior Court he discharged the duties of the office to the greatest satisfaction of the profession and the public. His handwriting gave to his entries and records an almost artistic elegance, he was faithful and accurate in all his clerical work, and, in an office full of petty and perplexing details, was always patient, obliging and courteous.
But he was much more than a pains-taking, faithful, accurate and courteous official. He had sterling qualities of character. He was not merely a man of absolute integrity, but was of the highest moral tone, and held in abhorrence every professional or business act that fell below a high moral level. He was a perfect gentleman in appearance and in reality, tall and erect, with an elegant figure and a face of striking manly beauty, and much of that deferential courtesy which makes so large a part of the best manners. There was no assumption about him, no inclination to self-assertion, though he was quite positive in his opinions and in his views of men and measures. There was none of the proverbial American push and hurry about him, rather a disposition to be quiet and inactive, and this not from a tendency to indolence, but from a love of enjoying at his ease and in a leisurely way those things that he was specially fond of, mainly his books. He loved the society of his old friends, but was not fond of making new acquaintances; and in conversation, while brightly and intelligently and often very wittily responsive to what was said by others, especially in matters anecdote and humor, he rarely led the conversation by contributions from his own accumulated treasures. He was very fond of old English literature, and his memory was filled with the quaint and pithy sayings of the real or imaginary persons who figure in the English classics. Charles Lamb, whom he often quoted, never loitered with more affection among the old streets and inns of London than he would have done. This love of old things made him rather inhospitable towards new ideas. He was distrustful of the spirit of progress, conservative in his feelings, and adverse to change. Still he did not live wholly in the past, but enjoyed the best literature of our own time and watched with great interest the course of public affairs. In the latter he took little part, seeming to prefer that the world should pass him by and leave him outside of its whirl and sweep to enjoy his books and his quiet; and to the literature of his time he made no contribution of his own. He was indisposed to the effort which it would have required, fastidious, without ambition, somewhat self-distrustful, and greatly disinclined to submit himself to public criticism. But he has left behind him what is beyond price, the example of an exceptionally pure, upright, godly life, while with the rapidly lessening number of us who knew him well, there will abide the delightful memory of a most charming and lovable man.
Mr. Howard was, from his early residence in Hartford, a member of one of its Congregational churches. His religious convictions were decided, and dominant in his life.
At a meeting of the Hartford County bar, on the occasion of Mr. Howard's death, the following resolution, prepared by Hon. Nathaniel Shipman, Judge of the U. S. District Court, was presented by Mr. William Hammersley: -
"In following the praiseworthy custom of the bar of this county to publicly testify its appreciation of its honored dead, all can truthfully say that no one of our members received during his long life a larger share of our love and respect than did Chauncey Howard.
"He inherited the best traits of his typical New England ancestry, and was careful that in his life they received no detriment. Integrity was not merely a part, but it was the whole of his nature. It showed itself in an inability to entertain wrongness of motives or impurity of thought and speech, in tender faithfulness, in courtesy and dignity.
"Conservative by nature, he reluctantly welcomed novelties in creeds or platforms; he loved old friends and the ideas and principles of his youth. Critical in his literary tastes, he rejoiced in the books and poetry which ennoble English literature. He adorned the office which he long occupied, in the Superior Court of the county; he made the members of the bar and the bench his personal friends, and he filled with ability the positions of trust to which he was summoned by the state. He lived and he died in the comfort of a reasonable, religious and holy hope, and he has left behind him the memory of an unstained life.
"Resolved, That the state's attorney be requested to present to the Superior Court now in session the above minute and ask the court that the same may be entered on its records, and that the clerk of the bar be requested to cause a copy of the foregoing to be sent to Mr. Howard's family."
After reading the resolution Mr. Hammersley said: -
"It is difficult to add anything to the most attractive and just portrait which Judge Shipman has sketched in these few words, and I will attempt but a single suggestion. Mr. Howard possessed that highest and purest of all ambitions - the desire to do well whatever came to his hand to do; in his official duties and public trusts, in his occasional indulgences in literature, in the interchanges of friendship, in all matters private or public, trivial or weighty, he anxiously sought to act well. The more common ambition for accomplishing special results seemed to have little hold upon him.
"It is, after all, such lives that exert the most lasting and best influence - the influence of pure purpose and fair example that speaks with the tick of every passing second. In our own profession we specially cherish such a character; the outside world too often mistakes notoriety for ability, surprising results for permanent influence, but we know that the strength, the usefulness and the lasting power of the profession of the law depends upon the pure integrity, the daily and hourly faithfulness, of its members; and so it is, that the character we love to honor and keep fresh in memory as a standard gauge for our daily work was well illustrated by the life of Chauncey Howard."
Mr. Henry C. Robinson then spoke upon the resolution as follows: -
"The younger members of the bar, who never saw Mr. Howard qualify a jury, will never know what a picturesque and impressive incident of our procedure they have missed. His athletic figure, his massive, well balanced head, his open breadth of brow, his piercing eyes, beaming with the lightning of perception and the twinkling of humor and the glistening of tenderness, his voice as full of elocution as it was empty of bombast, and, in all his motions and gestures, a certain modest courtliness, a sense of the dignities and proprieties of his office which needed no symbol of uniform or insignia, return to the thoughts of some of us to-day like the memory of a lost sunset.
"Nor was it there alone that Mr. Howard fulfilled the measure of an ideal clerk of a highest court. His records and dockets were as clear and clean as a publisher's `edition of luxury.' His office manners were genial and courteous. And what a treasury of useful and delightful information he always opened to inquiry and to companionship! It was not deficient in the facts of history and the figures of statistics, but it contained much more. His mind seemed to be a chamber of reminiscence of the great and good, and of the witty and brilliant things of bench and bar, whose walls were hung with portraits of judges and advocates and counsellors whom he had known, and which echoed the fine thoughts and notable sayings which he had collected, and which he called out, as from a phonograph, in the key and cadence of the voices of oratory, which first winged them to his ear and soul. So much for our loved friend as an officer of this venerable and honorable court.
But what an atmosphere of purity, integrity and sincerity his personal character brought to all who knew him! We have had, we have, other men who are pure, sincere and honest to the last degree. We have honored them, we will honor them. But Mr. Howard in these supreme virtues was unique. His soul held them in solution with such delicacy and modesty and refinement as seldom are found in human character. And how gentle and gracious and kind and considerate he was! I often recall the words of one who is very dear to me, now ninety years of age, with unabated intellect, whose attachment to Mr. Howard was active until his death, `I feel sorry for the woman whom Chauncey Howard did not marry.' What more complete eulogy upon a man's character could discriminating womanhood make.
"His life was a story of unselfishness, and, in many of its chapters, of saintly ministrations. But under all his gentleness and modesty Mr. Howard always carried a heart full of bravery and courage and even stored with aggressiveness and combativeness for proper subjects. The blood of old England and New England heroes ran in his veins. Mr. Howard was a reverent man. He honored, without servility or obsequiousness, authority and reasonable tradition and the wisdom of the great and good of the ages. He took delight in clearing gathered mosses from old headstones. His philosophy, in jurisprudence, in statesmanship and in religion, was conservative. He was apprehensive and even timid in presence of new discoveries and new departures, but he was full of broad sympathy, and had no harbor in his mind for dogmatism nor in his heart for persecution. He was called to important offices in the service of the state, but he offered no such service until he was called.
"His culture was thorough and elegant. His studies in literature and eloquence and philosophy were with authors who are already and certainly enrolled as classic. His letters and notes were models, glowing with fine sentiment and phrased in choice words. He was a fine type of New England manhood and New England culture.As we are gathered here at a double memorial meeting and think of Howard and Barbour and Jones, whom we have so lately carried in quick succession to the grave, I am reminded of one of Mr. Howard's favorite quotations, and I can almost hear him repeat it now in clear and impressive voice. It is a part of the opinion familiar to you of Lord Chief Justice Crew, in the DeVere case, tried in the time of the first Charles and involving the fortunes of the house of DeVere: `And yet time hath his revolutions, there must be a period and an end of all temporal things, finis rerum, an end of names, and whatsoever is terrene. And why not of DeVere? For where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. And yet let the name and dignity of DeVere stand so long as it please God!' "
The resolution was remarked upon by some other members of the bar and was unanimously passed.