Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 62, page(s) 607-614

OBITUARY SKETCH OF SAMUEL L. WARNER

Samuel Larkin Warner was born at Wethersfield, in this state, on the 14th of June, 1828, and died at Middletown, where he had for many years resided, on the 6th of February, 1893. His ancestors on both sides were among the first settlers of Boston and Ipswich, Massachusetts, and his father's family sprang directly from the sturdy founders of his native Wethersfield.

In his youth he attended the common schools of Wethersfield, and afterwards completed his home studies at the academy in that town. After this he conducted a common school for four years. At the termination of his career as a school-master, and about the time he had attained his majority, he determined to adopt the law as his profession. He commenced his legal studies in the office of William N. Matson, Esq., at Hartford. After remaining there some time, closely and thoroughly applying himself to the study of legal principles, he entered the Yale law school, and afterwards completed his course of study at Harvard law school. He was admitted to the bar in Boston, in 1854, and then returned to Hartford, intending to commence the practice of law in that city. But Governor Pond, then recently elected, proposed the make him his executive secretary, and he accepted the office. This was a responsible and honorable position for so young a man but was wisely bestowed as the result showed, for young Warner prosecuted the duties of the office with diligence, thoroughness and ability, receiving the commendation of the leading men of that time. At the close of Gov. Pond's administration he removed to Portland and commenced the practice of law in that town, where he soon secured a successful and lucrative practice. At this time he took quite an interest in politics, and by study and observation became well posted upon public questions. In 1858 he was chosen to represent the town of Portland in the state legislature.

As his practice increased his reputation as a painstaking and acute lawyer grew proportionately in Middlesex County, and he soon found it necessary, in order to accommodate his growing practice, to establish himself in the city of Middletown. Here he secured a large clientage and a reputation as a successful practitioner and jury lawyer. He soon attained a prominence in the courts of the state, where he contended against many eminent lawyers, holding his own, and often with excellent success.

In 1852 he was elected mayor of Middletown. He was ambitious to increase the popularity of his adopted city in every direction, and he applied himself earnestly to the task. It was mainly through his efforts that the splendid system of the public water supply and sewerage was established there. All this time he took a deep interest in politics and at the breaking out of the civil war, though a zealous democrat before this period, he arrayed himself on the side of the federal union. First, a union democrat, he soon became an ardent republican. His prominence in public affairs soon drew to him the voters in that part of the state, and in 1862 he was nominated for Congress against the late Gov. English, a strong and popular man in the district, and was defeated. In 1864 he was again nominated, and now, just at the close of the war, and upon the successes of the federal arms, he was elected by Congress by a handsome majority. His term in Congress was marked by the close attention to his duty, and by enthusiastic and efficient support of the republican administration. He was a warm supporter and great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and at the latter's second nomination for the presidency he supported him as a delegate at the national convention.

At the centennial celebration of Middletown, held on July 14th, 1884, by invitation of the committee appointed for that purpose, he delivered an oration. It was an able presentation of historical information connected with the event.

After the close of his congressional career, although he always took a deep interest in political affairs, he turned his attention once more to his professional duties.

Mr. Warner was philanthropic in his nature; a lover of his fellow men, he hated slavery and oppression; and it was this sentiment that drove him from his old party and into the ranks of the union democrats just previous to the breaking out of the civil war. While he was an earnest student of public questions and dipped deep into the theories of political economy, he took a great interest in all measures pertaining to local affairs in his own town, county and state. He was foremost as an adviser and participant in all progressive movements looking to the improvement of the moral and material welfare of his own community.

As a lawyer he was studious and industrious and thorough in his investigation of legal principles and precedents. He was especially successful as an advocate in the trial of jury causes, and in the court of last resort, where he argued many cases of importance, his briefs were prepared with great care and thoroughness and his arguments were able and weighty. He had a profound love for his profession and always exhibited an unwavering devotion to the interests of his clients. He was invariably kind, courteous and accommodating in his treatment of his brethren at the bar, and this trait of his character was especially noteworthy in his conduct towards the younger members of the profession.

Mr. Warner was married in 1855 to Mary E., daughter of John Harris Esq., of Norwich, Conn. By this marriage he had two sons, Harris, born in 1858, and Charles Winthrop, born in 1863.

At a special session of the Superior Court called for the purpose and held at Middletown, February 13th, 1893, at which Judge Silas A. Robinson, himself a resident of Middletown, presided, appropriate resolutions expressive of the affectionate respect and high esteem in which he was held by his professional brethren were presented to the court by William T. Elmer, Esq., state attorney; upon which Mr. Elmer addressed the court as follows:

REMARKS OF MR. ELMER.

Before taking up the consideration for final disposition of these resolutions, your Honor, I would submit a few remarks with reference to the death of our brother. This is hardly the time or place for forensic display, but what we have to humbly offer to-day over his grave must be tributes moved rather by the heart than by the head. It would argue him unknown to his brother members of the bar who knew him in his career so well, and which is now so familiar to the public, if I should enter into elaborate biographical details. We all know how he was the product of the good soil of New England, and the commonwealth of our dear state; he was born in a neighboring town, he received a good education in his youth, and then later, that sharp and healthy discipline which every young man gets who undertakes his own education, the experience of the country school teacher. We know, also, how after that he drilled in the law in two different law schools, one in this state, and one in Massachusetts; how, after that, he went to Hartford, and in the office of an eminent lawyer there prepared for admission to the bar, and was there admitted. Then afterwards, going to Portland, he became a practitioner there, then to Middletown, and you are all familiar with his long and successful career as an attorney here, in all our courts, state and federal. You also know how he was elected to Congress, and his association with leading statesmen; how in this community, not only as a lawyer but as a citizen, he was one of the best advisors in all matters which pertain to improvements for the benefit of the city; how it was his intelligence and push and determination that established one of our greatest improvements, which, though then considered by many a useless luxury, has become a necessity and blessing to-day. All these things are familiar, I believe, to every member of this bar. As the resolutions say, your Honor, his devotion to his clients and his clients' interests, through all phases, I may add, of legal warfare, in advance or retreat, in storm or sunshine, was knightly in its character. The whole case was absorbed in his personality; so he stood the client himself, until every redoubt was captured and every obstacle overcome. With untiring watchfulness, with inexhaustible perseverance, with terrible earnestness, never looking back over his shoulder, he advanced when many faint-hearted dropped by the wayside. Though the two characters were totally unlike in many respects, as it was said of the late Martin Welles (of the same birthplace, by the way, and he an eminent lawyer in his day,) Mr. Warner never yielded, never struck his flag, until the case was pushed to that point beyond which there was no further remedy in law or equity, and then yielded gracefully, which never could be said of the late Mr. Welles. Though he won oftener than he lost, if the latter fate befell his client he could rest assured that every resource known to the law had been exhausted. He was a powerful advocate, and had many winning ways with the jury; but woe to the luckless man who trifled with him in cross-examination. The tide of his wonderful earnestness and powerful analysis in jury trials often carried the ordinary juror off his feet, and swept him into Mr. Warner's camp before he recovered his reason. He always preferred a fair field, and an open enemy, a trial upon its merits, to the pitfalls and briary mazes of technicalities and special pleading. While he was an unrelenting foe in professional contests, he nursed no bitterness afterwards; he cherished (I speak advisedly when I say cherished) no petty resentments. When the fight was over, whether he lost or won, his heart was too tender to plan or nourish revenges. It was easy to him to forgive and forget. This was the true nobility of his soul. It was my fortune for a quarter of a century to be associated with him or arrayed against him in the trial and management of many causes, and no word of acrimony ever passed between us outside of these rooms. I never asked of him a favor but, if in his power, it was freely conferred; and when once his hand was given, no more loyal friend lived on earth. The satisfaction of having helped a friend seemed to him to be reward enough for the favor conferred. As counselor in all important matters his advice was only given after diligent investigation and mature deliberation, and it was given as freely and as conscientiously to the young lawyer, only to him it was without money and without price. As was said of another eminent practitioner, now also gone, "with rare industry, with enthusiasm in his profession, with untiring devotion to the interests committed to his care, and with an unusual knowledge of men and tact in the management of causes, he united a high sense of professional honor and a firm allegiance to moral duty. He gained and retained to a remarkable degree the confidence of his clients, and even when the result of the litigation was less favorable then they had hoped, they were never disposed to attribute it to any failure of judgment, relaxation of effort, or want of ability on his part." He loved the law, and the logic involved in its investigation. To his profession he was devotedly attached. He loved its science, its eloquence, and its wit. As was said of the late Governor Hubbard, "he was proud of its history, of its contributions to philosophy and literature, of its manifold struggles in defense of human rights and assaults upon human wrongs." He loved his profession with the zeal of enthusiasm and the loyalty of chivalry. He gave to his client the best of his brain, the best of his experience, the best of his vital energy and of his waning health, even unto the door of death. It was my fortune to be associated with him in the last case he ever tried in this court, and one of the most important ever presented here, exciting great public interest; and when I congratulated him upon the survival of his old time energy and legal acumen, he said sadly-- "I think I shall not last until the end." Every man knows his own heart. He knew better than we, could see with clearer sight the clouds of decline that were settling slowly down upon his life; but he worked on until he realized his last triumph in court. But words, your Honor, will not add to his worth. We bow to the Almighty decree and to the fate that must come to us all. It will be well with us if, at the end, it can be said that our life work was so well finished. And over his grave, brethren, let us renew our allegiance to our noble profession and our loyalty to each other.

Other addresses were made by Messrs. A. B. Calef, A. W. Bacon, W. U. Pearne, D. W. Northrop, M. E. Culver, and D. J. Donahue.

Judge Robinson responded as follows: --

REMARKS OF JUDGE ROBINSON.

Does any other member of the bar desire to speak on this motion? If not, I wish to say a few words with reference to this matter and to our brother.

To say that in the death of our Brother Warner the bar of the state has met with a great loss, expresses but weakly my feelings. The bar of this county, to a man, I think, feels this loss more sensibly than they can express. It seems but yesterday that we saw him in this room, earnest, active and vigilant in the cause of a client. Our brother died, so to speak, with the harness on. I think he preferred it so; with the restless activity of mind which he possessed, a life of enforced idleness or a lingering death, would have been well nigh intolerable. He has gone direct from the activities of his profession into the rest which eternity affords. I think he had almost no doubt as to the future life. He always talked of it calmly, and never believed, at least in later years, that the growth and development of the human mind, and soul ceased with this existence. He believed that the present was but a preparatory school for the grander education to begin at death; and always said that he had no fear of the change. His faith in the wisdom and goodness of God was profound.

I think those who knew him best admired him most. No one who knew him well could retain anything but kindness for him. He had the frank, impulsive nature and sympathies of a boy, with the strong will and the strong intellect of a man. In many respects Brother Warner was a remarkable man. He came of an ancestry of hard sense; people who thought, and thought seriously; people who read and remembered; people to whom it was not the sole problem of life how to be fed and clothed; people who believed in character and character-building; an ancestry of hard, rugged sense, who believed in work and the benefits of work more than in the inspiration of genius. Born and bred in a New England atmosphere, with the education of the common school, the academy, and the law school, he, a boy from a farmer's home, rose to an enviable position at the bar of the state. Brother Warner was one of the best fruits of such an ancestry. Our friend had exceedingly bright talents, but he was a tremendous worker withal. He had a genius for work. He seemed to let go of work when obliged to, and take it up again with a facility that to me was astonishing. It seemed as if in the interim, whatever he may have been about, the unfinished work was carried right along in his mind. It seemed as if it never left him. He thoroughly believed in work, and the efficiency of work; and, as a worker, as an industrious, thorough preparer of cases, he has through his entire career been an example for the whole bar. No man ever sat down at the counsel table to try a cause with Mr. Warner for his antagonist who did not appreciate this, and who did not arise from it with a profound respect for his sagacity, his quickness, his learning, and his masterful strength. He was a hard antagonist, but he was a generous one. No one ever knew him to take a mean advantage of his opponent.

He was one of the most loyal men to his clients that I ever knew. So great was his sense of nearness to them that he disliked to hear them lightly spoken of as to matters even outside of a case. His clients he regarded as his friends, not to be spoken of in uncomplimentary terms in his presence without some protest from him. His clients rarely ever forsook him for anyone else. As a rule, once his client, always his client. He served to bind his client to him. He was a legal adviser who habitually inspired confidence. He was a courageous man, and an astute lawyer, and no one who advised with him could fail to see it. His great power as an advocate has for years been conceded by the bench and the bar of the state. He was, I think, you will all agree with me, facile princeps at the bar of this county, and the number of his equals in the whole state can easily be computed. When I was at the bar, I was with him in a great many cases as associate counsel, and I can say that he was always a most agreeable associate. He never concealed his ideas from his associate; his ideas were common property in the case, to be made the best possible use of to accomplish a successful result. No party jealousy of an associate ever entered his mind; and he always prompt and quick to give an associate credit for what was due him on the score of ideas. He never seemed to care whose idea or point won the case, so long as the case was won. He was always a strong, manly generous companion in arms; and I count among some of the pleasantest, most profitable, and instructive days of my professional life, those that I spent by his side in legal contests that took place in this county.

He was invariably kind to the young men in the profession. He seemed never to have forgotten his own timidity and sense of weakness as a young and inexperienced advocate, and it seemed to give him pleasure to offer encouragement to younger men. Many words of encouragement he has spoken to me. I remember with what trepidation I approached my first argument in the Supreme Court of this state. He had prepared his printed brief, and something occurred that took his associate out of the case, and he came in the office one morning and said--"You will have to argue this case for me." I said--"I can't do it Mr. Warner; I know nothing of the case. The facts are voluminous, and the law questions I am not familiar with." I said--"Do you think I can argue it?" "Certainly you can," he said. "There is nothing in the case that need cause you to hesitate." I looked at the brief, and looked through it, and I thought when I had completed the examination that there was a great deal to make me hesitate; but I thought, under the circumstances, I should be a great coward if I did not try to do what he seemed to think I could do; and so I went at the work of preparing a brief for myself to speak from. I argued the case; how I argued it I don't know. I managed to get through it in some shape; but the encouragement of his words, and the stimulus of such an experience, I had the greatest reason to be thankful for; and he paid me munificently for the work which I did; and he did this with great apparent pleasure. Such was his generosity and such his practical encouragement to one young man of little experience. And I am not the only one that he has helped and encouraged. He made no parade about it; he sounded no trumpet when he did it.

Our brother was also one of the most generous men towards the weaknesses and faults of those of our profession. He was loyal to the profession. If any one spoke of the faults or weaknesses of a brother lawyer he would say-- "Who has not his faults and weaknesses? I have mine. We must take men as we find them. There is good in everybody, if we get close to them and get to know them well." He tried to think well of his brethren and threw the mantle of charity over their shortcomings. I think I never knew a man whose sympathies responded so quickly to the voice of one oppressed or in suffering as his did; and his defense of such was always vigorous; and his assistance, pecuniary or otherwise, on such occasions, was rendered in such a way as to show that what he did was a real pleasure to him. Ten years and more we sat at the same desk, and in the same office, and I never knew him to refuse to espouse the cause of a man or woman because they lacked means to pay him.

No man that I ever knew was a better companion. He had a fund of humor and sincere good feeling that always made him enjoyable socially. He had a store of general information that always made him an interesting and instructive talker. His extensive reading, and his faculty for getting and retaining knowledge upon a great variety of subjects, and his facility in imparting it, made him a most desirable companion. His society was not shunned by the bar, but, on the contrary, was courted; and when he was a member of any little circle of lawyers, young or old, or both, whether gathered by accident or by invention, rarely did any one take his departure so long as Brother Warner remained. He was the life of such gatherings. He was not commonplace in his ideas or in his mode of expressing them. He always felt that he was a learner, and had the intellectual humility of a real learner; he was both a learner and a teacher; but what he said on such occasion was never said with air of an oracle, but as one friend would talk with another about something he had found which he wanted the other also to know and to enjoy the benefit of.

There were very many delightful traits in our brother's character; much in his life and habits worthy of admiration; much that it would be well for us all to follow; much that we can remember with profit and satisfaction; much the forgetting of which would make us losers. Much more could be said, and better than I can say it, of our brother's character. I have said but a little of what I feel; but what I have uttered has been prompted by a sincere affection, and comes from an intimate acquaintance with him of many years.

Gentlemen, the court heartily concurs in the set of resolutions presented, and hereby orders that they be entered by the clerk upon the records of this court, and made a part thereof.