[The following sketch of Mr. Watrous was prepared by Ex-Governor Henry B. Harrison of the New Haven County bar for the American Bar Association and will appear in vol. 12th of its reports.]
The time has come when no man whose life has ended can be long remembered in this busy world unless he has had a career of eminent distinction.
He whose chief claim upon public regard consists in the fact that he has faithfully devoted high natural gifts of intellect and moral character, combined with thorough education and training, to the discharge of the duties of any profession, however honorable, must soon be forgotten.
It is right however that when such a man has lived, and loyally done his work, and finished it, and taken his departure, some friend of his should say for him a word or two of commemoration.
GEORGE HENRY WATROUS, whose paternal ancestors were natives of Connecticut, was born in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania, April 26th, 1829. Soon afterwards his father's family removed to Conklin, New York, where his earlier years were spent. After preliminary training in the common schools and at Homer Academy and, for a short time, at Madison University, he entered Yale College, as a Junior, in 1850, and there graduated as one of the most brilliant members of the celebrated class of 1853. In 1855 he was admitted to the bar at New Haven, where his subsequent life was past. In 1857 he became a partner of Governor Dutton in the practice of law under the firm name of Dutton & Watrous. This association continued until 1861, when Gov. Dutton became Judge of the Supreme Court. Mr. Watrous remained in practice, conducting a very large and profitable business, until 1879, when he was chosen President of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company, of which corporation he had long been a director and the principal legal adviser and representative.
In 1857 he married Harriet J. Dutton, daughter of Gov. Dutton. She died in January, 1873, leaving two sons and one daughter. In 1874 he married Lily M. Graves, daughter of Hon. Henry B. Graves of Litchfield, who, with four children, survives him.
Connecticut has always had its full share of able lawyers. Among those of his own time Mr. Watrous gained a conspicuous position in the front rank. It was inevitable, from his whole "make-up," that he should do so. His intellect was acute, his industry was indefatigable, and his ambition was directed exclusively to success in his profession. His scholarly education and habits had highly developed in him a natural capacity for logical reasoning and for nice and critical distinctions, together with a natural taste for the expression of his thoughts in choice and strong English. Above all he was in hearty sympathy with the moral elements of the English Common Law. He shared its spirit of absolute justice, its hatred of fraud, its love of good faith in all things, its charitable temper, and its sound common sense. In fact his personal characteristics were to a great extent, morally, the characteristics of the law itself.
Devoted as he was to the law he was not indifferent to the duties of good citizenship in affairs disconnected with his profession. His political convictions were strong, and in the earlier part of his career he was zealous among a group of young men who were specially active in originally organizing the Republican party in Connecticut. But his partisanship had no bitterness in it. In 1864 he represented New Haven in the General Assembly of the state, and at various times he was elected to municipal offices in that city, but every office that came to him came unsought.
His administration of the presidency of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company was eminently successful. He concentrated upon the management of that great corporation all his energies, both of body and of mind. The company grew steadily in strength and prosperity along many lines of development, until at last the health of Mr. Watrous broke down in its service and he consequently resigned his office in 1887. After more than two years of retirement from all business he died July 5th, 1889.
This is a very imperfect sketch of the life of an able and learned lawyer, an honest man, an accomplished scholar and a most kind and generous and courteous gentleman.
At a meeting of the bar of New Haven County held on the occasion of the death of Mr. Watrous, the following resolutions were passed:
"The members of the Bar of New Haven County have heard with deep regret that Hon. George H. Watrous, who for more than thirty years has been one of their most esteemed leaders, has departed from this life.
"During his long and eminently successful career at the bar he won respect for his commanding ability, honor for his rare integrity, admiration for his brilliant discernment and sound judgment, and affection for his unselfish nature. They unite with the citizens of New Haven in sorrow at his comparatively early demise and tender their profound sympathy to his bereaved family."
REMARKS OF EX-GOV. CHARLES R. INGERSOLL UPON THE FOREGOING RESOLUTIONS.
MR. PRESIDENT.--The resolutions presented by Judge Harrison so fittingly express the common sentiment of this bar that I know it is unnecessary for me to add to them a single word. But yet I cannot withhold the expression of my personal sense of the loss which has been sustained by this bar and the community by the death of Mr. Watrous. For although he came to the bar some years after I did, we have, ever since his admission to practice, been more or less associated, in many ways, both within and without the court-room.
And, Mr. President, no one could be associated with George H. Watrous in any way, and particularly in his professional practice, without being very soon impressed by the force of his individuality and his personal worth. He was emphatically a strong man,--intellectually and morally a very strong man. As a lawyer, I think all of us who have been his contemporaries in practice will agree that he was unsurpassed at our bar in mental vigor and acumen. He was a learned lawyer also, and, as we all know, a most effective trier of cases, whether before court or jury. His vigorous grasp of a case was always tenaciously held until everything on his side was exhausted to his satisfaction. Perhaps this trait of perseverance led him at times to over-elaboration, but it never degenerated into weakness. Beyond all this he was, under all circumstances, a man of wholesome integrity,--of uncompromising integrity I might well say, in speaking of him professionally; for it was doubtless this high sense of the abstract right that made him so averse, as we generally found him to be, to the settlement of cases in which he felt that the right was on his side.
I think, Mr. President, that we generally regretted his leaving the bar for the presidency of the railroad company, great as was the compliment to his abilities implied by the offer of that responsible and honorable position. We regretted to lose him as an associate, and we regretted to lose him from the profession. And I believe I can truly add that most of us also regretted it on his own account, for he had at that time achieved a position at the bar which, apparently, assured to him many years of successful leadership.
I have thought that some such regret came to himself afterwards. And when he had laid down the burden of his railway office he seemed to be instinctively drawn to this court-room as the field of his life's ambition and pleasure. There was very much of sadness to me in those frequent visits here, when the busy actor became only the passive listener. I would have had him here in the fullness of his strength and activity. But he recalled the forest oak that had been transplanted in the years of its maturity. Very sad, too, have been the slowly advancing evidences of his failing life. And how solemnly has come the final shock Only this week, on Monday, I saw him at this table listening with interest to a case then under argument, and a day or two afterwards he spoke to me of the impressions he had received. A great change had, however, then come to him, and the contrast with the old days was most painful. But I could not have imagined, Mr. President, that before the week should close I should be here participating in this tribute to his honored life and memory.