Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE AMBITIOUS MAN.

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps its self,
And falls on the other side.'

MACBETH.

WERE all the crowns, and columns, and arches, in time past awarded to successful ambition, to be multiplied one hundred fold, they would hardly equal the hopes which have been blasted, and hearts broken in the winning of them. Disease has withered, and accident and self-destruction have found their victims, and men have seen the destroying messenger. But all the while ambition has been decoying us, and stimulating our lower energies, and its only records are here and there a wrinkled and care-laden brow, or an inscription on a tombstone. It goes abroad flaunting and dazzling; its solitary strivings, its heart-burnings, and its down-trampling arts are unobserved within the inner sanctuary.

My friend, Charles Egerton, was a lawyer who misused his profession; he degraded it into a means of political preferment. At college he was one of the mildest fellows in the world — winning respect by mental superiority, and retaining it by a thousand natural kindnesses. I used to admire his love for his mother, who was a widow, and had met with such a series of domestic losses, that 'the balance of her thoughts' already inclined to another world.'

In conformity with her wishes, he was at first disposed to the ministry. By degrees, however, he proposed to himself a wider field a place among the names that never die ! He might fail, but he must strive to influence the world. During all these changes, his filial affection never cooled. 'If my parent were not a widow,' he used to say, ' and her love to me her last tie to earth, I would act for myself, and the time should arrive when she might be proud indeed of her son !'

Egerton had one more inducement to humble and patient exertion. Months and years of intercourse had attached him to one of the most lovely spirits I have ever known. Anna Carlton a gentle creature, who had never seen the dazzling flatteries of what is termed fashionable life - was at first pleased with his boyish preference; as youth changed to womanhood, she found her regard rather increased. For a while, she believed her interest in his struggle, and her triumphs in his success, to be no more than friendly; and he said he was no gladder to meet her bright eyes and modest bow, than he should have been that of any other pretty damsel. Both were mistaken, and both at last perceived their mistake. If their attachment was not formally acknowledged, it was nevertheless warm,

and

apparently indestructible.

Anna was an humble being; unambitious to attract but by her lovely temper; always engaged, and always postponing herself to her friends. She had that thorough self-devotion, that cheerful forgiveness, which mark woman only. In warmer days I used to fancy, that her character was in no single point deficient; I suppose she had failings, but only because she was human. Her mother died wheu she was in her third year, and Anna had been a kind of soothing spirit to a capricious father; at length her gentle influence failed, he commended her to the care of friends and gave himself to temptation. She lived at times with the Egertons, and then the widow's home was bright and gladsome.

Anna Carlton was nearly eighteen when Egerton resolved to relinquish theology for a more ambitious calling. I often wish every thing could be as it was in those days; ambition came, and in its train strugglings, art, coldness. But I have no desire to detail more of my old friend's life — nor have I need. He is dead, and by his wish, expressed in his closing hours, several ms, records have been put into my hands ; parts of which I have thought it no breach of confidence to extract. I have forborne to make alterations in them, leaving the circumstances given above, to explain a rather abrupt narrative, and apologize for the tone of disappointment and repining occasionally perceptible. These desultory passages shall be called

[blocks in formation]

the grasp.

6

• A dark eye made me a politician. I blush to confess it. It carries me back to years and feelings from which I seldom draw the curtain. Professional eminence, which I used to covet, now that I am leaving the scene, crumbles to dust in

I recollect my first case; events, coincidences connected with it cannot be forgotten.

• My mother, who was a widow, wished me to prepare for the church. I suppose that wish was deeper in her heart than any

other ; but she was too mild a being to restrain by ambitious aspirations. I told her that a wider field would afford me eminence, and her, and a young friend whom she loved, pecuniary independence.

. When she consented to my relinquishing her favorite profession, a tear was on her cheek.

My son, always recollect,' said she, taking my hand more affectionately than it has ever been grasped since, ' that seventy years are short enough for God's service ; fame is exacting, and if you are its devotee, death may overtake you unprepared. Never forget the claims of another, in the struggles and honors of this world ; be, for my sake, a good man.'

'I would relinquish every attainment to hear that mild counsel again. I thought at the time I would not forget the scene, were temptations never so many,

. Anna Carlton was standing by, and looking steadily in my face ; I assured them that no professional allurements should trample upon conscientiousness, inasmuch as I would never engage in a cause, unless truth were on my side. The widow smiled, and my last evening at home flew away speedily and pleasantly. Anna read to us from one of the English poets, and I remember thinking how public honors fell into shadow, beside her lovely temper; and her exquisitely refined mind. “Your profession,' said she will strengthen and sharpen your powers, let it not circumscribe them. They should be farther reaching than this world. The next morning I hurried to town, to commence my reading.

'Reverencing, as all involuntarily do, great intellectual effort, for a time I was enraptured with the minds who had elevated my profession. I revelled in the stores of knowledge to which I had access. But I did not forget those whom I loved, and my visits at home were frequent and delightful. As the science opened before me, I began to rejoice that I was not bound to a single parish, and pictured to myself the honors and the influence for which I was a candidate. Those were boyish days; I never realized my anticipations.

• Young men learn bitterly their lessons of humility; and to one ridiculously fancying, as I did, that his services could be really an acquisition to the legal profession, the weeks and months of idleness and unfulfilled expectation which followed the hanging out of my name, were unspeakably provoking. I went regularly to my office to do little nothings. Never was a fire so faithfully replenished, never were books so often put in order, and chairs and tables so scrupulously arranged ; and never was a poor fellow more disappointed. I adhered, however, to my resolution of not compromising with high principle for the sake of emolument; and several petty cases, which I might have obtained, fell into the hands of an old college acquaintance, and to tell the truth, a rival withal. I had hoped our proximity was to have ended at the university, but I soon found him my neighbor now, as in old times. He was a man of more cunning address, more affability, as people are pleased to term it.

These are slight matters in themselves, but they bring back forcibly those days, and account for feelings and conduct of later life. In half a year, not above six charges stood on my book ; these were written very legibly and elegantly, but I was ashamed to put so few into a collector's hands, and so let them pass. Were I to live those years again, I should not take such neglect to heart; but then I was vexed, and for many weeks did not visit my mother, who wore, kind soul! the same refreshing smile, whether darkness or sunshine were abroad.

One Saturday morning I was sitting with several old friends in my office, cursing in my heart a profession which I lauded to them, when a stout, middle-aged gentleman, with a bundle of papers under his arm, desired to speak with me. I asked him to be seated, coolly as I could, remarked that there was a prospect of a storm.

. We are strangers, Sir,' said he,' but, although the affair will come to a public trial, for delicate reasons I shall prefer your services to those of my usual barrister.'

'I know my eyes brightened, despite my attempts to take this as a matter of course. The bundle was soon opened, and the stranger, turning over paper after paper, stated to me the principles of the proceeding. 'I am the lawful executor,' he remarked, and then added, with a singular sternness in his glance, and she, ungrateful for a thousand favors, would extort my own just inheritance.

• We conned over the documents a while longer in silence. There was a will, and a codicil, a report of an old trial, several grants of real estate, and eight or ten private letters. After I had gained a general knowledge of the grounds of the suit - which I foresaw would be of some moment the middle-aged man bade me good morning. I trust that all exertions will be made, Sir,' said he, and all the fidelity used on your part, which are to be expected from a man of honor. Of your ability, allow me to say, I do not doubt.' I bowed to the compliment, and we parted.

2

and as

VOL. XII.

'In more successful days, I have wondered at the joy with which I hailed this first professional engagement. I fancied the renown and pecuniary ease to which it might lead; I thought of providing for the widow and Anna; re-crossing my room for the hundredth time, and almost clapping my hands for joy.

My client, it appeared, was executor of an estate, to which the children of his sister, a widow, laid certain claims, by right of their father. The suit concerned some valuable landed property, which it was contended, by reason of previous sales, as well as an obscurity in the testamentary dispositions, formed a part of their inheritance. The executor had placed innumerable instruments before me, but I confess I thought his grounds unsubstantial; the objections, to use a term of our trade, were wire-drawn. However, the more compliment to my ingenuity, thought I, bending hour after hour over torn letters, and formal documents, and sketching every favorable view of the case.

* Evening was just closing in, when I received a short letter from my mother. She was sorry another week had elapsed without my visiting the homestead, and hoped I should never find a heartier welcome elsewhere. Her health was worse than it had been, although Anna Carlton was a kind nurse, etc., etc.

'I never expected to greet coldly a letter from my mother; but there was something so mild in all this, it brought back the last evening at home, which all at once contrasted strangely with the business I had undertaken. 'Oh!I exclaimed involuntarily, 'I have broken that foolish promise, that silly resolution, about keeping truth on my side !'

• Taking up the papers again, I tried to laugh the matter off; but the cob-web I had been weaving, I no longer dared tread upon. And yet,' thought I, 'I have been slaving and starving six months ; shall I lose this opportunity, to humor an over-anxious mother, and a young creature who really is a good deal of a prude!' I reflected on my neighbor's success, and how my friends, who had heard the offer, would wonder at my refusal, and then put the letter hastily away; resolved, however, to see home the next day.

• The widow, leaning on the arm of Anna Carlton, was just coming out of afternoon service, as I passed by the village church. She was quite pale, but the mother's smile still sat upon her features. As I gave her my arm, I said I had been considerably employed, and even could now remain but a day with her; engagements required my return. Do not forget,' said Anna Carlton, 'what we owe to our first benefactors.'

• I could have borne that speech once, but now there was something of freedom in it, which rather displeased me. The sensitive creature half suspected it, and the color mounted to her cheek in an instant. It is sad enough, when the intercourse of familiar friends decays at the core, but continues fair upon the surface! Strip friendship of its frankness, and a skeleton will haunt you. I was sorry to have hurt Anna's feelings, and yet somehow she did not appear so fine a girl as before I had left home; she was a little too primitive, I fancied, for convenience.

· When the time came, I was reluctant to return; an hundred petty kindnesses, which can only come from a son's hands, had been left undone. The widow parted from me, I imagined, rather anxiously, and reproachfully. Anna said if it was best to go, not a word was to be said. She spoke with more reserve than in old times.

'I should remark, that about this time the struggles between the political parties of Conservatives and Reformists were very strong. Society was beginning to be marked with the distinction. Some of the younger men sided with their fathers; others attached themselves to one faction or another, as fancy or interest dictated. My early days had glided away in retirement, and when I commenced a town life, my choice was to be made. I looked about me, and happening to gain the friendship of several distinguished Conservatives, was not long in declaring myself a warm advocate of their party doctrines. Several anonymous papers which I had compiled, attracted attention, and a few political acquaintances spoke of me as about to be a useful man. Art, too, was used, where I did not suspect it.

One of the most influential of the Conservative party was the judge, before whom our all-important cause was to be argued; a man whom many respected, but few loved or understood. Haughty and yet condescending; wary and winning; a sage in his profession; a man of consummate art in private intercourse, and a skilful politician, I was anxious to increase his favorable opinion of me. Ambi. tion, like the poor artizan striving to weave the dewy cob-webs, grasps every hope, be it never so unsubstantial.

"When the day of the trial came,varied and violent emotions pressed upon me.

I had spent the previous night in reviewing the documents in my possession - preparing my argument, and arranging our testimony. And yet, something continually cast a shadow in my way. My thoughts strayed homeward; I kept thinking of my late visit, and in the middle of an argument, the smile, or form, or some expression of my mother, or Anna Carlton, would intrude itself upon

When morning came, and my client called to hope all was right, I was sadly out of spirits.

The court-room was nearly full; some curiosity, others custom, and others interest, had brought thither. Judge Lynde complimented me elegantly and coldly; spoke of our political prospects, and said his hopes were much raised touching my coming effort. I had known the magistrate so little, that such condescension surprised and embarrassed me. There was one individual among the witnesses for the prosecution, whom I looked upon with considerable interest. She bat in plain black apparel, with her countenance quite concealed; I could not refrain conjuring up troublesome fancies concerning her. Opposite me was my old college rival, Robert Fleming, who congratulated me on so favorable an opportunity of distinction. I watched his eye

- but it was very calm, and I bowed a return of his good wishes. Many others whom I knew, were present, and the occasion was more embarrassing even than I had anticipated.

After the opening counsel had finished, witnesses were sum

me.

« PreviousContinue »