men of this order. It appears that the crime alleged against
There was no trace of meanness or selfishness in his disposition.
To be sure, Otis's admitted superiority over his legal associates and the natural impetuosity of his nature sometimes made him excessively dogmatic, and his manner though courteous even to a fineness towards those whom he liked was imperious and even unguarded toward his political enemies. At one time, having cited Dormat (the noted French jurist, 1625-1696, author of "The Civil Laws in their Natural Order," 1689) in the course of an argument, Governor Bernard inquired "who Dormat was." Otis answered that "he was a very distinguished civilian, and not the less an authority for being unknown to your excellency." Yet notice the high-minded courtesy exhibited in the following incident: When Charles Lee was in command of the left wing of the army with his headquarters at Winter Hill, in what is now Somerville, he refused to have an interview and conference with his old friend Burgoyne, then lately arrived in Boston, looking toward the restoration of an amicable understanding between the colonies and the mother country. Four months later, a letter came from the Old World containing a warning that Lee was not a man of trustworthy character. Otis was at that time the executive head of the provisional government which had been formed in Massachusetts, during one of the last of his lucid intervals. On behalf of the government he sent a letter to Lee, quite touching for its fairminded simplicity. The council had come into possesssion of a letter from Ireland making very unfavorable mention of Lee. It produced no impression upon the council. "On the contrary," says Otis, "we are at a loss to know which is the highest evidence of your virtues--the greatness and number of your friends, or the malice and envy of your foes." This was a most delicate and effective way of offering good advice.
When he had suffered so cruelly at the hands of Commissioner Robinson and his companions at the British Coffee House, and had been awarded damages by the court, Otis's high spirit revolted at the idea of receiving pecuniary compensation for a personal insult; and Robinson's release drawn up by Otis himself is to be found in the files of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, along with Robinson's written acknowledgment and apology.
Next to his impetuous devotion to the true relations of things, the source of Otis's power lay in his adequate preparation for the life of an advocate. Bred to the law at a time long before the pathway had been smoothed by the multiplication of elementary works and other modern improvements, he yet fully mastered that abstruse science, which perhaps does more to quicken and invigorate the understanding than many of the other kinds of learning put together. As a sufficient foundation for his later legal studies he had pursued at Harvard, the foremost college in the colonies, not only the regular undergraduate classical course, but also the three years of work required for the Master's degree. Moreover, in conformity with his views on the necessity of a generous and comprehensive culture of the mind as a means of success at the bar, or in any professional career, Otis did not plunge at once from his collegiate courses into the routine of the legal office; but allowed himself two years of self-directed general study with a view toward further disciplining his mind and widening his information. The subjects thus pursued and the general culture which he acquired served to open and to liberalize his mind in nearly the same proportion as the assiduous study of the law was next to invigorate and quicken it. In conversation with his brother he remarked, "that Blackstone's Commentaries would have saved him seven years' labor pouring over and delving in black letter." He appears to have formed a very correct judgment respecting the nature of professional education and the best means of mastering its abstruse details. He constantly inculcated upon the young men who came to study in his office the maxim, "that a lawyer ought never to be without a volume of natural or public law, or moral philosophy, on his table or in his pocket."
After two years of practice in Plymouth, he removed to Boston (1750), where he found the larger field which was demanded by his superior training and abilities; and he very soon rose to the front rank of his profession.
The regard which he entertained for his master in the law is well shown by his conduct as the opposing advocate during the hearing on the Writs of Assistance, when Otis having resigned his post of Advocate-General of the Province in order to champion the people's cause, the vacancy was filled by the appointment of Gridley. Otis held the character and abilities of his former teacher in very high respect, and allowed this differential feeling to appear throughout the trial. "It was," says John Adams, who was present on this occasion, and from whom nearly all the details of the course of this affair are derived, "it was a moral spectacle more affecting to me than any I have ever seen upon the stage, to observe a pupil treating his master with all the deference, respect, esteem, and affection of a son to a father, and that without the least affectation; while he baffled and confounded all his authorities, confuted all his arguments, and reduced him to silence." Nor was a suitable return wanting on the part of Mr. Gridley, who "seemed to me to exult inwardly at the glory and triumph of his pupil."
Though he made no pretensions to scholarship, some of his writings showed a cultivated taste and a love of literary pursuits, which were gratified so far as his numerous engagements in public service would permit. With a literary taste formed and matured by the study of Latin and Greek prosidy as constituted in the best models of antiquity, it is not surprising that his opinions on matters of criticism and scholarship were those of the Odd school, and that he decried all the forms of innovation in letters which had begun to show themselves in his day, and which he regarded as affectations. His constant advice to young people was if you want to read poetry, read Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Pope; throw all the rest in the fire. And with the addition of but one or two names which have appeared since his time, such counsel is judicious advice even to-day.
His abilities were, perhaps, somewhat overrated in the admiring judgment of his contemporaries. His style as a writer was copious and energetic; but it was sometimes careless, coarse and even incorrect. His eloquence was better adapted to popular assemblies than to the graver occasions of legislative debate; in the halls of justice, it produced a greater effect on the jury than on the judge. "The few fragments of his speeches that were reported and are now extant give no idea of the enthusiasm that was created by their delivery. The elevation of his mind, and the known integrity of his purposes, enabled him to speak with decision and dignity, and commanded the respect as well as the admiration of his audience." While his arguments were sometimes comprehensive and varied, they generally related only to a few points which they placed in a very clear and convincing light. His object was immediate effect. He had studied the art of clear expression and forcible argument in order to act with facility and force upon the minds of others to such an extent as to convince them, and then to convert their conviction into action. He employed the facility and the power thus gained not for any personal agrandizement, but to advocate political reform for the good of the whole people.