185But take this same family and plant them in South Carolina
The Life of James Otis as narrated by William Tudor is one of the most pleasant and instructive in the whole range of American biographies, and leaves few particulars in the personal life of Otis to be gathered by the subsequent investigator. The sketch by Francis Bowen in Jared Sparks' Library of American Biography furnishes additional and valuable illustrations of the character and services of Otis, which were secured from the third volume of Thomas Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, (first published after Tudor's Life of Otis appeared), from the copies of papers in the office of the English Board of Trade relating to the colonial history of Massachusetts, and from the private correspondence of Governors Bernard and Hutchinson with the English Ministry, during the time of Otis's public career. These sources throw much light on the conduct of Otis as the chief political opponent of the these two colonial executives.
It is the purpose of the present article merely to emphasize the three striking traits of his character,--his impetuosity and earnestness, his high integrity and devotion to truth and justice, and his marked ability as an advocate before the bar.
In reading the memoirs of James Otis one is struck from first to last with the impetuosity, the earnestness, the ardent temper of his nature. This was at once the secret of a great measure of his power and also the partial source of his mental undoing. As a student at Harvard, the last two years of his college life were marked with great assiduity in study, and while at home during the vacations in this period, he devoted himself so closely to his books, that he was seldom seen by his friends, and often it was not known that he had returned, till he had been in his father's house for some days. Such severe application doubtless served to sow the first seeds of mental derangement, which falling on the fertile soil of his feverish disposition and nutured by the constant and intense argumentative strife of his later political career, finally found their fruition in the mental collapse which so distressingly darkened his latter days. When participating in the common amusements of youth he exhibited all the vivacity of an excitable temperament.
The earnestness of his nature led him to resign a lucrative office, renounce the favor of government, abandon the fairest prospects of professional emolument and distinction, and to devote himself to the service of his country with unflinching courage, quenchless zeal, and untiring energy.
As an orator the impetuosity of his speech and the earnestness of his voice and manner were so impressive, that they forced conviction upon his hearers even when his arguments did not reach their judgment. Such was the fluency and animation of his language, whether written or spoken, that though it was sometimes coarse and defective in taste, it was always, as will be seen from the examples quoted in this paper, extremely effective.
In political controversy the impetuosity of his nature led him to be irascible and harsh towards his opponents and sometimes hasty in judgment. But towards those whom he liked he was equally effusive in expressions of regard, and was generous, high-spirited and placable.
The fiery and impetuous temper of Otis is well illustrated by the following anecdote given by Tudor, who, however, does not vouch for its authenticity. Upon first taking his seat in the house, a friend sitting near, said: "Mr. Otis, you have great abilities, but are too warm, too impetuous; your opponents, though they cannot meet you in argument, will get the advantage by interrupting you, and putting you in a passion." "Well," said Otis, "if you see me growing warm, give me a hint, and I'll command myself." Later on when a question of some importance arose, Otis and this friend were on the Boston seat together. Otis said he was going to speak, and his companion again warned him against being irritated by interruptions from the opposition.
He soon rose, and was speaking with great fluency and powerful logic, when Timothy Ruggles interrupted him; he grew warm in reply, and his friend pulled his coat slightly. Otis scowled as he turned round, but taking the hint moderated his tone. Soon afterwards, Mr. Choate, of Ipswich, broke in on him again. This aroused his temper, and his coat was pulled a second time; turning round quickly he said in an undertone to his monitor, "Let me alone; do you take me for a schoolboy?" and continuing his address with great impetuosity he overwhelmed his opponent with sarcasm and invective.