Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/61

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James Louis Petigru.


He completed his education at the South Carolina College, graduating therefrom in 1809 with the highest honor of his class. We frequently hear people speak disparagingly of first honor men. I am sure the facts do not warrant any such characterization. If you will study the history of the alumni of any institution, you will be surprised to learn how many of the more distinguished graduates were first honor men. If, however, to win the first honor is a misfortune and a burden to carry in after life, Mr. Petigru had no harder fate than many others, among whom I may name Judge David L. Wardlaw, Dr. J. H. Thornwell and Hugh S. Legare, each of whom merits the designation, clarnum et venerabile nomen. Mr. Pettigru was well versed in literature. He was familiar with the poets and with all the great masters of literature. When a boy he was fond of reading Pope and Dryden, and as the years glided swiftly by he found his interest in them continuing as strong as ever. There have been a great many lawyers in Carolina who have affected literature and at the same time excelled in their chosen profession, notably: the silver tongued orator, William C. Preston, and the accomplished man of letters, Hugh S. Legare. The latter was fortunate enough to enjoy almost every advantage afforded by education and travel, and he did not fail to embrace and improve his opportunities. It was a mooted question in that day, and it has never been settled yet, whether it is best, or even good, for a lawyer to be known as dabbling much in literature. Mr. Legare was afraid that it hurt himself. Judge Story has presented some strong arguments on the other side. He maintains that literature benefits and improves the very means which a lawyer uses to attain success. It sharpens the wit. It enlarges and improves the diction. It broadens the mind and widens the scope of vision. It cultivates and develops the powers of analysis and discrimination. Stimulates the imagination and strengthens the memory. On the other hand, it is argued that literature unfits one for practical life. It tends to make one shun the aggressive, bustling world, and to long for quiet and repose. The drift of opinion and the force of example in this country, perhaps, tend to sustain this better view, while in England the opposite is the case. Again, Mr. Petigru excelled as a conversationalist. He was noted for his wit and repartee, and many of his bright sayings have been handed down to us and pass current yet, no doubt considerably exaggerated. His home in Charleston and the up-country was the favorite resort of those who wanted to be entertained with ideas, experiences and incidents that were fresh, sparkling and vivacious. He was very