Samuel Sumner Wilde

Associate Justice retirement memorial

6 Cushing 583 (1850)

Retirement of Mr. Justice Wilde

The Honorable Samuel Sumner Wilde, appointed a justice of this court on the 17th of June, 1815, resigned his office on the 5th of November, 1850. The members of the bar of the county of Suffolk, on the 9th of November, convened, and passed resolutions, which were presented to the court by Benjamin Rand, Esq. Before presenting them, Mr. Rand addressed the court as follows:

May it please your Honors

I have a motion to submit on behalf of the members of the bar.

I have been delegated, as their organ, to present certain resolutions, which, with the permission of your honors, I will presently read, expressive of the sentiments of the bar, on the occasion of the resignation of Mr. Justice Wilde, lately one of the members of this court; and to ask that they may be entered upon your records, as a lasting testimonial of our estimation of the official character and public service of that distinguished and excellent magistrate.

It is now more than thirty-five years since Mr. Justice Wilde was promoted to the bench of this court. From that time, until his recent retirement from the bench, during a period of judicial service of no ordinary length, the members of the bar, in the daily exercise of their profession, have had occasion to witness with admiration the promptness, the untiring assiduity, the fidelity, the impartiality, the devotedness to the public service, and the great learning and ability, which that eminent judge has at all times manifested in the discharge of the arduous and important duties of his official station.

We have for some time had reason, while he was yet on the bench, to look up to him with particular regard and reverence, as being the last survivor of those eminent magistrates, whose judicial labors, in the earlier stages of our progress in juridical science, contributed to build up, and, from time to time, improve and adapt to the various exigencies of our peculiar civil institutions and laws, a consistent system of jurisprudence, founded and framed upon the basis of the common law, recognized and adopted when our state constitution was formed.

By the early education of Mr. Justice Wilde in the sound and wholesome learning of that class of jurists now emphatically denominated the old school, his mind was trained and disciplined, and richly stored with legal science, in a manner which peculiarly fitted him for the judicial office, the duties of which he afterwards discharged with such conspicuous ability and such universal approbation.

By the course of his early studies, and by extensive practice at the bar with eminent lawyers, his contemporaries, of great attainments in the recondite learning of the day, he acquired, before his elevation to the bench, a deep and thoroughly accurate knowledge of the great principles and rules of the common law in all its various ramifications.

Among other branches of the jurisprudence of the common law, that pertaining to real property then constituted, and still continues to constitute, a very essential and important part of our legal science. This seems to have been one of his early and favorite studies. The profound attainments of Mr. Justice Wilde in this department of jurisprudence, and his great familiarity with all its abstruse and often arbitrary doctrines and rules, growing out of the institutions of a former age, but so interwoven now with our jurisprudence, that they cannot safely and conveniently be discarded, enabled him, while he sat on the bench, as your honors well know, to expound and administer, with singular readiness and ability, the principles of this important but intricate and difficult branch of our law.

This professional training gave Mr. Justice Wilde preëminence as a judge in another important branch of legal science.

While he was at the bar, where he became a distinguished leader, he cultivated a habit of close and logical reasoning, which, with his remarkable acuteness and power of accurate discrimination, gave him great eminence in the science of that celebrated system of allegation peculiar to the courts of common law, which is so admirably calculated to separate the law from the fact, enucleate the substantial matters in controversy, abridge litigation, and lessen the labors of the court and jury in trials at common law, known under the recently much abused name of special pleading; a system of allegation, which, as some of us at least regret, has not uniformly found that favor with our legislature, and with the profession at large, to which its transcendent merits in our estimation fully entitled it.

This preëminence of Mr. Justice Wilde in the recondite learning of the law of real property and of special pleading may, perhaps, be supposed naturally to have engendered an undue partiality for the nice technicalities and rigid and unmeaning forms of the law. But the fact was quite otherwise. This excellent magistrate never allowed a regard for forms and technicalities to gain a mastery over his sound judgment and common sense. He never suffered justice to be entangled in a net of unsubstantial forms.

He never permitted legal proceedings to be employed as instruments of injustice. Falsity, chicanery, and trick, whether in pleading or in practice, found no favor with him; on the contrary, they were sure to meet with defeat and stern rebuke.

Deeply and preëminently versed as Mr. Justice Wilde was, while on the bench, in these particular branches of the common law, his legal knowledge was by no means defective, nor much less conspicuous in the other departments of legal science. His capacious mind was enlightened, expanded, and enriched by a thorough acquaintance with the principles of mercantile law and general jurisprudence.

And we have more recently all of us witnessed with what facility he embraced, and how ably he administered the broad and liberal doctrines of equity, and how eminently he succeeded in illustrating, expounding, and rendering familiar to us this comparatively new and most important branch of the jurisdiction of this court.

In those legal judgments of Mr. Justice Wilde which have been recorded on our books, the bar have had occasion to admire the exemplary chasteness of his style, the neatness and conciseness of his judicial opinions, unembarrassed by any useless parade of learning, the clearness and logical precision of his reasoning, and the almost invariable accuracy of his conclusions.

In estimating the official character of Mr. Justice Wilde, the bar would not do him justice, if they omitted to notice his uniform demeanor towards all the members of our profession; for his kindness, his equanimity, his strict impartiality to us all, are universally acknowledged.

In the discharge of all his official duties, his promptness, his habits of despatch, his quick and accurate perception of the main points on which a cause must turn, his ready command of both law and fact in trials by jury, his devotion to the public service, and his earnest and unremitting endeavors, while on the bench, to perform all that could be expected of him in his office, regardless of extraneous objects, are admitted by all to be among the leading traits of his judicial character.

In fine, the bar have regarded his administration of justice in this court as eminently serviceable to the community. By the faithful discharge of his official duties, without fear, favor, affection, or the hope of any other reward, than that which his small annual stipend, an approving conscience, and public gratitude, may afford, he has contributed, with his brethren on the bench, to inspire confidence in, and respect for, our civil institutions, our courts of law, the law itself, and all those who administer it.

If the bar, on this occasion, might with propriety allude to the character which this distinguished judge his sustained in private life, to which he has now retired, they would bear witness to its unsullied purity, to the amenity, frankness, and unaffected simplicity of his manners, to his remarkable colloquial powers, to the kindness and sincerity of his heart, and the warmth and cordiality of his attachments; virtues which have ever been as conspicuous in his private life as have been his learning and ability on the bench.

And now, on the retiring from the bench of so eminent and excellent a magistrate, the bar cannot but express their feelings of profound regret and sorrow for the loss of his valuable services; though in the ordinary course of human events, they had no reason to anticipate the enjoyment of the benefit of them until this late period of his life.

At the close of so long an official life of eminent usefulness, after such assiduous judicial labors of almost unexampled duration, the bar have thought, that on the retirement of such a magistrate from public to private life, some public testimonial of the estimation, in which his official character and services are held, is due to him from those who have daily witnessed and can justly appreciate them.

Impressed with these sentiments, the bar have met for this purpose and have unanimously adopted the resolutions, which they have requested me to present for entry on the records of this court, and which, with the permission of your honors, I will now read.

Mr. Rand then presented the following resolutions:

Resolved, that the members of the Suffolk bar have learned with profound regret, that the Hon. Samuel Sumner Wilde, late a justice of the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, has tendered his resignation of the seat on that bench, which he has occupied so long with so much distinction and so much usefulness.

Resolved, That the judicial labors of Mr. Justice Wilde, extending, with scarcely the indulgence of an absolute vacation, over a period of more than thirty-five years, have been performed with admirable faithfulness and with conspicuous ability; and that they have contributed, in an eminent degree, to settle and enrich the jurisprudence of the commonwealth; to invest the supreme magistracy with respect, and the law with reverence; to establish justice; restrain crime; and ascertain, vindicate, and assure the civil rights and liberties of the people.

Resolved, That in that review of his services, virtues, qualifications, and traits of personal and official character and mind, to which the occasion naturally turns our thoughts, we appreciate and record, with special admiration, his exact and deep knowledge of the common law of real property, the fruit of his earliest studies under our greatest teachers of that learning; his later mastery of the theory and practice of equity; the rapidity as well as soundness of his perception of legal truth; the fidelity, quickness, and capaciousness of his memory; the sagacity, firmness, and kindness of heart, the habits of despatch, and the instantaneous command of the law, both of evidence and of principles, with which he presided over the trial by jury; his absolute and remarkable impartiality towards all the practisers before him, too just and too manly for antipathies or favoritism; and, to sum up all, his devotion to every duty of his office, which seemed to gain strength to the last hour of his judicial life, and to which all his tastes and all his enjoyments were kept ever subordinate.

Resolved, That we see him retire from our presence with emotions of filial love, sorrow, and esteem; that we recall with deepest sensibility the long series of his kind acts by which our inexperience was assisted, and our emulation of youthful distinction called forth; and that we would now convey to him with our whole hearts our most earnest wishes, that his virtuous and venerable age may be prolonged and be happy; that it may be soothed by the retrospect of a life of great duties well done; by the enjoyment of that pure and judicial fame which follows unsought; by the assiduities of kindred; by the amenities of letters and the consolations of religious faith.

Resolved, That the chairman and secretary be requested to communicate to him a copy of these resolutions and of the proceedings of this meeting.

Chief Justice Shaw responded to the resolutions as follows:--

Gentleman, -- I am directed in behalf of this court to say, that we reciprocate, with the sincerest sympathy, the sentiments of kindness, respect, and veneration for our late distinguished and beloved associate, Mr. Justice Wilde, embraced in the resolutions of the bar, now presented.

The retirement of such a judge, after a judicial career almost equally unexampled for its length, its brilliancy, and its purity, is an event well fitted to make us pause and reflect; and whilst we pay a just and grateful tribute of respect to legal eminence and high judicial excellence, in the character of one whom we have been long accustomed to regard with affection and respect, we may gather some wisdom and strength for the improvement of our own.

Of the legal learning, acquirements, and qualifications of Mr. Justice Wilde, it is scarcely necessary for me to speak in detail before such an audience. Commencing the study of the law at a period when the law of real property was of the highest practical utility and importance, his powerful mind was early devoted to that system of rules founded deeply in the principles of the common law, which still, after all its changes and modifications, lies at the foundation of our law of real property. Trained in the school of special pleading, where the keenest power of legal discrimination was in constant requisition, in distinguishing the plausible from the sound; practising in a part of the commonwealth, where great interests were drawn in question, depending on the law of real property; where the highest honors and rewards of the profession awaited the practiser, who was best versed in the knowledge and practice of this branch of the law; his mind had become so familiar with its minute and apparently subtile distinctions, that he could apply them promptly, like simplest principles, to complicated cases. In this department, his learning, judgment, and experience, were valued by his associates, with a confident assurance seldom if ever disappointed.

But of his learning and legal attainments in the various departments of jurisprudence, to which the duties of his office called him, it is not my purpose to speak. A practice of twenty-four years at the bar, and his judicial labors, during the long period of thirty-five years, have made his name and his reputation conspicuous amongst living jurists.

But of his absolute and entire impartiality, a close and daily observation of twenty years enables me to speak with entire confidence. He seemed to have as little regard to parties, as if they were expressed in algebraical characters; nor did he seem to have any other interest in the result, than the mathematician in the solution of his complicated problems. Rigidly scrupulous in ascertaining the truth and soundness of his premises, conducting the process by the strictest rules of legal deduction, his solicitude was that his conclusion should be right, not whom it might affect.

Of another trait of his character I may speak with equal confidence, and I do it with the highest gratification. I allude to the warmth and kindness of heart, the courtesy and affability of manner, which ever characterized the intercourse between him and his brethren. Strenuous, often, and firm in the maintenance of his opinions, whilst convinced that they were right, no one could yield more readily or more gracefully, if satisfied that they were wrong. If, in the ardor of debate, in the earnest discussion of first opinions, involving questions of right, of the deepest interest and highest importance, a hasty word was uttered, it was a spark, extinguished as soon as struck, which left no trace behind it. After a most intimate official and personal association with the last remaining judge, with whom I was first associated in this court, one on whom I could rely as a monitor, guide, and friend; under all circumstances, I consider it a privilege to say, that I must ever regard Judge Wilde with feelings of affectionate respect, which, whilst memory lasts, time can never obliterate.

But, gentlemen, though we regret that a high sense of duty has compelled our eminent and beloved associate to withdraw from a situation, which he filled with so much credit to himself and usefulness to the community, but the duties of which he apprehended that his physical infirmities would prevent him from fulfilling, yet let us rejoice that he is still spared; and may his life be long spared to enjoy the repose of a happy old age, and continue to be the delight of the social circle. May he long live to be an example to the young to seek for eminence by early and untiring industry; to encourage all to perseverance in the way of duty; and to diffuse the light and joy of a serene old age amongst all those who may be still privileged to enjoy his society.

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