Emerson’s essay on Samuel Hoar (1778 – 1856) is actually an obituary. It first appeared in Putnam Magazine in December 1856 and again in a revised and extended version in the Monthly Religious Magazine in January, 1857. Emerson does not go into the details of Hoar’s career, a distinguished lawyer and politician, (Wikipedia has a decent article about him), but sticks more to his personal knowledge of the man in the everyday.

Emerson describes him as humane, noble, honorable, and “full of mansuetude” (is not that a great word?). Hoar was a man who enjoyed long, solitary walks, trees, and birds. He was a wealthy man but lived a plain life, preferring instead to give his wealth to those in need–young men starting out in life on new ventures and to charitable organizations. A man of “natural goodness and justice,” he was humble and modest with a “childlike innocence” and he never held a grudge.

He “was not adorned with any graces of rhetoric,” and

So cautious was he, and tender of the truth, that he sometimes wearied his audience with the pains he took to qualify and verify his statements, adding clause on clause to do justice to all his conviction. He had little or no power of generalization.

Nonetheless, he never undertook to defend criminals and had such a reputation that juries were often swayed in his favor simply by him declaring “on his conscience” that his client was entitled to a good verdict.

Hoar had no love of poetry, yet Emerson says he “had a resemblance to the bust of Dante.” I wouldn’t exactly call Dante an attractive man, but I guess it’s better than saying someone looked like Socrates who was supposed to be a rather ugly man.

Hoar was a gentleman in every finest sense of the word. And while he may not have been elegant or particularly spiritual or a man of genius, he focused the “vigor of his understanding…on the ordinary domestic and municipal well-being,” which, if you are a public servant, seems to me what one should do but yet, is so often only given lip service.

There is a lot that Emerson doesn’t say about Hoar. Like that Hoar’s wife, Sarah Sherman, was the youngest child of Roger Sherman, a signer of the US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Nor does Emerson mention that Hoar’s daughter, Elizabeth, was engaged to Emerson’s youngest brother Charles. But Charles died of tuberculosis before they could marry. Elizabeth chose never to marry. She did, however, become an intimate friend of the Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau families. And she helped Emerson to produce The Dial.

One of Samuel Hoar’s sons, Edward, was and intimate friend of Henry David Thoreau. Edward and his wife lived across the street from Thoreau’s family for years. And it was Edward and Thoreau who accidentally set fire to three hundred acres of forest along the Sudbury River in 1844 when they let a cooking fire get out of hand. Edward also went with Thoreau on some of Thoreau’s hiking and canoeing trips.

So interesting the things that don’t get mentioned, eh? But I suppose in an obituary one would not mention some of these things and Emerson is such a formal person, I doubt that he would mention them in a eulogy-type piece either. It’s a pity because I bet there are lots of good stories to tell.

Next Emerson has much to say about his best friend: Thoreau