Memoir of George Otis Shattuck, LL.B.

    By Edward Henry Hall.

    George Otis Shattuck was born in the West Parish of Andover, Massachusetts, on the second of May, 1829. His ancestor David Abbot had settled in Andover in 1725, and on the farm then opened to cultivation Mr. Shattuck spent his childhood and youth. An old well, which stood by the roadside till quite recently, marked the spot of the original house built by David Abbot, and was its only relic.1

    In 1790, the granddaughter of David Abbot was married to Joseph Shattuck, a soldier of the Revolutionary War; and in 1826, their son, Joseph Shattuck, fourth of that name, married Hannah Bailey. George Otis was the second of their four sons. In his early years, he acquired the physical vigor and out-of-door tastes belonging to a healthy country rearing, and retained to the end his love of farm life and thorough acquaintance with its conditions. Andover was also in its way an educational centre, and in its atmosphere, under the stimulating influence of his mother, who had been a teacher before her marriage, he formed in boyhood the intellectual habits which led him finally into his professional career. The parental guidance on both sides seems to have been of the best New England quality, as his father held an honorable position in the community, and represented Andover in the Legislatures of 1838 and 1839, at a time when such distinctions meant much more than in later years.

    In 1847 young Shattuck entered Harvard College, one of a little group of applicants which was wont to come to Cambridge annually from Phillips Andover Academy. In college he formed warm and lasting friendships, and had an eminently honorable career, though it was long before he found his true position among his classmates, or was recognized by the class in general at his full worth. At this time his social qualities had not reached their full development, and he held himself aloof from his companions, associating with but few and quite unknown to the rest. As a scholar he was outstripped at first by youths of more brilliant parts or more exact training, only to push forward steadily and industriously, year by year, till he left nearly all competitors behind. He graduated among what was then called “the first eight.”

    A classmate’s estimate in college days is not of serious importance in the final judgment of a man of Mr. Shattuck’s steady development, yet it may be of interest to quote these words written just before graduation by one not intimate with him at the time, but who amused himself with recording his prophecies of the future distinctions awaiting the Class of 1851:

    I find that I always think of Shattuck as the one, of all the members of the Class, who has received least credit for his real abilities. I consider him as not inferior to any,—probably superior to all. He has always separated himself a good deal from the Class through natural reserve, . . . but during the last year he has been better known and more appreciated, though not as he should be, even then. He has some deficiencies however, and I presume one reason of his not being brought out more is some real lack of social qualifications. I do not know him intimately enough to judge. As to his intellectual qualities, however, there is no doubt. He is not a brilliant scholar . . . but he has not only a strong, but a logical and discriminating mind, and as a writer has an elegant style, with no lack of imagination. He has all the elements that will improve by cultivation, and has just the perseverance and judgment to be sure to develop them. His character is as sound and well-balanced as his mind. I look for more from him than from almost any other member of the Class.

    After graduating, in 1851, Mr. Shattuck was a teacher for a year in Mr. Stephen M. Weld’s school in Jamaica Plain, and entered the Harvard Law School on the seventh of November, 1852, graduating in 1854. He entered at once the office of Mr. Charles G. Loring as a student, and was admitted to the Suffolk Bar in 1855. That same year he formed a partnership with Mr. J. Randolph Coolidge; but in 1856 he became the junior partner of the Hon. Peleg W. Chandler, who gave his young colleague a bountiful share of recognition and friendship. In 1870, he formed a partnership with Mr. William A. Munroe, with which the present Chief-Justice Holmes was for a time connected, which lasted during Mr. Shattuck’s life.

    Few professional men, I suppose, have given themselves more enthusiastically to their profession than Mr. Shattuck. He loved it unreservedly, found in its practice at the bar ample stimulus to his naturally strong ambitions, and could not be drawn aside from it by the distinguished positions more than once offered him. Among these positions, we are told, was that of judge of one of the Federal Courts and also justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Neither could he be tempted by political ambitions, though always interested in the politics of the day, and ready to work in private ways for important measures. His general activities outside his profession, give but little idea of the time and sympathy which he gave to public affairs. His progress in his profession was rapid, bringing him at an early day a prominence which became more and more widely recognized every year. In this leadership it is plain that his personal qualities told for quite as much as his purely legal attainments. His industry was unbounded, his mental faculties fully under control, his ardor for whatever cause he undertook unflagging, his sincerity and integrity immovable. The professional tributes called forth at the time of his death give a remarkable estimate of the man, as formed by those who knew him best; and from these I quote the following striking passages:

    Mr. Shattuck’s rise at the bar was unusually rapid even for those days, and for many years of his early practice his forensic contests were mainly with men considerably his seniors. . . . He had, as we all know, a great gift of clear, forcible and persuasive speech, reinforced by an earnestness of manner which was the outward sign of the intense conviction, which he seldom if ever lacked, of the righteousness of his client’s cause. He had also the prime manly virtues of pugnacity and courage. He enjoyed the struggle,—the more difficult, the better he liked it. His energy, tenacity and fertility of resource were inexhaustible, and his confidence in the ultimate triumph of right knew no despair. He had, with all these fighting qualities, a cool brain and a fine temper. He was never flustered or irritable or impatient. This fine temper, to my thinking, showed the largeness of his mould and the sweetness of his nature.1

    With such strength of conviction and resoluteness of purpose we are apt to find, as human nature goes, a certain unamiable quality known as arrogance,—the quality by which we make peremptory demand upon others for submission to our judgment or our will. Very few strong men but have more or less of this quality, but Brother Shattuck, strong as he was in intelligence and conviction and purpose, seemed to me wholly free from it. He was one of the most patient and courteous of men,—a courtesy which was the natural expression of a very kindly nature,—a patience which grew out of sincere modesty in his judgment of himself. He loved the law and the practice of the law, and was happy in its labors, its contests and its rewards. He had also a strong sense of professional brotherhood, without which the practice of the law loses much of its dignity and all of its charm.2

    From the very beginning Mr. Shattuck has always been a successful man, and, among his contemporaries, a leader; and no one ever doubted that his success and his distinction were deserved. All through his life he won what he got by the strong, direct, vigorous efforts of a man who felt himself competent for his task and who had thoroughly prepared himself for it; in the thick of the struggle he saw what he foresaw. He was a man unused to defeat, and little disposed to tolerate it when it seemed to be thrusting itself upon him. His adversaries often found that he developed at such moments a startling capacity of saving a hopeless cause, by the skill, the careful thinking, the knowledge of law and legal procedure, and the endless persistence and endurance which he would suddenly bring to bear upon the situation.3

    He needed the excitement of advocacy or of some practical end to awaken his insight; but when it was awakened there was no depth of speculation or research which he was not ready and more than able to sound. His work may not always have had the neatness of smaller minds, but it brought out deeply hidden truths by some invisible radiance that searched things to their bones. . . . With the jury, he was a great man in every way. His addresses carried everything before them like a victorious cavalry charge, sometimes, as it seemed to me, sweeping the judge along with the rest in the rout. Latterly, his most successful appearances were in arguments of law. He had learned the all too rarely learned lesson of pointed brevity. In a few luminous words he went to the bottom of his question, and then took his seat. In short, I know of no form of forensic effort in which, at some time in his career, he had not reached as high a point as I personally ever have seen attained.1

    In 1857 Mr. Shattuck married Emily, daughter of Charles and Susan (Sprague) Copeland of Roxbury, and made his home in Boston, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here the circle of his friends continually widened, and though immersed in professional duties he found time also for all social demands. Among the societies whose companionship he enjoyed was the Wednesday Evening Club, and also a small circle of college contemporaries, at whose informal monthly meetings, held for many years, he was a constant and tenderly-esteemed attendant. During the later years of his life he had a summer home at Mattapoisett, where he was able to gratify his native tastes as cultivator of the soil, and where he entered with keen enjoyment upon the adventures of an amateur yachtsman. He travelled extensively in his own country, especially in the West, and made two trips to Europe, spending a year abroad in 1880. In all these journeyings, while alive to the beauties of natural scenery and to all the charms of travel, he seems to have found his chief interest in the people themselves, whose customs and politics had a special attraction for him. His religious connections, while in Boston, were with the First Church, whose liberal attitude attracted him, and in whose affairs he took a deep and intelligent interest to the end of his life. Into all these varied relations he carried the vigor of a strong and inquiring mind, a singular beauty and dignity of character, an inborn sincerity, a loyalty of devotion, and a kindliness of manner whose charm none who have shared his friendship can ever forget.

    Mr. Shattuck was elected a Resident Member of the Massachusetts Historical Society 13 June, 1889, and a Resident Member of this Society 20 December, 1893. He was a Trustee of the State Library and of the old Boston Library Society for more than thirty years, and an Overseer of Harvard University from 1871 to 1880 and again from 1885 to 1897. With the exception of a brief service as a member of the Common Council of the City of Boston, he declined all public office. One of the last distinctions conferred upon him and deeply appreciated by him, was his election as President of the Bar Association of the City of Boston in 1896. At this time however his health was already failing, and he was never able to preside at its meetings. His death occurred at his home in Boston, 23 February, 1897. His wife survives him. He left also one child, Susan, the wife of Dr. Arthur Tracy Cabot.