CHARLES HENRY BELL,
EXETEE, N. H.
CHARLES HENRY BELL.
By Hon. Jeremiah Smith, LL.D.
Charles Henry Bell, the son of John and Persis ' '
(Thorn) Bell, was born at Chester, New Hampshire,
November 18, 1823. He prepared for college at Pem-
broke Academy, and Phillips Exeter Academy ; and
was graduated at Dartmouth in 1844. He studied law
with Messrs. Bell & Tuck of Exeter, and his cousin,
Samuel D. Bell of Manchester. After practicing for a
short time in Chester, he became the partner of
Nathaniel Wells of Great Falls. In 1854 he removed
to Exeter, Avhere he was at first associated with Gil-
man Marston. In 1856 he was appointed solicitor for
Eockingham County, and was reappointed in 1861,
serving until 1866. He represented Exeter in the
lower branch of the legislature in 1858, 1859, 1860,
1872, and 1873. In 1860 he was elected Speaker of
the House. He was a member of the state Senate in
1863 and 1864, and president of the Senate during the
latter year. He was a Mason of high rank, and had
served the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire as it&
4 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
highest officer. In March, 1879, Governor Prescott
appointed him United States Senator, to serve until an
election should be made by the legislature in the fol-
lowing June. In November, 1880, he was elected
governor, an office previously filled by his father and
his uncle. His gubernatorial term extended from
June, 1881, to June, 1883. In 1889 he was president
of the Constitutional Convention. He was for a long
time a trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy, and latterly
the president of the board. He served several years
as president of the New Hampshire Historical Society.
In 1881 Dartmouth College conferred upon him the
degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1868 Mr. Bell gave up
active practice at the bar, and thenceforth devoted
himself largely to literary and historical pursuits. He
published among other works, "Historical Sketch of
Phillips Exeter xicademy," " Memoir of John Wheel-
wright," and " History of Exeter." His last labor was
performed on " The Bench and Bar of New Hamp-
shire," the greater part of which was printed before his
death, the manuscript being then complete save part of
the index. He died at Exeter, November 11, 1893.
In 1847 Mr. Bell married Sarah A. Gilman. She
died in 18.50, and in 1867 he married Mrs. Mary E.
Gilraan, who survives him.
This bare array of facts and dates can, of course,
give no adequate idea of Mr. Bell's value as a public
man or of the worth of his literary and historical labors.
The task of describing his worth in those aspects of it
CHARLES HENRY BELL.
lias, happily, been undertaken by one who is fully
competent to appreciate it. The chief purpose of the
present sketch is to briefly delineate Mr. Bell as a
Until his appointment as county solicitor in 1856,
Mr. Bell had not been accustomed to take the lead in
the trial of causes. It was not as common then as now
for young lawyers to try their own cases, and he had
had for his business associates, both at Great Falls and
Exeter, men older and more experienced than himself.
But his appointment as solicitor placed him at once in
the forefront of battle, and subjected him to tests under
which a weak man would have succumbed. He had
to undergo comparison with Albert R. Hatch, his im-
mediate predecessor in the office, and with John Sulli-
van, then attorney-general, who were both hard men
to follow. But Mr. Bell stood the test successfully.
The business of the State, whenever intrusted to him,
was admirably performed. There were peculiar diffi-
culties under which a county solicitor at that day
labored. He was not only compelled to try causes
against able counsel, but he was also sure, in a large
class of cases, to encounter vehement prejudice on the
part of many jurors. A considerable part of the state
docket consisted of indictments for the violation of the
Prohibitory Liquor Law. This statute had been
passed only the year before Mr. Bell's appointment.
Its enactment had been a political issue, and its repeal
was urged by a powerful party, comprising very nearly
half the voters of the State. It was inevitable that
b CHARLES HENRY BELL.
each panel should coutain some jurors who were bit-
terly opposed to the law, and some of these men did
not, at the outset of a trial, understand that the proper
place to manifest their opposition was the ballot box,
and not the jury room. Under these circumstances, it
is not to be wondered at that, in a neighboring county,
there was at that time great difficulty in securing con-
victions under this law. But the Rockingham County
prosecutions were so Avell handled, that, when Mr.
Bell had been in office two years, he was able to say
that he had never yet addressed a jury in a liquor case
without obtaining a verdict for the State.
From 1856 until his retirement from practice in
1868, Mr. Bell also took a prominent part in the trial
of causes on the civil side of the court ; and his name
frequently appears in the New Hampshire Reports as
counsel in cases carried up from the trial term to the
law term. In his case, as in that of most lawyers, it
is difficult to single out any one cause which deserves
to be noticed above all others. Probably the most
protracted, and also the most widely known, litigation
in which he was engaged was the controversy between
Dr. Bassett and the Salisbury Manufacturing Company
on the subject of flowage and water rights ; a contro-
versy which, in some form or other, figured on the
Rockingham docket for about twenty years. One of
the ablest oral arguments Mr. Bell ever made before
the full bench was in the equity suit between these
parties, reported in 47 New Hampshire Reports, 426.
His opponent was the veteran leader of the New
CHARLES HENRY BELL. /
Hampshire bar, Daniel M. Christie, who was deeply
interested in a controversy in which he had been
retained for more than a third of his long professional
career. INIr. Bell's argument made an impression on
at least one of his hearers which time has not effaced.
It is believed that none of the other able counsel, who,
at different periods in this long litigation, represented
Dr. Bassett, ever made a better presentation of his case
or a more complete answer to the other side.
As a jury lawyer Mr. Bell differed widely from most
of the men then recognized as leaders of the bar.
They were largely men of strength and character, but
they had inherited from the preceding generation some
undesirable ways. From an early day the demeanor
of opposing counsel toward each other had generally
been brusque, and sometimes rough. The treatment
of witnesses on cross-examination was often very
objectionable. In addresses to the jury, prolixity was
the order of the day. For a long time there had been
no rule of court limiting the length of the closing argu-
ment, and the custom was, with one or two notable
exceptions, to discuss each case at inordinate length,
dwelling on every minute point. In all these respects
Mr, Bell had the independence to differ from the
usages and traditions of the bar. He never failed in
courtesy. An observer might well have applied to
him the remark which Richard H. Dana made in refer-
ence to the eminent Massachusetts lawyer, Franklin
Dexter: " He seems to be a gentleman practicing law,
and not a mere lawyer." Mr. Bell treated every one
b CHARLES HENRY BELL.
in the court-room with the same civility that he exhibited
towards his equals in social life. His bearing, there
as everywhere, was dignified, but without any touch
of austerity or superciliousness. He did not knowingly
overstate his own case, or misstate that of his adver-
sary. One could not but feel that here was a man
whose first conscious desire was not that he might
achieve victory, but that he might achieve it worthily ;
a man who did not adopt the pernicious maxim that
the counsel should know no one except his client, but
who recognized something higher than his obligation
to his client ; a man who made it his object to live up
to his oath, that he would " do no falsehood nor con-
sent that any be done in the court." Whatever could
fairly be done for his side, he would do; but he would
go no further. Pro cUentibus sape, pro lege semper,
was his motto.
With all Mr. Bell's courtesy and calmness, there
was no lack of strength or force. Attorney-General
Sullivan, the heir to distinguished talent in two gener-
ations, and himself one of the most eloquent and effec-
tive advocates of the day, is understood to have said of
one of Mr. Bell's early efforts before a jury, that he
had never heard a case better argued. Mr. Bell was
capable of using sarcasm very effectively in rejoinder,
but always within the bounds of the professional
amenities. His arguments were generally brief, but
clear. He did not waste his own time, or the time of
the court. Almost never did he utter a superfluous
sentence, and seldom an unnecessary word. " Clear-
CHARLES HENRY BELL. V
ness of statement," it has been well said, " is the great
power at the bar." Mr. Bell possessed this faculty in
a remarkable degree. His oral arguments had the
crystal-like clearness which was so marked a charac-
teristic of the Avritten opinions of his cousin, the late
Chief-Justice Samuel D. Bell. It is safe to say that he
never sat down without making all his points fully
understood. One great charm of Mr. Bell's speeches
consisted in his admirable command of language. He
always used the right word in the right place. Prob-
ably no man of his time at the New Hampshire bar
could have better stood the test of a stenographic
report. His ofF-hand sentences uttered in the court-
room might well be held up to students as a model of
pure and expressive English.
" He did not like a jury trial, and a jury trial did
not like him" — was said of an eminent lawyer in an-
other State. The first part of this statement may
possibly have been true of Mr. Bell. But the last part
certainly was not applicable to him. His experience
with juries proves that courtesy and fairness are not
insuperable obstacles to success, and that a man of
ability and integrity can obtain verdicts without resort-
ing to any small artifices or objectionable methods.
He did not fawn upon jurors, or flatter them. He did
not introduce irrelevant topics for the sake of exciting
sympathy for his client or prejudice against his oppo-
nent. But his straightforward method of trying a case
was more effective than the flank movements which
are sometimes adopted.
10 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
Although usually calm and dispassionate, Mr. Bell
was capable of feeling righteous indignation, and also
of forcibly expressing it. In a congressional conven-
tion, in 1862, to which he was a delegate, the commit-
tee on credentials reported in favor of seating a certain
claimant. Mr. Bell believed that this man had been
guilty of dishonorable conduct in the method of his
election. He stated the case to the convention in a
scathing speech, which could hardly have occupied five
minutes. The chairman of the committee, no mean
antagonist, and moreover representing on that occasion
the faction which succeeded in nominating its congres-
sional candidate, tried to stem the tide. But Mr. Bell's
burning words had done their work. The convention
not only rejected the favorite of the committee, but
went so far as to seat his rival.
The belief in Mr. Bell's fairness was universal. It
was generally understood that he did not speak unless
he had something to say, and that he expressed no
opinion that he did not really entertain. " The char-
acter of the man stood behind the efforts of the
advocate." Not only in the court-room, but also in
the stormiest political gathering, he was sure of being
listened to with attention. On one occasion, in a tur-
bulent nominating convention, held in 1864, he was
the -only man on his side who could obtain a respectful
hearing while the excitement was at its height. The
last session that Mr. Bell served in the legislature, a
measure was pending which aroused strong political
feeling. The opponents of the bill put up man after
CHARLES HENRY BELL. 11
man to speak against it, and consumed much time in
this way. Meanwhile the friends of the measure con-
fided to Mr. Bell alone the task of replying, and them-
selves sat silent, entertaining a just confidence that he,
single handed, would prove a full match for the entire
phalanx of the opposition.
No description of Mr. Bell as a lawyer can be com-
plete which omits all mention of his contributions to
the social life of the bar. Modern improvements in
locomotion are rapidly eliminating the social feature
from legal life in New Hampshire. But when he en-
tered the profession, the railroads had not yet produced
their full efi"ect ; the bar still congregated at the shire
town throughout " court week," and comradeship was
not entirely a thing of the past. No man was a more
genial companion than ]\Ir. Bell. In conversation he
had no superior and few equals. He was not only a
good talker, but also a good listener. He was not in
the habit of monopolizing the conversation, or of relat-
ing anecdotes of which he was himself the hero. To
listen to a familiar, off"-hand talk between two such
men as IMr. Bell and his intimate friend. Judge Bart-
lett, was a pleasure the like of which cannot be enjoyed
in New Hampshire to-day. Both were full of know-
ledge of books, and both had a strong sense of humor,
and a wonderful power of expression. The charm of
such conversation is more easily felt than described.
It was probably the general opinion of Mr. Bell's
friends that, though he was successful at the bar, yet
the more appropriate place for him was the bench,
12 CHARLES HKNRY BELL.
where two near kinsmen had served with distinction.
He certainly possessed 'marked qualifications for that
position ; a competent knowledge of law, practical ex-
perience, tact, sound sense, a dignified presence, and a
power of controlling men which led to his attaining
the rare distinction of being called upon to preside
successively over the House of Representatives, the
Senate, and the Constitutional Convention. Had he
remained in active practice, he must erelong have been
tendered a judgeship. If still at the bar, he could not
have been passed over upon the reorganization of the
court in 1876. One reason for his non-appointment at
an earlier day is to be found in his unwillingness to
push his own claims, and his willingness to recognize
the claims of others. In 1861 he took an active part
in canvassing the lawyers in his section in behalf of
the appointment of Judge Bartlett; and, in 1869, he
urged the appointment of Judge Foster. He preferred
others in honor.
The readers of the admirable biographies in " The
Bench and Bar of New Hampshire " must regret that
the author's legal life could not be delineated by one
who possessed his own rare qualifications for such an
undertaking. But no such alter et idem is left behind
" The lips are silent wbich alone could pay
His worthj' tribute."
CHARLES HENRY BELL.
By Hon. Mellen Chamberlain, LL.D.
Few persons now living can have known Charles
Henry Bell earlier in his yonth, or more intimately
in the prime of his manhood, than myself ; but as I
never saw him in the court-house, nor in legislative
halls, nor in the exercise of any of his high offices, nor
heard him address the people at political gatherings,
what 1 have to say relates chiefly to his more quiet and
less eventful private life. And yet all that I have
heard of his public life confirms — if confirmation were
needed — everything that Judge Smith has said in his
It is, therefore, by his character as a whole, rather
than by any of its prominent traits shown on a public
stage and illustrated by interesting anecdotes related
by others, that I knew him, and in a few words shall
try to make known as it appeared to me. In the
course of a long life, I have met many remarkable
14 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
men ; but I have never been brought into intimate
relations with any one who, upon the whole, seemed
to me to possess so many varied powers, each of a high
order, and all combined in a character so symmetrical,
so harmonious, and no less remarkable in youth than
When Charles Bell was ten years old and I a little
more than twelve, we were students at Pembroke
Academy. He came among us without prestige ; for,
though his father had been governor of the state, I
doubt if that was known to his new associates ; nor
was there anything at that time which gave promise of
his commanding personal presence in later years.
Least of all was he one of those boys who, by alert-
ness and self-assertion, take the lead among their
fellows. The youngest of his class and apparently
doing his work with half the labor required of those
much older, this excited admiration, but not envy.
Friendly to all, he sought no special intimacies that I
remember, though everyone regarded him as a per-
sonal friend. By intuition rather than by any estimate
of his mental and moral qualities, we at once recog-
nized him as no common boy and as a leader. I
doubt if anyone could have given the reason for this
then; nor do I suppose we could now — for a charac-
ter so well rounded easily eludes description. The
most that can be said, is that we felt its influence then,
nor have we forgotten it during the lapse of sixty
After a term at Pembroke we separated ; he going
CHARLES HENRY BELL. 15
to Exeter to complete his studies for admission to col-
lege, and I, somewhat later, to Concord with the same
purpose. I saw him there once, and I think it must
have been when his life of Chief-Justice Richardson
was going through the press — a work of Avhich he
afterwards spoke disdainfully, though with little rea-
son. It was, indeed, the immature work of a boy of
fifteen, but one which gave promise of future excel-
lence in historical writing, since amply redeemed.
We next met at Dartmouth College in 1840, and
not long after became room-mates and, of course, inti-
mately acqiiainted. At that time Mr. Bell did not
seem to be in robust health. He had entered college
with the class of 1838, but was compelled to postpone
his studies for two years. When he returned in 1840,
he showed symptoms of an incipient malady fatal to
several of his family; nor do I think he was uncon-
scious of this danger, although he never spoke of it.
Before he left college, boating, the use of the foils and
military drill had developed his form to those fine
proportions ever after noticeable.
Though Mr. Bell's natural gifts, with ordinary appli-
cation, would have easily made him the first scholar of
his class in every department, he was not pre-eminent
in any. He never made a poor recitation and never a
brilliant one. Everything like display or self consci-
ousness was always distasteful to him ; but his talents
were undeniable and at once recognized by his asso-
ciates. His preparation for the class-room did not
require severe or protracted study, aud he occupied
16 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
himself meanwhile with music, drawing, and those
light exercises which promoted his health.
His swiftness of apprehension was remarkable ; and
no less remarkable his memory. By intuition he saw
the solution of a complicated problem in mathematics,
or the translation of a difficult passage in Thucydides ;
and I doubt if he ever was obliged to go twice to the
dictionary for the meaning of the same word, or any
form of it recurring in his classics.
Though Mr. Bell's quickness and strength of mind
could hardly fail of notice even in a casual conversa-
tion, yet I think his early associates, as those who
knew him intimately in his maturer years, were less
struck by salient points of his intellectual character,
than by the symmetrical proportions of the whole, and
the harmony between its parts ; and to those who did
not know hi;n well, the high estimate of those who
did might seem to savor of friendship rather than im-
I do not think so. Doubtless the great liking which
his personal qualities wrought in those who came into
his presence predisposed them to a favorable estimate
of his intellectual powers ; but his personal qualities
— those which immediately and without assignable
reason attract or repel — were also remarkable and
equally defy analysis. He was one of the youngest of
the undergraduates and used none of those arts by
which popularity is sometimes gained ; but no one in
the college was more popular. His manner was
reserved and his speech quiet ; and so Avere the wit
CHARLES HENRY BELL. 17
aud humor with which he was richly endowed. Un-
duly familiar with no one, no one presumed on too
great familiarity with him.
He sought no honors within the gift of the students.
They came unsought ; and in college affairs, generally
regulated by the upper classes, his influence while yet
in the lower, was second to that of no other. His
opinions were frequently sought, but never obtruded ;
for though often visited he was not often seen in the
rooms of other students.
And so this reserved and silent youth, who seldom
spoke of himself or his own affairs, who never made
protestations of friendship, who never seemed pleased
with compliments and rarely made them, was re-
spected and loved by his college-mates, and in after
years by the people of his state, who honored and
trusted him as few of her sons have been honored and
The influence he possessed and the affection he in-
spired were by his character — open, sincere, manly
and just, — united with exceptional abilities, harmoni-
ous, symmetrical, easily working and ever at com-
After graduation we were separated for more than
twenty years with only occasional and brief meetings.
This was the period of his professional and political
life, of which Judge Smith has written. But for the
last twenty-five years, after he had retired from pro-
fessional and public pursuits, we were often together ;
yet I was present on no occasion, public or private.
18 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
which called forth his rare powers of conversation,
which such as witnessed theii* exercise delight to
dwell upon. It was chiefly in the quiet of his own
home, though sometimes in mine, or during long walks
in the country, and iu conversation with no third party
present, that we renewed the acquaintance of our
earlier days, and I had the amplest opportunities for
the study of his character and reconsidering my former
estimate of it. The old power and the old charm
remained, not easy to describe, but deepened by experi-
ence and mellowed by years.
I have spoken of the symmetry of Mr. Bell's intel-
lectual character, and I wish to add a word respecting
his sense of art, pictorial and plastic, as well as liter-
ary. He had little liking for art expressions of pagan
or Christian mythology, or for composite landscapes ;
but his appreciation was keen and just of what is real,
if not too highly raised by imagination ; and, therefore,
he was more deeply impressed by the great master-
pieces of portraiture which he saw in Europe and by
simple idyllic landscapes in which the individuality
of common trees and the wayside shrubs and flowers
are not sacrificed by too generalized treatment.
I allude to this quality of his art sense because it
shows itself in his literary work. No one had a
greater distaste for sounding phrases, or tropes and
metaphors than he. No one wrote with greater direct-
ness and simplicity; and few with greater truth and
picturesqueness. His literary work, even on the most
prosaic of subjects, is vital throughout.
CHARLES HENRY BELL. 19
Judge Smith expresses regret, which is shared by
Mr.. Bell's legal friends, that he seemed to decline a
judicial career clearly open to him, in which those of
his family connection had gained distinction, and to
which he doubtless would have added.
That is a rational regret for the people of New
Hampshire. My own personal regret, however, and
one shared by many others, is that he did not earlier
give attention to historical writing ; for what he did,
though not large in amount and mainly limited to sub-
jects of local rather than of general interest, seems to
me not only the best of its kind, but to evince powers
capable of successfully covering wider and more im-
portant fields. This certainly is the opinion of those
historical students with whom I have conversed on
this subject. Few writers have possessed in the same
degree an almost intuitive knowledge of the sources of
history, or the power of skilfully grouping materials,
or of estimating their values, or of perspicuously pre-
senting them; nor can I doubt that had he sooner
entered the field of historical investigation and devoted
his rare powers to some work which would have called
them forth, he would hold a high place among Ameri-
The following list includes the principal historical
writings and occasional addresses of Mr. Bell :
The Life of William M. Richardson, LL.D., 1839.
An Address at the laying of the corner-stone of the Robinson
Female Seminarj-, Exeter, N. H., 1868.
An Address at the Centennial of Derry, N. H., 1869.
20 CHARLES HEKRY BELL.
Men and Things of Exeter, N. H., 1871.
Exeter in 1776, 1876.
The Wheelwright Deed, 1876.
John Wheelwright ; His Writings and a Memoir, 1876.
An Address in memor}' of Hon. Ira Perley, before the Alumni
Association of Dartmouth College, 1880.
An Oration before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Dartmouth
Memoir of Daniel Webster, for the Historic Genealogical
Phillips Exeter Academy ; A Historical Sketch, 1883.
A Memoir of Dr. John T. Gilman, privately printed for the
History of Exeter, N. H., 1888.
The Exeter Quarter-Millennial ; An Address at Exeter,
N. H., June 7, 1888.
An Address before the Bunker Hill Association in Boston,
June 17, 1891.
The Bench and Bar of New Hampshire, lS9i.
No analysis of these writings can be given here.
The most elaborate were, " John Wheelwright," pre-
pared for the Prince Society, 1876; "History of
Exeter," in 1888, and " The Bench and Bar of New
Hampshire." The first is regarded, and frequently
cited by historians, as a model of research and tem-
perate discussion of questions which profoundly dis-
turbed New England more than two hundred and fifty
years ago, and have since given much trouble to his-
torical students. The " History of Exeter " is too well
known by all who are likely to read this sketch to
require description; and " The Bench and Bar," a work
CHARLES HENRY BELL. 21
which employed so much of his time in later years,
and is so pathetically associated with Mr. Bell's closing
hoars, is hardly before the public ; but it has excited
expectations fully realized by those who have seen it
when going through the press.
A few words respecting Mr. Bell's delivery of his
public addresses. I never heard him in extemporane-
ous speech before the people, and only three times
when he spoke from manuscript: once when he deliv-
ered the Exeter Quarter-Millennial address, June 7,
1888 ; once, when he discussed the Wheelwright deed ;
and again, in the Old South, Boston, June 17, 1891.
On each occasion, in the heat of summer, his address
was preceded by long, and necessarily exhausting ex-
ercises ; but I have seldom been present when the
orator so soon gained the attention of his audience and
held it to the close; not, indeed, by oratorical flights,
or sensational appeals, or interesting anecdotes, but by
a vital and picturesque presentation of subjects some-
times dry and seldom of absorbing interest. This was
especially the case on the 17th of June, when, in his
Bunker Hill oration, he addressed some who had
heard Webster and other distinguished orators on like
occasions. But Mr. Bell, by his vivid description of
the events of June 17th, 1775, presented the services
of the New Hampshire troops on that day in a manner
not likely to be forgotten by those who heard him.
What Mr. Bell was in his family ; the serenity of
his temper ; his never failing regard for the interest
and comfort of others ; the affection he manifested for
22 CHARLES HENRY BELL.
his wife and childi-en, and the affection he inspired, is
known to all who were privileged to see him in his
home. But such memories belong only to the nearest
November 14, 1893, relatives and friends laid away
in the earth all that was mortal of Charles Henry Bell.
So serene and beautiful was the day, that we could
hardly think it November ; so placid was the face of
our friend, that we could hardly think him dead. The
seasons come and go with days of sunshine and days
of storm, but to all that knew him his friendship was
unchanging and unclouded. What he did as jurist,
statesman and historian have passed into history ;
what he was as a friend remains an undying remem-