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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& 


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 


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 


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 


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 


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- 


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. 


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 


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, 


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." 


His Character. 
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 
admirable sketch. 

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 


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 
in maturity. 

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 


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 


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- 
partial judgment. 

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 


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. 


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. 


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- 
can historians. 

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. 


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 
College, 1881. 

Memoir of Daniel Webster, for the Historic Genealogical 
Society, 1881. 

Phillips Exeter Academy ; A Historical Sketch, 1883. 

A Memoir of Dr. John T. Gilman, privately printed for the 
family, 1885. 

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 


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 


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 
and dearest. 

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-