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Having passed in London two years of industry and enterprise, in pursuit of the knowledge of letters and of law, he was admitted a barrister of the middle temple. On his return to Philadelphia, which took place shortly afterwards, he entered on the practice of his profession with the same application and zeal, that had manifested themselves in all his other pursuits. Here, as on former occasions, he was embosomed in circumstances peculiarly auspicious. The superior standing of his family and connexions gave him weight in society, and the well known excellence of his elementary and legal education, together with the elegance of his address and the popularity of his manners, conferred on him an equal degree of personal distinction.
With these advantages operating in favour of his persevering industry and attention, his professional progress could be neither slow nor doubtful. His prospects of speedy elevation were, perhaps, superior to those of any other young gentleman of his standing at the bar. We accordingly find, that, in a short time, business and reputation seemed to vie with each other in their struggle to approach him. We mean that adamantine reputation which results from a correct and extensive knowledge, united to integrity of principle and solidity of judgment, not that brilliancy of fame, which nothing but the highest order of genius, breaking forth in an overwhelming eloquence, can bestow. For, though a perspicuous, pleasing, and even impressive speaker, he had no pretension to the character of a finished orator.
Mr. Shippen had been but a very short time engaged in the practice of the law, when he received the most flattering testimony of the confidence reposed in his talents and integrity by the British cabinet. He had not yet completed his twenty-fourth year, when he was appointed Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Judge of the Court of Vice Admiralty for the same province. Besides several other places of honour, trust and emolument, which were conferred on him, he was appointed a member of the proprietary and governor's council, a body of men not for
tuitously drawn together from the mass of population, but selected with care from among the most respectable characters of the province. These several offices, some of which he held during a term of nearly thirty years, he filled with ability and reputation at the commencement of the revolutionary war.
On the first occurrence of that gigantic struggle, which shook to its basis the whole fabric of civil society, all offices in the American colonies, issuing from the crown of Great Britain, were temporarily suspended, and, on the declaration of independence, they were immediately abolished. This measure, bold in itself, and worthy of a people daring to be free, swept from Mr. Shippen a very liberal income. For, with the abolition of the offices which he had hitherto held, the emoluments appertaining to them necessarily ceased. But his mind was of too firm a texture to be shattered by misfortune, and his spirits too buoyant to ebb into despair. Instead of taking an active part in the contest for freedom, he
gave a preference to the walks of private life. Accordingly, while others were engaged in the deliberations of the senate, the arrangements of the cabinet, or the turmoils and dangers of the embattled field, he found content and pleasure in the bosom of retirement, and sufficient employment in the practice of his profession.
Soon after the close of the war of independence, when the wheels of civil society began to move afresh, he was appointed to preside in the Courts of Quarter Sessions for the city and county of Philadelphia. He was also, about the same time, appointed president of the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia county. So faithfully and with such ability did he discharge the duties attached to these several stations, that in the year 1791 he received the appointment of a Judge, and, in 1799, that of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But his descent into the vale of years was already deep, for he had now numbered upwards of three score and ten. Placed in circumstances abundantly affluent, and feeling that the otiuin
vesperis vitæ was imperiously called for by his weary and declining faculties, he resigned the office of Chief Justice about the close of the year 1805, a few months previously to his death.
In his character as a Judge, the venerable subject of this memoir never forgot that justice should be tempered with clemency. When seated on the bench, he was patient in his attention, in his perceptions clear and discriminating, in his decisions upright and impartial, and in the delivery of his opinions and charges, concise, perspicuous, and not inelegant. In his official intercourse with the gentlemen of the bar, he maintained a firmness of character and dignity of deportment, mingled with such politeness and suavity of manners, as never failed to command their respect, and to conciliate, in the highest degree, their affections and esteem. If the cause of justice or humanity ever suffered in his presence, his heart and his will were strangers to the transaction. Even the delinquent who received from the JUDGE the chastisement of the law, was forced to acknowledge in the dispensation the mildness of the MAN.
But it was in his private capacity that the virtues and attributes of his character shone with the brightest and most amiable lustre. Possessed of Spartan uprightness and integrity, no species of dishonour ever dared to approach him. Throughout the whole course of a life protracted far beyond the usual span, his personal reputation was unsullied with a stain. Yet were these sterner qualities, the natural safeguards of honour and of virtue, blended in exquisite and delightful harmony, with all the benevolent and social affections.
As a friend and companion, Mr. Shippen had but few equals. His heart was open, manly and sincere, alike free from the meanness of dissimulation and the canker of distrust. A cheerfulness of disposition, which nature seemed to have tempered in one of her happiest moments, a mind enriched with the beauties of polite literature and a spritely playfulness of fancy and of wit, gave to his conversation pe
culiar charms. His presence was capable of taking from the social circle and the festive board their wonted sensibility to the movements of time.
But other occurrences in the history of Mr. Shippen of a tenderer and more endearing character, are yet to be mentioned. Nor, though altogether of a domestic nature, is any apology deemed necessary to the mind of sensibility, for introducing them into the present memoir. Early in life it was his good fortune to contract an affection for, and afterwards to marry, a daughter of Tench Francis, Esq. his preceptor in law, one of the most amiable and accomplished young ladies of the province. By this marriage he became at once the father and the idol of one of the worthiest and most promising of families—a family possessing every thing calculated to conciliate his affections, rivet his esteem, and even to awaken his paternal pride. But as several members of that family are still living, an ornament to society in this and a neighbouring city, a dread of doing violence to the delicacy of cultivated minds, restrains us from paying the tribute that is due.
In the bosom of that family, on the 16th of April 1806, sunk suddenly but gently into the embraces of death, their venerable father, at the patriarchal age of seventy-seven years and two months.
THE FINE ARTS. FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
ORIGINAL LETTER FROM SIR BENJAMIN WEST TO CHARLES
W. PEALE, ESQ.
London, Newman-street, Sept. 19th, 1809.
I EMBRACE the opportunity by the return of Mr. to Philadelphia, to acknowledge the receipt of your friendly letters at various times.
Mr. has presented me with the first number of the natural history of the birds of the United States, the production of that ingenious gentleman Mr. Alexander Wilson of your city; it is a work highly creditable to the abilities of that artist ; and the world are greatly indebted to Messrs. Bradford and Inskeep for laying it before them.
The information which Mr. has given me respecting the academy established in Philadelphia, for cultivating the art of delineation, is highly honourable to those gentlemen who are its promoters, and benefactors; and is gratifying to my feelings as a native of the state of Pennsylvania. Had such an establishment taken place half a century past, when my youthful mind first became enamoured with the beauties of the fine arts, it would have at once enriched
my fancy, and matured my judgment at that period of life, when the imagination requires to be stimulated, and directed by examples of excellent models of imitation; and I am persuaded there will be many a latent spark of genius kindled into enthusiasm by such an establishment, which, without such aid, would, like the flower in the wilderness “ blush unseen, and waste its sweets in the desert."
When I was in Italy in the year 1760, the stupendous production in the fine arts which are in that country, rushed on my feelings with their impetuous novelty, and grandeur; and their progress through the world from the earliest period, arrested my attention; when I discovered they had accompanied empire, as shade does the body when it is