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had fought before, and, strange to say, hundreds had gathered there to witness what might prove a tragedy. A prurient curiosity for the tragic seems to be a part of human nature. The morbid taste which prompted the Roman populace to throng the arena that they might see the gladiator die seems not to have been exorcised by the spirit of Christian civilization.
The gloom originating from the untoward event above given had passed from the brow of Prentiss, who seemed cheerful as he walked to the ground. Just before reaching it he observed some youths up in a tree, perched there in order to get a better view. He remarked to them in a jocular tone, “ Boys, you had better come down. General Foote shoots wild, you know, and you may get hit up there.” I know not whether the boys took the hint, but this is more than probable.
At the appointed moment the parties took their positions. As Prentiss reached his, he with a smile tossed his cane from him, that his antagonist might see that this time he was without a rest. The parties stood side by side, some ten or twelve paces apart. The word was given, “Gentlemen, are you ready? Fire,-one-two-three !" General Foote fired first, his ball striking the ground immediately in front of Prentiss, –a line shot. He then stood, his left arm clasped across his side, his right arm hanging down. He neither blanched nor quivered, although the deadly aim of his opponent was upon him. Prentiss pulled his trigger, but the percussion-cap exploded without firing the pistol. General Huston immediately stepped up, put on another percussion-cap, pointed the pistol at a tree, and fired the bullet into it, thus proving that the fault was in the defective cap, not in the loading. It is said that of the hundred caps afterward tested from that box there was not a single failure, and one is almost tempted to look upon the first and only failure as a special interposition of Providence in mercy, for, had Prentiss's pistol fired, General Foote would in all probability have been killed.
The Moloch of honor was not yet satisfied, and the parties again took their stand. At the second fire, Prentiss escaped unscathed, but General Foote was seriously wounded. Fle reeled, staggered, and fell into the arms of his friend.
And now let us drop the curtain upon this painful scene. Hereafter we shall see how firmly these two then mortal foes became reconciled, and how warmly they became attached to each other. This attachment was grounded upon the respect each entertained for the chivalric qualities of the other. In speaking of the event, I have often heard Major Shields say, “A braver man than General Foote never lived."
Prentiss's brother tells us in his “Memoirs" that their mother never heard of this painful episode till after Seargent's death, and therefore the wound was healed before the pang was felt. He went on the field of honor in accordance with the spirit of the
age in which he lived. He sums up the affair to his brother as follows:
"I am very sorry you have heard of my foolish scrape. I regretted the occurrence as much as any one. I neither sought the difficulty nor sent che challenge, but having received it, under the circumstances that existed, I could not have acted differently from what I did. If I had, I should have lost my own self-respect, and life itself would have had no further objects for me. ...
“I am no advocate of duelling, and always shall from principle avoid such a thing as much as possible, but when a man is placed in a situation where if he does not fight life will be rendered valueless to him both in his own eyes and those of the community, and existence will become a burden to him, then I say he will fight, and by so doing will select the least of two evils. I know you will say that such a case as I have supposed cannot occur; but, brother, I think you are mistaken, and such cases may occur, but not often. However, I trust I shall never again have to act in such a matter. You may rest assured that I shall never seek a quarrel, and shall avoid one so long as I can do so and retain my self-respect.”
His subsequent career proved the sincerity of these promises, and therefore we gladly pass from the shadows to the lights in his life, for what is human life but a panorama of “lights and shadows”? We shall hereafter see that, however reckless he may have been of his own life, in the quarrels of others he was ever the peace-maker when it was possible to adjust the difficulty. He had now so firmly established his reputation for courage that he could well have borne upon his shield the motto of the “Knight of the Leopard,” Nemo me impune lacessit.
In 1834, Prentiss's professional business steadily increased; not from any factitious aids, but simply by the force and power of his own talents. I never knew a genius so utterly devoid of personal vanity as he: he never seemed elated by adulation or inflated by success. In all his letters home, where he might have been excused for ventilating vanity, had he had any, he speaks of his efforts with becoming modesty. When he had distinguished himself his expression was ever, “I have done pretty well, I believe.” His discourse was certainly diametrically opposed to the one described by Lowell as being “Like the peacock's tail,--all dotted o'er with l’s.” He estimated his professional income this year at three thousand dollars, and now, for the first time, he felt himself able to help on in his great life-work. The following extract from one of his letters will show what that work was :
“ This year I have been attending to more business than all the time I've been practising before. I have in particular engaged in many capital cases, where men have been tried for murder and other enormous crimes, and I have been very successful. Heretofore I have made little money, and even now the fees for most of my business are still owing me. I hope hereafter to be able to do more for those I love. If my views are not too sanguine, I shall be able to gratify myself by so doing."
During this year (1834) he delivered his first literary address in this State; this address was a eulogy upon Lafayette. When Prentiss was a boy he had met and shaken hands with him, hence the almost holy veneration for the man was deepened by a sort of personal attachment, for Lafayette's genial disposition was charming, even to children, as the following incident will illustrate. In passing through Orange Court-House, Virginia, when he was making his triumphal tour through our country, a beautiful little girl presented him with a rare bouquet.
The liero received it with a smile and a kiss. He continued his journey southward, and he was everywhere hailed with welcome. His pathway was literally strewn with flowers by the hands of hundreds of little girls, yet in passing through Orange, on his return northward, among a group of children assembled to greet him he espied the little one who had given him the flowers, recognized her immediately among that bevy of girls, and calling her to him, said, in his broken English, “Ah! mon leetle fren, I ave got your flower yet.”
Inasmuch as Prentiss's eulogy of Lafayette is given in the “Memoirs” in extenso, we shall here only give the opening and closing paragraphs :
“Death, who knocks with equal hand at the door of the cottage and at the palace gate, has been busy at work; mourning prevails throughout the land, and the countenances of all are shrouded in the mantle of regret. Far across the wide Atlantic, amid the pleasant vineyards on the sunny lands of France, there, too, is mourning, and the weeds of sorrow are all there, worn by prince and peasant. The friend and companion of Washington is no more! Ile who taught the eagle of our country while yet unfledged to plume his young wing and mate his talons with the lion's strength, has taken his flight far beyond the stars, beneath whose influence he fought so well! ... Lafayette is no more! .
“Peace be to his ashes ! Calm and quiet may they rest upon some vineclad bill of his own beloved land, and should be called the ‘Mount Vernon' of France. Let no cunning sculpture, no monumental marble, deface with its mock dignity the patriot's grave, but, rather, let the unpruned vine, the wild-flower, and the free song of the uncaged bird, all that speaks of freedom and peace, be gathered around it. Lafayette needs no mausoleum, his epitaph is graved in the heart of men.”
The address created a profound impression at the time, and the boys in the streets were often heard declaiming its most eloquent parts.
It is a noticeable fact that Prentiss's written productions are never so eloquent as his extempore speeches. His thoughts flashed faster than his pen could record them. This may, in part, be attributed to his early habit practised in the “Spouteroi Club.” Strange to say, although he could quote by the hour from others, he could never quote from himself. It is said of Boilleau, the most prolific of French writers, that he could carry in his teeming brain for weeks and months whole volumes of
thought, but the moment that these were committed to paper he could scarcely quote a single line correctly; so with Prentiss with regard to his spoken speeches. I have heard of instances when he was called upon to repeat for publication some great speech of his, he would stand up, walk to and fro, begin to mutter here and there a sentence, and finally burst forth with,“Oh, pshaw! I can't do it; I lack the inspiration.”
A friend once asked, “Prentiss, how is it possible you can so electrify a crowd ?”
“ Because,” said he, “they first magnetize me.”
When a crowd stood before him he blazed with an electric light, but, like Boilleau, when the effort was over, it seemed to fade from his memory.
This idiosyncrasy of a preference for extempore speaking accounts for his very small number of written addresses, and even these he could not successfully declaim, for the fervor of his delivery would burst beyond all the channels of the written discourse. He once wrote to one of his sisters, “ I had rather make ten speeches than write one."
Because of his genial manners and wonderful talents, his local reputation had spread so rapidly that, as early as 1834, he had been strongly solicited by numerous friends and admirers to become a candidate for Congress; but professional business poured in upon him, he had no time for politics, and had the good sense to decline the request. In a letter to one of his sisters he playfully alludes to this, and begs her not to laugh at him for becoming so famous in so short a time.
The year of 1835 was ushered in, and for the first time since Prentiss had settled in Mississippi was he able to leave his business and steal away on a visit to the friends of his childhood. Of all the joys of life there can be none more ecstatic than the return of a successful boy to his native home. All its endearing associations come thronging upon his memory, and filial affection is crowned by parental pride.
He, with his warm personal friend, E. C. Wilkinson, took passage by sea, and had a pleasant voyage. The meeting with his family was peculiarly felicitous, for not a link in the chain had been broken, all were there, on the tiptoe of expectation.