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VOL. 1-6


The Lawyer


"Law is anything which is boldly
asserted and plausibly maintained."






ONCE upon a time, before the war, Burr had hoped to become a lawyer, and he now turned again to these forgotten studies. But the state of his health disturbed him and kept him from his work; he was not contented, he told his old friend, William Paterson; he sighed for New Jersey, he saw no company, he partook of no amusements, he was always grave. He seemed to be suffering from melancholia.

"I am once more a recluse," he again wrote Paterson in February, 1780, from Middletown this time. "It accords with my feelings. I should doubtless be happier if I enjoyed perfect health and the society of a friend like you . . I am somewhat at a loss how to regulate my motions for the coming summer. The prospect of peace is still distant. It is an object of importance with me to be not only secure from alarms, but remote from the noise of war. . My health, which was till late very promising, seems to decline a little. This circumstance will oblige me to alter my course of life

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"A gentleman who has been long eminent at your bar, and whom we both know perfectly well, had made Troup some polite offers of his services as an instructor. He was pleased with the scheme, and as he knew the gentleman was professedly my friend, urged me to put myself also under his tuition. I mentioned to him in a late letter the objections which had been decisive with me, and I fancy he will view them in the same light. He is the companion I would wish in my studies. He is a better antidote for the spleen than a ton of drugs. I am often a little inclined to hypo[chondria]. . . . I have been pursuing the track you marked out for me, though not with the ardour I could wish. My health will bear no imposition. I am obliged to eat, drink, sleep and study as it directs."

It was really not until the fall of 1780 that Burr was able to devote himself regularly to his reading; when, with his friend, Colonel Robert Troup, he placed himself definitely under the instruction of William Paterson, at Raritan, in New Jersey, and took up his residence in the lawyer's home. But their conceptions of the proper method of studying law were not at all in accord. Paterson insisted on a thorough preliminary grounding in legal principles. Burr was all for an immediate entrance into actual practice, convinced that the latter would soon make the principles perfect. The matter was not one which could be readily adjusted, and so the two students departed from Raritan, and sought, instead, the library of Mr. Thomas Smith, a New York lawyer who, at the time of the British occupation, had moved his books to Haverstraw, and who now, in return for

a representative sum in gold, consented to induct Mr. Burr and Mr. Troup into the mysteries of their profession.


But Mr. Burr did not, in 1781, confine himself exclusively to the study of the law. In fact, it is a question whether his dejection and unhappiness the year before were entirely due to the condition of his health. For Mr. Burr was then-he had, perhaps, already for some time been-in love with a lady who, in May, 1781, was writing to him that "our being the subject of much inquiry, conjecture and calumny, is no more than we ought to expect. My attention to you was ever pointed enough to attract the observation of those who visited the house. Your esteem more than compensated for the worst they could say. When I am sensible I can make you and myself happy, I will readily join you to suppress their malice. But, till I am confident of this, I cannot think of our union. Till then I shall take shelter under the roof of my dear mother, where, by joining stock, we shall have sufficient to stem the torrent of adversity."

The lady in question was Mrs. Theodosia Prevost, of Paramus, New Jersey; the daughter of Mrs. Philip De Visme, and the widow, since 1779 only, of Lieutenant Colonel Marc Prevost of the British army. That Burr had known her for some time, and that tongues had wagged over his relations with the family, is incontestable. "The Misses Livingston have inquired in a very friendly manner about you," Troup told him in June, 1780. "Since I have been

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