Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Sylvester Genin

(1822 -1850 )

frontis engraving

Selections from the Works of the Late Sylvester Genin, Esq., in Poetry, Prose, and Historical Design. With a Biographical Sketch
(New-York: Maigne & Hall, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1855)

The following biographical sketch of Sylvester Genin has been extracted from "Biography of Sylvester Genin," in Selections from the Works of the Late Sylvester Genin, Esq., In Poetry, Prose, and Historical Design. With a Biographical Sketch 3-74 (New-York: Maigne & Hall, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1855) [online text]:

Sylvester Genin was born on the 22d of January, 1822, at 37 Main street, in St. Clairsville, Ohio. His parents were Thomas H. Genin, and Ann Hillard. . . . His father was an accurate lawyer, and author of "The Napolead," an epic poem. [p. 3]

In 1826, a work in French, of 30 quarto volumes, was added to his father's library. He took great interest in the event, and asked how long it would be before he could be instructed in French, so as to read those big books. [p. 5]

He was invited in the year 1828 to take part in a school's dramatic and oratorical exhibition, at the Court House, in St. Clairsville, some three days before it was to take place. The address of Jupiter to the gods, at the commencement of the eighth book of the Iliad, was recommended as a suitable speech for him to deliver. But when he appeared on the stage, he began at the commencement of the eighth book, and recited 224 lines, with such appropriate gesticulation and modulation of voice as quite amused the audience. [p. 6]

In his ninth year, having just listened to the praise bestowed on the speech of a lawyer, by the people, he asked his father what languages and sciences this lawyer had acquired, apparently with the view of ascertaining the necessary accomplishments to win similar renown. As the lawyer was guiltless of much knowledge, the father referred to the school exhibition speech; and embraced the opportunity to explain to him the needful, the useful, and ornamental accomplishments of a lawyer.

The boy listened attentively, occasionally putting questions, leading to the belief that he was inclined to follow the legal profession. He had already, without seeming aware of being embarked in juridical studies, learned, from conversations, the personal relations; most of the definitions touching real estate; the actions, and their distinguishing features; the elementary principles of practice and pleading; the construction of contracts, and principles governing negotiable paper; and when, some years afterwards,he and his brother, on resolving to make law their chief business in life, were engaged on the books of jurisprudence, they were surprised to find they had partially gone over so much of the juridical field before. [p. 7]

He never went to school, except a part of two quarters, when first learning to read. [p. 8]

Under the guidance of his father, the son pursued the study of the sciences and languages at home, along with his brothers, mostly at his discretion, going out to play, or work on the farm, on which he resided, near St. Clairsville, when he was inclined to do so. The French, Latin, and English, were the objects of most attention among languages. He had acquired such knowledge of the Greek and German, as to ascertain the meaning of sentences, in those languages, with the aid of a grammar, and dictionary. He took great pleasure in reading books in French and in repeating the sonorous lines of Virgil, and was inclined to pay full as much attention to the dead languages as comported with the views of his father . . . . [p. 9]

[In 1831 Genin takes up drawing and begins producing portraits of subtle likeness to his subjects.]

In the spring of 1840 he left his home, in Ohio, for the eastern cities, and did not return until February, 1841. His object was to learn what he could in relation to art and artists, to ascertain, with accuracy, the shape of ancient costumes and arms; what colours were most permanent, and what were the prospects of artists. He was furnished with letters to persons in Philadelphia, New York, New Haven and Boston, but went no farther than New Haven. [p. 22]

[John Trumbull, in a letter dated December 13, 1840, New Haven, observes of Genin]: "I have seen specimens of his talents, which sufficiently show that his friends have not overrated them; but considering the natural results of our institutions and of the national character; both of which are opposed to the transmission of great masses of property, successively from generation to generation, and the uncertainty of popular favor, I have advised him, (as my friends advised me,) to make the study and practice of law his great pursuit, and the art of historical painting the amusement of his hours of leisure."

He [Genin] came home from Philadelphia by the most direct route on the 20th of February, and thenceforth earnestly pursued the study of the law, with occasional intermissions for painting, and seldom neglected any opportunities of knowledge, or mental improvement. He was a frequent, and sometimes, an instructive speaker at the Lyceums, in St. Clairsville, which have generally been attended by most of the members of the bar, and at times, by the Rev Clergy. His fluent elocution, flute-like voice, originality of conception, and force of reasoning, often witnessed, excited expectation, and drew attention whenever he rose to speak. [p. 53]

In October, 1848, he attended the Superior Court of Tyler County, Va, being sole counsel in several important land causes, and thence went into the woods to explore, survey, and ascertain the location of lands, and returned home, on the 9th of November, in every cold weather for the season, after an absence of 37 days. [p. 60]

Thinking he had been benefitted by the climate of Louisiana, in the spring of 1848, he left home for the Island of Jamaica, on the 17th of November, 1849; stopped two days at Cincinnati, and six at New Orleans, and reached Kingston on the 28th of December. His passage thither, from New Orleans, was rendered uncomfortable by sea sickness, dampness and cold. He speaks in his letters of having been treated with great kindest by the inhabitants of the Island; and of the judges of their courts, sent from England, as men of deep erudition, and polished manners; and of the climate, as debilitating and unfit for consumptives; and of the Island, as retrograding from the effect of emancipation. On the 28th of March, he arrives in Kingston, from Mr. Fleming's of St. Thomas, East; and appears desirous of the arrival of a Steamship, that he may go to New York, and try the cold water remedy; but took to bed on the same day, at the house of Mrs. Mary Ann Munford, the widow of the Law Reporter of that name, and died on the morning of the 4th of April, 1850, at nine o'clock, and was buried in the Episcopal burying ground, in the suburb of the city, where a stone has been erected to his memory. [p. 61]