Strangers to Us All
Lawyers and Poetry

Severn Teackle Wallis


James Grant Wilson & John Fiske (eds.), Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889)(v.6)


Harper's Weekly
April 21, 1894 — p. 381


Severn Teackle Wallis, LL. D., who died in Baltimore . . . in the seventy-eighth year of his age was one of the ablest and most brilliant men in the South. He was the Nestor of the Baltimore bar, and he it was who stood at the front in the reform fight in Maryland from the beginning of the reform movement. Absolutely fearless in a cause he championed, he was a marvellous fighter, and the strength he always wielded in any contest was due to the fact that he never made statements for which he did not have conclusive evidence. He was the spirit and the factor of the reform movement which has done more for Maryland, in the face of innumerable obstacles, than has been accomplished in any State in the South. He had a knightly courage and the courtesy of a prince, and all who came in contact with him were fascinated by his wonderful personality.

In the culture and education of Baltimore he was easily first. He was a native of that city, and he studied law in the office of the brilliant William Wirt, then the leader of the American bar. In the early years of his practice he went to Spain, and when he returned, in 1849, Messrs, Harper & Brothers published his Glimpses of Spain, which promptly
reached a second edition, and also his Spain, her Institutions, Politics, and Public Men. The Royal Academy of History of Madrid recognized the value of his work by conferring upon him exceptional honors. At Copenhagen the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries made him a Fellow. He was connected with the American legation in Spain for a time
as secretary, and later was sent by the United States government to examine into the Spanish land grants in Florida while that State was a Spanish province. When he returned to Baltimore he joined in the fight against Know-Nothingism, and did more than any other man to kill it in Maryland. He was in the State Legislature during the war, and was a sympathizer with the South, although opposed to the belief that the Legislature had any power to throw the State out of the Union. With other leaders, he was for a time confined in Fort Monroe and Fort Warren, but was soon released.

Mr. Wallis was an intense Democrat, but his party faith was no stronger than his opposition to machine methods and boss rule. When the Democratic party fell into the hands of the ballot-box stuffers and their sponsors, Mr. Wallis began the reform fight which has continued ever since, and which, in spite of repeated defeats, has succeeded in securing
better election laws and better methods generally. He was the president of the Reform Association from its organization, and he was one of the active workers for civil service reform, local and national. There were few leading institutions of the State with which he was not connected. In 1872 he succeeded John P. Kennedy as Provost of the University
of Maryland. He was one of the original trustees of the Peabody Institute; he was president of the Maryland Historical Society; he was president of the Athenæum Club. He never married. His wit was the delight of the city, and his powers of sarcasm were very remarkable. His home in the
city was the rallying-point for the brightest scholarship of the town. He was a contributor to the literature of the day, he had a very large law practice, he was a linguist of unusual attainments, he sometimes wrote poetry, and many of the successful lawyers of Baltimore owe much to his advice, and very often to his more substantial assistance and encouragement. All the papers of Baltimore, without regard to party, pay the highest possible tributes to his life and his work.

Wallis was born on September 8, 1816 and died on April 11, 1894. His parents, Philip and Elizabeth Custis (Teackle) Wallis were descendents of families long established on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Wallis attended St. Mary's College in Baltimore and graduated in 1832, at the age of sixteen. He obtained an M.A. from St. Mary's College two years later. He studied law in the law offices of both William Wirt and Judge John Glenn. He was admitted to practice law in 1837. In 1844, he joined with others in the founding of the Maryland Historical Society, and was presdient of the society from 1892 until his death in 1894. He visited Spain for the first time in 1847 and in 1849 embarked on his second trip.

Wallis took up political life as a Whig and then became a Democrat. He ran for the state legislature in 1847, the year of his first Spain trip, but was defeated. He was likewise unsuccessful in a bid for attorney general in 1951.

During the civil war, he took positions opposed to the U.S. government and was imprisoned for 14 months.

He was according to the biographical sketch in the Dictionary of American Biography (from which this bio is drawn) "regarded as the leader of the Maryland bar" and so held for almost 50 years. "He argued thousands of cases before the state courts and appeared before the United States Supreme Count in many important cases." [Dumas Malone (ed.), Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 10, pp. 385-386 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons)(quoted passage at 386] [The Dictionary of American Biography cites as further biographical sources: Bernard Steiner, "Severn Teackle Wallis," Sewanee Rev. (Jan.-Apr. 1907); W.C. Bruce, Seven Great Baltimore Lawyers (1931)]

Seven Teackle Wallis

Address: "Law and Lawyers"
6 Albany Law Review 121 (1872)


A Prayer for Peace


Severn Teackle Wallis, Writings of Severn Teackle Wallis (Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co. 1896)(4 vols)(Vol. I: Addresses and Poems) [poems—pp. 255-334] [vol.1 :: online text]


Severn Teackle Wallis, Lecture on the Philosophy of History, and some of the popular errors which are founded on it. Delivered before the Calvert Institute, January 24th, 1844 (Baltimore: Printed by John Murphy, (1844) [online text]

_________________, Glimpses of Spain; or, Notes of an Unfinished Tour in 1847 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1849) [online text]

_________________, Spain: Her Institutions, Politics, and Public Men.
A Sketch
(Boston: Ticknor, Reed and Fields, 1853) [online text]

_________________, Leisure: Its Moral and Political Economy (Baltimore: Printed by J.B. Rose & Co., 1859)

_________________, Correspondence between S. Teackle Wallis, esq., of Baltimore, and the Hon. John Sherman, of the U.S. Senate,
concerning the arrest of members of the Maryland legislature, and the mayor and police commissioners of Baltimore, in 1861
(Baltimore, 1863)

_________________, Discourse on the Life and Character of George Peabody, delivered in the Hall of the Peabody Institute, Baltimore, February 18, 1870, and repeated, February 25th, before the Senate and House of Delegates of Maryland, on their Invitation (Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co., 1870) [online text]

_________________, Address delivered before the Law Class of the University of Maryland at the annual Commencement of the Law Department, June 15th, 1872 (Baltimore: Printed for the Law Faculty and the Graduates by J. Murphy, 1872)

_________________, Address of Mr. S. Teackle Wallis Chairman of the Committee, with the Reply of His Excellency, Governor Whyte, Delivered in the Senate Chamber, at Annapolis, At the Unveiling of the Statue of Chief Justice Taney, December 10th, 1872 (Baltimore: Published by John Murphy & Co., 1872) [online text]

_________________, Address by S.T. Wallis, esq. ([Baltimore]: Printed by J. Murphy & Co., 1875)

_________________, Selected Addresses, Lectures, And Reviews, (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1893) [online text]

_________________, Writings of Severn Teackle Wallis (Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co. 1896)(4 vols)(Vol. I: Addresses and Poems)(Vol. II: Critical and Political)(Vol. III: Glimpses of Spain)(Volume IV: Spain, Her Institutions, Politics and Public Men) [vol. 4: online text]

Research Resources

Severn Teackle Wallis Collection
Special Collections, Milton S. Eisenhower Library
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland