Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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The custom of entering upon our Reports a brief memorial of the members of our profession, as one after another they are called away, commends itself as well to the understanding as to the heart. We only wish that the custom were more general, and that it had not been confined to the distinguished few; for we deem it eminently fit that all at least who contribute to the essential learning which is treasured in our Reports, should have a brief page devoted to their personal history.
Norton J. Buel was born in Salisbury, in this the state, on the 6th day of September, 1813, and died at New Haven, on the 6th of March, 1864.
The foundations of his mental culture were laid in his native village. In his youth he was for a considerable time a clerk in a mercantile establishment, and this early business training was of the greatest value to him in the practice of his profession. He derived from it a skill in penetrating and unraveling intricate accounts that few lawyers ever acquire, and his services were much sought in cases involving such accounts; while such investigations, which are generally the dread of our profession, were undertaken and pursued by him with positive delight.
He did not enjoy the advantages of a collegiate education, but relying more upon his own patient industry and careful analysis for the ascertainment of facts and correct principles under the practical teachings of General Sedgwick for a season, and afterwards of Judge Seymour, he soon evinced such indications of self mental training as were the sure harbinger of success in his profession.
Unlike too many who consider an examination and an admission to the bar as a title to preferment, he never ceased while he lived to be a student of the law. He was always investigating its principles, and always learning to simplify and elucidate them. Associated or contending with such men as the late lamented C. A. Ingersoll, Kimberly, and Baldwin, he did not rely so much upon the inspiration of his genius as upon the careful study and preparations of his causes; and in argument he sought to make an impression by clearness of statement and by a forcible yet truthful presentation of facts of a case, rather than by mere oratory, or by appeals to passion or prejudice. In this way he secured the confidence of the court and of the jury, and thus gained the professional success which these help so greatly to win. His proverbial fidelity to truth always commanded the respect of his brethren, and the unreserved confidence of his clients.
Soon after his admission to the bar he opened an office at Naugatuck, in 1835, then belonging to the town of Waterbury, and in 1840 he removed to the present city of Waterbury, where he remained until the autumn of 1863, when he removed to New Haven - thus dedicating his professional life to the county of his adoption. At the time of his death he was already in the front rank of the profession, and had he lived a few years longer he would have had a practice in the state and federal courts not surpassed by that of any other lawyer in the state. With a naturally fine constitution and temperate habits he yet broke down in the fullness of his powers under the severity and fidelity of his professional studies and labors.
Mr. Buel was never an ardent politician. There was much in his mental constitution incompatible with party requirements; and yet he cherished clear and conservative political principles, and did not hesitate to avow them upon all proper occasions. But he was too independent in his mental structure to be the tool of a party. Notwithstanding this, he repeatedly represented his adopted town in the legislature, and his district in the senate of our state; but always with more satisfaction to his constituents than gratification to himself; and was for many years, in a more congenial employment, one of the best probate judges of the state.
Mr. Buel several years before his death connected himself by a religious profession with one of the Congregational churches of Waterbury, and ever after sustained his profession by a consistent Christian life.
The estimation in which he was held by those who knew him best, can not be better expressed than by citing a portion of the principal resolution unanimously adopted by his brethren of the New Haven County bar upon the occasion of his death: -
"That we shall ever cherish a regretful and affectionate regard for the memory of one whose honorable deportment, uniform courtesy, acknowledged ability, and stainless virtues, endeared him the closer to those who had the best opportunity to appreciate his professional and private worth."[footer.htm]