Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Gideon Hiram Hollister was born at Washington, in this state, on the 14th of December, 1817, and died at Litchfield, March 24th, 1881. At Yale College, whence he graduated in 1840, he ranked among the foremost writers and speakers of his time, was class poet, editor of the Yale Literary Magazine, and first president of Linonian Society - the highest of society honors at a time when those honors were very highly considered. Studying with Judge Seymour in Litchfield, he was admitted to the bar in 1842, and, after a brief stay in Woodbury, came to Litchfield. There, in 1843, he was appointed clerk of the courts, a position which he held, a single year excepted, till 1852, though all the time in active practice at the bar.
Mr. Hollister became a State Senator in 1856; was instrumental in procuring the election of the Hon. James Dixon to the U.S. Senate, and, during the years in which Mr. Dixon was a power in Connecticut politics, exercised great political influence in the western part of the state. In 1868 he was sent Minister to Hayti, and on his return lived for several years at Stratford, practicing law in Bridgeport. He returned to Litchfield in 1876, and represented that town in the legislature of 1880.
In 1855 he published a history of Connecticut, and at the time of his death had partly completed a revision of that work. In 1866 he published a volume of poems, showing marked power, and greatly increasing his literary reputation.
Mr. Hollister was not learned in the law; he seldom read text-books, and was little familiar with decisions, though thoroughly grounded in the elementary principles of the science. The books he loved were the English classics; he eschewed trash, but read and re-read the great writers of our tongue, from Chaucer to Tennyson, with a persistent interest not common in these days when literature is so very light, and when books which need to be studied are seldom opened. As a lawyer his strength lay in the trial of matters of fact to a jury, in which he had few equals.
In cross-examination he was wonderfully adroit. Most witnesses, consciously or unconsciously, incline to swear with the examiner, against the cross-examiner. This stumbling-block of natural antagonism he avoided with great skill. A studiously polite and considerate manner allayed hostility; and, if the antagonism was proof against kind treatment, he would often lead the witness the way he wished by seeming to desire him to take the opposite direction. When severe he was terribly severe, but shunned indiscriminate severity - rarely attacking a witness harshly unless under circumstances which would fully justify him with the court and jury.
Mr. Hollister's delivery was slow; his manner impressive; his action dignified and effective; and he had in remarkable degree the advocate's power of portraying parties and witnesses with such a subtle coloring of apt words as impressed his own bias upon juries without their being at all aware of the effect his art produced. At times he was magnificent, though, like all born orators, often disappointing. When at his best he overflowed with wit, pressed his attack with terrific weight and vigor, and electrified his hearers with passages of exceeding beauty and eloquence. His skill with the pen had a marked effect upon his spoken utterances, giving them all the variety, correctness, and elegance of good writing. No doubt, also, his thorough acquaintance with Shakespeare and Tennyson, with Burke and Webster, contributed largely to the formation of a style of such unusual excellence; but more, perhaps, was due to powers and aptitudes such as nature has bestowed upon few.
Mr. Hollister was a most interesting man in conversation. His original way of treating every-day subjects, of illuminating dull facts with irresistible flashes of wit, and of illustrating men and things with touches of poetical fancy, gave him a truly wonderful power of fascination by talk. Nor was he in the least overbearing in conversation, as is often the case with good talkers, but added the influence of unfailing politeness to marvelous powers of persuasion, such as one must have felt to appreciate.