Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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DENNIS KIMBERLY was born in West Haven, a part of New Haven which now belongs to the town of Orange, on the 23d day of October, 1790. He fitted for college at Morris Academy, in South Farms, now the town of Morris, in Litchfield county, and entered Yale College in 1808. He graduated with honor in 1812, having already commenced reading law in the office of Hon. R. I. Ingersoll. Soon afterwards he entered the office of George Bliss Esq., of Springfield, Mass., but finished his preparatory course with the late R. M. Sherman, of Fairfield, who will long be remembered as a profound jurist, a finished scholar and an eloquent advocate. Judge Sherman while at the bar was pre-eminent as a special pleader, and it may be owing to the influence of his precept and example that the legal papers of General Kimberly were drawn up with consummate accuracy and precision. In March, 1814, he was admitted to the bar, and immediately opened an office in the city of New Haven. He was sincerely attached to his profession, and allowed nothing else to interfere with it. He was soon engaged in an extensive and lucrative practice, which he retained without diminution until ill health compelled him to go abroad in 1852.
He had a decided taste for military affairs, and soon after he commenced practice was elected captain of the New Haven Greys. He took great pleasure and pride in bringing this fine company, which embraced many of the first young men of the place, to a high state of discipline. He was rapidly promoted, till he finally, in 1824, received the appointment of Major-General of the militia of the state. Probably no one has ever discharged the duties of these several grades of office to more general satisfaction.
Possessing a fine figure, and managing a steed with uncommon grace and skill, he was on public occasions an object of admiration, and this may be the reason that to the day of his death he retained the appellation of "General," to the exclusion of all other titles of honor.
Although he never sought office his fellow citizens gave him the opportunity of receiving the highest in their gift. He represented the town of New Haven in the General Assembly in the years 1826, 27, 28, 29, 32, and 35. He was mayor of New Haven in 1831, and declined the appointment, though elected, in 1833. In 1838 he was chosen United States Senator. But he had suffered some pecuniary losses, particularly in consequence of the worthlessness of the stock of the Farmington Canal, a considerable amount of which his public spirit had induced him to take, and from a conversation which the writer had with him while he was deliberating whether he should accept that appointment, which to most men is the object of their highest aspirations, he has no doubt that it was owing to his somewhat straitened circumstances at the time, that he ultimately declined it. It is a satisfaction to know that he afterwards retrieved his losses, and died possessed of a handsome estate.
It is well understood that the nomination of Governor was once tendered to him by the Whig party, to which he belonged, and which was then in power, but he refused it.
He was State Attorney for New Haven County from 1845 to 1848, when he declined to serve any longer. During the last years of his life, until his health prevented his discharging the duties of the office, he was an active director of the New York and New Haven Railroad Company.
In 1852 he crossed the ocean in search of health, and remained on the Continent, sometimes at Naples, Rome, and other places in Italy, but chiefly at Paris, which was a favorite place of residence with him, till 1854, when he returned somewhat improved in health, but with a constitution still incurably enfeebled by disease. During the last six months of his life he was confined to his chamber and was scarcely for an hour free from suffering.
General Kimberly was never married, a circumstance which in the latter part of his life, he did not hesitate to speak of with regret.
It would not be easy to improve the following estimate of his character, contained in the address of Rev. Dr. Cleaveland at his funeral. "General Kimberly's chief strength lay, not in any brilliant gifts of genius, nor in profound and comprehensive scholarship, but rather in the possession of sterling good sense, of sound ripe judgment. He was well read in his profession; he was master of its principles and precedents; but what gave special value to these acquisitions was his thorough knowledge of human nature. He knew how to use his learning, because he knew so well the manifold phases and subtle workings of the human mind to which his learning was to be applied. He studied law much, but he studied men more. His insight into character was truly remarkable. He read men at first sight, and sometimes on the assurance obtained at a single interview, ventured on pecuniary responsibilities which, but for the accuracy of his discernment, would have been perilous. This knowledge of human nature gave him great advantage in the examination of witnesses. He would quickly discover whether they knew more than they were willing to tell, or whether they were falsifying the truth, and he was sure to find a way of drawing out the desired information or of exposing the falsehood.
"Another characteristic of General Kimberly was his high sense of honor and right. Dishonesty, meanness and trickery of every kind and degree he heartily detested. He scorned to take underhand advantage, even of an opponent. This perfect fairness secured to him the confidence of the court and jury. Whatever they might think of his argument, they never doubted that he was dealing honorably and truthfully with them. This was one secret of his success.
As a speaker General Kimberly was graceful rather than vehement, pleasing rather than powerful. His voice was not strong, and in late years was touched with a slight huskiness, but he had an easy command of language, and his diction was always chaste and rich. He never failed to receive the gratified attention of whatever audience he addressed."
General Kimberly died on the 14th day of December, 1862. He had never made a profession of religion, but Dr. Cleaveland, who repeatedly visited him and conversed with him on religious subjects during his last sickness, thus expresses the conclusion to which he came as to his religious character: -
"I could not but think that the Holy Ghost had at last led him to the Cross, and enabled him to lay down his weary burden there."