ISAAC MOREHOUSE STURGES was born at Wilton, on the 6th day of July, 1807; he died at his sister's residence in that town, on the 30th day of October, 1877.
Admitted to the bar of Fairfield County in January, 1837, he at once commenced practice in Newtown, removing from that place to Bridgeport in 1848, where he soon obtained a large clientage, and continued in the full discharge of his professional duties till the very last. He had been engaged in the trial of a cause the day before his death, and left it unfinished at the close of the day, intending to continue the trial on the morrow, but died very suddenly from an attack of heart disease before the morrow came.
His father, Erastus Sturges, a farmer living at Wilton, was a justice of the peace of the old school, fourteen times elected to the General Assembly, and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1818; before him were tried many cases, and Betts, Bissell, and Sherwood in their management of justice trials, furnished the student with examples of legal ability and models for emulation--the only school of instruction open to him, for until his admission to the bar Mr. Sturges had never been present at a higher court.
Entering the profession somewhat late in life; with limited educational advantages --being mainly those, aside from attendance at district schools in the winter months, derived from three years instruction (1826-1829) at the Wilton Academy, then under the charge of Mr. Hawley Olmstead; with his opportunity for literary culture circumscribed; he neglected nothing, but treasured every thing of which he could avail himself, and brought to the chosen calling of his life a mind so matured and trained that he became not only an acknowledged leader of a bar where leadership carried with it deserved recognition of ability, but, outside of professional studies, he was one of the best read of our number, and kept himself abreast of all that was new in literature and science. He thought earnestly, talked well, and applied with discrimination the thoughts and opinions of others.
His chief characteristic was thoroughness. In the technics of the profession he had hardly a superior; he elaborated every detail, sometimes beyond apparent necessity, but he always had a precedent for every proposition suggested, and with abiding faith in his own premises, he considered it his duty to force a recognition from the court, by citing numerous authorities, of the conclusion which he deemed established. He took nothing for granted, in the court or in any thing else, but developed his argument with syllogistic precision,
"Ab ovo usque ad mala."
This minuteness of research characterized his professional life throughout; it was unsafe to disregard his law, for the motion in error was sure to follow, urged with dangerous persistency; it was unwise to be heedless of his facts, for each was claimed for a fixed and special purpose in the line of his argument; and as a result of such completeness few were employed in as many cases, none was more able as a practitioner, and so vigorous was he as an adversary that it was unsafe to meet him, with hope of success, having a single weak spot in armor, for his thrust was unerring with whatever weapon he went to battle, and he never asked nor gave quarter.
One eminent in our profession has called Judge Hosmer "a travelling index of the law." There was no safer digest for Fairfield County than Mr. Sturges, for his tenacious memory and diligent research enabled him to furnish information of some decision on almost every conceivable point--information which he was always ready to impart.
Somewhat of a recluse in his habits, being unmarried, and living quite by himself in bachelor quarters, till the last few years, when he made his home with a sister at Wilton, going to and from his office at Bridgeport daily, he acquired a taste for a solitary life, which at times made him appear unsocial; but his character when sought out and known was thoroughly cordial and kindly. He seemed to dread the first approach to companionship or intimacy, but after the friendship was formed he was loyal to it in word and deed. Possessed of a sensitiveness which at times almost mastered him, he seemed to desire to appear to the world as indifferent to criticism, censure or praise; he aimed to be strictly just, but the equipoise of the scales, which he prided himself in holding well balanced, was not rarely disturbed by a genial kindliness, which he never admitted he possessed. Without being lavish in expenditure or in the least degree ostentatious, he showed in many ways, quietly and without publicity, a generosity which sprang from a large hearted sympathy and thorough unselfishness.
His ambition centred in his profession. He was however elected a representative from Wilton in 1837, from Newtown in 1844, and again from Wilton in 1876. He was judge of probate for the district of Newtown in 1844, and judge of the City Court of Bridgeport in 1860 and 1861.
"The annals of lawyers, like the annals of the poor, are brief and simple. No memorial can keep their memories from oblivion, even in the next generation, except the brief record of their forensic contests to be found in the Connecticut Reports." So wrote Mr. Sturges shortly before his death. Surely in that record, which shows to a certain extent what the lawyer is, few have a more prominent place.
And thus another passes from the brotherhood of the profession--that brotherhood which amidst the contentions and emulation of forensic struggles, admits a generous chivalry in its antagonisms and ends contest with the adjournment of court; which respects rivalry, buries animosity, and recognizes in the leadership earned by professional prominence, the tribute due to patient effort in an honorable calling.