The death of MAHLON ROCKWELL WEST, on the 22nd of April, 1886, closed a life of most worthy aims and uncommon industry. A just estimate of its success involves the knowledge of his early struggle with and mastery of adversities, such as the lack of fortune and education ever opposes to the ambitions of youth.
Mr. West was born at Stafford in Tolland County, August 27th, 1826. His father was a farmer with a large family and small estate. Arriving at his majority, young West found himself the possessor of an ordinary district school education, and a few dollars earned by teaching. His resolution to seek a wider field of labor and influence found no encouragement except from his own earnest aspirations. But he determined to become a lawyer, and so, in 1848 we find him a student at Stafford, in the office of Mr. A. P. Hyde, since of Hartford, and daily going nearly three miles from his father's house to his books. His preparatory studies ended in 1850, by his admission to the bar at the March term of the Tolland County Court, and he immediately commenced practice in his native town, where he remained more than nineteen years, with a constantly increasing business, and the respect and confidence of every one; and he was finally recognized as the leading lawyer of the county.
In November, 1869, he removed to Hartford, and there successfully continued to practice until his last sickness, which was brief. From November 1st, 1869, until November 1st, 1876, David S. Calhoun was his law partner.
He was a delegate to the democratic national convention of 1860, and steadily supported the nomination of Stephen A. Douglas. In 1874-5 he was an alderman of his city, and for one year was president of the board. He represented the town of Hartford in the legislatures of 1877 and 1881.
On the 23d of May, 1854, he married Miss Julia A. Smalley, of Northfield, Vermont. A son was given them, his only child, who died at Hartford, January 24th, 1871. Mrs. West died, April 3d, 1880, after a protracted illness. Miss Marcia A. Fairman, of Stafford, became his wife October 11th, 1881, and she is now his widow.
In his private life Mr. West was not merely blameless. He was trusted and beloved. Tender in sympathy, steadfast in friendship, upright in all his dealings, sensitive to criticism but loyal to every command of duty, simple in habits and modest in manner, ready with head, hand and heart in every movement for the welfare of individuals or the community, he entered no relation, whether domestic, social or with the church of which he was a devout member, in which his affectionate, faithful self-denying nature did not compel a warm appreciation.
As honesty was the leaven of his private character, so it naturally pervaded his public and professional life. Public recognition was grateful to him; but when it came it was a tribute to his worth, and not dividend of a selfish trade or the reward of court paid to rascally jobbers in votes. Zealously attached to the political faith which was his by inheritance and conviction, he never forgot that he owed a higher fealty than to party.
As a lawyer he did not quote the precedents of legal license to satisfy the doubts of conscience; for his conceptions of right overlapped those of the law. And by this broader rule of justice he tested every proposed plan of professional action, apparently insensible to those temptations which many find so hard to resist. Clients, therefore, ever found him a reliable counselor. Courts and juries saw him candid, and his brethren knew him, both as an antagonist and an associate, as generous, truthful and fair. His early necessities had made him prudent and economical; but he prized the true honors of his profession more than its gains, and a just cause needed not the added stimulus of a full purse to enlist his interest and best service.
Mr. West's position at the bar was such as his diligence, ability and integrity had won and deserved. He always lamented the limited educational opportunities of his youth, and to them an occasional diffuseness in pleading and argument may be attributed in part, and partly, perhaps, to an imperfect faculty of method. But his reading was varied and accurate, his memory trusty, his judgments of men and their motives unusually quick and correct, his application of legal principles to facts ready and sound, and his care in the preparation of causes unlimited except by time; for he was an insatiable and tireless worker. Though of slight frame and a nervous temperament, and with no outward signs of uncommon vigor, his endurance of prolonged mental exertion was surprising. No point in a case escaped his scrutiny. In his office labors he was cautious, pains-taking and thorough; but in a trial he was alert, ready in resource and prompt to discover and to act; and in his arguments there came successive troops of crowding and fervid thoughts, which scoured the whole field of contest and left unnoticed no point of attack or defense. As a speaker he found force, earnestness and simple illustration more ready and effective than graces of style or arts of elocution. There was nothing in his presence or manner to alarm an opponent; but on the one who augured from them an easy victory, there always waited a bewildering surprise, and usually defeat. If any one of his fellows was more vigilant and devoted in the conduct and cause through all its stages, his name is unknown to the writer.
There was no secret in Mr. West's success. He attempted no grotesque imitation of some admired model. His faith in his professional future had this simple creed:--Labor is man's omnipotence, and it is best to be honest and true. Guided by these maxims his life attested their value.
It is but just to the memory of Mr. West to say that the death of his son, in 1871, quenched in the father somewhat of ambition and much of hope. Thereafter, though diligent and faithful, his work lacked its former inspiration, and in his last years, to a few, who knew him most intimately, he sometimes spoke with reverent yearning of the time when he might rest from his labors. And to him, so life-weary after thirty-six years of continuous toil in office and in court, and with such heart longings for dear ones sadly missed and with such a Christian hope, surely death was the door of life.