[Memorial address presented to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Jan. 2, 1890.]
The real history of a man's life is the history of his character
as revealed in is [his] daily domestic relations and his attitude toward
humanity. It is in this capacity that I am enabled to speak of Judge
Arthur B. Braley perhaps more understandingly than can any other of his
many friends and admirers. He was the agent from whom my father rented
the house in which I was born, and it was from his well-filled library
that I gained my first knowledge of books. His editorial pen gave
some of my earliest local literary efforts encouragement, and during a
period of fully twenty years I was a frequent guest in his home.
It was my hand which held that of his dying wife, whom I had for months
nursed and cared for, while he was led, crushed with grief, from the room,
and it was my pleasant duty to open the house of mourning to the sunlight
of new joy when he brough home the young wife who made his last years the
happiest of his life.
The history of Judge Braley's early life has been made familiar to me by his personal relation of it and by the accounts published in connection with his public career. He was born in Perry, Wyoming county, New York, February 11, 1824. An only son, he lost his father at an early age, and at fifteen the support of his mother fell practically upon his young but stalwart shoulders. In the spring of 1843, he started for the then far West, spending a few weeks in Erie, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati; and in southern Ohio he was tutor in the family of a wealthy gentleman. Later he proceeded to the blue grass region in Kentucky, and became a tutor in a southern home, where he remained a year and a half.
At this time the man we knew as Judge Braley was a strikingly handsome youth of twenty, who stood six feet in his stockings, straight as an arrow and broad-shouldered as a young Hercules. A portrait of him, taken about that time, represents his features as classical and his eyes and mouth remarkable for their beauty. His hair was a soft chestnut, and his eyes a deep gray.
Returning to New York State for a visit during the succeeding year, the young man's next move was to take charge of a district school in the Wyoming (Pennsylvania) valley. His efforts as a teacher, which began in this simple manner, ended in his becoming principal of an academy. In 1846 he came to Wisconsin and settled in Delavan, and there pursued his already begun law studies, while he busied himself also as a real estate agent in the adjacent towns.
In 1848 he first visited Madison, and was admitted to the bar that year, but did not finally settle there until 1852. In 1855 he married Miss Philinda Stevens; and in 1856, when the village of Madison became an organized city, he was elected police justice, and held that office for three successive terms, or until the close of 1861, when he resumed the practice of law. From 1864 to 1867 he was a city alderman. During the presidential campaign of 1864 he edited The Wisconsin Daily Patriot, resigning the position after the election. During the campaign of 1868 he was political editor of The Madison Democrat. As a political writer he took a high rank, and his articles were greatly admired and often quoted for their vigor and power. In 1868 he was elected city attorney, and in 1869 he moved to Waukesha, returning to Madison after the crushing blow of his life,--the death of his son, in 1870. In 1872 he was again elected police justice and without opposition, and this court was then enlarged and converted into the municipal court for the city and county. In 1874, again without opposition, he was elected for a term of six years, and was re-elected in 1880 and 1886.
For twenty-three years he sat upon the same bench,--almost a quarter of a century passed in judging the sins and frailties of humankind. Though full of sympathy for the unfortunate, to him the law was supreme. Swayed by neither fear nor favor, he sought to make his judgments just and right. That he succeeded in so doing we may well believe, from the fact that in every instance in which his decisions were contested the supreme court sustained him.
One of the most brilliant lawyers of the West, and a life-long friend of Judge Braley, has said of him: "While he was profoundly learned in the law, Judge Braley had two conspicuous advantages for his position, which did not call, in his administration of criminal law, for intricate learning. These advantages were, that what he had learned had been well and correctly learned, and understood, and the relations of different principles mastered. He was chief in the field which he had studied, and his mind was strengthened, not cumbered, by study. The range of his reading was abundant for all the occasions of his jurisdiction, rendering him well equipped for the office. But there was another quality which made him a most excellent yokefellow to his judicial knowledge, his well-balanced common sense. He had not, as sometimes happens, allowed legal study to mystify his common sense to the impairment of the usefulness of both. And it is just to add another faculty, the value of which is best known to those whose lives have made them witness the palterings of timidity in the guise of judicial opinion. The judge was fearless in intellectual processes and fearless in conclusions, both in forming, in uttering, and in enforcing them. Herein lay his great value to society in the judicial station he occupied for so many years. His learning was abundant to keep his judgments legally right, his common sense made them wise in application, and his simple courage made his preceptions his expressed decisions. He was, therefore, just in his convictions, but when the criminal was brought to light, the judge had no hesitation in imposing the measure of his guilt in his punishment. His court was a great security to the community. The criminal classes dreaded it, because justice was done there. No weakness, no timidity, no relaxation, and no access to any other influence in favor of the criminal, than proof or presumption of innocence, and such appeals to mercy as wisdom and strength can justly admit. There is nothing so terrible to the criminal classes as sure justice, and they got it from Judge Braley.
"In years gone by, I have tried many cases before him, and I can recall none, not one, in which my sense of justice and right ever received a shock. I cannot say the same of much higher tribunals; and although appellate authority is needful and well exercised in general, I believe Judge Braley, in the range of his judicial cognizance, decided right in as large a proportion of instances as teh supreme court has within its wider range. From these facts one can readily see how it was that the judge was re-elected continuously. Whenever the question came home to the electors, however open were the judge's political views, good citizens delivered themselves of party bonds, and the poll came out always in his favor, a simple expression of society's sense of comfortable safety in his fearless good sense and judicial qualities."
Added to Judge Braley's judicial qualities, he possessed marked literary tastes and abilities. His knowledge of Shakespeare and his published commentaries and essays upon the subject gave him the reputation of being one of the best Shakespearian scholars in the Northwest. To him, Shakespeare was a god. He reverence, appreciated and understood him, as only one who had devoted the spare hours of a lifetime to the study and comprehension of this master mind could have done. The judge had an apt Shakespearian quotation for every occasion, and was never so happy as when talking or writing of his beloved bard. Besides his excellent essays upon this subject (which should be published in book form for the use of students of Shakespeare), Judge Braley wrote a number of stories and historical romances, some of which were published. During the years of his great sorrows, in the loss of three lovely children and the invalidism of his wife, his pen was a great source of consolation to him; in fact, his one resource.
Naturally of a social and domestic nature, the almost constant shadow of death and sickness in his home for long-continued years, almost transformed the genial man into a recluse and a pessimist. A tender-hearted husband, and a devoted father, he found himself deprived of the children he adored and the wife who had been his companion for twenty-four years. No kinder husband ever lived nor one who was better capable of retaining the hearts he had won.
During the long years of his domestic bereavements and sorrows he wrote almost constantly, essays, book reviews, stories and political articles, which were widely copied. His pen was always graceful, often eloquent, and his prose was flowery and poetic to a marked degree. Like every nature which is generous in giving praise, he was fond of appreciation and was extremely sensitive to censure. This renders his fearless administration of justice all the more remarkable, as the severest censure he received from the local public was often because of his adherence to law.
He was generous to a fault, and the impulse which led him as a boy to take off his only coat and give it to a poor beggar, led him as a man to the free bestowal of his wordly goods upon those whom he loved or deemed needy; this, with naturally luxurious tastes, prevented him from accumulating the fortune to which his gifts and position would have entitled him. He was never so happy as when bestowing benefits upon those less fortunately situated.
After his second marriage, the cobwebs of gloom, which had so long clouded his heart, seemed wholly swept away by the hand of love, and the last nine years of his life were full of happiness. His rather dark and pessimistic views of the world now gave place to cheerfulness and content, and paternal affection and pride again found full vent in the two beautiful children who brightened his last years with their presence, one of whom so soon followed him to that mysterious world beyond that we might almost be led to believe that he was lonely in heaven without her.
A just judge, a useful citizen, a graceful writer, an omniverous reader, a loyal and unselfish friend, a devoted son, husband and father, Judge Braley's life was more than ordinarily useful to the world, and in his death society has sustained a loss only second to that of this bereaved woman who can truly with the poet say:
"I weep a loss forever new,
A void where heart on heart reposed;
And where warm hands have pressed and closed
Silence, till I be silent too.
"I weep the comrade of my choice,
An awful thought, a life removed,
The human-hearted man I loved,
A spirit, not a breathing voice."