Here is an account, told by Henry J. Erskine of
the only instance in which Benjamin H. Brewster, Attorney-General of the United States
during General Arthur's administration, was ever taunted in court of the disfigurement
of his face.
It occurred during the trial of an important suit involving certain franchise rights of the
railroad in Philadelphia.
Mr. Brewster was then the chief counsel of the Pennsylvania company.
The trial was a bitterly contested affair, and Brewster at every point got so much the best of the opposing counsel that by the time arguments commenced his leading adversary was in a white heat. In denouncing the railroad company, this lawyer, with a voice tremulous with anger, exclaimed: "This grasping corporation is as dark, devious and scarified in its methods as is the face of its chief attorney and henchman, Benjamin Brewster!"
This violent outburst of rage and cruel invective was followed by a breathless stillness that was painful in the crowded courtroom. Hundreds of pitying eyes were riveted on the poor scarred face of Brewster, expecting to see him spring from his chair and catch his heartless adversary by the throat. Never before had anyone referred to Mr. Brewster's misfortune in such a way, or even in any terms, in his presence.
Instead of springing at the man and killing him like a dog, as the audience thought was his desert, Mr. Brewster slowly arose and spoke something like this to the court: "Your Honor, in all my career as a lawyer I have never dealt in personalities, nor did I ever before feel called upon to explain the cause of my physical misfortune, but I will do so now. When a boy -and my mother, God bless her, said I was a pretty boy -when a little boy, while playing around an open fire one day, with a little sister, just beginning to toddle, she fell into the roaring flames. I rushed to her rescue, pulled her out before she was seriously hurt and fell into the fire myself. When they took me out of the coals my face was as black as that man's heart."
The last sentence was spoken in a voice whose rage was that of a lion. It had an electrical effect, and the applause that greeted it was superb, but in an instant turned to the most contemptuous hisses, directed at the lawyer who had so cruelly wronged the great and lovable Brewster. That lawyer's practice in
Philadelphia afterward dwindled to such
insignificance that he had to leave the city for a new field.