RITES OF PASSAGE To Be an Eagle or a Sparrow?

Daniel Webster was nineteen when he returned to Salisbury as a college graduate. He had already learned far more from books than his father would ever know, but he was still a boy in many ways. His father at nineteen had been on his own for five years -- had been a teamster and a runaway apprentice and had fought as an equal with hard-bitten veterans in Rogers Rangers. Like most poor boys on the frontier, Ebenezer was plunged immediately into the resonsibilities of independent adulthood and never had time to worry about what he would do with his life. The case with Daniel was quite different. At nineteen he was still dependent on his parents. Pale, thin, and frequently sick, his physical development had not kept pace with the improvement of his mind, and on at least one occasion he was dismissed by girls his own age as "awkward and rather verdant." Despite his educational triumphs he was not prepared to make the fundamental commitments to career and family that commonly mark the beginning of adult life.

Some young people graduate from college in an exultant mood; they cannot wait to conquer the world. When Webster came home to Salisbury in the fall of 1801 he wrote to his friend Bingham that he was "sunken in indifference and apathy." Hanover had been a hard place to leave. There he had encountered new books and ideas and surrounded himself with sympathetic friends and admirers. Hanover had meant adventure. Salisbury promised a return to the dull routine of provincial life. To be sure, he would continue his education by reading law in Thomas Thompson's office, but he knew that his professional preparation would not provide him with the satisfac


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