Lonely Old man, Once Friend of
Daniel Webster, Charles Sumner,
Ben Butler, Writes Worthy Verse.




Court Cases

90th Birthday











I’ve had my dreams and they were sweet,
And all my joys, they’ve been complete;
W’en since I’ve been growing old,
I’ve had pleasures manifold.
So down life’s stream I gently glide,
For God knows I am satisfied.


   The old man who wrote those lines 45 years ago at his home near the shore of Lake Michigan, is still alive—alone, infirm, with no one to care for him from day to day, and unafraid of the end that he has philosophized in countless verse.  A few days ago he said he had just reached his one hundred and first birthday.  It was not doubted when in another few sentences he spoke of personal acquaintances with Daniel Webster, Charles R. Sumner and “fighting Ben” Butler, who was his law partner 20 years before the Civil war.
   David Fletcher Hunton is a name that is well known in Michigan.  The brilliant practice of the far famed criminal lawyer of 40 years ago is lost to memory, but as one of Michigan’s poets he is not.  And he will be better known when he is gone, for very few of his untold verse have been given up for publication.  In his big square house on the hill that overlooks the lake he has learned to love with a half century of memories, there are thousands of complete poems.  Some day they will be brought out of their dusty shelves and catalogued.  Doubtless many of them will find their way to the classic shelf, for already a few of his contributions are treasured among the best of modern day poets.
   For forty-seven years he has lived in Michigan.  Before that time he spent the average man’s existence in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  He had been an instructor in Lowell Academy and in the schools of Unity, N. H., before there was a railroad west of the Mississippi.  Then he became a colleague of the man who later became a terror to the Confederates, General Benjamin Butler.  The great general’s pre-eminence as a noted criminal lawyer in David Fletcher’s mind, far overshadows his record as a warrior and can best be told by him.
   It is a look of scrutiny that he old man gives his occasional callers.  He is a little weazened-up figure of less than five feet in height, but he shakes the hand offered him with the grasp of one fifty years younger.  His every faculty is retained, including that elusive one of old age, memory.  His eyesight was apparently a wonder.  Fingering through a rough card board box of manuscript, he read titles, lines and macron notes without a sidelong squint.  He had never worn spectacles he said.  But before the laborious call had ceased into less formality he had skitted over his career at random as questions were shyly put to him.  When asked about his poetry he toddled over in a corner to draw forth another box, where at least a dozen more boxes of the same size were shelved.  There were hundreds of poems in each box.  Their curled edges showed the yellow stain of probably more than fifty years ago.  He fingered through them obviously looking for some particular one.  The one bearing the first stanza dropped out unnoticed and it lay long enough to be copied.  It appeared to fit the old man as he sat there complacently waiting for the end.
   Presently he drew forth one.  It is titled “Seeing God:”


I see him in the hum of bees,
And in the linnet’s lay of love;
I see him in the stars above
And in the twinkling stars above.―


   He then handed over another with a wistful, meaningful “ah,” and it was most expressive of the old man’s reminiscence.  This one read:


Could life again illume that face
And move those lips once more,
How could you fly with eager pace,
To clasp that form of queenly grace
And hold it in one long embrace,
As in the days of yore.


   The old man had said his wives had numbered four and it was wondered to which ones the lines had been written.  He turned as if to tell something dear to him but expended the breath in a sigh to resume his thumbing of manuscript.  His visitor was perhaps too strange for intimacies.  Lest he appear unhostlike he reached another leaf.  The next was read aloud for the first few lines in an innocent fashion by the visitor—


You kissed me; my head  
Drooped low upon your breast.
With a feeling of shelter
And infinite rest—


   With a sudden twist the old man had snatched the poem away.  He had not written it he said.  Then he finally read the whole poem.  It had been sent to him by a former sweetheart he said―one Jessie Huntington, whose name was recalled as one of the popular woman writers of the modern era.  She has left many immortal verse.  Then he drew forth another and this one was befitting the occasion.
   It read: 


Nearer the end of life,
Nearer the grave.
Were I die tonight
I would be brave,
For all my trust would be
In His great love for me
Even for me―


   Other lines followed but that was enough.  It was a little old scrap of blue paper dated February 2, 1909.  On mention of the date he said that it had been his birthday anniversary.  And with a crash came the realization that but a handful of years ago this decrepit old man had penned those lines himself.  There were the old style “Ss” and flourishing “Ys.” And he could have done it then as steady handwriting.
   There was no more time to look into his other manuscript.  It had been said that he prolonged every visitor’s stay and he would have a few more read to him.  Another he drew forth was:


O, there are times when all my soul
Is under some outside control―
When whisperings of cadenced song.
Comes in resistless waves along.


   Neither was there any time to delve into the old man’s philosophy of life as it appeared in fragmentary evidence.  He was a most interesting spectacle sitting there with one who never before seen him, telling of incidents nearly a hundred years old and fingering his writings of three-quarters that age.  All the force of his obscurity dawned when he said he had given over but few of his poems for possible publication.  The preliminary words about him had not prepared an impression of him such as had been realized.  There was a query if perhaps the best of his writings lay in some of those old yellow boxes under the table and had been overlooked.  It occurred to mind that there were surely many famous poems of the future contained in some of the old yellow cardboard receptacles.  And he put them all carefully away.
   With a queer freak of fate it happened queerly that his lines on “When Love Has Fled” were read before he had told how his wife had left his home and him perhaps forever.  There were no questions asked him, yet he ventured the few words of loneliness that had been brought by this break in his family ties.


How changed the world where love has fled.
How dark the shadows overhead!
When all of human love has gone!
Then comfort is a stranger then;
Good cheer has vanished in the air.
Naught but a sorrow haunted face
Is seen within that joyless place.



1876 Ottawa County Atlas / Loutit Library


   And apparently love had fled from the old poet’s home.  His life had been a wild one he said.  And there he sits alone in his great old house with nearly a hundred years of memories, whatever they are.
   Some day not far off, David Fletcher Hunton’s poems will be taken out of the old home and will fall into someone’s hands who will give them to the public.  He himself has always neglected any systematic compilation of his better verse  Like every genius his career has been a misunderstandably inconsistent one, as the old man will say himself.  But that may all be easily forgotten in a visit with him and a review of David Fletcher Hunton poems, for all his misguided purpose.
   One of the Hunton poems which ran through all religious journals several years ago, was the following in first stanza:


How dare we sin when angel eyes
Look down upon us through and through
And know exactly what we do?
How dare men to the brothel go
That Hell of infamy and woe?
That lowest pit of human shame
Which Mosses never dared to name?


   David Fletcher Hunton now resides in Grand Haven, Mich., where he will spend the remainder of his life.

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