From: "Caxton's Book: a Collection of Essays, Poems, Tales and Sketches"
By William Henry Rhodes, Daniel O'Connell.
Published A. L. Bancroft and Company, 1876. Pages 5-9.
William Henry Rhodes was born July 16, 1822, in Windsor, North
Carolina. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father,
Col. E. A. Rhodes, sent him to Princeton, New Jersey, to be educated at
the seat of learning established there. Col. Rhodes was subsequently
appointed United States Consul at Galveston, Texas, and without
completing his college course, the son followed his father to his new
home. There he diligently pursued his studies. He found many young men
like himself, ambitious and zealous in acquiring information, and these
he associated with himself in literary and debating clubs, where the
most important matters of natural science and political economy were
discussed. The effect of this self-bestowed education was most marked.
It remained with him all his life. He was thoroughly versed in the
political history of the country, and possessed an amount of knowledge
concerning the career, motives and objects of politics, parties and
public men, which, had he ever chosen to embark in public life, would
have made him distinguished and successful. No one ever discussed with
him the questions connected with the theory of our government without a
thorough respect for the sincerity of his convictions, and the ability
with which they were maintained. He was, in theory, a thorough partisan
of the Southern political and constitutional school of ideas, and never
abandoned them. But he advocated them without passion or apparent
prejudice, and at all times shrunk from active connection with politics
as a trade. He was an idealist in law, in science and government, and
perhaps his early training, self-imposed and self-contained, had much
to do with his peculiarities.
In 1844, he entered Harvard Law School, where he remained for two
years. Here, as at home among his young friends, he was a master-spirit
and leader. He was an especial favorite of his instructors; was noted
for his studious and exemplary habits, while his genial and courteous
manners won the lasting friendship of his classmates and companions.
His fondness for weaving the problems of science with fiction, which
became afterwards so marked a characteristic of his literary efforts,
attracted the especial attention of his professors; and had Mr. Rhodes
devoted himself to this then novel department of letters, he would have
become, no doubt, greatly distinguished as a writer; and the great
master of scientific fiction, Jules Verne, would have found the field
of his efforts already sown and reaped by the young Southern student.
But his necessities and parental choice, conspired to keep him at "the
lawless science of the law;" and literature became an incident of life,
rather than its end and aim. He never really loved the law. He rather
lived by it than in it. He became a good lawyer, but was an unwilling
practitioner. He understood legal principles thoroughly. He loved the
higher lessons of truth and justice, of right and wrong, fas et nefas,
which they illustrated; but he bent himself to the necessary details of
professional life—to the money-getting part of it—with a peculiar and
constantly increasing reluctance. The yoke of labor galled him, and
always more severely. An opportunity to speak and write what was most
pleasing to his taste, which set him free as a liberated prisoner of
thought, his untrammeled and wandering imagination extravagantly
interweaving scientific principles, natural forces, and elemental
facts, in some witch's dance of fancy, where he dissolved in its
alchemy, earth, air and water, and created a world of his own, or
destroyed that beneath his feet, was of more value to him, though it
brought him no gain, than a stiff cause in courts which bound him to
dry details of weary facts and legal propositions, though every hour of
his time bestowed a golden reward.
His early professional life was passed in Galveston. He was measurably
successful in it, and won many friends by his gallant and chivalrous
advocacy of the causes intrusted to him. His personal popularity
elevated him to a Probate Judgeship in Texas. This office he filled
with honor; and at the expiration of his term, he returned, after a
brief sojourn in New York, to his native state and town, where he
practiced his profession until 1850. In this year he caught the
inspiration of adventure in the new El Dorado, and sailed for
California. From that time he continued a citizen of this State. He was
widely known and universally respected. He practiced his profession
with diligence; but mind and heart were inviting him to the life and
career of a man of letters; and he was every day sacrificed to duty, as
he esteemed it. He was too conscientious to become indifferent to his
clients' interests: but he had no ambition for distinction as a jurist.
He was utterly indifferent to the profits of his labors. He cared
nothing for money, or for those who possessed it. His real life and
real enjoyments were of a far different sort; and his genins was
perpetually bound to the altar, and sacrificed by a sense of
obligation, and a pride which never permitted him to abandon the
profession for which he was educated. Like many another man of peculiar
mental qualities, he distrusted himself where he should have been most
confident. The writer has often discussed with Mr. Rhodes his
professional and literary life, urged him to devote himself to
literature, and endeavored to point out to him the real road to
success. But he dreaded the venture; and like a swift-footed blooded
horse, fit to run a course for a man's life, continued on his way,
harnessed to a plow, and broke his heart in the harness!
William Henry Rhodes will long be remembered by his contemporaries at
the Bar of California as a man of rare genius, exemplary habits, high
honor, and gentle manners, with wit and humor unexcelled. His writings
are illumined by powerful fancy, scientific knowledge, and a reasoning
power which gave to his most weird imaginations the similitude of truth
and the apparel of facts. Nor did they, nor do they, do him justice. He
could have accomplished far more had circumstances been propitious to
him. That they were not, is and will always be a source of regret.
That, environed as he was, he achieved so much more than his fellows,
has made his friends always loyal to him while living, and fond in
their memories of him when dead. We give his productions to the world
with satisfaction, not unmingled with regret that what is, is only the
faint echo, the unfulfilled promise of what might have been. Still, may
we say, and ask those who read these sketches to say with us, as they
lay down the volume: "Habet enim justam venerationem, quicquid
W. H. L. B.
Also: The National cyclopaedia of American biography, Volume 7, page 45
William Henry Rhodes, poet, was born in Bertie county, N. C., Julv 18,
1822. He left North Carolina in 1844 with his father, Col. E. A.
Rhodes, then U. S. consul to the republic of Texas, and settled in
Galvcston. He was graduated at the Harvard Law School in 1846; and
beginning practice in Galveston, served one term as probate judge. He
then returned to North Carolina to continue his profession, but was
caught with the gold fever and removed to California, Where he became
He published "The Indian Gallows and Other Poems" (New York, 1846), a
story founded on a local Indian legend in which there are many fine
poetic touches. His poems, essays, tales, and sketches were collected
and edited by Daniel O'Counell in a volume called "Caxton's Book" (San
Francisco, 1876). He came to his death at the hands of a robber in
California subsequent to 1852.