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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 excellit."

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 widely known.
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.

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