Though never very studious after this, Motley was a brilliant linguist. He devoted most of his time to literature. Shelley and Praed were his favorite poets. He amused himself by writing sketches, poems, fragments of plays, etc., some of which were printed in the papers of the day, and two poems appeared in the college paper, - the Collegian.
He roomed during a part of his college course with his classmate, Mr. T. G. Appleton, in the Brattle House, occupying the room on the ground floor to the left of the entrance. He became a member of a college club, called the "Knights of the Square Table," which it seems indulged in supper-parties at Fresh Pond and Gallagher's. But Motley, though a genial companion to his intimate friends, was far from being universally popular. "He did not care to make acquaintances, was haughty in manner and cynical in mood." He cared little for the society of young ladies, and, though celebrated for his beauty, either had no vanity, or succeeded remarkably well in concealing it.
Motley's abilities were well known to his associates. At one of the college exhibitions he spoke an essay on Goethe which attracted much attention; and the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which then admitted only the first sixteen scholars of each class, extended its rules in order to include him.
Motley's college career was not a model one. His negligence and lack of ambition did not promise the wonderful industry of his mature years. But his manly independence in devoting part of his time to literature, instead of struggling to excel his classmates, had a rich result in the literary excellence of his after work.