« EelmineJätka »
(Boru 1772. Died 1834.]
William Wirt was the youngest son of his probable income as an advocate, and conan emigrant from Switzerland, and was born fident of his ability to acquire a higher distincin Bladensburg, Maryland, on the eighth of tion in a different position, he resigned it at November, 1772. His father died while he the end of a few months; and having married was an infant, and his mother before he was a daughter of Colonel Gamble, of Richmond, eight years old. He then became the ward and passed in that city another winter, during of an uncle, who placed him at a grammar which he wrote The British Spy, he selected school kept by a Mr. Hunt, in the county of Norfolk as his place of residence, and there Montgomery, where he remained from 1781 resumed the practice of his profession. to 1785, in which period he studied the Greek The British Spy was hastily composed, and Latin languages, and indulged in much without a thought of its ever attracting attendesultory reading, chiefly of classical authors, tion beyond the circle which was most familiar of which his teacher had a good collection. with the characters described in it, and was During the next year and a half he was a published in numbers in the Virginia Argus, private teacher in the family of Mr. Benjamin in 1803. It purports to be a selection from Edwards, whose son Ninian, afterward Go- | letters addressed by a young English noblevernor of Illinois, had been his school-mate; man, travelling under an assumed name in and in 1789, on account of impaired health, the United States, to his former guardian, a he went to Augusta, Georgia, where he spent distinguished member of the House of Comthe following winter. On his return to Maryland he commenced the study of the law, and At the end of three years Mr. Wirt rein 1792 he was licensed to practice, and com. turned again to Richmond, where in the winmenced his professional career at Culpepper ter of 1807 he was retained under the direction Court House in Virginia.
of President Jefferson to assist the AttorneyHe was now twenty-one years of age, with General of the United States in the celebrated good health, a handsome person, pleasing ad- prosecution of Aaron Burr for treason. The dress, and great fluency in conversation and great Marshall presided, and the first lawyers in debate. From the first he was eminently of the country were engaged for or against successful in the courts; and marrying, in the prisoner. The question was argued in a 1795, a daughter of Dr. Gilmer, of Charlottes manner worthy of its importance.
“ A degree ville, and about the same tiine becoming ac of eloquence seldom displayed on any occaquainted and contracting friendships with Mr. sion," said the chief justice,“ has embellished Jefferson, Mr. Madison, and other celebrated solidity of argument and depth of research." men, he had before him the promise of a pros- It is generally admitted that the speech of perous and happy life.
Mr. Wirt was altogether the most brilliant The death of his wife, however, in 1799, and effective made during the trial. He was interrupted his pursuits, and for a change of master of all the arts by which the attention scene he went to Richmond, where he was is secured and retained. Oratory was his chosen clerk of the House of Delegates. The forte as well as his favourite art. Every perespect which he acquired during three terms riod, every gesture, every look, was carefully of service in this body was so great, that upon studied. His principal speech occupied four a new organization of the judiciary, in 1802, hours, and was faithfully reported, probably when he was but twenty-nine years of age, he by himself. The occasion was fortunate; he was chosen chancellor of the eastern district exerted his best powers; and made his repuof the state. He removed to Williamsburgh, tation national. As everybody knows, Burr but finding the profits of his office less than was acquitted. Luther Martin's remark, thai
the trial was “much ado about nothing," is the article on Ashe's Travels in America, now admitted to have been as just as it was hap- which had then just appeared in the Edinpy. There was on the side of the prosecution burgh Review, he proposed a literary partnerlittle opportunity for reasoning, and certainly ship for writing The Old Bachelor. Judge Mr. Wirt exhibited no great ability in that Parker, Beverley Tucker, Dabney Carr, J. W. way; but his speech served his own pur- Mercer, and some others promised assistance, poses, and helped to secure the proceeding and the publication of that work was soon from immediate contempt.
afterward commenced in the Richmond EnIn 1808 he was elected to represent the city quirer. By far the largest portion of it was of Richmond in the House of Delegates, and written by Mr. Wirt, though several of his he acquired new distinction by his labours in friends furnished each one or more essays. that body; but though often invited to do so In the twelfth number the prime objects in he would never after leave the path of his pro- view are stated to be, to diffuse among the fession. He wrote, indeed, in support of Mr. people a taste for letters, to make them sensiJefferson's administration, and in favour of ble of the decline of intelligence in the counthe nomination of Mr. Madison for the presi- try since the age of the revolution, and to dency; but except when influenced by pri-excite a spirit of emulation among the young. vate friendship he had as little as possible to Whatever may have been the degeneracy of the do with party politics.
Virginians, the contrasts which he describes He was now in the height of his popularity, were nowhere else perceptible; and we can and his office was thronged with suitors; but hardly believe, even upon his testimony, that he still found time for indulgence of his taste his contemporaries in that state exhibited in so for society and literature. His reading was marked a degree " the phenomenon of a young discursive, but the classics, the great histo- people experiencing the decrepitude of age berians, and the English dramatists and essay- fore they attained maturity.” The revolution ists were his favourites. His memory was ex- had called out all our latent energies, and such a ceedingly retentive, and perhaps no one ever crisis at any subsequent period would also have surpassed him in readiness and felicity of produced what he calls “ eruptions of talent." quotation. Mr. Thomas, the clever author of The tone of The Old Bachelor on this subject Clinton Bradshaw, relates a characteristic in- is uniformly extravagant, and exhibits a curious stance, which occurred, however, at a later pe- subserviency to the opinions of the foreign riod: A Scotch Presbyterian church in Bal- travellers and reviewers which he professes to timore was divided upon the question of what condemn. Its style is gaudy and feeble. is called the new school theology, and Mr. In 1817 Mr. Wirt published the Life of Wirt was advocate for the Rev. Mr. Duncan, Patrick Henry, a work for which he had been whom the old school side were endeavouring many years collecting materials, but of which to eject from the place of pastor. After the execution had been delayed by his profesalluding to the fact that both parties were from sional occupations. This is an extraordinary Scotland, he described the preacher as being piece of biography, animated and picturesque, in the condition of the guest of Macbeth, and and though full of extravagancies, not an unrebuking the plaintiffs with great effect, said faithful representation of the celebrated origithat if they succeeded they would feel like nal. It is one of the small class of works for the guilty Thane; for
which his genius, or rather his temperament,
was best suited. He would have written the Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues
life of any other man in the same style, and Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against Henry's was almost the only one which The deep damnation of his taking off.
would have borne it. Wirt's whole experiThere were in Richmond many persons of ence had been a preparation for the portraicongenial tastes, upon whom he frequently ture of the great orator, and however hastily urged the custom of authorship, as delightful it may in the end have been composed, we in itself, and as an honourable and effective have no reason to suppose it would have had means of elevating the national character. more unity, completeness, condensation or The British Spy had been eminently success- simplicity, if it had received from him any ful; and discussing with some friends, in 1809, conceivable amount of labour.
Mr. Wirt was appointed by President Ma His abilities were more brilliant than solid. dison in 1816 Attorney for the district of Vir He had a rapid but not skilful command of ginia, and on the election of Mr. Monroe to language, a prolific but not a chaste or correct the presidency, in the following year, he was fancy, and his opinions were generally neither made Attorney General of the United States. new nor striking. He now removed to Washington, where he In his essays he imitated closely the form of resided until 1830, when, at the close of the the English models in this sort of writing, and administration of Mr. Adams, he resigned his both The British Spy and The Old Bachelor office, and took up his residence in Baltimore, contain passages which will bear a favourable where he passed the remainder of his life. comparison perhaps with any thing in the He died on the eighteenth of February, 1834, same style written since the time of Johnson; in the sixty-second year of his age.
but they are to be regarded altogether as the Mr. Win's literary writings, besides those last productions of an obsolete school, which already mentioned, are a Eulogy on the Lives never could or will be made to flourish in this and Characters of Adams and Jefferson; A country. Discourse before the Societies of Rutgers' In private life Mr. Wirt was justly held in College, in 1830; and an Address delivered the highest estimation. At an early period in Baltimore, in the same year, on the Tri he had betrayed an unsteadiness of purpose umph of Liberty in France.
and a feebleness of will from which the Mr. Wirt had never the reputation of being a worst consequences were apprehended ; but first rate lawyer, but his standing in the Su “the ship righted,” as he remarks in one of preme Court, where he was constantly liable his letters, and it sailed gallantly afterward to be compared with some of the strongest a long voyage, through various seas, to the men of the country, was highly respectable. desired haven. He was in all respects fitted He had a thorough knowledge of business, to adorn and charm society. His manners, felicity in expedients, and great readiness in marked by the kindness which was in his bringing all his acquisitions into use. He had nature, were pleasing and familiar, yet dignigiven much attention to the study of oratory, fied, and his conversation was fluent, eloquent, and in The British Spy, in The Old Bachelor, enlivened by playful and apposite wit, and enand in the Life of Henry, had written much riched with the results, always at command, on the subject; but in a desultory manner, of his extensive and various reading. He without apparent design, or consistency, so wrote verses and composed music with facility, that no very definite ideas can be gathered of and sung, and performed on various instruhis views respecting it. Yet it is agreed on ments. It is no wonder therefore that he was a all hands that he was himself a very ready, favourite of society, and that he is remembered, pleasing, and effective speaker, inferior per- by those who had the happiness of being perhaps to no one among his contemporaries at sonally intimate with him, with an enthusiasm the bar in this country.
which cannot be felt by those who know bim Of his literary merits I do not think highly, only as a lawyer and man of letters.
FROM THE BRITISH SPY.
THE BLIND PREACHER.
wilderness, was not the least of my motives. On entering, I was struck with his preternatural appearance. He was a tall and very spare old man;
his head, which was covered with a white linen Ir was one Sunday, as I travelled through the cap, his shrivelled hands, and his voice, were all county of Orange, that my eye was caught by a shaking under the influence of a palsy; and a few cluster of horses tied near a ruinous, old, wooden moments ascertained to me that he was perfectly house in the forest, not far from the road-side. blind. Having frequently seen such objects before, in The first emotions that touched my breast were travelling through these States, I had no difficulty those of mingled pity and veneration. But how in understanding that this was a place of religious soon were all my feelings changed! The lips of worship.
Plato were never more worthy of a prognostic Devotion alone should have stopped me, to join swarm of bees, than were the lips of this holy in the duties of the congregation; but I must con man! It was a day of the administration of the fess, that curiosity to hear the preacher of such a sacrament; and his subject was, of course, the
passion of our Saviour. I had heard the subject | livery. You are to bring before you the venerahandled a thousand times : I had thought it ex- ble figure of the preacher; his blindness, conhausted long ago. Little did I suppose that in stantly recalling to your recollection old Homer, the wild woods of America, I was to meet with a Ossian, and Milton, and associating with his perman whose eloquence would give to this topic a formance the melancholy grandeur of their genew and more sublime pathos than I had ever be- niuses; you are to imagine that you hear his fore witnessed.
slow, solemn, well-accented enunciation, and his As he descended from the pulpit to distribute voice of affecting, trembling melody; you are to the mystic symbols, there was a peculiar, a more remember the pitch of passion and enthusiasm, to than human solemnity in his air and manner, which the congregation were raised; and then which made my blood run cold, and my whole the few moments of portentous, deathlike silence, frame shiver.
which reigned throughout the house: the preacher He then drew a picture of the sufferings of our removing his white handkerchief from his aged Saviour; his trial before Pilate ; his ascent up face, (even yet wet from the recent torrent of his Calvary ; his crucifixion ; and his death. I knew tears,) and slowly stretching forth the palsied hand the whole history; but never until then had I which holds it, begins the sentence, “ Socrates heard the circumstances so selected, so arranged, died like a philosopher”-then, pausing, raising 50 coloured! It was all new; and I seemed to his other hand, pressing them both, clasped tohave heard it for the first time in my life. His gether, with warınth and energy, to his breast, enunciation was so deliberate that his voice trem- lifting his « sightless balls” to heaven, and pouring bled on every syllable ; and every heart in the as- his whole soul into his tremulous voice—« but Jesembly trembled in unison. His peculiar phrases sus Christ-like a God !" If he had been indeed and had that force of description, that the original in truth an angel of light, the effect could scarcescene appeared to be at that moment acting before ly have been more divine. Whatever I had been our eyes. We saw the very faces of the Jews; able to conceive of the sublimity of Massillon or the staring, frightful distortions of malice and the force of Bourdaloue, had fallen far short of the rage. We saw the buffet: my soul kindled with power which I felt from the delivery of this sima flame of indignation; and my hands were in- ple sentence. voluntarily and convulsively clinched.
If this description give you the impression that But when he came to touch on the patience, this incomparable minister had any thing of shalthe forgiving meekness of our Saviour; when he low theatrical trick in his manner, it does him drew, to the life, his blessed eyes streaming in great injustice. I have never seen, in any other tears to heaven; his voice breathing to God a soft orator, such a union of simplicity and majesty. and gentle prayer of pardon on his enemies, He has not a gesture, an attitude, or an accent, to “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what which he does not seem forced by the sentiment they do,"—the voice of the preacher, which had he is expressing. His mind is too serious, too all along faltered, grew fainter and fainter, until, earnest, too solicitous, and, at the same time, too his utterance being entirely obstructed by the force dignified, to stoop to artifice. Although as far reof his foelings, he raised his handkerchief to his moved from ostentation as a man can be, yet it is eyes, and burst into a loud and irrepressible flood clear, from the train, the style and substance of of grief. The effect is inconceivable. The whole his thoughts, that he is not only a very polite house resounded with the mingled groans, and scholar, but a man of extensive and profound sobs, and shrieks of the congregation.
erudition. I was forcibly struck with a short yet It was some time before the tumult had subsided, beautiful character, which he drew of your leamed so far as to permit him to proceed. Indeed, judging and amiable countryman, Sir Robert Boyle: he by the usual, but fallacious standard of my own spoke of him, as if “his noble mind had even beweakness, I began to be very uneasy for the situa- fore death divested herself of all influence from tion of the preacher. For I could not conceive his frail tabernacle of flesh ;" and called him, in how he would be able to let his audience down from his peculiarly emphatic and impressive manner, the height to which he had wound them, without “ a pure intelligence: the link between men and impairing the solemnity and dignity of his subject, angels." or perhaps shocking them by the abruptness of This man has been before my imagination althe fall. But-no: the descent was as beautiful most ever since. A thousand times, as I rode and sublime as the elevation had been rapid and along, I dropped the reins of my bridle, stretched enthusiastic.
forth my hand, and tried to imitate his quotation The first sentence, with which he broke the from Rousseau ; a thousand times I abandoned awful silence, was a quotation from Rousseau : the attempt in despair, and felt persuaded, that his
Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ, peculiar manner and power arose from an energy like a God!"
of soul, which nature could give, but which no huI despair of giving you any idea of the effect man being could justly copy. As I recall, at this produced by this short sentence, unless you could moment, several of his awfully striking attitudes, perfectly conceive the whole manner of the man, the chilling tide, with which my blood begins to as well as the peculiar crisis in the discourse. pour along my arteries, reminds me of the emoNever before did I completely understand what tions produced by the first sight of Gray's introDemosthenes meant by laying such stress on de- ductory picture of his Bard.
WHO IS BLANNERHASSETT?
scene; it has become flat and insipid to his taste. FROM A SPEECH ON THE TRIAL OF AARON BURR.
His books are abandoned. His retort and cruci.
ble are thrown aside. His shrubbery blooms and Who is Blannerhassett? A native of Ireland, breathes its fragrance upon the air in vain; he a man of letters, who fled from the storms of his likes it not. His ear no longer drinks the rich own country to find quiet in ours. His history melody of music; it longs for the trumpet's clanshows that war is not the natural element of his
gour and the cannon's roar. Even the prattle of mind. If it had been, he never would have ex- his babes, once so sweet, no longer aflects him; changed Ireland for America. So far is an army and the angel smile of his wife, which hitherto from furnishing the society natural and proper to touched his bosom with ecstasy so unspeakable, is Mr. Blannerhassett's character, that on his arrival now unseen and unfelt. Greater objects have in America he retired even from the population of taken possession of his soul. His imagination the Atlantic States, and sought quiet and solitude has been dazzled by visions of diadems, of stars in the bosom of our western forests. But he car and garters, and titles of nobility. He has been ried with him taste, and science, and wealth ; and taught to burn with restless emulation at the lo, the desert smiled! Possessing himself of a beau
names of great heroes and conquerors. His entiful island in the Ohio, he rears upon it a palace, chanted island is destined soon to relapse into and decorates it with every romantic embellish- a wilderness; and in a few months we find ment of fancy. A shrubbery, that Shenstone the beautiful and tender partner of his bosom, might have envied, blooms around him. Music, whom he lately " permitted not the winds of”
sumthat might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs, mer “ to visit too roughly,” we find her shivering is his
. An extensive library spreads its treasures at midnight on the winter banks of the Ohio and before him. A philosophical apparatus offers to
mingling her tears with the torrents that froze as him all the secret mysteries of nature. Peace , they fell. Yet this unfortunate man, thus
detranquillity, and innocence shed their mingled de- luded from his interest and his happiness, thus lights around him. And to crown the enchant- seduced from the paths of innocence and peace, ment of the scene, a wife, who is said to be lovely thus confounded in the toils that were deliberately even beyond her sex, and graced with every ac
spread for him, and overwhelmed by the mastercomplishment that can render it irresistible, had ing spirit and genius of another—this man, thus blessed him with her love and made him the ruined and undone, and made to play a subordifather of several children. The evidence would nate part in this grand drama of guilt and treason,
you that this is but a faint picture of the this man is to be called the principal offender, real life. In the midst of all this peace, this inno- while he by whom he was thus plunged in misery cent simplicity, and this tranquillity, this feast of is comparatively innocent, a mere accessory! is the mind, this pure banquet of the heart , the de- this reason? Is it law?' Is it humanity ? Sir
, strover comes ; he comes to change this paradise neither the human heart nor the human underinto a hell
. Yet the flowers do not wither at his standing will bear a perversion so monstrous and approach. No monitory shuddering through the absurd ! so shocking to the soul! so revolting to boson of their unfortunate possessor warns him reason! Let Aaron Burr, then, not shrink from of the ruin that is coming upon him. A stranger the high destination which he has courted, and presents himself. Introduced to their civilities by having already ruined Blannerhassett in fortune, the high rank which he had lately held in his character, and happiness for ever, let him not atcountry, he soon finds his way to their hearts by tempt to finish the tragedy by thrusting that illthe dignity and elegance of his demeanour, the fated man between himself and punishment. light and beauty of his conversation, and the seduetive and fascinating power of his address. The conquest was not difficult. Innocence is ever sinple and credulous. Conscious of no design
PATRICK HENRY AGAINST THE itself, it suspects none in others. It wears no
PARSONS. guard before its breast. Every door and portal and avenue of the heart is thrown open, and all who choose it enter. Such was the state of Eden when the serpent entered its bowers. The prison- About the time of Mr. Henry's coming to the er, in a more engaging form, winding himself into bar, a controversy arose in Virginia, which graduthe open and unpractised heart of the unfortunate ally produced a very strong excitement, and called Blannerhassett, found but little difficulty in chang- to it, at length, the attention of the whole state. ing the native character of that heart and the ob- This was the famous controversy between the jects of its affection. By degrees he infuses into clergy on the one hand, and the legislature of the it the poison of his own ambition. He breathes people of the colony on the other, touching the into it the fire of his own courage; a daring and stipend claimed by the former; and as this was desperate thirst for glory; and ardour panting for the occasion on which Mr. Henry's genius first great enterprises, for all the storm and bustle and broke forth, those who take an interest in his life burricane of life. In a short time the whole man is will not be displeased by a particular account of changed, and every object of his former delight is the nature and grounds of the dispute. It will be relinquished. No more he enjoys the tranquil borne in mind, that the church of England was at
FROM THE LIFE OF PATRICK HENRY.