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Mr. Wirt was appointed by President Madison in 1816 Attorney for the district of Virginia, and on the election of Mr. Monroe to the presidency, in the following year, he was made Attorney General of the United States. He now removed to Washington, where he resided until 1830, when, at the close of the administration of Mr. Adams, he resigned his office, and took up his residence in Baltimore, where he passed the remainder of his life. He died on the eighteenth of February, 1834, in the sixty-second year of his age.
Mr. Wirt's literary writings, besides those already mentioned, are a Eulogy on the Lives and Characters of Adams and Jefferson; A Discourse before the Societies of Rutgers' College, in 1830; and an Address delivered in Baltimore, in the same year, on the Triumph of Liberty in France.
Mr. Wirt had never the reputation of being a first rate lawyer, but his standing in the Supreme Court, where he was constantly liable to be compared with some of the strongest men of the country, was highly respectable. He had a thorough knowledge of business, felicity in expedients, and great readiness in bringing all his acquisitions into use. He had given much attention to the study of oratory, and in The British Spy, in The Old Bachelor, and in the Life of Henry, had written much on the subject; but in a desultory manner, without apparent design, or consistency, so that no very definite ideas can be gathered of his views respecting it. Yet it is agreed on all hands that he was himself a very ready, pleasing, and effective speaker, inferior perhaps to no one among his contemporaries at the bar in this country.
His abilities were more brilliant than solid. He had a rapid but not skilful command of language, a prolific but not a chaste or correct fancy, and his opinions were generally neither new nor striking.
In his essays he imitated closely the form of the English models in this sort of writing, and both The British Spy and The Old Bachelor contain passages which will bear a favourable comparison perhaps with any thing in the same style written since the time of Johnson; but they are to be regarded altogether as the last productions of an obsolete school, which never could or will be made to flourish in this country.
In private life Mr. Wirt was justly held in the highest estimation. At an early period he had betrayed an unsteadiness of purpose and a feebleness of will from which the worst consequences were apprehended; but "the ship righted," as he remarks in one of his letters, and it sailed gallantly afterward a long voyage, through various seas, to the desired haven. He was in all respects fitted to adorn and charm society. His manners, marked by the kindness which was in his nature, were pleasing and familiar, yet dignified, and his conversation was fluent, eloquent, enlivened by playful and apposite wit, and enriched with the results, always at command, of his extensive and various reading. He wrote verses and composed music with facility, and sung, and performed on various instruments. It is no wonder therefore that he was a favourite of society, and that he is remembered, by those who had the happiness of being personally intimate with him, with an enthusiasm which cannot be felt by those who know him
Of his literary merits I do not think highly. only as a lawyer and man of letters.
THE BLIND PREACHER.
FROM THE BRITISH SPY.
Ir was one Sunday, as I travelled through the county of Orange, that my eye was caught by a cluster of horses tied near a ruinous, old, wooden house in the forest, not far from the road-side. Having frequently seen such objects before, in travelling through these States, I had no difficulty in understanding that this was a place of religious worship.
Devotion alone should have stopped me, to join in the duties of the congregation; but I must confess, that curiosity to hear the preacher of such a
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 cap, his shrivelled hands, and his voice, were all shaking under the influence of a palsy ; and a few moments ascertained to me that he was perfectly blind.
The first emotions that touched my breast were those of mingled pity and veneration. But how soon were all my feelings changed! The lips of Plato were never more worthy of a prognostic swarm of bees, than were the lips of this holy man! It was a day of the administration of the sacrament; and his subject was, of course, the
ble figure of the preacher; his blindness, con
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 exhausted long ago. Little did I suppose that instantly recalling to your recollection old Homer, the wild woods of America, I was to meet with a man whose eloquence would give to this topic a new and more sublime pathos than I had ever before witnessed.
As he descended from the pulpit to distribute the mystic symbols, there was a peculiar, a more than human solemnity in his air and manner, which made my blood run cold, and my whole frame shiver.
He then drew a picture of the sufferings of our Saviour; his trial before Pilate; his ascent up Calvary; his crucifixion; and his death. I knew the whole history; but never until then had I heard the circumstances so selected, so arranged, so coloured! It was all new; and I seemed to have heard it for the first time in my life. His enunciation was so deliberate that his voice trembled on every syllable; and every heart in the assembly trembled in unison. His peculiar phrases had that force of description, that the original scene appeared to be at that moment acting before our eyes. We saw the very faces of the Jews; the staring, frightful distortions of malice and rage. We saw the buffet: my soul kindled with a flame of indignation; and my hands were involuntarily and convulsively clinched.
But when he came to touch on the patience, the forgiving meekness of our Saviour; when he drew, to the life, his blessed eyes streaming in tears to heaven; his voice breathing to God a soft and gentle prayer of pardon on his enemies,
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," the voice of the preacher, which had all along faltered, grew fainter and fainter, until, his utterance being entirely obstructed by the force of his feelings, he raised his handkerchief to his eyes, and burst into a loud and irrepressible flood of grief. The effect is inconceivable. The whole house resounded with the mingled groans, and sobs, and shrieks of the congregation.
It was some time before the tumult had subsided, so far as to permit him to proceed. Indeed, judging by the usual, but fallacious standard of my own weakness, I began to be very uneasy for the situation of the preacher. For I could not conceive how he would be able to let his audience down from the height to which he had wound them, without impairing the solemnity and dignity of his subject, or perhaps shocking them by the abruptness of the fall. But-no: the descent was as beautiful and sublime as the elevation had been rapid and enthusiastic.
The first sentence, with which he broke the awful silence, was a quotation from Rousseau: "Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ, like a God!"
I despair of giving you any idea of the effect produced by this short sentence, unless you could perfectly conceive the whole manner of the man, as well as the peculiar crisis in the discourse. Never before did I completely understand what Demosthenes meant by laying such stress on de
Ossian, and Milton, and associating with his performance the melancholy grandeur of their geniuses; you are to imagine that you hear his slow, solemn, well-accented enunciation, and his voice of affecting, trembling melody; you are to remember the pitch of passion and enthusiasm, to which the congregation were raised; and then the few moments of portentous, deathlike silence, which reigned throughout the house: the preacher removing his white handkerchief from his aged face, (even yet wet from the recent torrent of his tears,) and slowly stretching forth the palsied hand which holds it, begins the sentence, "Socrates died like a philosopher"-then, pausing, raising his other hand, pressing them both, clasped together, with warmth and energy, to his breast, lifting his "sightless balls" to heaven, and pouring his whole soul into his tremulous voice-" but Jesus Christ-like a God!" If he had been indeed and in truth an angel of light, the effect could scarcely have been more divine. Whatever I had been able to conceive of the sublimity of Massillon or the force of Bourdaloue, had fallen far short of the power which I felt from the delivery of this simple sentence.
If this description give you the impression that this incomparable minister had any thing of shallow theatrical trick in his manner, it does him great injustice. I have never seen, in any other orator, such a union of simplicity and majesty. He has not a gesture, an attitude, or an accent, to which he does not seem forced by the sentiment he is expressing. His mind is too serious, too earnest, too solicitous, and, at the same time, too dignified, to stoop to artifice. Although as far removed from ostentation as a man can be, yet it is clear, from the train, the style and substance of his thoughts, that he is not only a very polite scholar, but a man of extensive and profound erudition. I was forcibly struck with a short yet beautiful character, which he drew of your learned and amiable countryman, Sir Robert Boyle: he spoke of him, as if "his noble mind had even before death divested herself of all influence from his frail tabernacle of flesh;" and called him, in his peculiarly emphatic and impressive manner, "a pure intelligence: the link between men and angels."
This man has been before my imagination almost ever since. A thousand times, as I rode along, I dropped the reins of my bridle, stretched forth my hand, and tried to imitate his quotation from Rousseau; a thousand times I abandoned the attempt in despair, and felt persuaded, that his peculiar manner and power arose from an energy of soul, which nature could give, but which no human being could justly copy. As I recall, at this moment, several of his awfully striking attitudes, the chilling tide, with which my blood begins to pour along my arteries, reminds me of the emotions produced by the first sight of Gray's introductory picture of his Bard.
a man of letters, who fled from the storms of his own country to find quiet in ours. His history shows that war is not the natural element of his mind. If it had been, he never would have exchanged Ireland for America. So far is an army from furnishing the society natural and proper to Mr. Blannerhassett's character, that on his arrival in America he retired even from the population of the Atlantic States, and sought quiet and solitude in the bosom of our western forests. But he car
ried with him taste, and science, and wealth; and lo, the desert smiled! Possessing himself of a beautiful island in the Ohio, he rears upon it a palace, and decorates it with every romantic embellishment of fancy. A shrubbery, that Shenstone might have envied, blooms around him. Music, that might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs, is his. An extensive library spreads its treasures before him. A philosophical apparatus offers to him all the secret mysteries of nature. Peace, tranquillity, and innocence shed their mingled delights around him. And to crown the enchantment of the scene, a wife, who is said to be lovely even beyond her sex, and graced with every accomplishment that can render it irresistible, had blessed him with her love and made him the father of several children. The evidence would convince you that this is but a faint picture of the real life. In the midst of all this peace, this innocent simplicity, and this tranquillity, this feast of the mind, this pure banquet of the heart, the destroyer comes; he comes to change this paradise into a hell. Yet the flowers do not wither at his approach. No monitory shuddering through the bosom of their unfortunate possessor warns him of the ruin that is coming upon him. A stranger presents himself. Introduced to their civilities by the high rank which he had lately held in his country, he soon finds his way to their hearts by the dignity and elegance of his demeanour, the light and beauty of his conversation, and the seductive and fascinating power of his address. The conquest was not difficult. Innocence is ever simple and credulous. Conscious of no design itself, it suspects none in others. It wears no 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 prisoner, in a more engaging form, winding himself into the open and unpractised heart of the unfortunate Blannerhassett, found but little difficulty in changing the native character of that heart and the objects of its affection. By degrees he infuses into it the poison of his own ambition. He breathes into it the fire of his own courage; a daring and desperate thirst for glory; and ardour panting for great enterprises, for all the storm and bustle and hurricane of life. In a short time the whole man is changed, and every object of his former delight is relinquished. No more he enjoys the tranquil
scene; it has become flat and insipid to his taste. His books are abandoned. His retort and crucible are thrown aside. His shrubbery blooms and breathes its fragrance upon the air in vain; he likes it not. His ear no longer drinks the rich melody of music; it longs for the trumpet's clangour and the cannon's roar. Even the prattle of his babes, once so sweet, no longer affects him; and the angel smile of his wife, which hitherto touched his bosom with ecstasy so unspeakable, is now unseen and unfelt. Greater objects have taken possession of his soul. His imagination has been dazzled by visions of diadems, of stars and garters, and titles of nobility. He has been taught to burn with restless emulation at the names of great heroes and conquerors. His enchanted island is destined soon to relapse into a wilderness; and in a few months we find the beautiful and tender partner of his bosom, whom he lately "permitted not the winds of" summer "to visit too roughly," we find her shivering at midnight on the winter banks of the Ohio and mingling her tears with the torrents that froze as they fell. Yet this unfortunate man, thus deluded from his interest and his happiness, thus seduced from the paths of innocence and peace, thus confounded in the toils that were deliberately spread for him, and overwhelmed by the mastering spirit and genius of another-this man, thus ruined and undone, and made to play a subordinate part in this grand drama of guilt and treason, this man is to be called the principal offender, while he by whom he was thus plunged in misery is comparatively innocent, a mere accessory! Is this reason? Is it law? Is it humanity? Sir, neither the human heart nor the human understanding will bear a perversion so monstrous and absurd! so shocking to the soul! so revolting to reason! Let Aaron Burr, then, not shrink from the high destination which he has courted, and having already ruined Blannerhassett in fortune, character, and happiness for ever, let him not attempt to finish the tragedy by thrusting that illfated man between himself and punishment.
PATRICK HENRY AGAINST THE PARSONS.
FROM THE LIFE OF PATRICK HENRY.
ABOUT the time of Mr. Henry's coming to the bar, a controversy arose in Virginia, which gradually produced a very strong excitement, and called to it, at length, the attention of the whole state.
This was the famous controversy between the clergy on the one hand, and the legislature of the people of the colony on the other, touching the stipend claimed by the former; and as this was the occasion on which Mr. Henry's genius first broke forth, those who take an interest in his life will not be displeased by a particular account of the nature and grounds of the dispute. It will be borne in mind, that the church of England was at
this period the established church of Virginia; and by an act of Assembly, passed so far back as the year 1696, cach minister of a parish had been provided with an annual stipend of sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco. This act was re-enacted, with amendments, in 1748, and in this form had received the royal assent. This price of tobacco had long remained stationary at two pence in the pound, or sixteen shillings and eight pence per hundred. According to the provisions of the law, the clergy had the right to demand, and were in the practice of receiving, payment to their stipend in the specific tobacco; unless they chose, for convenience, to commute it for money at the market price. In the year 1755, however, the crop of tobacco having fallen short, the legislature passed "an act to enable the inhabitants of this colony to discharge their tobacco debts in money for the present year:" by the provisions of which, "all persons, from whom any tobacco was due, were authorized to pay the same either in tobacco or in money, after the rate of sixteen shillings and eight pence per hundred, at the option of the debtor." This act was to continue in force for ten months and no longer, and did not contain the usual clause of suspension, until it should receive the royal assent. Whether the scarcity of tobacco was so general and so notorious as to render this act a measure of obvious humanity and necessity, or whether the clergy were satisfied by its generality, since it embraced sheriffs, clerks, attorneys, and all other tobacco creditors, as well as themselves, or whether they acquiesced in it as a temporary expedient, which they supposed not likely to be repeated, it is certain, that no objection was made to the law at that time. They could not, indeed, have helped observing the benefits which the rich planters derived from the act; for they were receiving from fifty to sixty shillings per hundred for their tobacco, while they paid off their debts, due in that article, at the old price of sixteen shillings and eight pence. Nothing, however, was then said in defence either of the royal prerogative or of the rights of the clergy, but the law was permitted to go peaceably through its ten months' operation. The great tobacco planters had not forgotten the fruits of this act, when, in the year 1758, upon a surmise that another short crop was likely to occur, the provisions of the act of 1775 were re-enacted, and the new law, like the former, contained no suspending clause. The crop, as had been anticipated, did fall short, and the price of tobacco rose immediately from sixteen and eight pence to fifty shillings per hundred. The clergy now took the alarm, and the act was assailed by an indignant, sarcastic, and vigorous pamphlet, entitled The Two-Penny Act, from the pen of the Rev. John Camn, the rector of York Hampton parish, and the Episcopalian commissary for the colony.* He was answered by two pamphlets, written, the
*The governor of Virginia represented the king; the council, the House of Lords; and the Episcopalian commissary (a member of the council) represented the spiritual part of that house; the House of Burgesses was, of course, the House of Commons.
one by Col. Richard Bland, and the other by Col. Landon Carter, in both which the commissary was very roughly handled. He replied, in a still severer pamphlet, under the ludicrous title of The Colonels Dismounted. The Colonels rejoined ; and this war of pamphlets, in which, with some sound argument, there was a great deal of what Dryden has called "the horse-play of raillery," was kept up, until the whole colony, which had at first looked on for amusement, kindled seriously in the contest from motives of interest. Such was the excitement produced by the discussion, and at length so strong the current against the clergy, that the printers found it expedient to shut their presses against them in this colony, and Mr. Camn had at last to resort to Maryland for publication. These pamphlets are still extant; and it seems impossible to deny, at this day, that the clergy had much the best of the argument. The king in his council took up the subject, denounced the act of 1758 as a usurpation, and declared it utterly null and void. Thus supported, the clergy resolved to bring the question to a judicial test; and suits were accordingly brought by them, in the various county courts of the colony, to recover their stipends in the specific tobacco. They selected the county of Hanover as the place of the first experiment; and this was made in a suit instituted by the Rev. James Maury, against the collector of that county and his sureties. The record of this suit is now before me. The declaration is founded on the act
of 1748, which gives the tobacco; the defendants pleaded specially the act of 1758, which authorizes the commutation into money, at sixteen and eight pence; to this plea the plaintiff demurred; assigning for causes of demurrer, first, that the act of 1758, not having received the royal assent, had not the force of a law; and, secondly, that the king, in council, had declared the act null and void. The case stood for argument on the demurrer to the November term, 1763, and was argued by Mr. Lyons for the plaintiff, and Mr. John Lewis for the defendants; when the court, very much to the credit of their candour and firmness, breasted the popular current by sustaining the demurrer. Thus far, the clergy sailed before the wind, and concluded, with good reason, that their triumph was complete for the act of 1758 having been declared void by the judgment on the demurrer, that of 1748 was left in full force, and became, in law, the only standard for the finding of the jury. Mr. Lewis was so thoroughly convinced of this, that he retired from the cause; informing his clients that it had been, in effect, decided against them, and that there remained nothing more for him to do. In this desperate situation, they applied to Patrick Henry, and he undertook to argue it for them before a jury, at the ensuing term. Accordingly, on the first day of the following December, he attended the court, and, on his arrival, found in the court-yard such a concourse as would have appalled any other man in his situation. They were not the people of the county merely who were there, but visiters from all the counties, to a considerable distance around. The decision
upon the demurrer had produced a violent ferment among the people, and equal exultation on the part of the clergy; who attended the court in a large body, either to look down opposition, or to enjoy the final triumph of this hard-fought contest, which they now considered as perfectly secure. Among many other clergymen, who attended on this occasion, came the Reverend Patrick Henry, who was the plaintiff in another cause of the same nature, then depending in court. When Mr. Henry saw his uncle approach, he walked up to his carriage, accompanied by Col. Meredith, and expressed his regret at seeing him there. "Why so?" inquired the uncle. "Because, sir," said Mr. Henry, "you know that I have never yet spoken in public, and I fear that I shall be too much overawed by your presence, to be able to do my duty to my clients; besides, sir, I shall be obliged to say some hard things of the clergy, and I am very unwilling to give pain to your feelings." His uncle reproved him for having engaged in the cause; which Mr. Henry excused, by saying, that the clergy had not thought him worthy of being retained on their side, and he knew of no moral principle by which he was bound to refuse a fee from their adversaries; besides, he confessed, that in this controversy, both his heart and judgment, as well as his professional duty, were on the side of the people: he then requested that his uncle would do him the favour to leave the ground. 66 "Why, Patrick," said the old gentleman, with a good-natured smile, "as to your saying hard things of the clergy, I advise you to let that alone: take my word for it, you will do yourself more harm than you will them; and as to my leaving the ground, I fear, my boy, that my presence could neither do you harm nor good in such a cause. However, since you seem to think otherwise, and desire it of me so earnestly, you shall be gratified." Whereupon, he entered his carriage again, and returned home.
Soon after the opening of the court, the cause was called. It stood on a writ of inquiry of damages, no plea having been entered by the defendants since the judgment on the demurrer. The array before Mr. Henry's eyes was now most fearful. On the bench sat more than twenty clergymen, the most learned men in the colony, and the most capable, as well as the severest, critics before whom it was possible for him to have made his debut. The courthouse was crowded with an overwhelming multitude, and surrounded with an immense and anxious throng, who, not finding room to enter, were endeavouring to listen without, in the deepest attention. But there was something still more awfully disconcerting than all this; for in the chair of the presiding magistrate sat no other person than his own father. Mr. Lyons opened the cause very briefly in the way of argument he did nothing more than explain to the jury, that the decision upon the demurrer had put the act of 1758 entirely out of the way, and left the law of 1748 as the only standard of their damages; he then concluded with a highly-wrought eulogium on the benevolence of the clergy. And now
came on the first trial of Patrick Henry's strength. No one had ever heard him speak, and curiosity was on tiptoe. He rose very awkwardly, and faltered much in his exordium. The people hung their heads at so unpromising a commencement; the clergy were observed to exchange sly looks with each other; and his father is described as having almost sunk with confusion from his seat. But these feelings were of short duration, and soon gave place to others, of a very different character. For now were those wonderful faculties which he possessed, for the first time, developed; and now was first witnessed that mysterious and almost supernatural transformation of appearance, which the fire of his own eloquence never failed to work in him. For as his mind rolled along, and began to glow from its own action, all the exuvie of the clown seemed to shed themselves spontaneously. His attitude, by degrees, became erect and lofty. The spirit of his genius awakened all his features. His countenance shone with a nobleness and granIdeur which it had never before exhibited. There was a lightning in his eyes which seemed to rive the spectator. His action became graceful, bold, and commanding; and in the tones of his voice, but more especially in his emphasis, there was a peculiar charm, a magic, of which any one who ever heard him will speak as soon as he is named, but of which no one can give any adequate description. They can only say that it struck upon the ear and upon the heart, in a manner which language cannot tell. Add to all these, his wonder-working fancy, and the peculiar phraseology in which he clothed its images; for he painted to the heart with a force that almost petrified it. In the language of those who heard him on this occasion," he made their blood run cold, and their hair to rise on end."
It will not be difficult for any one who ever heard this most extraordinary man, to believe the whole account of this transaction, which is given by his surviving hearers, and from their account the courthouse of Hanover county must have exhibited, on this occasion, a scene as picturesque as has been ever witnessed in real life. They say that the people, whose countenance had fallen as he arose, had heard but a very few sentences before they began to look up; then to look at each other with surprise, as if doubting the evidence of their own senses; then, attracted by some strong gesture, struck by some majestic attitude, fascinated by the spell of his eye, the charm of his emphasis, and the varied and commanding expression of his countenance, they could look away no more. In less than twenty minutes, they might be seen in every part of the house, on every bench, in every window, stooping forward from their stands, in deathlike silence; their features fixed in amazement and awe; all their senses listening and riveted upon the speaker, as if to catch the last strain of some heavenly visitant. The mockery of the clergy was soon turned into alarm: their triumph into confusion and despair; and at one burst of his rapid and overwhelming invective, they fled from the bench in precipitation and terror. As