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ART. I.-Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, by
William Wirt, of Richmond, Virginia. Philadelphia; published
by James Webster: William Brown, printer:-pp. 439. IT T is an obvious remark, that a biographer, to do justice to the
person of whom he writes, should partake of his spirit, and resemble him in character. According to this rule, Mr. Wirt is the very man who ought to have given the world a sketch of that great'orator of nature, Patrick Henry; for Mr. Wirt is unquestionably an eloquent orator of the first class. He is capable of appreciating the perspicuity, simplicity, pathos and energy of that kind of speaking, which arrests and retains attention, carries home conviction, and renders the feelings of an audience obedient to the eye, the tone, and the wish of the speaker: he is capable too, of rendering the public estimation of the statesman, who, in Virginia, was second only to the immortal Washington, precisely what he would wish. The work before us does honour to the head and heart of the author: it does honour to the memory of the justly celebrated Henry; and to the state which may well be proud to claim the first as her adopted son, and the last as the father of her freemen. We have read the volume with critical attention, and can discover but a fow defects or inaccuracies, which have not been corrected by the author himself. The few which have occurred we shall state, and doubt not that they will receive due attention, when Mr. Wirt shall prepare a second edition of his estimable sketches for the press. Like most American books this wants an index, and a table of contents.
In a note (p. 11) he says that William Henry was 'pretty well provided as to fortune;' no doubt meaning that he was pretty well provided for as to fortune.'. Of his orator Mr. Wirt says, (p. 25) 'for as his mind rolled along, and began to glow from its own action, all the exuviæ of the clown, seemed to shed themselves, spontaneously.' A worse sentence than this cannot be found in the book. We cannot conceive of a mind's rolling along; and if we could, we suppose it must roll like a river, first to deposit, and then wash away exuviæ. But, then, it must roll like a
wheel, that sadly needs the application of tar and tallow, in order that it may glow from its own action. Now, that it should roll like a river, and like a wheel at the same time; and that it should both take fire by friction, and wash away the sediment of a slimy nature which had covered the clown, seems to our apprehension impossible. Of creating such confusion of metaphors Mr. Wirt is rarely guilty; but he is worth criticism, and, therefore, we shall not spare him.
On the 28th page, we have the expression, í neither with a feeble or hesitating hand. Neither requires its correlative nor. A similar error is committed, when the writer says, (p. 403,) he was certainly neither proud, or hard-hearted, or penurious:' and in the statement, that 'ncither his ardour in the public cause, or his strong natural sense, can with any colour of justice be disputed." (p. 177.) The new words, indebtment and replacement, (p.52,) we must charge to Mr. Jefferson, whose language he quotes; and, theretofore, (p. 70,) to judge Winston.-Section VI, commences thus; "I cannot learn that Mr. Henry distinguished himself peculiarly, at this session of Congress;' and we are left to ascertain of what session he writes, in any way we can. -A note, on the 227th page, should have been incorporated with the text, so as to read thus; “During the winter session of this year, (1780) general Gates entered the city of Richmond from his southern campaign, where he had most wofully fulfilled general Lee's prediction, that his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows."" Mr. Wirt informs us once or twice needlessly, (for he is sufficiently explicit in his first narration of the fact,) that Patrick Henry excelled all other persons, and even himself, while engaged about other concerns, in pleading criminal causés. It was enough to hear once that these were his forte.-Our biographer seems too, unable to drop a beautiful allusion to a 'river meandering through a flowery mead, but which never overflowed its banks; and the mountain torrent,' a cataract, thunder and lightning. (p. 50 and 250.) The comparison between the effect produced on the mind by Henry's eloquence, and that which results from the perception of the sublime Niagara, or of a conflict in the heavens, is exquisitely fine; but one may hear too much, even of a good thing.
'It seems to have been a matter of concert among the colonial governors,' he says, (p. 131,) if indeed the policy was not dictated by the British court, to disarm the people of all the colonies at one and the same time, and thus incapacitate them for united resistance.' In other places, he seems to have considered all the colonial governors as being of the same description of English myrmidons. There was, however, one honourable exception. His excellency, Jonathan Trumbull, LLD. the father of the late governor Trumbull, and of colonel John Trumbull, the best painter of a battle in the world, was elected annually to the chief magistracy of the state of Connecticut, from the year 1769, to that of
his death, in August 1785; and during the whole of this time was an undaunted friend of our American liberties. No other governor of an American colony was annually elected by the people; and no other, we believe, was able to hold his chair of state during the storms of the revolution. Instead of disarming, he armed the citizens of Connecticut; and all the physical force of that state was, from the commencement of the struggle for independence, by him organized for its achievement. Had Mr. Wirt known this historical fact, he would have taken notice of it, so far as to have excepted Trumbull from the infamous combination of colonial governors to enslave their fellow citizens.
Of the selection of materials for this work, we have only to say, that had Mr. Wirt given us less political history, and more of Henry's familiar and friendly letters, we should have been gratified; and the biography of the first republican governor of Virginia would have been more generally interesting. We must censure Mr. Wirt for calling his own animating pages 'poor and wretchea descriptions' of Henry's eloquence; and we beg leave to doubt whether it was not attributing to any one man too much, to assert that he put the revolution into motion, and bore it upon his shoulders, as Atlas is said to do the heavens.' (p. 314, 315,) These faults are few; and little else would professed critics find in this respectable volume to deserve animadversion.
Should we set ourselves to commend the eloquent passages of the work, it would be requisite to extract half of it. Instead of doing this, or of attempting to write a better life of Henry ourselves, as Messrs. Gifford and Jeffrey would do, under pretence of reviewing the work, we shall trace the course of the history before us, and avail ourselves of Mr. Wirt's industry and candour to present our readers with a faithful description of the man whose likeness enhances the value of our present number.
Patrick Henry was born at Studley, in the county of Hanover, and state of Virginia, on the 29th of May, 1736. He descended from respectable Scotch ancestry, in the paternal line; and his mother was a native of the county in which he was born. On the maternal side, at least, he seems to have descended from a rhe. torical race.
“ Her brother William, the father of the present judge Winston, is said to have been highly endowed with that peculiar cast of eloquence, for which Mr. Henry became, afterwards so justly celebrated. Of this gentleman I have an anecdote from a correspondent," which I shall give in his own words. I have often heard my father', who was intimately acquainted with this William Wiriston, say, that he was the greatest orator whom he ever heard, Patrick Henry excepted; that during the last French and Indian war, and soon after Braddock's defeat, when the militia were marched to the frontiers of Virginia, against the enemy, this William Winston was the lieutenant of a company; that the men, who were indifferently clothed, without tents, and exposed to
* Mr. Pope.
the rigour and inclemency of the weather, discovered great aversion to the service, and were anxious and even clamorous to return to their families; when this William Winston, mounting a stump, (the common rostrum, you know, of the field orator of Virginia,) addressed them with such keenness of invective, and declaimed with such force of eloquence, on liberty and patriotism, that when he concluded, the general cry was,
let us march on; lead us against the enemy;' and they were now willing, nay anxious to encounter all those difficulties and dangers, which, but a few moments before, had almost produced a mutiny.'
In childhood and youth Patrick Henry, whose name renders titles superfluous, gave no presages of his future greatness. He learned to read and write, reluctantly; 'made some small progress in arithmetic;' acquired a superficial knowledge of the Latin language;' and 'made a considerable proficiency in the mathematics, the only branch of education for which he discovered, in his youth, the slightest predilection. The whole soul of his youth was bound up in the sports of the field. His idleness was absolutely incurable: and, of course, he proved a truant lad, who could sit all day on a bridge, waiting for a good bite, or even, ‘one glorious nibble. The unhappy effects of this idleness were lasting as his life; and the biographer very properly cautions his youthful readers against following this bad example.
“ His propensity to observe and comment upon the human character, was, so far as I can learn, the only circumstance, which distinguished him, advantageously, from his youthful companions. This propensity seems to have been born with him, and to have exerted itself, instinctively, the moment that a new subject was presented to his view. Its action was incessant, and it became, at length, almost the only intel. lectual exercise in whico he seemed to take delight. To this cause may be traced that consummate knowledge of the human heart which he finally attained, and which enabled him, when he came upon the public stage, to touch the springs of passion with a master-hand, and to control the resolutions and decisions of his hearers, with a power, almost more than mortal.
“ From what has been already stated, it will be seen, how little education had to do with the formation of this great man's mind. He was, indeed, a mere child of nature, and nature seems to have been too proud and too jealous of her work, to permit it to be touched by the hand of art. She gave him Shakspeare's genius, and bade him, like Shakspeare, to depend on that alone. Let not the youthful reader, however, deduce, from the example of Mr. Henry, an argument in favour of indolence and the contempt of study. Let him remember that the powers which surmounted the disadvantage of those early habits, were such as very rarely appear upon this earth. Let him remember, too, how long the genius, even of Mr. Henry, was kept down and hidden from the public view, by the sorcery of those pernicious habits; through what years of poverty and wretchedness they doomed him to struggle; and, let him reinember, tnat at length, when in the zenith of his glory, Mr. Henry himself, had frequent occasions to deplore the consequences of his early neglect of literature, and to bewail the ghosts of his departed hours." P.6,7.
• At the age of fifteen years, young Henry was placed behind the counter of a merchant in the country; and at sixteen his father set him up in trade, in partnership with his brother William. Through laziness, the love of music, the charms of the chase, and a readiness to trust every one, the firm was soon reduced to bankruptcy. The only advantage which resulted from his short continuance in mercantile business was an opportunity to study human characters.
“ He found another relief, too, in the frequent opportunities now afforded him of pursuing his favourite study of the human character. The character of every customer underwent this scrutiny; and that, not with reference either to the integrity or solvency of the individual, in which one would suppose that Mr. Henry would feel himself most interested; but in relation to the structure of his mind, the general cast of his opi. nions, the motives and principles which influenced his actions, and what may be called the philosophy of character. In pursuing these investigations, he is said to have resorted to arts, apparently so far above his years, and which look so much like an after-thought, resulting from his future eminence, that I should hesitate to make the statement, were it not attested by so many witnesses, and by some who cannot be suspected of the capacity for having fabricated the fact. Their account of it, then, is this, that whenever a coni pany of his customers met in the store, (which frequently happened on the last day of the week) and were, themselves, sufficiently gay and animated to talk and act as nature prompted, without concealment, without reserve, he would take no part in their discussions, but listen with a silence as deep and attentive, as if under the influence of some potent charm. If, on the contrary, they were dull and silent, he would, without betraying his drift, task himself to set them in motion, and excite them to remark, collision, and exclamation. He was peculiarly delighted with comparing their characters, and ascertaining how they would, severally, act, in given situations. With this view he would state an hypothetic case, and call for their opinions, one by one, as to the conduct which would be proper in it. If they differed he would demand their reasons, and enjoy highly, the debates in which he would thus involve them. By multiplying and vary. ing those imaginary cascs at pleasure, he ascertained the general course of human opinion, and formed, for himself, as it were, a graduated scale of the motives and conduct which are natural to man. Sometimes he would entertain them with stories, gathered from his reading, or, as was more frequently the case, drawn from his own fancy, composed of heterogeneous circumstances, calculated to excite, by turns, pity, terror, résentment, indignation, contempt; pausing, in the turns of his narrative, to observe the effect; to watch the different modes in which the passions expressed themselves, and learn the language of emotion from those children of nature." P.9, 10.
This was, in the judgment of Mr. Wirt, the school in which Mr. Henry was prepared for his future life. ..“ For those continual efforts to render himself intelligible to his plain and unlettered hearers, on subjects entirely new to them, taught him that clear and simple style which forms the best vehicle of thought to a popular assembly; while his attempts to interest and affect them, in order that he might l:ear from them the echo of nature's voice, instructed