Patrick Henry by Edward W. Johnston

There is no "Home of an American Statesman" that may more fitly claim the leading place in this our repository than the dwelling of Patrick Henry—the earliest, the most eloquent, and the wisest of those whose high counsels first swayed us as one people and drew us to a common cause; as resolutely as ably directed that cause to its noble event; and, in a word, performing in the civil struggle all that Washington executed in the military, achieved for us existence as a nation.

In the Heroic Age, however, such as was to us the Revolution,  men build not monuments nor engrave commemorative inscriptions: those of nature, identified by rude but reverential tradition, alone attest where the founders of a race, the great-fathers of an empire, have sprung.

If there be, among the many men of that brave day, one prompter and more unfaltering than all the rest; if, among all who moved by stirring words and decisive acts the general mind of the country, there was one who more directly than any, or than all, set it in a flame not to be extinguished; if amidst those lights there was one, the day star, till whose coming there was no dawn, it was certainly Henry. It is true that, before him, Massachusetts had her quarrel with England, but not with the common sympathy of the colonies. For, averse, from her very foundation, to not merely the dominion, but the very institutions of the mother country, she had kept up with it a continual bickering, religious as well as civil; a strife at best local, often ill-tempered and factious; so that her too frequent broils, commanding little regard, would have continued to come to nothing had not an opposition to English measures sprung up in a more loyal quarter. The southern colonies, meanwhile, had always loved the parent land, both church and state, and naturally had been indulgently dealt with by its legislation. Thus, until that ill-advised measure, the Stamp Act, came, to affect all the American plantations alike, there had been nothing to draw us together in a common cause, a common resistance. The Stamp Act gave that cause, and Henry led that resistance. Young, obscure, unconnected, unaided, uncounselled, and even uncountenanced, he yet, by the sudden splendor of his eloquence, his abilities, and his dauntless resolution, carried every thing before him; animated the whole land to a determined assertion of their rights; established for himself a boundless influence over the popular mind; used it, whenever the occasion came, to sound the signal of an unshrinking opposition to every encroachment; led the way, independently of all movements elsewhere; devised and brought about every main measure of preparation; rejected all compromise; clearly the first to see the certain issue of the contest in European interposition and the establishment of our Independence, pursued steadily that aim before even he could openly avow it: and finally, when things were ripe; assumed it for his State, instructed her deputation to propose it to all the rest, and indeed, involved them in it beyond avoidance, by setting up a regular and permanent Republican Constitution in Virginia; a step that allowed no retreat, and was not less decisive than the heroical act of Cortez, when, marching upon Mexico from his landing-place, he burnt his vessels behind him. Henry was, in a word, the Moses who led us forth from the house of bondage. If there had been an opposition before his, it was not the appointed, and would have been an ineffectual one. There had, no doubt, been Jews enough that murmured, even before he who was to deliver them appeared. We may, therefore, fitly apply to Henry, in regard to the bringing about of our Independence, all that Dryden so finely said of Bacon in science:

"Bacon, like Moses, led us forth, at last:
The barren wilderness he passed;
Did on the very border stand
Of the blest promised land;
And from the mountain-top of his exalted wit,
Saw it himself and showed us it."

 And yet Henry, like nearly all his illustrious fellow-laborers of freedom, sleeps in an undistinguished grave. At his death, party spirit denied to his memory the tokens of public admiration and regret, offered in that very legislature of which he had been the great light, and which, indeed, he had called into being. Since that sorry failure—for all faction should have been hushed over the body of a citizen and a man so admirable—no further notice has been taken of him; and he who merited a national monument, only less proud than that due to Washington himself, slumbers beneath an humble private one at Red Hill, the secluded residence where he died.

But we turn to those personal particulars of this extraordinary man which are appropriate to the design of the present volume. Not a few of them will be found to involve important corrections of the received account of his early years, and a new view, therefore, of his genius and character.

In that received account, his sole original biographer, Mr. Wirt—writing without any personal knowledge of him, and neglecting to consult the most obvious and authentic source of information, his four surviving sisters, ladies of condition and of remarkable intelligence—has fallen into the vulgar error, to which the peculiar position and fortunes of Mr. Henry at first gave rise, and which he afterwards, for warrantable political purposes, encouraged. When he suddenly burst out from complete obscurity, an unrivalled orator, a consummate politician, and snatched the control of legislation and of the public mind from the veteran, the college-bred, the wealthy and high-born leaders who had till then held it, the homeliness of dress which befitted his narrow circumstances, the humility of aspect and the simplicity of manners, which were unaffected traits of his disposition, naturally assigned him in the eyes of both those who were of it and of those who looked down upon it, to the plebeian class. It suited the envy of these, it delighted the admiration of those, to regard him—that unintelligible marvel of abilities, which had thus all at once effaced every thing else—as a mere child of the people. The really skilful, who understand intellectual prodigies and never refer them to ignorance or chance, must have seen at once, through the cloud in which he stood, a great and an enlightened understanding, too competent to a high and a complex public question, not to be strong in knowledge as well as faculties. The few cannot have mistaken him for that fabulous thing, an ignorant genius; for they must have seen in his commanding and complete eloquence the art, in his masterly measures the information, of one thoroughly trained, though in secret, to the business of swaying men's minds, and of conducting their counsels, though hitherto apart from them. All but this highest class, however, of the rivals whom he at once threw into eclipse naturally sought to depreciate him as a mere declaimer, a tribunitian orator, voluble and vehement as he was rude, rash, and illiterate. Could the tapers that, at Belshazzar's feast, went out before the blaze of that marvellous handwriting on the wall, have been afterwards permitted to give their opinion of it, they would, of course, have talked disdainfully of its beam, as mere phosphorus or some other low pyrotechnic trick. Such was the reputation which the vanquished magnates in general, and their followers, endeavored to fix upon the young subverter of their ascendency. He was not of one of the old aristocratic families; he was a low person, therefore he had never been  within the walls of a college, still less had he, like many of them, finished, with the graces of foreign travel, a public discipline of learning; he was, therefore, by their report, illiterate, although, certainly, in his performances, all the best effects of education were manifest, without its parade. While they called him ignorant, he always proved himself to know whatever the occasion demanded, and able victoriously to instruct foe and friend. Shunning, from his sense, all assumption, and from his modesty, all display, he never pulled out the purse of his acquirements to chink it merely, but only to pay; so that no man could tell what he had left in the bottom of his pocket; and thus, a ragged-looking Fortunatus, he always surprised men with his unguessed resources. Strange powers, undoubtedly, he had, that must have not a little confounded the judgment of the best observers; unexercised in the forum, he had risen up a consummate master of the whole art of moving in discourse the understanding or the passions; unpractised in public affairs, he had only to appear in them, in order to stand the first politician of his day; unversed in the business and the strategy of deliberative assemblies, he had only to become a member of one, in order to be its adroitest parliamentary tactician. As he was dexterous without practice, so was he prudent without experience; for, from the first he shone out as the wisest man in all the public councils. He seems to have escaped all that tribute of error which youth must almost invariably pay, as the price of eminence in public affairs; he fell into no theory, he indulged no vision, he never once committed a blunder; in short, ripe from the beginning, he appeared to be by instinct and the mere gift of nature, whatever others slowly become only by the aid of art and experience. Bred up in seclusion, though (as the high cultivation of his sisters testified to all who knew them) in a household whose very atmosphere was knowledge, he had, beyond a good acquaintance with Latin, the rudiments of Greek, French, mathematics, and an early familiarity with the best English authors—those of the Elizabethan age, of the Commonwealth, and of Queen Anne's day—received little direct instruction; none, but from his father and books, his early companions, so that his scholastic instruction was really slender. But he had been taught, betimes, to love knowledge and how to work it out for himself; how, in a word, to accomplish what best unfolds a great genius, self-education. For schools and colleges—admirable contrivances as they are for keeping up among mankind a common method and a common stock of information—are but suited, as they were but designed, for the common run of men. Applying to all the same mechanical process; bringing to the same level the genius and the dunce, they act excellently to repair the original inequality, sometimes so vast, with which nature deals out understanding among the human race. In a word, they are capital machines for bringing about an average of talent; but it is at the expense of those bright parts which occasionally come, that they do it. Their methods clap in the same couples him who can but creep and him who would soar; harness in the same cart the plough-horse and the courser. The highest genius must be its own sole method-maker, its own entire rule. From what it has done, rules are deduced; but for its inferiors, not for it: its whole existence is exceptional, original; and whatever, in its disciplining, would tend to make it otherwise, serves but to check and to diminish its development.

No greater error, therefore, than to suppose that a man as extraordinary as Patrick Henry, who, mature from the first, rose up a consummate speaker and reasoner, and, amongst men of large abilities, knowledge, and experience, constantly showed himself, in matters the weightiest and the most difficult, superior to them all, could have been uneducated. In reality he had learned of the best possible master, for such a man—himself. That he knew, that he even knew more solidly, because more effectually and to the purpose, than all those around him, the great subjects with which he dealt so wonderfully, is beyond all question. Now, though the genius of Mr. Henry was prodigious, and though there be things which genius does, as it were, intuitively and spontaneously, there are other things which are not knowable, even by genius itself, without study; which the utmost genius cannot extemporize, cannot produce from nothing, cannot make without their materials previously amassed in its mind, cannot understand without their necessary particulars accumulated in advance; and it was in just such things—the highest civil ability, which comes of wisdom, not genius; the greatest eloquence which cannot be formed but by infinite art and labor—that he stood up at all times supreme. The sagacity of statesmanship with which he looked through the untried affairs of this country, saw through systems and foretold consequences, has never been surpassed; and his eloquence, judged (as we have alone the means of judging it) by its effects, has never been equalled.

Such then, even upon the traditionary facts out of which his biographer has shaped into a mere fable his sudden rise and his anomalous abilities, is, of necessity, the rational theory of Mr. Henry's greatness. But, without any resort to induction, the simple truth, if Mr. Wirt had sought it in the natural quarter, would have conducted him to the same conclusions as we have just set forth.

At the time when Mr. Wirt collected his materials, he was yet, though of fine natural abilities, by no means the solid man that he by and by became. His fancy was exuberant, his taste florid, his judgment unformed. Himself in high repute for a youthful and gaudy eloquence, which, however, he afterwards exchanged for a style of great severity and vigor—he had been urged to his immature and ambitious undertaking, by admirers who conceived him to be little less than a second Henry. His besetting idea seems to be much akin to Dr. Johnson's "who drives fat oxen should himself be fat:" namely that the life of a great orator should be written by a great orator; and that he was to show not only Mr. Henry but himself eloquent. In general his book does him credit, as merely a literary performance, although sadly deformed, in what were intended for its best passages, by an inflation of which he must have been afterwards greatly ashamed, as a sin against all style, but especially that proper to his subject—the historic. Let us add—in simple justice to a man of great virtues and elevation, as well as gentleness of mind and feelings, whose memory has upon us, besides, the claim of public respect and of hereditary friendship—that his biography, wherever his own, is, in spite of party spirit, written with the most honorable candor, and vindicates Mr. Henry with equal fairness and ability from the aspersions cast upon his conduct in the "Alien and Sedition" business by the Jeffersonian faction. Wherever he (Mr. Wirt) has depended upon his own researches alone, he displays both diligence and discrimination; but unhappily, he accepted the loose popular traditions, which are never any thing but a tissue of old women's tales; he relied upon a mass of casual contributions, chiefly derived from the same legendary sources or from uncertain, confused, and (as himself lets us see) often contradictory memories; and above all, he adopted implicitly the information supplied by a certain Thomas Jefferson; who, besides being a person of whom the sagacious and upright Henry cherished a very ill opinion—so that he could not well be supposed a very special repository of the orator's personal confidences—was a gentleman who had all his life driven rather the largest and most lucrative trade in the calumny of nearly all the best and greatest of his contemporaries, that has ever been carried on in these United States, much as that sort of commerce has long flourished and yet flourishes amongst us. Upon such things he had come to a splendid political fortune while he lived, and when he died, with a pious solicitude to provide for his posterity, he bequeathed to his grandson all the unspent capital stock of his slanders (his Memoirs and Ana) to carry on the old business with and keep up the greatness of the family.

The effect of all this was to turn what before was strange or obscure, in Henry's history, into little better than a fable, a sort of popular and poetic myth of eloquence, in which the great speaker and statesman fades away into a fiction, a mere creation of the fancy, scarcely more real or probable than the account in old Master Tooke's "Pantheon," of Orpheus's drawing the rocks and trees and the very wild beasts along with him by his powers of song. Nay, in one main point, Master Tooke's legend more consults verisimilitude: for he, instead of  shocking all probability by representing his hero to have been without education, sends him as private pupil to the Muses themselves, who are reputed to have kept, then as now, the best Greek and Latin colleges a-going.

It is certainly true, in excuse for all this, that the mighty men who, for their exploits and services, became the demigods of fable, "the fair humanities of old religion," had scarcely more struck the excited imagination of their times than had Henry. Like theirs was the obscurity of his birth, the mystery of his education, the marvel of his achievements. Of his many great speeches, scarcely one uncorrupted passage can be said to survive; so that even of that which all felt and know we have but the faintest shadow. A fragmentary thought is all of genuine that is left us out of a whole immortal harangue; some powerful ejaculation stands for an entire oration, and dimly suggests, not explains its astonishing effects. To all purpose historic of his eloquence, he might just as well have lived before alphabetic writing was invented. At best, the oratory that entrances, agitates, enraptures, transports every man in a whole assembly, and hurries him totally away, thrilling and frenzied with sensations as vehement as novel, sets all reporting, all stenography at defiance. Before it, shorthand—at most, the dim reflection of such things; a cold copy, a poor parody where it is not a burlesque of speech in its great bursts—drops its pen, and forgets even to translate; which, after all (haud inexpertus loquor), is the utmost it can do. But of not even such translation did Mr. Henry, upon any occasion but two, receive the advantage such as it is. Every where in these the single but skilful reporter confesses, by many a summary in parenthesis, that at certain passages he lost himself in the speaker, and could not even attempt to render him. Thus it comes that, of his transcendent harangues—those which made or directed the Revolution—we have only a few scattered sentences, and the seemingly amazed descriptions which attest their extraordinary effects. There is but one exception: a version, to appearance tolerably entire, though still evidently but a sketch, of his "Liberty or Death" speech, when, on the 20th March, 1775, he told the Convention of Virginia, assembled in the "Old Church" at Richmond (St. Johns), that "they must fight," and moved to arm and organize the militia. This, even in its existing form, is a prodigiously noble speech, full of vigor in the argument, full of passion in the appeals, breathing every where the utmost fire of the warrior, orator, patriot, and sage. Fitly uttered, it is still—though of course it must have lost greatly in the transmission—a discourse to rouse a whole nation invincibly to arms, if their cause and their courage were worthy of it. That speech evidently, and that speech alone, is, in the main, the true thunder of Henry: all the others are but the mustard-bowl.

But though from all these causes, he already, in Mr. Wirt's day, stood, as seen through the fast-gathered haze of tradition, a huge but shadowy figure, it was the business of the biographer, instead of merely showing him to us in that popular light, to set him in a true one. The critical historian clears up such mists, defines such shadows, and calls them back not only to substance but proportion, color, life, the very pressure and body of the times. What if the historic truth had passed  into a poetic fable? Mr. Wirt should have dealt with it, not as a bard, a rhapsodist, but a philosophical mythologist, who from fable itself sifts out the unwritten facts of a day, when fable was the only form of history.

Besides, however, adopting for the fundamental facts of Mr. Henry's character all these false sources, his biographer utterly neglected (as we have already intimated) the most obvious and the most natural ones. He had then four surviving sisters, women not merely of condition but intellectually remarkable.

To none of these did Mr. Wirt resort for any domestic particulars of his early life, which of course none knew so well as they. Well acquainted with them all—sprung from one of them—we have cause to know the astonishment with which they met this written account of his early years and his breeding up. Had Mr. Wirt personally known these highly cultivated and very superior ladies, distinguished as they were for the completeness and solidity of their old-fashioned education, he must have seen at once that his own story of Henry's youthful institution and ways is about as true as it is that Achilles was born of a sea-goddess, had a centaur for his private tutor, and was fed upon lion's marrow to make him valiant.

His very lineage was literary. His father, John Henry, a Scottish gentleman of Aberdeen, was a man of good birth, of learned education, and, when he migrated to Virginia, of easy fortune. He was the nephew of Robertson, the great historian of his own country and of ours. The name of his mother, Jane Robertson, an admirable and accomplished person, is still preserved and transmitted among her female descendants. His cousin, David Henry, was the associate editor of the "Gentleman's Magazine," then a leading publication, with Edward Cave, the last of the learned printers; whose brother-in-law and successor he became. The family bred many of its members for the church, which in Britain implies such influence as secures preferment. John's younger brother, Patrick, thus taking orders, received a rectorship near him, and followed him to this country. In those days of Episcopacy, benefices drew after them not merely comfortable reverence, but goodly emolument and even authority in civil life; so that the parsons were a power in the State. All this Patrick, a man worthy of it, employed. His brother already possessed it; and thus both took their station among the gentry, though not the aristocracy, of the land—its untitled nobility: for, in effect, such an order, sustained by primogeniture and entails, then existed throughout lower or tide-water Virginia.

John attained to the command of the regiment of his county, to its surveyorship, and to the presiding chair of its magistracy; stations then never conferred but upon leading men in the community. More careless, however, of his private interests than of the public, without exactly wasting his fortune, he gradually frittered it away; and though he repaired it for a time, by an advantageous marriage with the young and wealthy widow (a Winston by birth) of his most intimate friend, Col. John Syme, of the Rocky Mills, yet before the tenth year of Patrick, his second son (born 29th May, 1736), he found himself so straitened as to have need to make himself an income by setting up in his house a private classical school. Assisted to this by the reputation of being one of the best scholars in the country, he taught for a number of years with great approval the children of his friends and his own; abandoning the pursuit only when one of its inducements—the  education of his own sons and daughters (two of the former and five of the latter)—had ceased.

Under such circumstances, and especially when we repeat that those four of his daughters whom we knew were persons greatly admired for the masculine goodness and extent of their education, it may be judged how likely, how possible it is that Patrick, with his boundless aptitude—always, in after life, applied most rapidly and successfully to whatever he had need to understand—can have grown up to manhood almost uninstructed, ignorant, and idle. Genius, of which it is the very essence that it has an uncontrollable affinity for the knowledge proper to its caste, has often been seen to surmount obstacles seemingly invincible to its information; never yet wilfully, incorrigibly, and in spite of every influence around, to shut out the open and easy daylight of intelligence, and darken itself into voluntary duncedom. The thing, we repeat is a flat, a bald and a flagrant impossibility. You might as well tell us that a young eagle, instead of taking to the sky as soon as its pinions were grown, has, though neither caged nor clipped, remained contented on foot and preferred to run about the barn-yard with the dunghill fowls. No! your "mute Miltons" and your harmless Cromwells sound very prettily to the fancy, but in plain fact, were no Miltons unless they sang, no Cromwells unless they conquered. Genius and Heroism—the most strenuous of human things—were never dull, slothful, idle; never slighted opportunity, but always make, if they do not find it.

Accordingly, the sisters of Mr. Henry always asserted that, whatever their brother might appear abroad, he was a close voluntary student at home; exploring not only his father's library, which was large and good, but whatever other books he could lay his hands upon; dwelling, with an especial delight, upon certain great authors, of whom he seemed to make his masters; but cultivating assiduously what was then called "polite learning," and merited the name, along with history at large, and that of the free states of antiquity, and of England in particular. His great favorites were Livy and Virgil; not (as Mr. Wirt supposes of the former) in a translation, but the original. That the sisters were right on this point is sufficiently proved by the fact that, a few years ago, his Latin Virgil was in existence, its margins all filled with his manuscript notes. We need hardly say that he who was not content with Dryden as a translator was clearly not a-going to take up with poor old Philemon Holland, then the current English disfigurer of the most animated and picturesque of historians. Henry's sisters indeed, and the only one of his schoolfellows that we have ever met, were persuaded that he read Latin almost as readily as English. Mr. Wirt himself had learned that the great Paduan was ever in his boyish hands; now, that single point established, he might without hesitation have proceeded to five clear and important inferences: first, that no boy has a favorite book but because he is fond of books generally; secondly, that when his favorite is, though of the highest merit, a very unusual one, he must not only have read much, but with great discrimination: thirdly, that if his favorite was in a special class (not a mere miscellanist) he was well read in that class, addicted to it: fourthly, that he was enamored of such a favorite for his matchless merits, both of matter and of style; his sensibility to the former of which particulars implied information, to the latter a  well-formed taste: fifthly, that no mere translation of Livy—especially not flat, tame old Holland—nothing short of the golden original, could have inspired such a Livian affection. But this is not all; when—coming to be put into the possession of the scanty remaining body of Mr. Henry's papers (ill-preserved by his not very wise progeny) and invited to write his life more authentically—we ourselves began first to study his speeches and his mind critically, it did not take us long to perceive, what is indeed easily seen, that Mr. Henry's early passion for Livy—born of course of Livy's conformity to his genius—had deeply tinged the peculiar style of his eloquence, the peculiar character of his politics, was, in sooth, the immediate source of both; that the harangues in Livy had been his models of discourse; that the sentiments of public magnanimity, which Livy every where, and we may say Livy alone breathes, were transfused into Henry's spirit, and gave to his ideas of a state that singular grandeur, that loftiness, that heroism, which fills and informs them. His love of freedom even—his republicanism—was such as Livy's; popular, yet patrician: not your levelled liberty, too low to last, which, to keep down the naturally great, sets up the base on high; but a freedom consistent with the eminence and the subordination of natural orders mutually dependent; equal under the law, but distinct in their power to serve the state, as bringing to its aid, this rank higher counsels and obligations, that, force and numbers; in short, not merely a tumultuary, a mob liberty, but a social and a regulated concert of all classes, the absolute predominance of none; a republican, not a democratic aim. Less learned than Milton, certainly, but of a highly kindred spirit, he was very like him in his general political system; but was more practical, better acquainted with men. The one had more of the poetical element in him, the other more of the political. Both were deeply religious; without which no man can be a safe politician. Each towered above all the men of his day, except one, a warrior; and nearly such relation as Milton held to Cromwell did Henry hold to Washington. Alike in the antique cast of their minds, they were yet alike in being, withal, thoroughly English in their notion of actual freedom: for Henry's mind was just as little touched with any of the Jeffersonian fancies of Frenchified liberty as Milton's own. Both were of the historic, not the so-called philosophic school of politics: for history was evidently the only treatise on government that either thought worthy of any attention. If they had ever stooped to the systematic writers, from the great sources (wise histories) out of which those writers can at most draw, it can only have been to despise nearly every mother's son of them. Finally, alike in so many things, they were not unlike in their fate: both "fell upon evil times," and lost their public credit in the land of which they had matchlessly vindicated the public cause: Milton died sightless, and Henry too blind for the light of the Virginia abstractions.

Every thing confutes the vulgar theory of his greatness. Had he been ignorant at his first rise, the growth of his talent, as well as of his knowledge, would have been traceable in his performances; but on the contrary, he burst out, from the first, mature and finished. By the universal consent, his very earliest speeches were quite equal to any thing he ever after pronounced. Had these been at sixteen, it would go far to prove that his eloquence, his ability, and even his information came (as such things never came in any other instance) without cultivation: but his first speech, that in "the parson's  cause," at Hanover Court House, in 1763, when he was twenty-nine years old; the same period of life at which Demosthenes and Cicero shone out; a period after which there may be large additions to artificial knowledge, but can seldom be any to the natural splendor of the faculties.

We have known many who knew Mr. Henry, in the entire unreserve of that domestic life, in which he so much loved to unbend himself. All such agreed that he was a man of very great and very various information. He read every thing. At home, his interval between an early dinner and supper-time (after which he gave himself up to conversation with his friends, or to sport with his children, or to music on the violin and flute, which he played) was always consecrated to study: he withdrew from company to his office and books. His very manner of reading was such as few attain, and marks the great and skilful dealer with other men's thoughts: he seldom read a book regularly on; but seemed only to glance his eye down the pages, and, as it were, to gallop athwart the volume; and yet, when he had thus strid through it, knew better than any body else all that was worth knowing in it contents. A learned physician who dwelt near him, told us, in speaking of this wide range of his knowledge, that he had, for instance, to his surprise, found him to be a good chemist, at a time when an acquaintance with that science was almost confined to medical men. Except in private, however, he kept the secret of his own attainments, content to let them appear only in their effects. This was, originally, out of his singular modesty; but by and by when his vanquished rivals of college-breeding sought to depreciate him as low-born and uneducated, he from policy conformed to imputations which heightened the wonder of his performances and therefore added to his success.

Let us add one more fact, substantive and significant. The range of a man's mind, the very particulars of his studies may usually, when he is not a mere book-collector or other affector of letters, be pretty definitely ascertained from the contents of his library. In that view, finding that a list of Mr. Henry's was embraced in the records of the Court of Probate of his county, we examined and copied it. For that day, his library, besides its merely professional contents, is quite a large one—some five hundred volumes, mostly good and solid. We found it to contain the usual series of Greek school-books, probably all he had ever read; for the language was then slightly learnt in Virginia: a good many of the Latin authors, and various French ones. The last language we know, from other sources, that he understood. Now, he was the man in the world the least likely to have got or to keep books that he did not comprehend.

Such was the enigma of Patrick Henry's mind; and such is its clear solution: a solution which, at least, must be confessed to substitute the rational for the irrational, the possible for the impossible, the positive of domestic evidence for the negative of popular tradition.

Apart, however, from such testimony, there were other proofs that should have suggested themselves to the anatomist of life character, the physiologist of his genius. When we ourselves first began minutely to consider his speeches, their effects, all that is told of the manner in which those effects were brought about, the reach and the diversity of his powers, their admirable adaptation to all occasions and to all audiences—for he swayed all men alike by his eloquence, the low and the high, the ignorant and the learned; the unapproached  dramatic perfection of his voice, gesture, manner, and whole delivery; his mastery, not only in speech, but off the tribune and man to man, of all that can affect either men's reason or their imagination, we could not, for our lives, help coming to the conclusion that all this must be skill, not chance; and that instead of being the mere child of nature, he was the most consummate artist that ever lived. Nature bestows marvellous things, but these are not within even her gift. She gives the gold, but she does not work it into every beautiful form; she gives the diamond, but she does not cut it; she bestows the marble, but did not carve the Olympian Jove nor the Belvidere Apollo. In fine, we had, in much acquaintance with men the ornaments of the public life of our times, been accustomed to understand all the minute mechanism of civil abilities; and when we came to examine closely this matchless piece of machinery, we could not avoid believing, in spite of all assertions to the contrary, that each particular part, however nice and small, must have been made by hand and most painfully put together. And thus, perceiving every thing else in this prodigious speaker to have been so masterly, we became convinced that his style, his diction must have been, in the main, as excellent as every thing else about him. It could not have been otherwise. He whose thought was so high and pure, whose fancy was so rich, and the mere outward auxiliaries of whose discourse (voice, and action) had been so laboriously perfected, can, by no possibility, have failed to make himself equally the master of expression. What we have as his, is mere reporter's English; and no man is to be judged by that slop of sentences into which he is put and melted away by their process. In that menstruum of words, all substances are alike. It is the true universal solvent, so long sought, that  acts upon every thing and turns it into liquid babble. Mr Henry knew and often practised, not only upon the multitude but the refined; the power of a homely dialect, and saw how wise or brave or moving things may be made to come with a strangely redoubled effect, in the extremest plainness of rustic speech. His occasional resort to this, however, of course struck much upon the common attention and got him the reputation, among other foolish reputations, of habitually using such locutions; when, in reality, he was master of all modes of discourse alike, and only employed always that which best suited his purpose.

There is yet one more false notion, in regard to him, which Mr. Wirt has done much to propagate: the notion, we mean, that Henry never condescended to be less than the great orator; that, instead of sometimes going about his business on foot, like other lawyers and legislators, he rode for ever in a sort of triumphal car of eloquence, dragging along a captive crowd at his conquering wheels; and, in short, that

"He could not ope
His mouth, but out there flew a trope."

On the contrary, no man was ever less the oration-maker. He never used his eloquence but as he used every thing else—just when it was wanted. In the mass of public business, eloquence is out of place, and could not be attended to. A man who was always eloquent would soon lose all authority in a public body. Mr. Henry kept up always the very greatest, and merited it, by taking a leading part in all important matters and making more and better business speeches than any body else.

A long preliminary this; but we trust not uninteresting.  It was, at any event, necessary that we should first, in the Bentonian phrase, "vindicate the truth of history," and set a great character in its proper public light, before passing to those humble particulars of private life to which we now proceed.

In person, he was tall and rather spare, but of limbs round enough for either vigor or grace. He had, however, a slight stoop, such as very thoughtful people are apt to contract. In public, his aspect was remarkable for quiet gravity. It seems to have been a rule with him never to laugh and hardly to smile, before the vulgar. In their presence he wore an air always fit to excite at once their sympathy and their reverence; modest, even to humility; and yet most imposing. In all this he played no assumed, though he could not have played a more skilful part: for the occasion and the presence appear always to have so duly and so strongly affected him, as at once to transform him into what was, at each instant, fittest. Thus his art, of which we have already spoken, might well be consummate; for he was all that, for mere purposes of effect, he should have seemed to be, the very impersonation of the cause and the feelings proper to the hour. Great wisdom, indeed, an unshrinking courage, and yet an equal prudence, a patriotism the most fervent, a profound sensibility, a rare love of justice, yet a spirit of the greatest gentleness and humanity, and in a word, the highest virtues, public and private, crowned with a disinterestedness, an absence of all ambition most singular in a democracy (which above all things breeds the contrary) made him—if Cicero be right—the greatest of orators, because the most virtuous of men that ever possessed that natural gift. No man ever knew men better, singly or in the mass; none ever better knew how to sway them; but none ever less abused that power, for he seems ever to have felt, in a religious force, the solemnity of all those public functions, which so few now regard. It was probably the weight of this feeling, along with his singular modesty, that made him shun official honors as earnestly as others seek them. It is evident that no power, nor dignity, nor even fame could dazzle him. It was only at the public command that he accepted trusts from his State; and he always laid them down as soon as duty permitted. All offers of Federal dignities, up to the highest, he rejected. He had served his State only in perilous times, when (as the Devil says in Milton) to be highest was only to be exposed foremost to the bolts of the dreaded enemy; or at some conjuncture of civil danger; but when peace and ease had come and ambition was the only lure to office, he would not have it.

If, however, he was thus grave, on what he considered the solemn stage of public life, he made himself ample amends in all that can give cheerfulness to the calm of retirement in the country. When at last permitted to attend to his private fortune, he speedily secured an ample one. It was enjoyed, whenever business allowed him to be at home, in a profuse and general, but solid and old-fashioned hospitality, of which the stout and semi-baronial supplies were abundantly drawn from his own large and well-managed domain. His house was usually filled with friends, its dependencies with their retinue and horses. But crowds, besides, came and went; all were received and entertained with cordiality. The country all about thronged to see the beloved and venerated man, as soon as it went abroad that he was come back. Some came merely to see him; the rest to get his advice on law and all other matters. To the poor, it was gratuitous; to even the rich without a fee, except where he thought the case made it necessary to go to law. All took his counsel as if it had been an oracle's, for nobody thought there was any measure to "Old Patrick's" sense, integrity, or good nature. This concourse began rather betimes, for those who lived near often came to breakfast, where all were welcomed and made full. The larder seemed never to get lean. Breakfast over, creature-comforts, such as might console the belated for its loss, were presently set forth on side-tables in the wide entrance hall. Of these—the solid, not the liquid parts of a rural morning's meal—breakfast without its slops, and such as, if need were, might well stand for a dinner, all further comers helped themselves as the day or their appetites advanced. Meanwhile, the master saw and welcomed all with the kindliest attention, asked of their household, listened to their affairs, gave them his view, contented all. These audiences seldom ceased before noon or the early dinner. To this a remaining party of from twenty to thirty often sat down. It was always, according to the wont of such houses in that well-fed land, a meal beneath which the tables groaned, and whose massive old Saxon dishes would have made a Frenchman sweat. Every thing is excellent at these lavish feasts; but they have no luxuries save such as are home-grown. They are, however, for all that is substantial and plain, the very summit of good cheer. At Governor Henry's, they never failed to be, besides, seasoned with his conversation, which at table always grew gay and even gamesome. The dinner ended, he betook himself, as already told, to his studies until supper, after which he again gave himself up to enjoyment. In this manner came, with the kindliest and most cheerful approach, the close of his days; upon which there rested not a stain nor (such had been through life his personal benignity) a hostility. Except tyrants and other public enemies, he had lived at peace with man and God, achieving most surprising and illustrious things, and content, save the sight of his liberated country, with little reward beyond that which he bore in his own approving bosom.