WILLIAM WIRT, 1772-1834.

WILLIAM WIRT, the son of Jacob and Henrietta Wirt, was born in Bladensburg, Maryland, on the 8th of November, 1772. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother when he was but eight years old. An orphan at this tender age, he passed into the family and under the guardianship of his uncle, Jasper Wirt, who resided near the same village. His uncle and aunt did all they could to supply the place of the father and mother, and sent him to a classical school in Georgetown, taught by a Mr. Dent. At the age of eleven, he was removed to a flourishing school kept by the Rev. James Hunt, in Montgomery County, Maryland, where he received the principal part of his education; having learned as much of the Latin and Greek classics as was then taught in grammar-schools.

In the spring of 1790, he entered upon the study of law, at Montgomery CourtHouse, with Mr. William P. Hunt, the son of his old preceptor; and in 1792 commenced practice at Culpepper Court-House, in Virginia, at the age of twenty years. In a year or two his business had considerably extended, and in 1795 he married the eldest daughter of Dr. George Gilmer, a distinguished physician, and took up his residence at Pen Park, the seat of his father-in-law, near Charlottesville, where he formed the acquaintance of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and other persons of celebrity. In 1799, his wife died. In 1800, his friends urged him to allow himself to be nominated as clerk to the House of Delegates. He was elected; and after having performed the duties of this office two years, he was, in 1802, appointed Chancellor of the Eastern District of Virginia, and took up his residence at Williamsburg. In the same year, he married Elizabeth, the daughter of Colonel Gamble, of Richmond,2 with whom he enjoyed, through life,

'Mr. Wirt's father was a Swiss, his mother a German; and his face and figure clearly showed his connection with the German race.

Read an excellent biographical sketch, by Peter Hoffman Cruse, of Baltimore, prefixed to an edition of "The British Spy" published by the Harpers in 1832. But the best life of Mr. Wirt is by John P. Kennedy, Esq., of Baltimore. Mr. Kennedy was born in Baltimore in 1795, graduated at Baltimore College in 1812, and was admitted to the bar in 1816. He has been a most successful lawyer, an eminent politician, (having been twice elected to the House of Delegates in Maryland, and twice to our National Congress,) and an author of much eminence in fictitious literature. His principal works are, "Swallow Barn," published in 1832; "Horse-Shoe Robinson," 1835; "Rob of the Bowl," 1838. But the work by which he will be best known is his Life of Wirt,-an admirably-written piece of biography, by which he has associated his own name imperishably with that of his illustrious friend.

2"Of all the fortunate incidents in the life of William Wirt, his marriage with this lady may be accounted the most auspicious. During the long term of their wedlock, distinguished for its happy influence upon the fortunes of both, her admirable virtues in the character of wife and mother, her tender affection and watchful solicitude in every thing that interested his domestic regard, and in all that concerned his public repute, commanded from him a devotion which, to the last moment of his life, glowed with an ardor that might almost be called romantic."-Kennedy's Life.

Mrs. Wirt died at Annapolis, Md., at the house of her daughter Elizabeth, (Mrs. Goldsborough,) January 24, 1857, in the seventy-fourth year of her age.

the greatest domestic happiness. She united to every virtue of the wife and the mother, literary attainments of no ordinary character.1

At the close of the year 1803, Mr. Wirt removed to Norfolk, and entered upon the assiduous practice of his profession. Just before this, he wrote the celebrated letters published in the "Richmond Argus" under the title of The British Spy, which were afterwards collected into a small volume, and have passed through numerous editions. In 1806, he took up his residence at Richmond, believing that he could there find a wider and more lucrative professional field; and in this city he remained till his appointment to the Attorney-Generalship of the United States. In the next year, he greatly distinguished himself in the trial of Aaron Burr for high treason. Few trials in any country ever excited a greater sensation than this, both from the nature of the accusation and the eminent talents and political station of the accused. Mr. Wirt's speech, occupying four hours, was distinguished for its fine fancy, polished wit, keen repartee, elegant and apposite illustration, and logical reasoning, and placed him at once in the rank of the very first advocates in the country.

In 1808, he was elected a member of the Virginia House of Delegates for the city of Richmond. It was the first as well as the last time he ever sat in any legislative body, as he preferred the more congenial pursuits of his profession. In 1812, he wrote the greater part of a series of essays originally published in the "Richmond Enquirer" under the title of The Old Bachelor, which have since, in a collective form, passed through several editions.2 The Life of Patrick Henry, the largest of his literary productions, was first published in 1817.

In 1816, he was appointed by Mr. Madison the United States Attorney for the District of Virginia. In 1817, he removed to Washington, having been appointed by Mr. Monroe Attorney-General of the United States, a post which he occupied with high reputation till 1828. In the latter part of this year, he removed to Baltimore, where he resided for the rest of his life. Previous to this, in October, 1826, he pronounced a discourse on the lives and character of Adams and Jefferson, one of the best of his literary efforts, and worthy of the impressive occasion on which it was delivered. In 1830, he delivered an address before one of the

1 One proof of her extensive reading, as well as of her delicate taste, is the work she published in 1829, entitled "Flora's Dictionary; by a Lady." As far as my knowledge goes, it was the first of the kind published our country, and I think it has never been excelled by any of its numerous competitors. The poetical selections are very tasteful and apposite, and are enriched here and there by original contributions from poetical friends.

2 Wirt's papers in the Old Bachelor' are undoubtedly the best of all his literary compositions; and in the perusal of them we are constantly led to repeat our regrets that one so endowed with the most valuable and pleasant gifts of authorship had not been favored by fortune with more leisure and opportunity for the cultivation and employment of a talent so auspicious to his own fame, and so well adapted to benefit his country.”—Kennedy's Life.

The "Old Bachelor" reached thirty-three numbers. It is a series of didactic and ethical essays, put together somewhat after the manner of the Spectator. In the dramatis persona, the chief part is borne by Dr. Cecil, written by Wirt himself, and engrossing much the largest share of the whole. The other contributors were Dabney Carr, Judge Tucker, George Tucker, Dr. Frank Carr, and R. E. Parker.

literary societies of Rutgers College; and in 1831 the Anti-Masonic Convention that assembled in Baltimore nominated him as their candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Though he obtained but the vote of a single State, Vermont, it was generally felt that the election of such a man would be an honor to the country.

Mr. Wirt was engaged in a cause which was to come before the Supreme Court on Monday, February 10, 1834. The evening before, he felt unwell, and the next day he was confined to his room. On Wednesday he was much worse, and his disease was pronounced to be erysipelas. On Saturday all hopes of his life were given up. About noon on Monday, consciousness had returned, and he had power to speak a few words. Nature had made a last effort to enable him to take leave of his family and friends, to give them assurance that he died in Christian hope, and to join with them in prayer to God. During the last eighteen hours, he was tranquil as a child; and at eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning, February 18, he breathed his last, leaving a nation to mourn his loss.

As a public and professional man, Mr. Wirt may be ranked among the first men of our country; and in all the relations of private life, as a man and a Christian, he was most exemplary. In person he was strikingly elegant and commanding, with a face of the first order of masculine beauty, animated, and expressing high intellect. His voice was clear and musical, and gave a fascinating power to his eloquence. If to these attractions we add a diction of great force, purity, variety, and splendor, a wit prompt, pure, and brilliant, and an imagination both vivid and playful, we have some idea of the character of the man who was the charm of every social circle, and who was regarded by all who knew him with singular affection and veneration.2


It 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 roadside. Having

This admirable address has been republished in England, and also in France and Germany.

2 I trust I shall be pardoned for introducing an anecdote of a personal character, to show Mr. Wirt's estimation of the educational profession. I had seen him two or three times at his house in Washington, before he removed to Baltimore, in 1828; and a few days after he had settled in that city he called at my school, to place his three boys under my care. On taking leave of me, he most cordially invited me to visit his family at all times, concluding with this remark:-" There are three persons, Mr. Cleveland, to whom my house is always open, and with whom I wish to be on intimate terms of friendship and social intercourse,—my clergyman, the teacher of my children, and my physician." Accepting his cordial invitation, I had every opportunity of observing his character in private and social intercourse; and I can truly say that it fell short in nothing that the most ardent admirer of his talents, eloquence, and public character could desire. How few parents, comparatively, have such a right sense of what is due to the teacher of their children, or indeed any just appreciation of the moral dignity of the educational profession!

3 The "Blind Preacher," thus described by Mr. Wirt in 1803, was the Rev. James Waddel, born in Ireland in 1739, and brought here in his infancy by his parents, who settled in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. He became a fine classical scholar,

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 which touched my breast were those of mingled pity and veneration. But ah! 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, of course, was the passion of our Saviour. I had heard the subject handled a thousand times; I had thought it exhausted long ago. Little did I suppose that in 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 colored. 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,

and first concluded to devote his life to teaching. But, his views undergoing a change, he determined to enter the ministry, and he was licensed in 1761, and settled over a Presbyterian church in Lancaster County. In 1776, he removed to Virginia; and, his salary being small, he received some pupils for classical instruction in his own house. He resided in Louisa County for twenty years, and died there. He lost his eyesight the latter part of his life. Patrick Henry pronounced him the greatest orator he ever heard. The late Dr. Archibald Alexander married one of his daughters, and hence the middle name of the Rev. James Waddel Alexander, D.D., of New York. To the latter Mr. Wirt stated, in 1830, that, so far from having colored too highly the picture of his eloquence, he had fallen below the truth.

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 clenched.

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 shricks 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 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 delivery. You are to bring before you the venerable figure of the preacher; his blindness, constantly recalling to your recollection old Homer, Ossian, and Milton, and associating with his performance the melancholy grandeur of their geniuses; you are to imagine that you hear his slow, solemn, wellaccented 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 minutes of portentous, death-like 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

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