Eulogy upon William Wirt
| EULOGY UPON WILLIAM WIRT (1834)
|Grayson and Jack, Printers Washington, Pa. 1834; William Wirt (Attorney) (Nov. 8, 1772 – Feb. 18, 1834). Transcribed by William Maury Morris II|
EULOGY UPON WILLIAM WIRT
RICHARD HENRY LEE, (Professor of Languages in Washington College.)
GRAYSON AND JACK, PRINTERS, WASHINGTON, PA.
Washington, (Pa.) June 26th, 1834.
The undersigned with great pleasure proceed to discharge the duties imposed upon them by a vote of the Lyceum on Thursday evening last. In accordance with the resolution then unanimously adopted, they respectfully request, that you will furnish them with a copy of the eloquent discourse pronounced by you upon the life, professional reputation and character of the late, lamented Mr. Wirt, for publication.
Called as you were, Sir, to the performance of this interesting duty, on the 20th instant, at the special request of the Washington Lyceum, we beg leave to tender you our thanks, and the thanks of those whom we represent, for the prompt and courteous manner in which this duty is performed; and for the chaste and excellent production then pronounced, which we consider alike the offspring of talent and benevolence—teeming with allusions to the illustrious deceased, not less classical than just.
WILLIAM K. M’DONALD, C. M. REED, THOMAS MORGAN, JACOB SLAGLE, B. S. STEWART,
To RICHARD HENRY LEE, Esq. Committee, &c.
Washington, June 27th, 1834.
I would be insensible indeed, were I not gratified by an expression of satisfaction on the part of the Lyceum, with the endeavour I recently made, to perform a task, which in assigning to me, they did me no little honour. I would be ungrateful to you, gentlemen, were I not to fell more than ordinarily flattered and indebted, by the manner in which you have made known to me the wish of the Lyceum, to have a copy of the eulogy mentioned in your note of yesterday. It is not without reluctance, I submit my feeble effort, to the perusal of so intelligent a community, of which, gentlemen, you are conspicuous members.
Be pleased to accept the assurance of the respect and cordial esteem of
- Your friend and ob’dt. serv’t.,
- RICHARD HENRY LEE.
To Messrs. Wm. K. M’Donald, C. M. Reed, Thomas Morgan, Jacob Slagle, B. S. Stewart, Committee, &c. Mr. President, And Gentlemen of the Washington Lyccum.
The Resolution of your Body, in which it has recorded its admiration of the character of one of the most eminent men, it has been the glory and good fortune of our country to produce, evinces alike its intelligence and its patriotism. The selection of the agent, through whom it seeks to make known its tribute to the memory of Wirt, it far less felicitous than the theme it has assigned to him. This is, indeed, fertile in topics of inherent and exciting; interest and of high and enduring value.
To pay a tribute of gratitude to virtues which have improved the age in which we live; to declare our admiration of exalted intellect, which has adorned it; to study its productions, that we may grow wiser by its wisdom, and to contemplate its career, to be allured by its brilliancy to generous rivalry, cannot fail to cultivate the best emotions of the heart, and to enlarge the understanding of mankind.
The sagacity of every people, in every age, has perceived the wisdom of honors and ceremonies calculated to impress upon their minds, the virtues of their benefactors. Thus the eulogy that gratitude pays is not only delightful, but profitable, since it consecrates as examples for honorable imitation, their characters and actions. The deeds and characters of great and good men, form the most interesting subjects in the history of all nations. They constitute a safe and rich fund of wisdom, not only for him, who, in the retirement of private life, seeks guides and maxims for the performance of social duties, but for those, who, indulging a legitimate ambition, desire to deserve and to receive the due rewards of patriotic devotion to the public good. “They are important both from their immediate advantage, and their remoter influence. They often save and always illustrate the age and nation in which they appear. They raise the standard of morals; they arrest the progress of degeneracy; they diffuse a lustre over the path of life; monuments of the greatness of the human soul, they present to the world, the august image of virtue, in her sublimest forms, from which light and glory issue to remote times and ages; while their commemoration by Orators and Poets, serves to awaken in distant bosoms, the sparks of kindred excellence.”
It is therefore, with singular propriety, that the Washington Lyceum has not only recorded on its minutes, its sense of the just fame of Wirt, but has determined to exhibit to its fellow citizens within the sphere of its action, his character formed as it is of all the virtues which should distinguish a citizen in public and private life, and which alone can constitute a durable claim to their gratitude and imitation. Few characters can be found more admirable than that of Wirt, and not one in our country, whose career illustrates with a more gratifying
light the nature of our civil and political institutions; and at the same time, affords equal incitement and assurance of success to virtuous and lofty aspirations. It exhibits the influence of virtue and genius over the minds of a free and intelligent people, and furnishes another demonstration, that Liberty and free institutions are propitious to the developments of intellect; that signal virtues cannot fail to receive an honored recognition; that although the reproach of the Roman Poet and Philosopher may, often with juristic, be cast on mankind,
“———qui stultus honores” “Saepe dat indignis, et famae servit ineptus,”
yet that knowledge, virtue and patriotism will, at length, attract their regard, and secure their homage. Besides this dignified demonstration fit for the contemplation of philosophers and statesmen, the life of Wirt, exhibits a most encouraging instance of the success, which, in our age and country awaits the industry of youth and the active labors of manhood; and of the advantages and honor;) which invariably attend the efforts of genius, however obscure its origin or however circumscribed its means may have been, when it has enriched itself with the treasures of knowledge and the adornments of literature.
The Christian, too, may find in the life and death of Wirt, another example of the triumph of Religion, over the corruptions and guilt of man, “in behalf of all that sanctifies, exalts and saves him.”
The character and career of Wirt should be diligently studied by our youth, and be often contemplated by those of riper years. His fame is civic, unblemished, and beneficent. Its influence will be salutary and ennobling.
Mr. Wirt was born at Bladensburg, in Maryland, on the 8th Nov. 1772. His Father and his ancestors were natives of those Alpine Vallies, which, from so early a time, and for so many centuries had been the favorite abode of Liberty and pristine virtue; the land, whose history is adorned by the patriotic virtues and valor of Tell and Reding, and the glories of the field of Margarten.
“Where the Alpine summits rise,
Height o’er height tremendous hurled.
Like the pillars of the skies,
Like the ramparts of the World;
Born in freedom’s eagle nest, Rock’d by whirlwinds in their rage, Nurs’d at freedom’s stormy breast, Lived his sires from age to age.”
Wirt inherited much of the native character of the Swiss. His love of freedom, his boldness and personal independence, his perseverance and industry, his gentleness of manner and vivacity of spirit, in boyhood, in youth, and in manhood, might be claimed for the honor equally of his ancestral and his native land. Even in childhood, he gave indications of future greatness which a sagacious and affectionate aunt (for he had early lost his parents) perceived and duly valued. If has been said by one, who lived in the brightest era of fame, and had often hung with rupture on his eloquence, who he had been passing the spot of Wirt’s nativity—“at that time, the free empire, in which he was to be an ornament and a conspicuous actor, had not even an existence; and little did those foresee who caressed him, see him as an apt and imitative boy, that on hills almost within sight (if his humble patrimonial roof, proud domes were to arise, in which he was to discharge the functions of the highest legal office of the Republic, and sit in council, on its most momentous concerns!”
From the age of 7, to that of his 18th year, young Wirt enjoyed, but not without interruption, the advantages of classical grammar schools. His patrimony was too small to afford him those of a College, but correct habits, diligent study and a due sense of the value of time fully compensated for the opportunity of a more regular and protracted education. He was compelled early to commence the study of the law. He prosecuted the study of that science with characteristic diligence and with rapid acquisition. In the autumn of 1702, he obtained a license to practice, and removed in the same year Culpepper Court House in Virginia and commenced his profession, being then only 20 years of age.
He was but a short time at the bar, before his legal acquisitions and talents, obtained for him distinction and employment. He soon extended his practice into the county of Albemarle. In this county, he married and settled in the year 1795. A classical author, fit to be the biographer of Wirt, thus describes his person, his manners and habits, at this period of his life. “His manners took on the tone of his heart; they were frank, open and cordial; and his conversation, to which his reading and early pursuits had given a classic tinge was very polished, gay and witty. Altogether he was a most fascinating companion, and to those of his own age irrestibility and universally winning. The intellectual bias, however, was that which prevailed, and filled his hours of retirement, with befitting studies. He read and wrote constantly and habitually, earnestly employing the periods, thus, ‘dedicate to closeness and the bettering of his mind’ in studying the Fathers of English Literature, Bacon, Boyle, Locke, Hooker and others.”
It was during his residence in Albemarle, that he witnessed the impressive scene, and heard the soul-subduing eloquence of the “Blind Preacher” which he has graphically and touchingly described.
His pen has immortalized the eloquence of Waddel, which, though in native richness and overpowering force, was not inferior to that of Massillon or Whitfield, might have been forgotten, had not a kindred genius glowed under its fervor, and reflected its radiance. His heart never could resist the impressions of that holy scene, for he acknowledged that no fiction could thus have moved him, when the “Man of God,” lifting “his sightless eyes to heaven and pouring his whole soul into his tremulous voice, pronounced the sentence, which had been wrung, by the force of truth, from the lips of infidelity, “Socrates died like a Philosopher, but Jesus Christ like a God!”
In the winter of 1799, Mr. Wirt removed to Richmond, the Capitol of Virginia, and was elected, immediately, Clerk of the House of Delegates. This was a post of honor, as well as of profit, in those days. It bad been held by eminent persons, such as Edmund Randolph, afterwards Secretary of State during the administration of Washington, and by Wythe the venerable Chancellor of Virginia. In 1802, the Legislature of that State, conferred on him an unexpected proof of its confidence and esteem, by electing him a Chancellor of a Chancery district. Mr. Wirt was then only 29 years of age—Considering the extensive and important jurisdiction of the Courts of Chancery in Virginia, requiring uncommon weight of character, as well as extensive acquirements, this appointment at so early an age was a rare and highly honorable evidence of the standing of Wirt. He did not disappoint the expectations of the Legislature and the People. His uprightness, diligence and abilities were universally acknowledged and honored, and he seemed destined to rank among the first judicial characters of his age. But his profession allured him with the promise of greater fame and profit. He resigned the office of Chancellor and resumed the practice of the Law in Norfolk. Here he found as competitors men of the first rank in that profession. He quickly rose to equal business, and continued to practice in that City with increasing reputation, until 1806, when he again removed to Richmond.
Shortly after this return to Richmond a fortunate occasion for his professional fame occurred in the celebrated trial of Aaron Burr, in which he was retained by President Jefferson, to aid the Attorney General of the United States in the prosecution. This trial excited throughout the [illegible]equaled. The political talents and previous celebrity of the accused, the eminence and popularity of the accuser, the intellectual vigor and moral grandeur of the Judge, the ability of the Advocates on both sides, and the awful import of the accusation, all conspired to surround it, with every circumstance and degree of excitement. In this cause, urged and defended with an energy of zeal, extent of legal learning and research, and powers of eloquence seldom displayed, Wirt “enhanced
and extended into every part of the country, a reputation not often attained at the age of 65.” His argument well sustains even now, the honor, which contemporary applause assigned to it.
In 1808 Mr. Wirt was elected, without any canvass, a delegate to the Legislature of Virginia from the borough of Richmond. In that state a canvass in person, is, in almost all cases, essential to no little success. The election of Mr. Wirt without it, is a proof of more than ordinary weight of character and popular influence. About this time, he wrote, at the instance of a Manufacturing Association, an address to the People of that State, advocating the expediency of fostering Domestic Manufactures. This is here mentioned, as it will appear, that the opinions he then sustained on that interesting subject, he did not change, when he was afterwards called to assist in the administration of the Federal Government.
At this period of his life, his friends justly appreciating his powerful talents and extensive knowledge, pressed him to abandon the path of professional life, for the field of political distinction. His mind, however, was too elevated to be allured by the illusions of the popular honors, of a politician by profession. He preferred the “calmer region” of an intellectual pursuit. From this time, until the year 1817, he continued to practice law in Richmond with augmenting reputation. In 1816, he had been appointed by Mr. Madison Attorney of the United States for the district of Virginia, and in the following year by Mr. Monroe Attorney General of the United States. Both of these appointments were bestowed on him by those great men, without any previous knowledge of their intention, on his part. At the period of this latter appointment, the Bar of the Supreme Court, the highest forensic theatre of our country, presented a splendid array of legal learning and talents. Even on this trying theatre, whose actors often strove with the zeal of Cicero and Hortentius for forensic fame, Wirt soon established a celebrity as a profound jurist and an orator of the first order of his contemporaries. He retained the eminent office of Attorney General of the United States during the entire administrations of Monroe and Adams. During his continuance in it, he signalized himself not only in his official causes, but has left behind him, a character unequalled by any of his predecessors, as the legal adviser of all the departments of our government while, it has been said, they have left behind them no traces of their [illegible] course, Wirt has left behind him three volumes of official opinions. They are given on a subjects of Constitutional and legal enactments and treaty stipulations; they constitute rich mines of constitutional exposition for those who, in the administration of the government, shall desire to be guided by the Constitution and the Laws. As long as he retained his office, the great and virtuous men who had conferred it, called him to act as one of their Cabinet councilors. He was the first Attorney General, who had acted in this high capacity. Hence he became
distinguished as a statesman; and shall receive on this occasion, the meed of honor and gratitude so justly due to him from his country. At the close of the administration of Mr. Adams, Mr. Wirt settled in Baltimore and through the rest of his life, enjoyed the highest honors and emoluments of his profession. His health at last, became affected by the labours, his fame compelled him to undergo. It declined rapidly, but for some months before his death his friends were beguiled by an appearance of returning vigor. In February last, while attending therein of the Supreme Court, his useful and brilliant career was suddenly arrested and in a few days, was terminated on the very field of his glory. His death caused a deep sensation in the Capital of his country, and throughout its widely extended regions. The Congress of the Union, then in session, paid unusual honors to his character, and both its houses, the President of the United States and Heads of Departments followed his remains to the tomb. The Supreme Court marked the sad event with every tribute it could pay. The most illustrious of his contempories of all parties, poured over his grave, the admiration, the love and the sorrows of their congenial spirits. His body reposes in the National Grave Yard at Washington, over which his associates of the Bar of the Supreme Court have erected a classic and lasting monument to his memory.
Having followed our great countryman through his career, to that “inevitable hour” which awaits our race, let us pause to consider the legacy he has left to the living and to his country in the virtues of his life and the glory of his name. This is, indeed, the most appropriate office of this occasion.
The fame of Wirt principally rests on his eminence as a jurist and an orator. On this eminence he stands in honorable association with the most admired and renowned of past times and of the present age; with Scaevola, Cicero and Trebonian of antiquity, with L’Hopital and D’Aguesseau of France, with Dunning, Erskine and M’Intosh of England, with Curran and Malone of Ireland, and with those of our native land, whose names need not enumeration.
When it is said of Wirt, that he adorned the profession of a Lawyer and Advocate, and that it in its turn, bestowed on him, a bright and imperishable name, a splendid claim is announced for him. On what does it rest? The profession of an Advocate or in the usual language of modern days, a Lawyer [illegible] honored one, at all times, in every State having [illegible] civil freedom and political Liberty. Need I, in this age and before this audience, labor to show the usefulness, the influence, and the splendour of his profession from the earliest to the latest day of Grecian and Roman Liberty and Independence. Pass then to that country which first in modern times enjoyed the greatest civil blessings, from whom we derive our existence as a Nation, and the great principles and safeguard of human rights. Look at the early
domestic history of France, when she too had caught and yet preserved somewhat of the spirit of the Civil end Feudal Law. Who does not delight to dwell on the illustrious members of her “Order of Advocats” which was so long the glory of France and which for centuries filled all Europe with its renown; an order which on repeated occasions, vindicated the National Independence of France and so long led her free and bold Parliaments, to resist, restrict and even to humble her most powerful and haughty monarchs? As early as the reign of Tiberius, the city of Autun, was celebrated for its first Law School; over whose Orator Eumenius presided, as far back as the year 297. Similar flourishing; schools existed in the Cities of Toulouse, Boudreaux, Marseilles, Lyons, Treves, and Besancon. In the disputes respecting the Salique Law, in those between Pope Boniface and Philip Le Bel, in the famous contests between the League and the Fronde, and in later contests between the Parliaments of Paris and the Kings; the great Advocats were the leading spirits in behalf of the rights of their fellow men, and of the independence of their country. In our own history, it is well known, what class of men were the leaders in our revolution. Of the 53 members who composed that most illustrious body, the Continental Congress of 1775, 48 were lawyers. Burke no loss distinguished for deep insight into the causes of human conduct than for gorgeous eloquence, attributes the accurate knowledge of their rights and the bold spirit displayed in the proceedings and public papers of the Colonists, to the number of lawyers in the Colonies and their popularity with the people.
It is asked on what grounds is placed the claim of this profession to such eminence? Its studies consist of the great and fundamental principles of morality, justice and equity, not only of the “Lex Scripta,” but of the “Lex Nata.” They disclose the foundations of all legitimate government; they explain the rights of individuals; they teach us, how to form safeguards for their preservation & to rear upon the demonstrations of justice & reason the bulwarks of freedom. Its successful practice requires industry, fearlessness and zeal. Distinction in its ranks can be gained only by profound learning in its peculiar knowledge, extensive and various acquirements in Science and Literature, ability and eloquence in its advo- [illegible] Christian Ministry, no other profession so strikingly the remark beautifully expressed by Cicero, “Etenim in omnes artes, quæ humanitatem pertinent, habent quoddam commune vinculum, et quasi cognatione inter se continentur.” But the study and the profession of the Law, above all, is the nursery of a learned, firm and incorruptible judiciary; the boast of the modern Science and Art of Government, and incomparably the most valuable blessing enjoyed by free & civilized man. This Institution of our systems, it behooves a people to guard from every extraneous influence, and anxiously to preserve from the
innovations or attacks of ignorant and designing demagogues. That people, who shall weaken its foundation, the tenure of its offices, upon the condition of uprightness in the discharge of its duties, betrays a fearful symptom of relapse into a state of anarchy, barbarism and crime.
In all the requisitions of this profession, Wirt eminently excelled. If it lent dignity to him, he has reflected glory on it. His acquirements as a jurist were extensive and profound. As an advocate, he was skilful, powerful and eloquent before a jury; before an appellate court he was terse, lucid and logical. He signalized himself, particularly in his latter life, in many highly important and difficult cases, amongst the first lawyers of our age. One of the greatest of them has said of him, “he had the strength for the strongest.” In his practice, he was liberal, in his argument candid and fair. In his manners to his associates, to the Court, to jurors and to witnesses, he was always, polite and deferential.
In the “divine art” of Oratory, Wirt was unrivalled. He possessed all the natural qualities and all the acquired qualifications of a consummate Orator. He would have adorned Athens in the age of Perricles, and Demosthenes; and would have graced the Roman Forum in the days of Cicero and Thrasea. From the “Father of Spirits,” he received a genius of the highest order, brilliant and vigorous, capacious of knowledge; indued with a quick sensibility to the “Sublime and Beautiful” in external nature and in the world of mind that
“——Internal Power, active and strong, And feelingly alive to each soft impulse.”
The gifts of Heaven he had, thro’ life, sedulously improved. He never admitted that idle conceit that genius needs not the aid of labor, and the treasures of knowledge. He knew that the strength and bow of Philoctetes would be but of half their value, without the golden arrows of his quiver. As an orator he may be justly described in the sketch, he himself has so happily drawn of a celebrated Statesman of the Revolution. “He had studied the classics in the true spirit of criticism; his taste had that delicate touch, which seized with intuitive certainty, every beauty of an author, and his genius that native affinity, which combined them without an effort. Into every walk of literature and science he had carried this mind of exquisite selection, and brought it back to the business of life, crowned with every light of learning, and decked with every wreath which all the muses and all the graces could entwine. Nor did these light decorations constitute the whole value of its freight. He possessed a rich store of historical and political knowledge. His speech was so copious, so rich, so melifluous, set off with such bewitching cadence of voice, and such captivating grace of action, that while you listened to him, you desired to hear nothing superior, and indeed thought him perfect.”
I should not fully obey the resolution of the Lyceum were I to pass over in silence, the claim of Mr. Wirt to its applause as a Statesman. It has been stated, that he formed a part of the Cabinet during the administrations of Monroe and Adams. They both freely admitted his wisdom and ability as a Cabinet counselor. The opinions of great and patriotic public men not only disclose truth but give confidence and assurance to those, who already perceive it. In no country, are the opinions of such men, more to be valued our own. The peculiar structure of our political Institutions, both State and Federal, creates this value. It may be well therefore, to state the opinions of Wirt on some leading points. He maintained that the Congress of the Union, had the Constitutional power to protect and encourage Domestic Industry. He agreed with those politicians who believe, that power to construct works of Internal Improvement conducive to the common good of the Nation, is continually possessed by that body. These opinions of Mr. Wirt, of are more than ordinary value. In the former part of his life, he had denied the these powers to Congress. Upon mature deliberation, he changed his opinion. We may well prize the conclusions of such a mind, for the subjects are of the highest importance to our whole country. No Country on earth is susceptible of greater and more extensive works of Internal Improvement than this; and surely there is not one other, whose interest, whether we consider the sources of national wealth, or political Union, more obviously and imperiously requires them. They not only increase and insure the prosperity of a people, but they redound to their glory. They attest their taste, their wealth and their power. They shed on their national character the told radiance of a peaceful fame, far surpassing the glare of a military halo. The Roman Roads have given more celebrity to Roman policy, than the conquests of the Scipios’ and the Cæesars’. The canal of Languedoc more glory on France, than the achievements of Catinat and Turenne. The road the Simplon, an enduring monument of the better genius of Napoleon, defying the lofty heights and immense caverns of the Alps, and uniting two nations in the friendly relations of Commerce and individual intercourse, is a far more grateful subject of contemplation, than the fields of Marengo and Austerlitz. The Road of Yega subduing the “cloud capped” summits of the Andes, and passing in their porphery rocks amid jutting fountains, has immortalized the memory of the Inca, and conferred, during ages, innumerable benefits on their subjects, and on the descendants of their Spanish oppressors.
As a statesman no less than as a lawyer, Wirt sustained the vast and vital importance of the constitutional powers claimed for the Supreme Court of the United States. He considered that Department of our Government as the true balance, the bulwark, the glory, the ultimate safety of the Constitution and of this Nation.
As a writer, Wirt has established a flattering literary fame. His productions are standards, and are among the Classics of our Literature. His first work, the British Spy, has gone through nine editions. Of his later works, a competent critic thus speaks. "We look with gratitude and wonder on a gentleman of the bar in whom the severest labours and highest offices, and amplest emoluments and brightest laurels of his profession, have not stifled the generous ambition of letters; whose mind has been for a long term of years exposed to the atmosphere ot courts and the attritions of the world of business, without losing any of the finer poetical qualities, with which it was richly endowed.”
Having contemplated, with admiring eyes, the dazzling orb of Wirt’s public fame, let us now turn to his private character, which like the Moon, casts a sweet complacency over the mind of the beholder. It was as a man that Mr. Wirt was the delight of his friends and of his family. He possessed a heart tender, ardent in its affections and consistant in its friendships. He was devoid of guile, and in his youth, as well as in “the palmy state” of honored manhood, he was gentle and unpretending. He was remarkable for a playful spirit; cheerful without levity, dignified without austerity; “Super experientiam sapientiamque, etiam specie inanium validus.” In the various relations of life, he was an example of more than ordinary excellence. Particularly in the domestic virtues, his example was touching and impressive. It was in his Home, that his heart shed “its selectest influence.” Here the smile of affection ever played on his manly cheek. Here was its abiding place, for here his virtues were reflected from hearts, they themselves had inspired. He was the fondest of husband. There lives a widow, who, in the tears of a saddened yet enraptured rememberance, would bear witness, that his praise is unutterable.
“Hail wedded Love! mysterious law, by thee,
Founded in reason loyal, just and pure,
Relations dear, and all the charities
Of Father, Son and Brother, first were known.
Here Love his golden shafts employs, here
Lights his constant lamp, and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels”!
With the Roman orator, it may be regretted, that a virtuous and accomplished citizen has not lived to form a son for the Republic. His daughters, under the guidings of his graceful mind, have richly repaid parental solicitudes. They have not wasted their time in the follies of fashion, tho’ allured by its syren songs. Even in the hours of amusement, their intelligence and sweetness have been mingled with the odours of the rose, the woodbine and the violet. They have caught from the flowers of spring, their language of poetry and love, anti have presented it to their sex in “Flora’s Dictionary,” a brillliant and beautiful offering of taste and imagination.
Such was Mr.Wirt in the domestic and social relations of life. But the crowning glory, as a man, is, he was a Christian. His earthly fame, like all sublunary things, must share their fate. The Records, as well as “the paths of glory,” tend “but to the grave.” That he was a Christian, has been recorded in that “Book of Life” whose annals shall survive the “Torch of Nature’s funeral pile,” and shall be read by immortal and angelic spirits, throughout ages which shall know no end.
Let it not be said that his belief was the result of early education and of habit rather than of reason and inquiry. It is here stated as fact in relation to this great man, that the convictions of his mature years, on which he publically avouched his belief in the Christian Revelation, where the conclusions of his powerful mind coolly and candidly applied to the various sources of evidence on which Christianity founds its claim to universal acceptance. It is true, he had been early taught its principles and duties, but his youth and early manhood were more than ordinarily subjected to the sophistry of that literary infidelity which preceded and prepared the way for the terrific and bloody march of the French revolution, and had become the fashion of the times in which he began his career. If the principles of his youth were shaken for a while, his strong and acute mind was never its victim. It never found in infidel theories a Pharos which throws over the waste of life and time, the blight and cheering light of Hope. It never perceived in its boasted reasoning, one argument, which it did not almost intuitively see to be fallacious. It was however, a subject of self-accusation, and regret, that he had permitted the business of his profession, great and pressing as it was, so long to delay a delibrate investigation of the evidence of the Christian religion, that he might rationally fulfill Its command “to be ready to give a reason for the hope” it inspires. He, at length, applied his mind invigorated by study and continual exercise, especially remarkable for its power in the investigation for testimony, to the interesting subject of Revelation. He found his hope to rest on the immovable basis of reason and fact. He then yielded the affections of his soul to the conclusions of its reason. He found it to be true that when the religion of the Redeemer is considered in reference to its spiritual power, its doctrines and its hopes, as well as to his external proofs, it indeed, “borrows splendour from all that is fair subordinates to itself all that is great, and sits enthroned on the riches of the universe.” Wirt became an avowed and zealous professor of this religion. His honoured name is gloriously associated with those of Paul and Luther, of Newton and Locke, of Pascal and Boerhavve of Fenelun and D’ Aguisseau, of Milton and Hale, of Pitt and Washington. Thus, in the language of Erskine, like himself a powerful advocate, “we find all that is great, or wise or splendid or illustrious amongst created beings, all the minds gifted beyond ordinary nature if not inspired by their universal Author
for the advancement and dignity of the world, tho’ divided by distant ages and by clashing opinions, distinguishing them from one another; yet joining as it were in one sublime chorus to celebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying on its holy altars the never fading fruits of their immortal wisdom.”
In the providence of Him, in whose hands are the issues of all events, the life of Wirt was approaching that hour, for which all hours are made.” While attending the Supreme Court in February last, he was suddenly attacked by an inflammatory disease, the effect of a slight exposure. For a day or two, no apprehension was felt tor his safety. The Messenger of death, alas! quickly announced his command, and all the efforts of man were unavailing. It soon became apparent to all around him, and equally so to himself, that his end was approaching. Of this event, in the moments of revival from the stupor induced from the disease, he spoke, not only in the calmness and resignation, but with the holy hope of the Christian; and, within a few hours of his death, with solemn emphasis, in a moment of clear and wonted intelligence, in the words of the first Martyr, he commended his soul to Him, who redeemed it. His religion was not that Philosophy, which left Voltaire to dying agonies and horrors; and “played the fool” around the death bed of Hume. His weeping wife and children are around him! In anguish, yet elevated by the scene they are witnessing, they watch, with the deepest emotions, the last, long-sinking breathings of that good man.
Hark! they whisper! angels say,
Kindred spirit! come away!
The world recedes! it disappears!
Heaven opens on his eyes! his ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings, I mount, I fly!
O Grave, where is thy Victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?!”
The soul of our illustrious Citizen hath ascended to that world, in which it had expatiated before it left this! There, indued with all energy, “which knows no decay,” and with an intelligence continually enlarging, it is studying the plans and purposes of Jehovah in his vast and eternal Kingdom; and with Sherlock and Bourdaleue, with Dwight and Mason, is celebrating his glorious perfections, in diviner strains of eloquence, than even they ever uttered upon earth! With them in the bright morning of an everlasting day, on the banks of the River of Life, it drinks from its streams the waters of Immortality! There, "with an eagle’s eye fixed on the Divine Luminary, it shall rise, on eagle’s wings with a perpetually invigorated flight, neater and nearer to the Sun of Righteousness forever!”