Life and Character
HON. LITTLETON WALLER TAZEWELL,
DELIVERED IN THE
FREEMASON STREET BAPTIST CHURCH,
BAR OF NORFOLK, VIRGINIA, AND THE CITIZENS GENERALLY,
ON THE 29th DAY OF JUNE, 1860,
HUGH BLAIR GRIGSBY, LL.D.,
MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETIES OF VIRGINIA, PENNSYLVANIA, ETC., ETC.
PUBLISHED BY J.D. GHISELIN, JUN.,
No. 6 WEST MAIN STREET.
GENTLEMAN OF THE BAR:
When the sad event occurred which has drawn us together this morning, you met in your accustomed hall, and expressed the feelings which such an event might well inspire. You then adjourned to assist in performing the last solemn rites over the bier of your departed friend. Clad in mourning, you attended his remains from his residence to the steamer, and, embarking with them, transported them over the waters of that noble bay which our venerable friend had crossed so often, and of which he was so justly proud as the Mediterranean of the Commonwealth; and, in the deepening shadows of the night which had overtaken you, and which were rendered yet deeper by the glare of the solitary candles flickering in the wind, more touching by the ceremonies of religion, by the grief of his slaves, and by the smothered wailing of his children and grandchildren, and more imposing by the sorrowing faces and bent forms of some of our aged and most eminent citizens, you deposited the honored dust in its simple grave; there to repose—with two seas sounding their ceaseless requiem above it—till the trump of the Archangel shall smite the ear of the dead, and the tomb shall unveil its bosom, and the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the statesman who ruled the destinies of empires, and the peasant whose thoughts never strayed beyond his daily walk, shall rise together on the Morn of the Resurrection.
But you rightly deemed that your duty to the memory of your illustrious brother did not cease at his grave. You knew that, whatever may be the estimate of the value of the life and services of LITTLETON WALLER TAZEWELL, it was never denied by his contemporaries that he was endowed with an extraordinary intellect, and that in popular assemblies, at the Bar, in the House of Delegates, and in the Senate of the United States, if he did not—as it was long the common faith in Virginia to believe that he did—bear away the palm from every competitor, he had few equals, and hardly in any department in which he chose to appear, a superior. And you thought that such a life, so intimately connected with your profession, deserved a special commemoration; that its leading facts should be recalled to the public mind; and that you might thus not only refresh your own recollections by the lessons presented by so remarkable a career, but hand down, if possible, whatever of instruction and encouragement and delight those lessons may contain, for the eye of those who are to succeed you. Your only error—and I speak from the heart—is in the hands to which you have confided the task.
The time for performing this duty has arrived; and I rejoice to see associated with you the Mayor and the Recorder of the City, the gentlemen of the Common and Select Councils, the officers of the army and navy, the President, Professors, and Students of William and Mary College, his venerable alma mater, and various public bodies distinguished by their useful and benevolent purposes. It is meet that it should be so. At the call of your fathers, gentlemen, he was ever prompt to render any service in his power; and on two occasions especially, when important interests affecting Norfolk were in jeopardy, at great pecuniary sacrifices on his part, he was sent abroad to protect them. On another occasion, when a foreign fleet was in our waters, he undertook the errand of your fathers, and performed it with unequalled success. It was in the service of your fathers that he won his great reputation as a lawyer; and to them and to you, disregarding the obvious dictates of personal interest and ambition, he clung for almost two-thirds of a century, as to his friends and neighbors, and to your city as the abode of his brilliant manhood, and the home of his declining years; and he has left his children and grandchildren, those dear objects of his love on whom his eyes rested in the dying hour, to live and to die among you. Indeed, so intimately connected was his name with the name of your city for sixty years, the first words that rose on the lips of travelled men in our own country and in England, were inquiries respecting Mr. Tazewell. The generation of men who smiled at his wit, whose tears flowed at his bidding, who relished his wonderful colloquial powers, who regarded with a sense of personal triumph his marvellous displays at the Bar and in the public councils, and who looked up to him in the hour of danger as their bulwark and defence, have, with here and there a solitary exception, long preceded him to the tomb. Those men were your fathers. He performed the last sad rites at their graves, as, one by one, year after year, they passed away; and you, their sons and successors, and, I rejoice to add, their daughters and granddaughters, have now met to pay a tribute to his memory. To honor the illustrious dead is a noble and a double office. It speaks with one accord and in a language not to be mistaken, the worth of those who have gone before us, and the worth of those who yet survive.
In contemplating a human life which is older than the Commonwealth in which we live—a life stretching almost from century to century, and that century embracing the American Revolution, and sweeping yet onward with its unexpired term beyond the present moment—even if the humblest figure filled the canvas, the review of its history would far exceed the time allotted for my present office; but if that figure be prominent, if he made his mark upon some of the great events of his age, or influenced the opinions of masses of men, or moved before them in any remarkable attitude of genius, of massive intellect, or of public service, the task is proportionably enlarged. And the only method that is left us is to point out the striking traits of the general portraiture, and to let the minor incidents take care of themselves. It is in such a spirit I shall treat the theme you have assigned me.
It appears to me that the life of Mr. Tazewell may be divided into three striking periods: The first, extending from his birth to his settlement in Norfolk in 1802; the second, from the settlement in Norfolk to the close of his term as Governor of the Commonwealth; and the third, thence to his death.
It is common to associate the birth of an eminent man with the memorable events that were contemporaneous with it, and to dwell upon the influence which those events may be supposed to have exerted upon his life and character. In this respect the life of Mr. Tazewell was remarkable. Four months before the seventeenth day of December, 1774, when he was born, his father had been present at the August Convention of 1774, the first of our early conventions, which deputed Peyton Randolph, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edward Pendleton, Benjamin Harrison, and Richard Henry Lee to the first Congress which met in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, and but two months had elapsed since the adjournment of the Congress; and while the infant was in the nurse's arms, his father was drawing, probably in the same room with him, a reply to the conciliatory propositions of Lord North, to be offered in the House of Burgesses. His youthful ears were stunned by the firing of the guns of the Virginia regiments drawn up in Waller's Grove, when the news of the passage by Congress of the Declaration of Independence of the Fourth of July, 1776, reached Williamsburgh; and, as he was beginning to walk, he was startled by the roar of cannon when the victory of Saratoga was celebrated with every demonstration of joy throughout the land. As a boy of seven he heard the booming of the distant artillery at Yorktown; and he might have seen the faces of the old and the young brightening with hope, when the Articles of Confederation, which preceded the present Federal Constitution, having been ratified at last by all the States, became the first written charter of the American Union. In his ninth year the treaty of peace with Great Britain, which acknowledged the independence of the United States, was ratified by Congress; and in his fourteenth, when he remembered with distinctness current events of a political nature, the Commonwealth of Virginia adopted the present Federal Constitution.
The first of the Tazewells, who emigrated to the colony of Virginia, was William, a lawyer by profession, who came over in 1715, and settled in Accomack. He was the son of James Tazewell, of Somersetshire, England, and was born at Lymington in that county, and baptized, as appears from an extract from the register of that parish in my possession, on the 17th day of July, 1690; and was twenty-five years old on his arrival in the colony. Wills of wealthy persons, which are still preserved in his handwriting, attest his early employment; and his name soon appears in the records of Accomack, on one or the other side of every case in court. Within the precincts of Lymington church, whose antique tower and rude structure, typifying in the graphic picture struck off by the Camden society what the old church at Jamestown probably was, may be seen the tomb of a Tazewell, who died in 1706, on which is engraved the coat of arms of the family,—a lion rampant, bearing a helmet with a vizor closed on his back; an escutcheon, which is evidently of Norman origin, and won by some daring feat of arms, and which could only have been held by one of the conquering race. A wing of the present manor-house of Lymington, built by James Tazewell, the father of William, who died in 1683, is still standing.
The orthography of Tazewell, like that of the earlier Norman names which were forced to float for centuries on the breath of the unpolished Anglo-Saxon, has been spelt at various times in various ways by members of the same family, and in various ways in the same writing; as the name of Shakspeare, though a plain Anglo-Saxon name, was spelt in four different ways in his will. Thus, in the parish register of Buckland Newton, in the county of Dorset, the name is spelt in four different ways; and one of the spellings, which is still popular in England, is Tanswell, and opens up to us the true original of the name in Tankersville, the name of one of the knights who came over with William the Norman, and whose name is inscribed on the roll of Battle Abbey. The process was evidently Tankersville, which, contracted, and marked by the apostrophe, became Tan'sville; and, as the Norman blood became, in the course of centuries, more intimately commingled with the ruder but steadier Anglo-Saxon stream, the Norman ville gave way to the Saxon well, and Tan'sville took the form of Tanswell; and Tanswell and Tazewell, variously spelt, have been used indifferently by father and son of the same family for more than three hundred years, and are so used at the present day. The late Mr. Tazewell thought that his name was originally spelt Tazouille, and that the ancestor emigrated from France to England before the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and I leaned to this opinion on another occasion; but, apart from the absence of all evidence to sustain this opinion, it is now certain, from the autobiography of the Rev. William Tazewell, translated from the original Latin by his grandson, the Rev. Henry Tazewell, Vicar of Marden, Herefordshire, and published by the Camden Society in 1852, that the family of Tazewell flourished in England at least a century before religious disputes drew to a head in the reign of Louis the Fourteenth. I have been particular in stating these facts, as they illustrate the history of races, especially of those races which composed the people of Virginia at the date of the Revolution; and it is something to know, that a descendant of one of those men, who, under William the Conqueror, wrested the empire of England from the successor of Alfred, and trod down beneath their iron hoofs the Anglo-Saxon people, aided in rescuing the colony of Virginia from the tyranny of George the Third, the inheritor of the blood as well as of the crown of the Norman robber.
Soon after the arrival of William Tazewell in Virginia, he married Sophia, daughter of Henry Harmanson and Gertrude Littleton, who was a daughter of Col. Southey Littleton, and the son of that marriage was called Littleton, after the surname of his grandfather. This Littleton was brought up in the secretary's office, under Secretary Nelson, and married Mary Gray, daughter of Col. Joseph Gray, of Southampton. With a view of being near the relations of his wife, he sold his estate in Accomack, which has long been the property of his grandson, Littleton Waller, and purchased land in Brunswick, of which county he became clerk of the court, dying at the early age of thirty-three. The son of this marriage was Henry, the father of our departed townsman, who also studied law, became a judge of the general court, a judge of the court of appeals, a senator of the United States, and twice president of the senate.
The mother of Mr. Tazewell was Dorothea Elizabeth Waller, a daughter of Judge Benjamin Waller, of Williamsburg. We are told by Dr. Johnson, in the Lives of the Poets, that Benjamin, the eldest son of the poet Waller, was disinherited by his father as wanting common understanding, and sent to New Jersey. It was not, however, from this Benjamin—a name still popular in the family—that the Virginia Wallers derive their origin. The first person of the name in Virginia was Edmund Waller, who bore the name of the poet, and was probably his grandson, and who came over in the beginning of the eighteenth century. His son Benjamin, the future judge, was born in 1716, was probably educated at William and Mary, and entered a clerk's office, in the duties of which he was profoundly versed. He was appointed clerk of the general court before the revolution, and attained to such distinction as a judge of law, that he was frequently consulted by the court, and is said to have given more opinions as chamber counsel, than all the lawyers of the colony united. He was appointed chief of three commissioners of admiralty under the republic, and as such was a member of the first court of appeals. It is said that his decisions were always sound law, but that he would never assign reasons for them. On the subject of the law of admiralty, his opinions were equally conclusive with the court and with clients. He died in 1786, at the age of 70. His influence, after the death of his daughter, on the mind of his grandson, will presently be seen.
Dorothea, the mother of our Littleton, was a lovely girl. Her name, which, from the ugly abbreviation of Dolly, has gone out of vogue, was popular with our fathers. It was borne by the brides of Patrick Henry, of James Madison, and of Henry Tazewell. It was honored in the strains of Spenser, in the sparkling prose of Sir Philip Sidney, and in the flowing verse of Waller; and finely shadows forth what a true woman ought to be and is—the gift of God. It was a favorite name in England, and evoked the sweetest measures of the poet Waller; and has ever been, probably from this circumstance, a family name among the Wallers of Virginia. A sweet portrait of Dorothea Waller, one of the finest productions of the elder Peale, always adorned the parlour of her distinguished son. In less than three years after the birth of Littleton, she died suddenly, and Mr. Tazewell had no recollection of his mother. It has often occurred to me that the true secret of the early retirement of Mr. Tazewell from the bar, might be found in the shortness of the lives of his progenitors. His grandfather Littleton died at the age of thirty-three, and his mother at the age of twenty-three; and when Mr. Tazewell retired from the bar, vigorous as he was, he was some years older than his father was at the time of his decease. It is believed that this same conviction was an element in that love of retirement which was the characteristic of Washington.
In a long, low wooden house, which may still be seen with its roof of red shingles, at the head of Woodpecker street, on the south side, in the city of Williamsburg, the residence of Judge Waller, and still owned by his grandson Dr. Robert Page Waller, and in a small room up stairs, at the north-east corner, looking on the street, in which his mother was born before him, on the seventeenth day of December, 1774, Littleton Waller Tazewell first saw the light. He was a healthy child, and, like all the children who were born about that time between the waters of the York and the James, was destined to frequent locomotion to avoid the marauding parties of the British, who for several years afterwards infested that region. As his mother died when he was in his third year, and as his father, who was engaged during the youth of Littleton in the Conventions, in the House of Delegates, or on the bench, was rarely at one place for any length of time, he lived, excepting a short interval in Greensville, with his grandfather Waller, who regarded with intense affection the beautiful orphan boy, preparing a trundle-bed for him in his own chamber, and watching him with parental solicitude. Until 1786 he lived with his grandfather, who taught him the rudiments of English and Latin, and superintended his studies at the school of Walker Murray; and when in that year the judge was on his death-bed, he sent for his old friend Mr. Wythe, and committed his grandson, then in his twelfth year, to his care; and with Mr. Wythe young Tazewell lived until that gentleman removed to Richmond, when he resided with Bishop Madison during his college course. The love which the child bore to his affectionate grandfather has been commemorated by a single fact. When Littleton came home from school and learned the old gentleman was dead, he was inconsolable, and finding that, in the painful anxieties of such a time, he was comparatively overlooked, he left the house, and went out into Col. Bassett's woods, where he had well-nigh perished. When he was missed, search was made for him, and he was found and brought home, but not until the funeral was over.
The following extract of a letter, addressed by Mr. Tazewell, in 1839 to William F. Wickham, Esq., the son and executor of the celebrated John Wickham of Richmond, and written on the death of that eminent lawyer, presents a sketch of his own early youth, not the less attractive as it embraces an interesting period of the youth of Mr. Wickham also:
"So much of my life," writes Mr. Tazewell, "was spent in the freest intercourse with your dear father, and during this intercourse mere time effected changes in our relations so gradually and imperceptibly, that, until they were matured into their last state, I was often at a loss to determine what was their true character. We first met in the year 1780, at the house of your grandfather, in Greensville county, (who was also the paternal grandfather of Mr. Tazewell), to which I had been sent to get me out of the way of the British army, then invading Virginia. I was a child not six years old, and he was a youth of about seventeen. Here he became my tutor; and during the course of about two years, he taught me first to read English better than I could do before; next, the rudiments of Latin, and lastly, to write. During this period I contracted for him that respect which children naturally feel for their seniors, and the ignorant for those much better informed than themselves; while he regarded me with the affection usually bestowed by a patron upon his protege, who manifests no bad propensities, and a disposition, at least, to profit by instruction and advice.
"In 1782 we parted; and well do I remember the tears we both shed at our separation. In the winter of 1785-6 we again met at Williamsburg, at the house of my father, who then resided there. Here our intercourse was renewed upon a footing somewhat different than it had been maintained before, but with greater pleasure to both. He became a student of law in my father's office, and I was a boy in the first class of a celebrated grammar-school. To the careful instruction of my excellent grandfather. I had been indebted for greater proficiency in my classical learning than is usually acquired by boys of my time of life. My grandfather died within a very short period after the return of your father to Virginia. Of the distress which I suffered at this deprivation, he was the sole comforter; and he immediately took upon himself the tasks which my poor old grandfather had been so delighted in performing for me. He heard and corrected my recitations—availed himself of every opportunity they offered to improve my taste and to inspire me with the wish of acquiring more information concerning the subjects to which they related. For all the pleasure which I have since derived from classical learning, I am indebted to his judicious instruction and advice.
"In 1787 your father commenced the practice of the law in Williamsburg, and mine shortly after removed from thence to Kingsmill, leaving me in Williamsburg under the care of your father to complete my education. Under his kind and useful advice, my rapid advance in my studies, both at school and in college, and my increased age, began to qualify me as a companion for him. By confiding to my discretion matters not often entrusted to those so young as I was, he taught me prudence; and, by his excellent precepts and example, he contributed much to the improvement of both my mind and manners."
As a boy of quick parts, Littleton doubtless observed with more or less attention the events that were passing around him. One proof of his recollection at an early age may be found in that shadowy notion which he carried to his grave, of the personal appearance of the venerable old treasurer, Robert Carter Nicholas, whom, as he died in 1780, he could only have seen when he was six years old. His father, as before observed, was constantly engaged in public life; and it is certain that young Tazewell had frequent opportunities of seeing the statesmen of that era. I well remember hearing him describe a visit he made to Patrick Henry, when the orator lived at Venable's Ford in Prince Edward, and his finding him in the shade of an oak playing the fiddle for the amusement of a group of girls and boys.
His first regular teacher was Walker Murray, with whom he prosecuted the study of Latin. At this school he began his intimacy with John Randolph. They were in the same class, and studied Cordery together; and here they formed a friendship which lasted without abatement until it was ended by the death of that eloquent but eccentric man. At parting—for Randolph went over to Bermuda—the young friends, who had no other property under their control, exchanged Corderys with each other; and nearly half a century afterwards, when one of them had become a Senator of the United States, and the other Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia. Randolph stated at a public dinner in Norfolk, that he still possessed the Cordery of Tazewell. I have heard Mr. Tazewell say that Randolph was very idle at school, that he was flogged regularly every Monday morning and two or three times during the week, and that he was the most beautiful boy at this period he ever beheld.
Young Tazewell at an early age entered the college of William and Mary, then under the presidency of Bishop Madison, and was, as may be presumed from his own statement, and as we learn from other sources, a diligent and accurate scholar. He was probably stimulated to exertion by the presence of several young men who were members of the institution at various times during his college course. Among these were James Barbour, of Orange, afterwards the colleague of Tazewell in the House of Delegates and in the Senate of the United States, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of War, and Minister to England, and renowned for his splendid eloquence and glowing patriotism; William Henry Cabell, also the colleague of Tazewell in the House of Delegates, Governor, and President of the Court of Appeals; George Keith Taylor, another colleague in the House of Delegates, a lawyer almost unrivalled at the bar, a patriot without fear and without reproach, who went down to an early grave; Robert Barraud Taylor, then in the flush of his brilliant youth, whom Tazewell was to meet at a memorable session on the floor of the House of Delegates, and who was to be his able and accomplished rival at the bar throughout his whole forensic career; John Randolph, and John Thompson.
Of John Thompson I have heard him say, in his latter years, that he was an extraordinary young man—the most wonderful he had ever seen. Thompson died young, at an age not exceeding twenty-three, and now lives only in the letters of Curtius. Mr. Tazewell always recounted in a tender tone his last interview with Thompson, who lived in Petersburg, but hearing that Tazewell was in Richmond, came over to see him, with a determination to return in the stage which left Richmond at twelve at night. He arrived at dusk, called on Tazewell, and told him that he had only from that time till midnight to talk with him; and in a few moments the friends were lost in pleasant converse. The night was dark and cold; and when the stage was announced, Thompson, who was thinly clad, bade his friend adieu. He took cold on his return, and died after a short illness.
Tazewell took the degree of Bachelor of Arts on the 31st day of July, 1792, though it is probable that he attended some of the classes at a later period. His diploma, written on a sheet of foolscap, and signed by Bishop Madison, Judge St. George Tucker, and others, is still preserved in his family. It speaks well for his attention and regularity, that of all his classmates he alone took a degree at the appointed time. Having finished his college course, he began the study of the law in Richmond under the auspices of Mr. Wickham, living in his house as a member of his family, and of his father, who was then a Judge of the Circuit Court, but was soon after transferred to the Court of Appeals. That he entered with great zeal into the study of his profession, his subsequent familiarity with all the philosophy as well as the practice of the law fully shows. While engaged in the study, he regularly attended the courts of Richmond in which Wythe presided as sole chancellor, and Pendleton as the president of the Court of Appeals. The bar of the metropolis, which consisted mainly of men who had served during the Revolution, and subsequently, in camp and in council, was large in numbers and abounding in talents. Alexander Campbell, whose voice, says Wirt, "had all the softness and melody of the harp; whose mind was at once an orchard and a flower garden, loaded with the best fruits, and smiling in the many-colored bloom of spring; whose delivery, action, style, and manner, were perfectly Ciceronian," and who, I am grieved to say, was shortly to fall by his own hand; Munford, known to the profession by his Reports, and to scholars for the skill and elegance with which he has invested Homer in an English dress; Warden, the theme of many a joke, a sturdy lawyer of the old school, his name perpetually occurring in the early Reports; Call, whose aged form might occasionally be seen in Richmond in my early days, and familiar by his Reports; Hay, afterwards a judge of the federal district court, which he held in this city thirty-five or forty years ago, but better known as the prosecuting attorney in the trial of Burr; and besides and above these were Edmund Randolph, who, having filled the most prominent posts in our own and in the federal government, and with whom it is believed Mr. Tazewell studied for a short time in Philadelphia, was to return to the bar, where he had the largest practice, according to Wirt, of any lawyer of his time; Wickham, then holding at or near his meridian as he did at his setting, the front rank; and John Marshall, a name that spoke for itself then, speaks for itself now, and will speak forever. These and such men composed the Richmond bar of that day.
An able bar is the best school of law. If the leaders be strong, they will be apt to have worthy successors; for of all lessons for a student, the contests of able men with each other in the practical game of life are the best. In such a school Tazewell applied himself closely; and in truth he had rare advantages. In a physical view he is said by one who knew him at this period of his life, to have been the most elegant and brilliant young man of his age. His tall stature, which reached six feet, his light and graceful figure, his blue, wide, intellectual eye, his features noble and prominent, though not yet developed to the sterner mould of latter years, those auburn ringlets, which curled about his head in childhood, which he shook at midnoon in the stress of some high argument, and which, turned to a silver hue, flowed down his marble neck in his shroud,—and a winning address, which, though slightly and insensibly tinged with hauteur on a first acquaintance, grew urgent and cordial, fascinated every beholder; while his intellectual faculties, which even thus early his habitual study of the severer sciences had sharpened, and which impelled him to venture fearlessly even with experts on vexed questions in law and morals, and his truly generous nature, made him the delight of the social circle, and endeared him to all. Then, as at a later day, he was not averse from manly sports, was fond of the gun, and was a fearless horseman. One of his youthful feats was to ride his horse to the second story of the Raleigh Tavern; and when his income from the Norfolk bar reached thousands, and his dicta were deemed the infallible utterances of Themis, he has been known in a country frolic to leap from a horse's back into a carriage in full motion; and at a later day, when the country sprang to arms to avenge the insult upon the Chesapeake, and he might have taken what civil or military post he pleased, he chose the command of a troop of cavalry. He understood at this early day, however, the art of sacrificing pleasure at the shrine of duty; and he preserved his youth pure from those flattering vices which please for the present, but which bring disgrace, disease, and death in their train.
His position gave him decided advantages of observation and improvement. His father, who was a prominent politician, and long a judge of the General Court, was now a judge of the Court of Appeals, and was soon elected to the Senate of the United States. In his society he saw Pendleton, Carrington, Roane, Fleming, and Lyons, who composed the Court of Appeals at that day, and all of whom I heard him recall in living colors a few months before his death. It was the custom of the judges of the Court of Appeals to put up at the Swan, where they might easily consult with Pendleton, their chief, whose injured limb prevented him for the last thirty years of his life from going abroad. It was at the Swan the judges kept their black cloth suits during the recess of the courts; for in those days there were no public conveyances; and all the judges, except Pendleton, who drove into Richmond from Caroline in a slow lumbering vehicle, nicknamed, after the wild driver of the coursers of the sun, a Phaeton, came into town on horseback, and were often clad in the cloth of their own looms. I mention these details of the early times of Mr. Tazewell, as they may serve to explain that stern simplicity of manners, of taste, and of general living, to which he resolutely adhered through life. Although fond of agriculture, and the owner of large landed estates, as he did not reside on them he did not require vehicles for the use of his family; and, at his residence in Norfolk, I think I may say that, for the last forty years at least, he never kept a carriage above the dignity of a gig, and I have doubts whether during that time he even kept a gig. The last time I saw him riding, some ten or twelve years ago, he was on horseback, accompanied by his son. I well remember when to take a drive in a carriage, or to use an umbrella, was deemed effeminate by some of the wealthiest planters in Virginia.
It was on the 14th day of May, 1796, that he received his license to practice law. The license, written in a bold hand on paper, was signed by judges Peter Lyons, Edmund Winston, and Joseph Jones, and is preserved by his children as a family relic. His first fee was derived from a warrant trying, in which a Mr. Taliaferro, who was his landlord, was a party, and was fifteen shillings, which helped to pay the rent of his office. His first important criminal case was the defence of a man on a charge of murder. Whether his client was innocent or guilty, I know not; but Tazewell got him clear of the law; and the man was so thankful for his services, that half a century afterwards he confessed his gratitude to a daughter of Mr. Tazewell, whom he chanced to see in the streets of a neighboring town.
The keen eye of John Marshall saw at once the caste of Tazewell's mind, and pronounced him an extraordinary young man. And I may say here, that the subdued manner and tone in which Mr. Tazewell spoke of Judge Marshall would convey a stronger impression of the character of the judge than any mere words of eulogy could well do. For his person and abilities he cherished the most profound respect and admiration. Even of the Life of Washington, which it was the fashion of the young democrats of my day to laugh at for the grammatical blunders and inverted English that marred the first edition of that work, Tazewell, who, though never eminent in elegant composition, always wrote good English, and saw all the faults of the work, still put a high value upon it as I certainly now do myself; and within a year of his death, when he was told an author was about to publish a history of the administration of Washington, he observed: "What can he tell that Judge Marshall has not told a great deal better already?" Yet, from the beginning of Mr. Tazewell's career to its close, they differed from each other on most of the great constitutional questions of their times. Candor compels me to say, however, that the decisions of the judge in the case of Maculloch against the Bank of Maryland, and in the case of Cohens against the State of Virginia, greatly disappointed him; and after their promulgation, though he still entertained feelings of high respect for his abilities, he would hardly have offered in honor of the judge that famous sentiment which he proposed at the Decatur dinner, and which elicited so much remark at the time.
But it was probably in his association with Chancellor Wythe, who loved and petted the promising boy, the son of his old neighbor in Williamsburg, whom he had taken from the dying bedside of another old neighbor, that Tazewell formed his taste for profound research, and his determination to master the law as a science. Wythe, above all our early statesmen, was deeply learned in the law, had traced all its doctrines to their fountain-heads, delighted in the year-books from doomsday down; had Glanville, Bracton, Britton, and Fleta bound in collects; had all the British statutes at full length, and was writing elaborate decisions every day, in which, to the amazement of county court lawyers, Horace and Aulus Gellius were sometimes quoted as authorities. And it is worthy of note, that Tazewell, affectionately attached as he was to Wythe, did not adopt his prejudices or antipathies, nor those peculiarities of punctuation and the disuse of capital letters at the beginning of sentences, which even Mr. Jefferson copied from his old master, but cherished a proper and becoming admiration for Pendleton, as will presently appear, between whom and Wythe there had been a life-long rivalry, and more recently some sharp judicial passages at arms, which we could wish were blotted out forever, but which, embodied in ever-during type, posterity must read and deplore. And, although he was in every material respect the architect of his own reputation, it has occurred to me that it was in memory of his affectionate relations with Wythe and Wickham, and with a view of paying the debt which he owed them, as well as from the natural goodness of his heart, that Tazewell was fond of the society of young men, and was ever ready to advise them in their studies, or to argue with them a difficult head in the law, and freely to assist them in other respects. An eminent counsel still living, though among the seniors of the Virginia bar, told me that once, when he was young, Mr. Tazewell, who had not opened a law book for years, explained to him the law respecting fine and recovery, and springing uses, so fully and with such ability as filled him with wonder; and that his discourse, could it have been transferred to paper, would be an invaluable guide on that topic of the law. And many other young men have the same story to tell of his generous teachings on difficult questions. If all his personal attentions to the students of law were forgotten, the four letters which he prepared with infinite skill as a code of legal morals, and of the philosophical study of the law, would attest his sympathy and affection for his youthful friends.
While young Tazewell was gradually making his way at the bar, practising in James City, and in all the neighboring courts, he was called upon to take his stand in politics at one of the most tempestuous epochs in our annals. His father was one of that illustrious band of patriots, consisting of Patrick Henry, George Mason, William Grayson, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, John Tyler, and others, who believed that the General Federal Convention, which had been summoned merely to amend the Articles of Confederation, had exceeded their powers in framing an entirely new instrument, the present federal constitution, and they warmly opposed its ratification by Virginia. When the new system was adopted, they watched its operations with a jealous eye, and opposed some of the leading measures of the administration of Washington. When it was foreseen that a new treaty would be negotiated with England, it was determined by them that, unless that measure made those concessions and amendments of the treaty of 1783, which Virginia had striven so hard to obtain, it should be opposed at every hazard; and John Taylor of Caroline, happening to resign his seat in the Senate just at that time (1795), Henry Tazewell, then on the bench of the Court of Appeals, was elected to fill his place; and the first movement he made on taking his seat in the Senate was to offer a series of resolutions pointing out the defects of the new treaty with England, which had been negotiated by Mr. Jay. It was natural that young Tazewell should embrace the doctrines of the party in which his father held almost the chief place; and his inclination in this respect was probably strengthened by the opinions of Judge Pendleton and Chancellor Wythe, both of whom had voted for the ratification of the federal constitution by Virginia, but who now sided with his father. On the other hand, his friends Marshall and Wickham were ranged on the federal side; and though Wickham at no time of his life took an active part in politics, Marshall, in the House of Delegates, and by popular addresses, was most active in the cause, and was reputed the leader of the federal party in the State.
In the spring of 1796, when he had attained his one-and-twentieth year, he was returned to the House of Delegates from the county of James City, and continued a member of the body until the close of the century. In that interval were discussed in the Assembly the leading measures of the administrations of Washington and the elder Adams; and a better school for a young politician cannot well be imagined. Of this period, the most interesting sessions were those of 1798-99, and of 1799-1800. During the first of these sessions, the famous resolutions of John Taylor of Caroline, which, it afterwards transpired, were drafted by Mr. Madison, were discussed with an ability which was honorable to both the great parties of the day, and which, at this distance of time, is proudly remembered; and in the last-named session was adopted that still more celebrated paper, from the pen of Madison, now known and honored as the Virginia Report. To both of these important papers Tazewell gave a cordial assent. It was during these two sessions he met with several of his college mates, as well as with some older statesmen whom he had not before seen in a public body. Among those who adhered to his side of the question were James Barbour, of Orange, the late Judge Daniel, of the General Court, one of the keenest minds of his time, the late Judge Cabell, president of the Court of Appeals, Wilson Cary Nicholas, afterwards Senator and Governor, Judge Archibald Stuart, Chancellor Creed Taylor, Governor Giles, Thomas Newton, Governor Pleasants, Samuel Tyler, French Strother, and Mr. Madison; and among those of the opposite side, were George Keith Taylor, his eloquent namesake from Norfolk, Robert Barraud Taylor, the late venerable John Eyre, Thomas M. Bayly, John Wise, James Breckenridge, Archibald Magill, and Henry Lee, of the Legion.
A painful domestic incident happened at this time, which had a material influence upon the future plans of Mr. Tazewell. Having lost his mother in his third year, he may be said hardly to have known a mother's love; and he had fixed his affections on his elegant and accomplished father, who was his senior by only one and twenty years, who was in the vigor of manhood, and before whom a long and splendid career seemed to be in reserve. But this pleasing hope was destined to perish. Judge Tazewell, on his journey to Philadelphia, where Congress then held its sittings, had taken a severe cold, but was able to reach the city, and on the 21st day of January, 1799, took his seat in-the Senate. He was then evidently ill; and on the 24th, three days after, breathed his last. Thus, at the age of 45, died Henry Tazewell, when his fame to human eyes had not reached the zenith; when, though still in the full strength of manhood, he had received more and higher political and judicial honors than Virginia had ever before conferred on one so young; when, having been twice elected president of the Senate, at a time when that honor was deemed only second to that of the presidency of the United States, he stood above his Virginia competitors, with only one illustrious exception, on the lists of fame, and when the expiration of a few months would have placed his only son in Congress by his side.
While the politics of the stormy period of 1800 were at the height, Gen. Marshall, as the since illustrious Chief Justice was then called, having accepted from Mr. Adams an invitation to the department of State, vacated his seat in the House of Representatives; and young Tazewell, then in his twenty-sixth year, and younger than John Randolph was when the orator first took his seat, was elected by an overwhelming majority, over Col. Mayo, the federal candidate, in his place, and made his appearance in the House on the 26th day of November, 1800. Of Mr. Tazewell's short term of service in Congress, I shall pass over all details in this rapid sketch, except to remark that he was present at that fearful contest in the House of Representatives, when a deliberate effort was made by the federal party to elect a man as president of the United States, who had not received a single vote in the electoral colleges for that office, over Jefferson, who had received a plurality of votes for president. The painful excitement of that scene, which lasted continuously day and night, and during which sick members were brought in beds to the House and kept there, Tazewell never forgot; nor do I think the events of that day made a favorable impression on his mind of the morals of politics. That he, who was a republican, should have been elected so easily the successor of Gen. Marshall, who had been elected recently over a democratic opponent, shows how much, even in the highest party times, the influence of individual character is felt by the people. I need not say that Tazewell voted for Mr. Jefferson. At the close of his term in 1801, he returned home, withdrew from public life, and made his preparations to take up his abode in Norfolk. At this time he was universally regarded by his political friends as the first young man in the State, and the most dazzling honors which a victorious party could confer upon him, seemed to be within his reach. How he fulfilled the expectations of his party, will presently appear.
When asked in his latter years by a friend who knew his aversion to the ordinary routine of legislative life, and his devotion to the business of his clients, what induced him to enter the House of Delegates so young, and continue in it so long, he said: "My father made me:" a saying characteristic of Mr. Tazewell, who never put any value upon his own services, and must be taken with many grains of allowance; for, although it could not be otherwise than grateful to the feelings of a father who was a senator of the United States, and in many ways agreeable at that perilous epoch to have such a representative in the Assembly, yet we must count much on that love of distinction which glows so warmly in the finest minds, and which Tazewell certainly felt at times, and continued to feel as long as he lived; and his father knew, from his own experience and success at the bar, that a year or two in the popular branch of the Assembly is no mean preparation for active business, and especially for the pursuits of the forum. It was in the same spirit, when, visited by the greatest living statesman of New England, that sterling patriot, and that peerless orator of his whole country, Edward Everett, who, seeing the faculties of Mr. Tazewell still vigorous in his 85th year, expressed to him his regret that he had retired from public life so early, he replied: "I'm only sorry that I ever entered it at all;" when all who knew Mr. Tazewell intimately can avouch that, even at that moment of his 85th year, if the State of Virginia had called upon him to defend her right or honor in any transaction which may have occurred from the settlement of Jamestown to the late Ohio boundary discussion, he would have had every mouldering record from the office of the General Court, and every book bearing upon the subject, clustering in heaps around him in less than sixty hours after he had undertaken his task.
It was in 1802 that Mr. Tazewell, who had qualified as an attorney in the Hustings Court of the Borough on the 26th day of June of the previous year, took up his abode in Norfolk. Whoever would form an opinion of the Norfolk of 1802 from the Norfolk of 1860, would be apt to fall into many and capital mistakes. As you entered the harbor of that day, many sloops, schooners, brigs, barques, and ships obstructed your way; and you would see the wharves and the warehouses, such as they were, in full employment. A number of small houses, which were used as retail shops, sailor-boarding establishments, and for other purposes, lined Broadwater, which was then not much more than half as long as it is now, and Little Water, nearly their western length. Market square, the houses of which were almost wholly wood, and mean and contemptible in appearance, was the home of the wholesale and more respectable retail dealers in dry goods and hardware. The larger grocery dealers centred near the then head of Broadwater. The population ranged between 6,500 and 7,500, and consisted of a large infusion of French from the West India islands, Scotch and English in considerable proportions, Irish, and New English. There were some Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. Our Norfolk born people, and the people from the neighboring counties, formed the base—a pretty broad base, but only a base. Everybody was busy. Wirt, writing a year or two later to a friend, likened the borough to a hive in which their was no drone. The outward appearance of things was bad enough. The houses on the wharves and in the business streets were all of wood, and have since been swept away by successive fires. There was not a paved street within the bills of mortality. Immense pools of mud and water were seen everywhere; and it was a favorite amusement of the boys to watch the attempt of a loaded dray to pass through those beds of muck. There were three merchants at farthest, whose wealth, on a most liberal estimate, might possibly average $100,000, though they thought themselves worth a good deal more. There was but one brick church, and that was the present St. Paul's, not, as we now see it, with its tasteful interior, but a rude brickkiln with an enormous cocked hat stuck upon it. The people heard preaching in the upper rooms of warehouses, in the court-house, or in some rickety concern knocked up for the nonce. The clergy fared badly. The rector of a large brick church, then rising, with a wealthy congregation, received for his services one hundred pounds, Virginia currency, which equal three hundred and thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents of our money, and both pastor and people seemed to be satisfied with the bargain. Small houses, some of which may still be seen, straggled out along Church street, to what is now called Fort Barbour, though not so called till twelve years later. There was hardly an elegant private residence in the city. The bricks, of which the best houses were built, were rough and roughly laid. The houses had no conveniences, except here and there a closet. They were, however, substantially built, and were neatly finished within. They invariably had one thing which is fast passing away. There was the smoke-house in which every housekeeper cured his meat; and there was the dairy; but how they could put the dairy to its proper use I could never find out. The people had cows, and the cows gave milk; but there was no running water, and there was no ice. Long years passed before ice was introduced. The gentlemen of the bar were awake, and made out very well—much better than the clergy. The very youngest of the profession fed freely and voluptuously on the black eyes and cracked crowns of Little Water street, with an occasional haul from Exchange alley and the river Styx. A set, rather older, ventured into the expanse of Broadwater, and talked of the relations of landlord and tenant, of master and apprentice, and sometimes, in that belligerent neighborhood, of husband and wife, and not unfrequently of the writ of breaking the close. But the main harvest of the bar was from the shipping and from commerce, the daughter of the sea, which was soon to be vexed by the imperial decrees and orders in council of foreign powers, and by some retaliatory legislation of our own. The highest standard of remuneration for the services of lawyers was what we would now deem low. Wirt, writing from Norfolk in 1805, considered two thousand dollars to be laid up at the end of the year a fair reward for the highest talents. One of the ablest leaders of the bar declared, seven years later, that when he was worth fifty thousand dollars he would retire from practice; while Wirt declared that he would retire as soon as he had accumulated a capital which would yield the annual interest of four thousand dollars. It is certain that all the members of the bar of that day, as did all of the merchants, died poor with two prominent exceptions; and when we reflect that those two men held the front rank at the bar, one of them at least twenty years, the other near thirty, and neither on his withdrawal could be deemed wealthy, the inference is irresistible that, though now and then in that interval a big fee came rolling in from some vessel caught in the act of violating the embargo, or, at a much later date, from some prize case in the war between Spain and her South American colonies, the rewards of legal merit were low.
There was a branch of the old Bank of the United States, whose entire capital, distributed over the Union, was only ten millions. There was as yet, and fourteen years later, no daily paper. The Herald, then in its ninth year, was published three times a week, and was the organ of the democratic party. It was not until two years later that the Ledger appeared in the field, under the lead of that able champion John Cowper, and gave the federal flag to the breeze. More than fourteen years were to elapse before a daily paper was established. The equinoctial storms sadly worried our fathers. From the imperfect filling in of the streets and wharves, the tides rose high; and then, if we would keep out of sight St. Mark's, the Rialto, and the palaces of merchant princes, Norfolk was another edition of Venice. The canoe was our gondola, and "yo heave oh" were our echoes of Tasso. A bold stream, that would float a vessel of one hundred tons, cut Granby and Bank streets in two, and just halted on the west side of Church, where it was almost met by another furious stream from Newton's Creek. At Town Bridge a torrent raged that was not to be crossed until the tide fell. Freemason, between Brewer and Granby, presented a sea deep enough to float a vessel of one hundred tons. Our Rialto on Granby was not erected till eighteen or twenty years later; and I remember our fathers were so proud of it, that they invited strangers to see it. It took, for a time, the shine from the Navy Yard. The health of the town ranked the lowest. The tombstones in old St. Paul's tell of the number of captains of vessels and trading merchants who died here. The letters of Wirt show the prevalent belief that an acclimating process was just as necessary here as at New Orleans and Havana, or on the coast of Africa. It was the fear of yellow fever, perpetually dinned in his ears by his country friends, who but echoed the popular belief, that drove Wirt away. Such was Norfolk, not enveloped in the mists of tradition, but such as she was, when Mr. Tazewell came to reside here in 1802.
He lived to behold a very different state of things. He lived to see it one of the cleanest cities in the world, and to see more miles of paved streets in Norfolk than any other city south of the Potomac can boast of; and those streets lighted up every night with a brilliancy equal to that which a rejoicing people, thirteen years later than 1802, kindled in commemoration of the victory of New Orleans, and of the peace with Great Britain. He lived to see the Negro population as well clad, and the female part of it as fully crinolined, as the great body of the respectable white people of 1802, and worshipping every Sabbath in churches of their own, better and more costly than the best church of that day; while the white people have added, and are adding every day, church to church and chapel to chapel, some of which are even elegant in their architecture, and all comfortable in their arrangements beyond the conceptions of that day. He lived to see, instead of three men worth one hundred thousand each, three men, one of whom he was, whose united wealth would reach a million, besides many others with one hundred thousand down to ten thousand. He lived to see the population increased from seven thousand to seventeen thousand; and, to say the least, fully as well clad, as well fed, as their fathers ever were, and living in better houses than their fathers ever lived in. He lived to see our banking capital, whether invested in public banks, in savings institutions, and in the hands of private bankers, swell above the fragmentary portion which the old Bank of the United States could afford to allot to us, to somewhat over two millions of dollars, almost wholly owned by our own people; and to read our monthly bills of mortality, which attest, beyond the reach of cavil, a condition of general health without a parallel in the annals of cities laved by the tides. He lived to see the farmers, who supplied the population of 1802 with vegetables and fish enough to serve, but none to spare, ship off nearly half a million's worth to the north every season; and to see land in the neighborhood, which in 1802 was worth hardly anything more than what the doctor reaped from its crop of agues, become salubrious, and sell for fifty dollars an acre. He lived to see our city connected with the West, the South, and the North, by steamships whose tonnage would in those days have been pronounced fabulous, by railways, and by the magnetic telegraph. He lived to see a larger tonnage arriving and departing annually from our port than ever was seen in our most prosperous days. The old figure of trade has, indeed, passed away; and some wharf owners, some warehouse men, and some others do not reap the profits of old times, though, by the way, we now have more and better wharves, more and better warehouses, than they had at that day; and the cause and the necessity of the change are obvious. The trade of our fathers in 1802 was an unnatural trade. It was a fungus that sprung from the diseased condition of foreign powers. It was not the result of developed productive wealth, but the accident of the war between the two greatest commercial nations of the globe, which gave us the carrying trade. It was born of other people's troubles, and destined to die when those troubles were appeased. It may be safely affirmed, that the business of Norfolk, the natural result of enterprise, progress, and development, and not the offspring of foreign action, at Mr. Tazewell's death, exceeded, in a large degree, the business of Norfolk in 1802, puffed up, as it was, by ephemeral causes, and that the present wealth of our people immeasurably surpasses the wealth of the past.
Whatever may have been the rate of legal compensation in 1802, some description of the leading members of the bar of that day is indispensable to the canvas, of which Mr. Tazewell is the principal figure. Besides Hyott, who lived in the retired mansion in which our venerable fellow-citizen, John Southgate, now resides, and whose name has long been extinct, and Marsh, who studied in the famous law school of Judge Reeves, at Lichfield, where Calhoun was initiated in the mysteries of the law, who built that handsome wooden house in the fields, long since burned down, in which the youth of my day were flogged through the rudiments of Ruddiman, and whose sons are among the enterprising merchants and sea-captains of our modern city, was, first and foremost, General THOMAS MATHEWS. There he stands, with the figure of Apollo and with the spirit of Mars, clad in the blue and buff of the revolution, wearing that sword which he had worn through the struggle with the mother country, his well-powdered head surmounted by the old cocked hat which he had worn when driven from Fort Nelson by the myrmidons of his British namesake, and at the siege of York, and with that long queue, the dressing of which was the no mean labor of the toilet of that era. To his dying day, which happened on the eve of the late war with Great Britain, though a general of brigade, on all stated musters he appeared in the field in full uniform, and was greeted by old and young with applause. He was a native of St. Kitts, left the island before the revolution, performed his part gallantly through the entire contest for independence, and had long been a member of the House of Delegates, of which he was again and again elected speaker, performing the duties of the chair with a dignity, firmness, and grace still freshly remembered, and bequeathing his name to a beautiful county overlooking the waters of the Chesapeake, which it still bears. He served in the assembly at a memorable period. The questions of the age were to be settled. He recorded his name in favor of the bill establishing religious freedom, where it will shine for ever. He voted for the resolution convoking the meeting at Annapolis, which was the seminal germ of the present federal constitution. He voted to send delegates to the Federal Convention, which formed the present federal constitution; and in the convention which ratified that instrument in the name of Virginia, he voted for its adoption; and when Norfolk commemorated the installation of the federal constitution by the firing of guns, by the display of flags, by civic, mechanical, and military processions, conspicuous on that great day was the general, who acted as the Chief Priest of the august ceremonies which honored the birth of a nation. He was always elected to any office to which the people could call him. His address had the tinge of the soldier, but was most fascinating. No familiarity could impair its effect. The bar regarded him with affection and reverence. All the men about town loved him. The women almost adored him. A smile from the General on a gala-day, when mounted on his charger, which he managed well to the last, or the lifting of his three-cornered hat on the sidewalk, was a trophy which the prettiest woman, maid or matron, would treasure away among the spolia opima of her hoard. His social position was of the highest. He was known far and wide, and played most becomingly the part of host to distinguished persons from abroad. Some of our old citizens remember the coaches and four which used to pass down King's lane to his modest residence at the foot of tide. One of the acts of his life was characteristic. He was on a visit to his brother at St. Kitts, when the French fleet lay-to off the island, and levied a sum of money upon the people, which they paid. The French then levied another sum, which the people of the island were wholly unable to pay. In this dilemma the people of St. Kitts had recourse to General Mathews, who, dressed in his uniform as an American general officer, went on board the hostile fleet, and induced the admiral to accept an order from him on the American Consul in Paris, for the sum in question. The fleet then sailed away, and the island was safe. In due time the order came back protested. Suit was brought and judgment obtained against him, and the venerable patriot spent his last days in prison bounds for a debt which the British Government ought to have paid with gratitude as well as with money. In 1802 he was approaching his sixtieth year, but was vigorous and attentive to business. He was a fine speaker. His voice was melodious, and its compass exceeded belief. It could be heard along the line of a whole brigade, and in the clatter of a skirmish. It is one of the traditions of the bar, that he could, by condensing his voice as he approached it, break a pane of glass in pieces. His learning was respectable; and with the jury he had great weight; and he was heard with respect by the court; and always having lived and practised in sea-ports, he had no inconsiderable knowledge of the law of admiralty. In the Chesapeake war, old as he was, his spirit fired up. He took command as brigadier, and longed for another crack at the British. His descendants still survive, and one of them holds an important federal office in our modern city. With all the demonstrations of public grief, his remains were committed to the grave in the south-east angle of the yard of St. Paul's.
Another leader of the bar was the venerable JAMES NIMMO. His tall form, neatly attired in black, and bent low as in grateful obeisance to the rapid years which were bringing him nearer to his heavenly home; that broad belt of baldness that stretched over from his forehead to his spine, those silver side-locks that ran wild about his collar, that honest, peculiar voice, which sounded as if virtue and piety, descending awhile from the upper sphere, were helping the old man out in his speech; with the freshness of yesterday I see and hear them all. Though seemingly attended by celestial visitants, and perhaps for that reason, he had not a particle of Young America about him. He believed that rogues and scamps ought to be punished as promptly and as condignly now as in the days of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and as in the days of his own early youth; and while he was the aid and comforter of the widow and the fatherless, and of the virtuous poor,—would weep and pray with them, and help them out of that slim purse, which never held an unworthy shilling, he was, as Commonwealth's attorney, the terror of evil-doers. I remember on one occasion, when he was prosecuting a notorious offender whom he sent to the penitentiary, and who was defended by Gen. Taylor, as the old man was bald, and the air of the old court-house was damp, he threw over his head a red bandanna handkerchief, and I hear the laugh which Gen. Taylor extorted from the bench, from the jury, and from the old man himself, by calling it a bloody flag. He was of that substantial class of lawyers, who, having received an elementary grounding in Latin and mathematics in the schools of the time, entered the clerk's office, and served a term of duty within its precincts. He was thus well versed in the ordinary forms of the law, and with the decisions of the courts in leading cases; and took the hue rather of an attorney than of an advocate. With such men as a class, there was no great intimacy with the law as a science, and its higher philosophy was beyond their reach. Like Mathews, however, he had always lived in sea-ports, and as he studied his cases well, he was always very impressive with the jury, and was heard with great respect by the court; and when he had reached the zenith, a slow shake of the head or even of his finger at an argument that was too hard for him, went a great way even with the court, and almost all the way with the jury. As long as the case lay in the old routine, this class of lawyers would get along very well; but novelties were unpleasant to them; they hated the subtleties of special pleading; and they turned pale at a demurrer. Possessed of a high spirit, which sometimes, even beyond three-score, sent forth a flash as vivid as it was sudden, he was placable and ever prompt to make an atonement. He was now in his forty-eighth year, and in the full vigor of a temperate middle life; but he lived to be the father of the bar for almost the third of a century, and almost to be the father of the town, which in an honorable sense he was; dying in January, 1833, at the age of seventy-eight, and laid away by the hands of descendants among patrimonial graves at Shenstone Green. He was a true patriot. In the hour of her fiercest trial he stood by the side of Virginia. While so many men of wealth and influence in the neighboring counties of Princess Anne and Norfolk, impelled by their fears, present and prospective, of British power, and living within the range of British guns, faltered in their faith to the young republic, and took British protection, Nimmo clung to the standard of his country; and, having been taken prisoner, was confined on board the Liverpool frigate when she fired the shot which, striking the south-eastern angle of St. Paul's Church, has left its mark for posterity. One recollection personal to myself shows this fine old man in an amiable view. I had received, at the age of one-and-twenty, an important trust from the people of Norfolk; and Mr. Nimmo, meeting me in the street the morning after the election, and taking in his own pure hands both of mine, said: "My young friend, remember that you owe a double service—service to your God as well as to your country; and that he who is faithless to the God of his fathers can never be faithful to his country." And now, when the day of ambition with me is long past and gone, and when that day of retribution, which, as it cometh to all, so it shall come to us, is drawing nigh, I may say that it ever has been my fervent and steadfast prayer to be able to illustrate in my humble life the precept of my pious friend.
There was another lawyer, the junior of Nimmo by five years, whose subsequent intimate connexion with Mr. Tazewell makes it proper to recall his position here. The name of Col. JOHN NIVISON was pronounced with pride by our fathers, and deserves to be held in grateful remembrance. None under seventy can recall him as he pleaded at the bar; and none under fifty, and very few of that age, can recall him as he sat in the chair of the Recorder. That office was justly held in high repute in olden time. Sir John Randolph held it; and at a later day it was held by the celebrated Edmund Randolph, the great grandson of the knight, and by the eloquent and accomplished Henry Tazewell. Then it was usually bestowed upon some prominent lawyer who had retired from the bar, and within my recollection it has ever been held by upright, intelligent, and honorable men. I see this old man, too, with the freshness of the passing hour, as he was driving out in his capacious chariot to Lawson's, or as he strolled or rather rocked along the sidewalk. He was very large, weighing between two and three hundred, and was nearly six feet in height. He said he had no idea of his bulk until, passing a negro woman in the street with a basket on her head who took a side glance at him, he heard her unconsciously exclaim: "Good gracious, what a big white man!" He was born in 1760, in Brunswick as Brunswick then was, was educated at William and Mary, while Wythe was professor of law, having as his college associates John Marshall, Spencer Roane, the amiable and patriotic Samuel Hardy, who was destined to fall too soon, and at whose grave Virginia sat in mourning, Archibald Stuart, Bushrod Washington, William Short, our Minister to Spain, et alii haud impares: was one of the founders of the Phi Beta Kappa Society—an institution which will make his name immortal—and began the practice of the law in his native county. After the peace of 1783, he took up his abode in Portsmouth, where he reached the head of the bar; and in the great hegira from that town on the adoption of the federal constitution in 1788, he came over to Norfolk, where he had now long held the front rank in his profession. He too had passed a noviciate in the Clerk's office, had studied law under the guidance of Wythe, and had been very successful. Like Nimmo, he was called the honest lawyer; and it was one of the sly jests of our fathers that there should be two lawyers at the same bar and in the same generation, whose claims to the title should be generally conceded by the people. In 1802 he had reached his forty-second year; and having acquired a competent fortune—for moderation was the order of those times—he was soon to withdraw from the bar, and to fill the chair of the Recorder. He is said to have been very successful in making lawyers eloquent and entertaining while he was on the bench. Whether he was fond of the classics, I cannot affirm; but he certainly borrowed a trait from Homer, and nodded occasionally; and when a tedious speaker began his harangue, having already taken a full view of the law and facts of the case, he usually fell asleep, waking up as the counsel finished his harangue, much refreshed at least, if not instructed by it, and proceeded to give judgment in the case. He was noted for his tenderness to the poor, and it is said that he had on their account almost as much business after he withdrew from the bar as before. He died in 1820, at the age of sixty, and was buried in St. Paul's, within a few feet of his compatriot Mathews. When Col. Nivison, in December, 1776, was returning to his lodgings after organizing the Phi Beta Kappa Society, he might have seen a pretty infant of two years in the nurse's arms, or toddling in the shade of Waller's grove; but he could not have foreseen that the same little fellow would in the course of time worry him with all the art of the special pleader, and finally receive from him the hand of his eldest daughter; and that when he should withdraw from the bar, he was to leave all his business in the hands of that child.
But there was a young man, a member of the bar in 1802, whose elegant person, whose winning address, whose uncommon abilities, which were associated with industry and perseverance quite as uncommon, and whose glowing patriotism, would have made an impression in any country and in any age, and gained distinction in any sphere. Under such a portrait the name of one man only can be written—that of ROBERT BARRAUD TAYLOR. Young Taylor was eleven months older than Tazewell, was born in Smithfield, attended in Norfolk the school of that elegant scholar, the late Dr. Alexander Whitehead, became a student of William and Mary College, where he remained till his duel with John Randolph, in which he received a ball that he carried to his grave; studied law with Judge Marshall, and in 1796, at the age of twenty-two, engaged in the practice of the law in this city. His fine talents attracted universal attention, and business crowded upon him. His voice, action, eloquence, were all in fine harmony. As the district court system was then in operation, he had an opportunity of witnessing the displays of the leading counsel of the state in the neighboring town of Suffolk; and it was the dictate alike of interest and ambition to prepare himself for the conflict with his ablest contemporaries. Politics were the order of the day; and they soon engaged the attention of young Taylor. I heard many years ago, that when he came to the bar, and some time afterwards, he sided with his college mates Tazewell, Randolph, Cabell, Thompson, and James Barbour, and hailed with rapture the progress of the French revolution; but, shocked by the barbarities which disgraced the later stages of that moral and political maelstrom, and indignant at the unprecedented conduct of the diplomatic agents of France in our own country, he determined to separate from his early friends, and to uphold with all his influence the administration of Washington and that of his successor. It is said that he read with unmixed feelings of admiration and delight the Reflections of Burke on the French Revolution, which had appeared about six years before; and, if that work vanquished his early love of France, he may be said at least to have fallen by a noble hand. At such a crisis of foreign and domestic affairs, it was impossible that a young man with such powers of eloquence and such fearlessness of spirit should be allowed to remain at home, while all his old associates, and the oldest and ablest politicians of the state were about to assemble in Richmond, and to battle for the victory. He was accordingly returned, in 1799, by the Borough of Norfolk to the House of Delegates, on the floor of which the contest was to be decided. At the session of the previous year, the Assembly had passed the celebrated resolutions of John Taylor of Caroline, long since known to have been written by Mr. Madison, which had been sent to the several states. The leading object of the present session was to refer the answers of the states to a committee, and to report an argument in defence of the resolutions of the previous year. The report, since so well known as the Report of '99, or the Virginia Report, drawn by Madison, was the consequence. When it was presented to the House of Delegates, it was discussed by the prominent men of both parties with eminent ability. Young Taylor performed his part with his usual zeal and force, and, by the side of his illustrious namesake, George Keith Taylor, opposed the adoption of the Report, which prevailed, however, by a decided majority. He also sustained Mr. Adams for the presidency in preference to Mr. Jefferson; and, when Mr. Jefferson was elected, he opposed his administration up to 1802, when Tazewell came to reside in Norfolk. Though opposed then, and as long as he lived, to the party which, with few and short intermissions, has controlled, from 1789 to the present day, the political action of the state, his devotion to our blessed mother was as pure and as ardent as was ever felt by any son who drew nurture from her bosom; and he was as prompt to avenge her wrongs as to assert her rights—at once a D'Aguessau in the forum and a Bayard in the field. Nor was that affection unreturned. When the clouds of war were gathering round her, Virginia entrusted her safety and her honor to his sword; and when the returning light of peace shone upon her hills and valleys and over the green savannahs of the East, and he had withdrawn from the arena of his splendid fame, she invested him with her ermine, which he wore with becoming grace to his dying hour; and she stood in tears at his tomb.
In this young man, Tazewell was to find an intimate friend, a fit, an able, and a lifelong competitor. They were nearly of the same age: they had been classmates in College, and had been in the Assembly together; and while Tazewell was studying law in Mr. Wickham's office in Richmond, Taylor was following suit a few doors off in the office of Gen. Marshall. Even on the score of physical beauty they were not unmatched. Though belonging to different models, each in his sphere was, in youth, in middle life, and in old age, among the finest looking men of their generation. Sometimes the aspect of Taylor was magnificent. I saw him one afternoon thirty years ago as he was returning from the court in Portsmouth. He was passing from Toy and King's corner to Hall's. The waves of recent debate were sweltering in his breast. His person was erect; his gait was rapid; with one hand he held his cloak in a graceful fold, and with the other he grasped his ivory curule staff. I thought of Cicero hastening up the Capitoline hill to announce in the forum the death of Catiline on the Picenian plain and the slaughter of the traitor's band.
There were, however, some differences between them, which, or some of which, observable at first, grew more distinct in the lapse of years, in their places of nativity, in their temperaments, in their intellectual traits, and in their politics. Both were partly of Gallic descent; but here they differed as in other things. Tazewell was French on the father's side; Taylor on the mother's. Tazewell's ancestors were from that city on the banks of the Seine in which the piratical Northmen had dwelt, which they had made the capital of a warlike empire extorted from one of the drivelling descendants of Charlemagne, and which they had called by the defiant title of Normandy. Taylor's ancestors belonged to that pious and not less heroic race, which, under the name of Huguenots, battled, not for rapine and conquest, but for the rights of conscience and for a large public liberty, and which, though defeated and driven from their ancestral land, the beautiful land of the fig, the olive, and the vine, to the chalky shores of old England, were more than triumphant in the virtue of their cause. The music familiar to the ears of Tazewell's ancestors was the wind from the boisterous North Sea and the turbulent Bay of Biscay; while Taylor's forefathers were refreshed by the gentle gales of Araby blown across the blue Mediterranean to the banks of the Rhone. The blood of both had been strongly mixed with the blood of that Anglo-Saxon race, which, crushed at times, and even for centuries, was apt to rise again, and build its fortresses to freedom out of the ruins of the very temples of its oppressors.
Tazewell was born on the north side of the James, Taylor on the south—a distinction of no little significance in Virginia politics to this very hour. Tazewell, insensibly imitating those grave old rovers of the sea whom he counted among his kin, was, even under great provocation, cool and wary, and only the more dangerous; Taylor, whose southern blood coursed in torrents of fire through his veins, though at times in the highest degree self-poised and calm, had less command of his temper, and showed more plainly the smart of the hostile shaft; and, though prompt as lightning to return it, did not always send it back to the enemy as steadily as he might have done with more deliberation. Their modes of reasoning differed as widely as their temperaments. Each was a supreme master of reasoning in his respective department; and, if we look along their entire course at the bar, it is hard to say which of the two won the most verdicts. Perhaps, though both of these able men wielded at times an almost omnipotent sway over juries and over the bench; yet it may be said that the style of Tazewell was more decisive with the court, and that of Taylor with the jury. Each seemed necessary to the greatness of the other; and it is probable that, if Tazewell had not been constantly pressed throughout his career by such a man as Taylor, he would never have made those wonderful displays before a jury and in popular assemblies which form no small part of his fame; and that Taylor, unless checked by the severe logic of Tazewell, would, indeed, have been, as he was, the great advocate of his time, but would have failed to acquire that reputation for profound ability and learning in the law, which no less a judge than Marshall acknowledged in terms of high commendation. In a strictly legal point of view, it would have been best that both these able men had been removed in early life from the deteriorating influence of inferior courts, and transferred to a higher sphere. Had they gone together to New York, and had been compelled to follow their cases through the highest courts as well as the lowest, or had confined themselves to appellate tribunals, they would in their daily efforts have reared a legal reputation coextensive with the Union, and, perhaps, more durable. It is only necessary to state that Taylor remained at the bar ten years after the retirement of Tazewell; that he was then called upon to preside in the courts in which he had reaped his brilliant fame; that, when a long and honored judicial career seemed to stretch before him, he was snatched away at the comparatively early age of sixty; and that Tazewell survived him more than a quarter of a century.
Before we leave the Court-room of 1802, glancing, as we pass, at the face of young Maxwell, then just returned from Yale, who four years later was to make a name for himself, and of Arthur and Richard Henry Lee, brothers, whose sparkling eloquence ruled the fierce democracy of the day, and bespoke its ancestral source, and of others who were about to step on the threshold of professional life, the young man, sitting at the clerk's table, and intent upon his work, raising now and then his dark chestnut eyes to the Counsel or to the Court, his jet black hair curling about his tall forehead, his erect port telling of the military exercises in which he so much delighted and excelled, seems, in vision, to rise before me. Born in Henrico, within a stone's throw of the birthplace of Henry Clay, who was his intimate personal friend and colleague in the clerk's office under Peter Tinsley,—the county-man and colleague also of our late esteemed fellow-citizen, Thomas Williamson, another pupil of Tinsley,—he had performed such faithful service in the General Court, that at the age of twenty-four, he was chosen, in May of the preceding year, the clerk of the Norfolk Courts. His skill in his business, the industry and integrity that shone in all his paths, his cordial and polished manners, his martial spirit, which approached something too near "an appetite for danger," but which was finely tempered to the social sphere, conciliated the public esteem; and, while he acquired the reputation of the readiest and the ablest clerk of his day, he became, during the excited period from 1802 to 1815, when war with Spain, with France, with England, was the order and the trouble of the day, one of the most complete soldiers of our citizen corps. Leaning to the federal side in politics, he, like the gallant Taylor, knew no party when the sword was to be drawn. At the early age of twenty-five he was made Colonel of the Ninth Regiment, was in active service during the Douglas war, as the affair that grew out of the affair with the Chesapeake was called, and, during the late war with Great Britain, commanded in the field the Second and Ninth Regiments, establishing an exactness of discipline and an esprit du corps which was a favorite topic of remark in the army. He was the soul of honor. His name was an authority, his word was a witness, wherever the one was known or the other uttered; and there were those who predicted for him, whether he should engage in the field or at the bar, a brilliant fame. Between him and Tazewell, who were nearly of the same age, the most affectionate friendship existed—a friendship which, founded on mutual esteem, and cemented by mutual kindness, has descended already to the third generation. In 1823, at the age of forty-seven, this excellent man passed away. I only knew him in his latter years and in my boyish days. I see him as, when our waters were filled with hostile fleets, he marched at the head of his regiment, on a horse richly caparisoned, shining with silver and steel. I see him as he walked along the street, a tall slim man, quick in his movements, and inspiring, by his air and gait and benignant eye, respect and even affection. He was early bald on the upper part of his head; but, by way of atonement, wore to the last, sometime after it was dropped by others, a long queue, that attracted the passing glance of the boys. He was, I think, except Seth Foster and Moses Myers, the last of the queues. He came of an old Anglo-Saxon stock. His name for centuries in Scotland and in England had been borne by archbishops and illustrious laymen; and in our own times, in the earlier part of this century, it was the synonym of British philanthropy. But neither early nor late, in the Old World or in the New, was it ever borne by a nobler or a purer man—a man over whose grave more gentle and more precious memories should hover—than WILLIAM SHARP.
When, in 1802, Tazewell appeared at the Norfolk bar, party politics were in a state of active fermentation. The passions of men became involved in the contests of the day to an extent which has not been reached since, and entered into the private relations of life. Men of business who had important cases for trial, and who were, for the most part, attached to the federal party, called in the aid of the federal members of the bar; but it was soon seen that the young republican lawyer, who had voted for the resolutions of '98-'99, and for the report of '99-1800, and who had helped by his vote in the House of Representatives to elect Mr. Jefferson president, had introduced a new practice into the courts, and began to win verdicts in the greatest cases from all his federal opponents. The result was, as it always will be, that ability and learning prevailed over prejudice, and Tazewell was soon employed on the one or the other side of every great question. As an illustration of the strength of the political prejudices which prevailed, and which entered into domestic affairs, when Tazewell became a member of the Norfolk bar, I may mention an incident I heard many years ago. When it was rumored that Tazewell was paying his addresses to the eldest daughter of Col. Nivison, who belonged to the federal party, an old and active federalist observed that the Colonel would never allow a daughter of his to marry a democrat; and, as an illustration of the bigotry of the opposite party, I may mention that I have heard old republicans say that Tazewell's democracy was tainted by marrying into a federal family; and that his marriage was the true explanation of the change of his relations with the administration of Jefferson, of which I shall treat in another place. And here it may be proper to state that, in 1802, Mr. Tazewell led to the altar Anne Stratton, the eldest daughter of Colonel John Nivison; a lady with whom he lived most happily for fifty-four years, and whom, after an interval of eighteen months, he followed to the grave.
In the fall of 1803, William Wirt, whose brilliant genius has reflected so much credit on his adopted Commonwealth, came to reside in Norfolk. Like all his legal compatriots, he had been an active politician, and had been clerk of the House of Delegates for three sessions, during the last of which, the session of 1799, the Virginia report was adopted, and was a warm personal and political friend of Mr. Jefferson. It is from his pen that the beautiful resolutions of the Virginia Assembly, approving the administration of Jefferson at its close, proceeded; but then he was not known even as the author of the Letters of the British Spy which, though they had been printed in the Richmond Argus in the early fall, had not been collected into a volume. He was welcomed most cordially by Mr. Tazewell, by whose persuasion he had come to Norfolk, and whose business was now so overflowing that he offered, as we are told by Wirt, to withdraw from several courts purely for his benefit. The success of Wirt was flattering, but, overcome by the fear of the yellow fever, and seduced by family attachments, in the early summer of 1806, he removed to Richmond. While he resided in Norfolk, he was engaged with Mr. Tazewell in the case of Shannon (1804), which was tried in Williamsburg, and which excited the most intense interest in Eastern Virginia. Of Mr. Tazewell's speech on the trial Mr. Wirt always spoke in terms of enthusiastic admiration, which was not the less glowing as until that time he had looked upon Mr. Tazewell only as a severe logician, and incapable of the loftier flights of eloquence. The buoyancy of Wirt's spirits is exhibited in his admirable letters published in the memoir of Mr. Kennedy; and his gentle courtesy and generous nature are yet freshly remembered in our city. As a proof of his playfulness, I have heard Mrs. Tazewell say that when Wirt would call at her house, on his way to court, he would beg her for a bundle of newspapers to stuff in his green bag, to make a show of business as he passed into the court-house. When the Old Bachelor appeared, a series of essays in imitation of the Spectator, which Wirt published after leaving Norfolk, he delineated at full length the character of Tazewell, under the name of Sidney, and of General Taylor under that of Herbert; and I refer to the number as a gratifying evidence of the estimate which he placed upon the genius and acquirements of those eminent men. And now that the grave has closed above Wirt and Tazewell, it is refreshing to contemplate the cordiality of their friendship, and the substantial welcome which Tazewell extended to Wirt; and it is proper to say that, but for the revelations of Mr. Wirt himself contained in his published letters, and in the statements of his nearest friends, the recollection of the generous kindness of Mr. Tazewell to Wirt, as may be said of many other cases, would have remained unknown to his surviving friends.