James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Robert B. Corbin, 4 June 1821

To Robert B. Corbin

Montpellier June 4. 1821.

Dear Sir

Your letter of the 1st. inst: was duly handed to me by Mr. Kingman. Altho’ unversed in such tasks, the motives to which the occasion appeals, would not permit me to decline at [sic] attempt to fulfil the one committed to me. I am aware at the same time that the haste in which the sketch I inclose was penned, and my deficient knowledge or recollection of many circumstances in your Father’s history may have produced errors or omissions which ought to be avoided. Should this be the case, your letter itself is a proof that there is a pen on the spot which can well apply a remedy.

I need not express to you Sir, the very painful impressions with which I recd. the melancholy & unexpected event of which Mr. K. was the bearer; or the unfeigned sympathies of Mrs. Madison & myself with Mrs. Corbin & the whole family in the heavy affliction under which they are suffering. For yourself Sir, accept assurances of my cordial regards & best wishes.

James Madison


Departed this life on   1 at his seat “The Reeds” Francis Corbin Esqr. at the age of sixty two years. His death was occasioned by an attack of the gout to which he had been occasionally subject.

Mr. Corbin was the youngest son of Col: Richard Corbin,2 a gentleman of3 a highly cultivated mind, and who held a distinguished Rank in the Government of Virga. in its Colonial State.

The son was sent to England at an early age,4 for his education; which was commenced at Canterbury5 School, and finished at the University of Cambridge. He afterwards read law at the Temple in London.6

Immediately after the peace in 1783, he returned to his native State; bringing with him a mind well stored with classical studies; and what was far more meritorious, an ardent love of Country, and principles of liberty congenial with its new rank as an Independent Nation, and with its new form as a Republican Government.

His superior talents and engaging manners7 attracted at once the notice & confidence of his fellow Citizens, whose suffrages gave him a seat in the Legislature of the State. As a member of this Body, tho’ young and under the disadvantage of his long absence, he was able to bear an important part in the Legislative business. In debate, he gave constant proof of his enlarged information, of his reasoning powers, and of an elocution uncommonly graceful & persuasive.

He continued a representative of his County, untill the great crisis, which ended in the change of the Original Confederation of the States into the present Govt. of the U.S. Mr. C. was among the first to espouse & promote the efforts for bringing about the appointment of the General Convention which had that for its object; and he was not overlooked in the choice of worthies for the Convention of Virginia, when the plan proposed by the General Convention was submitted to the several States for their sanction.

In this select assembly, Mr. C.’s name is on the list of those who bore a conspicuous part in the discussions. His Speeches in the published proceedings shew that his mind embraced the whole subject in its true principles, and various aspects; and that he was able to give to his arguments all the advantages depending on a suavity of manner, and a polish of language.

After the new Constitution had been organized & put into operation he was annually re-elected for a number of years as a delegate to the Legislature of the State, where he always sustained the reputation which his talents had acquired.

For some years previous to his death, he had withdrawn himself from public life; and devoted much of his time to the indulgence of his taste for literature & philosophy, & to the guidance of the education of children, of whom as a parent he had every reason to be proud. The other portions of his time were given to the care of his ample estate, and to the Society of his numerous friends, who could no where enjoy more of the sweets of hospitality, and the repast of elegant & interesting conversation, than under his roof: nor could any one enjoy more fully those social scenes, than Mr. C. himself. But, alas! Death, with his unsparing hand, has translated8 him for ever from all sublunary enjoyments; leaving in sorrow the friends who admired him; and in tears an amiable family; in the bitterest of them, her who was bound to him by the most tender of the ties that have been severed.

This9 hasty tribute to his memory is offered by one who having partaken largely of his friendly sentiments whilst living, wished to lay on his tomb some token of what was felt in return.

RC and enclosure (owned by The Scriptorium, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1988); draft and draft of enclosure (DLC). RC addressed by JM to Corbin at “The Reeds” and marked “Mr. Kingman.” In the left margin of the draft JM wrote: “This hasty [t]ribute to his memory is offered by a friend who long had a share in his esteem.” Draft of enclosure filed after 30 June 1821. The eulogy was printed in the Richmond Enquirer, 15 June 1821, where it is ascribed to “his great and good friend Mr.——.” Minor differences between the copies have not been noted.

1Left blank in enclosure and draft of enclosure.

2Richard Corbin (1713 or 1714–1790) was a planter and politician from Middlesex County, Virginia, which he represented in the House of Burgesses, 1748–50. He subsequently moved to Laneville, his plantation in King and Queen County. Corbin was appointed a member of the governor’s council in 1750 and served in that capacity throughout the colonial period, as well as deputy receiver general, 1762–76 (Kneebone et al., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 3:466–68).

3The draft of enclosure has “great wealth and of” here.

4The draft of enclosure has “some years before the Amr. Revloution [sic] to Grt B.” in place of “to England at an early age.”

5JM wrote “Eaton” here and in the draft of enclosure; “Eaton” was crossed out in the enclosure and “Canterbury” interlined in an unidentified hand.

6This sentence does not appear in the draft of enclosure. JM wrote: “He returned to his native state in the year   [left blank].”

7The draft of enclosure has “very soon attracted” in place of “attracted at once.”

8The draft of enclosure has “snatched” in place of “translated.”

9This paragraph is omitted from the draft of enclosure.

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