Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William Wirt to Thomas Jefferson, 10 September 1816

From William Wirt

Richmond. Sept. 10. 1816

Dear Sir.

I thank you for the remarks with which you have been so good as to accompany the return of the sheets. The story of Livy I had from Judge Nelson who gave it as a declaration to him from Mr Henry himself. I think with you that the statement must be inaccurate: his indolence forbad it and Livy I find is not among the books left by him, of which I have a catalogue—I have moderated the passage but know not how to reject altogether the statement of a fact so authenticated.—I can tell you with very great sincerity that you have removed a mountain load of despondency from my mind by the assurance that you could find entertainment in those sheets.—I trouble you now with others and beg leave to call your attention particularly to what relates to Mr Pendleton. The passage has given me pain—but truth and the justice due to Mr Henry seemed to require it. If you think it wrong, I am sure you will tell me so, and will suggest some expedient by which equal justice can be done to Mr H. with more delicacy to Mr Pendleton.

I entreat you not to spare your remarks on account of the defacement of the manuscript. I had rather commence it de novo than lose the advantage of your freest criticisms. If you think the narrative too wire-drawn, or the style too turgid (points about which I have, myself, strong fears) I depend on your friendship to tell me so—much better will it be to learn it from you, in time to correct it, than from the malignity of reviewers, when it shall be too late.

There is an anecdote in circulation on the authority of the late Majr scott which if true I should like to weave in, and if true you will certainly remember it. It is said that about the year 1769, Mr Henry, spoke, in the House of Burgesses, on some question of public grievance, with so much power that the people in the lobby and gallery were excited to a kind of frenzy, rushed to the top of the capitol, tore down the royal standard which usually waved there during the session, tore it into fragments and scattered1 to the winds—Will you be so obliging as to say whether you recollect, at any time, an occurrence of this sort?

most respectfully and affectionately, yours.

Wm Wirt

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Sept. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (MdHi: Wirt Papers). Enclosure: manuscript, not found, of a portion of Wirt, Patrick Henry.

Wirt ultimately decided not to reject a passage asserting that Patrick Henry read Livy “through, once at least, in every year, during the earlier part of his life,” but he included a footnote crediting the story to a conversation between Henry and a “Judge Nelson” (Wirt, Patrick Henry, 13).

1Tr here adds “it.”

Index Entries

  • books; biographical search
  • books; classical search
  • classics; P. Henry as reader of search
  • flags (emblem); British royal standard search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); and E. Pendleton (1721–1803) search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); as reader of Livy search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); library of search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); oratorical abilities of search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); W. Wirt’s book on search
  • Livy; P. Henry as reader of search
  • Nelson, Mr. (judge) search
  • Pendleton, Edmund (1721–1803); and P. Henry search
  • Scott, Joseph; and anecdote about P. Henry search
  • Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt); draft chapters of sent to TJ search
  • Virginia; House of Burgesses search
  • Williamsburg, Va.; capitol building in search
  • Wirt, William; letters from search
  • Wirt, William; Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry search