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Sunday, March 23, 2014

His Pronunciation Was Vulgar And Vicious

The cry, "to arms," seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye!

 -  William Wirt, Sketches of the life and character of Patrick Henry (1817)

 

So Patrick Henry gave a famous speech about liberty and death on this date in 1775.  In all likelihood, what we know of the speech is not enirely accurate, but rather a reconstruction presented to us third-hand through Judge St George Tucker and William Wirt.

Here's the latter complaining about his project to write about the renowned orator 16 years after the man's death:

The incidents of Mr. Henry's life are extremely monotonous. It is all speaking, speaking, speaking. 'Tis true he could talk:—"Gods! how he could talk!" but there is no acting "the while." From the bar to the legislature, and from the legislature to the bar, his peregrinations resembled, a good deal, those of some one, I forget whom,—perhaps some of our friend Tristram's characters, "from the kitchen to the parlour, and from the parlour to the kitchen."

And then, to make the matter worse, from 1763 to 1789, covering all the bloom and pride of his life, not one of his speeches lives in print, writing or memory. All that is told me is, that, on such and such an occasion he made a distinguished speech. Now to keep saying this over, and over, and over again, without being able to give any account of what the speech was,—why, sir, what is it but a vast, open, sun-burnt field without one spot of shade or verdure?

My soul is weary of it, and the days have come in which I can say that I have no pleasure in them.

It seems the man gave good, fiery speech that made quite an impression, but nobody really remembered much detail.  Reportedly Henry's fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, said of him:

His eloquence was peculiar, if indeed it should be called eloquence, for it was impressive and sublime beyond what can be imagined. Although it was difficult, when he had spoken, to tell what he had said, yet, while speaking, it always seemed directly to the point. When he had spoken in opposition to my opinion, had produced a great effect, and I myself had been highly delighted and moved, I have asked myself, when he ceased, 'What the devil has he said?' and could never answer the inquiry.

Such a contrast to contemporary politics where we have vapid pols who say nothing meaningful or inspiring, but everything is captured on YouTube and elsewhere online for us to parse and argue about.

ntodd

March 23, 2014 | Permalink

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Comments

If you believe it is a coincidence, right before this I was listening to a Youtube of George Galloway being forced to break his self-imposed silence in the face of the canonization of Christopher Hitchens in which he says something remarkably similar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UwpJldUQx_8

I've experienced too may of those kinds of coincidences to just pretend that saying "coincidence" suffices anymore.

Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Mar 23, 2014 9:27:41 AM

By the way, here is a letter on the topic of slavery that is a good example of him speaking out of at least two sides of his mouth. Of interest to Quakers.

Would any one believe that I am master of slaves by my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not -- I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct. I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and to lament my want of conformity to them. I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be afforded to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we cam do, is to improve it, if It happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished-for reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity. It is the furthest advancement we can make toward justice. It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants Slavery.

http://www.nytimes.com/1860/07/09/news/the-slave-trade-an-original-letter-from-patrick-henry.html

Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Mar 23, 2014 9:42:20 AM

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