HIS college days were over when he had been two years a student at William and Mary, and he went home in December, 1762, with Coke upon Lyttleton in his trunk, to spend the winter in reading law. He made the journey in his usual leisurely way, visiting friends near the road, and found himself, about Christmas time, at a merry house half a day’s ride from his own Shadwell. There he stayed for two or three days, taking part in the festivities of the season, to which he could always contribute his violin. On this occasion he had brought with him a roll of new minuets for the young ladies, and, doubtless, he did his part toward the entertainment of the company.
But he had left his heart behind him at Williamsburg. He had danced too many minuets in the Apollo — the great room of the old Ralegh tavern — with Miss Rebecca Burwell, one of the orphan daughters of a great house near the capital ; and she had given him a watch-paper, cut and painted with her own lovely hands ; and he found his mind dwelling night and day upon her sweet image. He had packed his Coke at Williamsburg with the most virtuous resolutions of reading him, even amid the gayeties of the holiday time ; but the work lay in his trunk untouched. He even wrote to his college friend, John Page, that he wished the Devil had old Coke, for he was sure he never was so tired of an old dull scoundrel in his life. “ What! ” he says, “are there so few inquietudes tacked to this momentary life of ours, that we must needs be loading ourselves with a thousand more ! ” How different this from the tone of fond regard with which he speaks, in the grave letters of his maturer years, of Coke and his works. But he was in love, and he was writing on a Christmas day, a hundred miles from the object of his affection.
He had risen on that joyful morning to face what must have been, to a young fellow in love for the first time, a dreadful catastrophe. He told his friend Page that he was in a house surrounded by enemies, who took counsel together against his soul ; who, when he lay down to rest, said, Come, let us destroy him ! In the night the “ cursed rats,” at the instigation of the Devil, if there was a Devil, had eaten his pocketbook within a foot of his head, carried off his “jemmy worked silk garters,” and all those new minuets. But these were trifles. It had rained in the night; and in the morning he found his watch all afloat in a pool of water, and as silent as the rats that had eaten his pocket-book. But this was not the catastrophe. “ The subtle particles of the water with which the case was filled had, by their penetration, so overcome the cohesion of the particles of the paper of which my dear picture and watch-paper were composed, that, in attempting to take them out to dry them, — good God! Mens horret referre!— my fingers gave them such a rent, as I fear I never shall get over.” He is so overcome by the recollection that he cannot keep up the jocular strain, but breaks into a serious invocation. Whatever misfortunes may attend the picture or the lover, his hearty prayers shall be, that all the health and happiness which Heaven can send may be the portion of the Original, and that so much goodness may ever meet with what is most agreeable in this world, as he is sure it must in the next. “ And now,” he adds, “ although the picture may be defaced, there is so lively an image of her imprinted in my mind, that I shall think of her too often, I fear, for my peace of mind ; and too often, I am sure, to get through old Coke this winter.”
Message upon message he sends to the young ladies at Williamsburg ; with whom, he says, the better part of him, his soul, ever is, though that heavy earthly part, his body, may be absent. With one he has a bet pending of a pair of silk garters; which the rats knew he was destined to win, else they never could have been so cruel as to carry off the pair he had. And O, would Miss Burwell give him another watch-paper of her own cutting ? What does dear Page think ? Would he ask her ? A watch-paper cut by her fingers, though it were only “ a plain round one,” he should esteem much more than the nicest one in the world cut by other hands. Another young lady, he had heard, was offended with him. What could it be for ? Neither in word nor deed had he ever, in all his life, been guilty of the least disrespect to her ; and, no matter what she might say or do, he was determined ever to look upon her as " the same honest-hearted, good-humored, agreeable lady ” he had always thought her. So full was he of Williamsburg and its lovely girls, “Sukey Potter,” “Betsy Moore,” “Judy Burwell,” “ Nancy,” and, above all, “ Becca Burwell,” otherwise “ Belinda,” the adored one, that, on this Christmas day, 1762, he wrote a letter about them that would have filled a dozen of our trivial modern sheets of paper. It well became him to write such an epistle on his nineteenth Christmas. Young men of nineteen still write such who have preserved their innocence.
He was at home soon after Christmas. Absence only made his heart grow fonder. He missed the gayety and variety, the friends and stir of life and business at the capital. He found the old farm-house dull. There must have been something uncongenial there, else so affectionate a youth, the head of the family, would not have spent his Christmases away from home. Perhaps his mother was oppressed by the care of a family of eight children and thirty slaves ; or she may have agreed with that small portion of the clergy who regarded the fiddle and the minuet as a “ profanation ” of Christmas. However that may be, this sudden change from the Apollo and the palace, from college friends and employments, to a farmhouse on the frontier and Coke’s digest of law, was almost too much for his philosophy. He could hardly muster spirits to write to his friend Page. When he had been at home three weeks, he wrote a short letter which shows him reduced to a sorry plight indeed. He was torn with the contest raging in his soul between his passion and his judgment, and he plunges into a letter, as it were, headforemost, seeking relief in converse with his friend, with whom he had been accustomed to exchange such confidences : " Dear
Page, to tell you the plain truth, I have not a syllable to write to you about”; which was a lover’s way of stating that his heart was full to bursting. “ I do not conceive,” he continues, “that anything can happen in my world which you would give a curse to know.” The worlds of these two friends were indeed unlike ; for John Page, heir to one of the largest estates, lived in the largest mansion of all Virginia, — Rosewell,— which stands to this day near the banks of the York River, a vast, square barrack, treeless, fenceless, dismantled, a pile without inhabitant, a picture of desolation. “ All things here,” the distracted lover went on, “appear to me to trudge on in one and the same round ; we rise in the morning that we may eat breakfast, dinner, and supper, and go to bed again that we may get up the next morning and do the same ; so that you never saw two peas more alike than our yesterday and to-day.”
If he had nothing to tell, he had plenty to ask. A jury of lovers would have pronounced his situation serious in the extreme. He was enamored of a beauty and an heiress ; she, in the full lustre of her charms; he, a youth not twenty, of small estate heavily burdened, reading the elementary book of a profession requiring years of preparation. Moreover, he had the usual dream of foreign travel. Before settling to the business of life, he meant to visit England, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, — where he would buy “a good fiddle,” — and then cross to Egypt, returning home by way of the St. Lawrence and Canada. Such a tour would require two or three years. Would she wait? Could he ask her to wait? She must love him very much to do that, and he did not know that she loved him at all ; for the watch-paper meant nothing particular, indicating friendly feeling, nothing more. What would dear Page advise ? Should he go at once to town, receive his sentence, and end this awful suspense? Inclination prompted this course ; but if she rejected him, he would be “ ten times more wretched than ever.”In this dilemma, he had some thoughts of going to Petersburg, “if the actors go there in May,” and keeping on to Williamsburg for the birthnight ball at the Apollo, which, of course, she would attend. But, after all, had not he and Page better go abroad at once for a two or three years’ tour? “If we should not both be cured of love in that time, I think the Devil would be in it.”
He remained at home, however, all that winter and all the ensuing summer, wrestling with love and Coke, writing long letters to Page on the one, and long notes on the other in his blank-books. Page, though he was as far gone in love as Jefferson, tried to act as his friend’s attorney-in-love ; and Jefferson, on his part, reflected much on Page’s “ case,” and favored him with sage advice. And so the affair went on nearly all that year.
“ The test of a woman is gold,” says Poor Richard, “and the test of a man is woman.” This young man bore the test well. He was not carried away, even by this first yearning passion, but held firmly to his purposes, making his love subordinate to them. After viewing the subject in every light, he could only come to this wise conclusion: If she said Yes, he should be happy ; but “ if she does not, I must endeavor to be as much so as possible.” And then he bestows upon his fellow-sufferer a discourse upon the necessity of fortifying the mind against inevitable strokes of ill-fortune. “The only method of doing this,” he remarks, “ is to assume a perfect resignation to the Divine Will ; to consider that whatever does happen must happen, and that by our uneasiness we cannot prevent the blow before it does fall, but we may add to its force after it has fallen.” This attitude of mind, which he recommends to his friend in several rotund and solemn sentences, will enable a man to tread the thorny path of life with “ a pious and unshaken resignation.” He ends this discourse with a sentence which reminds us that Dr. Johnson was then a power in the world : “ Few things will disturb him at all ; nothing will disturb him much.”
The lover had occasion for all his philosophy. In October, when the General Court convened, he must needs be in Williamsburg, to watch its proceedings and submit knotty questions to his friend Wythe. He flew thither on the wings of love. There was a ball at the Apollo. He met her there. Who so happy as he when he led her out to the dance ? He had made up his mind to speak, if opportunity favored, and he had meditated some moving passages which, he hoped, would touch her heart, and call forth the response he desired. But, alas ! when, at length, after so many months of longing, the moment arrived, and he had her tête-à-tête, he could only stammer a few broken sentences, with dreadful pauses between them ; which elicited no explicit reply, and had no result except to plunge him into the depths of shame and despair. “ For God’s sake, COME,” he writes to Page, who had not yet arrived. He met her again. The fearful subject was again approached. This time he got on a little better; explained his projects ; did not put the question, but gave her to understand that he should do so in due time. Girls ot spirit are not won in that manner, and we may presume she did not flatter his hopes ; for when next he wrote to his friend, he calls the capital of Virginia, the scene of his disaster, by the name of “ Devilsburg.” The probability is, that the young lady was engaged at the time, since, a few months after the tête-à-tête in the Apollo, she was married to that dread being, — Another ! Page, too, seems to have been crossed in love, but he immediately consoled himself by courting — Another. Poor love-sick Jefferson declared he would not believe the tale, till he had heard it from Page himself. For his own part, he had been perfectly sure, during the whole course of his love, that if Belinda rejected him, his heart was dead to love forever ; and he wanted to know his fate as soon as possible, that, if doomed to disappointment, he might have “ more of life to wear it off.”
How captivating to lovers is the poetry of love ! It was during these two or three years of longing that London ships were bringing to Virginia, among the other new publications, volumes of the poems of Ossian, invested with the halo of a London celebrity, soon to become European. Burly Johnson, tyrant of Great Britain, had not yet denounced them as forgeries, and all the reading world accepted them as genuine relics of antiquity. In these poems there is much which could not but have impressed a youth who had listened spell-bound to the melodious oratory of an Indian chief, of which he understood not a word, and gazed with such interest upon the scene of the various groups of listeners, each group by its own fire, and the full-orbed moon shining over all. It was an Ossian scene. But he was now a lovelorn young man, and Ossian contains on almost every page some picture of beauty in distress, some utterance of passion or tenderness, which lovers can easily make their own. “ Daura, my daughter, thou wert fair; fair as the moon on Fura, white as the driven snow, sweet as the breathing gale.” So was Belinda. “Her fair bosom is seen from her robe, as the moon from the clouds of night, when its edge heaves white on the view from the darkness which covers its orb.” He had often observed this fine effect when dancing at the Apollo with Belinda, arrayed in the bodice of the period. “ Fair was she, the daughter of the mighty Conlock. She appeared like a sunbeam among women.” Precisely the observation he had frequently made to Page, when glorious Belinda appeared, surrounded by her excellent but commonplace friends. “ Often met their eyes of love.” Rapturous thought ! Would it ever be anything more than a thought ? Tradition has not recorded the color of Belinda’s hair, but whether it were of the hue of the “raven’s wing,” or “dark brown,” or of some lighter shade; whether she wore her hair “ flowing,” or “ wandering,” or in some other touching style ; he had not far to go in Ossian, without meeting a damsel similarly adorned, with the additional resemblance of white hands and snowy arms.
It belongs to youth to abandon itself to these literary raptures ; but there has seldom been a case of such lasting fascination as this. He could not get over it. His passion for Ossian long outlived his love for Belinda. The fulminations of Dr. Johnson, if they were heard on this side of the Atlantic, could not shake his faith. It chanced that Charles MacPherson, a relative of the translator, visited Virginia a few years after ; when Jefferson made his acquaintance, and, we may be sure, gave utterance to his enthusiasm. The longer he read the ancient poet, the more interested he became ; and for ten years of his life, at least, he thought “ this rude bard of the North the greatest poet that ever existed.” His friends had but to start that topic to call from him the most animated discourse, interspersed with many a favorite passage, delivered with his best elocution.
Ossian had other American admirers. Some enthusiast, perhaps, it was who took the name of “Selma” from Ossian, and gave it to a town in Alabama, since become important; as another reader of poetry fancied the pretty name of Goldsmith’s Deserted Village, and called a village in New York, Auburn. With regard to other familiar authors, the student’s preferences were such as we should expect, — Shakespeare, Homer, Molière, Cervantes, and the old English songs and ballads. Copies of songs, in his youthful hand, are still preserved,— simple old love-ditties that pleased the simple old generations. Fiction had not then become one of the fine arts, and he had little relish for any but the few immortal tales. Don Quixote, his descendants think, was the only fiction he ever read twice.
Fortunately for love-sick swains, the affairs of this vulgar world go on, little as they may regard them ; and, indeed, there is reason to surmise that our lover recovered his serenity very soon after he knew his fate. In his long letters to Page on their affairs of the heart, there is generally a saving clause like this, “The court is at hand, which I must attend constantly ” ; or this,
“ As I suppose you do not use your ‘ Statutes of Britain,’ if you can lend them to me till I can provide myself with a copy, it will infinitely oblige me.” During the period of his preparation for the bar, he usually spent the winter at the capital and the summer at home ; working at both places, as he did everywhere and always, with a constancy, system, and cheerfulness, of which there have been few examples among the toiling sons of men. It was this that soon enabled him to play groomsman for happier friends with so much gayety, and contemplate John Page’s fortunate suit without a sigh. If we possessed nothing of this part of his life but these familiar letters to John Page, wherein love and the Apollo are everything to him, and Coke appears as an “old dull scoundrel,” lying snugly packed in a trunk, we should be utterly deceived.
Letters, indeed, though of eminent value as biographical material, are most misleading, unless we employ other means of information. In this respect, they are like newspapers, which are a kind of digest of the letters of the time, and valuable as showing, not what occurred at a given period, but what was then thought to have occurred. The very exhaustion which results from long mental toil may cause a student to write in a strain of reckless audacity or rollicking merriment very unlike his habitual tone, — as people who find themselves in extremely dismal circumstances sometimes abandon themselves to hilarity. As to the letters of public or famous persons, are they not generally written under the expectation or dread of ultimate publication ? Happily, we have other means than these few epistles about Belinda and the girls, of knowing how this student of law passed his time, both at the capital and at home.
He came of age in April, 1764. According to an old British custom, he signalized the year by causing an avenue of trees to be planted near his house. Time has dealt harshly with it, for, after a hundred and eight years, there are only a few battered, decaying trees left, locusts and sycamores. He did not spend this birthday at home, but at Williamsburg, where he and all the other mathematical heads of the place were intent upon a grand operation of measurement. “ Everything,” he writes to Page, “is now ready for taking the height of this place above the water of the creeks,” — two streams, one a tributary of the James, and the other of the York, both navigable to within a mile of Williamsburg, — and he hopes Page will come to take part in the interesting affair, “if his mistress can spare him.”
He did not delay in accepting the responsibilities of his position as a leading gentleman of his county. We find him soon in two of his father’s offices, —justice of the peace and vestryman of the parish. Not long after coming of age he set on foot a public improvement of importance to his neighborhood. The river Rivanna, that flowed by his land, although a considerable stream was so obstructed as to be useless for purposes of navigation. Scarcely an empty canoe had ever floated on it to the James. Upon reaching home he examined its channel, and, perceiving that it could be cleared for twenty-two miles without too great expense, he set on foot a subscription for the purpose, which was successful ; and, after procuring an act of the Legislature authorizing the work, he caused it to be done. The result was that he and his neighbors used the river thenceforth for carrying down all the produce of their farms. Thus did this colonial squire announce and celebrate his coming of age.
The young man took hold of his business as a farmer in a manner which showed that the genuine culture of the mind is the best preparation for the common as well as for the higher duties of life. In everything he did he was the educated being. Was there ever a mortal so exact, so punctual, so indefatigable as he, in recording and tabularizing details ? He may be said to have lived pen in hand. He kept a garden-book, a farm-book, a weather-book, a receipt-book, a pocket-expenditure book, and, later, a feebook ; and there was nothing too trivial to be entered in one of them, provided it really had any relation to matters of importance. In the small, neat hand, then common in Virginia, he would record in his pocket-book such items as these : “ Put into the churchbox, I d.” ; “Paid a barber, II d."; “ Paid for pins, 4/2 ” ; “ Paid for whetting penknife, 4d.”; “Paid my part for an express to Williamsburg, Io s.”; “ Paid Bell for books, 35 s.; “ Paid postage, 8/3.” In his garden-book, for some pages of which we are indebted to Mr. Randall, may be read countless entries like the following: “ March 30, sowed a patch of later peas”; “July 15, planted out celery” ; “ July 22, had the last dish of our spring peas ” ; “March 31, grafted five French chestnuts into two stocks of common chestnut.” His garden-books show that he was a bold and constant experimenter, always eager to try foreign seeds and roots, of which he introduced a great number in the course of his life. They show, also, that he was a close observer and calculator. His weatherbook, of which I possess a few pages, given to me by Mr. Randall, is a wonder of neatness and minuteness, — fiftynine days’ weather history on one small page. This is one day’s record : “March 24, at 6.30 A. M., ther. 27°; barom. 250; wind N. W. ; force of wind (not stated); weather, clear after rain, Blue Ridge and higher parts of S. W. mountain covered with snow. No snow here, but much ice ; black frost.” Multiply this by fifty-nine, and you have the contents of one page of his weather-book, every word of which, after the lapse of a century, is as clear and legible as diamond type. It is ruled in ten columns, one for each class of entries. This practice of minute record, which remained with him to the end of his days, he began while he was still a student. Nor did he ever content himself with the mere record of items. These were regularly reviewed, added, compared, and utilized in every possible way. It was the most remarkable of all his habits.
Interesting events were occurring in the family at the Shadwell farm-house. During his first year in college one of his sisters was married; and now, soon after his coming of age, another marriage in the family, and one that proved of far more importance to the head of the house, became probable.
Among the most beloved of his schoolfellows was Dabney Carr, a youth destined like himself to the bar.
It was that Dabney Carr who fills the place in the annals and the hearts of Virginia, which young Josiah Quincy occupies in those of Massachusetts ; both having died in the prime of early manhood, at the beginning of the Revolution, after figuring honorably in its opening scenes. At this time, when Jefferson was coming into his duties as head of his family, clearing out his river and watching his early peas, Dabney Carr was getting into practice as a country lawyer; and when Jefferson was at home, during the long summers, the two friends and fellow-students were inseparable. Two miles from Jefferson’s home was an isolated mountain, five hundred and eighty feet high, which he afterwards named Monticello, or The Little Mount, covered then to the summit with the primeval forest. High up on this mountain, in the deepest shade of the luxuriant woods, under an ancient oak of vast size, the young friends constructed a rustic seat; and thither, in the summer mornings, they would ride, with their law-books, and pass peaceful days there in study and conversation. Both of them became strongly attached to the spot. They made a compact that whichever of them died first should be buried by the other under that grand old tree. The compact was fulfilled, and the place was, long after, enclosed and made the burial-place of the JefFersons ; so that both the friends now repose on the spot where they studied together in their youth. It was these happy visits to the mountain that led to its selection, by and by, as the site of Jefferson’s abode.
When the young men returned to Shadwell at the close of the day, they returned to a house full of sisters, three of whom were young ladies, twenty-five, twenty-one, nineteen years of age ; the work of the day done, the costume of the evening assumed, the evening meal ready, the violin and music in the next room. It was the beautiful and gifted Martha, in her nineteenth year, upon whom Dabney Carr fixed his affections ; and in the summer vacation of 1765 Jefferson had the pleasure of seeing them married. The bridegroom had still his fortune to make, and they went away to live, a few miles off, in the next county of Louisa, in a house amusing to them all for its smallness and simplicity. It was one of the triumphant marriages. “ This friend of ours, Page,” wrote Jefferson, when they had been five years married, “ in a very small house, with a table, half a dozen chairs, and one or two servants, is the happiest man in the universe. Every incident in life he so takes as to render it a source of pleasure. With as much benevolence as the heart of man will hold, but with an utter neglect of the costly apparatus of life, he exhibits to the world a new phenomenon in philosophy,—the Samian sage in the tub of the cynic.” To this pleasing picture Mr. Wirt adds, from tradition current in Virginia, that Dabney Carr was the most formidable rival in oratory that Patrick Henry had among the lawyers of his own age ; and that his person was of engaging elegance, and his voice finely toned. In old age Mr. Jefferson wrote of him as the man who united inflexible firmness of principle to the most perfect amiability.
But on this happy wedding-day in July the shadow of death already rested upon the young student’s home. His eldest sister, Jane, the best of all his friends hitherto, was approaching her end. She died in October, leaving a void in the home and the heart of her brother that was never quite filled. From the funeral of this beloved sister he was summoned soon, by the opening of the General Court, to resume his law-studies at Williamsburg.
Not that he discontinued those studies at home. He used, in after years, to tell his grandchildren that, when he was a law-student, he kept a clock in his bedroom at Shadwell, on a shelf opposite his bed ; and his rule was to get up, in the summer mornings, as soon as he could see what o’clock it was, and begin his day’s work at once. In the winter he rose at five and went to bed at nine. He did a fair day’s work at his law-books every day, even at home, besides attending to company, besides his vigorous gallop on horseback, besides walking to the top of Monticello, besides looking closely to his garden and farm, besides caressing his violin, besides keeping up his Latin, Greek, French, and an extensive system of other reading. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to conclude that at the capital he gave himself to study more completely than at home ; and it is there that we can best observe him as a student.
The law is not an easy nut to crack even in these days, after so much of its husk has been cut away by the Broughams and the Dudley Fields of the legal profession. It will never be easy to apply the eternal principles of right to the “ cases ” that arise in our complicated human life. But when Jefferson studied law, generations of ingenious men had spent their lives in investing the science of justice with difficulties, artificial and needless. They had wrought with such success, that if our young justice of the peace had been required to record that John Jones had hanged himself at Williamsburg, he would have been obliged to say —and I now copy from a Virginia Justice’s Own Book, in which his name appears as a subscriber — that “John Jones, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, at Williamsburg, in a certain wood at aforesaid, standing and being, the said John Jones, being then and there alone, with a certain hempen cord, ot the value of three pence, which he then and there had and held in his hands, and one end thereof then and there put about his neck, and the other end thereof tied about a bough of a certain oak-tree, himself then and there, with the cord aforesaid, voluntarily and feloniously, and of his malice aforethought, hanged and suffocated.” This is a specimen of the law jargon of that day, for the retention of which lawyers strove so long. It was the confused, bewildering element in which lawyers worked for centuries.
When the love-sick student opened that “ old dull scoundrel, Coke, he opened a work printed in black-letter, and offering ns little promise of entertainment or instruction as the outside of a gold-mine does of the wealth within it. The author himself, in his Preface, does not flatter his readers with any hope of pleasure in the perusal. “ I shall desire,” he says, “ that the learned reader will not conceive any opinion against any part of this painful and large volume until he shall have advisedly read over the whole, and diligently searched out and well considered of the several authorities, proofs, and reasons which we have cited and set down for warrant and conformation of our opinions throughout this whole work.”
To add to a student’s perplexity, the passages from Lyttleton, the ancient lawyer whom Coke is “ upon,” are written in the law-French of Edward III.’s time, plentifully interspersed with Latin equivalents and illustrations. But, fortunately, these passages are short, being mere texts for old Coke’s long discourses. In the edition of 1789 Lyttleton’s observations on “Fee Simple” occupy a third of a page, but Coke’s quaint and subtle treatment of the topic fills thirty-three pages, with a thick-set hedge of references down each page. It would be an excellent month’s work for a student to master that one chapter. Tedious and repulsive as all this must have been to a youth the morning after dancing with Belinda at the Apollo, Jefferson learned in due time to value old Coke aright. When, in the midst of his law-studies, the passage of the Stamp Act called attention to the rights of Englishmen, he turned with responsive mind to Coke’s learned and cordial comments upon Magna Charta, and recognized a master. He probably did not know that one Roger Williams served Lord Coke as clerk and amanuensis in his youth, and went from his inspiring influence to convey to New England the first notion it ever had of the rights of conscience. What Coke did in person for Roger Williams and Rhode Island, Jefferson thought he did by his book for himself, for Madison, for Henry, for Dabney Carr, for Virginia, for the United States.
“ Coke Lyttleton,” he once wrote, “ was the universal elementary book of law-students, and a sounder Whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British Constitution, or in what were called British liberties. Our lawyers were then all Whigs. But when his black-letter text, and uncouth, but cunninglearninggotout of fashion, and the honeyed Mansfieldism of Blackstone became the student’s horn-book, from that moment that profession (the nursery of our Congress) began to slide into Toryism, and nearly all the young brood of lawyers are now of that line. They suppose themselves indeed to be Whigs, because they no longer know what Whiggism or Republicanism means.”
When he had made a conquest of Coke, he was desirous of ascending to the sources of English law in the ages preceding the Norman invasion ; for, as one of his old friends remarked, he “hated superficial knowledge.” He perceived that law, like the other sciences, is progressive, and that Coke merely marked a stage of its progress. He used to compare the laws of England, in their course down the ages, with the journey of a traveller, who, when he has accomplished a certain distance, stops, looks back over the route he has pursued, recalls the business he has done, and, before going farther, makes a record of the whole. The most ancient digest of this nature is not Coke, but Bracton, an ecclesiastic of Richard I.’s reign, who wrote in lawLatin, more puzzling than Lyttleton’s law-French, to read whom the most learned lawyers of Jefferson’s time required a glossary. This work, too, he read and loved, because it was able and luminous, and because it interpreted Magna Charta in the spirit and lifetime of the men who wrote and extorted it. He went even further back, and conned with keenest scrutiny the book of Alfred’s laws, the abrogation of which by the Conqueror the English so bitterly lamented. He did not fail to note the “ pious fraud ” of the ancient clergy in prefixing to Alfred’s laws five chapters of the Book of Exodus, the twentieth to the twentyfourth inclusive, though they contained laws at direct variance with those of the king. For a young vestryman, he seems to have had a sharp scent for pious frauds.
Already we observe in the few relics of his student life which have come down to us indications of the coming Jefferson, the Thomas Jefferson of American history. The most interesting of all those relics is an extract, which he made for a friend in 1814, from a book in which, when he was plodding through Bracton and the older law-books, he was accustomed to enter abstracts. “ When I was a student of the law,” he wrote to this friend, “ now half a century ago, after getting through Coke Lyttleton, whose matter cannot be abridged, I was in the habit of abridging and commonplacing what I read meriting it, and of sometimes mixing my own reflections on the subject.” The abstract which is thus introduced is a complete exhibition of Jefferson’s mind and mental habits as a student of law. We notice, first of all, that it is numbered “ 873,” which shows us that he studied, as well as lived, pen in hand. Compact as it is with abbreviations (“ pl.” for plaintiff, “ def.” for defendant, “ v.” for versus, “ Blackst.” for Blackstone), it fills seven and a half octavo pages, bristling all over with references, old French and law-Latin, which attest His industry and knowledge. There is a maturity of tone and completeness of execution in the work, which would surprise us if it had been done by a lawyer of many years’ standing at the bar. But the most remarkable and rare quality which it exhibits is an absolute fearlessness of mind, a loyalty to truth, no matter to what conclusion the evidence may lead, and no matter what array of authorities may have maintained the contrary. In a mind that is immature or unformed, a disregard for authorities may be mere vanity and presumption ; but when the intelligence is superior, trained to investigation, and patient of labor, it is the quality to which the whole of the progress of our race is due. An independent, superior mind is the most precious thing that human nature possesses.
This young man found it an axiom of the courts, that the Bible was a part of the common law of the realm, and it was in accordance with this principle that witches were hanged, tithes exacted, and labor forbidden on Sunday. In the long document before us he denied the fact, and traced the error up to its source in one of the ancient law-books, the author of which had converted the words ancien scripture (employed in a work still older) into “ Holy Scripture.”The student proved that the words ancien scripture, as employed in the original, meant precisely what they seem to mean, that is, ancient writings, the old records of the Church. Having thus detected the source of the error, he follows it down through the law-books, until he finds it stated with bluntest simplicity by Sir Matthew Hale, thus : “ Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.” “ Sir Matthew Hale,” observes this relentless pursuer of error, “quotes no authority, but rests the statement on his own ; which was good in all cases in which his mind received no bias from his bigotry, his superstitions, his visions about sorceries, demons, etc. The power of these over him,” continues the student, “ is exemplified in his hanging of the witches.” From this dictum of Sir Matthew Hale he proceeded to the time when it bore fruit in laws making it criminal to write against Christianity, or to utter words implying disbelief in it. Blackstone incorporated the doctrine into his Commentaries, and Mansfield into his decisions. “ The essential principles of revealed religion,” Lord Mansfield had just said on the bench, “are part of the common law,” which carried the doctrine still further, while leaving the public, as Jefferson indignantly remarked, “ to find out, at our peril, what, in the opinion of the judge, and, according to the measure of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion obligatory on us as part of the common law.” And all this without authority to support it ; for “ this string of authorities,” resumes the wrathful student, “ all hang on the same hook, a perverted expression of Prisot’s.”
But this was not enough. He goes back into antiquity, as far as the seventh century, when Christianity was introduced into England, and examines every source of information, from Alfred to Bracton, and can find no trace of formal or informal adoption of Christianity as part of the common law ; dwelling particularly upon the obvious fact, that the insertion of the chapters of Exodus among the laws of Alfred was “an awkward monkish fabrication ” ; and showing that the adoption by Alfred of the Ten Commandments was an express exclusion of the laws in Exodus which were suited only to the Jews. “ The adoption of a part proves the rejection of the rest, as municipal law.”
We observe further, in this curious paper, a certain aversion to the clergy as an order, joined to a veneration for the Christian religion. The fact that Christianity is truth, he remarks, does not make it part of the law of England. The Newtonian philosophy is truth, but it is not common law. “ Christianity and Newtonianism being reason and verity itself in the opinion of all but infidels and Cartesians, they are protected under the wings of the common law from the dominion of other sects, but not erected into dominion over them.” He illustrates the point further by an allusion to the controversy concerning the use of the lancet in medical practice. He was among the first to reject bleeding as a common remedy, and early forbade his overseers to bleed a negro. An eminent Spanish doctor, he says, affirms that the lancet had slain more than the sword, but Dr. Sangredo maintains that with plentiful bleedings and draughts of warm water, every disease can be cured. Both these opinions the common law protected, but neither of them was common law. How palpable all this, he remarks; but “the English judges have piously avoided lifting the veil under which it was shrouded,” since “ the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy, and even bolder than they are.” The precepts of the gospel, he adds, were designed by “their benevolent author ” to bear sway in the realm of conscience, and only there.
It could not have been difficult for him to discover the unsuitableness of a union of Church and State to the circumstances of modern communities ; for the evil results of the union in Virginia were apparent enough, and never so apparent as just then, when he was studying law, from 1762 to 1767. The clergy, indeed, had fallen ir.to contempt ; or, as Bishop Meade expresses it, had become “the laughing-stock” of the Colony. Nor does the Bishop fall into the usual error of attributing this to the “Twopenny Quarrel” between the clergy and the vestrymen, of which Mr. Wirt gives us so interesting an account in his Life of Patrick Henry. In that dispute the clergy had both law and justice on their side, as Mr. Wirt avows, while exulting in his orator’s victory over both. As Patrick Henry was always Jefferson’s guest when he came to Williamsburg, doubtless our student heard his merry friend’s own version of that affair ; and, being himself a vestryman and a young man, may have shared the general joy at the defeat of the clergy.
The clergymen of Virginia were in a position so false and demoralizing, that as a body they could not but become indolent and dissolute. The law gave them sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco per annum ; which might be worth two hundred pounds a year, if the quality were high, and the incumbent lucky and skilful in selling it; or it might be worth sixty pounds a year, if the quality were low and the crop superabundant. They were further allowed by law four hundred pounds of tobacco, or forty shillings, for preaching a funeral sermon ; two hundred pounds of tobacco for a marriage by license ; fifty for a marriage by banns ; and a fee for baptism, which custom appears to have fixed at a guinea for the rich, and five shillings for others. To these revenues was added a glebe sufficient for a good farm, which a liberal vestry, we are told, were sometimes kind enough to “stock” with one or two families of slaves. The clergy, appointed without much regard to their fitness, were subjected to little supervision. The parishes were of great extent, stretching sometimes as much as thirty miles along a river, and yet so thinly inhabited that they could scarcely furnish a congregation ; and such was the scarcity of candidates, that a commissary hesitated to suspend a clergyman, even for notorious vice, because the parish might remain vacant for two or three years.
Thus circumstanced, each clergyman behaved according to his disposition. A few of them, men of learning and virtue, did their duty, and eked out their slender and changing incomes by taking pupils ; and it was these few who saved civilization in the Colony. Others, men of rude energy and executive force, pushed the cultivation of their glebes, bought more slaves, raised more tobacco, speculated sometimes in both, grew rich, reduced their parish duty to the minimum, and performed that minimum with haste and formality. But the greater number lived as idle hangers-on of the wealthier houses, assisting their fellow-idlers, the planters, to kill time and run through their estates, not always dissolute, but easy-going, self-indulgent, good-natured men of the world. It was not very uncommon for the clergyman of a parish to be president of its jockey-club, and personally assist in the details of the race-course, such as weighing the men and timing the horses. It was common for clergymen to ride after the hounds in fox-hunting, and they were as apt to nail the trophy of the day’s chase to their stable door as any other men. The names of clergymen figured among the patrons of balls, and they were rather noted for their skill at cards. All of which was just as proper for clergymen as for planters, and more necessary. But in those days the bottle was the vitiating accompaniment of every innocent delight. The race must end in a dinner, and the dinner must end under the table. The day’s hunt must be followed by a night’s debauch. The christening of a child must be the pretext for a day’s revel. This single element of mischief converted all festal days, all honest mirth, all joyous recreation, into injury, shame, and ruin. Nothing can make any headway against the potency of wine, for it suspends the operation of that within us which enables us to resist, and finally destroys it. It vitiates the texture of the brain itself, the seat of life, and the citadel of all the superior forces. And the wine which flowed so freely at the planters’ tables was Madeira, strongest of wines, so enriched by time and two long voyages, that the uncorking of one bottle filled a large house with fragrance.
The tales we read of the clergy of old Virginia stagger belief, though it is clergymen who report them. The reverend rector of Wicomico, we read, not approving the bread placed upon the communion-table, cried out from the altar, in the midst of the service, to one of his church-wardens : “ George, this bread is not fit for a dog.” We read of another who was invited after church to dinner at a planter’s house, where he drank so much that he had to be tied in his gig, and a servant sent to lead his horse home. One jolly parson comes down to us reeling up and down the porch of a tavern, bawling to the passers-by to come and drink with him. Another lives in the memory of his county because he fought a duel within sight of the church in which he had formerly officiated. Another is remembered as the jovial hunter who died cheering on the hounds to the chase. One is spoken of as pocketing annually a hundred dollars, the revenue of a legacy, for preaching four sermons a year against atheism, gambling, racing, and swearing, though himself a notorious swearer, racer, and gambler. Another is the hero of a story that one day parson and vestry differed in opinion, quarrelled, and came to blows The parson, a giant in strength, put them to flight. Not content with his victory, he renewed the battle on Sunday morning in church, when from the vantage-ground of the pulpit he hurled at them this text from Nehemiah : “ And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair ” ; which had the keen sting of literal truth.
One old clergyman is remembered as staggering toward the altar at the time of communion, when the rector who was officiating ordered him back to his seat. The monthly dinners of the clergy have not yet passed out of mind, to which men would ride for thirty or forty miles, and revel far into the night. The court records of Hampton show that a clergyman of that parish was presented by the grand jury for drunkenness, and on another occasion for slander; and that when before the court, he behaved with such insolence as to be committed to prison for contempt. Bishop Meade of Virginia, to whom the reader is indebted for several of these incidents, relates that a lady once came to one of his clergymen, asking rebaptism, as she had doubts whether the christening of her infancy was valid. The clergyman who performed the ceremony, she said, dined with her father that day, and after dinner, her father won back from the priest at cards the very guinea he had paid him before dinner as his baptismal fee.
The Bishop of London, hearing of these scandals, would sometimes urge his commissary, the president of William and Mary College, to proceed against the clergy known to be drunkards. The difficulty of proof was submitted to the bishop as an excuse for not complying with his commands. At what point of intoxication does it become a scandal ? How shall we decide when a clergyman has been drunk enough for ecclesiastical censure ? The Bishop of London sent over directions on this point. He thought that if a clergyman sat an hour or more with a company that were drinking strong drink, — not wine, — and took the cup as it went the rounds of the table, and drank the healths proposed, like the rest of the company, there was ground of proceedings. He was also of opinion, that “ striking and challenging, or threatening to fight, or laying aside any of his garments for that purpose, staggering, reeling, vomiting, incoherent, impertinent, obscene, or rude talking,” was sufficient to justify judges in deciding that “ the minister’s behavior at such a time was scandalous, indecent, unbecoming the gravity of a minister.”For many years, too, as before observed, the commissary-president was himself too fond of the bottle to prosecute a drunken clergyman without calling attention to his own habits.
Old Virginia was a kind of caricature of Old England in everything. As in England this state of things in the Church called forth Wesley and Whitefield, so in Virginia, says John Burk, “swarms of Methodists, Moravians, and New-Light Presbyterians” came over the border from Pennsylvania, and pervaded the Colony, “propagating their doctrines with all the ardor and vehemency of gesture and boldness of denunciation which mark the first movements of a new sect in religion.” It was during the boyhood of Jefferson that these “ swarms ” are represented to have darkened the air ; and he was old enough to observe the beginnings of the bitter conflict between the New Lights (Henry Clay’s father was one of them) and the royal government. Burk, who was a New Light of another description, and in full accord with Jefferson in his “ disestablishment ” measures of a later day, informs posterity, that when these swarms descended upon Virginia, “government had not yet learned the secret of subduing the frenzy of religious bigotry by suffering it to waste its powers, and perish by convulsions of its own exciting.” Nor was the government alone in fault. Many of Jefferson’s stanchest supporters in the measures by which the domination of One sect was terminated gave the governor at this period moral and official support in silencing the dissenting ministers.
His own mind, we may be sure, did not arrive at the simple solution of this problem all at once. Possibly, the young vestryman may have himself regarded the swarms as furnishing occasion for the interference of a young justice of the peace. The vestryman’s oath, then used in Virginia, was stringent enough : —
“ I, Thomas Jefferson, as I do acknowledge myself a true son of the Church of England, so I do believe the articles of faith therein professed, and do oblige myself to be conformable to the doctrine and discipline therein taught and established ; and that, as a vestryman of this church, I will well and truly perform my duty therein, being directed by the laws and customs of this country and the canons of the Church of England, so far as they will suit our present capacity ; and this I shall sincerely do, according to the best of my knowledge, skill, and cunning, without fear, favor, or partiality ; and so help me God.”
The time came, as most readers know, when he could not have taken this oath, though he never ceased to perform the duties which it indicates. As his mind matured, his religion reduced itself to two articles, — belief in God, and veneration for the character and precepts of Jesus Christ ; which has been, during the last century and a half, a kind of established religion with minds of the cast and grade of his. But he ever lived in the most perfect accord with neighbors who believed more than he could, giving freely of his time, money, and skill to promote their religious objects. It was long before Charlottesville became village enough to have a church, and every preacher that came along occupied the court-house, a small, rude edifice, without seats for auditors. Old men of the neighborhood used to remember young Jefferson riding over to the service on Sunday morning, with a small folding-chair of his own contriving hung to his saddle, upon which he sat in the court-room. By and by, when the Episcopalians were ready to build their church, he drew the plan ; and the edifice which resulted, Bishop Meade testifies, was better adapted to the purposes of a church than many modern buildings much more costly. This church still stands.
We may say, therefore, that if the church of his youth and early manhood did not materially assist the formation of his character, it did not place obstacles in the way of his mental growth. He was unrestricted in his reading. It would not have been so if he had come to college twenty years sooner. Bishop Meade mentions that when, about 1740, " the first infidel book was imported into Virginia,” it created such excitement that the governor and president of the college wrote to the authorities in England about it. Governor Fauquier would not have taken so much trouble. They had such works in Boston as early as 1720, as Franklin records, who read and was convinced by them. Jefferson, when a law-student, could not have had many books at Williamsburg; but we know that among his books was an edition of Hume’s Essays, because he speaks of having lent two of the volumes to Patrick Henry. Few young men of Jefferson’s cast of mind have ever read Hume’s Essay on Miracles without being much influenced by it, at least for a time.
Meanwhile he continued his study of the law with excessive ardor, including in his preparation for the bar a vast range of subjects. Indeed, he went to a rash and perilous excess in study. He bore it with impunity, because he inherited a constitution exceptionally strong, because he had horses at command, because, during his long vacations at home, he was obliged to attend to his farms and improvements. But his friend Madison, led astray by his example and precepts, and pursuing his education at Princeton, far from horse and home, nearly killed himself with study, and could not recover his health for many years. Indeed, though among the very best of American citizens, and of infinite value to his country when his country most needed its best citizens, James Madison was never quite the man he might have been if he had studied less and played more at college. The only fault Jefferson could ever see in this most honored and most trusted of all the friends of his life, was a certain lack of power to stand firm against vehement opposition,—a certain lack of stanch, indomitable manhood, — caused, perhaps, by the waste of the capital stock of his vitality at Princeton. Thus Peel was made sensitive to the shallow sarcasm of Disraeli. Thus valedictory men pass from the commencement platform into oblivion. Thus, to-day, throughout Christendom, Ignorance is master, and Knowledge is its hireling ; Ignorance controls capital, and Knowledge lives on wages ; Ignorance rides in a carriage, and Knowledge trudges on foot; Ignorance edits, and Knowledge writes; the counting - room orders, and the sanctum obeys.
Before Jefferson had finished his lawstudies, his devotion to study drew admiring eyes upon him. Young men asked his advice as to what they should read, and parents consulted him concerning the education of their sons. He was asked to suggest a course for Madison, when Madison was seventeen and himself twenty - three. He had already written an outline for a young man about to enter upon the study of the law, and we may learn from that both what he practised himself, and what he laid down for Madison, Monroe, and other friends.
The student, duly prepared for the study of the law by mastering Latin and French, and by a course of those “ peculiarly engaging and delightful ” branches, natural philosophy and mathematics, must divide each day into portions, and assign to each portion the studies most proper for it. Until eight in the morning, he should confine himself to natural philosophy, morals, and religion ; reading treatises on astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, agriculture, botany, international law, moral philosophy, and metaphysics. Religion, during these early morning hours, was to be considered under two heads, “ natural religion ” and “ religion sectarian.” For information concerning sectarian religion, the student was advised to apply to the following sources : “ Bible ; New Testament ; commentaries on them by Middleton in his works, and by Priestley in his ‘ Corruptions of Christianity,’ and ‘ Early Opinions of Christ ’ ; the sermons of Sterne, Massillon, and Bourdaloue.” From eight to twelve he was to read law and condense cases, “ never using two words where one will do.” From twelve to one, he was advised to “ read politics,” in Montesquieu, Locke, Priestley, Malthus, and the Parliamentary Debates. In the afternoon he was to relieve his mind with history ; and when evening closed in he might regale himself with literature, criticism, rhetoric, and oratory. No, not regale himself, but sit down to a hard and long evening’s work, as Jefferson did himself, keeping it up sometimes till two in the morning. The student was recommended in the evening to write criticisms of the books he read, to analyze the orations of Demosthenes and Cicero, to read good English orations and pleadings with closest attention to the secrets of their excellence, to compose original essays, and to plead imaginary causes with a friend.
This was cram, not education. It might make a perfect chief clerk, but not a great minister. It would have diminished Jefferson, but for his fiddle, his horses, his farms, his journeys, and his minuets at the Apollo. Perhaps, however, as he knew his young friends better than we do, he was aware that most of them required no urging to take rest and recreation. Madison read this paper too literally, without putting in the saving clauses ; and Monroe was saved by the summons to arms, which in 1775 drew him and most of his fellow-students from William and Mary to the sterner discipline of Cambridge, where man could not, just then, be regarded as a creature composed of intellect alone.
Passing events are an important educating force to attentive minds. Perhaps they educate us more than all things else, for we cannot easily get off our lesson for a single day; and, once in a generation, occur electric events which rouse and inform the minds of whole nations at once. What creature in the United States so unteachably dull as to have been no more of a human being in 1865 than he was in 1861 ! But in all recent history I know of no example more striking of the greater good that results from great evil, than the Stamp Act agitation of 1764 to 1766 ; which began the de-colonization — the independent public life — of North America. It so chanced that our student was in the thick of events at the time. It was the Stamp Act which changed old Coke’s comments on Magna Charta from dead law into living gospel; and what the Stamp Act did for Jefferson’s mind, it did for the mind of his country. It converted the fundamental principles of right into the familiar things of daily speech, and infused the essence of old Coke into a million minds that never heard his name. He had watched with interest, as he himself records, the series of events by which imperial Chatham had given Great Britain her opportunity of empire by making her supreme in North America ; and he was now to follow, with interest more intense and more intelligent, the events by which an ignorant king and a corrupt ruling class threw England’s magnificent chance away, and caused her to lapse into an island again.
His friend, Patrick Henry, had been coming and going during these student years ; dropping in when the General Court met in the autumn, and riding homeward, with a book or two of Jefferson’s in his saddle-bags, when the court adjourned over till the spring ; then returning with the books unread. The wondrous eloquence which he had displayed in the Parsons Case in December, 1763, does not seem to have been generally known in Williamsburg in 1764 ; for he moved about the streets and public places unrecognized, though not unmarked. It would not have been extraordinary if our young student had been a little ashamed of his oddity of a guest as they walked together towards the Capitol, at the time when the young ladies were abroad, — Sukey Potter, Betsy Moore, Judy Burwell, and the rest, — for Henry’s dress was coarse, worn, and countrified, and he walked with such an air of thoughtless unconcern, that he was taken by some for an idiot. But he had a cause to plead that winter ; and when he sat down he had become “ Mr. Henry ” to all Williamsburg. You will observe in the memorials of old Virginia, from 1765 to 1800, that, whoever else may be named without a prefix of honor, this “ forest-born Demosthenes,” as Byron styled him, is generally Mr. Henry. To Washington, to Jefferson, to Madison, to all that circle of eminent men, he ever remained “ Mr. Henry.” On that day in 1764 he gave such an exhibition of his power, that during the next session of the House of Burgesses a vacancy was made for him, and he was elected to a seat. The up-country yeomen, whose idol he had become, gladly gave their votes to such a man, when the Stamp Act was expected to be a topic of debate.
And so, in May, 1765, the new member was in Williamsburg to take his seat, a guest again of his young friend Jefferson. He sat, day after day, waiting for some of the older members to open the subject. But no one seemed to know just what to do. A year before the House had gently denied the right of Parliament to tax the Colonies, and softly remonstrated against the threatened measure; but as the act had been passed, in spite of their objections, what more could a loyal colony do ? No one thought of formal resistance, and remonstrance had failed. What else ? What next? However frequently the two friends may have conversed upon this perplexity, it was Patrick Henry who, — to use his own words,— “alone, unadvised, and unassisted,” hit upon the proper expedient.
Only three days of the session remained. On the blank leaf of an old “ Coke upon Lyttleton ” — perhaps Jefferson’s own copy — the new member wrote his celebrated five resolutions, of this purport : We, Englishmen living in America, have all the rights of Englishmen living in England ; the chief of which is, that we can only be taxed by our own representatives ; and any attempt to tax us otherwise menaces British liberty on both continents. In all probability Jefferson knew that something of the kind was intended on that memorable day, for he was present in the House. There was no gallery then, nor any other provision for spectators ; but there could be no objection to the friend and relative of so many members standing in the doorway between the lobby and the chamber ; and there he took his stand. He saw his tall, gaunt, coarsely attired guest rise, in his awkward way, and break with stammering tongue the SILENCE which had brooded over the loudest debates, as week after week of the session had passed. He observed, and felt too, the thrill which ran through the House at the mere introduction of a subject with which every mind was surcharged, and marked the rising tide of feeling as the reading of the resolutions went on, until the climax of audacity was reached in the last clause of the last. How moderate, how tame, the words seem to us ! “ Every at-
tempt to invest such power (of taxation) in any person or persons whatever, other than the General Assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British and American freedom.” Ravishing words to the Whig members from Albemarle and the other western counties. Sound as old Coke himself, in the judgment of our spellbound listener in the doorway. Words of fearful import to the Tory lords of the eastern counties. Not approved, as yet, by George Wythe, nor by Peyton Randolph, whom the student held in so much honor.
When the reading was finished, he heard his friend utter the opening sentences of his speech, with faltering tongue, as usual, and giving little promise of the strains that were to follow. But it was the nature of this great genius, as of all genius, to rise to the occasion. Soon Jefferson saw him stand erect, and, swinging free of all impediments, launch into the tide of his oration, every eye captivated by the large and sweeping grace of his gesticulation ; every ear charmed with the swelling music of his voice : every mind thrilled or stung by the vivid epigrams into which he condensed his opinions. He never had a listener so formed to be held captive by him as the student at the lobby door, who, as a boy, had found the oratory of the Indian chief so impressive, and could not now resist a slurring translation of Ossian’s majestic phrases. After the lapse of fifty-nine years, he still spoke of this great day with enthusiasm, and described anew the closing moment of Henry’s speech, when the orator, interrupted by cries of Treason, uttered the well-known words of defiance, “ If this be treason, make the most of it! ”
The debate which followed Mr. Henry’s opening speech was, as Jefferson has recorded, “ most bloody.” It is impossible for a reader of this generation to conceive the mixture of fondness, pride, and veneration with which these colonists regarded the mother country, its Parliament and king, its Church and its literature, and all the glorious names and events of its history. Whig as Jefferson was by nature and conviction, he could not give up England as long as there was any hope of a just union with her. What, then, must have been the feelings of the Tories of the House—Tories by nature and by party — upon hearing this yeoman from the West speak of the natural rights of man in the spirit of a Sidney, and use language in reference to the king which sounded to them like the prelude to an assassin’s stab ? They had to make a stand, too, for their position as leaders of the House, unquestioned for a century. To the matter of the resolutions no one objected. All that Wythe, Pendleton, Bland, and Peyton Randolph could urge against them was, that they were unbecoming and unnecessary. The House had already remonstrated without effect, and it became a loyal people to submit. “ Torrents of sublime eloquence ” from Patrick Henry, as Jefferson observes, swept away their arguments, and the resolutions were carried ; the last one, however, by only a single voice. Standing in the doorway, the student watched the taking of the vote on the last resolution, upon which the contest had been hottest. When the result had been declared, Peyton Randolph, the king’s attorney-general, brushed past him, saying, as he entered the lobby, “By God, I would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote ! ”
Doubtless, the young gentlemen went home exulting. Patrick Henry, unused to the artifices of legislation, and always impatient of detail, supposing now that the work for which he had come to Williamsburg was done, mounted that very evening and rode away. Jefferson, perhaps, was not so sure of this ; for the next morning, some time before the hour of meeting, he was again at the Capitol, and in the Burgesses’ chamber. His uncle, Colonel Peter Randolph, one of the Tory members, came in, and, sitting down at the clerk’s table, began to turn over the journals of the House. He had a dim recollection, he said, of a resolution of the House, many years ago, having been expunged! He was trying to find the record of the transaction. He wanted a precedent. The student of law looked over his shoulder, as he turned the leaves ; a group of members standing near, in trepidation at the thought of yesterday’s doings. The House bell rang; the House convened ; the student resumed his stand in the doorway. A motion was made to expunge the last resolution of yesterday’s series ; and, in the absence of the mighty orator whose eloquence had yesterday made the dull intelligent and the timid brave, the motion was carried, and the resolution was expunged.
We hear no more from Jefferson of his making the tour of Europe, after the Stamp Act. Perhaps, although the odious measure was repealed a year after its passage, to the boundless joy of the people, these events lessened his desire to visit the land of his forefathers. He begins now to speak with some asperity of the Tory leaders in England. In abstracting cases, he detects the political bias of the judge in his rulings. As Braddock’s defeat revealed to the colonists that red-coats were not invincible, so did the Stamp Act break the enchantment of distance, and show some of them that British judges and law-makers could be subservient to power. Nor was he rich enough for such a luxury as foreign travel, and, by this time, he must have discovered the fact. His farms did not yield an income of more than four hundred pounds sterling per annum.
But a young gentleman may take a little recreation in travel, without going to the ends of the earth. The system of inoculation for the small-pox was still a topic with physicians and persons interested in medical science. Jefferson was, all his life, a curious inquirer in such subjects, and he became, by and by, a not unskilful surgeon,— one who could, upon an emergency, sew up an ugly wound, or set a negro’s broken leg. The delicacy of touch and dexterity of hand that he possessed, joined to his patience in investigation and fearlessness of precedent, could have made him a master in surgery. Convinced of the utility of inoculation, then performed by Dr. Shippen of Philadelphia, he availed himself of this pretext, in the spring of 1766, to take a journey northward, and see something of the world that lay beyond the boundaries of Virginia. At twenty-three he had never been out of his native Province.
This journey he made, not on horseback, but in a one-horse chaise. Readers familiar with the road will not be at a loss to imagine the “ time ” he must have had in crossing so many wide and brimming rivers, over which we now thunder with so much ease, — the York, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Potomac, Pawtuxent, Patapsco, Susquehanna, Delaware, Passaic, Hackensack, and Hudson, without counting fifty smaller streams, and those wide shallows that indent the shores of Chesapeake Bay, — all to be forded, or crossed in a ferry-boat propelled by poles or oars. It argues ill for his habits that his horse ran away with him twice the first day, for the animal evidently wanted exercise. The second day he rode in a drenching rain from morning till night, without coming to a habitation in which he could take shelter. The third day, in fording the swollen Pamunkey, he was nearly drowned. After getting beyond this river, he came to a more inhabited region, where he visited old college friends at their homes, to his great content. At Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, then a town of a thousand inhabitants, and of somewhat more importance than Williamsburg, he found the people in the midst of public rejoicings over the repeal of the Stamp Act. The Maryland Assembly was in session. It was no such courteous and dignified body, he told his friend Page, as the House of Burgesses of Virginia, Business was conducted in a more informal manner ; so loosely, in fact, as to move the young Virginian to laughter. He was struck, however, with the beauty and convenience of the situation, — “ the largest vessels, those of four hundred hogsheads, being able to brush against the sides of the dock.”
At Philadelphia, the inoculation was performed. When he recovered, he continued his journey to the clean, crooked, little, cobble - stoned, halfDutch city, so green and shady, that covered the last mile of beautiful Manhattan Island, — a place then of nearly twenty thousand inhabitants. Of his stay in New York we know only one trifling fact. He chanced to take lodgings in a house where a young gentleman of his own age from Massachusetts, named Elbridge Gerry, was staying. They became acquainted with one another well enough to remember the chance meeting, when, nine years after, they met in “ the Congress ” at Philadelphia. They remained friends and political allies for fifty years. It was, perhaps, on his return from this journey that an incident occurred which, in his old age, he used to relate with so much glee. On his way through Virginia he stopped at a tavern, the landlady of which had just returned from the funeral of a young man of the neighborhood, whom she extolled and lamented with much feeling. “ But, Mr. Jefferson,” said she, “ we have the consolation of knowing that everything was done for him that could be done. He was bled no less than six-and-twenty times.”
And so sped these happy, laborious years of preparation for the bar. Early in the year 1767, about the time of his twenty-fourth birthday, he was admitted, and he began at once the practice of his profession. He had not to wait for business. One of his existing account-books shows that, in this first year of his practice, he was employed in sixty-eight cases before the General Court of the Province, besides county and office business.