Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 4

Richard Henry Lee


   About the year 1792, Mr. Lee, enfeebled by his long attention to public duties, and by the infirmities of age, retired to the enjoyment of his family and friends. Not long after, he had the pleasure of receiving from the senate and house of delegates of Virginia, the following unanimous vote of thanks: "Resolved, unanimously, that the speaker be desired to convey to Richard Henry Lee, the respects of the senate; that they sincerely sympathise with him in those infirmities, which have deprived their country of his valuable services; and that they ardently wish he may, in his retirement, and uninterrupted happiness, close the evening of a life, in which he hath so conspicuously shone forth as a statesman and a patriot; that while mindful of his many exertions to promote the public interests, they are particularly thankful for his conduct as a member of the legislature of the United States."
   The life of Mr. Lee was continued until the nineteenth of June, 1794, when he breathed his last, at the age of sixty-three years.
   Few men, in any age or in any country, have shone with, greater brilliancy, or have left a more desirable name, than Richard Henry Lee. Both in public and private life, he had few equals. In his public career, he was distinguished for no common ardor and disinterestedness. As an orator, he exercised an uncommon sway over the minds of men. His manners were perfectly graceful, and his language universally chaste. "Although somewhat monotonous, his speeches," says a writer, "were always pleasing, yet be did not ravish your senses, nor carry away your judgment by storm. His was the mediate class of eloquence, described by Rollin in his belles lettres. He was like a beautiful river, meandering through a flowery mead, but which never overflowed its banks. It was Henry who was the mountain torrent, that swept away every thing before it; it was he alone, who thundered and lightened; he alone attained that sublime species of eloquence, also mentioned by Rollin."
   In private life, Mr. Lee was justly the delight of all who knew him. He had a numerous family of children, the off spring, of two marriages, who were eminently devoted to their father, who in his turn delighted to administer to their innocent enjoyments, and to witness the expansion of their intellectual powers.
   We conclude this hasty sketch, with the following account of Mr. Lee, from the flowing pen of the author of the life of Patrick Henry. – "Mr. Lee," says he, "had studied the classics in the true spirit of criticism. His taste had that delicate touch, which seized with intuitive certainty every beauty of an author, and his genius that native affinity, which combined them without an effort. Into every walk of literature and science, he had carried his mind of exquisite selection, and brought it back to the business of life, crowned with every light of learning, and decked with every wreath that all the muses and all the graces could entwine. Nor did these light decorations constitute the whole value of its freight. He possessed a rich store of political knowledge, with an activity of observation, and a certainty of judgment, which turned that knowledge to the very best account. He was not a lawyer by profession, but he understood thoroughly the constitution both of the mother country and of her colonies, and the elements, also, of the civil and municipal law. Thus, while his eloquence was free from those stiff and technical restraints, which the habit of forensic speaking are so apt to generate, he had all the legal learning which is necessary to a statesman. He reasoned well, and declaimed freely and splendidly. The note of his voice was deep and melodious. It was the canorous voice of Cicero. He had lost the use of one of his hands, which he kept constantly covered with a black silk bandage, neatly fitted to the palm of his hand, but leaving his thumb free; yet, notwithstanding this disadvantage, his gesture was so graceful and highly finished. that it was said he had acquired it by practising before a mirror. Such was his promptitude, that he required no preparation for debate. He was ready for any subject, as soon as it was announced, and his speech was so copious, so rich, so mellifluous, set off with such bewitching cadence of voice, and such captivating grace of action, that while you listened to him, you desired to hear nothing superior; and, indeed, thought him perfect. He had quick sensibility and a fervid imagination."

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 372-380. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

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