Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 4

George Wythe


   "After a short, but very excruciating sickness, he died, June 8, 1806, in the eighty-first year of his age. It was supposed that he was poisoned; but the person suspected was acquitted by a jury of his countrymen. By his last will and testament, he bequeathed his valuable library and philosophical apparatus to his friend, Mr. Jefferson, and distributed the remainder of his little property among the grandchildren of his sister, and the slaves whom he had set free. He thus wished to liberate the blacks, not only from slavery, but from the temptations to vice. He even condescended to impart to them instruction; and he personally taught the Greek language to a little negro boy, who died a few days before his preceptor.
   "Chancellor Wythe was indeed an extraordinary man. With all his great qualities, he possessed a soul replete with benevolence, and his private life is full. of anecdotes, which prove, that itis seldom that a kinder and warmer heart throbbed ill the breast of a human being. He was ora social and affee tionate disposition. From the time when he was emancipated from the follies of youth, he sustained an unspotted reputation. His integrity was never even suspected.
   "While he practised at the bar, when offers of an extraordinary, but well merited compensation, were made to him by clients, whose causes he had gained, he would say, that the labourer was indeed worthy of his hire; but the lawful fee was all he had a right to demand; and as to presents, he did not want, and would not accept them from any man. This grandeur of mind, he uniformly preserved to the end of his life. His manner of living was plain and abstemious. He found the means of suppressing the desires of wealth by limit-lng the number of his wants. An ardent desire to promote the happiness of his fellow men, by supporting the cause of iustice, and maintaining and establishing their rights, appears to have been his ruling passion.
   "As a judge, he was remarkable for his rigid impartiality, and sincere attachment to the principles of equity; for his vast and various learning; and for his strict and unwearied atten~ tion to business. Superior to popular prejudices, and every corrupting influence, nothing could induce him to swerve from truth and right. In his decisions, he seemed to be a pure intelligence, untouched by human passions, and setfiing the disputes of men, according to the dictates of eternal and immutable justice. Other judges have surpassed him in genius, and a certain facility in despatching causes; but while the vigour of his faculties remained unimpaired, he was seldom surpassed in learning, industry, and judgment.
   "From a man, entrusted with such high concerns, and whose time was occupied by so many difficult and perplexing avocations, it could scarcely have been expected, thathe should have employed a partofit in the toilsome and generally unpleasant task of the education of youth. Yet, even to this, he was prompted by his genuine patriotism and philanthropy, which induced him for many years to take great delight in educating such young persons as showed an inclination for improvement. Harassed as he was with business, and enveloped with papers belonging to intricate suits in chancery, he yet found time to keep a private school for the instruction of a few scholars, always with very little compensation, and of ten demanding none. Several living ornaments of their country received their greatest lights from his sublime example and instruction. Such was the upright and venerable Wythe."

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 364 -372. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

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