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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XXVIII. - The Messrs Randolph

Theodore Tudor Randolph became a pupil in the school of Mr. Rice, in Charlotte, some time in the year 1809, and a member of his family. His mother, Mrs. Judith Randolph, widow of Richard Randolph, lived at Bizarre, near Farmville. With her, John Randolph, “'of Roanoke,” the brother of her husband, had his residence. Her husband, the only brother of the Matoax branch of the family that married, had died in 1796, when twenty-six years old, leaving her a young widow, with two sons. The elder son, afflicted from his birth, deaf and mute, gave no promise of usefulness in manhood, shut out from instruction with other children, and depending on maternal fondness and care; the other endowed with faculties and dispositions fitting the station and responsibilities of one, the hope of his mother, the pride of his uncle, and the last stay of his branch of the family, and the heir apparent of his father and. uncle.

This youth, Theodore, was taken with a fever. His mother visited him. Anxiously waiting on him, watching the slow progress of the fever from day to day became particularly acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Rice, having long known, by reputation, him as a classical and religious teacher of merit, and her as a member of a family of unspotted integrity. She herself had seen affliction by the rod of God’s hand; and was then, and had been, in trouble about the present and future condition of her soul in relation to her God. While watching with her son in this family, she found peace in believing in Jesus. Writing to a friend in Richmond, she says — “I wish very much that you could both hear and see my excellent friend, Mr. Rice; for I can with truth date the perfect recovery of my long lost peace of mind to the period when my child’s illness called me to the abode of rational piety and real happiness.” A mutual friendship was formed that lasted through life. Mr. Rice says, in a letter to her in 1811— “I have considered you as one who, having been tried in the school of adversity, knew the value of real unpretended friendship ; and who, of course, would not, like some whom I have known, veer about in affliction as suddenly and as capriciously as the winds in our climate. I have considered you as a person, too, convinced of the insufficiency of all that we call good on earth, to satisfy the human heart, and amidst many difficulties and embarrassments, earnestly desiring and sincerely endeavoring to obtain a portion in that inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which shall never fade away, reserved in heaven for all who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. I could not become acquainted with you without at once feeling for you that affectionate regard which is ordinarily the result of long habits of intimacy.”

John Randolph, “of Roanoke,” held his oldest brother’s widow in the highest estimation. The daughter of Thomas Mann Randolph, she was a blood relation; the mother of that nephew on whom his heart doated, she was richly endowed in mind and person. “My brother’s widow,” he says in a letter, “was beyond all comparison, the nicest and best housewife that I ever saw. The house, from cellar to garret, and in every part, as clean as hands could make it; and every thing as it should be to suit even my fastidious taste.” Again he says about her — “an amiable woman, who unites to talents of the first order, a degree of cultivation uncommon in any country, but especially in ours. Cultivate a familiarity with her; each day will give you new and unexpected proof of the strength of her mind and the extent of her information.” Of the piety of this sister Mr. Randolph never doubted. Her profession of faith in Christ, and of peace following that faith, had an influence upon him. His griefs had much likeness to hers. The same fountain might heal him. In May, 1815, he says — “For a long time the thoughts that now occupy me, came and went out of my mind. Sometimes they were banished by business ; at others by pleasure. But heavy afflictions fell upon me. They came more frequently and staid longer, pressing me, until at last I never went asleep, nor awoke, but they were last and first in my recollection. Oftentimes have they awakened me, until at length I cannot detach myself from them if I would. If I could have my way, I would retire to some retreat, far from the strife of the world, and pass the remnant of my days in meditation and prayer; and yet this would be a life of ignoble security. There are two ways only, in which I am of opinion that I may be of service to mankind. One of these is-teaching children; and I have some thoughts of establishing a school.”

About the time Mr. Rice removed to Richmond, Tudor became a student of Harvard University, Massachusetts. The mutual attachment of teacher and pupil led to a correspondence honorable to both. The letters of Mr. Rice become the head and heart of a teacher, minister of the gospel, and friend. Some sentences are even now literary curiosities — "I will thank you to let me know at what prices the following Greek books can be procured, Polybius, Xenophon’s works, Pausanias, Herodotus and Thucydides, if perchance the two last can be procured. But above everything I wish you to get for me a copy of Schleusner’s Lexicon of the Greek Testament, This is the book which of all others I most wish at present to procure. I highly approve of your plan of study as far as you have communicated it to me. Do they enter more fully into the structure of the Greek language, and direct your attention to more particulars than your former teacher? are they very attentive to pronunciation and prosody? and finally, if it will not be ‘telling tales out of school/ do you see many evidences of profound literature about college ?” In about two years this young man was compelled to leave college on account of the rapid progress of a disease resembling the dreaded consumption ; and while residing with his aunt at Morrisania, New York, he received a letter from Mr. Rice, presented to the public by Mr. Maxwell in his memoir, exhibiting in a masterly manner, to the attention of his young friend, the plan of salvation. In the summer of 1815 he visited England, in hopes of advantage from the sea-voyage, the climate, the physicians, and the waters. While these things were taking place, Bizarre, the residence of Mrs. Randolph, was consumed by fire, with the greater part of the furniture. Mrs. Randolph did not again resume house-keeping; making some visits to Richmond and other places, and struggling herself with disease, under which her strength was wasting away, she exhibited a composure becoming a Christian woman, and a meekness and submission that endeared her more than ever to her friends.

The intimacy in the family permitted Mr. Rice, who, with the people of Charlotte and Prince Edward, entertained the highest opinion of John Randolph’s abilities, to send to that gentleman packages, written and printed, on the great subject of salvation. To one of these Mr. Randolph sent a reply, dated Roanoke, Sept. 8th, 1815, in which he says — “Mr. Dudley brought me your letter of the 10th of July, from last Charlotte court. 1 fear lest you may think me unmindful, if not ungrateful of the kind interest which you have been pleased to take in my welfare. You have a better reward than my poor thanks, and yet I am not satisfied that you should not receive even them. I read Foster’s Essays with great attention, and, notwithstanding the very revolting dress in which he has presented himself to his readers, I was highly gratified. I never saw a work of which it might be less truly said materiem superabat opus. I shall read your other little present with the attention which I doubt not it deserves, but which the design of the donor eminently merits. My good sir, I fear that you have bestowed your culture upon a most thankless soil. I am led to this apprehension from the consciousness that this world, and all that it inherits have no longer value in my eyes. Am I not then more than usually culpable if I set not my heart upon another and better world ? And yet with a firm conviction of the necessity of pardon and of reconciliation with a justly offended God, I am almost insensible to the motives that ought to actuate one in my condition. Occasionally, indeed, I am penetrated as I ought to be with the sense of the mercy of my creator, but the weight of my unworthiness bows me down, and seems to render impossible the idea that such as I am should be accepted by him. My dear sir, it is your partial friendship that shadows out in me an American Wilberforce. What have I done, what can I do, to merit so flattering an eulogium ? I am even now in a state of warfare, while that great and good man appears to have attained that peace which passeth all understanding. I wished to thank you for your kind attention to me, and therefore this letter has been written; how inadequate to the expression of my feelings no one but myself can tell. The want of some friend to whom I can pour out my thoughts as they arise, is not the least of the privations under which I labor.

’’September 29th 1815.

“Last Sunday I had the pleasure to hear your brother and Mr. Hoge preach at Bethesda. The day before Mr. Lyle gave us an excellent discourse. To-morrow I hope to hear Mr. Hoge again at College. 1 have been much disturbed during the last week, particularly at night, when. my mind exerts an activity that is painful and exhausting.”

At this time Mr. Randolph avowed, with his characteristic boldness and reserve, his convictions of the truth and importance of the Christian religion. His letters, on this subject, partake of the simplicity and force of his best speeches. They are the expression of intense feeling and vivid conception and clear convictions. Among other things he proclaims some truths that should encourage mothers; for he tells us that when the writings of the Trench Philosophers were carrying him, as they did multitudes of others in Virginia, to the gulph of Atheism, the barrier which saved him, was the vivid recollection of his own action under his mother’s teaching when a child. Every night he kneeled by her side, and with folded hands repeated after her, “Our Father which art in heaven; hallowed be thy name,” to the end of that prayer. Whenever he was inclined to be giving way to the tide of false philosophy — he would seem to hear his mother’s voice, and his own, saying — “Our Father which art in heaven,” and he could go no further. The impression on the child saved the man.

The young man Tudor was not improved by the voyage; and rapidly declined under all efforts for his relief. In the latter part of October news arrived of his death, on the 18th of August. His last words were, “don’t grieve for me, for I die happy.” His mother bowed in submission to this bitterest of all God’s dispensations to her, and sought refuge, in the mercy of God, and in the house of her friends Mr. and Mrs. Rice. With them she remained till her death. On the 10th of March 1816, she departed after a painful illness; her last words were, “Christ is my only hope.” She was buried at Tuckahoe the seat of her ancestors, a few miles above Richmond, and reposes amidst the scenes of her childhood till Christ shall call her from the tomb.

John Randolph “of Roanoke” groaned in agony, at the death of Tudor, as the severest trial of his life. God measures to men trials fitted to their dispositions and relations in life, their physical and mental organization, and those unnumbered circumstances that make men what they are, and reveal the necessity of a purification for a better life, and often indicate the very process by which “all things work together for good to them that love God.” To a delicate frame, passionate heart with tenderness intermingled, vehement attachments, and an unsubdued will, the death of an idolized and idolizing mother was the first furnace through which he was called to pass. Sympathy is moved for him, as he complains of the dealings of God and wonders “the sun does not cease to shine.” “She only knew me,” says he mournfully, “after half a century had passed. Ah who like a mother knows the boy ! Punctilious on points of honor and etiquette, strong in self-respect, and proud of his family and name, abundant in means of wealth, and flattered by the political public, sensitive of impropriety in himself, keen-sighted of it in others, irascible at neglect and furious at contempt, tenacious of a prejudice, and abiding in friendship, a failure in finding ardent love the return for ardent love was to him the second furnace that tried him in its fire. How should he divest himself of his first love ! how should he love again ! In his age, it was a bitterness to him, that he had no wife of youth, or children to love. Those affections that should have revelled in connubial and paternal love preyed upon his heart; “I too am miserable.”

His brother Richard he esteemed more richly endowed physically and mentally than himself, he was married to a lady equally endowed; he had children; and was all, in himself and family, that he desired in a brother. The Randolph name and honor would be perpetuated and enlarged in him. Next to his mother, Richard best knew his brother John; and next to him his amiable wife comprehended him; and he, in return, loved them with unbounded affection. The death of this eldest and only remaining brother in his twenty-sixth year, was the third heated furnace to try his soul.

He loved, politics as a youthful patriot panting for excellence. Clear and firm in his political principles, decided m his opinions, unyielding in his course, unawed by danger in any of the forms he met it in public life, he fondly hoped these qualifications displayed in important acts, set forth by that unrivalled eloquence with which he knew himself endowed, would gain the approbation of the good and the admiration of the world, and accomplish for his country, and particularly his native State the highest civil enjoyment and political honor. He won the admiration of the world for a time, and the approbation of his constituents for ever. A change in the political aspect of things, the formation of new parties on issues he could not approve, isolated him in Congress, as completely as his habits and manners and feelings and tastes had done in private life. He saw what he believed to be the wrong prevail in the councils of the nation. He found himself a reviled misrepresented man in a hopeless minority. Men, that could neither answer nor comprehend him, could reproach, and mis-state him, and be applauded. This was the fourth fiery furnace to try a soul brave enough to meet the world in arms, sensitive enough to be annoyed by the stinging of a gnat, firm enough to bear it all on the arena of public combat, tender enough to wail in private life where no wife met him with a kiss or children with their (ond embrace.

His brother Richard left two sons. The elder afflicted from his very birth, in proper time of manhood became a maniac. On the second son rested the uncle for the recovery of the diminished family. On him he lavished his love. And Theodoric Tudor was worthy of the hopes of the mother and the expectations of the uncle. His fine powers of mind were united to tenderness of heart, and correctness of moral principle. John H. Rice had been his instructor; the University of Harvard his place of study. But — in a letter dated Roanoke, July 31st, 1814, the uncle says—“Affliction has assailed me in a new shape. My younger nephew has fallen, I fear, into a confirmed pulmonary consumption. He was the pride, the sole hope of our family. How shall I announce to his wretched mother, that the last hope of her widowed life is falling ! Give me some comfort, my good friend, I beseech you. He is now travelling by slow journeys home. What a scene awaits him there! His birth-place in ashes, his mother worn to a skeleton with disease and grief, his brother cut off from all that distinguishes man to his advantage from the brute beast. I do assure you that my own reason has staggered under this blow. My faculties are benumbed; I feel suffocated.” When from Dr. Brockenbrough he received the news of Tudor’s death, Mr. Randolph said in reply— “I can make no comment upon it. To attempt to describe the situation of my mind would be vain, even if it were practicable. May God bless you; to him alone I look for comfort on this side the grave; there alone if at all I shall find it. This was the fifth furnace. Its heat dried up his moisture. He that thought—“this world of ours a vast mad house” — “that madness is an epidemic among us”—seemed to others, after this event, to have become mad himself. In the midst of it, he says to Mr. Key—“I adore the goodness and the wisdom of God, and submit myself to his mercy most implicitly.”

Many thought him insane. He might have been so at times. But it is certain, with his principles in politics, his refined sensibilities, his crushed heart, his admiration of Virginia as it was, his sense of honor, and his disordered nerves, he could not act at all on anything, without appearing to some part of the community as mad. He loved his kindred. Who can read his farewell to Dudley with dry eyes? He educated the children of Bryan. He loved his halfbrothers and their families. But they were not Randolphs; the family ended with him. When he sat down in his solitary home, these thoughts would rush upon him — his family run out with him— nobody to know and appreciate him at his house that would perpetuate the name. What wonder if he often sat upon his horse at the door ten minutes pondering,” where he would ride to divert himself of these cares; or if he did “ have his horse saddled in the dead of night, and ride over the plantation with loaded pistols.” What wonder if he were sometimes mad. But in his madness one thing is clear, the splendor of his intellect and the strong feelings of his heart never abated. They triumphed in his last hours. The letters he wrote from the year 1814, and onwards, would afford a volume of intense interest on morality and religion, as well as politics. He was for a long time in possession of papers and correspondence illustrative of the political actions and actors of his day. These he deliberately destroyed some years before his death, giving as his reason, that he did it for the honor of human nature, and of his generation, that these papers exposed the fickleness and weakness of political men, in such manner and degree, he was not willing to be implicated in the publication even after his death. He had fought his fight while he lived; he had delivered his principles to his countrymen. He could not revenge upon his enemies and fickle associates by posthumous revelations, involving dishonor. What he would not speak he would not print. Table conversations and private letters he would not expose, to the detriment of a hated adversary. Honored be his name for it. The mandate of his idolised mother could not have made a Horace Walpole of him, without first driving him perfectly mad.

He chose peculiar characters, living characters, as the exemplars of his beau ideal of Christians and gentlemen. Writing to Mr. P. Key, of Washington, in 1814, he says, “It ought never to be forgotten that real converts to Christianity, on opposite sides of the globe, agree at the same moment to the same facts. Thus Dr. Hoge and Mr. Key, although strangers, understand perfectly what each other feels and believes.” And again, he says, “I consider Dr. Hoge as the ablest and most interesting speaker that I ever heard in the pulpit, or out of it; and the most perfect pattern of a Christian teacher I ever saw. His life affords an example of the great truths of the doctrine that he dispenses to his flock; and if he has a fault (which being mortal, I suppose he cannot be free from), I have never heard it pointed out.”

The following letter to his half-brother, Henry St. Greorge Tucker, on the death of his son, Henry St. George, in the bloom of his youth, reveals some of the mental exercises of John Randolph of Roanoke.

“May he who has the power, and always the will, when earnestly, humbly, and devoutly entreated, support and comfort you, my brother. I shall not point to the treasures that remain to you in your surviving children and their mother, dearer than all these put together. No, I have felt too deeply how little power have words which play round the head to reach the heart when it is sorely wounded. The common-places of consolation are at the tongue’s end of all the self-complacent and satisfied, from the pedant priest to the washerwoman. (They who don’t feel can talk), I abjure them all. But the father of Lord Russell, when condoled with according to form, by the book, replied, 41 would not give my dead son for any other man’s living.’ May this thought come home to your bosom too, but not on the same occasion.

“May the Spirit of God, which is not a chimera of heated brains nor a device of artful men to frighten and cajole the credulous, but it is as much an existence that can be felt and understood as the whisperings of your heart or the love you bore to him that you have lost; may that spirit, which is the Comforter, shed his influence upon your soul, and incline your heart and understanding to the only right way, which is that of life eternal.

“Did you ever read Bishop Butler’s ‘Analogy V If not, I will send it to you. Have you read the book? What I say upon this subject, I not only believe, but know to be true; that the Bible studied with an humble and contrite heart, never yet failed to do its work, even with them that from idiosyncrasy or disordered minds have conceived that they were cut off from its promises of life to come.

“Ask and ye shall have; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ This was my only support and stay during years of misery and darkness, and just as I had begun almost to despair, after more than ten years of penitence and prayer, it pleased God to enable me to see the truth, to which until then my eyes had been sealed. To this vouchsafement I have made the most ungrateful return. Yet I would not give up my slender portion of the price paid for our redemption, yea, my brother, our redemption, the ransom of sinners, of all who do not hug their chains and refuse to come out from the house of bondage, I say I would not exchange my little portion in the Son of David, for the power and glory of the Parthian or Roman Empires, as described by Milton in the temptation of our Lord and Saviour, not for all with which the enemy tempted the Saviour of man.

“This is the secret of the change of my spirits, which all who know me must have observed, within a few years past. After years spent in humble and contrite entreaty, that the tremendous sacrifice on Mount Calvary might not have been made in vain" for me, the chiefest of sinners, it pleased God to speak his peace into my heart that peace of God which passeth all understanding to 'them that know it not, and even to them that do, and although I have now as then to reproach myself with time mis-spent, and faculties mis-employed, although my condition has on more than one occasion resembled that of him, who having an evil spirit cast out, was taken possession of by seven other spirits more wicked than the first, and the first also, yet I trust that they too by the power and-mercy of God may be, if they are not, vanquished.

“But where am I running to? on this subject more hereafter. Meanwhile assure yourself, of what is of small value compared with that of them who are a part of yourself, of the unchanged regard and sympathy of your mother’s son. Ah! my God, I remember to have seen her die, to have followed her to the grave, to have wandered that the sun continued to rise and to set, and the order of nature to go on. Ignorant of true religion, yet not an atheist, I remember with horror my impious expostulations with God upon this bereavement. ‘But not yet an atheist!’ The existence of atheism has been denied. But I was an honest one. * * * * Hume began, and Hobbes finished me, (I read Spinosa and all the tribe.) Surely I fell by no ignoble hand. And the very man who gave me 'Hume’s Essay upon Human Nature’ to read, administered ‘ Beattie upon Truth,’ as the antidote. Venice treacle against arsenic, and the essential oil of bitter almonds, a bread and milk poultice for the bite of the cobra capello.

“Had I have remained a successful political leader I might never have been a Christian. But it pleased God that my pride should be mortified: that by death and desertion I should lose my friends; that, except in the veins of one, and he too possessed ‘ of a child ’ by a deaf and dumb spirit, there should not run one drop of my father’s blood in any living creature besides myself. The death of Tudor finished my humiliation. I had tried all things, but the refuge of Christ, and to that with parental stripes was 1 driven; often did I cry out, with the father of that wretched boy, Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief!’ and the gracious mercy of our Lord to this wavering faith, staggering under the force of the hard heart of unbelief, 1 humbly hoped would in his good time be extended to me also.

“Throw revelation aside, and I can drive any man by irresistible induction to atheism. John Marshall could not resist me. When I say any man, I mean a man capable of logical and consequential reasoning. Deism is the refuge of them that startle at atheism, and can’t believe revelation. * * * * Myself, (may God forgive us both,) used, with Diderot and Co., to laugh at the deistical bigots, Who must have milk, not being able to digest meat.

“All theism is derived from revelation,—that of the Jews confessedly ; our own is from the same source; so is the false revelation of Mahomet, and I can’t much blame the Turks for thinking the Franks and Greeks to be idolaters. Every other idea of one God that floats in the world is derived from the traditions of the sons of Noah, handed down to their posterity.

“But enough, and more than enough. I can hardly guide my pen. I will, however, add that no lukewarm seeker ever became a real Christian, for 4 from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven suflereth violence, and the violent take it by forces text which I read 500 times before I had the slightest conception of its true application.

“Your Brother,

“To Henry St. Tucker, Esq.” “ J. R., of Roanoke.

The last clays of Mrs. Judith Randolph were, by her special and earnest request, passed under the roof, and in the family of Dr. Rice, in Richmond. As she approached her end, she proposed to Dr. Rice a bequest of some of her property, as a memento of her kind feelings to him, and as some return for his multiplied attentions to her, for a series of years, and particularly in that present sickness she was convinced would be her last, and also to add something to his regular support, which she saw was not so abundant as she could wish. Dr. Rice firmly, yet in the most gentle manner, declined the proposition, and convinced her, as he supposed, that, in the circumstances, it might have an ill impression. Some time after, her friend, Benjamin Watkins Leigh, was called upon by her to draw her will. After her death, Dr. Rice was surprised, that, notwithstanding his objections, she had made him a legatee. Being engaged in some benevolent operations that required pecuniary help, he took the legacy, and scrupulously divided it all among those in measure, as near as he could conjecture, according to her estimation of the objects while she was living.

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