John Page, Jr., to James E. Heath, 3 January 1834

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In a letter dated January 3, 1834, John Page, Jr., bequeathed to the Virginia Historical Society a manuscript volume[1] which had belonged to George Wythe. Page was the son of John Page (1743 – 1808), 13th Governor of Virginia and lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson. The younger Page joined the Virginia Historical Society in 1833, and was later described by the family genealogist as a "cultivated and polished gentleman, who ... travelled a great deal." The letter was addressed to James Ewell Heath, vice-president and founding member of the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society, as well as one of the editors of the Southern Literary Messenger.[2] The letter is tipped in on the inside cover of the notebook, and was originally published in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography in 1955.[3]

The notebook is an ink-stained quarto volume, bound in vellum. The bulk of the contents are a glossary in Wythe's handwriting of Greek words from Homer's Iliad, with their equivalents in Latin. The last six pages, in a different hand, contain biographical sketches of John Holloway[4] and William Hopkins[5], two prominent Virginia lawyers, copied from Sir John Randolph's "Breviate Book." The sketches were published in the Virginia Historical Register in 1848.[6]

Letter text

Dear Sir

I herewith send you the book which I promised you for your Society. It was (as I informed you) the property of the late venerable and learned Chancellor Wythe, and I believe is altogether in his hand writing, though the character of the copy from "Sir John's Breviate Book" seems to be different from that of the Greek and Latin. Much the longest portion of the book is a Clavis Oμηρŏ[7] or Etymological praxsis on several of the books the Iliad, and some of the Ραψωίδία,[8] which will serve in a striking manner to illustrate the great industry of that distinguished man.

The last part consisting of only six pages, contains a sketch of the lives of John Holloway and William Hopkins Esquires, members of the Virginia Bar, who died about the end of the year 1734, by Sir John Randolph. This sketch is valuable not only as giving us the characters of two prominent Lawyers of that early period, but as being written by a third who was himself the Attorney General at the time. Sir John also wrote a History of the Colony which is, (I think) mentioned by Stith, and which I have understood was in the possession of his grandson the late Edmund Randolph, and possibly may be among the papers of the late Peyton Randolph the son of Edmund Randolph[9]. It may be worth the enquiry of the Society.

As I am at the bottom of my paper I will remark, that I was surprised find, that President Cushing in that part of his Address in which he a sketch of the History of the various similar institutions in Europe and America, has omitted to notice the second attempt to form to form [sic] a Society in America; and the omission is the more remarkable, as this Society was in our own State. It must have been formed at least as early 1775, full five years before the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Massachusetts, and sixteen years before the Historical Society at Boston; and only five or six years after Dr. Franklin's Society at Philadelphia, which was the first in America. I believe Girardin's[10] continuation of Burk's History of Virginia contains the only record of the now existing of this Society. See Burk's Hist. of Virga. vol. 4 pp. 219 to 221. The late Bishop Madison must have had the custody of the papers of the Society, and if any remain, it is possible Mr. Rob't S. Scott, the son in law of the Bishop, may be able to give some account of them. It is true this Society seems to have been a failure; but it appears to me, its failure would be a proper for the observation of the Philosophic Historian. The Virginian anxious to become acquainted with every thing which can throw light on the History of his native state must lament that in relation to this subject the Historian now can only exclaim with the Poet "Ilium Fuit."[11] That your society may be more fortunate is the ardent wish of

Dear Sir
Your very faithful
Friend & Servant
J Page
James E. Heath Esqr.


  1. George Wythe. n.d. Etymological Praxis in Greek and Latin of Part of Homer's Iliad. Manuscripts Collection, Virginia Historical Society.
  2. John Melville Jennings, ed. "A Letter Addressed to the Virginia Historical Society By One of Its Members in 1834," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 63, no. 4 (October 1955), 440.
  3. Jennings, "A Letter Addressed to the Virginia Historical Society by One of Its Members in 1834," 440-442.
  4. John Holloway (1666 – 1734). Speaker of the House of Burgesses, Virginia (1720 – 1734), first Mayor of Williamsburg (1722 – 1723), Treasurer of the Virginia Colony (1723 – 1734).
  5. William Hopkins (d. 1734, London). Practiced law in Williamsburg for 12 years and compiled reports of cases from the General Court of Virginia (1731 – 1733), the manuscript of which has been lost.
  6. "Two Old Lawyers," Virginia Historical Register, and Literary Advertiser 1, no. 3 (July 1848), 119-123.
  7. Homer.
  8. Properly Ραψωδία, rhapsody. Homeric performance.
  9. Jennings indicates that Page may be incorrectly ascribing Edmund Randolph's History of Virginia to his father ("Letter," 441).
  10. Louis Hue Girardin.
  11. Virgil's Aeneid II, ll: 325-26. Aeneas has asked how the battle is going, and Panthus replies, "fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens / gloria Teucrorum...," or "We Trojans are no more, Ilium is no more, nor the great / glory of the Teucrians."