Wythe to Everard Robinson, 31 October 1801
George Wythe, the law-preceptor of Henry Clay, wrote in a singular fashion, almost "printing" his characters, each letter separate from its neighbors; all exceedingly neat, and, despite a little stiffness of effect, remarkably pleasing. The great Virginia chancellor, like Mr. Justice Miller, of the Supreme Court, began his study of law at about thirty years of age, and attained the highest eminence; but Miller spent his "twenties" in practising medicine, while Wythe passed those years in ridding himself of a comfortable fortune. After settling up with his creditors he settled down to work, making ample atonement for his years of indiscretion, and dying, at eighty, from accidental poisoning. There are not many letters of his to be had by the amateur collector, although signed documents are passably common. My letter is not signed; the name, however, in the body of it, shows it is addressed to Everard Robinson.
By 1801, Wythe was suffering from rheumatism or arthritis in his right hand, and had taught himself to print neatly using his left hand. Joline mistakenly repeats the popular story that Wythe misspent his youth before turning to the study of law; this has been demonstrated to be untrue, as Wythe was already practicing law by 1746, at age nineteen or twenty.
Wythe had recently bought back his family plantation, Chesterville, in July of 1801, having sold the property in 1795. Everard Robinson is mentioned as a commissioner to the 1801 sale, along with George Booker, and William Moore. Wythe had been living in Richmond since 1789, when he was appointed to the High Court of Chancery.
Joline may have obtained this letter at an 1894 auction of the autograph collection of Judge James T. Mitchell, of Pennsylvania. The letter was probably sold at auction after Joline's death. It sold again as recently as 2016, listing its provenance as from the James S. Copley Library, University of San Diego, California.
Letter text, 31 October 1801
[Postmark: RICHMOND, NOV. 2]
G. Wythe to E. Robinson.
I thank thee, good sir, for thy kind letter received yesterday; and shall be obliged to thee for endeavouring to preserve my land and house from devastation until i can sell or lease them. i beg thee to present my good wishes to my friend and old acquaintance, thy father. adieu. 31 octob. 1801.
near the halfway house between
York & Hampton
- Princeton University, "Joline, Adrian H. (Adrian Hoffman), 1850-1912," Princeton University Library Finding Aids.
- Adrian H. Joline, Meditations of an Autograph Collector (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1902), 301.
- George Wythe to Thomas Jefferson, April 10, 1800.
- W. Edwin Hemphill, "George Wythe the Colonial Briton: A Biographical Study of the Pre-Revolutionary Era in Virginia," PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1937, 42.
- NASA Cultural Resources (CRGIS), "1802 Chesterville Deed from Robert Kirtland in 1969," Chesterville Plantation Site.
- S.V. Henkels, The Valuable Collection of Autographs and Historical Papers Collected By the Hon. Jas. T. Mitchell of the Supreme Court of Penna. (Philadelphia, Bicking Print House, 1894), 19.
- Stair Galleries, Sale 043016, Lot 498, May 1, 2016.
- Read this letter in the Internet Archive.