A noble life.
Address delivered at Tappahannock, Essex county, Va., July 17, 1899, presenting to Essex Court a portrait of Judge William Brockenbrough.
by John P. McGUIRE.
Ladies and Gentlemen:A Virginian in a Virginia assembly is always among friends; but for myself, and here in this county of Essex, as a wanderer returned to his home again, I stand among you and respectfully salute you all. In the far dawn of human history, the blind old bard of Chios, with mental vision doubly clear, surveyed the course of human life, and this true picture drew: Like leaves on trees, the race of men are found,
Some green in youth, some withering on the ground.
So generations in their course decay;
These come to life, and others pass away.
Countless as the leaves of the forest or the sands along the shore are the men who, in ages gone, have run their restless course on this round world, even as the busy ants run to and fro upon their hillock home. Brief parts the actors play; the scene changes and they disappear. I saw a clown upon a narrow stage. Decked in the tawdry tinsel of his craft, he entered on the one side, stopped one moment, and pointing to the other door, he said—not knowing what he said: ‘I came in here to tell you that I am—going out yonder.’ “Alas!” I thought, “this is our human life.” “ Good health to-day, my friend,” I say, and so the greeting passes, “and now—good morrow.” Millions of millions have passed on; how few are remembered! And, of the few, why keep we record. and memory of their names? Why, and how long? Let us examine the record, and from it learn that a noble life alone is memorable; that man's life is made noble, his memory made sweet, his name engraven where it cannot be effaced, ‘not by might, nor by power,’ but by noble thoughts and noble purposes wrought out in noble deeds, even ‘by the works of  that Spirit’ whose fruits are justice, mercy and truth, obedience to law, purity of life, sweet charity, and that self-sacrifice that crowns them all. A noble life partakes of deity and endures. The test of its high kinship is that it stand for some noble thought—impress upon our rinds and hearts some one of these eternal elements, some attribute of that august character in whom alone they are perfectly developed —each element eternal as His days are without end. If there be presented for our consideration a character preemi-nently marked by but one of these ennobling features, this is the blood-mark—by this we know the strain of immortality. Let but a spark of the eternal fire burn in the heart of man, there needs no vestal virgin to keep the lamp aflame. It is part of the light of the universe that cannot expire. Man struggles with imperfections. But a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The odor of the violet pervades the garden. The sweet character of Cordelia makes the whole of King Lear a charm. Full many a shining name, high written on the roll of fame, is doomed to be forgotten. A monarch grown colossal in his might, boasts that the gods of the nations have not been able to save their people from his destroying arm; a doubtful inscription on a crumbling stone is the record of his deeds. A Pharaoh of four thousand years ago, in the pride of his power, defies the God of Israel and deals hardly with His chosen. See, in this our day, his royal lineaments stripped of their cerements—a spectacle for a gaping crowd to mock at. An unconquerable phalanx, tramping steadily on, crushing its unsparing way through crowding armies of peoples struggling to be free, bears a hero's banner to the border land beyond which there are no more worlds to conquer. Amid triumphial music, high seated at the feast with his worshippers around him, he
Assumes the nod,In a mad debauch he dies, his right hand red with the blood of his friend; and for the world-empire that he founded, the map of the nations bears no trace that it ever existed. The demon Corsican, with titanic force, shakes the foundations of empires. Like a destroying storm he crosses a continent; the windrows of the dead mark his passage through the nations. The groans  of the dying, a helpless woman's cry, and the orphan's wail; these are the antiphone to each song in his praise; these, and these alone, shall be his requiem. Shall sculptured marble or graven brass, or the limner's art as here displayed, preserve man from the yawning chasm of dark oblivion? There is an ancient land, across the sea,
Affects the god,
And seems to shake the spheres.
Whence came a traveller telling he had seen
Two vast and trunkless legs stand in the desert;
Near by, half buried in the sand, a head,
So marred he doubted what it had been;
The body, deep beyond his ken, or bore away,
Built into some old wall-Ruin's predestined prey.
The feet stood on a pedestal whereon these words were writ:
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remained. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretched far away.
Not by might nor by power, nor yet by the trumpet of fame, not through wide-reaching opportunity, nor great deed done on a world wide stage—not so is an enduring record made; but by a noble life faithfully lived in daily practice of our poor human share of those virtues which combining, even as the colors of the spectrum, form that pure light which is the light of the world. By such a life as is here exemplified, my friends, so shall a noble ancestry be duly honored; so shall the reverence of contemporaries encircle the hoary head; so shall the generations grow nobler and better because a man has lived. The life but needs to wear, as this one did, the forehead-mark of high purpose and heaven born inspiration; but needs to stand for some noble, some enduring quality. The smallest good is a part of the great sum of all good. No need to ‘uplift the millions.’ ‘He who has done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, has done it unto me.’ The lightest chord if in true unison with the music, goes to make the great swelling anthem that lifts man's heart toward the creator. The tinkle of the widow's mite, as it fell into the treasury, gave the key-note to the sacrificial song of the ages: and after two thousand years, “the nameless widow” means for us,—All for God. Wheresoever the gospel of faith and love has been and shall be preached, a little deed that a woman did has been and ‘shall be  told for a memorial of her;’ so for faith and devotion the name of “Mary of Bethany” shall forever stand. Thus stands “St. John” for love; “ St. Peter” for repentance unto good works; “St. Paul” for lion-like courage and holy zeal. Aeneas, with old Anchises on his back, stands for filial piety; Curtius for self-sacrifice; Lucretia for purity; Horatius for courage; Cato, noblest Roman of them all, stands for stern integrity. These illustrate that ancient story and tell us why man's memory endures. Here in a newer land and a later age, the name of a great Virginian stands for the qualities that mark a grand character, and by these he will be remembered when men have forgotten the operations on the Delaware that won great Frederick's admiration, and the march from the Hudson to the York that broke the yoke of tyranny for mankind. Need I ask these graybeards around me to search the inner chamber of their hearts and tell me what other Virginian, there enshrined in simple majesty, so rules our lives that at thought of his presence men fear to fail of duty and flee from dishonor! It is the faithful gentleman who left to our English tongue those “words of the wise which are as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies,” ‘The question is, Is it right?’—that supreme maxim which is to remain as an apple of gold in a picture of silver, ‘Duty is the noblest word in our language.’ It is the loved commander who, while the world paused to take record of his deeds and Glory wept for a flag furled forever, was content to utter the simplest, most pathetic words that ever fell from a leader's lips: ‘I and my brave men have done the best we could.’ It is not Sir Lancelot, not Sir Galahad, not Sir Tristram, nor any knight of Table Round,—it is Arthur the King, the royal gentlemen, “whose strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure;” the incomparable soldier, the Christian—who died at Lexington, his uplifted finger then as always pointing his people ‘Forward!’ to the goal where final Victory waits to welcome that valor and virtue for which his name shall stand 'till Time shall be no more. The ancient philosopher describes the virtues that made the worthies of Rome's nobler day: ‘quas mihi semper antiponens,’ he says: ‘mentem animumque conformabam’—‘and placing them always before me, so I sought to mould my mind and my soul.’ Let us learn from the wise old heathen, and wisely choose our models for imitation. If then in the record of this our native land, our own Virginia, a  man's life shows that his mind instinctively turned to the ‘pole-star of truth,’ then is his image worthy to be set up that our young men may learn this greatest of all the virtues—greatest of all, for
By the gods, it is not in the power of painting or of sculptureHave justice and mercy marked his career? Great is the office of the judge. Divine is that justice which with equal balance weighs each man's merit and to each his true desert assigns. Worthy of all honor is he who, like Israel's great judge can “call all men to witness that of none has he taken aught, of none has he received any gift to blind his eyes therewith.” Yet
To fashion ought so divine as the fair form of truth.
The creatures of their art may please the eye,
But her sweet nature captivates the soul.
The marshal's truncheon nor the judge's robe,Justice is
Become them with one-half so good a grace
As mercy does.
The attribute to awe and majesty.Noble is the heart in which they both reside. Worthy of all reverence, the character in which these virtues shine. Has charity warmed a man's heart and opened his hand stretched out to aid the helpless, until ‘like a watered garden’ he has fed them and ‘like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’ he has given them rest and refreshment for the journey of life? Has he so walked among his fellows that
But earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
His pity has been as balm to heal their wounds,If perchance a character is presented combining all these exalted qualities, then have we one of those whose memory is as a sweet savor that no wind of forgetfulness shall ever blow away—then indeed we who are passing away do but our duty to those who shall succeed us, if, by any act of ours, we may provoke their curiosity to enquire, and move them to loving study, when they know, why these walls bear witness to our estimate of the man. Such a noble character is here represented, my friends, such a  noble life, you and your children are here invited to study; such a noble example is here offered for their imitation and for ours. Fellow citizens and good friends—for these people are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh: yonder where the solemn cedars wave, and here where the spire points to heaven, lie the ashes of generations right dear to me; familiar to my childhood are the faces here depicted; to this town of Tappahannock I owe the peaceful ending of an honored father's long labor of love; in the act I now perform, I pay reverent honor to a noble woman, who, once familiar to your eyes, was, as I think, dear to your hearts, and who, when the shadows fell around her, was comforted by the memory of your affection and desired that her last home might be among you. So thinking and so feeling—thankful for the opportunity to render this service to my people, deeply sensible of the honor I myself receive in having this commission laid upon me—I bring here this picture of Judge William Brockenbrough—learned lawyer and upright judge—Virginia gentleman, true to State and lineage, and careful to hand down to posterity that “good name which is more to be desired than great riches,” —a man whose life stands for learning guided by wisdom, for truth, for purity, for charity towards all, for courage to do right, for justice the ermine adorning, for Christian virtue in that he humbly sought to form his mind and heart by loving study of the only complete example. True product, this, of the ancient civilization, my young friends—the civilization of the time when the fields were greener, when the summer breeze was softer, when the birds sang more sweetly than now, and all the world was vocal with the sounds that brought us joy;—a civilization (I charge you to observe) which the ignorant, the envious, and the malignant condemn, and for which the weak and the base among ourselves have been fain to apologize. Yet was it so simple and so beautiful, so natural and native to the soil, so rooted in truth, so erect in honor, so lofty and so strong, so abloom with all courtesy, so redolent of nobleness, so fruitful of virtue—that for myself I am profoundly thankful that the men and women before whom my soul stands uncovered, were born under its shadow and that the formative years of my own life were spent beneath its grateful shade. Therefore, I speak in humble recognition of the Hand that worketh all nobleness in man—in commemoration of that gracious olden time that now is passing away—paying honor where honor is justly due—knowing that the generation so paying its debt of honor to those that have gone is guiding in paths of honor generations yet  unborn. For that reason rejoicing thus to aid the work of founding here, in our county of Essex, and for our State of Virginia, this ennobling memorial institution, and praying that your children may prove worthy to guard your precious things—to this Court I present this portrait; to bench and to bar, to counting house and farm, to pew and to pulpit, to youth and to age—I commend the study of this most noble life.
His mildness has allayed their swelling griefs,
His mercy dried their water-flowing tears?