From the New York American
THE DEATH-BED OF WILLIAM WIRT
The Richmond Compiler of the 17th inst. contains the affecting account of the last illness of Mr. Wirt written by a gentleman who attended him during that illness. We proceed to extract the principal part of it.
'On the evening of Saturday, the 8th instant, was in playful spirits, and sanguine of the success of an argument which he was to make in Court on Monday. He felt better satisfied with his preparation, he said than with any he had made for years before. On Sunday, he walked to the Capitol to Church-it was a damp chilly day, and Representatives Hall was crowded and warm. To go immediately from it into the cold,damp air, and walk slowly, as he did, a mile to his lodgings, might have been deemed imprudent in one whose health was less precarious than his then seemed.'
'The night he complained of a slight indisposition, and in the family worship of the evening, prayed with an unusual favor, and seemingly a foreboding spirit, which he communicated not save to his God. But even this was sufficient to excite vague apprehensions in a family always ready to note and to dwell upon whatsoever might seem to bode danger or safety to a friend so dear.'
On Monday he was confined to his room; no serious apprehensions were entertained, but a physician was called in-it was only a cold. On Tuesday he was worse, but we feared not the result. He complained of stiffness of the muscles of the throat and swelling of the glands-milk poultices were applied to his face, but they gave no relief. On Wednesday he was much worse, so much as to excite alarm; on the evening of this day, it was first discovered that the disease was Erysipelas, 'a new enemy' of which Mr. Wirt then expressed his fears.- 'It was not the foe with which he had been so long accustomed to contend.'
His constitution was too weak, as the physicians apprehended, to stand the vigorous treatment which would have been most efficient in destroying the disease. By Friday, the alarm had become very serious-the door was crowded by anxious inquiring friends, and those who met in the street asked from each other the latest intelligence. The affliction of the family was extreme, but still there was hope. On Saturday, his daughter and son-in-law arrived from Baltimore, and were shocked to find the case so much worse than their worse fears.
Scarcely a glimmer of hope was left to us, but this feeble ray was most anxiously watched and cherished.- When over shadowed by so deep a gloom, the least of the twinkling stars in the firmament is more precious to our sight than is the sun itself in the noontide of an unclouded day.
Death, from the first day of his illness, had continued to approach with a steady pace, and in a form more than usually hideous. The fine countenance so bright with intellect, so beaming with benevolence, was sadly altered by the disease partly, and partly by remedies so fruitlessly applied. The eyes had lost their speculation-the eloquent voice was hushed-the divinity had departed from the temple, and its walls were defaced but life still lingered, loath to abandon a habitation which had so long given to a thing in itself so little desirable and so worthless, beauty, purity and worth.
The attending physicians were Doctors Hunt and Hall; none could have been more anxiously attentive; the latter stayed by him every night of the last four or five.
About noon on Monday, consciousness returned and he had power to speak a few words. Nature had made a last effort to permit him to take leave of his family and friends, to give assurance that he died in Christian hope,and to join them in prayer to his God. The Rev. Mr Post officiated. In so much of the prayer as related to his family and his own acceptance with Heaven, he seemed heartily to join but when a petition was offered that he might be restored to health, he audibly dissented-'No, no!' He had done and suffered enough in this contentious world, and was entitled to a release,and the transfer to a higher existence which the just and are authorized to expect.
It was now become manifest, even to the most sanguine, that recovery was beyond the remotest probability. He was too shining a mark for death longer to miss. All that was left to us was to smooth his passage to the tomb-to moisten his dry parched lips and tongue,and perform such little offices of affections might sooth his hard sufferings.
During the last eighteen hours he was tranquil as a child. Breathing and warmth were the only evidences of life-no motion,no pain, no consciousness-there lay the wreck of WILLIAM WIRT.
Three friends besides the clergyman attended his bedside during the night, his family, too worn as they were by nearly a week's watching, could not be induced to take repose. Anguish and affection gave them strength to bear what would have exhausted the strongest men. It was a night long to be remembered-a night of silent, despairing sorrow, which conveys to the heart a language never to be forgot-a language which is not for a pen like mine to transcribe.
Tuesday morning breaks upon the scene still unaltered,save that life flittered more faintly and all pulse was gone. About 11 o'clock the breathing became gradually more distant and more feeble-are suspended or imperceptible-another breath-he's gone? So calmly, of imperceptibly did he make his exit, that the precise moment of his departure could scarcely be marked-without a sigh or a struggle his bright spirit was departed from amongst us, to a state of existence higher, brighter, and more glorious.
Upon a highly excited mind, a slight incident will sometimes make a deep and lasting impression. As the last flickerings of life were failing--while his whole family, and the friends who had watched with them, grouped around his bed, and in silent, deep attention to awful scene, all held their breath, and their hearts and pulse stood still, a few soft, low notes from a pet bird, which had before been so silent that its presence in the room was unremarked fell with startling sweetness on the ear.- Only once before during his illness had it been known to sing. On the preceding day, at the conclusion of the last act of devotion in which he ever joined these same soft notes had mingled with the solemn 'Amen'.