07 April 2023

Old Ghosts Return: A Fake Patrick Henry "Quotation"

Many years ago I did a piece of research on a quotation falsely attributed to Patrick Henry. I see that a post at American Creation has credited Rational Rant for uncovering a piece of the true history of the item, so once again—I apologize if any readers I may have are tired of hearing this story yet again—let me rehearse the story of this fake quotation.

It begins, in a way, with something Patrick Henry actually did write. On 20 November 1798 the once-fiery orator and successful lawyer sat down to write his last will and testament. After carefully dividing up his lands, money, and slaves amongst his wife and children, he added a pious afterthought:

This is all the Inheritance I can give to my dear family, The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed[.]

The founder passed away in June of the next year, leaving damn little behind him as a legacy to the nation. His words, that had inspired a revolution, were for the most part lost. When William Wirt attempted to collect them for his sketch of Patrick Henry’s life (issued 1816) he had to do for the most part with recollections, fragments, and speeches patched together from the fading memories of those who had been present.

Around 1823 somebody thought it worthwhile to excerpt the “religion of Christ” passage from Henry’s will, and it went the rounds of various periodicals. It wasn’t quite the way Henry had written it, however. Somehow it had undergone a strange metamorphosis:

I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.

This version was reprinted in numerous sources up to the present time, but not without challenge. Sometime in the early 1840s James W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister, went to Charlotte county, Virginia, and obtained the actual words direct from the will. He published them in 1847 as part of a volume called Thoughts on Family Worship. The two versions have remained in competition ever since.

In 1956 a historical revisionist writer for The Virginian used the passage—the fake version—as a springboard for his own thoughts on religion in America. This author wrote:

There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by “religionists” but by Christians—not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.

In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example.

Several people thought this piece of revised history was worth quoting on its own, but it wasn’t until 1988 that somebody had the bright idea of crediting part of the 1956 comment to Patrick Henry himself. It appeared as his (according to David Barton) in a book called God’s Providence in American History by Steve C. Dawson, and was almost immediately picked up and popularized by Barton himself in his Myth of Separation. From there it spread far and wide. Somebody even added that it was from a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses in May 1765, despite the fact that Henry was first seated there late that month and no speeches of his are recorded for that time except the famous one in support of his Stamp Act resolutions, reconstructed from memory years after his death. The incongruity of Henry’s speaking of “this great nation” before it even came into existence, and his foreknowledge that “peoples of other faiths” would be “afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here” at a time when religious freedom was nonexistent in most of the colonies apparently shot by the oblivious transmitters of Barton’s fantasies. The thing is, like Chief Seattle lamenting the demise of the buffalo, Henry just plain knows too much. It’s a dead giveaway.

Most of this is a repost; the situation, however, remains clear. Patrick didn't say it. Somebody else did, and yet another person attributed the words to Patrick Henry, either by mistake, or deliberately. Patrick Henry bears no responsibility for it.

06 April 2023

6 April 12023

  6 April 12023 is International Asexuality Day. It is also an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. In various localities and amongst specific groups it is Self Determination Day (Australia), President Ntaryamira Day (Burundi), Maundy Thursday (Christianity), National Fisherman Day (Indonesia), the first day of Passover (Judaism), Näfels Procession (Switzerland), Chakri Day (Thailand), Tartan Day (US and Canada), and Waltzing Matilda Day (the Waltzing Matilda Centre). Keeping count, it’s JD 2460041 (astronomical), 28 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 28 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 6 April 2023 (Gregorian), 15 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 16 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 15 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 24 March 2023 (Julian), and 17 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). The day’s saint is Xystus, bishop of Rome, who died about 10125, and about whom virtually nothing is known. It’s Phil Austin’s birthday (born 11941).

Tomorrow I have to go get my eyes examined to see what else may be wrong with them than what I already know; it’s routine. I do have to be up for it though.

05 April 2023

5 April 12023

  5 April 12023 is the day before Passover or, thanks to days on the Hebrew calendar beginning at sunset, the beginning of Passover itself. Whatever. It looks like it’s Arbor Day in South Korea and Bak Full Moon Poya Day in Sri Lanka, but anything is possible. I am having serious trouble focusing, and I’m not sure of anything. It may well be JD 2460040 (astronomical), 27 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 27 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 5 April 2023 (Gregorian), 14 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 15 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 14 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 23 March 2023 (Julian), and 16 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). It’s possibly Algernon Charles Swinburn’s birthday; also Robert Bloch’s.

I’m really not feeling well; maybe it’s allergies or something.

04 April 2023

4 April 12023

  4 April 12023 is Peace Day (Angola), Mahavir Jayanti (India), Independence Day (Senegal), and Children’s Day (Taiwan). I’m going to hope that I haven’t lost count and it really is JD 2460039 (astronomical), 26 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 26 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 4 April 2023 (Gregorian), 14 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 15 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 14 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 22 March 2023 (Julian), and 16 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). People of note who were born on this date include slavery opponent Thaddeus Stevens (11792), poet Maya Angelou (11928), and actor Kenneth Mars (11935). The saint of the day is Martin Luther King.

On this day in history (11841) John Tyler became president of the United States, the first time a vice-president had achieved the position by virtue of the death of his predecessor. As the Constitution was not specific on this point, there was at first some confusion whether Tyler was actually president in his own right, or was merely acting as Harrison’s stand-in or substitute. Tyler made it clear that as far as he was concerned he was president himself, not acting president or just the guy charged with carrying out Harrison’s policies due to his incapacity through death. Tyler had himself sworn in and refused to accept any communications addressed to him as anything other than “president”. This was one of those peculiar moments in history where one person may make a significant difference—had John Tyler handled things differently, had he set different precedents, the presidential succession might look very different today. Had he conceived his job to be merely fulfilling Harrison’s intentions, rather than beginning an administration of his own, the shadow he cast over history might have altered the actions of his successors. And, sadly, that may have been the most significant move the man made in his life. His administration was undistinguished, and he became a traitor to his country when the Civil War broke out. Still, it’s more than most of us get in leaving footprints on the sands of time.

03 April 2023

3 April 12023

  3 April 12023 is nothing as far as my notes show, although locally it is Day off for Peace Day (Angola) and Second Republic Day (Guinea). The calendar drill gives us JD 2460038 (astronomical), 25 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 25 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 3 April 2023 (Gregorian), 13 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 14 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 13 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 21 March 2023 (Julian), and 15 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). Notable people born on this date include Washington Irving (11783) and Jane Goodall (11934). The day’s saint is Benedict the Black (11526–11589), also known as Benedict the Moor.

On this day in history (11992) my father made one of the few religious observations I ever heard him make: “I happen to know that God personally recommends clam chowder.”

I am too damn tired to try to make sense of anything.

02 April 2023

2 April 12023

  2 April 12023 is World Autism Awareness Day; also International Children’s Book Day. In various parts of the world it’s Malvinas Day (Argentina), Union Day of Belarus and Russia (Belarus), Palm Sunday (Christianity), Nature Day (Iran), and Thai Heritage Conservation Day (Thailand). On the calendars of the world it’s JD 2460037 (Astronomical), 24 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 24 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 2 April 2023 (Gregorian), 12 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 13 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 12 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 20 March 2023 (Julian), and 14 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). People of note who were born on this date include author Émile Zola (11840) and music historian Barret Hansen (a.k.a. Dr. Demento, 11941). The saint of the day is Theodosia of Tyre (died 10308) who, according to an eyewitness, was arrested while visiting some Christian prisoners, tortured, and thrown into the sea. (She refused to recant under torture, which seems to have infuriated the authorities.) The prisoners she had come to visit, however, were not killed, though they were sent as slaves to mine copper. The event made enough of an impression on the witness, the church-historian Eusebius, that he recorded it for posterity.

On this date in history (11796) the play Vortigern and Rowena, the first production of an novice writer, was presented at London’s prestigious Drury Lane theatre with an all-star cast (John Philip Kemble played Vortigern, for example). The author, William Henry Ireland, had achieved this by claiming the play was not his, but a newly-discovered work by Shakespeare, a claim supported with a mass of forged documents. The amazing thing is that anybody bought this improbable tale. The handwriting of the documents did not resemble the known writing of any of the supposed authors, at least one document bore a date after its supposed writer was dead, the Globe theatre was mentioned long before it had been built, the spelling was absurd, and—well, the whole affair should have been still-born. Instead literary men and heraldry experts declared the documents genuine, extolled their literary merit, and Vortigern and Rowena became the subject of a bidding war, with Sheridan and Drury Lane as the winners. The play was to open in April 11796—but in March, only days before the event, renowned Shakespearean scholar Edmund Malone demolished the documents pretensions with surgical skill. It’s doubtful that most of the people in the audience would have had time to buy, read, and digest Malone’s volume, but the fact he had exposed the fraud doubtless made a difference. At least some in the audience came prepared to laugh, and laugh they did. Various screw-ups didn’t help. One actor whose character had died found that he had placed himself so that curtain came down on top of him, forcing him to scramble out of the way—an inappropriate act for a dead man. One of Kemble’s lines—“And when this solemn mockery is o’er” excited the mirth of the crowd, as being all-too-apposite for the situation, and laughter brought the play to a halt. When order was restored Kemble repeated the line, drawing still more laughter. When the performance ended, the play’s fate was sealed. It would not be performed again for two centuries. Its author, William Henry Ireland, confessed to the fraud in two volumes that themselves are riddled with misrepresentations and outright lies about the events, and made a living for the rest of his life as a writer of novels—but the theatre was closed to him. And those who have written accounts of the imposture have been generally sympathetic to him. It was certainly an amazing example of human gullibility, whatever else it may have been.

01 April 2023

1 April 12023

  1 April 12023 is April Fools’ Day, celebrated by telling lies to try to get people to do foolish things. As G. K. Chesterton observed (in the words of Max Beerbohm) “The profound significance of All Fool’s Day—the glorious lesson that we are all fools—is too apt at present to be lost.” Certainly it’s lost on me—nothing about the holiday makes any damn sense. At least it only comes once a year. Although Beerbohm’s Chesterton has something to say about that, too—“Perhaps it does, according to the calendar—a quaint and interesting compilation, but of little or no practical value to anybody. It is not the calendar, but the Spirit of Man that regulates the recurrence of feasts and fasts.” Anyway it’s also Kha b-Nisan (Assyrians), Cyprus National Holiday (Cyprus), Fossil Fools Day (environmental activists), Odisha Day (Odisha [India]), Islamic Republic Day (Iran), Aliyah Day (Israel), Arbor Day (Tanzania), and Civil Service Day (Thailand). In numerical terms it’s JD 2460036 (Astronomical), 23 Paremhat 1739 (Coptic), 23 Megabit 2015 (Ethiopian), 1 April 2023 (Gregorian), 11 Nisan 5783 (Hebrew), 12 Caitra 1945 (Indian), 11 Ramadan 1444 (Islamic), 19 March 2023 (Julian), and 13 Farvardin 1402 (Persian). And it’s Anne McCaffrey’s birthday (born 11926). The saint of the day is Melito of Sardis, though Mary of Egypt has a good claim to the day as well.

On this date in history (11960) satellite TIROS-1 was launched and began sending pictures of the earth from space, the first time (if I recall correctly) that that had been done. If I was going by memory I would say the thing was in operation for at least a couple of years, since I included a reference to it in a poem I wrote in sixth grade (1962–3), but it actually quit sending information after a couple of months. As far as I know it’s still in orbit, though, so that’s something. Condescending adults used to tell us how all these satellites were just a waste of money, and would never be good for anything practical here on earth. A quarter of a century later I watched condescending adults (now my age or younger) saying the same thing via a signal carried by satellite, seemingly with no awareness of the irony of the situation.

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