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MRS. MARCIA'V'AN NESS.
IF “a brave man struggling with the storms of fate," be one of the sublimest moral spectacles, one of the most beautiful is that of a good, amiable, and accomplished woman, who performs her social duties according to her rank, and especially those of domestic life, with grace and dignity. And if a woman, to the virtues of her own sex, unites the energy of the other-extends her usefulness beyond the limits of her household, and by her example, means, and exertions, benefits a great community, she becomes at once an object of public interest; and the sex have a right to require that the golden list should be swelled by another name to which they may point with pride and exultation.
For this reason we commit to publicity the name of Mrs. MARCIA Van Ness, careful, in speaking of her, to observe that simplicity which accords with her character.
She was born on the banks of the Potomac, in the state of Maryland, on a large and valuable plantation, within the original limits of which is now embraced a great part of the American metropolis, and of which she, at an early age, became the sole heiress. Her paternal great-grandfather, emigrated from North Britain. Her father, David Burns, Esq., was heir at law to the family estate, was a civil magistrate of the county, and was respected and esteemed for his hospitality and other virtues. Her mother was of a highly respectable family of the neighboring country, named White. The daughter was soon distinguished by her sprightliness and fancy, which, when not saddened by affliction, continued to characterize her throughout life. When at maturity, her form, rather below the common height, was light and graceful; her face, without being formally handsome, was of uncommon loveliness, with that mixture of innocence and archness so much admired and rarely seen; the Zout ensemble yielding that interesting expression which may be called the essence of beauty; add a penetrating mind, engaging and
inaffected manners, and the accomplishments of an excellent educa
tion, and it will be admitted that in her case, virtue had chosen to appear in the most agreeable shape.
After preparatory education at the best school in Georgetown,where she was associated in her juvenile years with the most respectable of her sex and age, many of whom are now on the stage of life in the vicinity, and recollect with pleasure the prepossessing interest of her early youth,—she was sent to Baltimore for the completion of her studies, and became an inmate in the family of the celebrated Luther Martin, Esq., a particular friend of her father, and then at the height of his professional fame as a jurist and an advocate. The female family of this gentleman consisted of his wife, a most interesting and accomplished woman, and several daughters, with whom the subject of this memoir was a constant associate at the best boarding-school, and in the best society in Baltimore. The habitual conversation of Mr. Martin, then distinguished in politics as well as in the forum, contributed, no doubt, to fan that flame of public spirit which never glowed in human breast more brightly, and at the same time mellowly, than in her's, and prepared her to take an interest in those great public questions, in which we are pleased to see our fair friends more and more inclined to exert an influence, and take a part not inconsistent, however, with that delicacy and those feelings which preëminently adorn the sex.
A woman is seldom placed in a position to achieve great actions; the more sedulously should she prepare herself, and be prepared by her friends, for the performance of her more appropriate duties those sweet and tender charities of life, which, "like the gentle dew of heaven,” provè more precious to society, a thousand fold, than exploits, "lights flashing through the northern sky," which seem meant only to be gazed at. Of such useless exploits there are none to offer in this sketch. No modern Semiramis do we attempt to present to an astonished and subjected world-no Elizabeth, who, by the masculine ambition and relentless rigor of her character acquired a fame, perhaps less to be envied by her own sex than by ours —no Madame de Stael with her affectation or reality of literary, or political greatness; but the friends of virtue will listen to a few remarks illustrative of the character of one, who uniformly held the onward path of goodness with untiring steps, filled the measure of her duties to overflowing, and whose actions did not less "point the moral and adorn the tale,” in an extensive public sphere, than those loftier adventures which have fallen to the lot of some others.
Miss Burns had a brother older than herself, a fine young man, who was successfully studying law in Mr. Martin's office, at the same time that she was in his family. This young gentleman died before he was licensed. Soon after her return from Baltimore, in 1799 or 1800, to her family residence, her father died, leaving a widow and his daughter, then an only child. From her other advantages, and the splendor of her fortune, she soon became an object of interest and attention ; idolized by her mother, and universally sought and admired.
This was about the period when the government was removed to Washington ; an event that brought with it a great influx of genteel society from all parts of the country, as well as from abroad, with which she was in the constant habit of associating.
On the 9th of May, 1802, the anniversary of her birthday, she was, at the age of twenty, united in wedlock to the Honorable John P. Van Ness, member of congress from his native state, New York. Although a member of one of the ancient, respectable, and numerous families of that state, and, of course, having many strong ties and relations there, he, from the moment of his marriage, became a resident of Washington—thus yielding, too, his political, to his domestic prospects : since which he has enjoyed the highest municipal honors which the political condition of the district of Columbia affords; and is now one of the fathers of the place in which he thus acquired so valuable a stake. This choice did not fail to be gratifying to Mrs. Van Ness, who found in him, besides, a uniformly affectionate and devoted husband, and a kind son to her aged and beloved mother.
In the year 1803, their union was blessed with the birth of a daughter, the only child they ever had. She soon became every thing her fond parents could desire. They bestowed upon her the most finished education ; she was the ornament and delight of society. "All the anxious feelings of a devoted mother prompted her to labor most assiduously to impress the mind and imbue the heart of her daughter, as she rose into life, with the solemn concerns of eternity; and in this, with the blessing of God, she happily succeeded :'* and from this, as well as other sources, Mrs. Van Ness, during the course of twenty years ensuing, derived a felicity seldom attainable on earth-seldom so gratefully acknowledged to the giver of all good things. Her gratitude, which she was always anxious to manifest, increased with her prosperity, which had but one drawback - the delicate state of her
* Rev. Mr. Hawley's funeral discourse.