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Biddle's death, before the members of the Pittsburgh Bar, and by one of its most distinguished members, a very vivid portrayal is given of the author's career at the Bar. The qualities of his indomitable energy are dwelt upon, and one sentence in the address, as foreshadowing his labors on this Memoir, seems apt enough to quote:-“his mind was of great power and his energy was invincible—no prospect of severe and interminable labor made him hesitate or falter.'
After ten years of active professional life, he went abroad in 1828 and settled himself in London. Here he continued a diligent student, frequenting the Courts and Libraries. Just how he was led to undertake the farther voyage-for such it proved itself-into those unfathomed depths of legend and fact surrounding at that time the careers of the Cabots, it may not be possible to determine. In his own preface Mr. Biddle draws attention to some very loose and inaccurate statements appearing just then in a new Edition of the “Biographie Universelle.” It is entirely possible that the erroneous and slighting remarks upon the voyages of the Cabots to which he adverts may have been the inducing cause for the exhaustive researches he undertook, lasting several years, and resulting in what has been recognized on high modern authority "as the best review of the history of maritime discovery relating to the period of which it treats that had appeared.” (Deane (Charles), Voyages of the Cabots.)
The book on its appearance made a deep impression, and although published anonymously its authorship was
no secret. From many reviews and notices of it that appeared at the time in English, French, Italian and American publications, we select and give excerpts from those published in the London Westminster Review, and in the North-American Review in this country.
In its issue of January, 1832, the Westminster Review remarks:
“This book is a phenomenon among the productions of the day, for various reasons—first, it is not a catchpenny, next it is written with the motive of discovering truth; again it is the result of hard labor, and acute investigation among the really original authorities; it is not written for money; it springs from studies, of such accuracy and minuteness as no ordinary pecuniary reward could pay. Again its title-page is much less comprehensive than the volume and altogether from these and other causes it forms a glorious exception from the poor and paltry spirit which actuates nine publications out of ten of those that load the counters of the modern book-seller.
The author of this volume is an American, he does honor to his country, and we cannot but take kindly the interest he has shown in vindicating for England the parentage of the land of his birth.”
Quoting from the North-American Review of Jan
“The author has well kept the honorable promise (contained in Preface) which he has thus virtually made. He never points out an error where he is not able to substitute the truth, and never sets up a theory
or conjecture till he has a solid foundation of fact for it to rest upon
He seems perfectly acquainted with the contents of many rare and curious books of reference, the very titles of which are probably new to ninety-nine out of a hundred of his readers.
He has dragged into light manuscripts with the mould of centuries upon them, and forced them to give their tardy testimony in favor of the truth.
Nothing escapes his acuteness and penetration.
The book is indeed unrivalled in its way and is well worth the attentive study of a young lawyer as a model for a learned, acute and profound argument upon certain obscure and disputed points of history, which admits nothing that is irrelevant and rejects nothing that is important, and by which a cause that looks desperate at first is so triumphantly supported, that we wonder how the contrary impression could ever have prevailed.”
It is not claiming too much to say that Richard Biddle's “Memoir of Sebastian Cabot” was the pioneer in the work of investigation and verification that has resulted in the mass of literature issued since on the early voyages of the Cabots. His discovery among the Manuscripts in the Public Record Office, London, of the text of Henry VII's second letters patent, and his distinguishing thereby for the first time that there were two Cabot voyages, in 1497 and 1498, was an immense contribution to the subject. In fact Mr. G. P. Winship, in his exhaustive treatise on the literature of the Cabot Voyages, sums up his notes on Mr. Biddle's Memoir
by saying that “The strictly historical investigation into the careers of the Cabots dates from the appearance of Mr. Biddle's volume.”
In a preface to “John and Sebastian Cabot" by C. Raymond Beazley, Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, appearing in 1898, the author in noting the changes of opinion in Europe and America on certain points of history, leads off by saying, “Since the modern Cabot literature began with the appearance of R. Biddle's (American) Memoir in 1831.”
Not a work on the Cabots but contains references to the Biddle Memoir (Harrisse has 36 references), and a note in Winship’s Cabot Bibliography mentions that an account of Cabot by Errizo, appearing at Venice in 1855, “is largely drawn from Biddle.”
Mr. Biddle returned to Pittsburgh in 1832, after an absence of four years, and reëngaged in the practice of the law. In 1837 he was elected to Congress, and went to Washington the year following to attend its sessions. Mr. David Ritchie, when speaking of his election in the Eulogium referred to at the beginning of this notice, says: “No man was ever elected to that place with less intrigue or management or personal interference. He had earned such a position in this community (Pittsburgh) that the people desired his services and sent him to Congress without any solicitation on his part. . . He had not been long in the house of representatives till his position was of the highest.” He was reëlected in 1838, and served in the first session of '39 and '40, but in this year resigned “to the very great regret of his constituents, to whom his services gave almost universal satisfaction.”
On the 17th of June, 1844, he was married to Ann Eliza Anderson, eldest daughter of John Anderson of Pittsburgh. This lady survived him many years, and passed the latter portion of her life in Philadelphia, although finally removing to her daughter's house in Pittsburgh, where she died May 6th, 1908.
Two children were born of this marriage: a son, Richard, now a resident of Tennessee, and a daughter, Grace, lately deceased, who married the Rev. J. Hall McIlvaine.
EDWARD BIDDLE. December, 1915.
In a Note at foot of page 79, a printed nought should clearly have been the figure 9—Thus for “10th August, 1407,” read “10th August, 1497. To hym that found the New Isle, 101.”