1849: William Henry Talbot to Virginia (Talbot) Leonard

This letter was written by William Henry Talbot (1824-1884) of Norfolk. William was educated at the University of Virginia and afterward studied law with William W. Sharp, a well-known lawyer in Norfolk, and was admitted to practice in 1847. He wrote this letter in Paris while on a European tour that lasted almost two years. After his return, he devoted his attention to farming, rather than law practice. He married Elizabeth Minton Wright in 1863 and they had six children

Grave of Virginia (Talbot) Leonard

Grave of Virginia (Talbot) Leonard

Talbot wrote the letter to his sister, Virginia (Talbot) Leonard (1828-1850) — the first wife of Abraham Faw Leonard (1820-1870).¹ Leonard studied under Rev. Enoch M. Lowe and also Rev. George Halson, and then graduated from Princeton University in 1838. He served in the Virginia legislature. He studied for the bar under Norfolk attorney William Sharp (like William Talbot) and practiced until 1854 when he became the editor of the Southern Argus newspaper in Norfolk, taking up the southern cause. The paper also strongly supported the local Dorcus Society — an organization devoted to providing clothing to the poor. Virginia Talbot Leonard lived until 1850, but left a child and died one month later at twenty-two years of age. Abraham Leonard married second, Miss Louisa Dickson — sister of Richard Dickson, Esq., of Norfolk, and Mrs. Tazewell Taylor.

Leonard married a third wife, Caroline Davis, niece of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, at her father’s Hurricane Plantation on the Mississippi where over three hundred slaves served the plantation. The plantation was located near Vicksburg and was burned by the Union troops.

In 1859, a tragedy struck the Leonard family when the son — nine year old Virginius Leonard — was said to be stabbed in front of the National hotel In Norfolk and died on the sidewalk, declared murdered. However a day later, the coroner found that he died by gunshot by his own hand, apparently accidentally. Mother Virginia Talbot, who died soon after childbirth, and son Virginius Leonard are buried next to one another in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Norfolk, VA.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Virginia T. Leonard, Care of A. F. Leonard, Esqr., Norfolk, Virginia, United States of America

Paris [France]
December 10th 1849

My Dear Sister,

I received a joint letter from you & sister Mary on the 30th ultimo, dated the 10th of the same month, in which both of you, with mama to back you, urge my immediate return home. In my last letter I expressed a hope, which almost amounted to an assurance, that my visit to Rome would be highly approved of by the whole family. I regret very much to learn that it has proved otherwise; in fact, I cannot refrain from thinking even now that the advice you gave me, to go home without visiting Rome, was founded rather upon your great desire to see my “pretty face” as you call it, than upon your own better judgement — at least my vanity prompts me to think so. However that may be, I am confident that one member of the family at least will approve of the course I am about to pursue, and will plead my case; i.e., Mr. Leonard. Into his hands, therefore, I will place the matter, convinced that he will prove to the satisfaction of all that in determining to go to the Eternal City, I have acted wisely & for the best. Sister Fanny, I suppose, will remain neutral, as I know her great regard for the truth & her constant fear lest what she might answer might be construed as a prevarication of the truth, will prevent her from giving a reply otherwise than “I reckon so.” Her assistance, however, when heartily given, is by no means to be despised, and if Mr. Leonard’s eloquence is only backed by her reasons and arguments, I have not the least doubt but that they will carry the day in my favor.

By the way, I wish you would tell sister Fanny that I think she has treated me very shabbily. I have written her 2 long letters & I have not received one line in reply, nor has she even sent me a message. I “reckon” she has forgotten that she has a brother. If so, please to inform her that I am yet alive.

When I first came to Paris, I did not expect to remain here longer than a week, but have been unavoidably detained up to this period. I will briefly explain the circumstances that have occasioned this delay. As I mentioned in my last letter, almost immediately on my arrival here I was attacked with the influenza which lasted some 8 or 9 days. Before I got entirely well, I had a slight attack of neuralgia for the first time in my life, & which — unlike some things — doesn’t improve much on acquaintance, came on. And what with violent pains in the head, face, & thumb, I was unable to rest well for several nights. I have entirely recovered from all these little ailments except the whitlow.²  The doctor lanced my thumb yesterday & told me that he thought it would be entirely well in 5 or 5 days. Add to this, the weather has been  shockingly bad. The sun has not made his appearance more than once or twice & then it was exceedingly damp & uncomfortable under foot so that to tell the truth, I have scarcely had opportunities sufficient to make some few preliminary arrangements previous to my setting out for Rome.

I think, however, that I will be able to leave Paris on the 13th or 14th in order to be in time for the steamer that leaves Marsailles on the 19th. I expect to arrive in Rome on the 22d. I have changed my mind since I last wrote and shall go to Rome first & to Florence afterwards. Tell sister Mary that I will have only about 40 miles to go on Italian soil before reaching Rome; Viz; the distance between Civita Vecchia & the former city. Also tell her that there is a constant communication kept up by the French between the 2 places & consequently the road is very most travelled over — so that she need not give herself any uneasiness about my meeting with banditti for months, perhaps longer. Soon after my arrival there I shall write home & I hope my letter then will prove to be a more interesting one than this.

In regard to your & my portraits, I will mention that the last time I was in Leghorn on my way North, I left them in the charge of the American Consul at the same time writing a letter to Mr. [Walter] Gould ³ (of Fredericksburg, now in Florence studying painting & whom you remember I mentioned in one of my letters as being a fellow traveller with me in the Supply & again in Italy as far as Florence) in which I requested him to send the portraits to the United States along with a copy of one of Raphael’s celebrated paintings, which he himself was to take. I received a message from him stating that he would attend to it for me. When I got to Florence again, if they have not been sent home, I will have them shipped to New York to meet me on my arrival there where my trunk now is, & where a box of goods I shipped from London soon will be. I am traveling with nothing but a carpet bag. A trunk is too much trouble where every 100 miles or so, everything is pulled to pieces by custom house officers.

In my last I alluded to the fact that I should probably stand in need of some money before I set sail for America. I don’t think I will actually require a great deal over & above what I now have, but I would prefer to have sent me at least $400 in order to be sure of not being compelled to stop in my travels to wait for the arrival of funds from home, which would be highly inconvenient & unpleasant in many respects, laying aside the detention it would occasion. In order words, I would rather have too much than too little as I can carry home with me all over & above what I spend. As to the shape in which the $400 could be sent, Mr. Leonard will determine. A bill or bills on some house in Paris (e.g. Greene & Co.) might be sent to Paris in letter to Greene & Co, & they could send me on the strength of it a letter of credit to Italy, Germany, or wherever I might direct them to send it. I shall keep up a correspondence with Greene & Co. throughout my travels in Europe in future.

I wish you would direct all the letters written to me in future to the care of Greene & Co., Paris, who will from time to time send them to whatever city I may, by letter, request them. That will be the surest way of receiving news from home. When any money is sent me, I wish you would write me a letter at the same time apprising me of the fact.

I must now bid you goodbye. I shall write again from Rome. Give my love to all the family & all inquiring friends. Give my best respects to all the young ladies I like best (whose names it would be superfluous to mention, as you know them very well). Be sure to answer this soon & direct to Greene & Co., Paris. I should like to buy some cameos in Rome for you all but can’t spare the money. They are said to be very fine & cheap there. Good bye — as ever — your affectionate brother, — W. H. Talbot

P. S. Messrs. Greene & Co. informs me that they do business with the house of Browns & Bowen, Philadelphia, so you can send me funds thro’ that house if you choose. — W. H. T.

¹ Abraham Faw Leonard is famed for covering the yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk, and his poetry often finds a place in the newspaper. A song excerpt he wrote regales the southern cause:

Land of the South, by A. F. Leonard – tune of “Friend of my Soul” 

Land of the South! the fairest land
Beneath Columbia’s sky!
Proudly her hills of freedom stand,
Her plains in beauty lie.
Her dotted fields, her traversed streams,
Their annual wealth renew;
Land of the South! in brightest dreams
No dearer spot we view. 

Men of the South! a free born race,
They vouch a patriot line;
Ready a foeman’s van to face,
And guard their country’s shrine.
By sire and son a haloing light
Through time is borne along;
They “nothing ask but what is right,
And yield to nothing wrong.”

² A whitlow or felon is an infection of the tip of the finger.

³ Walter G. Gould (1829-1893) was born in Philadelphia and studied art from an early age. His first paintings were exhibited in 1843 and 1844 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. By 1846, he split his time working between Philadelphia and Fredericksburg. Most of the portraits he painted in Fredericksburg were lost during the American Civil War when the city was under siege. Gould went to Europe in the late 1840s where he studied awhile in Paris, and later in Florence. Gould must have painted miniatures of Talbot and his sister.

4 responses to “1849: William Henry Talbot to Virginia (Talbot) Leonard

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