Category Archives: Letters

Item of the Day: Chesterfield to his Son on Vanity (1774)

Full Title: Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq; Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden. Together with Several Other Pieces on Various subjects. Published by Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, From the Originals Now in Her Possession. In Two Volumes. Vol. II. Dublin: Printed by G. Faulkner, in Parliament-street, M.DCC.LXXIV.

Letter LXXII.

Bath, November the 16th, 1752.

My Dear Friend,

Vanity, or to call it by a gentler name, the desire of admiration and applause, is, perhaps, the most universal principle of human actions; I do not say, that it is the best; and I will own, that it is sometimes the cause of both foolish and criminal effects.  But it is so much oftener the principle of right things, that, though they ought to have a better, yet, considering human nature, that principle is to be encouraged and cherished, in consideration of its effects.  Where that desire is wanting, we are apt to be indifferent, listless, indolent and inert; we do not exert our powers; and we appear to be as much below ourselves, as the vainest man living can desire to appear above what he really is.

As I have made you my confessor, and do not scruple to confess even my weaknesses to you, I will fairly own, that I had that vanity, that weakness, if it be one, to a prodigious degree; and, what is more, I confess it without repentence; nay I am glad I had it; since, if I have the good fortune to please in the world, it is to that powerful and active principle that I owe it.  I began the world, not with a bare desire, but with an insatiable thirst, a rage for popularity, applause, and admiration.  If this made me do some silly things, on one hand, it made me, on the other hand, do almost all the right things that I did:  it made me attentive and civil to the women I disliked, and to the men I despised, in hopes of the applause of both:  though I neither desired, nor would have accepted the favours of the one, nor the friendship of the other.  I always dressed, looked, and talked my best; and, I own, was overjoyed whenever I perceived that by all three, or by any one of them, the company was pleased with me.  To men, I talked whatever I thought would give them the best opinion of my parts and learning; and, to women, what I was sure would please them; flattery, gallantry, and love.  And moreover, I will own to you, under the secrecy of confession, that my vanity has very often made me take great pains to make many a woman in love with me, if I could, for whose person I would not give a pinch a snuff.  In company with men, I always endeavoured to out-shine, or, at least, if possible, to equal the most shining man in it.  This desire elicited whatever powers I had to gratify it; and where I could not perhaps shine in the first, enabled me, at least, to shine in the second or third sphere.  By these means I soon grew in fashion; and when a man is once in fashion, all he does is right.  It was infinite pleasure to me, to find my own fashion and popularity.  I was sent for to all parties of pleasure, both of men or women; where, in some measures, I gave the tone.  This gave me the reputation of having had some woman of condition; and that reputation, whether true or false, really got me others.  With the men I was a Proteus, and assumed every shape, in order to please them all: among the gay, I was the gayest, among the grave, the gravest; and I never omitted the least attentions of good breeding, or the least offices of friendship, that could either please, or attach them to me: and accordingly I was soon connected with all the men of any fashion or figure in town.

To this principle of vanity, which Philosophers call a mean one, and which I do not, I owe great part of the figure which I have made in life.  I wish you had as much, but I fear you have too little of it; and you seem to have a degree of laziness and lislestness about you, that makes you indifferent as to general applause…

 

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Item of the Day: Madison’s Papers (1842)

Full Title: The Papers of James Madison, Purchased by Order of Congress; Being His Correspondence and Reports of Debates During the Congress of the Confederation and his Reports of Debates in The Federal Convention; Now published from the original manuscripts, deposited in the Department of State, By Direction of the Joint Library Committee of Congress, Under the Superintendence of Henry D. Gilpin.  Volume I.  Mobile:  Allston Mygatt.  1842.

Letters Preceding the Debates of 1783.

To Thomas Jefferson.  Philadelphia, March 27, 1780.

Dear Sir,

Nothing under the title of news has occurred since I wrote last week by express, except that the enemy on the first of March remained in the neighbourhood of Charleston, in the same posture as when the preceding account came away.  From the best intelligence from that quarter, there seems to be great encouragement to hope that Clinton’s operations will be again frustrated.  Our great apprehensions at present flow from a very different quarter.  Among the various conjunctures of alarm and distress which have arisen in the course of the Revolution, it is with pain I affirm to you, Sir, that no one can be singled out more truly critical than the present.  Our army threatened with an immediate alternative of disbanding or living on free quarter; the public treasury empty; public credit exhausted, nay, the private credit of purchasing agents employed, I am told, as far as it will bear; Congress complaining of the extortion of the people; the people of the improvidence of Congress; and the army of both; our affairs requiring the most mature and systematic measures, and the urgency of occasions admitting only of temporizing expedients generating new difficulties; Congress recommending plans to the several states for execution, and the States separately rejudging the expediency of such plans, whereby the same distrust of concurrent exertions that has damped the ardor of patriotic individuals must produce the same effect among the States themselves; an old system of finance discarded as incompetent to our necessities, an untried and precarious one substituted, and a total stagnation in prospect between the end of the former and the operation of the latter.  These are the outlines of the picture of our public situation.  I leave it to your own imagination to fill them up.  Believe me, Sir, as things now stand, if the States do not vigorously proceed in collecting the old money, and establishing funds for the credit of the new, that we are undone; and let them be ever so expeditious in doing this, sill the intermediate distress of our army, and hinderance to public affairs, are a subject of melancholy reflection.  General Washington writes that a failure of bread has already commenced in the army; and that, for any thing he sees, it must unavoidably increase.  Meat they have only for a short season, and as the whole dependence is on provisions now to be procured, without a shilling for the purpose, and without credit for a shilling, I look forward with the most pungent apprehensions.  It will be attempted, I believe, to purchase a few supplies with loan-office certificates; but whether they will be received is perhaps far from being certain; and if received will certainly be a more expensive and ruinous expedient.  It is not without some reluctance I trust this information to a conveyance by post, but I know of no better at present, and I ceonceive it to be absolutely necessary to be known to those who are most able and zealous to contribute to the public relief.     

 

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Filed under 1780's, American Revolution, Eighteenth century, Letters, Posted by Matthew Williams, Public Debt, Washington

Item of the Day: Almon’s Anecdotes (on Wm. Knox) (1797)

Full Title:

Biographical, Literary, and Political Anecdotes of Several of the Most Eminent Persons of the Present Age.  Never Before Printed.  With an Appendix; Consisting of Original, Explanatory, and Scarce Papers.  By the Author of Anecdotes of the Late Earl of Chatham.  In Three Volumes.  Volume II.  London: Printed for T. N. Longman, and L. B. Seeley.  In Pater-Noster-Row.  1797. 

Chapter XXI.

William Knox, Esq.  Advocate for the American War.  Secretary to Lord George Germaine.  His State of the Nation; assisted by Mr. Grenville.  Other Publications.

This gentleman was another of Mr. Grenville’s friends; and was a very strenuous and persevering advocate of the British measures against America.  He was agent for Georgia; and Under Secretary of State to Lord Hillsborough, and to Lord George Germaine, during the American war.  To his zeal and suggestions, many of the unfortunate measures against America were ascribed, and he sustained much of the hatred of the Americans on that account.  He was the author of several tracts on American subjects, the principal of which was,

“The Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies reviewed.”  It is obviously a work of much labour and contains extracts from many papers.  The writer’s view is to support the right of Great Britain to tax America.

He was also the writer of a tract intitled “The Present State of the Nation; particularly with respect to its Trade, Finances, &c.”  This pamphlet was, at first, ascribed to Mr. Grenville; and Mr. Burke, by his pamphlet intitled “Observations upon it,” gave a temporary currency to that opinion.  Mr. Grenville undoubtedly assisted the writer with materials and arguments, but the compositions belong to Mr. Knox.  It consists principally of a defence of Mr. Grenville’s ministry and measures, and a condemnation of the Rockingham ministry, and their measures.

Mr. Knox has also published two small volumes, called “Extra-official State Papers;” which contain many useful hints. 

The two following Letters are not unworthy of the reader’s notice:

5th March 1783.

“Sir,

“Letters having been written to the Secretary of the late Board of Trade, and to my colleague, for the last six months, as Under Secretary of State in the American department, and to all the clerks who have been deprived of their situations in those offices by their suppression, acquainting them, that the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury had made them all allowances in compensation of the incomes they had been deprived of; and no such letter having come to me, I am constrained to give you the trouble of this letter, to request the favour of you to move their Lordships to permit you to inform me of what account it is that I, who had served as Under Secretary to every Secretary of State that has filled the American department, from its institution to its suppression, and even attended the Earl of Shelburne when that department was absorbed in the domestic, until his Lordship was more ably served, should be the only person passed over upon this occasion without compensation, and even without notice.

“I am, Sir, &c. William Knox.”

“Geo. Rose, Esq.”

Copy of Mr. Rose’s Answer, dated 17th of March 1783.

“Sir,

“Upon reading to my Lords Commissioners of the Treasury your letter, dated the 5th instant, respecting a compensation for your office of Under Secretary of State for the American department, I am directed to acquaint you, that my Lords are of opinion that you have no claim whatever to a compensation for the loss of your office, you already having a pension of six hundred pounds a-year for yourself, and the like sum for Mrs. Knox.

“I am, Sir, &c. Geo. Rose.”  

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Item of the Day: Locke on Toleration (1777)

Full Title: The Works of John Locke, In Four Volumes.  The Eighth Edition.  Volume the Second.  London:  Printed for W. Strahan, J. F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, W. Owen, S. Baker and G. Leigh, T. Payne and Son, T. Caslon, S. Crowder, T. Longman, B. Law, C. Rivington, E. and C. Dilly, J. Wilkie, T. Cadell, N. Conant, T. Beecroft, T. Lowndes, G. Robinson, Jos. Johnson, J. Robson, J. Knox, T. Becket, and T. Evans.  MDCCLXXVII.

A Letter Concerning Toleration [p. 316].

Honoured Sir,

Since you are pleased to enquire what are my thoughts about the mutual Toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must needs answer you freely, that I esteem that Toleration be the chief characteristical mark of the true church.  For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith, for everyone is orthodox to himself: these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another, than of the church of Christ.  Let any one have ever so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true Christian himself.  “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, said our Saviour to his disciples, but ye shall not be so,” Luke xxii. 25, 26.  The business of true religion is quite another thing.  It is not instituted in order to the erecting an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor to the exercising of compulsive force; but to the regulating of men’s lives according to the rules of virtue and piety.  Whosoever will lift himself under the banner of Christ, must, in the first place and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and vices.  It is in vain for any man to usurp the name of Christian, without holiness of life, purity of manners, and benignity and meekness of spirit.  “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity. 2. Tim. ii. 19. Thou, when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” said our Lord to Peter, Luke xxii. 32.  It would indeed be very hard for one that appears careless about his own salvation, to persuade me that he were extremely concerned for mine.  For it is impossible that those should sincerely and heartily apply themselves to make other people Christians, who have not really embraced the Christian religion in their hearts.  If the Gospel and the Apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity, and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love.  Now I appeal to the consciences of those that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them, or no; and I shall then indeed, and not till then, believe they do so, when I shall see those fiery zealots correcting, in the same manner, their friends and familiar acquaintance, for the manifest sins they commit against the precepts of the Gospel; when I shall see them prosecute with fire and sword the members of their own communion that are tainted with enormous vices, and without amendment are in danger of eternal perdition; and when I shall see them thus express their love and desire of the salvation of their souls, by the infliction of torments, and exercise of all manner of cruelties.  For if it be out of a principle of charity, as they pretend, and love to men’s souls, that they deprive them of their estates, maim them with corporal punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the end even take away their lives; I say, if all this be done merely to make men Christians, and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer “whoredom, fraud, malice, and such-like enormities,” which according to the Apostle, Rom. i. manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predominate so much and abound amongst their flock and people?  These, and such-like things, are certainly more contrary to the glory of God, to the purity of the church , and to the salvation of souls, than any conscientious dissent from ecclesiastical decision, or separation from publick worship, whilst accompanied with innocency of life.  Why then does this burning zeal for God, for the church, and for the salvation of souls; burning, I say, literally with fire and faggot; pass by those moral vices and wickedness, without any chastisement, which are acknowledged by all men to be diametrically opposite to the profession of Christianity; and bend all its nerves either to the introducing of ceremonies, or to the establishment of opinions, which for the most part are about nice and intricate matters, that exceed the capacity of ordinary understandings?  Which of the parties contending about these things is in the right, which of them is guilty of schism or heresy, whether those that domineer or those that suffer, with then at last be manifest, when the cause of their separation comes to be judged of.  He certainly that follows Christ, embraces his doctrine, and bears his yoke, though he forsake both father and mother, separate from the publick assemblies and ceremonies of his country, or whomsoever, or whatsoever else he relinquishes, will not then be judged an heretick.       

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Filed under 1770's, Church of England, Letters, Posted by Matthew Williams, Religion

Item of the Day: Abingdon’s Thoughts on Burke’s Letter (1777)

Full Title:

Thoughts on the Letter of Edmund Burke, Esq; to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America.  By the Earl of Abingdon.  Oxford: Printed for W. Jackson: Sold by J. Almon, in Piccadilly, and J. Bew, in Peternastor-Row, London; and by the Booksellers of Bristol, Bath, and Cambridge. [Price One Shilling] 1777.

Having seen Mr. Burke’s late Publication on the affairs of America, I was led to read it with all that attention which every performance of his must necessarily deserve.  I sympathise most cordially with him in those feelings of humanity, which mark, in language so expressive, the abhorrence of his nature with the effusion of Human Blood.  I agree with him in idea, that the War with America is “fruitless, hopeless, and unnatural”; and I will add, on the part of Great-Britain, cruel and unjust.  I join hand in hand with him in all his propositions for Peace; and I look with longing eyes for the event.  I participate with him in the happiness of those friendships and connexions, which are the subjects, so deservedly, of his panegyric.  The name of Rockingham is a sacred deposit in my bosom.  I have found him disinterested, I know him to be honest.  Before I quit him therefore, I will first abandon human nature.

So far then are Mr. Burke and I agreed.  I am sorry that we should disagree in anything.  But finding that we have differed, on a late occasion, in our parliamentary conduct; and that I cannot concur with him in opinion on a matter, as I think, of great national importance: it is therefore not in the zeal of party, but in the spirit of patriotism, not to confute, but to be convinced, not to point out error, but to arrive at truth, that I now venture to submit my thoughts to the Public.  I feel the weight of the undertaking, and I wish it in abler hands.  I am not insensible to my own incapacity, and I know how much I stand in need of excuse: but as public good is my object, public candor, I trust, will be my best apologist.

Mr. Burke commences hi Letter with the mention of “the two last Acts which have been passed with regard to the Troubles in America.”  The first is, “for the Letter of Marque,” the second, “for a partial suspension of Habeus Corpus.”  Of the former, he says littler, as not worthy of much notice.  Of the latter, his distinctions are nice, his strictures many, his objections unanswerable; and yet, although so well apprised of the dangers and mischiefs of the Act, he says, “I have not debated against this Bill in its progress through the House, because it would have been vain to oppose, and impossible to correct ti.”  But this is a matter of inquiry.  As I thought differently, I acted differently.  Being in the country, this Bill was in its way through the House of Lords before I knew any thing of it.  Upon my coming accidentally to town, and hearing of its malignity, I went down to the House, opposed it, and entered my solemn protest in the Journals against it.  It is true, I stood single and alone in this business; but I do not therefore take shame to myself.  Rectitude of intention will even sanctify error.  But Mr. Burke says, “During its progress through the House of Commons, it has been amended, so as to express more distinctly than at first it did, the avowed sentiments of those who framed it.”  Now if the Bill was amended in its progress through the House of Commons, Mr. Burke’s reason “for not debating against the Bill” cannot be well founded; for his reason is, “that it would have been vain to oppose, and impossible to correct it:” but to amend a thing is to correct it; and therefore it the Bill was amended, it was not impossible to correct it

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Great Britain, Letters, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Franklin on the Slave Trade (1790/1836)

Full Title:

The Works of Benjamin Franklin; Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in Any Former Edition, And Many Letters Official and Private Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and A Life of the Author.  By Jared Sparks.  Volume II [of 9].  Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company. 

On The Slave Trade.

To the Editor of the Federal Gazette. 

March 23rd, 1790.

Sir,

Reading last night in your excellent paper the speech of Mr. Jackson in Congress against their meddling with the affair of slavery, or attempting to mend the condition of the slaves, it put me in mind of a similar one made about one hundred years since by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be seen in Martin’s Account of his Consulship, anno 1687.  It was against granting the petition of the sect called Erika, or Purists, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery as being unjust.  Mr. Jackson does not quote it; perhaps he has not seen it.  If, therefore, some of its reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only show that men’s interests and intellects operate and are operated on with surprising similarity in all countries and climates, whenever they are under similar circumstances.  The African’s speech, as translated, is as follows.

Allah Bismallah, &c.  God is great, and Mahomet is his Prophet.

“Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting this petition?  If we cease our cruises against the Christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us?  If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who in this hot climate are to cultivate our lands?  Who are to perform the common labors of our city, and in our families?  Must we not then be our own slaves?  And is there not more compassion and more favor due to us as Mussulmen, than to these Christian dogs?  We have now above fifty thousand slaves in and near Algiers.  This number, if not kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated.  If we then cease taking and plundering the infidel ships, and making slaves of the seamen and passengers, our lands will become of no value for want of cultivation; the rents of houses in the city will sink one half; and the revenue of government arising from its share of prizes be totally destroyed!  And for what?  To gratify the whims of a whimsical sect, who would have us, not only forbear making more slaves, but even manumit those we have. 

“But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss?  Will the state do it?  Is our treasury sufficient?  Will the Erika do it?  Can they do it?  Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners?  And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them?  Few of them will return to their countries; they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to; they will not embrace our holy religion; they will not adopt our manners; our people will not pollute themselves by intermarrying with them.  Must we maintain them as beggars in our streets, or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage?  For men accustomed to slavery will not work for a livelihood when not compelled.  And what is there so pitiable in their present condition?  Were they not slaves in their own countries?

“Are not Spain, Portugal, France, and the Italian states governed by despots, who hold all their subjects in slavery, without exception?  Even England treats its sailors as slaves; for they are, whenever the government pleases, seized, and confined in ships of war, condemned not only to work, but to fight, for small wages, or a mere subsistence, not better than our slaves are allowed by us.  Is their condition then made worse by their falling into our hands?  No; they have only exchanged one slavery for another, and I may say a better; for here they are brought into a land where the sun of Islamism gives forth its light, and shines in full splendor, and they have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal souls.  Those who remain at home have not that happiness.  Sending the slaves home then would be sending them out of the light and into darkness.

“I repeat the question, What is to be done with them?  I have heard it suggested, that they may be planted in the wilderness, where there is plenty of land for them to subsist on, and where they may flourish as a free state; but they are, I doubt, too little disposed to labor without compulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good government, and the wild Arabs would soon molest and destroy or again enslave them.  While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing, and they are treated with humanity.  The laborers in their own country are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged, and clothed.  The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no further improvement.  Here their lives are in safety.  They are not liable to be impressed for soldiers, and forced to cut one another’s Christian throats, as in the wars of their own countries.  If some of the religious mad bigots, who now tease us with their silly petitions, have in a fit of blind zeal freed their slaves, it was not generosity, it was not humanity, that moved them to the action; it was from the conscious burden of a load of sins, and a hope, from the supposed merits of so good a work, to be excused from damnation.

“How grossly are they mistaken to suppose slavery to be disallowed by the Alcoran!  Are not the two precepts, to quote no more, ‘Masters, treat your slaves with kindness; Slaves, serve your masters with cheerfulness and fidelity,’ clear proofs to the contrary?  Nor can the plundering of infidels be in that sacred book forbidden, since it is well known from it, that God has given the world, and all it contains, to his faithful Mussulmen, who are to enjoy it of right as fast as they conquer it.  Let us then hear not more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of Christian slaves, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government and producing general confusion.  I have therefore no doubt, but this wise council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers to the whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their petition.”      

The result was, as Martin tells us, that the Divan came to the resolution; “The doctrine, that plundering and enslaving the Christians is unjust, is as best problematical; but that it is in the interest of this state to continue the practice, is clear; therefore let the petition be rejected.”

And it was rejected accordingly.

And since like motives are apt to produce in the minds of men like opinions and resolutions, may we not, Mr. Brown, venture to predict, from this account, that the petitions to the Parliament of England for abolishing the slave-trade, to say nothing of other legislatures, and the debates upon them, will have a similar conclusion?  I am, Sir, your constant reader and humble servant,

HISTORICUS.

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Filed under 1790's, 1830's, Early Republic, Eighteenth century, Foreign Relations, Government, Islam, Koran, Letters, Newspapers, Posted by Matthew Williams, Slavery

Item of the Day: Letters to a Nobleman (1779)

Full Title: Letters to a Nobleman, on the Conduct of the War in the Middle Colonies. The Second Edition. London: Printed for J. Wilkie, No. 71, St. Paul’s Church-Yard, MDCCLXXIX. [1779]

LETTER I.

MY LORD,

THE pleasure I take in complying with your wishes, will not suffer me to postpone the performance of a promise I made, when I last had the honour of conversing with your Lordship.  If I remember right, it was to communicate my sentiments of the strength and practicability of the Middle Colonies where the late military operations have been carried on, — of the disposition of the people, in general, in the revolted Colonies, — and of the conduct of the late war in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These are matters which intimately concern the public welfare, and with which your Lordship, as a senator, and the whole nation, who have expended many millions in that war, ought to be perfectly acquainted. Of these I shall therefore treat, in the order pointed out by your Lordship, without any other restraint than that which is imposed by condor and truth.

That part of the Middle Colonies which has been the scene of the late military operations, cannot, with the least propriety, in the military sense of the words, be called uncommonly strong, and much less impracticable. These operations have been chiefly confined between the mountains and the sea-coast southward of New York. In that part of America, the hills, when compared with those in this country, are by no means high or difficult of access. And there are few of them which do not afford an easy ascent either on one side or the other. Very unlike this country, where numerous hedges and high dykes form many bulwarks, for a time, proof even against cannon; there, neither hedges nor dykes are to be found. The fences are made of posts fixed in the ground, at ten feet distance, and in general with four or five cross rails, from nine to fifteen inches asunder. The country, which is thick settled and populous, every farmer living on his own plantation, not in villages, is interspersed with intermediate woods, and large plantations, or open fields. The wood consists of large tall trees, growing at different and considerable distances, without any underwood, and are easily scoured with cannon or musquetry [sic]. This is a true and exact state of that part of the country of New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the war has been carried on; and from this description, it may be easily determined how far it can be deemed strong or impracticable in respect to military operations.

But, my Lord, experience is the best instructor; and if we attend to it, we shall certainly obtain every necessary information. In this country, we have lately seen two armies, one meditating its conquest, the other its defence. We have seen the British army penetrating into its heart, in a circuit of near two hundred miles, from Long Island, by the White Plains, to Trenton, and from the Elk Ferry to Philadelphia, in defiance of the utmost efforts of an enemy perfectly acquainted with every advantageous spot of ground; and we have seen that army taking, with ease and little loss, every strong post possessed by the enemy, who have always fled at its approach. Surely a country where such operations have been performed with so little difficulty, cannot be deemed very strong or impracticable.

But the strength or impracticability of this country is lost in idea, when we compare it with the  sense of action in the last American war. That was in a country of thick woods, — full of vast mountains, high precipices, and strong defiles; yet an Amherst and a Wolfe led the British troops through it to conquest and to glory, against the utmost efforts of the French veterans. Though in strength it was equal to any of the countries in Europe, yet was it not so impracticable as to baffle the zeal of British Generals, who, unconnected with party, prized their own honour, and devoted their lives to the interest of their country and the glory of their Sovereign.

For my own part, I have no idea of any country being impracticable in respect to military operations. Nor, I believe, has any other person, who is acquainted with the history of war, or the conduct of great commanders. Did not an Hannibal and a Caesar cross the high mountains and strong defiles of the Alps? Have not Britons more than once victoriously traversed the strongest fortified countries of Germany, France, and Flanders? Is there a country in Europe which has not been pervaded by military skill and valour? No, my Lord, there is not. And I am confident I may adopt this proposition as true,  that every country, however strong, will afford mutual and alternate advantages to contending armies, while superior skill, force, and exertion alone, can ensure victory and success. Should an inferior enemy in his retreat take possession of a strong post, which it would be too great a risque to attack, military policy and experience will tell us, that his provsions my be cut off, — his army besieged or starved into a surrender, — or the other parts of the country be reduced, while he remains inactive in his post; and after that, he can no longer subsist. How then can a country in any military sense be deemed impracticable? To the Ancients, or to Britons till lately, such a sentiment was unknown. It is not to be found in the annals of military history. A British soldier should blush at finding a room for the thought in his heart, and much more at pronouncing it with his tongue. As the sentiment is as dangerous to military gallantry as it is novel, I trust that it has not made a deep impression on the minds of Britons. If it has, their honour will surely teach them to eradicate it. And were I to be arbitrary on the occasion, I would, for the sake of my country, erase the words strong and impracticable from every dictionary, lest it should be renewed to apologize for the military indolence and misconduct of men, who have sacrificed to party and faction their own honour, the glory of their Sovereign, and the dignity of the nation.

I have the honour to be,

My Lord,

Your Lordship’s most faithful

and obedient servant.

 

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Great Britain, History, Letters, Military, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Citizen of the World (1792)

Full Title: The Citizen of the World, or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher residing in London to his friends in the East. By Oliver Goldsmith. Vol. 1. London. Printed for T. Vernor, W. Otridge, Scatchard & Whitaker, Ogilvy & Speare, Darton & Harvey & W. Millar. Dec. 1. 1792. [Originally pub. 1762.]

LETTER IV.

To the Same [From Lien Chi Altangi, to the care of Fipsihi, Resident in Moscow; to be forwarded by the Russian Ravan to Fum Hoam, First President of the Ceremonial Academy at Pekin, in China].

The English seem as silent as the Japanese, yet vainer than the inhabitants of Siam. Upon my arrival, I attributed the reserve to modesty, which I now find has its origins in pride.  Condescend to address them first, and you are sure of their acquaintance; stoop to flattery, and you conciliate their friendship and esteem. They bear hunger, cold, fatique, and all the miseries of life without shrinking: danger only calls forth their fortitude; they even exult in calamity; but contempt is what they cannot bear. An Englishman fears contempt more than death: he often flies to death as a refuge from its pressure; and dies when he fancies the world has ceased to esteem him.

Pride seems the source not only of their national vices, but of their national virtues. An Englishman is taught to love his king as his friend, but to acknowledge no other master than the laws which himself has contributed to enact. He despises those nations, who, that one may be free, are all content to be slaves; who first lift a tyrant into terror, and then shrink under his power as if delegated from heaven. Liberty is echoed in all their assemblies, and thousands might be found ready to offer up their lives for the sound, though perhaps not one of all the number understands its meaning. The lowest mechanic however looks upon it as his duty to be a watchful guardian of his country’s freedom, and often uses a language that might seem haughty, even in the mouth of the great emperor who traces his ancestry to the moon.  

A few days ago, passing by one of their prisons, I could not avoid stopping, in order to listen to a dialogue which I thought might afford me some entertainment. The conversation carried on between a debtor through the grate of his prison, a porter, who had stopped to rest his burthen, and a soldier at the window. The subject was upon a threatened invasion from France, and each seemed extremely anxious to rescue his country from the impending danger. “For my part, (cries the prisoner), the greatest of my apprehensions is for our freedom; if the French should conquer, what would become of English liberty? My dear friends, liberty is the Englishman’s prerogative; we must preserve that at the expence of our lives; of that the French shall never deprive us: it is not to be expected that men who are slaves themselves, would preserve our freedom should they happen to conquer:” Ay, slaves, cries the porter, they are all slaves, fit only to carry burthens every one of them. Before I would stoop to slavery, may this be my poison (and he held the goblet in his hand), may this be my poison–but I would sooner lift for a soldier.

The soldier, taking the goblet from his friend, with much awe (fervently cried out), It is not so much our liberties as our religion that would suffer by a change: Ay, our religion, my lads, May the devil sink me into flames, (such was the solemnity of his adjuration), if the French should come over, but our religion would be utterly undone. So saying, instead of a libation, he applied the goblet to his lips, and confirmed his sentiments with a ceremony of the most preseving devotion.

In short, every man here pretends to be a politician; even the fair sex are sometimes found to mix the severity of national altercation with the blandishments of love, and often become conquerors by more weapons of destruction than their eyes.

The universal passion for politics is gratified by Daily Gazettes, as with us at China. But as in ours, the emperor endeavors to instruct his people; in theirs they endeavor to instruct the administration. You must not, however, imagine, that they who compile these papers have any actual knowledge of the politics, or the goverment of a state; they only collect their materials from the oracle of some coffee-house, which oracle has himself gathered them the night before from a beau at a gaming table, who has pillaged his knowledge from a great man’s porter, who has all the information from the great man’s gentleman, who has invented the whole stroy for his own amusement the night preceding.

The English in general seem fonder of gaining the esteem than the love of those they converse with: this gives a formality to their amusements; their gayest conversations have something too wise for innocent relaxation; though in company you are seldom disgusted with the absurdity of a fool; you are seldom lifted into rapture by those strokes of vivacity which give instant, though not permanent, pleasure.

What they want, however, in gaiety thay make up in politeness. You smile at hearing me praise the English for their politeness; you who have heard very different accounts from missionaries at Pekin, who have seen such a different behaviour in their merchants and seamen at home. But I must still repeat it, the English seem more polite than any of their neighbours: their great art in this respect lies in endeavouring, while they oblige, to lessen the force of the favour. Other countries are fond of obliging a stranger; but seem desirous that he should be so sensible of the obligation. The English confer this kindness with the appearance of indifference, and give away benefits with an air as if they despised them.

Walking a few days ago between an English and a Frenchman in the suburbs of the city, we were overtaken by a heavy shower of rain. I was unprepared; but they each ahd large coats which defended them from what seemed to me a perfect inundation. The Englishman seeing me shrink from the wather, accosted me thus: “Psha, man, what dost shrink at? Here take this coat; I don’t want it; I find it no way useful to me: I had a lief be without it.” The Frenchman began to show his politeness in turn. “My dear friend, (cries he) why won’t you oblige me by making use of my coat; you see how well it defends me from the rain; I should not chuse to part with it to others, but to such a friend as you, I could even part with my skin to do him service.”

From such minute instances as these, most reverend Fum Hoam, I am sensible your sagacity will collect instruction. The volume of nature is the book of knowledge; and he becomes wise who makes the most judicious selection. Farewell.     

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Filed under 1790's, Fiction, Letters, Politics, Posted by Matthew Williams, Travel Literature

Item of the Day: Walpole on Politics, Satire, etc. (1820)

Full Title: Private Correspondence of Horace Walpole, Earl or Orford. Now First Collected. In Four Volumes. Vol. III. 1735-1756. London: Printed for Rodwell and Martin, Bond-Street; and Colburn and Co., Conduit-Street. 1820.

To George Montagu, Esq.

Strawberry-hill, May 26, 1765.

If one of the one hundred events, and one hundredth part of the one hundred thousand reports that have passed, and been spread in this last month, have reached your solitary hill, you must be surprised at not a single word from me during that period. The number of events is my excuse. Though mine is the pen of a pretty ready writer, I could not keep pace with the revolutions of each day, each hour. I had not time to begin the narrative, much less to finish it: no, I must keep the whole to tell you at once, or to read it to you, for I think I shall write the history, which, let me tell you, Buckinger himself could not have crowded into a nut-shell.

For your part, you will be content, though the house of Montagu has not made an advantageous figure in this political warfare, yet it is crowded with victory, and laurels you know compensate for every scar. You went out of town fightened out of your sense at the giant prerogative: alack! he is grown so tame, that, as you said of our earthquake, you may stroke him. The regency bill, not quite calculated with that intent, has produced four regents, king Bedford, king Grenville, king Halifax, and king Twitcher. Lord Holland is turned out, and Stuart Mackenzie. Charles Townshend is paymaster, and lord Bute annihilated; and all done without the help of the Whigs. You love to guess what one is going to say; now you may guess what I am going to say. Your newspapers perhaps have given you a long roll of opposition names, who were coming into place, and so all the world thought; but the wind turned quite round, and left them on the strand, and just where they were, except in opposition, which is declared to be at an end. Enigma as all this may sound, the key would open it all to you in the twinkling of an administration. In the mean time, we have family reconciliations without end. The king and the duke of Cumberland have been shut up together day and night; lord Temple and George Grenville are sworn brothers; well, but Mr. Pitt, where is he? In the clouds, for aught I know, in one of which he may descend like the kings of Bantam, and take quiet possession of the throne again.

As a thorough-bass to these squabbles, we have had an insurrection, and a siege. Bedford-house, though garrisoned by horse and foot-guards, was on the point of being taken. The besieged are in their turn triumphant; and if any body now was to publish Droit le Duc, I do not think the House of Lords would censure his book. Indeed the regents may do what they please, and turn out whom they will; I see nothing to resist them. Lord Bute will not easily be tempted to rebel when the last struggle has cost him so dear.

I am sorry for some of my friends, to whom I wished more fortune. For myself, I am but just where I should have been, had they succeeded. It is satisfaction enough to me to be delivered from politics, which you know I have long detested. When I was tranquil enough to write Castles of Otranto, in the midst of grave nonsense, and foolish councils of war, I am not likely to distub myself with the diversions of the court, where I am connected with a soul. As it has proved to be the interest of the present ministers, however contrary to their former views, to lower the crown, they will scarce be in a hurry to aggrandize it again. That will satisfy you, and I you know am satisfied if I have any thing to laugh at–’tis a lucky age for a man who is so easily contented.    

The poor Chute has had another relapse, but is out of bed again. I am thinking of my journey to France, but as Mr. Conway has a mind I should wait for him, I don’t know whether it will take place before the autumn. I will by no means release you from your promise of making me a visit here before I go.

Poor Mr. Bentley, I doubt, is under the greatest difficulties of any body. His poem, which he modestly delivered over to immortality, must be cut and turned, for lord Halifax and lord Bute cannot sit in the same canto together; then the horns and hoofs, that he had bestowed on lord Temple, must be pared away, and beams of glory distributed over his whole person. ‘Tis a dangerous thing to write political panegyrics or satires; it draws the unhappy bard into a thousand scrapes and contradictions. The edifices and inscriptions at Stowe should be a lesson not to erect monuments to the living. I will not place an ossuarium in my garden for my cat, before her bones are ready to be placed in it. I hold contradictions to be as essential to the definition of a political man, as any visible or featherless quality can be to man in general. Good night.

Yours ever.

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Filed under 1760's, 1820's, Letters, Political Commentary, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

Item of the Day: Chesterfield to his Son (1774)

Full title: Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq; Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden. Together with Several Other Pieces on Various subjects. Published by Mrs. Eugenia Stanhope, From the Originals Now in Her Possession. In Two Volumes. Vol. II. Dublin: Printed by G. Faulkner, in Parliament-street, M.DCC.LXXIV.

TO HIS SON.

LETTER LI.

London, February the 14th, O.S. 1752

My Dear Friend,

In a month’s time, I believe, I shall have the pleasure of sending you, and you will have the pleasure of reading, a work of Lord Bolingbroke, in two volumes octavo, upon the use of History; in several letters to Lord Hyde, then Lord Cornbury. It is now put into the press. It is hard to determine, whether this work will instruct or please most: the most material historical facts, from the great aera of the treaty of Munster, are touched upon, accompanied by the most solid reflections, and adorned by all that elegancy of style, which was peculiar to himself, and in which, if Cicero equals, he certainly does not exceed him; but every other writer falls short of him. I would advise you almost to get this book by heart. I think you have a turn to history; you love it, and have a memory to retain it; this book will teach you the proper use of it. Some people load their memories, indiscriminately, with historical facts, as others do their stomachs with food; and bring out the one, and bring up the other, entirely crude and undigested. You will find, in Lord Bolingbroke’s book, an infallible specific against that epidemical complaint*.

I remember a gentleman, who had read history in this thoughtless and undistinguishing manner, and who, having travelled, had gone through the Valteline. He told me that it was a miserable poor country, and therefore it was, surely, a great error in Cardinal Richelieu, to make such a rout, and put France to so much expence about it. Had my friend read history as he ought to have done, he would have known, that the great object of that Minister was to reduce the power of the house of Austria; and, in order to do that, to cut off, as much as he could, the communication between several parts of their then extensive dominions; which reflections would have justified the Cardinal to him, in the affairs of the Valteline. But it was easier to him to remember the facts, than to combine and reflect.

On observation, I hope, you will make in reading history; for it is an obvious and a true one. It is, that more people have made great fortunes in courts, by their exterior accomplishments, than by their interior qualifications. Their engaging address, the politeness of their manners, their air, their turn, hath almost always paved the way for their superior abilities, if they have such, to exert themselves. They have been Favourites, before they have been Ministers. In courts, an universal gentleness and douceur dans les maniéres is most absolutely necessary: an offended fool, or slighted valet de chambre, may, very possibly, do you more hurt at court, then ten men of merit can do you good. Fools, and low people, are always jealous of their dignity; and never forget nor forgive when they reckon a slight. On the other hand, they take civility, and a little attention, as a favor; remember, and acknowledge it: this, in my mind, is buying them cheap; and therefore they are worth buying. The Prince himself, who is rarely the shining genius of his court, esteems you only by hearsay, but likes you by his senses; that is from your air, your politeness, and your manner of addressing him; of which alone he is a judge. There is a court garment, as well as a wedding garment, without which you will not be received. That garment is the volto sciolto; an imposing air, an elegant politeness, easy and engaging manners, universal attention, an insinuating gentleness, and all those je ne sçais quoi that compose the Graces.

I am this moment disagreeably interrupted by a letter; not from you, as I expected, but from a friend of yours at Paris, who informs me, that you have a fever, which confines you at home. Since you have a fever, I am glad you have prudence enough, with it, to stay at home, and take care of yourself; a little more prudence might probably have prevented it. Your blood is young, and consequently hot; and you naturally make a great deal, by your good stomach, and good digestion; you should therefore, necessarily, attenuate and cool it, from time to time, by gentle purges, or by a very low diet, for two or three days together, if you would avoid fevers. Lord Bacon, who was a very great physician, in both senses of the word, hath this aphorism in his Essay upon Health, Nihil magis as sanitatem tribuit quam crebrae et domesticae purgationes. By domesticae, he means those simple uncompounding purgatives, which everybody can administer to themselves; such as senna-tea, stewed prunes and senna, chewing a little rhubarb, or dissolving an ounce and a half of manna in fair water, with the juice of half a lemon to make it palatable. Such gentle and unconfining evacuations would certainly prevent those feverish attacks, to which every body at your age is subject.

By the way, I do desire, and insist, that whenever, from any indisposition, you are not able to write to me upon the fixed days, that Christian shall; and give me a true account how you are. I do not expect from him the Ciceronian epistolary style; but I will content myself with the Swiss simplicity and truth.

I hope you extend your acquaintance at Paris, and frequent variety of companies; the only way of knowing the world: every set of company differs in some particulars from another, and a man of business must, in the course of his life, have to do with all sorts. It is a very great advantage to know the languages of the several countries one travels in; and different companies may, in some degree, be considered as different countries: each hath its distinctive language, customs, and manners: know them all, and you will wonder at none. Adieu, child. Take care of your health; there are no pleasures without it.

*We cannot but observe with pleasure, that at this time Lord Bolingbroke’s Philosophical works had not appeared; which accounts for Lord Chesterfield’s recommending to his son, in this as well as in some foregoing passages, the study of Lord Bolingbroke’s writings.

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Filed under 1770's, Family, History, Letters, Manners, Medicine, Posted by Matthew Williams