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MONTICELLO, September 9, 1801.
I received duly your letter of August 31, in which
you do me the honour to propose to dedicate to me the work you are about to publish. Such a testimony of respect from an enlightened Foreigner cannot but be flattering to me, and I have only to regret that the choice of the patron will be little likely to give circulation to the work : its own merit however will supply that defect. Should
your journeyings have been led to remark on the same objects on which I gave crude notes some years ago, I shall be happy to see them confirmed op corrected by a more accurate observer.
I pray you to accept the assurances of
my respect and consideration.
MR. DAVIS, Occoquan, Virginia,
ING employed four years and a half in travelling through the Southern States of North America, I was about to return home content with regulating imagination by reality, when the accidental perusal of those Travellers who had journeyed over the same ground, determined me to become a publisher. Of these some want taste, and others literature ; some incapable of observation, count with profound gravity the number of miles from place to place; and others, intent only upon feeding, supply a bill of fare. A family likeness prevails through the whole. Their humour bears no proportion to their morbid drowsiness. We are seldom relieved from the langour of indifference, or the satiety of disgust; but in toiling through volumes of diffusive mediocrity, the reader commonly terminates his career by falling asleep with the writer.
In comparing this Volume with the volumes of my predecessors, the reader will find himself exempt from various persecutions.
1. I make no mention of my dinner, whether it was fish or flesh, boiled or roasted, hot or cold.
2. I never complain of my bed, nor fill the imagination of the reader with mosquitoes, fleas, bugs, and other nocturnal pests.
3. I make no drawings of old castles, old churches, old pent-houses, and old walls, which, undeserving of repair, have been abandoned by their possessors. Let them be sacred to the Welch Tourist, the Scotch Tourist, and id genus omne.
4. In treating common subjects, I do not accumulate magnificent epithets, and lose myself in figures,
That this Volume will regale curiosity while man continues to be influenced by his senses and affections, I have very little doubt. It will be recurred to with equal interest on the banks of the Thames, and those of the Ohio. There is no man who is not pleased in being told by another what he thought of the world, and what the world thought of him. This kind of biography, when characterized by simplicity and truth, has more charms for the multitude than a pompous history of the intrigues of courts, the negotiations of statesmen, and the devastation of armies.
The Memoirs of Franklin the printer, come more home to my feelings than the History of Sir Robert Walpole's Administration. I behold the concluding page of the one with the same eye of sorrow, that the Traveller in the woods of America casts upon the sun's departing ray ; but the other is task-reading, and, in perusing it, I consult more the taste of the public, than my own disposition. Yet even Franklin studied his ease in with. holding his Memoirs from the world till he was beyond the reach of its censure; and I know no writers of emi. nence who have ventured to encounter the malice of ridicule by the publication of their own biography, but Wakefield whose loss the sons of learning are yet deploring, and Kotzebue who is still holding the mirror up to nature,
There are some who would conceal the situation to which my exigencies reduced me in America ; but I should blush to be guilty of such ridiculous pride; and let the insolence of those who scorn an honest calling be repressed by remembering, that the time is not very remote when all conditions will be levelled; when the celebrated and obscure, the powerful and weak, shall all sink alike into one common grave.
Though my mode of life has not been favourable to the cultivation of an elegant style, yet in what relates to the structure of my sentences, I shall not fear competis tion with those who have reposed from their youth under the shade of Academic bowers. He who can have recourse to the critical prefaces of Dryden, the voluble periods of Addison, the nervous sentences of Johnson, and the felicitous antitheses of Goldsmith, may spare bimself the trouble of seeking that purity and decoration of language in a College, which may be found in his closet.*
In the progress of my work it will be discovered that I have not joined myself to that frantic crew of Deists, who would prostrate every institution, human or divine; and, though I dedicate my book to a republican, it is not the magistrate but the man, whom I address. I am no republican! No federalist! I have learned to estimate rightly the value of the British Constitution; and I think no system of government so perfect as that of King, Lords, and Commons.
* While contemporary writers were wandering in imagination with Ulysses and Æneas, and growing giddy with the violence of poetical tempests, I was performing a sailor's duty in a ship of nine hundred tons, and encountering the gales of the promontory of Africa.
I have visited many places in the eastern section of the globe. I have been twice to India. I am familiar with St. Helena, and Batavia, and Johanna, and Bombay, and Tillicherry, and Goa, and Cochin, and Anjengo. I was four months at Canton; and I have toiled up the Table Mountain at the Cape of
Let me be forgiven this impulse à me faire valoir. It is what every small Traveller does. Behold the Welch Tourist ! He crosses the New Ferry, enters the ale-house on its bordercalls for pen and ink-lugs out his enormous common-place book-awes the family into silence by the profound wisdom of his looks—and solemnly sits down to fill a solemn chapter with the tempests that harassed him in navigating the SEVERN !!!
A word more before I conclude. Should the critic detect the vanity that not infrequently swells my periods, let him be assured that he cannot be more sensible of it than I, When a man becomes the historiographer of his own actions, he can scarcely avoid this error without degenerating into the opposite one of affected diffidence. I have often caught myself making my own panegyric; the fact is indisputable; yet it is still better to be vain than dull.
APRIL 22, 1803.