Memoirs of Aaron Burr, Complete
Matthew L. Davis
Part 14 out of 17
To murmur at their treatment was only to expose ourselves to repeated
and more provoking insults; to resist was only hazarding our lives. We
were therefore obliged, however degrading in our own opinion, to
submit to these lawless, unfeeling robbers.
We were all conducted, amid the shouts and acclamations of the rabble
multitude, to the palace, and there ushered into the presence of the
mighty bashaw, who, seated in state, with his council about him, and
surrounded by guards, awaited our coming. He asked a variety of
questions, principally concerning our ship and our squadron; and,
after having us all paraded before him, and taken a full survey of
each of us, at which a gracious smile appeared upon his countenance,
expressive of his inward satisfaction at so unexpected a piece of good
fortune, we were carried by our guards to the house allotted for us
during our imprisonment in this country. It was the American consular
house formerly occupied by Mr. Catchcart.
Here we were left undisturbed to our own reflections till the
fifteenth instant. A few days previous to this the prime minister had
written to inform Captain Bainbridge that a letter had been received
from the Tripolitan captain of the ship captured by the U. S. Frigate
John Adams, in which he complained of being ill treated by Captain
Rogers; that, in consequence of this, he should be under the necessity
of retaliating such ill treatment upon us, unless Captain B. would
immediately write to Commodore Preble, and _order_ him to deliver up
all the prisoners he had, in which latter case we should continue to
be treated as heretofore. No exchange was proposed, but we were to
deliver up seventy-eight prisoners merely to ensure our not being
cruelly treated. Captain B. told him that he would write to Commodore
Preble, and acquaint him with their demands; but as to ordering or
requesting him to deliver up the prisoners in question, he would not
do it. We were, therefore, conducted to the castle, under the idea of
being put to work. The change, indeed, was an unpleasant one, from a
large, commodious house, to what they called a castle, which was, in
fact, a most loathsome prison. We were crammed into the same room with
all our ship's company--how well calculated to contain such a number,
you may be enabled to judge, when I tell you that the place was about
eighty feet by twenty-five. How comfortable, when I tell you that the
only place to admit the air was through a small aperture in the top of
the house, grated over, with no floor, nor a single article of
furniture, so that, when we were tired standing up, we were obliged to
lay down on the ground. While there, Lisle, the admiral,
_accidentally_ passed, and was very much _surprised_ at our removal.
He came to inquire the cause, observing that he had understood a
letter was received, mentioning that the Tripolitan prisoners had been
illy treated by Captain Rogers. Captain Bainbridge told him, that if
such a letter had been written, the writer had asserted a most
malicious falsehood; that the laws of the United States absolutely
forbid any prisoners being illy treated; and that he knew Captain
Rogers had given no just cause of complaint; that, even supposing he
had, that could not justify their retaliating upon us; it would not
tend to produce a reconciliation, but would have a quite opposite
effect; that, however, we were in their power, and they might
sacrifice the whole of us; but the United States had men and ships
enough to send in our places.
In the evening we were reconducted to our former house, probably in
consequence of the interposition of the Danish and French consuls in
our behalf. The reason of our removal to the castle, as given out to
us, was in order to retaliate upon us ill treatment which they say
their prisoners received from us. A more probable reason was this:--
When our ship was plundered, all our chests and trunks, with every
article of clothing, was carried off. The prime minister, with the
view of making money, bought in at reduced prices as many of our
clothes as he could collect, and offered them to us for twelve hundred
dollars. Captain Bainbridge would not purchase them. Disappointed in
his expectations of pecuniary profit, and, instead of gain, sustaining
loss, he probably sought consolation in his disappointment by
increasing the weight of our misfortunes. The prime minister and
admiral are both renegadoes, the former a Prussian, the latter a
How long we are to remain in this savage country God only knows. No
doubt it must depend in a great measure upon the exertions that are
made in our favour. We rely with implicit confidence that the
government of our country will make the most speedy, as well as
effectual measures for our release. While we are here, our lives must
be in constant jeopardy and uncertainty. Adieu. Remember me
affectionately to Mrs. Alston; and believe me,
With much esteem and respect,
Your most obedient servant,
1. Subsequently Mrs. Commodore Decatur.
2. The Philadelphia.
3. Now Commodore Biddle, and son of the late Charles Biddle.
An amendment to the Constitution of the United States having been
proposed by Congress, and doubts existing as to the manner in which it
should be authenticated and transmitted to the several states, Mr.
Burr, as president of the Senate, addressed a note on the subject to
the secretary of state, Mr. Madison, and to the secretary of the
Senate, Mr. Otis, to which the following replies were made.
FROM MR. MADISON.
Department of State, December 11, 1803.
J. Madison presents his respects to the vice-president, who will find
in the enclosed the information afforded by the office of state on the
subject of former amendments to the Constitution. Mr. Beckley
recollects, that in one of the instances, copies equal to the number
of the states were made out in the clerk's office of the House of
Representatives. In the other, I understood from him that the copies
were not furnished to the executive; but it does not appear, from any
thing in the office of state, whether this was or was not the case.
J. WAGNER TO MR. MADISON.
Department of State, December 10, 1803.
I find that all the amendments to the Constitution, though none of
them are signed by the president, have been enrolled in this office. I
do not find that the first set was forwarded by this department to the
states, though the president was requested to communicate them, as
appears by the journals. The last amendment was forwarded by the
secretary of state, by direction of the president, to the governors of
The vice-president called this morning and stated two questions, which
I was then unable to answer, _viz_., Whether the enrolment took place
here, and whether the amendments were forwarded to the states from
It is to enable you to give him satisfaction on these points that I
have written this. With great respect, your obedient servant,
FROM SAMUEL A. OTIS.
Senate Chamber, December 15, 1803.
In answer to the note you did me the honour to send this morning, my
first impression was that the amendments for each state should be
enrolled in the office of the secretary of the Senate, as the
resolution commenced in Senate. This impression arose from the
proceeding in the _first_ instance, when the enrolments were made in
the House of Representatives, where the amendments, commenced. This
was at a time when the secretary of Senate and clerk of the House of
Representatives were empowered to publish the laws. But, since the
establishment Of the department of state, the amendments to the
Constitution have been enrolled in the office of that house where they
originated. This enrolment, as a bill, hath been sent to the President
of the United States, with a joint resolution that he would forward
authenticated copies. This was the case in March, 1794, as you will
see by the journals of Senate. To confirm this idea, a resolution is
on the table of the House of Representatives for the above purpose. If
precedent is of avail, it certainly devolves, in the distribution, on
the office of state.
Hearing there was some uncertainty, I have, through a friend,
transmitted my opinion to the secretary of state.
SAMUEL A. OTIS.
FROM GEORGE DAVIS. 
Leghorn, December 3, 1803.
A letter to my brother  of this date will give you a detail of my
pursuits since leaving Malaga until my arrival in Leghorn. I have only
to say of Tuscany that two months have passed away in endeavouring to
repair the ravages of Italian physicians. My pursuits, though not
profitable, have still been flattering to myself. I am at the house of
F. C. Degen, who married Miss Russell, of Boston. She is acquainted
with you, and often retraces the hours you spent with Mrs. Russell. I
may add, that I have been not only a welcome, but most happy guest of
this worthy family for six weeks. My hours of relaxation have not been
employed in playing the _cavallero cervante_, but in acquiring the
Italian; and, with the assistance of a tolerable tutor, I am making
great progress. Pisa and Lucca I have been at twice, and about the
20th of this month I shall visit Florence. From thence I proceed to
Rome, Naples, Palermo, and Malta, where I am directed to join the
commodore, he having given me furlough for the purposed route.
I refrain speaking of those places _all the world_ have seen. Should
my expectations be realized when at Rome, I shall certainly offer you
my first _essay_. Nothing has yet been done in the way of making me
rich. The hospital establishment lays over till spring. Commodore
Morris offers to leave me as charge des affaires for Tripoli in the
event of peace. If nothing better can be done, I will remain. Eaton
has resigned the consulship of Tunis. Who will be appointed? Rufus
King is expected daily in Tuscany. He sails early in the spring for
the United States.
I ought not to omit mentioning Mrs. Derby, who arrived here a few days
since from Florence. I have spent some pleasant hours with her. She is
unaffected and untinctured with the licentious manners of Paris and
London. We shall meet at Rome. I yesterday dined with Mr. Pinckney,
our minister for the court of Spain. He wants, I think, _ministerial
dignity_, whatever may be his talents.
I have written you several times, and although this gives me no claim
to expect a letter, yet, when you learn that I have not received a
line from the United States since leaving it, you may judge how great
is my desire, and what would be my gratification in hearing from you.
The beautiful Mrs. D. is in the parlour, and I have been sent for
three times. With perfect respect,
FROM CHARLES BIDDLE.
Philadelphia, December 12, 1803.
If you can, without inconvenience, let me know how James stands as a
midshipman, I wish you would do it. Having lost a brother, a son, and
two nephews in the service, I have some right to expect James will not
be neglected. I have not the honour of knowing the secretary of the
navy, but I am told he is a very worthy and respectable gentleman.
FROM ROBERT SMITH, SECRETARY OF NAVY.
Washington, December 31, 1803.
It was my intention to have had the pleasure of calling upon you for
the purpose of having some conversation with you about Mr. Biddle,
midshipman. Not knowing what is the precise object of his father's
inquiries, my communication may not afford the expected explanations.
I can only state to you, at present, that the official reports which
have been made of him by his commanding officers are highly
favourable, and that, of course, I have a strong disposition to afford
to him every opportunity of improvement, and to give him every
advancement in the navy that can be done consistently with the just
pretensions of his fellow-officers.
We regret sincerely that the weather has deprived us of the pleasure
of presenting, in person, our reciprocal compliments and solicitations
of the season.
FROM ROBERT G. HARPER.
Baltimore, December 20, 1803.
Mr. Carroll, my dear sir, requests me to assure you that it will give
him very particular pleasure to see you at his house on Christmas day,
and as many days before and after as you may find it agreeable to
favour him with your company. He regrets that there will not, at that
time, be a room which he can offer you; but, in every thing except the
article of lodging, he hopes that you will be his guest while you find
it agreeable to remain at Annapolis.
ROBERT G. HARPER.
FROM J. GUILLEMARD.
February 22, 1803.
SIR, You will not, I hope, think me over intrusive when I take the
liberty of introducing to your attentions and kindness the Earl of
Selkirk, a young nobleman who has a project of making a settlement for
some of his countrymen on the western side of the Atlantic. I need say
nothing more of him. His merits will speak for themselves; and give me
leave to add, that I am happy in this opportunity of expressing my
grateful sense of your kindness and attention to me during my
residence in the United States. With great respect, your obedient
FROM JOHN VAUGHAN.
Wilmington (Delaware), January 3, 1804.
I cannot resist, until morning, the pleasure of acknowledging how much
I am indebted to you for an acquaintance with Doctor Peter Irving and
Mr. Bishop. I found them all you intimated, and much more; and
sincerely hope the reciprocation you anticipated may have taken place.
We spent the evening with Mr. Dickinson, and, I believe, with mutual
pleasure; and they have just left my house, Dr. Irving the last. We
have many fine tales of the satisfaction inspired by a common sense of
_public rights_, but I query whether a just sense of _political
wrongs_ do not bind men more closely together.
A very curious game, indeed, has been played here since you passed
through our borough. A special caucus has been held, to counteract the
political machinations which are to arise out of my pleasurable
interview with you; but the clamour is unexpectedly checked. Some
wicked man in New-York had the assurance to send to Mr. Dickinson and
myself each a copy of a pamphlet, entitled, "_An Examination, &c., by
Aristides_," and, after perusing it with equal pleasure and avidity, I
had the imprudence to hand it to a disinterested republican, who read
it with the highest satisfaction. In one week it has passed through
several hands, and has excited no inconsiderable interest. Dr. Irving
has promised me a supply as soon as practicable.
I am authorized to say that Mr. Dickinson was never prejudiced, and is
now highly gratified. He indeed regretted that I had not assured you,
when here, that his opinion was untarnished by the malignant clamour
It is a more than lamentable fact, that factions have arisen up in
several states which are determined to prostrate every man who might
be capable of opposing them, or dared to lisp one expression of
dissent to the machinations of favouritism. But, though I have borne
too much, I am unalterably resolved to adhere inflexibly to the ground
I have taken, and stand or fall in the honest path of political
There is a crisis in the affairs of men which sooner or later unveils
the hidden features of selfishness; and there is no position in which
my opinion is more fixed than in the utility of a firm union of honest
men. If the cabals of the day be not speedily arrested, where shall
our political bark be anchored? The Sylla of oligarchy, or Charybdis
of disorganization must be the portion of our government. Of all
tyrannies, oligarchies are the most delusive and dreadful, and anarchy
is equally to be deplored.
Wishing you, my dear sir, complete retribution for the past, and happy
in the reflection of having preserved myself uncontrolled by artifice,
I am sincerely your friend,
FROM JOHN DICKINSON.
Wilmington, Delaware, 4th 1st mo, 1804.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Thy letter of the 30th of last month was delivered to me yesterday by
Abraham Bishop, and I desire thee to accept my thanks for introducing
one to the other.
He was so kind as to spend some hours with me, and I was exceedingly
pleased with the traits of character displayed in the course of our
conversation. He appears to me to be a man who possesses great and
well-directed energies of mind. I rejoice in the prospect he opened to
me of the advancement of republican principles and measures to the
I am thy sincere friend,
TO CHARLES BIDDLE.
Washington, January 2, 1804.
Last evening I received the answer of Robert Smith, of which a copy is
enclosed. It may be satisfactory to you to know, _officially_, that
James is favourably spoken of, and is in estimation with the
government. A more precise answer could not, perhaps, be expected from
a minister. The application may secure him from being forgotten, and
the answer from being prejudiced in any future arrangements. He shall
be informed of your precise object by
Washington, January 3, 1804.
This is only to assure you that I am in perfect health. That General
Jackson is my good friend; that I have had no duel nor quarrel with
anybody, and have not been wounded or hurt.
Jerome Bonaparte, wife, maids of honour (Miss Spear _et al_.), &c.,
&c., will be here to-morrow. There are various opinions about the
expediency, policy, decency, propriety, and future prospects of this
match. I adhere to Mrs. Caton. To be sure the French laws say
something on this subject. As you are a learned lady, I will not say
what; but, if you avow ignorance, you shall have all I know: not in my
next, for Annapolis is yet on hand. Indeed, matters thicken so fast,
that I may possibly leave this within twenty days to go northward,
without saying a word about it. I hope the shawl (or cloak) has
arrived safe, and that it may be so displayed as to add beauty to
grace and grace to beauty.
Washington, January 4th or 5th, 1804.
How could I forget to tell you the very important event of the
marriage of Jerome Bonaparte with Miss Patterson.
It took place on Saturday, the 24th ult. Mrs. Caton approves of this
match, and therefore A. B. does, for he respects greatly the opinions
of Mrs. Caton.
I like much your reasoning about Morris's place and Richmond Hill. Yet
would not a permanent residence in town for some, for many, for all
reasons, be better? La G. is much better than I had heard--_d'un
certaine_ age, and well-looking, considering that circumstance.
Cheerful, good-tempered, the best of housewives, and, as it is
Celeste--(for this I begin a new line) Celeste will be seen on the way
home, but that La R. spoils every thing in that place. La Planche;
that you will never find out. I bet you thirty guineas against M'K.'s
shawl. By-the-by, the shawl is ordered on; at this moment, perhaps, on
the perilous ocean, and unensured. La Planche, I say, was seen on our
way hither. All right and pretty; improved since the last inspection.
Great friend of La R.; _tant pis_. Lex et ux. ill suited; mischief
brewing. _Gamp_, the mutual friend and confidant.
Now for the trip to Annapolis. No, not now either. It is past two
o'clock in the morning (no matter of what day, for I don't intend to
date this, seeing it will equally suit all dates), and I am (not)
sleepy. Yet I will go to bed, and not be kept up by any such baggage.
So good-morning. Poor little Natalie, I have not written her a line.
What's the matter I don't write to Natalie any more? I say I will go
to bed. The fire is out, and I have no wood.
TO PEGGY GAITIN (A SLAVE).
Washington, January 4, 1804.
You may assure the family that I never was in better health; that I
have not been wounded or hurt, and have had no quarrel with anybody. I
received your letter of the 29th this evening. Let nothing hinder you
from going to school punctually. Make the master teach you arithmetic,
so that you may be able to keep the accounts of the family. I am very
much obliged to you for teaching Nancy. She will learn more from you
than by going to school.
I shall be at home about the last of this month, when I will make you
all New Year's presents. Tell Harry that I shall expect to find a good
road up to the house. Tell me what Harry is about, and what is doing
at Montalto. Sam and George are well.
You must write to Mrs. Alston about Leonora's child. Enclose your
letter to me. I hope little Peter is doing well.
Washington, January 17, 1804.
Your kind wishes on the new year are received this evening in your
letter dated 3d January, 1803. No matter what date, such things are
always welcome. I don't believe it came into my head to say Happy New
Year! my heart is so full of good wishes for you every day in the
calendar. Yet I like to see attention paid to all _les jours de fete_.
I am very sorry for poor Charlotte, and do most sincerely sympathize
with Sally. She must know my great attachment for her brother.
Of my plans for the spring nothing can be said, for nothing is
resolved. It is not probable that I shall be able to visit you; but I
shall expect you very early. If you are to come by land, I will meet
you on the road; perhaps in this place, perhaps in Richmond. I do not
now see that it will be possible for me to visit South Carolina. Now,
what are your plans? The shawl was ordered on the very day I received
your commands; whether it has actually been sent I know not, but most
probably it has.
Of the boy you never say enough. Nothing about his French in your
last. I hope you talk to him much in French, and Eleonore always. A
letter from Peggy says that Eleonore's boy was well on the 13th. Your
icehouse and vaults are finished. Of Annapolis I find the newspapers
have anticipated me. They will tell you where I dined, and supped, and
whom I saw.
Madame Bonaparte passed a week here. She is a charming little woman;
just the size and nearly the figure of Theodosia Burr Alston; by some
thought a little like her; perhaps not so well in the shoulders;
dresses with taste and simplicity (by some thought too free); has
sense, and spirit, and sprightliness. A little of the style and manner
of Susan Smith.
Mrs. Merry  is tall, fair, fat--_pas trop_, however. No more than a
desirable embonpoint. Much of grace and dignity, ease and
sprightliness; full of intelligence. An Englishwoman who has lived
much in Paris, and has all that could be wished of the manners of both
countries. An amiable and interesting companion, with whose
acquaintance you will, next summer, be much gratified. She proposes to
pass some time in New-York.
I want a French translation of the Constitution of the United States,
and, for the purpose, send you a copy in English. It will, I fear, be
a great labour to you; but I cannot get it done here, and it may not
be useless to you to burnish up your French a little. Do you ever hear
from Natalie? I have not yet written to her. How scandalous.
You do not say whether the boy knows his letters. I am sure he may now
be taught them, and then put a pen into his hand, and set him to
imitate them. He may read and write before he is three years old.
This, with speaking French, would make him a tolerably accomplished
lad of that age, and worthy of his blood.
A most bitter cold day. _Bon jour_.
TO JOSEPH ALSTON.
Washington, January 18, 1804.
I have been greatly flattered by the applauses bestowed on your speech
at Columbia. Send me half a dozen copies. Why have you not already
The papers herewith enclosed will show you our possession of
Louisiana, and the manner of it. The Spanish government will endeavour
to limit our west bounds to the Mississippi, with the addition of the
Island of Orleans only; on this consideration that government would
still hold on the west bank of the Mississippi, from the river
Iberville to the 31st degree of latitude, an extent of one hundred
In attempting to legislate for our newly-acquired territory, it is
doubted whether the Louisianians can be received into the Union
without an amendment to the Constitution. Consider of this. Again, are
they citizens of the United States, or can Congress make them such? A
bill establishing a form of government is now before the Senate; when
it shall have passed that house I will send you a copy. It is at
present in too crude a state to merit your notice.
The newspapers will have informed you that a committee has been
appointed in the House of Representatives to inquire into the official
conduct of Judge Chace. Peters is associated with him, but he is not
the object, and the insertion of his name was accidental. This
inquiry, as is obvious, is with a view to an impeachment. If it result
in an impeachment, and an immediate trial be had, Congress will sit
till May or June. Yours very affectionately,
TO CHARLES BIDDLE.
Washington, January 20, 1804.
I thank you for the letter and the newspaper; for a short letter too,
written on your return from Lancaster, which has not yet been
It is seriously my intention to visit you next week, if I can get
away, which will depend a little on the state of business in Senate.
The association of Peters with Chace was, I believe, accidental. It
was moved (I think by one of your members), and, as they sat together
on the bench, it was not, at the time, seen how they could be
separated. I presume it affords him a new subject for wit. On receipt
of this, write me one line, saying when Mr. R. will leave
Philadelphia. God bless you.
TO CHARLES BIDDLE.
Washington, January 23, 1804.
MY DEAR SIR,
When I last wrote you (about Thursday, I think), I felt the approaches
of a headache, which I concluded would be, as usual, the torment of
twenty-four hours only. On the contrary, it has pursued me without
intermission. I have undergone cathartic, emetic, and phlebotomy,
operations not experienced by me in twenty years, and all to no
purpose. The pain continues, but to-day has allowed me to leave my bed
for an hour or so at a time. At one of these intervals I now write to
you to say that this incident has rendered my journey doubtful, though
on the day I last wrote you I informed the Senate that I should have
occasion to be absent for two or three weeks.
It is extraordinary that all these medical experiments, and a total
abstinence from food for three days, has produced no diminution of
strength or spirits. At this instant I feel able to start for
Philadelphia (the snow eight inches deep) not withstanding. It will,
however, be impossible to move before Thursday, if at all.
After writing, last evening, the nonsense on the other page, I
recollected that the mail had closed. This postscript is added to say
that I am much better to-day; but little pain, yet my head too weak to
bear the least motion, and fear it will not allow me to travel for
I. Brown is again in the chair as president of the Senate. It was a
hard election. Ten or twelve ballotings. The Virginia interest
supported Mr. Franklin. Yours,
TO NATALIE DELAGE SUMTER.
Washington, January 25,1804.
Your safe arrival, my dear Natalie, gave me the greatest joy.
Theodosia has given me a detailed account of yourself and your lovely
little girl. All as I could wish. I could never realize that you were
not lost to me till I heard that you were actually on American ground.
Your letter relieved my anxieties and fulfilled my hopes, by assuring
me of your unabated affection. But when or where, I pray, are we to
meet? Engage Mr. Sumter to come and pass the summer with me at
New-York; by the summer I mean from the 1st of May till the middle of
November. Theodosia has told you that I am wholly at Richmond Hill,
and that her house is only five miles off. You will review with
pleasure the scenes of your sportive childhood, and you will gratify
the fondest wishes of your affectionate friend and father,
P. S. I enclose some papers for the amusement of your husband. Pray
present them to him with the assurance of my respectful and
affectionate regard. You, too, my dear Natalie, will read with
instruction and amusement the account of Louisiana.
Washington, January 25, 1804.
A letter from Mari, without a line from Theodosia, is novel. If the
compliment should be returned, I should bring an old house about my
ears. But no apologies or explanations.
I hate them, and the matter will be forgotten before they can reach
I have been a week confined to my room by a headache, but there are no
mortal or alarming symptoms. On Saturday I take a ride to Baltimore,
where I am to dine with Madame Bonaparte. Then on to Philadelphia;
thence, perhaps, to New-York, and here again by the time your answer
can arrive. Have not yet written to Natalie. How shameful!
Fine sleighing here. Eight inches snow; clear and cold. Having nothing
more at present of great importance to add I remain yours, &c.,
P. S. Since the conclusion of this performance I have set down in a
rage, and written a _pretty_ little letter to Natalie. Lord, how much
easier and lighter I feel.
TO NATALIE DELAGE SUMTER.
Washington, January 27, 1804.
The _brochure_, containing proclamations and manifestoes regarding
Louisiana, was intended to accompany those which I lately transmitted
to you for Mr. Sumter.
You will be proud, as a New-Yorker, to see that the first attempt to
create a taste for painting and sculpture has been made in our city.
We have about forty busts and groups. Lailson's theatre (west side
Greenwich-street) has been fitted up for their reception. It forms a
circular room of about sixty or seventy feet diameter, lighted by a
dome, and to us, who have seen nothing better, the thing, of course,
looks well. Come and see our infant efforts.
I am just leaving this place for a few days on a visit to
Philadelphia; a visit, however, of business only. On my return you
will hear again from me. In the mean time, pray write me when I may
expect you at New-York.
Washington, January 29, 1804.
There is no end to the trouble such a baggage gives me. Another thing
occurs, which, forsooth, must be sent to her too. It would not,
perhaps, merit so high an honour as that of being perused by
your----eyes and touched by your fair hands, but that it is the
production of a youth  of about nineteen, the youngest brother of
Dr. Peter Irving, of New-York.
TO A. R. ELLERY.
Washington, January 29, 1804.
Your letter of the 6th of January is received at the moment that I am
leaving this city on a tour to Philadelphia for two or three weeks. I
can, therefore, only acknowledge it. The map was a most acceptable
present. I value it greatly as the work of Madame Ellery; a
circumstance which my vanity has not allowed me to conceal.
You may rely on my zeal and my good will. You can estimate their
importance. On my return you will hear again from me.
The bill, or project of law, herewith enclosed, is now under debate in
the Senate. You will, therefore, consider it as a project merely, not
yet a law. In the course of this discussion it may receive important
alterations, and may be finally rejected. Do not, therefore, suffer
any copy to be taken of it, still less to get into newspapers, if any
you have. You may show it to whom you please. If you have any
acquaintance with Mr. Daniel Clarke, pray let him see it. I wish his
and your opinions, though they may, probably, be received too late to
influence the result. Mr. Clarke is not known to me personally, but
very much through our common friend General Dayton. With respectful
compliments and thanks to Mrs. Ellery, I am your friend,
Havre de Grace (Susquehannah), January 30, 1804. In a former letter I
told you we had eight inches snow at Washington. On Saturday last,
28th, fell six or eight inches more, so that we had a foot depth of
snow, cold weather, and, of course, good sleighing. The vice-president
having, with great judgment and science, calculated the gradations of
cold in different latitudes, discovered that for every degree he
should go north he might count on _four and a half inches_ of snow.
Thus he was sure of _sixteen and a half_ inches at Philadelphia;
_twenty-one inches_ at New-York, and so for all the intermediate
space. Hence he wisely concluded to take off the wheels from his
coachee and to set it on runners. This was no sooner resolved than
done. With his sleigh and four horses he arrived at Baltimore at early
dinner. Passed the evening with Madame Bonaparte; all very charming.
Came off this morning; fine sleighing. A hundred times he applauded
the wisdom of his plan. Within _six_ miles of the Susquehannah the
snow appeared thin; within _four_, the ground was bare. It had not
thawed, but none had fallen. He dragged on to this place, and here he
is in the midst of the most forlorn dilemma. This is palpable fraud in
_monsieur le tems_, to hold out such lures merely to draw one into
jeopardy. Having neither wife nor daughter near me on whom to vent my
spleen, renders the case more deplorable. It is downright desperation.
After pacing the floor with a very quick step for about five minutes,
I determined to call for a good dinner and a bottle of wine, and,
after the discussion whereof, I hope to be more able to meet the
exigence. You shall presently know.
New-York, February 8, 1804.
Just arrived--all well. The dinner and wine mentioned t'other side
operated so happily, that, before the repast was concluded, I ordered
my horses to the door, drove over the Susquehannah on the ice, and
came that night to the head of Elk. Next day to Chester, having seen
friend Dickenson _en passant_ (the daughters not visible, on account
of the loss of their mother, who died _last summer_), and breakfasted
in Philadelphia on the morning of the 1st of February. The ebullition
of the 30th January was intended to have been finished at Havre de
Grace and sent to the postoffice. I came off in too much haste, and,
seeing it now in my writing-case, I thought it a pity that so precious
a morceau should be lost to the world.
_Tout le monde_ is marrying at Philadelphia. You will not have a
_single single_ (decipher that) acquaintance there on your return.
Yes, La R., La Planche, and La Bin. may remain. I went to a wedding
supper at Mrs. Moore's, whose daughter has married Willing--could any
one suppose she was _unwilling_? Execrable! Mr. Boadley died a few
days ago. Madame of course was invisible. Ann Stuart will, most
likely, marry P. C.--very well. She is very pretty. Mary Rush just
married Manners, a captain in the British army. She looked quite
melancholy, being on the point of setting off for Niagara, where her
husband is stationed. Binney and Keene look better than I ever saw
them. Keene is learning the harp. They are at lodgings in town, and,
happening to be near my quarters, I saw them two or three times a day.
I left Philadelphia yesterday, and arrived, as you see, after a very
pleasant journey. Fine, mild winter weather. Roads hard and smooth.
Note. I left my runners and got wheels at Philadelphia. How could I
omit Celeste and her sisters, whom I saw several times? What of that?
Pray can it be true that she was engaged to a young man whom we knew
and valued, and who lately died in your country? To-morrow I am to see
La G. Pray for me.
To-morrow, February 9th.
A most ugly northeast storm of rain, and hail, and mist. Shall not see
La G. to-day. God bless thee.
New-York, February 16, 1804.
In one hour I shall be on the west side of the Hudson river, and in
the mail stage. Goldsmith is the very book I should have recommended.
A critical knowledge of historical events may assist a statesman or
form a pedant. For you, something less will do, and something more is
necessary. La G. will not do. I have written twice to Natalie.
Say to Mari, the Clintons, Livingstons, &c., had not, at the last
advice from Albany, decided on their candidate for governor. Hamilton
is intriguing for any candidate who can have a chance of success
against A. B. He would, doubtless, become the advocate even of Dewitt
Clinton if he should be the opponent.
Baltimore, February 21, 1804. I left New-York on the 16th. The roads
were so very bad that I sent back Sam, George, and the horses from
Trenton, and came on in the mail stage _sans valet_. One great
discovery has been made by the experiment, namely, that George is not
only useless on the road, but requires abundance of my care, so that,
in fact, I have less trouble without him.
On the way I saw Celeste, and renewed, with some levity, a certain
subject. It excited an agitation perfectly astonishing. The emotion
was so great as to produce universal tremour, which attracted the
notice of the company (there was a room full); I was exceedingly
alarmed and perplexed, having imagined the denouement of last summer
to have been conclusive, in good faith. Undoubtedly there is some
secret agent, some underwork, perhaps restraint, of which I am
ignorant. I strongly suspect that she has done violence to her
feelings. Shall I or shall I not investigate this point? Humph!
I have just been visiting Monsieur Dubourg, president of the French
College. The visit, indeed, was to the institution rather than to the
man. Both please me greatly. It (the college) seems to me to possess
some advantages over any other in the United States; more decorous
subordination. The living languages, French and Spanish, may there be
learned by association and habit. The French, the Spanish, the English
(I mean the learners of those languages) are each in separate
apartments. Not a word is spoken but in the language intended to be
taught. It is even the medium of instruction for every other branch.
The Senats speak Spanish fluently. _Bon soir_.
TO THOMAS SUMTER, JUN.
Washington, February 27, 1504.
On my return from New-York a few days past, I had the pleasure to meet
here your father, and to receive your letter of the 21st of January.
It is not probable that it will be in my power to visit South Carolina
this spring. If, fortunately, I should find leisure for a journey
which I have so much at heart, my first object would be Statesburgh;
but as Mr. and Mrs. Alston will be in New-York early in the season, I
entertain hopes that this, with other motives, may induce you to pass
the summer and autumn with me. Yet great as is my solicitude to see
your wife and child, to renew my acquaintance with you, to tender you
my friendship and affection, and to claim a return, I would by no
means urge a measure inconsistent with your interest. Of this you only
can judge. I should not, perhaps, have repeated the invitation
expressed in my last letter to Natalie, but that I learn from your
father that her health has suffered materially. Hence I am filled with
apprehension of the effects of your long summer on a northern
constitution already debilitated.
Presuming that you hear from your father as much as you desire to know
of the doings of Congress, I abstain from those subjects. Be assured
of the great consideration and esteem with which I am your friend,
TO CHARLES BIDDLE.
Washington, March 3, 1804.
Your letter of the 28th February, covering a newspaper, was received
last evening. It cannot yet be settled whether there will be
commissioners to run the boundary line with Spain; but I will mention
the thing to the Smiths, who still profess friendship for General
Wilkinson. My direct interference otherwise would not probably be
useful to him. Please to put the enclosed, for Truxton, in the
postoffice. One of his friends here (not a man in power, for he has, I
believe, no such friend) thinks he will certainly be called into
service; and he states to me pretty plausible grounds for the opinion.
Yet I doubt, which is perhaps the result only of my ignorance.
I shall be with you the last of next week, or, at farthest, within ten
days, on my way home.
Very affectionately yours,
TO FREDERIC A. VANDERKEMP.
Washington, March 6, 1804.
Immediately on the receipt of your letter of the 15th of February, I
wrote to Mr. Madison for the information you desired. It affords me
great pleasure to learn that you are engaged in a literary pursuit so
congenial with your taste and your talents. If I can in any way
promote your views in this or in any other instance, I entreat that
you will command me, _without apology_. I have now the satisfaction to
enclose you Mr. Madison's answer, which I this day received.
You speak of a letter written to me some time ago-on the subject of
Captain Ingraham's voyage. It is impossible, sir, that I can have been
guilty of so gross an inattention as to have permitted a letter from
you to have remained unnoticed. I have no recollection of that which
you mention, and am persuaded that it never came to hand.
Allow me to repeat the assurance of the very great consideration and
respect with which I am
Your obedient servant,
TO WILLIAM P. VAN NESS.
Washington, March 7, 1804.
Friday last was the day assigned for the appearance of Judge Pickering
on his impeachment. He did not appear; but an _amicus curiae_
suggested that the judge was insane, and tendered the proof of that
This has given rise to some troublesome questions, rendered more
embarrassing by the total want of rule or precedent, and still
increased by some dissatisfaction on the part of the managers, which
seems to have also infected the House of Representatives. In this
dilemma it would be improper that I should leave the Senate.
Considerations, however, of a nature which you will more readily
approve, have had an influence in detaining me. A decision is hoped
this day on the points now under discussion. I take my leave as soon
as this business is disposed of, and will be with you in the course of
New-York, March 28, 1804
Your letter, dated early in this month--I don't recollect the very
day, having left the letter in town; but you write so seldom that a
reference to the month is sufficiently descriptive; your letter, then,
of March, announcing your removal to the Oaks, the pretty description
of your house and establishment, _and all that_, were very amusing. I
had really begun to doubt whether you were not all dead or something
I shall get the speech, no thanks to you; there is a copy in
Philadelphia, for which I have written, and it will come endorsed by
the fair hand of Celeste: truly her hand and arm are handsome. I did
not see her on my way through--_tant mieux_; for I took great affront;
thence ensued explanations, &c. Nothing like a quarrel to advance
love. La Planche I did see twice in one day; the last a long, very
long visit. Lovely in weeds. La G., of whom you inquire, is of the
grave age of forty-six; about the age of the vice-president.
They are very busy here about an election between Morgan Lewis and A.
Burr. The former supported by the Livingstons and Clintons, the latter
_per se_. I would send you some new and amusing libels against the
vice-president, but, as you did not send the speech, nor did even
acknowledge the receipt of one of the many public documents which I
took the trouble of forwarding, it may be presumed that this sort of
intercourse is not desired.
Ph. Church and Miss Stewart, of Philadelphia, it is said, are to be
married; Duer (which Duer I don't know) and Miss M. Denning reported
as engaged; Bunner and Miss Church said to be mutually in love; on his
part avowed, on hers not denied.
The Earl of Selkirk is here: a frank, unassuming, sensible man of
about thirty. Whether he thinks of La R. is unknown to the writer. He
dines with me on Monday.
If you had one particle of invention or genius, you would have taught
A. B. A. his _a, b, c_ before this. God mend you. His fibbing is an
inheritance, which pride, an inheritance, will cure. His mother went
through that process. Adieu.
New-York, April 3, 1804.
I hasten to acknowledge your long, interesting, and beautiful letter
of the 14th. It is received this morning, and finds me in the midst of
occupations connected with the approaching election: of course, every
The History of Frederic II. will amuse you. You will read Montesquieu
with interest and instruction. Yet he has a character--I mean that his
"_Esprit des Loix_" has a character above its merit. His historical
facts are, nevertheless, collected and arranged with judgment, and his
reasoning is ingenuous. The political dogmas are not, however, to be
received as axioms. They are neither founded on experience nor on a
knowledge of human nature.
You improve greatly in your style and manner of writing. A little more
pains and a little more reading, and you will exceed Lady Mary W.
Montague. Practice, however, is indispensable. The art of writing is
an acquirement, as much as music or dancing.
Since the 3d I have vainly endeavoured to get a minute to write to
you. It will not, I fear, be possible before the 30th inst., when, or
soon after, I hope to be in Philadelphia, whence you will hear from
me. As you have a great taste for mischief, I send you a new paper 
established in this city, by whom edited unknown. Some of the numbers
are allowed to have wit. Whether these have any I know not. God bless
TO MRS. -----
New-York, April 18, 1804.
Your vanity, if in any degree concerned, will be fully satisfied by
the assurance that my heart, my wishes, and my thoughts will be with
you. The mortal part of me is indispensably otherwise engaged. As you
cannot fail to have admirers, you cannot fail to be amused. Knowing
that you are happy, I shall be so by sympathy, though in a less
degree, as reflected light is less potent than direct.
New-York, April 25, 1804.
What nice, pretty paper. I verily believe that it would not have
entered into my head to write to you; but _Peet_ or _Peter_ just
brought in a ream of paper so handsome looking, that it tempted me to
write, and _chose_ being generally uppermost in my mind, of course it
will be addressed to _chose_, though, for aught that yet appears, it
will suit as well _quelque autre chose_.
I, too, write in a storm; an election storm, of the like you have once
been a witness. The thing began yesterday, and will terminate
to-morrow. My headquarters are in Johnstreet, and I have, since
beginning this letter, been already three times interrupted.
A very modest and amiable proposition! that I should ride sixteen
hundred miles to see a couple of _varmins_. As to your system of
economy, I should rejoice at it if I believed it; but I well know that
you will spend double at the Mills that you would here. Now for my
plan, which is to be submitted to the judgment and the _feelings_ of
You take Richmond Hill; bring no horse nor carriage. I have got a
nice, new, beautiful little chariot, made purposely to please you. I
have also a new coachee, very light, on an entire new construction,
invented by the vice-president. Now these two machines are severally
adapted to two horses, and you may take your choice of them. Of horses
I have five; three always and wholly at your devotion, and the whole
five occasionally. Harry and Sam are both good coachmen, either at
your orders. Of servants there are enough for family purposes.
Eleonore, however, must attend you, for the sake of the heir apparent.
You will want no others, as there are at my house Peggy, Nancy, and a
small girl of about eleven. Mr. Alston may bring a footman. Any thing
further will be useless; he may, however, bring six or eight of them,
if he like. The cellars and garrets are well stocked with wine, having
had a great supply last fall. I shall take rooms (a house, &c.) in
town, but will live with you as much or as little as you may please
and as we can agree; but my establishment at Richmond Hill must
remain, whether you come or not. Great part of the summer I shall be
off eight or ten days at a time, but no long journeys. You will have
to ride every day or two to Montalto to direct the laying out of the
In this way you cannot, without wanton extravagance, expend more than
four hundred dollars. If you insist on bringing your horses, there is
now room for them, and plenty of provender. You ought to come by
water, but not to be swindled again by taking a cabin. Bring your Ada,
if you please, to finish her education.
Tell Mr. Alston that I ordered my booksellers to open a correspondence
with him, and to send out, by way of sample, and under the advice of
M'Kinnon, not to exceed the value of fifty guineas. M'Kinnon writes me
that the articles will be here by the first or before the middle of
June, shipped for New-York.
I forgot to speak of the election. 
Both parties claim majorities, and there never was, in my opinion, an
election, of the result of which so little judgment could be formed.
A. B. will have a small majority in this city _if to-morrow should be
a fair day_, and not else.
You may wonder how I live and mean to live in town. Peter and Alexis
are all my attendants. My breakfast is made _a la garcon_: dinners,
&c., from a neighbouring eatinghouse. Adieu.
New-York, May 1, 1804.
Your letter of the 16th of April had better luck than that other of
the 1st.; on the road, I mean, for the reception of both was equally
kind. The last arrived yesterday. I do not remember exactly what it is
about, and it is on my table in the library up stairs, and I am
writing in the dining-room beside a good fire on this evening of the
first of May. Now _madame pour quelque chose tres interessante_.
How limited is human foresight! How truly are we the sport of
accident. To-morrow I had proposed to visit Celeste, and now, alas!
La G. may be forty-one. Something of the style and manners of _la
tante de La_ R. Is about as silly; talks as much, and as much
nonsense; is certainly good-tempered and cheerful; rather comely,
abating a flat chest; about two inches taller than Theodosia. Things
are not gone to extremities; but there is danger--poor gampy.
The election is lost by a great majority: _tant mieux_. It does not
appear possible that I should make you a visit; even if La G. should
not prevent it, which ought to be hoped, some other thing of like kind
Tell Natalie that I have just now received her letter, which she
acknowledges to be in answer to _four of mine_. Of the boy you have
been remarkably reserved in your two last letters. I conclude,
however, that he cannot be dead, as you would, probably, have thought
that a circumstance worthy of being mentioned, at least in a
postscript. Now Natalie has written me a whole page about her girl,
for which I am very grateful.
What would you bet that La G. is not in a kind of quandary just now?
Gods! what a pathetic love-scene it will make if it shall go on.
TO MISS -----
New-York, May 20, 1804. I send you a sample of that species of
philosophy which I have thought particularly suited to your cast of
mind and the delicacy of your taste. You are to read from the 66th
page to the 125th. What precedes and follows will fatigue, without
interesting or amusing you. Indeed, some of it will not be very
intelligible, and you must not be disgusted in the outset.
The author has not noticed those advantages which personal beauty
derives from intellectual improvement, or expansion of the mind
tempered by commerce with the world, nor how grace and expression may
be thus heightened and improved. I wish some one would write a volume
on this subject. Indeed, I have had thoughts of doing it myself, and
holding you up as the example to verify my theory. To this some
thoughtless ones may object, that, where nature had done so much,
nothing was left for the work of art. There cannot be a greater error.
The essential difference between the silly and the wise consists in
their different capacity for improvement. Bestow what pains, offer
what advantages you may to a dull subject, and she will remain
stationary. One of taste and talents, on the contrary, extracts
improvement from every thing, and approaches perfection in proportion
as the means of advancement are afforded.
What grave nonsense, you will say, or at least think, if this should
find you, as is probable, surrounded by admirers uniting to persuade
you that you are already perfect; and in such company how stupid a
compliment will it seem to tell you that you may still improve; that
there are no limits to the improvement and approaches which you may
make towards perfection. Such, however ungallant, will be the language
of your admirer and friend,
New-York, May 8, 1804.
I think I have answered, or at least have noticed, your letter of the
17th, being the last which has been received, and, as usual,
postmarked nine days after its date.
The affair of La G. is becoming serious. After due reflection, this
does appear to me to be the most discreet thing--prudence,
cheerfulness, and good-temper are ingredients of importance. I will
offer homage. Are you content? Answer quickly.
Madame Bonaparte and husband are here. I have just seen them and no
more. For reasons unknown to me (doubtless some state policy), we are
suddenly become strangers.
Of all earthly things I most want to see your boy. Does he yet know
his letters? If not, you surely must want skill, for, most certain, he
can't want genius. You must tell me of all his acquirements.
It ought to have been mentioned that I have not seen my inamorata
since the time of which I wrote you, which you may think passing
May 26, 1804.
I think I will never again be so long without writing to you. It has
been a daily and nightly reproach to me since the 8th of May, the date
of the preceding part of this letter. The matter there spoken of
seemed to be in so precarious a state, that I did not like to send you
that page alone, and, in fact, knew not what to add to it. It is just
so now; but from that day to this I have not seen La G., owing partly
to accident and partly to apathy.
Your long and interesting letter of the 5th and 6th inst has been
received. It shall be answered anon. In the mean time I repeat the
injunction that you read, and in sequence. Study philosophy, if
nothing should more allure you. Darwin and Harris you have; others I
will send. Read over Shakspeare critically, marking the passages which
are beautiful, absurd, or obscure. I will do the same, and one of
these days we will compare. To improve your style and language is,
however, the most interesting point. In this you will be aided by
regaining your Latin. Gods! how much you might accomplish this year.
Miss Cruger, youngest daughter of the late widow Cruger, now Mrs.
Rogers, married two or three days ago to one of your Haywards, I think
William. A runaway job. _La mere et beau pere bien faches_. How far
are you from Natalie?
New-York, June 11, 1804.
Your letter of the 14th of May is the last, and, I believe,
unanswered, which is rather scandalous on both sides; but the letter
of A.B.A., at the foot of yours, was far the most interesting. I have
studied every pothook and trammel of his first literary performance,
to see what rays of genius could be discovered. You remember our
friend Schweitzer, nephew and pupil of Lavater. He used to insist that
as much was to be inferred from the handwriting as from the face. I
showed him a letter from a man of great fame, and he saw genius in
every stroke. I then produced a letter from an arrant blockhead and
great knave, but so like the other as not to be distinguished, at
least by my unphysiognomical discernment. He acknowledged that there
was resemblance to an ignorant eye; but, said he, triumphantly, this
(latter) could never have made that scratch, which sybilistic scratch
was the mere prolongation of the last letter of the last word in a
sentence. Now it occurs to me that one of A.B.A.'s scratches is
exactly in the line of genius according to Schweitzer; and surely more
may be presumed from the instinctive effort of untutored infancy than
from the laboured essay of scientific cultivation. To aid your
observations in this line, I pray you to read Martinus Scriblerius.
Mr. and Mrs. Hayward are happily living with the mother.
I am stationary (_not paper, wax, and quills_), but, adjectively
speaking, unlocomotive. The affair of La G. has also been perfectly
stationary since my last, the parties not having met; but hearing that
La G. has expressed a sort of surprise, approaching to vexation, at
this apathy, the other party has _kindly_ promised an interview
to-morrow. If it should take place, you will, in due time, know the
result. Your permission or dissent is impatiently expected by
New-York, June 13, 1804.
The joint and several letter of Natalie and Theodosia was received
yesterday, and will be answered to-morrow or next day. It seems that
you write once a fortnight. Two such idle sluts might find half an
hour daily to give a sort of journal to papa.
Another interview yesterday with La G. One more would be fatal and
final. I shall seek it to-day; _after which_ I will read Moore's
fables, you impudence. My time, till near closing the mail, has been
occupied in writing to your husband. At present I can only thank you
New-York, June 24, 1804.
"To-morrow, did I say? 'Tis nowhere to be found but in the fool's
calendar;" and yet I said "to-morrow." The morrow brought me an ague
in the face, which I have been nursing from that day to this, in great
ill-humour. 'Till yesterday I could not dispense with my mufflings,
and yesterday we kept Theo.'s birthday. The Laights and half a dozen
others laughed an hour, and danced an hour, and drank her health at
Richmond Hill. We had your picture in the dining-room; but, as it is a
profile, and would not look at us, we hung it up, and placed Natalie's
at table, which laughs and talks with us.
I do not like the boy looking pale so early in the season. It argues
ill; but I like much his heroism and his gallantry. You can't think
how much these little details amuse and interest me. If you were quite
mistress of natural philosophy, he would now be hourly acquiring a
knowledge of various branches, particularly natural history, botany,
and chymistry. Pursue these studies, and also that of language. For
fifty dollars you may get, in Philadelphia, a chymical apparatus, put
up in a small box, with which more than one hundred experiments may be
Your idea of dressing up pieces of ancient mythology in the form of
amusing tales for children is very good. You _yourself_ must write
them. Send your performances to me, and, within three weeks after they
are received, you shall have them again in print. This will be not
only an amusing occupation, but a very useful one to yourself. It will
improve your style and your language, give you habits of accuracy, and
add a little to your stock of knowledge. Natalie, too, must work at
it, and I'll bet that she makes the best tale. I will be your editor
and your critic.
You laugh at me so much and so impudently, that I will not say a word
more of certain things till something be concluded. Your permission
seems to be that I may hang or drown, or make any other apotheosis I
may please. Dear indulgent creature, how I thank thee.
Pray, madam, give your orders to Peggy yourself. She writes a better
hand than I do, and would be so proud to receive a letter from
_Missy_. I have shown her that part of your letter which concerns her,
and she is now engaged in executing your commands.
New-York, July 1, 1804.
Having been shivering with cold all day, though in perfect health, I
have now, just at sunset, had a fire in my library, and am sitting
near it and enjoying it, if that word be applicable to any thing done
in solitude. Some very wise man, however, has exclaimed,
"Oh! fools, who think it solitude to be alone."
This is but poetry. Let us, therefore, drop the subject, lest it lead
to another on which I have imposed silence on myself.
You may recollect, and, if you do not, your husband will, that he has
several times requested me to open a correspondence between him and my
bookseller in London. To introduce the thing, I desired Mr. White to
send with my next parcel of books a parcel for Mr. Alston, not
exceeding the value of fifty guineas, and referred him to Mr. M'Kinnon
for instructions. The books came out accordingly, and, with respect to
my box, all was smooth and fair; but it was alleged by the owners of
the ship and by the captain, that the box for Mr. Alston, having been
irregularly shipped, occasioned the seizure and detention of the ship,
and the owners refused to deliver the box unless I would pay thirty
guineas damages. This I declined, and the box was taken to the
custom-house, where it has lain these six weeks unopened. After the
expiration of nine months it will be opened, and the contents sold at
auction by order of the officers of the customs. I shall write to the
bookseller, Mr. White, to employ his own agent here to look to the box
as his property. This trifling tale would not have been told but to
show Mr. Alston that I really have made an attempt to establish a
correspondence for him.
You ought to be collecting a few books for your own use. One way of
forming a small library, and which I recommend to you, is to note down
the title of every book which, either from its reputation or from
perusal, you may wish to possess. Make you a small memorandum book for
this purpose. If they be written on loose scraps, by the time you get
a dozen eleven of them will be lost. I recommend to you a new
publication called the Edinburgh Review. One number is issued every
three months. The plan of the editors differs from that of similar
works in that they give more copious extracts, and notice only books
of merit or _reputation_.
I wait impatiently for some of your tales. No hasty scrawls, madam,
for I will correct nothing. We have now here three shiploads of South
Carolinians, who all find the weather intolerably hot, though I have
slept under a blanket every night except one in all June.
Jerome Bonaparte has taken Belvidere for the season. The two French
frigates remain here blockaded. C. C. says you are a good-for-nothing,
lazy ****** (I really cannot write her words; they are too dreadful,
and must be left to your imagination to supply), because you never
write to her, nor even answer her letters. I assented to all this.
All strangers go to see Montalto as one of the curiosities or beauties
of the island. Your last letter is dated the 31st of May, whence I
conclude that you submit to the labour of writing to me once a
1. Matthew L. Davis.
2. The lady of the then British Minister Plenipotentiary to the United
3. Washington Irving
4. The Corrector, by _Toby Tickler_.
5. The election for governor; Morgan Lewis and Aaron Burr being the
In February, 1804, Colonel Burr was nominated, at a public meeting
held in the city of New-York, as a candidate for the office of
governor. At this meeting Colonel Marinus Willett presided as
chairman, and Ezekiel Robbins acted as secretary. Both these gentlemen
were well known as efficient members of the democratic party. Judge
Morgan Lewis was the opposing and successful candidate. This contest
was of an acrimonious character. While the great mass of the
democratic party supported Judge Lewis, a section of that party, alike
distinguished for their talents and patriotism, sustained Colonel
Burr. Nor were these divisions confined to the ranks of the democracy.
Among the federalists similar dissensions sprang up. General Hamilton,
and all that portion of politicians over whom he had a controlling
influence, opposed the election of Colonel Burr with an ardour
bordering on fanaticism. The press teemed with libels of the most
atrocious character. An event connected with this election has
rendered it memorable in the history of our state and country. A
letter, written by Dr. Charles D. Cooper, and published pending the
election, ultimately led to the hostile and fatal meeting between
General Hamilton and Colonel Burr. Immediately after the death of the
former gentleman, Judge William P. Van Ness, the second of Colonel
Burr, published the correspondence between the parties, with a
statement of the conversations he held with General Hamilton and Judge
Pendleton, the second of the general. As their accuracy has never been
called in question, they are now presented in the form in which they
On the afternoon of the 17th of June last (1804), says Judge Van Ness,
I received a note from Colonel Burr  requesting me to call on him
the following morning. Upon my arrival he alleged that it had, of
late, been frequently stated to him that General Hamilton had, at
different times and upon various occasions, used language and
expressed opinions highly injurious to his reputation; that he had for
some time felt the necessity of calling on General Hamilton for an
explanation of his conduct, but that the statements which had been
made to him did not appear sufficiently authentic to justify the
measure; that, a newspaper had, however, been recently put into his
hands, in which he perceived a letter signed Charles D. Cooper,
containing something which he thought demanded immediate
investigation. Urged by these circumstances, and justified by the
evident opinion of his friends, he had determined to write General
Hamilton a note upon the subject, which he requested me to deliver. I
assented to this request, and, on my return to the city, which was at
eleven o'clock the same morning, I delivered to General Hamilton the
note which I received from Colonel Burr for that purpose, and of which
the following is a copy.
New-York, June 18, 1804.
I send for your perusal a letter signed Charles D. Cooper, which,
though apparently published some time ago, has but very recently come
to my knowledge. Mr. Van Ness, who does me the favour to deliver this,
will point out to you that clause of the letter to which I
particularly request your attention.
You must perceive, sir, the necessity of a prompt and unqualified
acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expressions which would
warrant the assertions of Mr. Cooper.
I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant,
General Hamilton read the note of Mr. Burr, and the printed letter of
Mr. Cooper to which it refers, and remarked that they required some
consideration, and that in the course of the day he would send an
answer to my office. At half past ten o'clock General Hamilton called
at my house, and said that a variety of engagements would demand his
attention during the whole of that day and the next; but that on
Wednesday, the 20th inst., he would furnish me with such an answer to
Colonel Burr's letter as he should deem most suitable and compatible
with his feelings. In the evening of Wednesday, the 20th, while I was
from home, the following letter, addressed to Colonel Burr, was left
at my house, under cover to me.
New-York, June 20, 1804.
I have maturely reflected on the subject of your letter of the 18th
inst., and the more I have reflected the more I have become convinced
that I could not, without manifest impropriety, make the avowal or
disavowal which you seem to think necessary. The clause pointed out by
Mr. Van Ness is in these terms: "I could detail to you _a still more
despicable_ opinion which General Hamilton _has expressed_ of Mr.
Burr." To endeavour to discover the meaning of this declaration, I was
obliged to seek in the antecedent part of this letter for the opinion
to which it referred as having been already disclosed. I found it in
these words: "General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared, in
_substance_, that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a _dangerous man_,
and one _who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government_."
The language of Doctor Cooper plainly implies that _he_ considered
this opinion of you, which he attributes to me, as a _despicable_ one;
but he affirms that I have expressed some other _more despicable_,
without, however, mentioning to whom, when, or where. 'Tis evident
that the phrase "still more despicable" admits of infinite shades,
from very light to very dark. How am I to judge of the degree
intended? Or how shall I annex any precise idea to language so
Between gentlemen, _despicable_ and _more despicable_ are not worth
the pains of distinction; when, therefore, you do not interrogate me
as to the opinion which is specifically ascribed to me, I must
conclude that you view it as within the limits to which the
animadversions of political opponents upon each other may justifiably
extend, and, consequently, as not warranting the idea which Doctor
Cooper appears to entertain. If so, what precise inference could you
draw as a guide for your conduct, were I to acknowledge that I had
expressed an opinion of you _still more despicable_ than the one which
is particularized? How could you be sure that even this opinion had
exceeded the bounds which you would yourself deem admissible between
But I forbear further comment on the embarrassment to which the
requisition you have made naturally leads. The occasion forbids a more
ample illustration, though nothing could be more easy than to pursue
Repeating that I cannot reconcile it with propriety to make the
acknowledgment or denial you desire, I will add, that I deem it
inadmissible, on principle, to consent to be interrogated as to the
justice of the _inferences_ which may be drawn by others from whatever
I have said of a political opponent in the course of fifteen years
competition. If there were no other objection to it, this is
sufficient, that it would tend to expose my sincerity and delicacy to
injurious imputations from every person who may at any time have
conceived the _import_ of my expressions differently from what I may
then have intended or may afterward recollect. I stand ready to avow
or disavow promptly and explicitly any precise or definite opinion
which I may be charged with having declared of any gentleman. More
than this cannot fitly be expected from me; and, especially, it cannot
be reasonably expected that I shall enter into any explanation upon a
basis so vague as that you have adopted. I trust, on more reflection,
you will see the matter in the same light with me. If not, I can only
regret the circumstance, and must abide the consequences.
The publication of Doctor Cooper was never seen by me till after the
receipt of your letter. I have the honour to be, &c.,
On the morning of Thursday, the 21st, I delivered to Colonel Burr the
above letter, and, in the evening, was furnished with the following
letter for General Hamilton, which I delivered to him at 12 o'clock on
Friday, the 22d inst.
New-York, June 21, 1804.
Your letter of the 20th inst. has been this day received. Having
considered it attentively, I regret to find in it nothing of that
sincerity and delicacy which you profess to value.
Political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of
a rigid adherence to the laws of honour and the rules of decorum. I
neither claim such privilege nor indulge it in others.
The common sense of mankind affixes to the epithet adopted by Doctor
Cooper the idea of dishonour. It has been publicly applied to me under
the sanction of your name. The question is not whether he has
understood the meaning of the word, or has used it according to syntax
and with grammatical accuracy, but whether you have authorized this
application, either directly or by uttering expressions or opinions
derogatory to my honour. The time "when" is in your own knowledge, but
no way material to me, as the calumny has now first been disclosed so
as to become the subject of my notice, and as the effect is present
Your letter has furnished me with new reasons for requiring a definite
I have the honour to be,
Sir, your obedient
General Hamilton perused it, and said it was such a letter as he had
hoped not to have received; that it contained several offensive
expressions, and seemed to close the door to all further reply; that
he had hoped the answer he had returned to Colonel Burr's first letter
would have given a different direction to the controversy; that he
thought Mr. Burr would have perceived that there was a difficulty in
his making a more specific reply, and would have desired him to state
what had fallen from him that might have given rise to the inference
of Doctor Cooper. He would have done this frankly; and he believed it
would not have been found to exceed the limits justifiable among
political opponents. If Mr. Burr should be disposed to give a
different complexion to the discussion, he was willing to consider the
last letter not delivered; but if that communication was not
withdrawn, he could make no reply; and Mr. Burr must pursue such
course as he should deem most proper.
At the request of General Hamilton, I replied that I would detail
these ideas to Colonel Burr; but added, that if in his first letter he
had introduced the idea (if it was a correct one) that he could
recollect of no terms that would justify the construction made by Dr.
Cooper, it would, in my opinion, have opened a door for accommodation.
General Hamilton then repeated the same objections to this measure
which were stated in substance in his first letter to Colonel Burr.
When I was about leaving him he observed, that if I preferred it, he
would commit his refusal to writing. I replied, that if he had
resolved not to answer Colonel Burr's letter, that I could report that
to him verbally, without giving him the trouble of writing it. He
again repeated his determination not to answer; and that Colonel Burr
must pursue such course as he should deem most proper.
In the afternoon of this day I reported to Colonel Burr, at his house
out of town, the answer and the determination of General Hamilton, and
promised to call on him again in the evening to learn his further
wishes. I was detained in town, however, this evening, by some private
business, and did not call on Colonel Burr until the following
morning, Saturday, the 23d June. I then received from him a letter for
General Hamilton, which is numbered IV.; but, as will presently be
explained, never was delivered. The substance of it will be found in
When I returned with this letter to the city, which was about two
o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, I sent a note to General
Hamilton's office, and also to his house, desiring to know when it
would be convenient to him to receive a communication. The servant, as
he informed me, received for answer at both places that General
Hamilton had gone to his country seat. I then wrote the note of which
No. V. is a copy, and sent it out to him in the country.
June 23, 1804.
In the afternoon of yesterday I reported to Colonel Burr the result of
my last interview with you, and appointed the evening to receive his
further instructions. Some private engagements, however, prevented me
from calling on him till this morning. On my return to the city, I
found, upon inquiry, both at your office and house, that you had
returned to your residence in the country. Lest an interview there
might be less agreeable to you than elsewhere, I have taken the
liberty of addressing you this note, to inquire when and where it will
be most convenient to you to receive a communication.
Your most obedient and very humble servant,
W. P. VAN NESS.
To this I received for answer No. VI., which follows.
Grange, June 23, 1804.
I was in town to-day till half past one. I thank you for the delicacy
which dictated your note to me. If it is indispensable the
communication should be made before Monday morning, I must receive it
here; but I should think this cannot be important. On Monday, by nine
o'clock, I shall be in town at my house in Cedar-street, No. 52, where
I should be glad to see you. An additional reason for preferring this
is, that I am unwilling to occasion you trouble.
With esteem I am your obedient servant,
At nine o'clock on Monday, the 25th of June, I called on General
Hamilton, at his house in Cedar-street, to present the letter No. IV.
already alluded to, and with instructions for a verbal communication,
of which the following notes, No. VII, handed me by Mr. Burr, were to
be the basis. The substance of which, though in terms as much softened
as my injunctions would permit, was accordingly communicated to
A. Burr, far from conceiving that rivalship authorizes a latitude not
otherwise justifiable, always feels greater delicacy in such cases,
and would think it meanness to speak of a rival but in terms of
respect; to do justice to his merits; to be silent of his foibles.
Such has invariably been his conduct towards Jay, Adams, and Hamilton;
the only three who can be supposed to have stood in that relation to
That he has too much reason to believe that, in regard to Mr.
Hamilton, there has been no reciprocity. For several years his name
has been lent to the support of base slanders. He has never had the
generosity, the magnanimity, or the candour to contradict or disavow.
Burr forbears to particularize, as it could only tend to produce new
irritations; but, having made great sacrifices for the sake of
harmony; having exercised forbearance until it approached to
humiliation, he has seen no effect produced by such conduct but a
repetition of injury. He is obliged to conclude that there is, on the
part of Mr. Hamilton, a settled and implacable malevolence; that he
will never cease, in his conduct towards Mr. Burr, to violate those
courtesies of life; and that, hence, he has no alternative but to
announce these things to the world; which, consistently with Mr.
Burr's ideas of propriety, can be done in no way but that which he has
adopted. He is incapable of revenge, still less is he capable of
imitating the conduct of Mr. Hamilton, by committing secret
depredations on his fame and character. But these things must have an
Before I delivered the written communication with which I was charged,
General Hamilton said that he had prepared a written reply to Colonel
Burr's letter of the 21st, which he had left with Mr. Pendleton, and
wished me to receive. I answered, that the communication I had to make
to him was predicated upon the idea that he would make no reply to Mr.
Burr's letter of the 21st of June, and that I had so understood him in
our conversation of the 22d. General Hamilton said that he believed,
before I left him, he had proffered a written reply. I observed that,
when he answered verbally, he had offered to put that _refusal_ in
writing; but that, if he had now prepared a written reply, I would
receive it with pleasure. I accordingly called on Mr. Pendleton on the
same day (Monday, June 25th), between _one_ and _two_ o'clock P. M.,
and stated to him the result of my recent interview with General
Hamilton, and the reference he had made to him.
I then received from Mr. Pendleton No. VIII., which follows:--
New-York, June 22, 1804.
Your first letter, in a style too peremptory, made a demand, in my
opinion, unprecedented and unwarrantable. My answer, pointing out the
embarrassment, gave you an opportunity to take a less exceptionable
course. You have not chosen to do it; but, by your last letter,
received this day, containing expressions _indecorous_ and improper,
you have increased the difficulties to explanation intrinsically
incident to the nature of your application.
If by a "definite reply" you mean the direct avowal or disavowal
required in your first letter, I have no other answer to give than
that which has already been given. If you mean any thing different,
admitting of greater latitude, it is requisite you should explain.
I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant,
A. BURR, Esq.
This letter was unsealed, but I did not read it in his presence. After
some conversation relative to what General Hamilton would say on the
subject of the present controversy, during which Mr. Pendleton read
from a paper his ideas on the subject, he left me for the purpose of
seeing and consulting Mr. Hamilton, taking the paper with him. In
about an hour he called at my house. I informed him that I had shown
to Colonel Burr the letter he had given me from General Hamilton;
that, in his opinion, it amounted to nothing more than the verbal
reply I had already reported; that it left the business precisely
where it then was; that Mr. Burr had very explicitly stated the
injuries he had received and the reparation he demanded, and that be
did not think it proper to be asked now for further explanation.
Towards the conclusion of the conversation I informed him that Colonel
Burr required a general disavowal of any intention, on the part of
General Hamilton, in his various conversations, to convey expressions
derogatory to the honour of Mr. Burr. Mr. Pendleton replied that he
believed General Hamilton would have no objections to make such
declaration, and left me for the purpose of consulting him, requesting
me to call in the course of the afternoon for an answer. I called on
him, accordingly, about six o'clock. He then observed that General
Hamilton declined making such a disavowal as I had stated in our last
conversation; that he, Mr. Pendleton, did not then perceive the whole
force and extent of it; and presented me with the following paper, No.
IX., which I transmitted in the evening to Mr. Burr.
In answer to a letter properly adapted to obtain from General Hamilton
a declaration whether he had charged Colonel Burr with any particular
instance of dishonourable conduct, or had impeached his private
character either in the conversation alluded to by Doctor Cooper, or
in any other particular instance to be specified, he would be able to
answer consistently with his honour and the truth, in substance, that
the conversation to which Doctor Cooper alluded turned wholly on
political topics, and did not attribute to Colonel Burr any instance
of dishonourable conduct, nor relate to his private character; and in
relation to any other language or conversation of General Hamilton
which Colonel Burr will specify, a prompt and frank avowal or denial
will be given.
The following day (Tuesday, 26th June), as early as was convenient, I
had an interview with Colonel Burr, who informed me that he considered
General Hamilton's proposition a mere evasion, that evinced a desire
to leave the injurious impressions which had arisen from the
conversations of General Hamilton in full force; that when he had
undertaken to investigate an injury his honour had sustained, it would
be unworthy of him not to make that investigation complete. He gave me
further instructions, which are substantially contained in the
following letter to Mr. Pendleton, No. X.
June 26, 1804.
The letter which you yesterday delivered to me, and your subsequent
communication, in Colonel Burr's opinion, evince no disposition, on
the part of General Hamilton, to come to a satisfactory accommodation.
The injury complained of and the reparation expected are so definitely
expressed in Colonel Burr's letter of the 21st instant, that there is
not perceived a necessity for further explanation on his part. The
difficulty that would result from confining the inquiry to any
particular times and occasions must be manifest. The denial of a
specified conversation only would leave strong implication that on
other occasions improper language had been used. When and where
injurious opinions and expressions had been uttered by General
Hamilton must be best known to him, and of him only will Colonel Burr
inquire. No denial or declaration will be satisfactory unless it be
general, so as wholly to exclude the idea that rumours derogatory to
Colonel Burr's honour has originated with General Hamilton, or have
been fairly inferred from any thing he has said. A definite reply to a
requisition of this nature was demanded by Colonel Burr's letter of
the 21st instant. This being refused, invites the alternative alluded
to in General Hamilton's letter of the 20th.
It was required by the position in which the controversy was placed by
General Hamilton on Friday (June 22d) last, and I was immediately
furnished with a communication demanding a personal interview. The
necessity of this measure has not, in the opinion of Colonel Burr,
been diminished by the general's last letter, or any communication
which has since been received. I am, consequently, again instructed to
deliver you a message as soon as it may be convenient for you to
receive it. I beg, therefore, you will be so good as to inform me at
what hour I can have the pleasure of seeing you.
Your most obedient and humble servant,
W. P. VAN NESS.
NATHANIEL PENDLETON, Esq.
In the evening of the same day I received from him the following
Back to Full Books