Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Anderson, 29 April 1790

From James Anderson

Edinr. 29th April 1790


Tho’ I have not the honour of being acquainted with yourself, I am acquainted with your writings; and the pleasure these afforded, gave a desire of a more intimate correspondence. In the undertaking in which I am about to engage, I am not a little ambitious of its attracting the notice of worthy men; and I should think myself fortunate if the plan so far met with your approbation, as to induce you to think it might not be impossible for you sometimes to communicate a few observations to the world through that channel.—However that may be, should you ever wish for any information from this country, or any thing else that I can procure for you, I shall take pleasure in forwarding your views to the utmost of my power.—I have the honour to be, with respect Sir Your most obedt. Hble. Servt.,

Jas: Anderson

The inclosed queries are intended for the continent of Europe rather than for America. As they are addressed only to a particular class of correspondents, they are necessarily of a local nature, which may serve to convey a wrong idea of the intended work. Towards the beginning, hints will be given to serve the purpose of queries respecting science and nature in general, that could apply equally to men of all nations. These will give a more perfect idea of the real tendency of the work than the others.—I should be very happy if you will honour this work with your acceptance when it is published, and will be much obliged to you for a particular address by which route it may be sent.

RC (DLC); addressed: “Mr. Jefferson Secty. of State near Petersburgh Virginia—author of several performances” endorsed by Samuel Campbell showing its receipt at New York “6 Octr. in a package from Edin. and forwarded” postmarked: “New York Oct.6” endorsed by TJ as received 25 Oct. 1790 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: A 7-page printed “Prospectus of an intended new periodical work, to be called The Bee, or Universal Literary Intelligencer, To be published Weekly; and to contain, Besides Original Miscellaneous Essays on Literature and the Belles Lettres, Early accounts of new discoveries in science and useful arts; an occasional review of valuable publications at home and abroad; extracts from foreign journals, academical dissertations and domestic performances of merit; biographical anecdotes and memoirs of eminent persons; notices of the heroic achievements of ancient and honourable families; observations on the topography and natural history of Britain and other countries; disquisitions concerning civil history and the progress of the human mind; poetical essays and translations; debates and distinguished speeches in parliament, and in the political assemblies of other states; remarkable laws and interesting decisions in courts of justice; a concise chronicle of recent events; and a complete list of new publications in Britain, with the prices. The whole being calculated To furnish an instructive amusement for the present hour, and to transmit to posterity a faithful picture of the acquirements, modes of thinking, prevailing habits, and chief pursuits of men, in Europe at least … by James Anderson, LLD.” Among the general queries, which occupied three pages of fine print in double columns, were questions concerning land tenure, the status of cultivators of the soil, mines and minerals, manufactures, commerce, religious establishments, penology, the adoption and execution of laws, roads and turnpikes, public revenues, postal establishments, libraries, museums, journals, book publishing, inventions, defense, amusements, the status of women, superstitions (on the theory that an exact delineation of ideas concerning ghosts, apparitions, fairies, incantations, &c. “would perhaps indicate the degree of civilization … more distinctly than any other circumstance”), and the following item which could not fail to catch TJ’s attention: “What is the state of the country in regard to the liberty of the press? To what restraints are the people subjected in this respect? What have been the pretexts adopted for curtailing this liberty, where it could not be directly attacked? Have these encroachments been made under the apparent view of augmenting the public revenue, or of serving the cause of religion, or of preventing immorality, or of promoting good order and public tranquillity, by protecting the innocent from calumny, or what else? Is the post office called in as an engine to effect this purpose: Have particular taxes also been imposed with this view? What are they?” (DLC: TJ Papers, 54: 9158–61). The editorial point of view was clearly revealed in the nature and phraseology of the questions; it could scarcely have failed to attract TJ’s subscription: See TJ to Anderson, 2 Dec. 1790; TJ to Samuel Campbell, 12 Nov. 1792; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 4927. Anderson’s prospectus for The Bee appeared in the Gazette of the United States for 14 July 1790, and in other newspapers. Washington caused the prospectus to be published in the Gazette for “the purpose of promoting the circulation” (Washington to the Earl of Buchan, 30 June 1790; Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 63).

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