Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Barton to Thomas Jefferson, 6 June 1814

From William Barton

Lancr (Penna) June 6th 1814.


In consequence of your polite and liberal attention to my “Memoirs” of the Life of the late Dr Rittenhouse, I take the liberty of inclosing, herewith, the Prospectus of a pretty arduous Work in which I am now engaged. I shall be much gratified, if it should meet Your approbation; and it shall be my endeavour to render it worthy of the Patronage of the American Public.—The publication of a work somewhat similar to the one proposed by me, has been recently announced by a bookseller in Philada a Mr Delaplaine, formerly of New York. But the plan on1 which he means to conduct his, is such, as, I believe, will not interfere with mine. Mr Delaplaine’s undertaking (for his work is anonymous, as to its author or compiler,) seems to be intended to contain Sketches of the Lives of eminent persons,—drawn up for the purpose of accompanying engraved portraits of the subjects of them;—in the manner, I presume, of Birch’s Lives, which are short biographical notices of sundry distinguished characters, designed to illustrate Houbraken’s Heads of those persons. I hope to render mine a more extensive and a more scientific work. Besides, by making mine a much cheaper book, I flatter myself it will be more useful; as it will, thereby, be accessible to the generality of readers.—

I have been prompted to this undertaking, by the persuasion of several gentlemen of abilities & literary taste; and some of them have given me assurances of assistance & support. My brother, the Doctor, appears much pleased with my having engaged in it. His extensive & valuable Library will be at my service, and I shall derive much interesting information from himself. I trust that many other gentlemen will favour me with occasional communications, suitable for my purpose; and should you, Sir, be pleased to contribute any thing in this way, from your ample magazines of literature & science, the highest obligation will be thus conferred, and it shall be most thankfully acknowledged.—

I have the Honour to be, With the highest Respect, Sir, Your most obedt hble servt

W. Barton

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Honourable Th. Jefferson, Esq.”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 June 1814 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Select American Biography: or, An Account of the Lives of Persons, Connected By Nativity, or Otherwise, with the History of North America … constituting Memorials of Many Eminent Men, whose Characters are Worthy of being Perpetuated in the Annals of America (Lancaster, 1814), amplifying the claim that biography is one of the most useful and interesting branches of history; asserting that many American statesmen, magistrates, soldiers, clergy, moralists, philosophers, men of letters, lawyers, physicians, artists, mechanics, explorers, agricultural improvers, and merchants have earned renown; proposing to publish a biographical work focused on the lives of these worthies, including those already documented and others “of whom no public record has yet appeared”; soliciting pertinent “facts, literary notices or anecdotes, letters, or memoirs of other kinds” from men of science and information; advising that the projected three volumes will contain more than six-hundred pages apiece, each issued in three numbers, with a new number to be released every four months until the work is completed, and with the possibility of extension into a new series should the first three volumes be well received; and stating that the terms of subscription are $4.50 per volume, and that “no greater number of copies will be printed, than shall be subscribed for.”

Thomas birch’s biographical work was The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain, Engraven By Mr. Houbraken, and Mr. Vertue. With Their Lives and Characters, 2 vols. (London, 1743–51).

1Manuscript: “on on.”

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; mentioned search
  • Barton, William; letters from search
  • Barton, William; Memoirs of the Life of David Rittenhouse search
  • Barton, William; Select American Biography search
  • Birch, Thomas; The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain … With Their Lives and Characters search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Houbraken, Jacobus; as engraver search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Memoirs of the Life of David Rittenhouse (W. Barton) search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Rittenhouse, David; W. Barton’s memoir on search
  • Select American Biography (W. Barton) search
  • The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (T. Birch, J. Houbraken, and G. Vertue) search
  • Vertue, George; as engraver search