Thomas Jefferson Papers

Amos J. Cook to Thomas Jefferson, 18 December 1815

From Amos J. Cook

Fryeburg, December 18. 1815.


It is customary in this northern section of our country to connect with the more important seminaries of learning a Museum of natural and artificial curiosities. Such a connexion is deemed both pleasing and useful.—We have an Academy in this town, endowed with a capital, which affords an annual interest of about $800. out of which a Preceptor (and a Preceptress, during the summer quarters) is supported. An apartment is reserved for a Library, and whatever may be rare and gratify the virtuoso.—We have already obtained by benefactions 150 Vols. of books; a variety of minerals from the Derbyshire mines in England; and some, which are peculiar to America; pipes of different qualities and sizes, detached parts of dress from many tribes of Indians, &c.—We are now availing ourselves of a specimen of the hand-writing of a number of our most eminent Characters. Mr. Adams of Quincy, Mass. a former President of the United States, has complied with our wishes in sending for the above purpose, the following Latin verses, copied by his own hand from over the door of a Monk in Spain.

Si tibi pulcra domus, Si splendida mensa, quid inde?
Si species auri atque argenti massa, quid inde?
Si tibi sponsa decens, si sit generosa; quid inde?
Si tibi sint nati, si praedia magna, quid inde?
Si fueris pulcher, fortis, divesve, quid inde?
Longus Servorum, si serviat ordo; quid inde?
Si doceas alios in qualibet arte; quid inde?
Si rideat mundus; si prospera cuncta; quid inde?
Si Prior, aut Abbas; si Rex, si Papa; quid inde?
Si rota fortunae, te tollat ad astra; quid inde?
Annis si foelix regnes mille, quid inde?
Tam cito praetereunt, haec omnia, quae nihil inde?
Sola manet virtus, quâ glorificabimur inde:
Ergo De[o]1 servi; quia sat tibi provenit inde,
Quod fecisse volens in tempore quo morieris
Hoc facias juvenis, dum corpore sanus haberis.
Quod nobis concedas Deus noster. Amen.—

Although, in our English tongue, it may appear difficult to give an elegant and literal translation of this piece “of purer morality than elegant Latinity,” a gentleman of our village has favored me with the following imitation.

Tho’ pleasure may your steps attend
And love and wine their joys may blend
And fortune add a faithful friend;
______What then?
Thievish time may cease his stealth,
Age may bloom in rosy health
And avarice wallow in his wealth;
______What then?
While laurel wreaths his brows surround,
Ambition is with empire crown’d,
Time its space and earth its bound;
______What then?
Should death relenting, cease to doom
Youth and beauty to the tomb,
In all the pride of early bloom;
______What then?
All nothing;—Power is but a name,
Pleasure is a taper’s flame,
Dirt is wealth, and breath is fame;
______What then?
O then, in truth’s delightful bowers,
Deck’d with amaranthine flowers,
Strive as joy wings all the hours
To live.
O then, in virtue seek the charm,
Life’s goods to crown and ills disarm,
And teach, at last, without alarm,
To die.

I am aware, Sir, that the scene of our Instituti[on] [. . .] from you, but not beyond the reach of your fostering hand. The influence of the benevolent mind is not confined within the bounds of a single State or kingdom, but will be extended to promote the interest of the great family of man.—Whatever you may have to bestow on us, in behalf of science and literature will be gratefully received and acknowledged.—A piece of your hand-writing (and in Latin for our translation, if you think proper) I hope you will be pleased to grant; and in the meantime to accept the friendly salutations of respect from your obedient

humble servant,
Amos J. Cook,
Preceptor of Fryeburg Academy
in the District of Maine.—

P.S. Perhaps you may be able to furnish us a piece of the late George Washington’s hand-writing

RC (MHi); mutilated at seal; postscript adjacent to signature; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson, L.L.D. Late Prest of the U. States—Monticello. Virginia”; franked; postmarked Fryeburg, Me., 8 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Jan. 1816 and so recorded in SJL.

Amos Jones Cook (1778–1836), educator, was a native of Westminster, Massachusetts. He studied divinity and earned an A.B. at Dartmouth College in 1802. Cook succeeded Daniel Webster as preceptor of Fryeburg Academy in the district (later state) of Maine, serving for most of the years 1802–33. He was a missionary for the Bible Society of Massachusetts, a Mason, and the author of a textbook. Cook died in Fryeburg (Vital Records of Templeton, Massachusetts, To the end of the year 1849 [1907], 19; George T. Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College, from the first graduation in 1771 to the present time, with a brief history of the institution [1867], 107; Boston Mercury and New-England Palladium, 3 Sept. 1802; Portland, Me., Eastern Argus, 13 Sept. 1804; Walpole, N.H., Political Observatory, 7 Sept. 1805; Fryeburg Webster Centennial, Celebrating the coming of Daniel Webster to Fryeburg, 100 years ago [1902], 46, 58–62, 70; James T. Champlin, “Educational Institutions in Maine, While a District of Massachusetts,” in Maine Historical Society, Collections 8 [1881]: 163; Jedidiah Morse, Signs of the Times. a Sermon [Charlestown, Mass., 1810], 70; Cook, The Student’s Companion [Portland, 1812]; Concord New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal, 23 Apr. 1836).

John Adams copied the latin verses in December 1779 while in Corunna, Spain, and he sent them to Cook in 1807 (Lyman H. Butterfield and others, eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams [1961], 2:411–2; Adams to Cook, 30 Nov. 1807 [Lb in MHi: Adams Papers]). Adams commented that the verses were characterized by purer morality than elegant latinity in a letter to Cook of 4 Jan. 1809 in which Adams also praised the loose, poetic English translation by the then eighteen-year-old Thomas Fessenden given above (Fryeburg Webster Centennial, 59). The fryeburg academy was incorporated in 1792 (Acts and Laws, Passed by the General Court of Massachusetts [Boston, 1792], 132–4).

1Word obscured by ink stain.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; Latin verse provided by search
  • Cook, Amos Jones; as preceptor of Fryeburg Academy search
  • Cook, Amos Jones; identified search
  • Cook, Amos Jones; letter from search
  • Cook, Amos Jones; seeks handwriting samples search
  • Fessenden, Thomas; translates Latin verse search
  • Fryeburg Academy (Me.) search
  • Indians, American; artifacts of, in museums search
  • Latin language; verses in requested search
  • libraries; at Fryeburg Academy (Me.) search
  • mineralogy; and museums search
  • museums; at Fryeburg Academy (Me.) search
  • pipes, tobacco search
  • schools and colleges; Fryeburg Academy (Me.) search
  • Washington, George; handwriting sample requested search