Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Harriet Wickham, 31 January 1806

Bethlehem January 1806

To His Excellency the President of the United States

Honor, my Lord is much too proud to catch

At every slender twig of nice distinctions

There for the unfeeling vulgar may do well

But those whose souls are by the nicer rules

Of virtuous delicasy only swayed

Stand at an other bar than that of law


Hope, being the most powerful sentiment of the human breast has encouraged me thus to address the Ruler of this country humbly petitioning that he will listen to the prayer of an orphan girl upon whose exertions her own & a little sisters advancement depends

I have Sir, already foreseen that you may possibly consider me either a maniac or an Ideot supposing that I could not otherwise have this assurance

But when I revert to those great characters who have listened to the tale of distress from their indigent subjects and have like demigods assisted their laudable exertions I have confidence in the clemency honor & benevolent condescendsion of your Excellency And though I have already fancied my humble address committed to the flame as soon as received hope has influenced me to proceed—

The sum of my humble petition is Sir, beseeching you to speak a few kind words in behalf of a small volume the production of my fancy, entitled The Sylph or Maniac I have but one friend a lady of distinction who has encouraged me to this proceeding & who assures me my manuscript is a composition of considerable merit & all that is requisite for its success is the appobating words of some Great Personage

And if Sir, at some of your public entertainments & convivial meetings you will give an Item to your favorites in behalf of the Volume entitled The Sylph to be printed in Philadelphia The acquisition of three or four thousand subscribers would establish the happiness of two youthful individuals who, else have no means of support

But if on the contrary you should feel no impressions in my favour I would rather permit me & my Sister to languish in indigence than humanely to imploy a few moments for the essential purpose of our happiness—If the latter suggestions should be the case I beg you will not expose my temerity beinging both young, friendless, & poor The odium of having thus infringed the prevailing rules of the age & proved intirely unsuccessful would be more than I could survive

Therefore, I beg Sir that after having deliberately perused my petition if your descision is against me you will scorn to put it in the power of any person to exhibit a burlesque upon your humble servant & petitioner

But knowing my arrangements to be laudable I am so far from despairing in your benevolence that I have hopes you will generously devote some attention to this request & allow me to receive some kind of encouraging reply & the manuscript is now ready for the Press & I have but one friend & an eight Shilling Piece in the world

I am Sir, your very humble Servant

Harriet E Wickham

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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