George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Francis Hopkinson, 3 March 1789

From Francis Hopkinson

Philada March 3d 1789

Dear Sir,

I could, if the Subject was worth so much Attention, justify my Musick against your Complaints1—for I insist that it is as good melting Musick as could be expected at that severe Season of the Year, and would have found its way to you by water if you had but allowed a reasonable Time. A Lover who is all over Flames will require two & sometimes three years to melt the frozen heart of his Mistress, which is but a little affair, and you would not indulge a few simple Songs with even two or three months to dissolve the whole Ice of the Potowmack—which I think very unreasonable—and, besides, you seem not to be acquainted with a modern Discovery respecting ancient Musick, made by Dr Burney2—or if not by him, by somebody else—that all those Passages in the ancient Poets which mentions the Miracles wrought by the Musick of their Ancestors were founded in an Error occasioned by an accidental Transposition of Words in the original Text—when we read of Forests being cleared and Cities built by the magical operation of Musick’s silver Sound it should have been written by the musical Sound of Silver—and this brings the Matter within the Compass of any reasonable Persons Belief. But I have another way of getting rid of the Difficulty—Orpheus was a Legislator and a civilizer of his Country. In those Days Laws were promulgated in Verse and sung to the Harp, and the Poets by a Figure in Rhetoric have attributed the salutary Effects of his Laws to the Tunes to which they were play’d and sung—as to the Story of Hell & the Devil and his Wife I confess I do not understand it: but sincerely hope I may never have Occasion to compose Musick for such a melancholy Purpose.

I now send you a little Rhime and a little Reason. I would have mix’d them for your immediate use, but as I did not know how much Reason you might expect in Rhime or how much Rhime you could in Reason expect I thought it best to send them seperate.


I have been careful to keep accurate Reports of all the litigated Cases determined in the admiralty of Pennsylvania since my administration which is now Nine Years. The little Book I enclose contains a few of those Cases selected for the Information of Merchants & others whom they may concern the whole work will probably be published hereafter.3

My Attention has now been so long fixed in this Department that I should find myself very unfit at this Time of Life for any new Pursuit—My present Commission will shortly expire by the Commencement of our new Government—As it can be no longer in Doubt but that you will (most worthily) be placed at the Head of that Government I am encouraged by some of my Friends & urged by my own Wishes to make an early Application for the Admiralty Department under the United States. Should your Judgement coincide with my Views I shall be happy in spending the Remainder of my Days in the Service of a Government whose Establishment I have so anxiously desired and in a Line wherein I think myself best qualified to render those Services.4

In whatever Situation my future Lot may be cast I shall always endeav⟨or⟩ to merit & be always happy in the Enjoyment of your Friendship I am, Dear Sir, Your truly affectionate and very humble servant

Fras Hopkinson


2Hopkinson is referring to Dr. Charles Burney (1726–1814), British composer and author of a number of treatises on music including a four-volume General History of Music (1776–89).

3The enclosure was probably a manuscript copy of Hopkinson’s Judgements in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania in Four Suits, Brought as for Maritime Hypothecations. Also, the Case of Silas Talbot, against the Brigs Achilles, Patty, and Hibernia, and of the Owners of the Hibernia against Their Captain, John Angus. With an Appendix, Containing the Testimony Exhibited in the Admiralty in Those Cases (Philadelphia, 1789).

4For GW’s reply to Hopkinson’s application, see his letter of 13 March. Hopkinson’s anxiety about GW’s decision was apparently confided to his friends. Robert Morris wrote him in August that “you say very wisely that only God and Genl. Washington can tell whether you will have an opportunity to appoint the Clerk of the Circuit or not, but as you have been a member of the Episcopal Convention lately & have been surrounded with Worthy Bishops, Pious Clergymen and good devout Laymen I should think you must have had a good opportunity of. . . securing your interest with the first, and ... I have had an opportunity of bringing you to the contemplation and consideration of the last” (Morris to Hopkinson, 15 Aug. 1789, in Hastings, Francis Hopkinson, description begins George Everett Hastings. The Life and Works of Francis Hopkinson. Chicago, 1926. description ends 325). When the Judiciary Department was reorganized in September 1789, GW appointed Hopkinson federal district judge for Pennsylvania (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2 :44, 46). See also GW’s circular letter to the district judges, 30 Sept. 1789 (DLC:GW).

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