Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Charles McPherson, 25 February 1773

To Charles McPherson

Albemarle in Virga. Feb. 25. 1773.

Dear Sir

Encouraged by the small acquaintance which I had the pleasure of having contracted with you during your residence in this country, I take the liberty of making the present application to you. I understood you were related to the gentleman of your name Mr. James Macpherson to whom the world is so much indebted for the collection, arrangement and elegant translation, of Ossian’s poems. These peices have been, and will I think during my life continue to be to me, the source of daily and exalted pleasure. The tender, and the sublime emotions of the mind were never before so finely wrought up by1 human hand. I am not ashamed to own that I think this rude bard2 of the North the greatest Poet that has ever existed. Merely for the pleasure of reading his works I am become desirous of learning the language in which he sung and of possessing his songs in their original form. Mr. Macpherson I think informs us he is possessed of the originals. Indeed a gentleman has lately told me he had seen them in print; but I am afraid he has mistaken the specimen from Temora annexed to some of the editions of the translation, for the whole works. If they are printed, it will abridge3 my request and your trouble to the sending me a printed copy. But if there be none such, my petition is that you would be so good as to use your interest with Mr. Mcpherson to obtain leave to take a manuscript copy of them; and procure it to be done.4 I would chuse it in a fair, round, hand, on fine paper, with a good margin, bound in parchment as elegantly as possible, lettered on the back and marbled or gilt on the edges of the leaves. I should not regard expence in doing this. I would further beg the favor of you to give me a catalogue of books written in that language, and to send me such of them as may be necessary for learning it.5 These will of course include a grammar and dictionary. The cost of these as well as of6 the copy of Ossian will be answered for me on demand by Mr. Alexr. McCaul sometime of Virga. merchant but now of Glasgow, or by your friend Mr. Ninian Minzies of Richmond in Virga. to whose care the books may be sent. You can perhaps tell me whether we may ever hope to see any more of those Celtic peices published. Manuscript copies of any which are not in print it would at any time give me the greatest happiness to receive. The glow of one warm thought is to me worth more than money. I hear with pleasure from your friends that your path through life is likely to be smoothed by success. I wish the business and the pleasures of your situation could admit leisure now and then to scribble a line to one who wishes you every felicity and would willingly merit the appellation of Dr. Sir Your friend and humble servt.

Dft (DLC). Memorandum of address at end of text: “To Mr. Charles Macpherson Merchant in Edinburgh.” The principal alterations in the draft are indicated in the textual notes below.

Charles McPherson (this being the form he himself used) is a shadowy figure. An advertisement in the Va. Gaz. description begins Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, 1751–1780, and Richmond, 1780–1781). Abbreviations for publishers of the several newspapers of this name, frequently published concurrently, include the following: C & D (Clarkson & Davis), D & H (Dixon & Hunter), D & N (Dixon & Nicolson), P & D (Purdie & Dixon). In all other cases the publisher’s name is not abbreviated. description ends (P & D description begins Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, 1751–1780, and Richmond, 1780–1781). Abbreviations for publishers of the several newspapers of this name, frequently published concurrently, include the following: C & D (Clarkson & Davis), D & H (Dixon & Hunter), D & N (Dixon & Nicolson), P & D (Purdie & Dixon). In all other cases the publisher’s name is not abbreviated. description ends ), 6 Nov. 1766, announces the dissolution of his partnership in the mercantile firm of M’Pherson and Minzies (presumably the Ninian Minzies mentioned in the letter). TJ’s profound regard for Ossian is attested not only by the present letter but by other evidence, e.g., the account by Chastellux in his Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 (London, 1787, ii, 45–6) of an Ossianic evening at Monticello in 1782. Gilbert Chinard, in printing the Jefferson-McPherson correspondence for the first time (Modern Language Notes, xxxviii [1923], 201–5), notes the extreme pains TJ took in drafting an appeal which might be placed before the celebrated “translator” himself. For the interesting consequences of TJ’s appeal, see below, James Macpherson to Charles McPherson, 7 Aug., and Charles McPherson to TJ, 12 Aug. 1773.

1For this phrase TJ first wrote: “so happily hit upon,” then: “so finely touched by the.”

2TJ first wrote: “that uncultivated bard.”

3TJ first wrote: “shorten.”

4TJ first wrote: “and employ the best scribe for that purpose.”

5TJ first added at the end of this sentence: “such as a dictionary, grammar and a few others to begin with.”

6TJ first wrote after this word and then struck out without substitution: “taking.”

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