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To James Madison from George W. Erving, 5 January 1823

From George W. Erving

Washington Jany. 5. 1823

Dear Sir

I am highly flattered by the very obliging manner in which you have condescended to receive the small articles which I took the liberty of offering to you;1 I wish that I could devise more adequate means of expressing my respectful & grateful feelings towards you & Mrs Madison: You still augment my obligations by your joint good wishes for my happiness, but alas! that to which Mrs Madison more particularly refers is beyond my reach “past praying for.”2 I have recourse to philosophy; an author who is a favorite of yours, & a teacher of gospel for me, says “nous nous preparons des peines touts les fois que nous cherchons des plaisirs,” & again “moins nous desirons plus nous possedons,” & again “Le bonheur est au dedans de nous meme, il nous a ete donné, le malheur est au dehors et nous l’allons chercher.”3 These apothegms of St. Pierre I find ingenuity enough to apply “tant bien que mal” 4 to my solitary propensities, for I do not know how to understand Socrates, who when asked by one of his pupils whether it were better to marry, or to remain unmarried, answered, “do which you will, you will repent;”5 yet I bear in mind as throwing some light on the paradox—that his wife was none of the best.

Mrs Bomford has searched all her papers without success for that which you desired to have, viz. the Exposé of Marbois of the motives of the french government in the sale of Louisiana; she does not recollect that she ever had such a paper, but concludes that the matter in question may possibly be contained in Marbois’s preface to his manuscript entitled “Complot d’Arnold et de Henry Clinton;” the manuscript she has, but the preface, which was a detached paper, she has lost.

I find amongst my own records a very interesting, & as it may be hereafter a valuable historical document; the speech of the famous Louvel who killed the duke of Berri; it is of undoubted authenticity, as Mr Gallatin from whom I had it assured me; indeed its genuine character is plainly marked in Every sentence of it; I am not aware that it has otherwise found its way to this country, or that it has even been communicated confidentially to the Secretary of State by Mr Gallatin; he himself received it sub rosâ as I believe. I take the liberty of herewith enclosing a copy of it,6 persuaded that you will esteem it as a curiosity, tho’ you may not think that it merits the importance which I attach to it; Louvel, according to me, was one of the most Extraordinary men of our time, a solitary Example of what we term “Roman virtue:” Europe has carbonari, illuminati, & philosophers of all sorts in abundance, but practical men of Louvels character, none: many under the influence of pride or vanity, of ambition or avarice, have in falling, merited the apotheosis of patriotism, but Louvel with a simple unsophisticated mind, unbiassed by any personal interest or passion, not urged forward by any personal wrongs, calmly sacrificing himself to his sense of the publick good—this is a miracle in the morality of the 19 century, so much vaunted. Dear Sir With very sincere & respectful attachment your most ob St

George W Erving

I pray you to present me to Mrs Madison.

RC (owned by Charles M. Storey, Boston, Mass., 1961).

2When Prince Hal says “Pray God you have not murd’red some of them,” Falstaff replies, “Nay, that’s past praying for, I have pepper’d two of them” (Shakespeare, 1 Henry IV, 2.4.189–92 [Riverside description begins G. Blakemore Evans, ed., The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston, 1974). description ends ]).

3These quotations are taken from Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon’s Histoire naturelle: “Thus, when we search for pleasure, we create to ourselves pain; we are miserable from the moment we desire to augment our happiness. Good exists only within ourselves, and it has been bestowed on us by Nature; evil is external, and we go in quest of it. The peaceable enjoyment of the mind is our only true good: We cannot augment this good, without the danger of losing it: The less we desire, the more we possess” (Natural History, General and Particular, by the Count de Buffon, Translated into English, 2d ed. [9 vols.; London, 1785], 3:241).

4Tant bien que mal: with moderate success.

5Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, trans. Henry John Walker [Indianapolis, Ind., 2004], 239).

6The document has not been identified, but at his trial for the assassination of the duc de Berri in 1820, Louis Pierre Louvel ostensibly made a speech in his own defense, “which was considered a repetition of the crime, and which was, therefore, never allowed to be published” (Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1820 13 [1823]: 243–44; David Skuy, Assassination, Politics, and Miracles: France and the Royalist Reaction of 1820 [Montreal, 2003], 114–16, 168, 189–90).

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