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To James Madison from William Bradford, [13] October 1772

From William Bradford

FC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). The RC is not known to exist. Given below is the text of the first letter copied by William Bradford in his commonplace book. On page 1 of this notebook he wrote, “Letters to and From Mr. James Maddison jr. From October the seventh 1772 to July 28th … 1775 inclusive.” Unaccountably, Bradford misdated the present letter “October 7th 1773.” JM’s reply of 9 November 1772 indicates that his friend should have written “October 13th 1772.”

Of the thirty-one letters transcribed by Bradford in his copybook, the present editors know of only seven in their original manuscript form. By comparing these seven with the version of them found in this copybook, it becomes evident that Bradford was not always completely accurate, especially when transcribing his own letters. Although he did not alter the general purport of the original, he sometimes shortened or paraphrased a paragraph, or polished a sentence. Evidently he viewed the copying as a literary exercise designed to improve his style as well as to remind him of what he had written to JM. For this reason, the text given below is most probably not word for word what Bradford wrote to JM.

In 1844–1845, Dolley Madison agreed to furnish John William Wallace, a nephew of Bradford, with copies of his uncle’s letters to JM if Wallace would make copies for her of JM’s letters to Bradford, but the arrangement came to naught because she could not find the Bradford originals at Montpelier (LC: Dolley P. Madison Papers). About thirteen years later, William C. Rives, friend and biographer of JM and an anonymous editor of his writings (the Congressional edition), used at least seven of JM’s letters to William Bradford which had been given by Bradford’s widow (nee Susan Boudinot) to Elias Boudinot of Philadelphia. (See correspondence of William C. Rives with R. C. and R. H. Weightman of Washington, D.C., now in LC: W. C. Rives Papers, Chronological Series.) These seven originals, together with Bradford’s copy of them and of twenty-four others written between 1772 and 1775, comprise, insofar as is known, all the JM—Bradford correspondence now extant. Although R. C. Weightman told Rives that some of JM’s letters to Bradford were probably dated at the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, neither these letters nor any from Bradford to JM have been found.

October [13th, 1772]. Philada

My dear Jemmy

I now perform the promise I made of writing to you when you were last in Philadelphia.1 I should have given myself that pleasure sooner, had I not heard you were at the —— springs,2 which made me fearful my letters would miscarry & therefore thought proper to defer it untill I left college.3 I am now determined to deny myself no longer nor neglect a correspondence which promise me so much pleasure & improvement.

The value of a college-life like most other blessing[s] is seldom known but by its loss. I little thought I should have regretted my leaving Nassau-hall so much as I feel I do. But from the congratulations of all around me at my Deliverance (as they please to term it) I would be led to think there was more cause for Joy than sorrow; that I was leaving a state of Bondage and going to enter upon far happier scenes. If a collegiac-life is a state of bondage, like the good old Chinesian I am in Love with my chains. ’Tis the common fault of Youth to entertain extravagant hopes of Bliss in their future life. Tis this that makes us quit College without regret & rush with rapture on the stage of action. Hope is a flatterer we readily beleive; she present[s] the world to our view in a thousand Ideal charms & then tells us, as the prince of the Air did our Saviour, “All these shall be yours.”4 Yet, in my present disposition, I am so far from expecting Happiness hereafter that I look for little but trouble & anxiety. I leave Nassau Hall with the same regret that a fond son would feel who parts with an indulgent mother to tempt the dangers of the sea.

What business I shall follow for life I have not yet determined. It is a Matter which requires deliberation & as I am not pressed by Age5 I intend to be in no hurry about it. I propose making History & Morality my studies the ensuing winter, as I look upon them to be very necessary in whatever employment I may hereafter engage. “Gnothi se auton”6 was the celebrated maxim of the antients; & perhaps we shall not find an easier way of doing this than by the study of History. “Human nature is the same in every age if we make allowance for the difference of customs & Education, so that we learn to know ourselves by studying the opinions & passions of others[.]”7

Our friend Philip has commenced author. He has published a poem intitled the “America Village” to which he has added three other peices. (1) On a winter Night (2) the miserable life of a pedagogue. (3) an Elegy on an Antient ducth [dutch] house in long Island. Each of these are written in a different kind of verse.8 I would send you the poem had I an opportunity! It is well worthy your perusal.

We had a numerous tho’ not very splendid commencement. Livingston was addmitted to a degree.9 I had some expectations of seeing you & Ross there. But alas!—You have doubtless heard of Poor Joe’s death.10

I expect to hear soon from you. When you write be particular; nothing that concerns my dear Jemmy can be indifferent to one who esteems it his happiness to be able to subscribe himself &c.

Wm B——d.

1JM’s “last” visit to Philadelphia was probably in April 1772 on his way home from Princeton. William Bradford (1755–1795), whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the same name were well-known printers in New York City or Philadelphia, received his A.B. and A.M. from the College of New Jersey in 1772 and 1775, respectively. Enlisting as a private in the patriot army in 1776, he rose by merit to a colonel’s rank by 1779 when ill health forced him to resign his commission. Following eleven years as attorney general of Pennsylvania, his native state, he served three more on its Supreme Court. From January 1794 until his untimely death nineteen months later, he was Attorney General of the United States.

2Possibly this was Berkeley Warm Springs, situated in that part of Virginia which is now Morgan County, W.Va. In 1772 JM may have made the first of his many summer visits to this health resort (Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , I, 108). The dash may signify that Bradford had heard JM mention the place but could not recall its name.

3Bradford left Princeton following commencement on 30 September 1772, at which he, as valedictorian of his class, spoke on “The Disadvantage of an unequal Distribution of Property in a State” (New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XXVIII, 277).

4“All these things will I give thee” (Matthew 4:9). Bradford’s remark about hope being a flatterer was by no means original with him. See, for example, Michael Drayton, The Barrons’ Wars, Bk. VI, xciv, or Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, scene 2, line 69.

5Bradford was seventeen years old.

6“Know Thyself.” According to Pausanias this was an inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi (Descriptio Graeciae, Book X, chap. xxiv, paragraph 1). Bradford’s “se auton” should have been “sauton.”

7This sentence is not a quotation from, but a paraphrase of, several paragraphs in David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” (Charles W. Hendel, Jr., ed., Hume Selections [New York, 1927], pp. 163–65).

8Philip Freneau (1752–1832), who was then teaching school in Somerset County, Md. The publication mentioned was The American Village, A Poem. To which are added, Several other original Pieces in Verse. By Philip Freneau, A.B. New-York: Printed by S. Inslee and A. Car, on Moor’s Wharf, 1772. The titles of the added pieces are: “The Farmer’s Winter Evening,” “The Miserable Life of a Pedagogue,” and “Upon a very ancient Dutch House on Long-Island.” See Fred L. Pattee, ed., Poems of Philip Freneau, III, 381–400.

9William Smith Livingston.

10Joseph Ross, College of New Jersey, ’71, with whom JM had frequently studied when an undergraduate. If he had not already heard of Ross’s death, Bradford’s mention of it must have come as a shock (New Jersey Archives description begins William A. Whitehead et al., eds., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey (1st ser., 42 vols.; Newark, Trenton, Paterson, 1880–1949). description ends , 1st ser., XVII, 584).

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