Thomas Jefferson Papers
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James Ogilvie to Thomas Jefferson, 24 May 1811

From James Ogilvie

Columbia May 24th [1811]

At the time, my dear Sir, when I am about to suspend for many months, the prosecution of the design I have undertaken: for the purpose of more systematic preparation, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of troubling you with a few lines.—

During the progress of my rapid and extensive excursion, altho’ the concentrated enthusiasm, which my pursuit excited, necessarily occasioned an almost habitual absence & abstraction of thought, that in some measure incapacitated me for observation, yet, I could not shut my eyes to the evidences, of stable, general & radically & rapidly progressive prosperity, which the aspect & condition of society every where presented.—

The tranquil possession & sober exercise of equal rights, the greatly diminished & constantly decreasing inequality of conditions, the extensive diffusion of elementary & the rapid advance, towards the diffusion, of scientific knowlege, the spirit of enterprize that pervades all classes of society, the almost total exclusion of bloated opulence & its odious consequence & counterpart, squalid destitution, the unparalelled rapidity with which population multiplies, without condensing, the yet greater rapidity with which opulence augments, without accumulating, O: Tis a glorious & heart-cheering spectacle!—There is nothing in the History of preexistent or in the condition or prospects of coexistent nations, to be compared with it.—

In addition to these essential, pervasive & reproductive sources & securities of national happiness & greatness, when on one side, we behold the vast Atlantic, continually wafting to our shores the inventions & refinements of the nations of the1 Old world, whilst it shields the Republic, as with an Ægis, from the violence of their arms, & renders innoxious by distance the contagion of their vices; & on the other side, behold, an almost interminable extent of territory almost vacant, territory2 over which, a civilized population is incessantly pouring its vicessimally multiplying3 millions.—When we contemplate This, & anticipate not thro’ the illusions of fanciful speculation, but the clear light of philosophical analogy, the future prosperity & glory of a nation, commencing its career, in “another & a better world,” occupying the grandest theatre, beneath “the visible diurnal sphere,” “rising into destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye”—The emotions of the enlightened mind can find vent only in the rapturous aspirations of the Bard—

What glorious scenes to hope’s enraptur’d eye
Descending slow, their glittering skirts unroll,
Visions of glory! spare my aching sight,
Ye unborn ages, crowd not on my soul.—”4

The first oration I propose to write during my seclusion in Kentucky, will embrace an analysis of the Progress & Prospects of society in the United states.—It will make one of the series I shall (if I live to execute my design) hereafter deliver in London: I indulge a hope, that the delivery of this oration in the principal Cities of England, Scotland & Ireland, will have some tendency, to correct the misrepresentations, which are there entertained with regard to the condition & prospects of society in the United states.—

In a state of society thus auspiciously constituted, the recollection of having discharged with ability—& fidelity, the duties incident to the most elevated stations, to which the suffrages of a free & independent people, could exact an individual, must place your happiness, during the remainder of your life, beyond the reach of fortune calumny or faction.—Surrounded with so many objects worthy of your affection, cheered by the retrospect5 of an illustrious life devoted to the service of your country, in possession of every means of earthly comfort, which health, leisure, the esteem of the wise & good, & literary & scientific refinement in rural seclusion can furnish, that you may,6 many years hence, sink into the sleep of death full of years & full of honour, amidst the tears of affectionate & afflicted friends, is the heart-felt wish of

My dear Sir, your grateful & sincere friend

James Ogilvie

PS.— I take the liberty to enclose for your perusal a little publication of mine, written & circulated for the purpose of attracting some portion of public patronage to [. . .]ted memoirs of C. B. Brown deceased, by Mr Paul Allan of Philadelphia—I knew C. Brown & revere his memory: I know Allan intimately—He is fully competent to the work he has undertaken—He possesses much solid & curious learning without pedantry, independence of mind & spirit without austerity or obstinacy, benevolence without ostentation, a mark of genius without one particle of vanity & incorruptible integrity with the best temper in the world.—In this biographical7 work he will make his literary entree—

I can offer him nothing but my good wishes but should his design be fortunate enough to obtain your countenance, you can do much.—Should you have leisure to suggest to me by letter, any subject in your judgment peculiarly adapted for illustration from the Rostrums, you will add another, to the many favours I have already received from you.—Have the goodness8 to present my kindest & most respectful regards to your daughter & Coll Randolph & believe me to be

yours truly

J. O.—

N.B. I shall offer no apology, my dear Sir, for enclosing a few observations, relative to my oration, which I had the pleasure of penning a few minutes ago, after my return to Augusta, on my way to Lexington—

RC (MHi); partially dated; one word illegible; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Albemarle Virginia”; franked; postmarked Augusta, 6 June 1811; endorsed by TJ as received 23 June 1811 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Ogilvie, A Stranger takes the liberty to invite the attention of the patrons of literature, the lovers of biography, and the friends of virtue, to proposals which have been recently issued in Philadelphia for publishing Memoirs of the life of C. B. Brown deceased (printed broadside [ca. 1810] in DLC: James Madison Pamphlet Collection). Other enclosure not found.

James Ogilvie (ca. 1775–1820) was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, immigrated to Virginia at the age of nineteen, and soon became professor of humanity and belles lettres at the Fredericksburg Academy. He subsequently opened his own academy near Milton, where he taught Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and he later began a school in Richmond. TJ praised Ogilvie’s oratorical skills, gave him a set of the works of Cicero, and granted him access to the library at Monticello. Ogilvie retired from teaching in 1809, settled for a time in Kentucky, and then traveled throughout the country as a professional lecturer. He eventually returned to Britain to attempt to claim the lapsed earldom of Findlater. After this endeavor failed, Ogilvie committed suicide in Aberdeen (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1901, 22 vols. description ends ; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 32 vols. description ends , 28:401–4; Ogilvie, Philosophical Essays, to which are subjoined Copious Notes, Critical and Explanatory, and a Supplementary Narrative; with an Appendix [Philadelphia, 1816], esp. the separately paginated, autobiographical “Supplementary Narrative”; Richmond Enquirer, 10 Apr. 1821).

vicessimally: “every twenty years,” from “vicessimal” (a twentieth) and “vicennium” (a period of twenty years) (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). another & a better world: August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue, The Stranger, trans. George Papendick (London, 1798), 9 [act 1, scene 6]. the visible diurnal sphere: John Milton, Paradise Lost, 7.22 (Frank Allen Patterson, ed., The Works of John Milton [1931], vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 212). TJ’s First Inaugural Address, 4 Mar. 1801, described America as a nation “advancing rapidly to” destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 32 vols. description ends , 33:148). what glorious sceneson my soul: first line unidentified, while lines 2–4 are from Thomas Gray’s “The Bard: A Pindaric Ode” (first published 1757), lines 106–8 (Roger Lonsdale, ed., The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith [1969], 195–6). A year earlier Ogilvie recommended paul Allen’s biography of the pioneering American novelist Charles Brockden Brown to James Madison. Allen’s version was not published for more than a century, although William Dunlap drew on it heavily in his 1815 biography of Brown (Allen, The Late Charles Brockden Brown, ed. Robert E. Hemenway and Joseph Katz [1976]; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 29 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 7 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 2:344–5).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Word interlined.

3Word interlined in place of “doubling.”

4Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

5Word interlined in place of “recollection.”

6Reworked from “furnish, may you.”

7Word repeated above line by TJ for clarity.

8Word ending cut off in margin.

Index Entries

  • Allen, Paul search
  • Brown, Charles Brockden search
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius; TJ recommends search
  • Dunlap, William search
  • Gray, Thomas; “The Bard: A Pindaric Ode,” search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; inaugural addresses of search
  • Kotzebue, August Friedrich Ferdinand von; The Stranger search
  • Milton, John; Paradise Lost search
  • Ogilvie, James; Albemarle Co. school of search
  • Ogilvie, James; and memoir of C. B. Brown search
  • Ogilvie, James; identified search
  • Ogilvie, James; letters from search
  • Ogilvie, James; on American progress search
  • Papendick, George; The Stranger search
  • Paradise Lost (J. Milton) search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); greetings to search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); education of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); greetings to search
  • schools and colleges; J. Ogilvie’s Albemarle Co. school search
  • suicide; and J. Ogilvie search
  • The Stranger (Kotzebue; trans. Papendick) search
  • “The Bard: A Pindaric Ode” (Gray) search