Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Joseph Delaplaine to Thomas Jefferson, 16 April 1814

From Joseph Delaplaine

Philadelphia April 16h 1814


I once more take the freedom of encroaching on your kindness with a request that you would allow me the privilege of having engravings made from two original pictures which I am informed by Doctor Barton are in your possession: One of them the portrait of Columbus, the other that of Americus Vespusius. Intending to render the work I have already had the honor to announce to you, a complete American Biographical work, it has occurred to me that the first discoverers ought to be allowed a nitche in it as well as the founders and perfecters of our republic; and my idea has been approved by several persons of distinction in this quarter. To me your approbation will be much more gratifying and to the work itself of infinite importance, since whatever its intrinsic merit may be, its success will greatly depend upon the first impression the expectation of it will make upon the people. Should the plan I mention, the proposals for which I take the liberty of enclosing (a rough proof just from the hands of the printer) have the good fortune to obtain your approbation, no more efficacious testimony of it can be given to the public than your condesending to supply the pictures. In which case you will add to the great weight of obligations I have to acknowledge, by giving your compliance to me as soon as possible, as the address to the public on the subject is to be with-held ’till I have the honor of receiving your reply.

And may I, sir, without being charged with presumption, intreat you to trust the pictures to my custody, in order to their being put into the hands of Mr Edwin whose great professional talents will do the utmost justice to those august subjects. I pledge my honor that the pictures shall be restored to you in perfect safety, as soon as the engraver1 is done with them.

Mr Madison some little time ago sent to me his picture painted by Stuart—governor Tompkins has done the same & so have other gentlemen, as my plan appears to be highly & universally approved of.

I enclose for your kind inspection the portrait of Dr Rush to enable you to see the style of the engravings for the work; for the first volume of which, with others, I purpose to have your portrait engraved, but at present I am at a loss to know how I shall get either of your portraits painted by Stuart, as you inform me in your favour of the 30 of May last that the two portraits he painted of you are in his possession. I have since heard by Mr Wood the portrait painter that he believes he saw one of these portraits in Mr Madison’s house. Please to inform me if this is correct to enable me to take the proper steps to procure it.

Hoping to be honored with a letter

I remain with the highest respect & regard your obedt humbl servt
Joseph Delaplaine

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Apr. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

The enclosed rough proof of the proposal for Delaplaine’s Repository description begins Delaplaine’s Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans, Philadelphia, 1816–18, 2 vols.; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 4 (no. 139) description ends has not been found. Multiple versions of Delaplaine’s prospectus were published, as broadsides, pamphlets, and newspaper advertisements (Gordon M. Marshall, “The Golden Age of Illustrated Biographies: Three Case Studies,” in Wendy Wick Reaves, ed., American Portrait Prints: Proceedings of the Tenth Annual American Print Conference [1984], 39). An undated broadside version (NHi) entitled Proposals For Publishing a Great National Work, In Perpetual Commemoration of Those Illustrious Men who have most distinguished themselves, By Their Virtues, Talents, and Public Services: to be entitled Delaplaine’s Repository, of the Portraits and Lives of the Heroes, Philosophers, and Statesmen of America noted that the work would include likenesses from portraits by “the most celebrated artists,” to be “engraved by Messrs. Edwin, Leney, Fairman, Lawson, and Tiebout,” accompanied by short biographies of each subject; asserted its importance as a reference work; promised that the engravings would be vetted by individuals acquainted with the originals, with only the most accurate to be published; pledged to keep the publication free from partisan bias; indicated that the work would be printed on quarto paper, that twelve portraits and biographies would constitute a volume to be published in two installments during one year, that each volume would include an “elegant title page and vignette, designed and engraved by Mr. Fairman,” that the volume would conclude with a list of subscribers and an index, that William Brown would execute the typography, and that subscribers would pay eight dollars per volume and nonsubscribers nine; and specified that because of varying opinions respecting the most genuine likeness of George Washington, engravings would be included derived both from the Gilbert Stuart portrait and the Jean Antoine Houdon bust, the latter of which Bushrod Washington had endorsed as an “accurate likeness of his uncle.” Thomas Sully’s portrait of Benjamin rush (reproduced above in Vol. 4, opp. p. 371) was engraved and included in Delaplaine’s Repository description begins Delaplaine’s Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans, Philadelphia, 1816–18, 2 vols.; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 4 (no. 139) description ends , 1:26.

1Reworked from “engraving.”

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; and J. Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • biography; proposed national search
  • books; biographical search
  • Columbus, Christopher; and portrait for J. Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; and portraits of TJ by G. Stuart search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; letters from search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; proposal for printing Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Edwin, David; engraver search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; G. Stuart’s paintings search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; TJ’s collection of search
  • Madison, James; and portrait of TJ by G. Stuart search
  • Madison, James; portrait of by G. Stuart search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Rush, Benjamin; portraits of search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; portrait of J. Madison by search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; portraits of TJ by search
  • Sully, Thomas; portrait of B. Rush by search
  • Tompkins, Daniel D.; portrait of search
  • Vespucci, Amerigo (Americus Vespucius); portrait of search
  • Wood, Joseph; portrait painter search