George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Thomas (Robert Treat) Paine, 30 July 1795

From Thomas (Robert Treat) Paine

Boston; July 30th; 1795.

May it please your excellency!

The accompanying Poem was composed, by the appointment of the rev. president Willard.1 The wish of many friends induced its publication.

As a mite of public gratitude, it was dedicated to the First of men.2 As a tribute of private veneration, it is laid at his feet.3 By his most obedient, & devoted humble servant,

Thomas Paine.

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection: American Literary Duplicates

Thomas Paine (1773–1811) was the son of Robert Treat Paine, one of the delegates from Massachusetts who signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1801 he formally adopted his father’s name.

1Paine composed The Invention of Letters: A Poem, written at the request of the President of Harvard University, and delivered, in Cambridge, on the day of annual Commencement, July 15, 1795 (Boston, 1795). The work remained in GW’s library at the time of his death (see Griffin, Catalogue of the Washington Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 156).

2Paine dedicated the work “TO HIS EXCELLENCY, GEORGE WASHINGTON, Whose CIVIC and MILITARY Virtues deserve a nobler eulogium, than the ‘Invention of Letters’ Can Bestow.

3GW thanked Paine for the poem on 7 Sept. and expressed his appreciation “For the honor of Inscribing it to me, and the flattering sentiments therein expressed” (ALS, NNPM; ADfS, NNGL; LB, DLC:GW). The poem concluded with the following paean to GW (pp. 14–15):

“Oh, WASHINGTON! thou hero, patriot, sage!

Friend of all climates, pride of every age!

Were thine the laurels, every soil could raise,

The mighty harvest were penurious praise.

Well may our realms thy Fabian wisdom boast;

Thy prudence fav’d, what bravery had lost.

Yet e’er hadst thou, by Heaven’s severer fates,

Like Sparta’s hero at the Grecian straits,

Been doom’d to meet, in arms, a world of foes,

Whom skill could not defeat, nor walls oppose,

Then had thy breast, by danger ne’er subdued,

The mighty BUCKLER of thy country stood;

Proud of its wounds, each piercing spear would bless,

Which left Columbia’s foes one javelin less;

Nor felt one pang—but, in the glorious deed,

Thy little band of heroes, too, must bleed;

Nor throb’d one fear—but, that some poison’d dart

Thy breast might pass, and reach thy Country’s heart!

“Could Faustus live, by gloomy grave resign’d,

With power extensive, as sublime his mind,

Thy glorious life a volume should compose,

As Alps immortal, spotless as its snows.

The STARS should be its TYPES—its PRESS the AGE;

The EARTH its BINDING—and the SKY its PAGE.

In language set, not Babel could o’erturn;

On leaves impress’d, which Omar could not burn;

The sacred work in heaven’s high dome should stand,

Shine with its suns, and with its arch expand;

Till Nature’s self the Vandal torch should raise,

And the vast alcove of Creation blaze!”

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