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John Wilson to Thomas Jefferson, 3 August 1813

From John Wilson

Washington City aug 3d 1813

Respected Sir,

we learn that in Europe, however obscure an author may be, he freely addresses the highest literary adepts; and altho’ he may not possess any previous knowledge of the gentlemen, he runs no risk of incurring the imputation of obtruding.—That an indulgence so cheerfully granted in Europe, could meet in our Country with the slightest damp, is what my pen would blush to intimate.

Various considerations have urged me to try my hand at M.S.S., in hopes to acquire that countenance which (often) cannot be sustained without an unwilling dependence on old friends. Friends whose efforts, after all, I have persuaded myself, are not like anything from self which may chance to meet the public approbation; that chance I venture to commit myself to. Vain adventure, Mr Morse, methinks I hear you exclaim of a virginian—an obscure man beset with a thousand cares. Well, well, I shall not quarrel with him about that. Mr Eppes has afforded me the opportunity of what I have so ardently desired, and I am very happy of having one of my M.S.S. submitted to you.

Your opinion will be esteemed a favor as a recommendation, in which I hope you will unite with1 me to establish a correct rule for certain plurals; and until that is done, to batter down the prejudices of education, if the °rule shall have been learnt which is undoubtedly not correct.

Very respectfully I am Sir Your Mo Obedt Servt

Jno Wilson.

RC (CSmH: JF-BA); endorsed by TJ as received 14 Aug. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

John Wilson was a native of Norfolk and the namesake son of a former member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and House of Delegates. He invested what little capital he had in an ill-fated mercantile firm in his hometown before moving by January 1803 to the District of Columbia, where he kept his own shoe shop in Washington City and also briefly managed another man’s shoe store in Alexandria. Owing in part to his earlier experience as an engrosser for the Virginia legislature, Wilson obtained a clerkship in the War Department’s accounting office in about 1804 and held it for more than a decade (Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; Wilson to TJ, 27 Aug. 1803 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–09]; Washington Federalist, 28 May 1804; Wilson to TJ, Nov. 1814; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 2:310).

Enclosed separately in a missing letter of 31 July 1813 from John Wayles Eppes to TJ, recorded in SJL as received 4 Aug. 1813 from Washington, Wilson submitted the MS, not found, for his work, A Volume for all Libraries … Being a System of Philological Entertainments, Comprising Altogether an Extensive Ground Work for Immense Improvements in the English Language (Washington, 1814; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4888), in which he aggressively attacked the rule that “If the singular ends in y, or ey, preceded by a consonant, the plural shall end in ies” (p. 15; see also Wilson to TJ, 3 June 1814). Wilson also sent the MS to James Madison at about the same time (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser, 6:490–1).

1Manuscript: “with with.”

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

° decried in my M.S.

Index Entries

  • A Volume for all Libraries … Being a System of Philological Entertainments (J. Wilson) search
  • books; on orthography search
  • English language; orthography of search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); letters from accounted for search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); sends book manuscript to TJ search
  • Madison, James; book manuscript sent to search
  • Morse, Mr. search
  • Wilson, John (of Washington); A Volume for all Libraries … Being a System of Philological Entertainments search
  • Wilson, John (of Washington); identified search
  • Wilson, John (of Washington); letters from search
  • Wilson, John (of Washington); sends book manuscript search