Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Wythe, 10 January 1791

From George Wythe

Williamsburgh, 10th of January, 1791.

G.W. to T.J.

When you can attend to trifles, tell me your opinion, in general, of the drawing inclosed with this; particularly, should not parties appear before the judge? Is not the skin of Sisamnes, whose story, you know, Herodotus relates, added by Mr. West to the original design, an improvement? On the reverse, are not the words ‘state of Virginia,’ on the exergon, since within it are represented Patomack, &c. a tautology? And, if so, what ought to supply their place? Return the drawing at your leisure. If any makers or sellers of instruments for philosophical experiments be in Philadelphia, desire one of them to send me a bill of his articles, with their cost. I wish you felicity perpetual.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 2 Feb. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

Skin of sisamnes: The allusion is to the 25th chapter of the 5th book of Herodotus: “[Darius] left as general of all the troops upon the sea-coast Ortanes, son of Sisamnes, whose father King Cambyses slew and flayed because that he, being of the number of the royal judges, had taken money to give an unjust sentence. Thereupon Cambyses slew and flayed Sisamnes and cutting his skin into strips, stretched them across the seat of the throne whereon he had been wont to sit when he heard causes. Having so done Cambyses appointed the son of Sisamnes to be judge in his father’s room and bade him never forget in what way his seat was cushioned” (History of Herodotus, ed. George Rawlinson, 4th. ed., iii [New York, 1880], 228). On the seal for the Court of Chancery, see TJ to Wythe, 14 Mch. 1791.

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