Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Wirt to Thomas Jefferson, 24 August 1816

From William Wirt

Richmond. August 24. 1816.

Dear Sir.

I accept, with gratitude, the terms on which you are willing to remark on my manuscript—and send herewith three sections, ninety one pages. There will be an advertisement prefixed to it, stating the authorities on which the narrative is founded, and appealing to the candor and indulgence of the public on account of the peculiar disadvantages under which the work has been written. This, I confess, is a kind of beggarly business which I abhor very much—but I can still less bear to have it believed that the work is the offspring of profound leisure and a mind at ease, when the truth is that no one sheet of it, scarcely, has been written without half a dozen professional interruptions which have routed my ideas as compleatly, each time,1 as Don Quixote’s charge did the flock of sheep—I make no doubt that you will perceive the chasms caused by these interruptions, and the incoherence as well as crudeness of the whole mass. When I was engaging with Mr Webster, last summer, with respect to the publication I refused expressly to bind my self [to] furnish it at any particular period—foreseeing2 the extreme un[cer]tainty as to the time of its completion, from the interference of professional duties and wishing to reserve to my self also, full leisure, to revise, correct and retouch at pleasure—But he has made such an appeal to my humanity on account of the expensiveness of the materials which he has laid in for the publication, and his inability to remain longer without some reimbursement, that I am much disposed to let the work go in its present general form, if you think it can be done without too much sacrifice. What I mean is that I think the whole work might be re-cast to advantage—but then it must be written, wholly anew, which would illy suit Mr Websters alleged situation—and my disposition, therefore, is to let the form of the work remain, correcting the composition, statements &c where it shall be suggested and thought proper—If you think the publication of the work, will do me an injury with the public, I beg you to tell me so, without any fear of wounding my feelings—I am so far from being in love with it my self, that I should be glad of a decent ret[reat] from the undertaking—I confide implicitly in your fr[ankness] and friendship, and beg you to believe me dear Sir, with the greatest respect & affection, your friend & servant

Wm Wirt

I observe that Webster has advertised in the Virginia papers, and I suppose, in those of other states, in which he has subscribers, that the work will probably be ready for the press in two or three months—I should be glad to have it in my power to fulfil this promise—and altho’ it is of the utmost importance to me that you should take full time for your remarks, yet as I shall most probably have to make material alterations after the return of the sheets from your hands; I hope it may suit your convenience to favor me with them, in such time, as to enable me to avoid disappointing him—There will probably be about as many pages as those now sent—

RC (DLC); lower corner of first two pages torn, with missing text supplied from Tr; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson esqr Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 28 Aug. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (MdHi: Wirt Papers). Enclosure: manuscript, not found, of a portion of Wirt, Patrick Henry description begins William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, Philadelphia, 1817; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 4 (no. 131) description ends .

don quixote’s charge at a flock of sheep appears in Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, pt. 1, chap. 18 (Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Francisco Rico [2004; for editions owned by TJ, see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4347; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 12 (nos. 746–7); one of TJ’s copies in ViCMRL], 154–65). The Philadelphia publisher James Webster advertised earlier in August that Wirt, Patrick Henry description begins William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, Philadelphia, 1817; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 4 (no. 131) description ends , would be available in “a few months” (Richmond Enquirer, 10 Aug. 1816).

1Preceding two words interlined.

2RC: “foreseing.” Tr: “foreseeing.”

Index Entries

  • Cervantes, Miguel de; Don Quixote search
  • Don Quixote (M. de Cervantes); W. Wirt alludes to search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); W. Wirt’s book on search
  • Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt); draft chapters of sent to TJ search
  • Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt); published by J. Webster search
  • Webster, James; publishesSketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (W. Wirt) search
  • Wirt, William; letters from search
  • Wirt, William; Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry search