Thomas Jefferson Papers

Milton W. Rouse to Thomas Jefferson, [ca. 25 December 1818]

From Milton W. Rouse

[ca. 25 Dec. 1818]


A stranger to you, I fear that I shall meet with a repulse, Young and inexperienced I know not how to proceed, but I hope that you will forgive my boldness, (perhaps impertinence) when I have acquainted you with the circumstances which have induced me to address you in this manner.—

I am so situated that I am deprived of every source of useful information. Not a book with which to nourish or instruct my mind I am compelled to live an ignorant spectator of ignorance. With truth I can say, “Happy are they who love to read, and are not, like myself, deprived of the means of gratification1While so many otherr young men are enjoying all the advantages of good books and men, I am doomed to live & dye in ignorance, & all this because I am not able to educate myself—

My ignorant, illiterate associates have no desire for reading or conversing upon any useful subject. With books they are entirely unacquainted. If I read I am despised—

If I attempt to converse upon any useful or interesting subject I am neglected even treated with contempt. But all this would be no obstacle, had I time to read, & good books, with which to nourish and sustain my fast declining mind, declining—for the want of nourishment

In the summer I had no time for reading, but I fondly flattered myself2 that I should have a few leisure moments this winter, especially evenings, that I could devot to that desirable object—but my hopes are blasted—It is for the interest of my employer that I should remain in ignorance, Had I time to read I should have no books. My employer has scarce a book in his house, and my wages will not enable me to buy one. even a dictionary I am unable to procure. The neares circulating library is 7 miles & that is good for naught—So great is my thirst for knowledge & so great is my inability to procure it, that I am driven almost to despair—Snatch me! O! snatch me! from my dreadful situation!, Perhaps you will think that I am imposing upon you; that I am3 insane, but I can assure that I am in my right mind but I am so much confused at present that I scarce know what I write—I am a stranger to every good and wise man, I know not where to look for assistance. Having herd yourseff mentioned as a friend of learning—I have taken the liberty of addressing you, hoping that you will condescend to direct a few consoling lines to me as soon as possible after the receipt of this—Do contrive some way to rescue me from my dreadful situation, the labour of my hands shall repay you, I have been brought up to labour, but I cannot endure the thoughts of living & dying in ignorance

Sir this is nearly my first effort at composition I hope you will overlook its numerous defects

As this is unknown to any one, If you should conclude to let me remain in my present awful situation, have the kindness to Destroy this, & let it remain unknown

If you will write to me immediately you shall know my exaxt situation—   age business, &c.

Direct to Milton. W. Rouse Onondaga West Hill State New York4

Bury this in oblivion if you cannot assist me—& you will do me5 a kindness6

RC (MHi); undated; addressed: “Mr Thomas Jefferson Monticello—Virginia”; franked; postmarked “Onon. Holw” (Onondaga Hollow), 25 Dec.; endorsed by TJ as a letter from “Rouse W.” received 10 Jan. 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

Milton W. Rouse (ca. 1800–24) finished his schooling at the age of sixteen. He trained as a house carpenter, but ill health sometimes prevented him from working. In 1820 Rouse was unemployed in Oneida County, New York. A year later he was working as a carpenter in New York City, where he was also serving in the 9th Artillery Regiment of the New York militia when he died (Rouse to TJ, 8 Nov. 1820; Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory, New York, 1796–1842 (title varies; cited by year of publication) description ends [1821]: 376; New-York Evening Post, 21, 23 Aug. 1824; Minerva, new ser., 1 [1824]: 334).

happy are they … means of gratification derives from book two of François de Salignac de la Mothe Fénelon, Les Avantures de Télémaque (Paris, 1699; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 4305–7), the multiple American editions of which included The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses (Boston, 1797).

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

2Preceding two words interlined in place of “hoped.”

3Rouse here canceled “a foo.”

4Sentence added perpendicularly in margin of final page of letter.

5Rouse here canceled “one favour.”

6Sentence on verso of address cover.

Index Entries

  • books; access to search
  • books; dictionaries search
  • Fénelon, François de Salignac de La Mothe; Les Avantures de Telemaque search
  • Fénelon, François de Salignac de La Mothe; The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Les Avantures de Telemaque (Fénelon) search
  • libraries; in New York search
  • literacy; of working class search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Rouse, Milton W.; identified search
  • Rouse, Milton W.; letter from search
  • Rouse, Milton W.; seeks access to books search
  • The Adventures of Telemachus, the Son of Ulysses (Fénelon) search