Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Short to Thomas Jefferson, 14 August 1819

From William Short

Ballston-Spa Aug: 14.1 1819

Dear sir

Your kind letter of July 1. was recd by me at Philadelphia, at the moment I was leaving the City. As you mentioned that you were at the same time setting out for Bedford, I percieved that I could without inconvenience postpone my answer until my arrival here—knowing that your letters are not sent after you to Bedford, but await your return to Monticello.

The report which you mention having heard of my intention to visit my friends in Virginia was not without foundation, & nothing can be better founded than the expectation you were so2 good as to express, of my not leaving out Monticello. Indeed that has been always the principal, & by no means a mere accessary, in the object of my constantly intended summer excursion to the ancient dominion. As I found from your letter that you would be absent from Monticello precisely at the time which it is impossible to remain in our Cities, I changed my plan for this summer, & as usual, came here. Mr Correa, whom I have not seen since his last visit to Washington, as he returned to Philadelphia after my departure, intended to have made this visit with me—Being advised of your journey to Bedford, he will of course square his visit with your return. I doubt whether you will find him as agreeable as he was before he had on his shoulders, his ministerial responsibility. His place is by no means to him a benefice sans charge. He is so occupied by his Baltimore Pirates that the former playfulness of his mind seems to be done away—And indeed to his Philadelphia friends he appears to realize the story of “le Savetier devenu Financier.”—It is possible however that he may be more happily inspired at Monticello, & thus become himself again. It would be fortunate for himself & his friends, if not for his ministry, if he could take a leaf out of the book of his new Russian compeer, who, you must have observed, has come to this country with a predetermination to find every thing right—This change has been probably effected in some degree by the fate of his predecessor—for when he was here before, he was completely a frondeur. I am pleased that he made his excursion to Monticello. He expressed a great desire to see you—I think he was at Monticello formerly with Count Pahlen—He is a sarcastic, but at the same time a shrewd, little Calmuc—& will without doubt, give satisfaction à qui de droit.

I communicated to the Anatomist, the information as to the postponed state of his chair. He had applied to me to ask for information. What I said respecting the Mathematician was volunteered on my part. It always gives me pleasure to hear of the University. I look forward with great confidence to its being not only an ornamental, but an useful decoration to my native State. The cause which retards its progress, as mentioned by you, has the same unhappy influence on the affairs of this country both public & private—but nowhere has this influence been so cruel & so fatal as in the illfated & lawless City of Baltimore. The demoralization of that place has been always more marked I think than any part of the U.S.—It has the honor of having attained, without the stimulus of external war, the highest point of infamy to which France arrived when she thought herself at the last agony under foreign pressure, I mean the massacring of unarrmed men in prison. It is only in such a place that such a man as Mr B. could have thought of acting as he did. For as Sallust says “nemo repente turpissimus fuit”—so no man could have so acted in a City where general morals had not preluded to it. It is really afflicting to see a man, with such a capital of character as he had acquired by an honorable & useful life, throw the whole of it away at a dash—Where can security be looked for if not under the cover & protection of such a character—But these baneful institutions are destined I fear, to outstrip all the forebodings of the best informed. I must own myself to be among those who did not foresee the unhappy effects which are now made evident, & still less, those which are made probable, that is all the horror & distress of a “papier forcé

Our old friend the Abbé Morellet previously to his death published in four vols 8vo his Melanges de Literature & de philosophie. I recieved them3 before I left Philad. & have taken them with me as a part of my viaticum for this year. Several pieces in them had a particular interest for me as I had heard the author read them in society. This work might perhaps please you—If so & if perchance you have not recieved it I will with great pleasure send it to you by mail or any other way you may prefer.

I see with some kind of alarm the life which you condemn yourself to lead—So much time passed at the writing desk must be unfavorable to health—& I really wish you would consult more your health & less the satisfaction of your correspondents. If any man has acquired a right to hang up his arms “ad postem Herculis” it is certainly you. I do not recommend this course to you on the principle laid down by Horace, but really on the score of a regard to your health, which age necessarily renders more precarious, & more in want of care. I am ashamed to say how little of this labor even a sense of duty can now make me bear.   Accept my best wishes for the preservation of your valuable health, & believe me with invariable sentiments of respect & attachment, dear sir,

your friend & servant

W: short

RC (MHi); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Monticello Mail to Milton Virginia”; franked; postmarked Ballston Spa, 16 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Aug. 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

The letter of july 1 was misdated 22 June 1819 by TJ and is printed above at his corrected date of 29 June 1819. benefice sans charge: “sinecure.”

As the Portuguese minister plenipotentiary to the United States, José Corrêa da Serra occupied himself promoting neutrality on the seas and prosecuting the numerous American privateers who operated out of Baltimore under the guise of South American revolutionaries but whom he regarded as pirates attacking Portuguese and Spanish trade vessels (Joseph Eugene Agan, “Corrêa da Serra,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877–  description ends 49 [1925]: 17–32).

In Jean de La Fontaine’s fable of le savetier devenu financier, book 8, fable 2, a poor cobbler is given a large sum of money by his rich neighbor but finds that the worry that accompanies his new wealth so deprives him of happiness and sleep that he decides to return the money the next morning (La Fontaine, Œuvres Complètes, ed. Jean Pierre Collinet [1991], 1:191–2).

Corrêa da Serra’s new russian compeer was Pierre de Polética, whose predecessor as minister plenipotentiary was André Daschkoff. frondeur: “troublemaker.” A Kalmuck (calmuc) is a “member of a Mongolian people living on the north-west shores of the Caspian Sea” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). à qui de droit: “to whom it may concern.” the mathematician: Eugenius Nulty.

In September 1792 mobs killed nearly half of all those in prison in Paris as a preemptive measure against potential counter-revolutionaries during the French Revolution. As he had on an earlier occasion, Short compared this event to a violent 27 July 1812 attack on the Baltimore city jail (Short to TJ, 25 Aug. 1815, and note).

As president of the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States, James A. Buchanan (mr b.), of the firm of Smith & Buchanan, fraudulently extended unsecured loans much greater than the bank’s available capital to himself and his friends, an act that contributed to the financial crash of 1819 (An Exhibit of the Losses Sustained at the Office of Discount and Deposit, Baltimore, under the administration of James A. Buchanan, President, and James W. M’Culloh, Cashier [Baltimore, 1823]; Ralph C. H. Catterall, The Second Bank of the United States [1903], 39–50).

nemo repente turpissimus fuit (“No one ever became utterly abominable overnight”) is adapted not from Sallust but from Juvenal, Satires, 2.83 (Susanna Morton Braund, ed. and trans., Juvenal and Persius, Loeb Classical Library [2004], 154–5). papier forcé: literally, “forced paper,” was paper money (at this time, usually bills of exchange) issued and enforced as legal tender by the government (Destutt de Tracy, Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, vi, 239–40). viaticum: “provisions taken for use on a journey” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

ad postem herculis (“at Hercules’ door”) refers to Horace, Epistles, 1.1.5, with horace comparing himself in lines 8–9 to an old gladiator who should “Be wise in time, and turn loose the ageing horse, lest at the last he stumble amid jeers and burst his wind” (Fairclough, Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica description begins Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library, 1926, repr. 2005 description ends , 250–1).

1Reworked from “12.”

2Manuscript: “so so.”

3Short here canceled “a little.”

Index Entries

  • anatomy; collegiate education in search
  • Baltimore, Md.; 1812riot in search
  • Baltimore, Md.; financial distress in search
  • Baltimore, Md.; privateers from search
  • Bank of the United States, Second; Baltimore branch of search
  • banks; and Panic of1819 search
  • Buchanan, James A.; and Second Bank of U.S. search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and W. Short search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; as Portuguese minister plenipotentiary search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; proposed visit of search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; U.S. travels of search
  • currency; paper search
  • Daschkoff, André; Russian minister to U.S. search
  • Epistles (Horace) search
  • French Revolution; massacre of prisoners in Paris search
  • Horace; Epistles search
  • Horace; quoted by W. Short search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing or painful to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • Juvenal; references to search
  • La Fontaine, Jean de; fables of search
  • mathematics; University of Virginia professorship of search
  • Mélanges de Littérature et de Philosophie (A. Morellet) search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Pahlen, Théodore search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Polética, Pierre de search
  • Morellet, André; Mélanges de Littérature et de Philosophie search
  • Nulty, Eugenius; as mathematician search
  • Pahlen, Théodore, Count; visits Monticello search
  • Paris; massacre of prisoners in search
  • Polética, Pierre de; as Russian minister plenipotentiary to U.S. search
  • Polética, Pierre de; counselor of Russian legation search
  • Polética, Pierre de; visits Monticello search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ visits search
  • Portugal; minister plenipotentiary from search
  • S. Smith & Buchanan (Baltimore firm) search
  • Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus); mentioned search
  • Short, William; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Short, William; and TJ’s health search
  • Short, William; and University of Virginia search
  • Short, William; letters from search
  • Short, William; on Baltimore search
  • Short, William; on books search
  • Short, William; TJ invites to Monticello search
  • Short, William; travels of search
  • United States; Panic of1819 search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opening of search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; anatomy professorship search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; mathematics professorship search