Thomas Jefferson Papers

Francis Glass to Thomas Jefferson, 16 July 1822

From Francis Glass

Lebanon, Ohio, Sexto decimo die Julii, Anno Christi, 1822.

Vir Præstantissime Doctissimeque.

Etsi Tibi forsitan ignotus sim, tamen quibusdam de causis literas hasce ad Te mittere sum ausus;—Sperans tam illustrem tamque doctum Virum ausa mea boni consulturum.—In præsentiâ adstrictus sum scribendo illustrissimi Ducis Præsidisque Georgii Washingtonii Vitam, in usum classicorum discentium, in hisce civitatibus nostris Americanis fœderatis. Opus ejusmodi (ni multùm fallor,) valdè desideratur; lectio enim clarorum virorum vitarum ad virtutem et egregia facinora vehementer incendit:—preterea, quod nunc instat, vel modò præteriit, animos juvenum majore studio plerunque occupat, quàm quod vetustate obscuratur. Talis historia latinè exarata (dummodò bene compositeque condatur,) ad famam Doctrinae literarumque harumce civitatum plurimum conferet:—Quam bene scripta fuerit Vita ejus herois, malo in aliorum judicio relinquere, quam in hisce literis ponere.—Haud longè à re alienum erit, paucula nonnulla de me ipso loqui; Hibernus Sum; Pater, ob imperii iniquitatem, patriam fugere non dubitavit; et in hanc regionem demigravit, ubi Philadelphiæ supremum diem obiit. Græc. Latin. et Gallic. Linguas per quindecim annos, apud Pennsylvanos docui; et in hance Rempublicam deveni; ubi paulò post adventum, tertianâ correptus, ad inopiæ extremum redactus fui; sex liberi mihi sunt, quos ut sustineam, magnopere mihi nitendum est; et quamvis omnia ad victum necessaria vilia hîc sint, tamen doctrina vulgo jacet neglecta; Philadelphiam regredi valdè aveo, at ob paupertatem, manere hîc, invitus cogor. Ego, qui nihil aliud per omnem vitam egi, quam ut adolescentes erudiendo tempus conteram, haud facìlè ad labores rusticos animum aut corpus induco. Si quis Mæcenas mihi inveniatur, qui in perficiendo vitam illustrissimi Washingtonii mihi patrocinabitur, et tantum opis mihi præbebit, quantum ad sustentandam familiam sat erit, voti maximi compos ero; at dirâ paupertate à perficiendo illud opus impedior.—Trium mensium spatium sufficiet ad hanc historiam complendam; nihil aliud quam quod familiam per spatium istud alere queat, à quovis patrono peto; si exemplar istius biographiae videre vis, maximæ voluptati mihi erit, ad Te partem, quæ jam exaravi mittere.—Si necesse esset, documenta quam plurima tam doctrinæ quàm morum, exhibere queo. Licentiæ hujus epistolæ veniam des, humillimè precor: ob incuriam quâ scriptæ sunt hæ literæ, indulgentiam tuam quoque petere cogor; penitus enim à morbo diuturno nondum convalui; quocirca mendis meis plurimis ignoscere et favere dignator.—

Sum, Domine Excellentissime Servus Humillimus, Tuus

Franciscus Glass.

Editors’ Translation

Lebanon, Ohio, the sixteenth of July, Year of Christ, 1822.

Most Distinguished and Learned Sir.

Although perhaps unknown to you, I, nevertheless, dare to send you this letter, with the hope that a renowned and educated man such as yourself will approve of my undertaking. I am currently obliged to write a life of the most illustrious leader and president George Washington for the use of classical scholars in our American federation. A work of this sort (unless I am much mistaken) is very necessary, because reading about the lives of famous men inspires virtue and the performance of outstanding deeds. Besides, current events, or those of the recent past, often capture the imagination of young people more than those obscured by antiquity. Such a history written in Latin (provided it is treated skillfully) will contribute greatly to our nation’s reputation for learning and literature. I prefer to leave to the judgment of others how well the life of this hero has been written in the past rather than insert such comments here. It will not now be inappropriate to say a few things about myself: I am Irish. Because of the injustice of its rulers, my father did not hesitate to flee his native land and immigrate to this country. He died in Philadelphia. I taught the Greek, Latin, and French languages for fifteen years in Pennsylvania before coming to this state. Soon after my arrival, I was stricken with tertian fever and reduced to extreme want. I have six children, whom I have struggled mightily to support. Although the necessities of life are inexpensive here, learning is completely neglected. I long to return to Philadelphia but, on account of my financial distress, I am compelled to remain in this place. Throughout my life I have done nothing but educate young people. In consequence, I cannot easily apply either my mind or body to rustic work. If some Maecenas could be found to serve as my patron for completing the life of the illustrious Washington and offer me sufficient help to sustain my family, I will have received an answer to my greatest prayer. Terrible poverty prevents me from finishing this work. Three months will suffice to complete it. I desire nothing more than what will support my family during that period. If you wish to see a copy of this biography, it will be my very great pleasure to send you the portion I have already written. If necessary, I can also furnish many proofs of my learning and character. I humbly beg you to pardon the presumptuousness of this letter. I am compelled to seek your indulgence, too, for the carelessness with which it has been written. I have not yet fully recovered from my long illness. Please forgive, therefore, my many errors and show me your favor.

I am, most distinguished Sir, your humble servant

Francis Glass.

RC (MHi); at foot of text: “Ad Virum Excellentissimum Thomam Jefferson, &c.” (“To the Most Distinguished Thomas Jefferson, etc.”); endorsed by TJ as received 3 Aug. 1822 and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); address cover only; with FC of TJ to Lafayette, 4 Nov. 1824, on verso; addressed: “His Excellency, Thomas Jefferson, Esquire Late President of the United states.—Monticello, Virginia” by “(Mail)”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Lebanon, Ohio, 23 July. Translation by Dr. John F. Miller.

Francis Glass (1790–1824), educator, was born in Londonderry, Ireland, and immigrated with his family to Philadelphia when he was about eight years old. Having been educated in the latter city, he taught French, Greek, and Latin in various parts of Pennsylvania from at least 1810. Glass moved around 1817 to Ohio and settled in Warren County by 1820. A year later he wrote James Madison from Lebanon, where he continued to work as a language instructor and primary-school teacher. Glass died in Dayton, Ohio (Roscoe H. Eckelberry, “Francis Glass, Master Teacher,” Educational Research Bulletin 13 [16 May 1934]: 107–12, 132; Glass, A Life of George Washington, in Latin prose [1835], esp. i–xv; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 2 July 1810; Wilmington Delaware Gazette and Peninsula Advertiser, 4 Apr. 1815; DNA: RG 29, CS, Ohio, Warren Co., Wayne, 1820; Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:268–70; Chillicothe Supporter, and Scioto Gazette, 23 Sept. 1824; Salem [Mass.] Observer, 25 Sept. 1824).

Glass completed his biography of George Washington (georgii washingtonii vitam) by the summer of 1824, but he died before he could see it into print. The work was published by one of his former students about a decade later and went through three editions (Eckelberry, “Francis Glass,” 111–2).

Index Entries

  • books; biographical search
  • fevers; tertian search
  • Glass, Francis; identified search
  • Glass, Francis; Latin biography of G. Washington search
  • Glass, Francis; letter from search
  • Glass, Francis; seeks TJ’s assistance search
  • Latin language; letters in, from; F. Glass search
  • Latin language; works in search
  • Maecenas, Gaius (Roman statesman) search
  • Washington, George; biographies of search