James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Bradford, 1 March 1773

From William Bradford

FC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

N. Hall. March 1t. 1773.1

My dear Jemmy,

You will pardon me for not writing sooner when I inform you that ever since I received your agreeable letter I have [been] roving from place to place without being able to find time to answer it. But I need make no apology, as I know your Goodness will excuse me without one. Puntuality [in]2 answering a letter is what Pope justly call[s] the ceremonial part of friendship which those who have a true taste for3 the substantial part can sometimes dispense with.

You alarm me, by what you tell me about your4 health. I beleive you hurt your constitution while here, by too close an application to study; but I hope ’tis not so bad with you as you seem to imagine. Persons of the weakest Constitutions by taking a proper care of themselves often out live those of the strongest.5 Pope, in his letters, is frequently complaining that his health was fast declining & that he looks upon himself as just on the threshhold of another world;6 yet you see he lived longer than the generallity of mankind do. You, I hope will yet enjoy many days as you seem designed by Providence for extensive usefulness. “Spare useful lives,” is a part of the Doctor’s petition7 I always heartily join.

The best thanks I can give you for your advice is8 to frame my conduct by it. Let me intreat a continuation of it, & be assured I shall always receive it with pleasure & Gratitude. I know not why, but so it is, that that advice of an absent friend makes a deeper impression on me & is more attended to [than]9 the wisest precepts of the wisest Philosopers.

I am afraid you will find me but a dull correspondent however I can be a faithful one. Some have an ingenious way of filling their letters with compliments & professions of regard which for the life of me I cannot obtain. Nor would I if I could. It is true, Compliments have been called the Smoke of Friendship, but I know not whether the metaphor will hold; for where there is smoke there10 must be some fire, but there may [be] compliments without the least degree of Friendship. Several times I sat down to write to you & as often rose up without being able to tell you any thing that was worth your hearing. When I began this letter I was going upon an old rule I have often heard “to say whatever comes uppermost,” But as that always is how heartily I love it is needless to tell you what you already know. I shall therefore give a short account of the several productions of the press in this part of the world.

(*Here an account of the piece[?] against[?] Dr Witherspoon precis[?] of the “candid remarks”)11 George Cockings has likewise published a peice which he has christened with the name of Tragedy. I beleive you have read part (I am sure you never read the whole) of his poem, called “War.” It may serve to give you some Idea of this Tragedy, when I tell that he seems to have designed it as a compendium of that. The stile is below criticism, & one would think he intended to burlesque blank verse by it. Mather’s psalms which you know are prose divided into six & eight feet, are far preferable.12 As to Sentiment there is none in it and the unities of time and place (If I rightly understand what they are) are grosly violated. I think it is Lord Kaims13 who observes “That change of time and place ought never to be indulged in the same act.” But in the middle of the last act the scene shifts from Quebec to London & the time is considerably advanced. He has, however, happily preserved all the Punctuality of an historian, which may serve to gratify the curiosity of those who desire to know how Quebec was taken. But [to] call this peice a tragedy is ridiculous for it has neither the spirit nor the body of Dramatic poetry.14

Doctor Smith has published an oration which he delivered to the Philosophic Society: it is nothing extraordinary but seems to be (as he himself calls it) “a few loose thoughts thrown together in an evening or two.”15

You see by my date that I have on[c]e more left the busy town to enjoy the quiet of a collegiac Life. If you would allow me to make use of the hackened simile (because it so well describe[s] my case) I would tell you that like Noah’s Dove I had again sought the ark because I found no resting place for my foot. I spend my time very agreeably & want nothing to compleat my happiness but your company & conversation. Write soon & beleive me yours

W—— B——d.

1Bradford wrote from Princeton (Nassau Hall) where he had returned for graduate study. This letter is evidently a belated reply to JM’s of 9 November 1772.

2Bradford wrote “is” instead of “in.” Although the editors have not discovered the exact passage in the writings of Alexander Pope, he frequently expressed almost the same sentiment. See William Lisle Bowles, ed., The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., in Verse and Prose (10 vols.; London, 1806), VIII, 286; IX, 354, 375, 378, 387; X, 237.

3Bradford repeated “for.”

4Here Bradford crossed out “my” and wrote “your” above it.

5Italicized words underlined by Bradford. JM’s life span of eighty-five years, much of it spent in poor or indifferent health, makes this remark of Bradford’s prophetic.

6See, for example, William L. Bowles, ed., The Works of Pope, VII, 113–14, 117–19.

7Bradford wrote “pepetition.” The first “pe” at the end of one line of his notebook is clearly a copying error. The “Doctor” is undoubtedly Dr. Witherspoon, whose prayers Bradford was once again hearing. As long as Witherspoon lived he was referred to as “the Doctor” in JM’s correspondence.

8Bradford repeated “is.”

9Bradford inadvertently wrote “the” instead of “than.”

10“Compliments … the smoke of friendship” (Alexander Pope to William Wycherley, 25 March 1705, William L. Bowles, ed., The Works of Pope, VII, 13). The words “smoke there” are unnecessarily repeated in Bradford’s notebook copy.

11Bradford merely mentions a topic to which he possibly had devoted a paragraph in his letter to JM. The italicized words are in the shorthand used frequently by Bradford in his notebook. On 21 March 1772 President Witherspoon issued his Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica, and other West-India Islands, in Behalf of the College of New Jersey (New Jersey Archives, 1st ser., XXVIII, 289–308; Varnum L. Collins, President Witherspoon, I, 143–46). Ostensibly a pamphlet to help raise money and recruit undergraduates from the West Indies, it was widely viewed as an effort to woo support and students from other American colleges, notably the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and King’s College (now Columbia), through a veiled attack on these institutions. The appearance of Witherspoon’s Address in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 21 and 28 October 1772 and in the New York Gazette; and Weekly Mercury on 16 November 1772 called forth at least two sharp rejoinders. One was a letter signed “Causidicus” (obviously a King’s College sympathizer) in the New York Gazette on 7 December 1772, and the other a pamphlet published in Philadelphia in 1772 entitled Candid Remarks on Dr. Witherspoon’s Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica, and the other West-India Islands, attributed to Reverend Thomas B. Chandler of Elizabethtown, N.J. In his letter Bradford evidently included a “précis” of the latter.

The editors have been occasionally baffled by the enigmatic shorthand characters used by Bradford in the file copies of his correspondence. He evidently derived his symbols from James Weston, Stenography Compleated, or the Art of Short-Hand Brought to Perfection: Being the Most Easy, Exact, Speedy, and Legible Method Extant … (London, 1727), a handbook published in at least eight editions between 1727 and 1748. With the help of this text, Bradford’s symbols for short and frequently used words can be deciphered with assurance. On the other hand, the shorthand system of Weston was by no means as simple as the title of his text affirmed it to be. Instead of mastering it, Bradford appears to have combined elements of it with pen strokes of his own invention, especially when using shorthand characters for polysyllabic or unusual words. The question marks inserted by the present editors signify that they may not have correctly transmuted Bradford’s symbols into the word or words which he had in mind.

12Richard Mather (1596–1669), a clergyman of Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1635 until his death. He was one of the translators of The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1640), usually called the “Bay Psalm Book.”

13Henry Home (Lord Kames), Elements of Criticism (3 vols.; Edinburgh, 1762), III, 291. If Bradford had quoted accurately, he would have written: “The unities of place and time ought to be strictly observed during each act… .”

14The poem to which Bradford alludes as having been read at least in part by JM is George Cockings’ (d. 1802) War: an Heroic Poem, from the Taking of Minorca, By the French, to the Raising the Siege of Quebec … (printed in London, 1760; in Boston by S. Adams, 1762; reprinted and sold in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by D. and R. Fowle, 1765). Cockings’ more recent work was The Conquest of Canada; or the Siege of Quebec: an Historical Tragedy of Five Acts … (Philadelphia: printed for William Magill, 1772; also printed in Albany by Alexander and James Robertson, 1773). “Punctuality” here, unlike in the first paragraph, means “preciseness.”

15Shortly before the date of Bradford’s letter, Dr. William Smith (1727–1803), provost of the College of Philadelphia and one of the secretaries of the American Philosophical Society, published his speech, An Oration Delivered, January 23, 1773, Before the Patron, Vice-Presidents and Members of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, For Promoting Useful Knowledge … (Philadelphia: printed by John Dunlap, in Market-Street, 1773).

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