James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Edrington, 14 February 1813

From Edmund Edrington

Staunton Virga. Feby 14th. 1813


I received your Excellencies letter of the 8th. Inst. and thank you for the promptitude with which you favoured me with an answer,1 as it has saved me from expectations which I might have hoped would be fulfilled. I should not again obtrude myself upon your engagements but to make this acknowledgment; notwithstanding as my pen is in my hand and it appears not mal a propos I will relate an anecdote of Louis the eleventh of France. Adiit Ludovicum quidam, petens ut munus, quod forte vacabat in eo pago in quo habitabat, juberet in ipsum transferri. Rex, audita petitione, expedite respondit, nihil efficies; videlicet amputans omnem spem impetrandi quod petebatur. Petitor item, mox actis regi gratiis, discessit. Rex suspicans illum non intellexisse, quid respondisset, jubet eum revocari. Redit. Tum Rex, intellexeras, inquit, quid tibi responderim? Intellexi. Quid igitur dixi? Me nihil effecturum. Cur igitur agebas gratias? Quoniam, inquit, est domi quod agam: proinde magno meo incommodo persequuturus eram hic spem ancipitem: nunc beneficium interpretor, cito negasse beneficium; meque lucratium quicquid eram perditurus, si vana spe laetatus fuissem.2 Most respectfully Your Excellencies Obdt. Servt.

Edmund Edrington

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Letter not found.

2Edrington’s Latin can be translated as follows: A man came to Louis asking him to order that a certain vacant office, in the district where the man lived, be given to him. After hearing his petition, the king promptly answered, “You won’t accomplish anything,” clearly cutting off any hope that the petitioner would get what he asked for. The man thanked the king and went away. The king, thinking that his answer had not been understood, ordered that the petitioner be called back. He came back. Then the king said, “Did you understand my answer?” “I understood it.” “What did I say, then?” “That I wouldn’t accomplish anything.” “Then why did you thank me?” “Because,” the petitioner said, “I have work to do at home; therefore, it would have inconvenienced me greatly to pursue this uncertain hope. Now, I call it a benefit to have a benefit quickly denied, and it is more profitable for me to lose something, than to have been happy in a vain hope.”

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