James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Wilson, [ca. August] 1813

From John Wilson

[ca. August 1813]

Respected sir

I should abstain from the indelicacy of addressing a person to whom I am unknown and so far beyond my circle, did I not confidently look for an apology in that discernment inseparable from a gentleman elevated to the highest station of this Country.

Desirous of publishing with the greatest prospect of success a M.S. which I think may be beneficial to literature, I herewith take the liberty of submitting it to your perusal and requesting, should you approve, a few lines in addition to those received from other gentlemen.1

Reflection has taught me in regard to publications, whatever merit they may possess, that in order to impress a favourable presentment, the author must be celebrated or there must be some prefatory evidence by persons who are so. Now it so happens that I am to fortunes favorites but as you might say a glimmering taper to the splendid Sun—therefore such an appendage to my treatise is the more desirable.

We know there are those who will not sit down to the best dinner without first taking a glass of wine and bitters—so I apprehend there are gentlemen, and very good judges too, who manifest very little appetite even for a literary banquet unless there is some excitement to commence.

Knowing the weight of your national avocations, I do not presume that you can undertake to examine whether connecting facts have been correctly quoted—nor is it necessary to be done; the responsibility of that naturally falls on the writer’s shoulders. I shall be amply satisfied if the conclusions drawn from those facts and my own arguments, are thought to be well enough supported. With great consideration I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s humble Servt

Jno. Wilson
Accountant’s Office
War Department.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. Undated; conjectural date assigned on the basis of evidence presented in n. 1.

1The manuscript to which Wilson referred was evidently that of A Volume for All Libraries, Peculiarly Adapted to the Votaries of Correct Literature, and Beneficial to Every Class of Learners … (Washington, 1814; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 33698). In the preface of the published volume, Wilson stated that “the most distinguished of our countrymen” had responded to his request for an opinion with “verbal information, that he [JM] would subscribe for two copys, but that he has never given his patronage to books in the form of recommendations” (ibid., ix–x). The preface also contained an endorsement by Joel Barlow, “received … on the eve of his departure as Minister to France” on 1 Aug. 1811, and one by James Monroe, which Wilson had requested the previous month (ibid., xiii; Woodress, A Yankee’s Odyssey, 283; Wilson to Monroe, 15 July 1811, DNA: RG 59, ML). In addition, the preface included an extract from Thomas Jefferson’s 17 Aug. 1813 letter to Wilson, expressing the hope that Wilson’s proposed spelling reforms would succeed. Jefferson’s letter itself acknowledged the receipt of Wilson’s letter of 3 Aug. 1813 and stated that he was returning Wilson’s manuscript, which he had received via John Wayles Eppes (DLC: Jefferson Papers). The circumstance of Wilson’s apparently having requested endorsements from Barlow and Monroe in the same month makes it reasonable to assume that he may have done the same, two years later, with Jefferson and JM.

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