James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edgar Macon, 12 September 1818

From Edgar Macon

September 12. 1818

Dear Uncle,

I have received your letter1 in which you have laid down a course of reading proper to be pursued by me, and for which I tender you my sincerest thanks. The time I devote to reading is during the vacation, & those hours in the session when the students are not confined. I am able to employ one third of the year in reading without encroaching on my college studies. I was gratified after reading your letter that I had read some of the Authors you recommended. I have read Rollens ancient History2 and Plutarchs lives. The style of the former I was not much pleased with, & was only able to collect facts; the style of the latter I found to be plain and fluent. From Plutarch I was not capable of procuring a perfect knowledge of ancient History. For being a biographer, he only writes upon such subjects, as the person whose life he gives an account off, is engaged in, and without departing from his inten[t] he cannot relate several very important circumstances that occured during the life of the person whom [he] writes off. For the last three months I have been reading Humes England3 and have progressed as far as the death of Charles the first. I am pleased with Hume as an author not only on account of the accuracy with which he relates circumstances, but with the fluency of his style and the sentiment it contains. Burkes History of Virginia4 but without the continuations I have also read. Next vacation I will read if possible the other works you have recommended.

Heretofore I have read several numbers of the Spectator and I expected you would have a high opinion of this work. I should like to know whether you think that the Latin and Greek languages ever repay for the time that is spent in acquiring a knowledge of them. I remain Your &c &c

Edgar Macon5

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Letter not found.

2Charles Rollin, The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians (London, 1788).

3David Hume, The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Cesar to the Revolution in 1688. In Six Volumes (London, 1762).

4John Daly Burk, The History of Virginia, from Its First Settlement to the Present Day (4 vols.; Petersburg, Va., 1804–16; 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 5951).

5Edgar Macon (1801–1829) was JM’s nephew, the son of his sister Sarah Catlett Madison and Thomas Macon. Macon attended the College of New Jersey, became a lawyer, and was appointed by Monroe to the legislative council of the Florida Territory in 1822. A year later he was appointed U.S. district attorney for the Eastern District of Florida and held that office until his removal in 1826. In 1827 he established the weekly Tallahassee Florida Advocate (Chapman, “Who Was Buried in James Madison’s Grave?” 145, 147, 156; Daily National Intelligencer, 17 Dec. 1829; “The Madison Family Tree,” PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–17, Charlottesville, Va., 1977–91). description ends , 1:[following 212]; Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 3:298, 303, 343, 344, 540; Allen Morris and Amelia Rea Maguire, “Beginnings of Popular Government in Florida,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 57 [1978]: 26 and n. 34).

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