George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Dwight, October 1785

From Timothy Dwight

[October 1785]

May it please your Excellency,

This letter accompanies the Conquest of Canaan to your Excellency.1 In the year 1778, an application, under the countenance of General Parsons, was made to your Excellency, for permission to inscribe to you this poem, then intended for an earlier publication. A permission was politely & condescendingly granted. Since that time, the public appearance of the book has been unavoidably delayed by a variety of intervening obstacles.

In The book marked No. 1. the Errors of the press are, in general, truly but awkwardly corrected.

The fear lest the work should not possess such a degree of merit, as to occasion no pain in a considerate & delicate mind, upon seeing it inscribed to your Excellency, creates in the writer very humiliating sensations. Should this unfortunate circumstance prove real, the only reflection which could alleviate his mortification, is that he has very faithfully endeavoured to prevent it.2 With the most fervent wishes, & prayers for your Excellency’s present & future happiness, I am with the most entire respect, your Excellency’s very obedient, & very humble Servant

Timothy Dwight

ALS, DLC:GW. For the dating of this letter, see note 2.

1In a letter of 7 Mar. 1778 from West Point, Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons (1737–1789) commended his chaplain of brigades, Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), to GW and endorsed Dwight’s letter of 8 Mar. 1778 asking for GW’s permission to dedicate to him “a poem in the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua,” on which he had been working “for several years.” GW’s letter giving his permission is dated 18 Mar. 1778. The Conquest of Canaan, printed by Elisha Babcock in Hartford, Conn., in 1785, is listed in the inventory of GW’s library taken after his death (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 483). The epic poem, made up of eleven “books” and running to 304 pages, has this dedication following the title page: “To his Excellency, George Washington, Esquire, Commander in chief of the American Armies, The Saviour of his Country, The Supporter of Freedom, And the Benefactor of Mankind; This Poem is inscribed, with the highest respect for his character, the most ardent wishes for his happiness, and the most grateful sense of the blessings, secured, by his generous efforts, to the United States of North America, by his most humble, and most obedient servant, Timothy Dwight. Greenfield, in Connecticut, March 1, 1785.” The printer added a page of errata keyed into line numbers in the different “books.”

2Acknowledging receipt of the poem from “Mount Vernon 1st April 1786,” GW wrote: “Sir, I have been favored with a letter from you (without place or date) accompanying the conquest of Canaan; for both I pray you to accept my grateful thanks, & the acknowledgment of the honor you have done me by the dedication.

“Your fears with respect to the merits of the Poem, I hope are removed, for it is a pleasing performance, and meets the approbation of all who have read it. I have never had an opportunity of subscribing to the work, or I should have done it with pleasure. With very great esteem & respect I am &c. G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW). Someone has added a dateline “Nov. 1785,” to Dwight’s letter, but GW endorses it: “From Timothy Dwight without date recd 29th Novr 1785.” Dwight wrote GW on 5 July 1786 to apologize for the omission and said the letter “was written from New York, the last of October.”

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