George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Francis Hopkinson, 1 December 1788

From Francis Hopkinson

Philada Decr 1st 1788

Dear Sir,

There is all the Difference in the World between a Thing done, & a Thing to be done. A Thing to be done is exposed, like our new Constitution, to all Manner of Criticisms, Objections, Oppositions, Reasonings true & false, with Arguments & Apprehensions founded on future Consequences, possible and impossible. On the Contrary, a Thing done, unless it is a very bad thing indeed, is not only generally admitted, but often even zealously supported, beyond it’s real Merits—The Tide of Prejudice flows in its Favour.

Had I asked your Permission to compose, & dedicate to you a Book of Songs, you would, probably, have said—“Your Scheme is full of Inconsistency—You are neither a Poet nor a Musician, & yet you would write Verses & set them to Music—and you would dedicate your Work to me, knowing that I can neither play Musick nor sing Songs—you certainly mean that we should both be laugh’d at”—To which I should then reply—1st “If no Authors had ever written but on such Subjects as they thoroughly understood, our Libraries would be but small[.] Upon a moderate Calculation I suppose that one fourth of our Systems of Philosophy, one half of the physical & medical Authors, three fourths of the learned Writers in polemick Divinity & not one of the numerous metaphysical Enquirers, had made their Appearance in the World—And 2dly If no Works can with Propriety be dedicated to you but on such Subjects in which you are yourself a Master, the sooner you employ Tutors to instruct you in every Branch of human Learning the better—you have no Time to loose—for I foresee Crowds of American Authors on all Subjects, Projectors, Schemers & Contrivers, presenting their Works to your Notice & honouring them with your Name”—I say, such would be my Answer then—My apology now is much shorter—The thing is done—I have composed the Songs, I have set them to Musick, & I have dedicated them to you, And, therefore, instead of objecting to, we had better join in defending the Measure as well as we can.

These Songs were composed occasionally for the Use of my Daughters, without any View to Publication. When I found they had accumulated to 7 or 8 Songs I thought of publishing them, from an Ambition of being recognized as the first Citizen of the United States who had produced a Work of this kind—And I dedicated my Work to you, because I love and respect you—And this is the Truth, the whole Truth, & nothing but the Truth so help me Apollo & the Nine Muses.

With my best Regards to Mrs Washington I am, Dear Sir Your sincerely affectionate Friend & humble Servant

Fras Hopkinson

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection.

Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791) of New Jersey, a lifelong essayist, was a well-known pamphleteer during the American Revolution, a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As chairman and secretary of the Continental Navy Board from 1776 to 1778, he conducted considerable correspondence with GW on behalf of the board. A strong supporter of the Constitution, Hopkinson wrote a series of essays in 1787–88 in its defense. In 1788 he was a judge of the Pennsylvania admiralty court, a post he had held since 1779, and in September 1789 GW appointed him district judge for Pennsylvania. A collection of Hopkinson’s musical compositions entitled Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano (Philadelphia, n.d.) bore the following dedication dated Philadelphia, 20 Nov.1788, and addressed to GW: “I EMBRACE, with heart-felt satisfaction, every opportunity that offers of recognizing the personal Friendship that hath so long subsisted between us. The present Occasion allows me to do this in a manner most flattering to my Vanity; and I have accordingly taken advantage of it, by presenting this Work to your Patronage, and honouring it with your Name.

“It cannot be thought an unwarrantable anticipation to look up to you as seated in the most dignified situation that a grateful People can offer. The universally avowed Wish of America, and the Nearness of the Period in which that Wish will be accomplished, sufficiently justify such an Anticipation; from which arises a confident Hope, that the same Wisdom and Virtue which has so successfully conducted the Arms of the United States in Times of Invasion, War, and Tumult, will prove also the successful Patron of Arts and Sciences in Times of national Peace and Prosperity; and that the Glory of America will rise conspicuous under a Government designated by the Will, and an Administration founded in the Hearts of the people. . . . However small the Reputation may be that I shall derive from this Work, I cannot, I believe, be refused the Credit of being the first Native of the United States who has produced a Musical Composition. If this attempt should not be too severely treated, others may be encouraged to venture on a path, yet untrodden in America, and the Arts in succession will take root and flourish amongst us.

“I hope for your favourable Acceptance of this Mark of my Affection and Respect, and have the Honour to be Your Excellency’s most obedient, and Most humble Servant, F. HOPKINSON.”

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