George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Goddard, 16 December 1793

From William Goddard

Johnston (near Providence) Decr 16, 1793.


Removed to the humble Vale of rural Life, it was but recently that the “Memoirs of the Life of Charles Lee, Esquire,” &c. &c. fell under my observation—and as I once announced a Design of publishing a Work nearly similar in Title, though far different in Contents, I am impelled by the most unfeigned Respect to your Character, as well as Justice to myself, to address you on the Subject, presuming upon the Liberality and Candour I have formerly experienced from you, that you will give due Credit to my Assertions, when I utterly disclaim, as I now solemnly do, all Share, or Concern, in the printed “Memoirs,” that have been so improperly ushered (viâ London) to the Public Eye.1

The Editor, while I was absent, clandestinely took the Manuscripts of General Lee from my House, and urged by his Necessities and Avarice, hath, without Judgment to discriminate, compiled, and sent abroad, a heterogeneous Collection of Letters, Essays and Fragments—even private Letters, written to and by distinguished Characters, at Periods of Friendship and Confi dence, which ought, and, I am persuaded, was the Wish of the Writers, to have been buried in Oblivion.2

When I contemplated the Publication of the Memoirs of the late General Lee, my Design was to publish certain literary and military Papers, with such epistolary Writings, as would, I judged, by interesting the Public, at once promote my own Interest, as a Printer, and enhance the Fame of a departed Friend, who, it must be allowed, inherited, from Nature, a rare and brilliant Genius, and possessed a cultivated understanding—It was, indeed, foreign to my Design to introduce an Essay, a Letter, or a Sentiment, that would wound the Feelings, or excite the Disapprobation, of a single worthy Person—or cast the least Blemish upon the Reputation of General Lee, by sporting with his lively Sallies, and unguarded (because confidential) Communications—or even to give Currency to a single Line that, dying, he would wish to blot.

Sensible, Sir, of the great Importance (particularly at this Juncture) of your Avocations, I shall not presume longer to obtrude on your time, having, I hope, been sufficiently explicit to exculpate myself from an Imputation of Disrespect to a Character—for whom, with applauding Millions, I feelingly accord my humble, tho’ sincere, Tribute of grateful Veneration.

William Goddard


1Goddard was referring to Memoirs of the Life of the Late Charles Lee, Esq. Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty Fourth Regiment, Colonel in the Portuguese Service, Major General, and Aid du Camp to the King of Poland, and Second in Command in the Service of the United States of America during the Revolution: To Which Are Added His Political and Military Essays. Also, Letters to, and from Many Distinguished Characters, Both in Europe and America (London: J. S. Jordan, 1792). By the end of 1793, editions of the Memoirs had also been published at Dublin and New York City. The memoir, which is only part of the volume, was written by Edward Langworthy and dated at Baltimore, 10 March 1787. In 1785 Goddard and Langworthy had issued a proposal, dated 15 July 1785, for printing by subscription a three-volume edition of “Miscellaneous Collections from the Papers of the late Major-General Charles Lee . . . to which are prefixed memoirs of his Life” (Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 26 July 1785; also issued as a broadside). For Goddard’s correspondence with GW about that proposal, see Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends 3:24–26, 50, 54–55.

2Goddard was referring to Langworthy (c.1738–1802), a former delegate to the Continental Congress from Georgia, who associated with Goddard in publishing the Maryland Journal in 1785. Langworthy had severed his connection with the Journal by 1786, when, according to the preface to the Memoirs, he sent the materials to England “for the purpose of publication” (p. v).

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