To William Duane Monticello, August 12, 1810SIR,
-- Your letter of July 16th has been duly received, with the paper it enclosed, for which accept my thanks, and especially for the kind sentiments expressed towards myself. These testimonies of approbation, and friendly remembrance, are the highest gratifications I can receive from any, and especially from those in whose principles and zeal for the public good I have confidence. Of that confidence in yourself the military appointment to which you allude was sufficient proof, as it was made, not on the recommendations of others, but on our own knowledge of your principles and qualifications. While I cherish with feeling the recollections of my friends, I banish from my mind all political animosities which might disturb its tranquillity, or the happiness I derive from my present pursuits. I have thought it among the most fortunate circumstances of my late administration that, during its eight years continuance, it was conducted with a cordiality and harmony among all the members, which never were ruffled on any, the greatest or smallest occasion. I left my brethren with sentiments of sincere affection and friendship, so rooted in the uniform tenor of a long and intimate intercourse, that the evidence of my own senses alone ought to be permitted to shake them. Anxious, in my retirement, to enjoy undisturbed repose, my knowledge of my successor and late coadjutors, and my entire confidence in their wisdom and integrity, were assurances to me that I might sleep in security with such watchmen at the helm, and that whatever difficulties and dangers should assail our course, they would do what could be done to avoid or surmount them. In this confidence I envelope myself, and hope to slumber on to my last sleep. And should difficulties occur which they cannot avert, if we follow them in phalanx, we shall surmount them without danger.
I have been long intending to write to you as one of the associated company for printing useful works.
Our laws, language, religion, politics and manners are so deeply laid in English foundations, that we shall never cease to consider their history as a part of ours, and to study ours in that as its origin. Every one knows that judicious matter and charms of style have rendered Hume's history the manual of every student. I remember well the enthusiasm with which I devoured it when young, and the length of time, the research and reflection which were necessary to eradicate the poison it had instilled into my mind. It was unfortunate that he first took up the history of the Stuarts, became their apologist, and advocated all their enormities. To support his work, when done, he went back to the Tudors, and so selected and arranged the materials of their history as to present their arbitrary acts only, as the genuine samples of the constitutional power of the crown, and, still writing backwards, he then reverted to the early history, and wrote the Saxon and Norman periods with the same perverted view. Although all this is known, he still continues to be put into the hands of all our young people, and to infect them with the poison of his own principles of government. It is this book which has undermined the free principles of the English government, has persuaded readers of all classes that these were usurpations on the legitimate and salutary rights of the crown, and has spread universal toryism over the land. And the book will still continue to be read here as well as there. Baxter, one of Horne Tooke's associates in persecution, has hit on the only remedy the evil admits. He has taken Hume's work, corrected in the text his misrepresentations, supplied the truths which he suppressed, and yet has given the mass of the work in Hume's own words. And it is wonderful how little interpolation has been necessary to make it a sound history, and to justify what should have been its title, to wit, "Hume's history of England abridged and rendered faithful to fact and principle." I cannot say that his amendments are either in matter or manner in the fine style of Hume. Yet they are often unperceived, and occupy so little of the whole work as not to depreciate it. Unfortunately he has abridged Hume, by leaving out all the less important details. It is thus reduced to about one half its original size. He has also continued the history, but very summarily, to 1801. The whole work is of 834 quarto pages, printed close, of which the continuation occupies 283. I have read but little of this part. As far as I can judge from that little, it is a mere chronicle, offering nothing profound. This work is so unpopular, so distasteful to the present Tory palates and principles of England, that I believe it has never reached a second edition. I have often inquired for it in our book shops, but never could find a copy in them, and I think it possible the one I imported may be the only one in America. Can we not have it re-printed here? It would be about four volumes 8vo.
I have another enterprise to propose for some good printer. I have in my possession a MS. work in French, confided to me by a friend, whose name alone would give it celebrity were it permitted to be mentioned. But considerations insuperable forbid that. It is a Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws. The history of that work is well known. He had been a great reader, and had commonplaced everything he read. At length he wished to undertake some work into which he could bring his whole commonplace book in a digested form. He fixed on the subject of his Spirit of Laws, and wrote the book. He consulted his friend Helvetius about publishing it, who strongly dissuaded it. He published it, however, and the world did not confirm Helvetius' opinion. Still, every man who reflects as he reads, has considered it as a book of paradoxes; having, indeed, much of truth and sound principle, but abounding also with inconsistencies, apochryphal facts and false inferences. It is a correction of these which has been executed in the work I mention, by way of commentary and review; not by criticising words or sentences, but by taking a book at a time, considering its general scope, and proceeding to confirm or confute it. And much of confutation there is, and of substitution of true for false principle, and the true principle is ever that of republicanism. I will not venture to say that every sentiment in the book will be approved, because, being in manuscript, and the French characters, I have not read the whole, but so much only as might enable me to estimate the soundness of the author's way of viewing his subject; and, judging from that which I have read, I infer with confidence that we shall find the work generally worthy of our high approbation, and that it everywhere maintains the preeminence of representative government, by showing that its foundations are laid in reason, in right, and in general good. I had expected this from my knowledge of the other writings of the author, which have always a precision rarely to be met with. But to give you an idea of the manner of its execution, I translate and enclose his commentary on Montesquieu's eleventh book, which contains the division of the work. I wish I could have added his review at the close of the twelve first books, as this would give a more complete idea of the extraordinary merit of the work. But it is too long to be copied. I add from it, however, a few extracts of his reviews of some of the books, as specimens of his plan and principles. If printed in French, it would be of about 180 pages 8vo, or 23 sheets. If any one will undertake to have it translated and printed on their own account, I will send on the MS. by post, and they can take the copyright as of an original work, which it ought to be understood to be. I am anxious it should be ably translated by some one who possesses style as well as capacity to do justice to abstruse conceptions. I would even undertake to revise the translation if required. The original sheets must be returned to me, and I should wish the work to be executed with as little delay as possible.
I close this long letter with assurances of my great esteem and