The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor H.A. Washington
New York :  H.W. Derby
To Dr. Josephus B. Stuart.
Monticello, May 10, 1817.

Dear Sir,—Your favor of April 2d is duly received.  I am very sensible of the partiality with which you are so good as to review the course I have held in public life, and I have also to be thankful to my fellow citizens for a like indulgence generally shown to my endeavors to be useful to them.  They give quite as much credit as is merited to the difficulties supposed to attend the public administration.  There are no mysteries in it.  Difficulties indeed sometimes arise ;  but common sense and honest intentions will generally steer through them, and, where they cannot be surmounted, I have ever seen the well-intentioned part of our fellow citizens sufficiently disposed not to look for impossibilities.  We all know that a farm, however large, is not more difficult to direct than a garden, and does not call for more attention or skill.

I hope with you that the policy of our country will settle down with as much navigation and commerce only as our own exchanges will require, and that the disadvantage will be seen of our undertaking to carry on that of other nations.  This, indeed, may bring gain to a few individuals, and enable them to call off from our farms more laborers to be converted into lackeys and grooms for them, but it will bring nothing to our country but wars, debt, and dilapidation.  This has been the course of England, and her examples have fearful influence on us.  In copying her we do not seem to consider that like premises induce like consequences.  The bank mania is one of the most threatening of these imitations.  It is raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance, and although forced at length to yield a little on this first essay of their strength, their principles are unyielded and unyielding.  These have taken deep root in the hearts of that class from which our legislators are drawn, and the sop to Cerberus from fable has become history.  Their principles lay hold of the good, their pelf of the bad, and thus those whom the Constitution had placed as guards to its portals, are sophisticated or suborned from their duties.  That paper money has some advantages, is admitted.  But that its abuses also are inevitable, and, by breaking up the measure of value, makes a lottery of all private property, cannot be denied.  Shall we ever be able to put a constitutional veto on it ?

You say I must go to writing history.  While in public life I had not time, and now that I am retired, I am past the time.  To write history requires a whole life of observation, of inquiry, of labor and correction.  Its materials are not to be found among the ruins of a decayed memory.  At this day I should begin where I ought to have left off.  The "solve senes centem equum," is a precept we learn in youth but for the practice of age ; and were I to disregard it, it would be but a proof the more of its soundness.  If anything has ever merited to me the respect of my fellow citizens, themselves, I hope, would wish me not to lose it by exposing the decay of faculties of which it was the reward.  I must then, dear Sir, leave to yourself and your brethren of the rising generation, to arraign at your tribunal the actions of your predecessors, and to pronounce the sentence they may have merited or incurred.  If the sacrifices of that age have resulted in the good of this, then all is well, and we shall be rewarded by their approbation, and shall be authorized to say, "go ye and do likewise."  To yourself I tender personally the assurance of my great esteem and respect.

To Nathaniel Macon, Esq.
Monticello, January 12, 1819.

DEAR SIR,—The problem you had wished to propose to me was one which I could not have solved; for I knew nothing of the facts.  I read no newspaper now but Ritchie’s, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.  I feel a much greater interest in knowing what has passed two or three thousand years ago, than in what is now passing.  I read nothing, therefore, but of the heroes of Troy, of the wars of Lacedaemon and Athens, of Pompey and Caesar, and of Augustus too, the Bonaparte and parricide scoundrel of that day.  I have had, and still have, such entire confidence in the late and present Presidents, that I willingly put both soul and body into their pockets.  While such men as yourself and your worthy colleagues of the legislature, and such characters as compose the executive administration, are watching for us all, I slumber without fear, and review in my dreams the visions of antiquity.  There is, indeed, one evil which awakens me at times, because it jostles me at every turn.  It is that we have now no measure of value.  I am asked eighteen dollars for a yard of broadcloth, which, when we had dollars, I used to get for eighteen shillings ;  from this I can only understand that a dollar is now worth but two inches of broadcloth, but broadcloth is no standard of measure or value.  I do not know, therefore, whereabouts I stand in the scale of property, nor what to ask, or what to give for it.  I saw, indeed, the like machinery in action in the years ’80 and ’81, and without dissatisfaction ;  because in wearing out, it was working out our salvation.  But I see nothing in this renewal of the game of “ Robin’s alive ” but a general demoralization of the nation, a filching from industry its honest earnings, wherewith to build up palaces, and raise gambling stock for swindlers and shavers, who are to close, too, their career of piracies by fraudulent bankruptcies.  My dependence for a remedy, however, is with the wisdom which grows with time and suffering.  Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say ;  but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.  I have made a great exertion to write you thus much; my antipathy to taking up a pen being so intense that I have never given you a stronger proof, than in the effort of writing a letter, how much I value you, and of the superlative respect and friendship with which I salute you.

To John Adams.
Monticello, March 21, 1819.

DEAR SIR,—I am indebted to you for Mr. Bowditch’s very learned mathematical papers, the calculations of which are not for every reader, although their results are readily enough understood.  One of these impairs the confidence I had reposed in La Place’s demonstration, that the eccentricities of the planets of our system could oscillate only within narrow limits, and therefore could authorize no inference that the system must, by its own laws, come one day to an end.  This would have left the question one of infinitude, at both ends of the line of time, clear of physical authority.

Mr. Pickering’s pamphlet on the pronunciation of the Greek, for which I am indebted to you also, I have read with great pleasure.  Early in life, the idea occurred to me that the people now inhabiting the ancient seats of the Greeks and Romans, although their languages in the intermediate ages had suffered great changes, and especially in the declension of their nouns, and in the terminations of their words generally, yet having preserved the body of the word radically the same, so they would preserve more of its pronunciation.  That at least it was probable that a pronunciation, handed down by tradition, would retain, as the words themselves do, more of the original than that of any other people whose language has no affinity to that original.  For this reason I learnt, and have used the Italian pronunciation of the Latin.  But that of the modern Greeks I had no opportunity of learning until I went to Paris.  There I became acquainted with two learned Greeks, Count Carberri and Mr. Paradise, and with a lady, a native Greek, the daughter of Baron de Tott, who did not understand the ancient language.  Carberri and Paradise spoke it.  From these instructors I learnt the modern pronunciation, and in general trusted to its orthodoxy.  I say, in general, because sound being more fugitive than the written letter, we must, after such a lapse of time, presume in it some degeneracies, as we see there are in the written words.  We may not, indeed, be able to put our finger on them confidently, yet neither are they entirely beyond the reach of all indication.  For example, in a language so remarkable for the euphony of its sounds, if that euphony is preserved in particular combinations of its letters, by an adherence to the powers ordinarily ascribed to them, and is destroyed by a change of these powers, and the sound of the word thereby rendered harsh, inharmonious, and inidiomatical, here we may presume some degeneracy has taken place.  While, therefore, I gave in to the modern pronunciation generally, I have presumed, as an instance of degeneracy, their ascribing the same sound to the six letters, or combinations of letters, e, i, v, ei, oi, vi, to all of which they give the sound of our double e in the word meet.  This useless equivalence of three vowels and three diphthongs, did not probably exist among the ancient Greeks; and the less probably as, while this single sound, ee, is overcharged by so many different representative characters, the sounds we usually give to these characters and combinations would be left without any representative signs.  This would imply either that they had not these sounds in their language, or no signs for their expression.  Probability appears to me, therefore, against the practice of the modern Greeks of giving the same sound to all these different representatives, and to be in favor of that of foreign nations, who, adopting the Roman characters, have assimilated to them, in a considerable degree, the powers of the corresponding Greek letters.  I have, accordingly, excepted this in my adoption of the modern pronunciation.  I have been more doubtful in the use of the av, ev, nv, wv, sounding the v, upsilon, as our f or v, because I find traces of that power of v, or of v, in some modern languages.  To go no further than our own, we have it in laugh, cough, trough, enough.  The county of Louisa, adjacent to that in which I live, was, when I was a boy, universally pronounced Lovisa.  That it is not the gh which gives the sound of f or v, in these words, is proved by the orthography of plough, trough, thought, fraught, caught.  The modern Greeks themselves, too, giving up v, upsilon, in ordinary the sound of our ee, strengthens the presumption that its anomalous sound of f or v, is a corruption.  The same may be inferred from the cacophony of (elavne) for (elawne,) (Achillefs) for (Achilleise,) (eves) for (eeuse,) (ovk) for (ouk,) (ovetos) for (o-u-tos,) (zevs) for (zese,) of which all nations have made their Jupiter; and the uselessness of the v in which would otherwise have been spelt.  I therefore except this also from what I consider as approvable pronunciation.

Against reading Greek by accent, instead of quantity, as Mr. Ciceitira proposes, I raise both my hands.  What becomes of the sublime measure of Homer, the full sounding rhythm of Demosthenes, if, abandoning quantity, you chop it up by accent? What ear can hesitate in its choice between the two following rhythms ?  the latter noted according to prosody, the former by accent, and dislocating our teeth in its utterance; every syllable of it, except the first and last, being pronounced against quantity.  And what becomes of the art of prosody ?  Is that perfect coincidence of its rules with the structure of their verse, merely accidental ? or was it of design, and yet for no use ?

On the whole, I rejoice that this subject is taken up among us, and that it is in so able hands as those of Mr. Pickering.  Should he ultimately establish the modern pronunciation of the letters without any exception, I shall think it a great step gained, and giving up my exceptions, shall willingly rally to him ; and as he has promised us another paper on the question whether we shall read by quantity or by accent, I can confidently trust it to the correctness of his learning and judgment.  Of the origin of accentuation, I have never seen satisfactory proofs.  But I have generally supposed the accents were intended to direct the inflections and modulations of the voice ; but not to affect the quantity of the syllables.  You did not expect, I am sure, to draw on yourself so long a disquisition on letters and sounds, nor did I intend it, but the subject ran before me, and yet I have dropped much of it by the way.

I am delighted with your high approbation of Mr. Tracy’s book.  The evils of this deluge of paper money are not to be removed, until our citizens are generally and radically instructed in their cause and consequences, and silence by their authority the interested clamors and sophistry of speculating, shaving, and banking institutions.  Till then we must be content to return, quoad hoc, to the savage state, to recur to barter in the exchange of our property, for want of a stable, common measure of value, that now in use being less fixed than the beads and wampum of the Indian, and to deliver up our citizens, their property and their labor, passive victims to the swindling tricks of bankers and mountebankers.  If I had your permisson to put your letter into the hands of the editor, (Milligan,) with or without any verbal alterations you might choose, it would ensure the general circulation, which, my prospectus and prefatory letter will less effectually recommend.  There is nothing in the book, of mine, but these two articles, and the note on taxation in page 202.  I never knew who the translator was; but I thought him some one who understood neither French nor English ;  and probably a Caledonian ;  from the number of Scotticisms I found in his MS.  The innumerable corrections in that, cost me more labor than would have done a translation of the whole de novo ;  and made at last but an inelegant although faithful version of the sense of the author.  Dios guarde V.S. muchos anos.