To Thomas Jefferson September 9, 1788
From the original letter at the Library of Congress.
London, Broad Street Building, No. 13, Sep. 9th, 1788
That I am a bad correspondent is so general a Complaint against me, that I must expect the same accusation from you — But hear me first. — When there is no matter to write upon a letter is not worth the trouble of receiving and reading, and while any thing, which is to be the subject of a letter, is in suspense, it is difficult to write and perhaps best to let it alone — “least said is soonest mended”, and nothing said requires no mending.
The Model has the good fortune of preserving in England the reputation which it received from the Academy of Sciences. It is a favourite hobby horse with all who have seen it; and every one who have talked with me on the subject advised me to endeavour to obtain a Patent, as it is only by that means that I can secure to myself the direction and management. — For this purpose I went, (in company with Mr. Whiteside) to the office which is an appendage to Lord Sydney’s — told them who I was, and made an affidavid that the construction was my own invention — This was the only step I took in the business. — Last Wednesday I received a patent for England, the next day a Patent for Scotland, and I am to have one for Ireland.
As I had already the opinion of the Scientific Judges both in France and England on the model; it was also necessary that I should have that of the practical Iron men who must finally be the executors of the work.
There are several capital Iron Works in this Country, the principal of which are those in Shropshire, Yorkshire, and Scotland. It was my intention to have communicated with Mr. Wilkinson — who is one of the proprietors of the Shropshire Iron Works and concerned in those in France — but his departure for Sweden before I had possession of the patents prevented me.
The Iron Works in Yorkshire belonging to the Walkers near to Sheffield are the most eminent in England in point of establishment and property — the proprietors are reputed to be worth two hundred thousand pounds and consequently capable of giving energy to any great undertaking. A friend of theirs who had seen the model wrote to them on the Subject, and two of them came to London last Fryday to see it and talk with me on the business.
Their opinion is very decided that it can be executed either in Wrought or Cast Iron and I am to go down to their works next week to erect an experiment Arch. This is the point I am now got to, and until now I had nothing to inform you of. — If I succeed in erecting the Arch all reasoning and opinion will be at an end, and as this will soon be known, I shall not return to France till that time, and until then I wish every thing to remain, respecting my Bridge over the Seine, in the State I left matters in when I came from France. With respect to the Patents in England it is my intention to dispose of them as soon as I have established the certainty of the Construction.
Besides the ill success of Blackfriars Bridge, two Bridges built successively on the same spot, the last by Mr. Smeaton, at Hexham, over the Tyne in Northumberland have fallen down occasioned by quicksands under the bed of the river. — If therefore Arches can be extended in the proportion the model promises, the Construction in certain situations, without regard to cheapness or dearness, will be valuable in all Countries.
I enclose you a Philadelphia Paper 10 of July having the account of the Procession of the 5th of that month. An Arrival from Philadelphia which left it the 26th July brings nothing new — The Convention of New York was still sitting, but we have accounts, tho’ I know not how they came, that the Convention of N. York acceded on the 29th of July. — (I since hear that this account is brought by the Columbine in 29 days from N. York, arrived at Falmouth, with wheat to Lisbon. —
As to English news or Politics, here is little more than what the Public papers contain. — The assembling the States General, and the reappointment of Mr. Neckar, made considerable impression here. They overawe a great deal of the English habitual rashness and check that triumph of presumption which they indulged themselves in with respect to what they called the deranged and almost ruinous condition of the finances of France. They acknowledge unreservedly that the natural resources of france are greater than those of England, but they plume themselves on the superiority of the means necessary to bring national resources forth. But the two circumstances above mentioned serve very well to lower this exaltation.
Some time ago I spent a week at Mr. Burkes and the Duke of Portland’s in Buckinghamshire — you will recollect that the Duke was the Minister during the time of the Coalition — he is now in the opposition, and I find the opposition as much warped in some respects as to Continental Politics as the Ministry.
What the extent of the Treaty with Russia is, Mr. B — says that he and all the opposition are totally unacquainted with, and they speak of it not as a very wise measure, but rather tending to involve England in unnecessary continental disputes. The preference of the opposition is to a connection with Prussia if it could have been obtained.
Sir George Staunton tells me that the interference with respect to Holland last year met with considerable opposition from part of the Cabinet — Mr. Pitt was against it at first, but it was a favourite measure with the King, and that the opposition at that Crisis contrived to have it known to him that they were disposed to support his measures. This together with the notification of the 16th of Sept. gave Mr. Pitt cause and pretence for changing his ground. —
The Marquis of Lansdown is unconnected either with the Ministry or the opposition. His politics is distinct from both. His plan is a sort of Armed neutrality which has many advocates. In Conversation with me he reprobated the Conduct of the Ministry towards France last year as operating to “cut the throat of confidence” (this was his expression) between France and England at a time when there was a fair opportunity of improving it.
The Enmity of this Country against Russia is as bitter as it ever was against America and is carried to every Pitch of abuse and vulgarity. What I hear in Conversations exceeds what may be seen in the news-papers. They are sour and mortified at every success she acquires and voraciously believe and rejoice in the most improbable accounts and rumours to the contrary. You may mention this to Mr. Simelin on any terms you please for you cannot exceed the fact.
There are those who amuse themselves here in the hopes of managing Spain. The notification which the Marquis del Campo made last year to the British Cabinet is, perhaps, the only secret kept in this Country. Mr. B — tells me that the opposition knows nothing of it.
They all very freely admit that if the Combined fleets had had thirty or forty thousand land forces when they came up the channel last War, there was nothing in England to oppose their landing, and that such a measure would have been fatal to their resources, by, at least a temporary destruction of national credit. — This is the point on which this Country is most impressionable. Wars, carried on at a distance, they care but little about, and seem always disposed to enter into them — It is bringing the matter home to them that makes them fear and feel, for their weakest part is at home. This I take to be the reason of the attention they are paying to Spain, for while France and Spain make a Common Cause and start together, they may easily overawe this Country.
I intended sending this letter by Mr. Parker, but he goes by way of Holland and as I do not chuse to send it by the English Post. I shall desire Mr. Bartholemy to forward it to you.
Remember me with much Affection to the Marquis de la Fayette. This letter will serve for two letters — whether I am in London or the Country any letter to me at Mr. Whiteside’s, Merchant, No. 13 Broad Street Buildings, will come safe — My compliments to Mr. Short.
I am Dear Sir with great Esteem of your obliged Friend & obt. Hble servant