To the Honorable Henry Laurens September 14, 1779
From the original letter now in private hands.
Philadelphia Sept. 14th, 1779
It was my intention to have communicated to you the substance of this letter last Sunday had I not been prevented by a return of my fever; perhaps finding myself unwell, and feeling, as well as apprehending, inconveniences, have produced in me some thoughts for myself as well as for others.
I need not repeat to you the part I have acted or the principle I have acted upon; and perhaps America would feel the less obligation to me, did she know, that it was neither the place nor the people but the Cause itself that irresistibly engaged me in its support; for I should have acted the same part in any other country could the same circumstances have arisen there which have happened here. I have often been obliged to form this distinction to myself by way of smoothing over some disagreeable ingratitudes, which, you well know, have been shewn to me from a certain quarter.
I find myself so curiously circumstanced that I have both too many friends and too few, the generality of them thinking that from the public part I have so long acted I cannot have less than a mine to draw from. What they have had from me they have got for nothing and they consequently suppose I must be able to afford it.
I know but one kind of life I am fit for, and that is a thinking one, and, of course, a writing one. but I have confined myself so much of late, taken so little exercise, and lived so very sparingly, that unless I alter my way of life, it will alter me. I think I have a right to ride a horse of my own, but I cannot-now even afford to hire one, which is a situation I never was in before, and I begin to know that a sedentary life cannot be supported without jolting exercise.
Having said thus much, which, in truth, is but loss of time to tell to you who so well know how I am situated, I take the liberty of communicating to you my design of doing some degree of Justice to myself, but even this is accompanied with some present difficulties, but it is the easiest, and, I believe, the most useful and reputable of any I can think of.
I intend this winter to collect all my publications, beginning with Common Sense and ending with the fisheries, and publishing them in two Volumes Octavo — with notes. I have no doubt of a large Subscription. The principal difficulty will be to get Paper and I can think of no way more practicable than to desire Arthur Lee to send over a quantity from France in the Confederacy if she goes there, and settling for it with his brother.
After that work is completed, I intend prosecuting a history of the Revolution by means of a Subscription but this undertaking will be attended with such an amazing Expense, and will take such a length of Time that unless the States individually give some assistance therein, scarcely any man could afford to go through it. Some kind of an history might be easily executed made up of daily events and trifling matters which would lose their Importance in a few years. But a proper history cannot even be begun unless the Secrets of the other side of the water can be obtained, for the first part, is so interwoven with the Politics of England, that, that which will be the last to get at must be the first to begin with. and this single Instance is sufficient to show that no history can take place for some time.
My design, if I undertake it, is to comprise it in three quarto Volumes and to publish one each year from the time of beginning, and to make an abridgment afterwards in an easy agreeable language for a school book. All the histories of ancient wars that are used for this purpose promote no Moral Reflection, but like the beggars opera renders the Villain pleasing in the hero —
Another thing that will prolong the Completion of an history is the want of Plates which only can be done in Europe, for that part of a history which is intended to convey description of places or persons will ever be imperfect without them.
I have now, Sir, acquainted you with my design, and unwilling, as you know I am, to make use of a friend while I can possibly avoid it, I am really obliged to say that I should now be glad to consult with two or three on some matters that regard my Situation till such time as I can bring the first of those Subscriptions to bear, or set them on foot, which cannot well be until I can get the paper; for should I disappointed of that, with the Subscriptions in my hand, I might be reflected upon, and the reason tho’ a true one, would be subject to other Explanations.
Here lies the difficulty I alluded to in the beginning of this letter, and I would rather wish to borrow something of a friend or two in the interim than run the risk I have mentioned, because should I be disappointed by the Paper being taken or not arriving in time, the reason being understood by them beforehand will not injure me, but in the other Case it would, and in the mean Time I can be preparing for publication. I have hitherto kept all my private matters a secret but as I know your friendship and you a great deal of my Situation, I can with more ease communicate them to you than to another.
I am Dear Sir your Obt Humble Servt
P. S. If you are not engaged tomorrow Evening I should be glad to spend part of it with you, if you are I shall wait your opportunity —