Letter to Chastellux - September 2, 1785
DEAR SIR, — You were so kind as to allow me a fortnight to read your journey through Virginia. but you should have thought of this indulgence while you were writing it, and have rendered it less interesting if you meant that your readers should have been longer engaged with it. in fact I devoured it at a single meal, and a second reading scarce allowed me sang-froid enough to mark a few errors in the names of persons and places which I note on a paper herein inclosed, with an inconsiderable error or two in facts which I have also noted because I supposed you wished to state them correctly. from this general approbation however you must allow me to except about a dozen pages in the earlier part of the book which I read with a continued blush from beginning to end, as it presented me a lively picture of what I wish to be, but am not. no, my dear Sir, the thousand millionth part of what you there say, is more than I deserve. it might perhaps have passed in Europe at the time you wrote it, and the exaggeration might not have been detected. but consider that the animal is now brought there, and that every one will take his dimensions for himself. the friendly complexion of your mind has betrayed you into a partiality of which the European spectator will be divested. respect to yourself therefore will require indispensably that you expunge the whole of those pages except your own judicious observations interspersed among them on animal and physical subjects. with respect to my countrymen there is surely nothing which can render them uneasy, in the observations made on them. they know that they are not perfect, and will be sensible that you have viewed them with a philanthropic eye. you say much good of them, and less ill than they are conscious may be said with truth. I have studied their character with attention. I have thought them, as you found them, aristocratical, pompous, clannish, indolent, hospitable, and I should have added, disinterested, but you say attached to their interest. this is the only trait in their character wherein our observations differ. I have always thought them so careless of their interests, so thoughtless in their expences and in all their transactions of business that I had placed it among the vices of their character, as indeed most virtues when carried beyond certain bounds degenerate into vices. I had even ascribed this to it's cause, to that warmth of their climate which unnerves and unmans both body and mind. while on this subject I will give you my idea of the characters of the several states.
In the north they are In the south they are
jealous of their own liberties, zealous for their own liberties,
and just to those of others but trampling on those of others.
superstitious and hypo- without attachment or
critical in pretensions
their religion to any religon but that
of the heart.
these characteristics grow weaker and weaker by gradation from North to South and South to North, insomuch that an observing traveller, without the aid of the quadrant may always know his latitude by the character of the people among whom he finds himself. it is in Pennsylvania that the two characters seem to meet and blend, and form a people free from the extremes both of vice and virtue. peculiar circumstances have given to New York the character which climate would have given had she been placed on the South instead of the north side of Pennsylvania. perhaps too other circumstances may have occasioned in Virginia a transplantation of a particular vice foreign to it's climate. you could judge of this with more impartiality than I could, and the probability is that your estimate of them is the most just. I think it for their good that the vices of their character should be pointed out to them that they may amend them; for a malady of either body or mind once known is half cured. I wish you would add to this piece your letter to mr. Madison on the expediency of introducing the arts into America. I found in that a great deal of matter, very many observations, which would be useful to the legislators of America, and to the general mass of citizens. I read it with great pleasure and analysed it's contents that I might fix them in my own mind.
I have the honor to be with very sincere esteem, dear Sir, your most obedient and most humble servt.