The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear H

I write this evening with very little to communicate except the old story which I hope and trust you will not soon get tired of—Love and constancy— We have made but little progess in organization of the smithsonian to day though the Regents met for that purpose. The attendance[A] though good was not complete several of the Board were absent Mr Choat the great Library man[1] whom I have not yet seen and Mr Hawley[2] who has not yet got on and I think will probably not be here.[3] There is quite a tempest among the Architects and various[B] articles have appeared in the papers relative to the choise of the plan for the building. The Board agreed to suffer each architect to be heard tomorrow in succession and I presume we shall then have quite a series of lectures on the esthetic.[4] I can say with Mr[C] Lyle though I am an admirer of good bulding yet I do not choose to be its victime.[5]
There will probably be considerable[D] warm discussion on the subject of the bulding to morrow. I think I informed you that Gen Cass had been chosen in the place of Judge Pennebacker. I called this morning on the General and presented to him my views with which I appeared[E] much impressed and expressed himself strongly against a great expenditure for a library or a building[F] but more particularly against the building.
Judge Breese[6] (the cousin of Mrs Robey of Albany[7] whom you may recollect) goes[G] strongly against the building and will probably be pitted against Mr Seaton the mayor of the city so that the probability is that the building though large and expensive will be less by nearly a half than that at first contemplated. There is a great gathering at the Presidents this evening and during the day I though of going but the weather is so stormy with a fall of snow that I concluded not to venture out.
Another day has passed and still no letter has come you must begin to think that I am so filled with the affairs of the Smithsonian that I can have no room in my attention to receive the contents of a short letter from you or one of the children—Where is the letter which I have been expecting from a new desk the christmas present desk of a young lady who is said very much to resemble[H] in face at least her Father. Shurely it must have been detained by the way perhaps blocked up with the ice in the chesapeak[I]—and also where lingers the epistle which is to inform me of all the tricks of the little old horse push and his sable attendant Sam.
I wish I could look in upon you if but for a few minutes just now the hand of the watch points to ¼ past eleven and I suppose all the inmates of our house are buried in slumbers with perhaps one exception—one a little woman revolving in her mind the past the present and the future is too much occupied with anxiety, fears, perhaps sorrow for the condition of poor Louisa and the distress of Stephen.

My dear H

It was so late last night before I finished my letter that I did not take it down to be put into the office—your letter of no date[8] on note paper informing me of the low state of Louisa was receivd to day. It is the second I have had since I left home. I suppose you are so much occupied with attendance on Louisa that your time is all absorbed. I wish I could be with you but I fear I shall be unable to leave Washington for some days to come. The Board met again to day but without doing any thing more than ↑to↓ give a hearing to the architects. Poor Louisa I hope she will receive strength to support her through the brief span of time she has to remain. How uncertain are all things of Earth we live amoung the dying and yet do not realize as we should do that we are mortal—that as Louisa now is inreference to her hold on life so we must shurely and shortly be. The auful change awaits us all. Let the fact be constantly before our minds not to lessen our interest in the affairs of this life but to render us less anxious as to the events of this world whether they turn out for our advantage or not or how long we may be permitted to remain on Earth. Let us put our trust more fully than ever in Him[J] who will order all things for the best who put full reliance on Him.
Poor Stephen I fear the blow will fall heavily on him but he is not one who will mourn without hope and I trust the event when it comes will not be unexpected nor the effect such as he will not be able to be sustained under. I beg you my dear little Wife that you will in this trying season be careful of your health. Though I know you will be anxious to do all you can to mitigate the pain of Louisa[K] and to comfort Stephen. I fear you will[L] not be moderate or have a proper regard for your self— I beg my Dear H. that you will be mindful of your duty to your children and that you have a husband to whom life would be worthless were you to be taken from him. I have been anxious about you sinc I left you in Phild Kiss the children for me. Give my Love and kind regards to Louisa. Tell her she has my most erenest praye for fath to sustain her in the hours of tryal[M] and that she must throw herself entirely on the merits of her saviour put full reliance on him. The saints are impure in the sight of the Righteous Judge[N] before whom all must appear and and none can plead their own goodness. They can only be saved through the merits of a Saviour. Adieu.

From as ever only yours.

Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Rufus Choate, former Whig senator from Massachusetts and one of six citizen members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, led its "library faction," which advocated using Smithson's bequest to build a national library at Washington. Henry Papers, 6:465, 565n, 566.
    [2] Gideon Hawley, superintendent for public instruction for New York and another citizen member of the Board of Regents, had known Henry since his Albany days. Henry Papers, 1:50; 6:470.
    [3] Regents who were present at the January 20 meeting included Vice-President George M. Dallas, chancellor of the Smithsonian; Alexander Dallas Bache; William W. Seaton; Robert Dale Owen; Richard Rush; Lewis Cass; George Evans; William J. Hough; Sidney Breese (Henry Papers, 6:470), Democratic senator from Illinois; and Henry Washington Hilliard (Henry Papers, 6:470), Whig representative from Alabama. In addition to those named by Henry, regents who did not attend included Roger B. Taney (Henry Papers, 6:470), chief justice of the Supreme Court, and two citizen regents: Joseph Gilbert Totten (Henry Papers, 4:320), chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, and William Campbell Preston (Henry Papers, 6:470), former senator from South Carolina and now president of South Carolina College. Rhees, Journals, p. 20.
[4] Architects ostensibly had been given until December 25, 1846, to submit proposals for the Smithsonian Building to the Board of Regents; however, word spread that the building committee had, on November 30, endorsed James Renwick's two designs. A storm of protest ensued, with some architects charging that the competition was rigged from the start. To stem the controversy, at the January 20 meeting the regents approved a resolution offered by William Seaton, that the board would meet at ten the next morning to hear comments or receive more information from any architects who had submitted plans. These presentations occupied the board for several days.
Rhees, Journals, pp. 20–24; Kenneth Hafertepe, America's Castle: The Evolution of the Smithsonian Building and Its Institution, 1840–1878 (Washington, 1984), pp. 37–61; Cynthia R. Field, introduction to Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (1849; New York, 1978), pp. [5]–[6].
    [5] Henry was paraphrasing criticisms made by the renowned British geologist, Sir Charles Lyell (Henry Papers, 2:135n), over the costly ornamentation of buildings for Philadelphia's Girard College and London's University College. If the trustees of these institutions instead had expended funds for learning, Lyell wrote, “None would then grudge the fluted column, the swelling dome, and the stately portico; and literature and science would continue to be the patrons of architecture, without being its victims.”Lyell contrasted these institutions with the Lowell Institute, whose benefactor, John Lowell, Jr., had insisted that "not a single dollar should be spent in brick and mortar." Henry was deeply impressed by Lyell's comments; he often paraphrased them in support of his argument that the Smithson bequest should not be used to erect an ornate Smithsonian building. Lyell, Travels in North America, in the Years 1841–2, 2 vols. (New York, 1845), 1:89–92 (quotations on pp. 89, 91); Henry Papers, 6:586, 608.
    [6] Sidney Breese had been a judge of the Illinois Supreme Court prior to his election to the Senate. BDAC.
    [7] Margaret Breese (1803 or 1804–1832), the daughter of Samuel Sidney Breese of Skenandoa (or Sconandoa), near Albany, New York, was the wife of Joseph Roby, Jr., an Albany hardware merchant. Daily Albany Argus, April 3, 1832; Henry Papers, 2:151n.
    [8] Not found.
    [A] Altered, possibly from attendendy
    [B] Altered, possibly from no
    [C] Altered from m
    [D] Altered from considerably
    [E] Altered from peared
    [F] Altered from bulding
    [G] Altered from goee
    [H] Altered from resemple
    [I] Altered from chesapeaq
    [J] Altered from him
    [K] Altered from Louissa
    [L] Altered from y
    [M] Altered from trial
    [N] Altered from Jugge