The Papers of Joseph Henry


My Dear Son

I have been expecting for some time past to receive a letter from you but as yet I have been disappointed. I suppose however that it will come in good time.[1] I was much pleased with the letters from the little girls[2] and shall expect some further communications from the same quarter. Washington is a city of great bustle during the session of congress but when the two houses have adjourned it is said to be quite dull. It * is a remarkable place for meeting persons whom you have not seen for a long time or have long forgotten. A man called on me a few nights ago who lived in Albany when he was a boy and knew me at the time. He called to my recollection several facts which I had entirly forgotten particularly one inreference to my having be caught by a man while throwing stones down a hill and being nearly put into the watch house. I was not however at the time doing wrong intentionally but carelessly; I was throwing stones with several other boys down a hill in the evening without thinking that they might hurt some person when several persons came running afer us and as I was the last to move I was caught. One of the stones had struck a man or came near striking him. It is not enought that we intend to do no harm but we must in all cases take heed to the effects of our actions and be assured that our carelessness or ignorance does[B] not injure others. For if we are not careful in these particulars we are very culpable though we had no intention of doing wrong. On this point you may recollect one of the stories of Gough the temperance lecturer[3] who relates that a man fired a canon from a hill into a [[---]?] town and killed several persons when he was informed that of what he had done he said oh! I [?diid][C] ↑did↓ not intend to hurt any body I was only firing for sport. But to return to the man I had not seen him before since I was a boy and indeed he had gone entirly out of my recollection though he was still in my memory (What is the difference between recollection and memory) and as he might have become in the mean time a very unworthy person perhaps a very bad man I told him that until I knew more of his character I could not admit him to the intimacy of a friend though we had been companions in early life. I treated him however very civilly and after some time he left me. He had been an officer in Texas and though he had very respectable connections his breath smelt of rum and I was not sorrey when he left me except that he shough give such evidence of not being a very good man— I met another old acquaintance George Clinton sone of the late Governor Clinton the author of the canal policy of the state of New York[4]—but I have mentioned the facts of this meeting I think in one of my letters to your Mother.[5] I have also met a great number of students—the young man that stopped at our house at the begining of last session and occupied for a week and more your little room, I have forgotten his name, I see frequently. Also there are many of the old graduates of Princeton in Washington some and not a few live here and others [ar]e[C] on from the south and west. Washington is at present very much crowded with strangers. Several hundred young men are here applying at the war office for commissions in the army. It does not speak very well I think for the character of a young man to be anxious to get into the army, by an appointmnt without having passed through the academy at West Point. When the war is over they will be thrown out of employment not being in the regular army—they will be exposed to great hardships be liable to be killed and should they live through the war will be broken down in health and will have contracted such bad habits as will render them very unworthy citizens. War is a dreadful curse and I hope the time will soon come when nations shall go to war no more. [[---]?] When you come to Washington as I think it probable[D] you will next summer you will be pleased with ↑the↓ capital. It is an immense building I presume the largest in the united states. It stands on the brow of a hill and while you enter on the east side by a high flight[E] of steps into the building on the first floor on the opposite side there are several flights and these introduce you into a lower story. In the middle of the building, is an immensely large circular room called the rotunda surmounted[F] with a dome and a sky light called the rotunda and surroundd[G] on all sides with large pictures each about 20 feet long by about 10 or 12 high. These pictures are placed in pannels or intentations in the circular wall. All the pannels are now filled except one—a new picture has lately been put up—the landing of columbus by Vanderlin. It is a very fine picture which the artist has spent several years in painting— Each picture cost if I am not mistaken 9 thousand dollars.[6] The sketch
Capitol Building
in the margin will give you some idea of the relative positions of the room of the House of Representatives and the senate chamber. The latter is much smaller than the former and the two are situated on opposite sides of the rotunda.


To W A Henry From his affectionate Father[H]
a is a small rotunda for ventillation[I]
*Ask Mother to explain to you the meaning of this sentence about the Houses.[A]
Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] William wrote his father two days later: [January 29, 1847] (dated as “Friday,” with a file note of “February 1847”), Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [2] Not found.
    [3] John Bartholomew Gough, who in 1845 had lectured in Princeton on temperance. Henry Papers, 6:275–276.
    [4] Henry may have been referring to The Canal Policy of the State of New-York: Delineated in a Letter to Robert Troup, Esquire (Albany, 1821), by “Tacitus.” A list by Henry named it as one of sixteen “Clinton Pamphlets” (by or about DeWitt Clinton) in his library.
    [5] Doc. 5.
    [6] Vanderlyn and the three other artists who in 1837 received commissions to execute four historical paintings for the Capitol Rotunda each were paid $10,000 for their work. Vivien Green Fryd, Art & Empire: The Politics of Ethnicity in the United States Capitol, 1815–1860 (New Haven, 1992), p. 46.
    [A] Written in left margin of first page.
    [B] Altered from do
    [C] Ink blot.
    [D] Altered from probably
    [E] Altered, possibly from flith
    [F] Altered from S
    [G] Altered from surround
    [H] Moved from above the dateline.
    [I] Written sideways in margin to left of illustration.