The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear Henry

Your letter[2] was duly recd;—but as I supposed you too much busied with matters of moment to spend time in an amateur correspondence even with a friend, I refrained from writing you in return, though especially tempted to do so. Before I say a word, let me beseech you to remember that you & I are on such terms that any question I may ask you or any request I may make may be treated precisely as a suggestion springing up in your own mind, entertained & thrown aside at your pleasure.— This being admitted,—I proceed— A change in politics has again had an unfavorable influence upon fortunes of our frnd Patterson,[3]—reduced him as he says to "Shoemaker's wages"— He is anxious to "quit a busines which has now become an unrequited drudgery & almost odious" to him— Such is his language— He is negotiating with a gentlemn relative to the sale of his books, in order he says "to enable him to pursue his studies" etc— — All this shows that he is reduced almost to the verge of despair,—for you know he idolizes his books— Besides the plan I think is a very unwise one & may exercise a most unhappy effect upon his future life— I have therefore determd to consult with his frnds & see if we cannot propose something better, than his project of parting with what he holds so dear, & abandoning all employment but study with its inevitably bad consequences— — I start for Alby in a few minutes for the very purpose,—tho I have little hopes of effecting any thing—
I write you to enquire if there is any probability of your being able ultimately to give him a place in the Institute.[4] It has occerd to me that if you should determ to publish a journal ↑etc↓, his services would be invaluable,—from his perfect acquaintance with his business—as a[A] general directer in all matters relating to your printing, proof reading etc no trifling affair where mathematical symbols are concernd—for not one math. work in twenty publihd in the country is printed with even tolerable accuracy— — A very modest salary would I presume satisfy him,—barely enough to support his family,—provd the position would be such as to give him a reasonable degree of leisure—
You mentnd the place of Calculater in the Coast Survey,—I have said[B] nothing to him about it,—as I was entirly ignorant of its dutie's, emolumt perid of its continuance etc— —
Is there no place at Washington under the governt that ↑would↓ answer for him, & which could be procured if a powerful influence were exerted in his favor— — If you are not too busy will you give the subject some consideration & write me soon.— But as I said at first, we must not be troublesome to you,—Patterson himself is wonderfuly averse to troubling any one with his matters— I presume he would object to my writing to you.— If you could afford the time,[C] I should like to hear a little about the Institute,—your plans etc all strictly entr nous— —
I am now attempting to prepare something on Physical Optic's[5]— I have nearly completed the generl exposition of the theory,—the principle of interference & its application to to reflection & ordinary refraction,—& the colors of thin plates & diffraction— I am so prodigeously afraid that I may make some egregious blunder, that I shall scarcely dare publish it unless I can get some one to well acquainted with the subject to read it over,—to give it a rapid reading at least— As there is not much reference to figures, it would require but little time. If you could borrow the time requisite,—it would gratify me,—but dont say that you can, if it will prove any serious inconvenience,—it may be out of the question, in which case dont hesitate to say no at once,— If I did not feel confidence in your frendship I should not make this request,—reciprocate it by saying nay,—if there is any thing in the way of granting it— We are all tolerly well— Myself suffering from dyspepsia as usual, when I confine myself to the study,—if I had a vacation of a week I would make you a visit— Mrs J[6] recd Mrs Henrys kind invitation by Miss Rily[7]— It would give her great plasure[D] to visit Princeton, & as she owes our frnds in Philadelph a visit it may be effected—
Poor Alexander, What an affliction has he been visited with, from the little I know of his character & habits I shouled think he would feel it most deeply— — With the kindest remembrance of Mrs J & myself to yourself & Mrs Henry

your frn

Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives. Reply: Draft, August 2, 1847, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Union College. Henry Papers, 1:254n.
    [2] Not found, but probably a response to Jackson's letter to Henry of November 30, 1846 (Henry Papers, 6:542.)
    [3] John Paterson, a mathematician and printer for whom Jackson repeatedly tried to find employment. Henry Papers, 4:14n.
    [4] No position was found. In his response, Henry excused the delay by claiming that Jackson's letter “was received at a time when I was . . . in the midst of the bustle of electioneering for the carrying of my plans of the smithsonian I could not say what would be the results and whether there would be any place for a person of the character of Patterson. ”
    [5] We have found no evidence that Jackson ever completed this.
    [6] Elizabeth Pomeroy Jackson. Proceedings of the Sesqui–Centennial Gathering of the Descendants of Isaac and Ann Jackson . . . (Philadelphia, 1878), p. 128.
    [7] Jane Ryley was an old family friend. Henry Papers, 1:445.
    [A] Altered from he
    [B] Altered from h
    [C] Altered from leisure
    [D] Altered from h