For all its wars and difficulties the eighteenth century was a delightful time, as this charming exchange of letters attests. The English gentleman who wrote the first one was Jacob Bouvene, 2nd Earl of Radnor, seen next to his massive country house, Longford Castle, in Salisbury, Wiltshire. He had been a pro-American Whig member of the Commons until he inherited his title and moved to the Lords in 1776. The original of his letter is now at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the reply that Radnor received from a sometime English gentleman at Mount Vernon is still at Longford, in the possession of the 7th Earl, through whose courtesy both are reproduced here for the first time.
Longford Castle, January 19th, 1797.
Tho of necessity a stranger to you, I cannot deny myself the satisfaction among the many, who will probably even from this country intrude upon your Retirement, of offering to you my congratulations on your withdrawing yourself from the scene of public affairs with a character which appears to be perfectly unrivalled in History—the voluntary Resignation of Authority, wielded as it was while you saw fit to wield it, for the advantage of your country in the universal opinion of mankind, confirms the judgement I had presumed to form of your moderation, and completes the Glory of your Life.
Permit me Sir, who, enlisted in no political party, have as a public man looked up to you with veneration; who have seen the beginning of your career against England with approbation, because I felt England was unjust; who have seen you discontinue your Hostility toward England, when in Good Faith she was no longer acting as an Enemy to America but was by Honest Councils endeavoring to be closely connected in Amity, as she is by natural and mutual interests; who have seen you the Instrument in the Hand of Providence of wresting from the British Minister an influence destructive of the just Rights of both Countries, and of establishing the Independence of America, which I am persuaded will eventually, if your Principles and your Wisdom shall actuate your Successors, be the means of securing them respectively to us both; who have seen you in Adversity and in Prosperity alike the good, the firm, the moderate, the honest, the disinterested Patriot; Permit me, I say, as an Englishman, to rejoice at the Completion of such a Character, and to offer my unfeigned wishes dictated by respect for a peaceful evening of your Life, and the Realization (as in my sincere Belief) of your posthumous Fame, and your eternal Happiness.
I have the Honour, Sir, to subscribe myself your very obedient humble servant.
To George Washington, Esq.
Mount Vernon, 8th July 1797.
The sentiments which your Lordship has been pleased to express (in your favour of the igth of January last) relative to my public conduct, do me great honour;—and I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgment of the unequivocal evidence it conveys, of the favourable opinion you entertain of the principles by which it was actuated.
For having performed duties, (which I conceive every Country has a right to require of its citizens) I claim no merit; but no man can feel more sensibly, the reward of approbation for such services, than I do.—Next to the consciousness of having acted faithfully in discharging the several trusts to which I have been called, the thanks of one’s Country, and the esteem of good men, is the highest gratification my mind is susceptible of.—
I am now placed in the shade of my Vine and Fig tree; and at the age of sixty-five, am re-commencing my Agricultural and Rural pursuits, which were always more congenial to my temper and disposition than the noise and bustle of public employment, not withstanding so small a portion of my life has been engaged in the former.—
I reciprocate with great cordiality the good wishes you have been pleased to bestow upon me;—and pray devoutly, that we may both witness, and that shortly, the return of Peace; for a more bloody, expensive and eventful War,∗ is not recorded in modern, if to be found in ancient history.—
∗Washington refers to one of the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars, in progress off and on until 1815.
I have the honour to be
Your Lordship’s Most obedient and Very Hble Servant, (Signed) G. Washington.
To the Earl of Radnor.