Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, 1790. iii-viii,,10-191,pp. Without the half title. Contemporary sheep, spine with raised bands, red morocco label, a.e.g. Boards rubbed, joints a bit worn. Occasional tanning and foxing. Tear in lower margin of leaf H2, touching four letters of text. Very good. Item #WRCAM55465
Inscribed by Elkanah Watson on the front pastedown, "From the Author / to / General Washington," and inscribed on the front endpaper:
"New York, Feb. 1798 / Sir, Please to accept this small production which has stole its way into the world. If it can beguile one moment of that anxiety which doubtless pervades your paternal mind in the present crisis of our affairs, or will create a smile or amuse you for a single evening, I shall put myself doubly compensated and am with profound respect & gratitude. Your fellow Citizen, E. Watson."
Elkanah Watson began his professional career working for businessman John Brown in Providence, and during the Revolution represented the firm in Nantes, France. After the war he would open his own mercantile firm in London with fellow Freemason François Cossoul. In January 1785, after returning from London, Watson visited Mount Vernon, delivering to Washington a group of books from Granville Sharp, as well as several letters from mutual acquaintances in London. He would later write of the visit in his MEN AND TIMES OF THE REVOLUTION:
"I had feasted my imagination for several days of the near prospect of a visit to Mount Vernon, the seat of Washington. No pilgrim had ever approached Mecca, with deeper enthusiasm....I found him at a table, with Mrs. Washington and his private family, and was received with the native dignity and urbanity so peculiarly combined in the character of a soldier and eminent private gentleman. He soon put me at ease, by unbending, in a free and affable conversation....I observed a peculiarity in his smile, which seemed to illuminate his eye; his whole countenance beamed with intelligence, while it commanded confidence and respect."
Watson details his two-day stay at Mount Vernon, with much on their discussions concerning canals and inland navigation, and including the anecdote of experiencing a night-time coughing fit and having Washington himself appear at his bedside with a cup of tea.
In 1789, Watson settled in Albany, investing in land in the region, becoming an important advocate for canals in close association with Philip Schuyler, and serving on the board of the Bank of Albany. In 1790 he would anonymously publish his TOUR IN HOLLAND, an epistolary account of his experiences visiting the country from May to June, 1784, including his time spent there with John Adams. In a December 26, 1790 letter to Adams, Watson gives interesting detail on the publication of his TOUR IN HOLLAND: "The present edition of the little performance I sent you, consists of only 350 [copies], most of which have run off beyond my expectations." Besides Adams and Washington, Watson would later send a copy to Thomas Jefferson (Sowerby 3872).
Further details on the present inscribed copy to Washington are found in a February 10, 1798 letter to Washington, known from the retained copy in Watson's papers at the New York State Library. Watson writes, echoing the inscription in the book:
"I take the liberty to transmit to you by Mr. Van Renssalaer my Short Tour in Holland in 1784, the year previous to my visit to your hospitable mansion. Should it beguile a few moments from the weighty concerns of our new born Nation, in the Solemn crisis in which we are now involved, it will be grateful to me."
The "crisis" referred to by Watson in both the inscription and letter was the impending Quasi-War with France, for which President Adams would recall Washington from his retirement in July 1798 to once again serve as commander of the American forces.
The Mr. Van Rensselaer referred to in the letter is likely Jeremiah Van Rensselaer (1738-1810), a close associate of Watson and the president of the Bank of Albany, who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the First Congress and was the brother-in- law of Philip Schuyler (and the maternal uncle of Alexander Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth). See other letters written by Van Rensselaer on Watson's behalf, including a June 1802 letter to President Thomas Jefferson.
After his death, George Washington's library of nearly 1,200 volumes was dispersed. In his will Washington left his "library of Books and Pamphlets of every kind," along with all of his personal papers, to his nephew, Bushrod Washington. In 1829, when Bushrod Washington died, George Washington's original library and papers passed to Bushrod's two nephews, George Corbin Washington and John Augustine Washington II. In 1847 the former sold a large portion of the books to bookseller Henry Stevens, who in turn sold the collection nearly en bloc to the Boston Athenæum, where they still reside. The volumes inherited by John Augustine Washington II passed to his son, John Augustine Washington III. However, in 1858 he removed the books from Mount Vernon before its transfer to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Many of those volumes were sold by his heirs at auction in 1876; however, the present volume was not among the lots recorded in the 1876 auction. Like the present volume, the majority of the books from Washington's library were not signed by Washington and do not contain Washington's 1771 bookplate. EVANS 23039. SABIN 102136.