ELLERY, WILLIAM, Signer (Rhode Island). A group of 26 autograph letters signed ("Wm. Ellery") to his son, George Wanton Ellery, attending Washington Academy, addressed to him at "Capt. Barney's, Wickford"; all from Newport, R.I., various dates from 4 August 1802 to 6 August 1806. Together 50 1/2 pages, small 4to, seven letters preserving integral address leaves with panels addressed by the Signer, two letters with a small rectangular portion bearing signature clipped away by some witless wretch, otherwise all in remarkably fine condition, with untrimmed edges.
A SEPTAUGENARIAN SIGNER COUNSELS HIS YOUNGEST SON ON READING, STUDY, RELIGION AND LIFE
A most exceptional series of letters--thoughtful, concerned, affectionate and gently admonishing in tone--from the septaugenarian Signer to his youngest son, away from home, attending Washington Academy in Wickford. 4 August 1802 (After promising to send the youth on to College, in time): "...It is my highest wish that you should be so educated as to assist you in becoming a useful and honorable member of Society; and if I can give you such an education it will be the best legacy I can leave you. In acquiring knowledge everything depend upon industry and perseverence. There is nothing so hard that these common talents will not overcome...." 25 January 1803: "...I wish to see you a strong, vigorous boy, not a puny, effeminate one...In the way the education of boys seems to be proceeding, in a few years there will be nothing to distinguish them from girls but their dress....Air is the life of man, and it is imbibed by vessels spread all over the body...as well as by breathing....An Indian being asked how he would go with his backside bare, replied 'My --- is like your face.' As far as our constitution will bear it, and decency admit, we should expose ourselves naked to the air, and not weaken ourselves...by covering every part of the body as far as we can...." 26 March 1803: "...You must have been very diligent to have gone through the Latin grammar so soon....[I am] instructing your nephew...in the Latin language...By learning him I renew my knowledge of Latin; so that if I should live a year or two, and you should continue to improve...I may not be far behind you in classical learning.....Remember that it is the mind that makes the man...."16 June l803: "...I am sorry that your fishing diversion was interrupted by a dogfish; and that he broke your line. There are not only dogs among fish, but there are dogs among men, and you will have good luck if some of them should not be troublesome to you...." 20 September 1805: "...I hope you will begin to acquire a relish for reading useful books. Besides the instruction to be derived...reading composes the mind when disturbed, and renders it fit for reflection and for forming a right judgement. I have repeatedly experienced this, and I thank God that I was taught to read....I would not wish for you to be a Book Worm, because it might interfere with business....There are a great number of useful books...." 12 November 1805: "...I cannot help smiling at your going to see the invisible Lady...The communication betwen the temple, and the invisible Lady is a matter of difficult investigation; but there certainly must be one; otherwise...she could not make proper responses to the questions. If the mode of conveying sound...was known, there would be an end to curiosity; - and it would probably appear to be a very easy performance as...was that of Colombus making an egg stand on the small end. When he returned from Spain from the famous expedition in which he discovered America, some of the Grandees...said that there was no difficulty in it. Any body might have done the same. Columbus, who patiently bore their jeers, ordered an egg to be brought, and asked them whether they could make it stand up on its small end. They all said no, it was impossible. He then by gently striking it on the table flattened the end, and it stood. They then exclaimed that any body could make an egg stand on its small end. Yes said he when they have seen it done..." 4 March 1806: "I wish you to become acquainted with the principles of the Mathematics....I wish that you should know the use of both the Globes [terrestrial and celestial]....The colours are now flying on the Liberty Poles to celebrate, the election of the President of the United States [Thomas Jefferson, inaugurated for his second term a year before], and I presume the Court House, and Liberty Tree will be illuminated the evening....Public days are not celebrated with such animation as they formerly were, owing perhaps to their having been often repeated...." 24 April 1806: "I...have no objection to your learning to dance, for as Pope says they move easiest who have learnt to dance...It appears by your letter that it will not interfere with your studies....it is ofmuch higher importance to indocrinate the head of a young man than his heels....24 June 1806: "...When you shall leave [the Academy], I shall endeavour to place you in a situation where you may acquire a knowledge of Merchant's accounts, and be prepared for mercantile life....[Learning] is of more value than riches..." 12 July 1806: "...As the time will soon arrive when you will bid adieu to Academical life, I hope you will employ the last hours of it diligently....A disposition to please, and an honest heart, united with a pious temper are, bad as the world is, the best letters of recommendation we can carry along with us through life. Possessed of these we need not fear being dug up by the spade, or cut down by the axe...."
Any group of a Signer's letters of this extent is quite rare on the market. One letter from this extensive correspondence was exhibited by descendants of Ellery at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, according to a copy of a document which accompanies the group. William Ellery (1727-1820) attended Harvard, practiced law, was a delegate to the Continental Congress from l776 until l786 (except 1780 and 1782) and served on a number of important committees. In 1790 he was rewarded with the appointment of Collector of the Port for Newport, which office he held until his death at an advanced age.