Tour in Holland in MDCCLXXXIV. By an American.
FROM THE LIBRARY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON AT MOUNT VERNON: First edition, presentation copy of Elkanah Watson's Tour in Holland; inscribed by him to George Washington
Tour in Holland in MDCCLXXXIV. By an American.
[WATSON, Elkanah] [George Washington].
Item Number: 143919
Printed at Worcester, Massachusetts: Isaiah Thomas, 1790.
First edition, presentation copy of a scarce volume from George Washington’s library at Mount Vernon. Octavo, bound in full contemporary sheep with pine gilt in six compartments within raised bands, burgundy morocco spine label lettered in gilt, type-ornament title-page vignette, head and tailpieces. Presentation copy, inscribed by the author to George Washington on the front pastedown, “From the Author to General Washington” and further inscribed on the front free 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 American Revolution, he represented the firm in Nantes. After the war he opened his own mercantile firm in London with fellow Freemason François Cossoul. In early 1782, the firm proposed to send to General Washington—likewise a Freemason—”elegant Masonic ornaments” in honor of his “glorious efforts in support of American liberty” (Papers, 23 January 1782; Early Access Document). Washington later graciously thanked his “Brothers”: “The Masonick Ornamts which accompanied your Brotherly Address of the 23d of Jany last, tho’ elegant in themselves, were rendered more valuable by the flattering sentiments, and affectionate manner, in which they were presented. If my endeavours to avert the Evil, with which this Country was threatned by a deliberate plan of Tyranny, should be crowned with the success that is wished—the praise is due to the Grand Architect of the Universe; who did not see fit to suffer his superstructures and Justice, to be subjected to the Ambition of the Princes of this World, or to the rod of oppression, in the hands of any power upon Earth” (Papers, 10 August 1782; Early Access Document).
In January 1785, after returning to America from London, Watson visited Mount Vernon, delivering to George Washington a group of books from Granville Sharp, as well as several letters from mutual acquaintances in London. Watson later wrote 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 Mt. Vernon, the seat of Washington. No pilgrim had ever approached Mecca, with deeper enthusiasm. … I found him at table with Mrs. Washington and his private family, and was received in the native dignity and with that 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 found him kind and benignant in the domestic circle, revered and beloved by all around him; agreeably social, without ostentation; delighting in anecdote and adventures, without assumption; his domestic arrangements harmonious and systematic. His servants seemed to watch his eye, and to anticipate his every wish; hence a look was equivalent to a command. His servant Billy, the faithful companion of his military career, was always at his side. Smiling content animated and beamed on every countenance in his presence.” Watson was particularly taken that Washington himself carried an evening cup of tea to his room.
In 1789, Watson settled in Albany, investing in land, becoming an important advocate for canals in close association with Philip Schuyler, and helping to found the Bank of Albany. In 1790, he had privately printed, anonymously, his Tour in Holland, an epistolary account of his visit to the country in may and June 1784, including his time spent there in company with John Adams. In a 26 December 1790 letter to Adams, Watson comments on the publication of 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 also presented a copy to Thomas Jefferson (Sowerby 3872).
A few copies must have remained, however, because it was not until Washington’s term as president was nearly completed that Watson sent the volume to him: “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. Shou’d 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” (Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Garbooshian-Huggins, 21: 677–680).
“Mr Van Renssalaer” is likely Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, a friend of Watson’s who represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1790. He was a member of the board of directors and later president of the Bank of Albany, which Watson helped to organized. In 1791, the two men toured of central New York together to “scrutinize the opinions on the subject of inland navigation” (Men and Times of the Revolution, 335–36).
In his will, George Washington bequeathed his “library of Books and Pamphlets of every kind” to his nephew Bushrod Washington. The library remained largely intact at Mount Vernon, which Bushrod also inherited, until his own death 1829, when it was divided between two of his nephews, George Corbin Washington and John Augustine Washington. In 1848, George Corbin Washington sold some 350 books and 450 unbound pamphlets from his portion of the library to Henry Stevens, who eventually placed it in the Boston Athenaeum, where it remains today as the largest single collection of Washington’s books. The part of the library descended to John Augustine Washington was dispersed at various auction sales between 1876 and 1891. Evans 23039; ESTC W28335; Sabin 102136
In very good condition. Housed in a custom full morocco clamshell box.