A Christmas Quote

(possibly the first of a few)

One of the fun aspects of working with historic documents is seeing annual events through other people’s eyes.  I initially found this quote from an 1834 Christmastime letter to be entertaining in a macabre way (I first read it shortly after Halloween). On reflection, it seems to parallel a little our situation with the various flus. Perhaps it is also a reminder that even in the midst of despair, there can still be joy. Or, more cynically, it is a lesson in the relationship between social/economic standing and health. At any rate, I give you Christmas in Richmond, 1834.

“the Cholera has been threatening us, and given some very severe intimations of what it can do, it has not, however, yet invaded the higher ranks of society, and we go on feasting—dancing & making merry as tho’ the Enemy were not at the Gate” – Sarah (Sally) Coles Stevenson to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, 24 December 1834,

Original at the Library of Virginia. Transcription from The Dolley Madison Digital Edition, ed. Holly C. Shulman. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2004.

Quote from Miss Ann Maury, March 9, 1832

Miss Ann Maury was born and raised in England to an English mother and an American father. James Maury, her father, was consul at Liverpool from 1790 to 1829.  She kept a diary, and part of it has been published, from the 1830s after her family moved (back) to the United States.

She writes that her American friends asked her to tell them what she thought of the United States, and among her comments is this observation:

Education is distributed here more equally as money & every other comfort is the result so that such persons as Mechanics, Tradesmen, Farmers &c. are better educated than the same class in England & certainly they claim & are entitled to a higher station in society here, but there are very few indeed who receive that high education which is given to so many at the English universities.  Some attribute to that cause the appearance of so little American literature, but I think there is another reason for that, namely the cheapness with which books written in England can be published here. The publisher has only to purchase a copy to print from & all he wants is a moderate profit upon the paper & printing. He has nothing to pay the Author – but when an American Author applies to the Book-seller, he expects to receive some remuneration for his labours in addition to the publishers profit spoken of above

Ann Maury, diary, as quoted in Intimate Virginiana: A Century of Maury Travels by Land and Sea, Anne Fontaine Maury, ed (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, 1941) 199-200.

Quote on History

“Human nature is the same in every age if we make allowance for the difference of customs & Education, so that we learn to know ourselves by studying the opinions and passions of others”
-William Bradford (paraphrasing Hume) in a letter to James Madison, October [1772], original in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Transcription from William T. Hutchinson & William M. E. Rachal, eds. Papers of James Madison, vol 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press , 1962), 73.