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TO THE REVEREND JONATHAN BOUCHER.
From several concurring causes, which exist at this moment, at the eve of my departure for Williamsburg, I have both my head and hands too full of business to allow me time to write more than a hasty letter. This, however, I shall attempt to do, in answer to yours of the 4th instant.
In my last I informed you, that the friends (I do not by this confine myself to the relations only) of Mr. Custis were divided in opinion, as to the propriety of his travelling, not because they thought advantages would not result from it, but on account of the expense, as he would commence his tour with the heavy charge, which you thought requisite to induce you to accompany him, and which would at once anticipate half his income. His estate is of that kind, which rather comes under the denomination of a large than a profitable one. This divided opinion was a sufficient cause, I observed in my last, for me to be circumspect in my conduct, as I am accountable to another tribunal, besides that in my own breast, for the part I am to act on this occasion. You cannot but know, that every farthing, expended in behalf of this young gentleman, must undergo the inspection of the General Court, in their examination of my guardianship accounts, and that it would be imprudent in me to permit him to launch into any uncommon or extravagant course, especially at a time when a heavy and expensive chancery suit is instituted against his estate, without first knowing whether such a charge would be approved by those, who have a constitutional right to judge of the expediency or propriety of the measure.
These are the reasons why I said in my last letter, that my own inclinations were still as strong as ever for Mr. Custis's pursuing his travelling scheme, provided the Court should approve of the expense, and provided, also, that it should appear, when his judgment was a little more matured, that he was desirous of undertaking this tour upon a plan of improvement, rather than a vague desire of gratifying an idle curiosity, or spending his money. If his mother does not speak her own sentiments, rather than his, he is lukewarm in the scheme ; and I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that his education, from what I have understood of his improvement, however advanced it may be for a youth of his age, is by no means ripe enough for a travelling tour. Not that I think his becoming a mere scholar is a desirable education for a gentleman, but I conceive a knowledge of books is the basis upon which other knowledge is to be built, and in travelling he is to become acquainted with men and things rather than books. At present, however well versed he may be in the principles of the Latin language (which is not to be wondered at, as he began the study of it as soon as he could speak), he is unacquainted with several of the classical authors, that might be useful to him. He is ignorant of Greek, the advantages of learning which I do not pretend to judge of, and he knows nothing of French, which is absolutely necessary to him as a traveller. He has little or no acquaintance with arithmetic, and is totally ignorant of the mathematics, than which, at least so much of them as relates to surveying, nothing can be more essentially necessary to any man possessed of a large landed estate, the bounds of some part or other of which are always in controversy.
Now, whether he has time between this and next spring to acquire a sufficient knowledge of these studies, or so much of them as is requisite, I leave you to judge ; as also whether a boy of seventeen years old, which will be his age next November, can have any just notions of the end and design of travelling. I have already given it as my opinion, that it would be precipitating this event, unless he were to go immediately to the university for a couple of years, in which case he could see nothing of America ; which might be a disadvantage to him, as it is to be expected that every man, who travels with a view of observing the laws and customs of other countries, should be able to give some description of the situation and government of his own.
Upon the whole, it is impossible for me at this time to give a more decisive answer, however strongly inclined I may be to put you upon a certainty in this affair, than I have done ; and I should think myself wanting in candor, if I concealed any circumstance from you, which leads me to fear, that there is a possibility, if not a probability, that the whole design may be totally defeated. Before I ever thought myself at liberty to encourage this plan, I judged it highly reasonable and necessary, that his mother should be consulted. I laid your first letter and proposals before her, and desired that she would reflect well, before she resolved, as an unsteady behaviour might be a disadvantage to you. Her determination was, that, if it appeared to be his inclination to undertake this tour, and it should be judged for his benefit, she would not oppose it, whatever pangs it might give her to part with him. To this declaration she still adheres, but in so faint a manner, that I think, with her fears and his indifference, it will soon be declared he has no inclination to go. I do not say that this will be the case. I cannot speak positively ; but as this is the result of my own reflections upon the matter, I thought it but fair to communicate it to you.
Several causes, I believe, have concurred to make her view his departure, as the time approaches, with more reluctance than she expected. The unhappy situation of her daughter has in some degree fixed her eyes upon him as her only hope. To what I have already said, I can only add, that my warmest wishes are to see him prosecute a plan, at a proper period, which I may be sure will redound to his advantage, and that nothing shall be wanting on my part to aid and assist him. In the event of his going, I should think myself highly favored, and him much honored, by Governor Eden's letters of introduction. Such letters, with others that might be procured, could not fail of having their advantages.
You will please to make my compliments to Mr. Dulany, and assure him, that I have not the vestige of a house at the Frederic Springs, otherwise it should have been, if unengaged, much at his service. The two seasons I spent there I occupied a house of Mr. Mercer's.
I am, &c.
- The Writings of George Washington Vol II, Jared Sparks, 1847