06 July 2011

Fatherly Advice

Frustration continues, as I try to hack together one or two minor projects for placement somewhere in the vast interwebs of humankind’s collective wisdom/insanity. While trying to find anything new that might be going on on the Patrick Henry front, I stumbled into another one of those noxious collections of pseudo-Christian mock-patriotic quotations, this one of course including the Henry “religionists” and the Madison “ten commandments” frauds. Since where one hoax turns up there are likely to be others, I glanced through the set, hoping for some new gem of fake-oratory or the like, and stumbled on this item, attributed to John Jay:
The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.
The first thing that bugged me about this one is that it appears to be directed to children, somewhat in the manner of one of Noah Webster’s primers. The second thing was that it didn’t seem much like John Jay—not the John Jay of the Federalist Papers anyway. And the third thing was that I couldn’t find it in any of online editions of Jay’s works.

And gradually, as I idly Googled it, looking for anybody quoting it who actually gave a source (and striking out), it crossed my mind that it seemed familiar. I had an increasingly strong mental image of a document, a scan of an actual manuscript page—not just a transcript of some sort. A father’s words to his son—that was it. But where had I seen it? And more important, when? If this was something I’d seen on microfilm at some far gone time in some distant library and maybe noted down in one of the many notes I lost in storage a couple of years back, my chances of relocating it by that route were slim to none. But it was far more likely that this was something I’d seem relatively recently, online, in one of those amazing digital repositories that are now proliferating. I scurried over to the Columbia University John Jay papers project—and struck out again. Damn.

By this point I was fairly sure that this quotation was legitimate, that I was looking at John Jay’s fatherly advice to his son Peter. The facts were coming back to me a little vaguely, but they were coming back—or so I thought. I decided to dig up my personal fake quotation index and look through it even so—and damned if it wasn’t there, flagged as “genuine”. There was even a link back to the John Jay papers project. So here’s what John Jay wrote to his eight-year-old son, Peter Augustus Jay, on 8 April 1784:
She [your aunt] also tells me that you love your Books, and take great pains to improve yourself. that you daily read in the Bible and have have learned by Heart some Hymns in the Book I sent you. These accounts give me great pleasure, and I love you the more for being such a good Boy.—The Bible is the best of all Books, for it is the word of God, and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the other {next}. Continue therefore to read it, and to regulate your Life by its precepts.

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