Washington DC: January 10, 1878. 9.75" x 7.5", 3 pp., on lined stationary, impeccable, crisp, readable penmanship. Very fine letter in which Henry writes to Joseph Patterson to thank him for setting up a Smithsonian Institution testimonial to himself. Henry is effusive in his humility and generous in his gratitude. Better than average content from a prson whos signature is seldom encountered. This may have been one of the last letters he ever signed; he mentions an illness in the firs line and he died a few months later on May 13, 1878.
The first Smithsonian Secretary, Joseph Henry, served from 1846 to 1878. A professor at the College of New Jersey, he was a physicist who conducted pioneering research in electromagnetism and helped set the Smithsonian on its course. Too poor to pay tuition, Henry did not attend the Albany Academy until the late age of 21 despite being admitted to the school earlier. When a position opened up in 1826, Henry accepted a job as the school’s professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and it was here that he began his scientific research on electromagnetism and made possible the development of the telegraph. In 1832 Henry was named professor of natural philosophy at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and his tour of European scientific centers in 1837 established his international reputation in science. Henry’s achievements as both an educator and scientist made him a prime candidate for the position of Smithsonian Secretary. Today his statue stands outside the Smithsonian Castle in D.C. Item #3109
"My dear Sir: Your letter of the 20th of December was duly received...I received the first intimation of a movement on hte part of my friends to complement me by a pecuniary testimonial, with feelings of doubt as to the propriety of its acceptance, especially in respect to the faithful discharge of my duties in connection with he Smithsonian Institution and the United States Light House Board. / Permit me to say in explanation of this, without subjecting myself to the charge of egotism, that I resolved at an early age, to preserve my independence by never expending more than my income, and since I have been in public life, I have studiously avoided accepting propositions which have been made to me to lend my name to the advocacy of any enterprises of a speculative character, or to accept the offered means which have been presented to me for acquiring property, but which might compromise my independence in regard to the public acts. / But when I learn from your letter, the character of the testimonial now rendered, and the names of its contributors, I cannot refuse to accept it. Nothing could be more gratifying to my feelings than the manner in which this affair has been arranged and conducted. It is intended not only to administer to the comfort of myself and family during our lives, but also of afterwards, to advance the cause of science, by the application of a fund to which my name is to be attached. Most of the contributors are my personal friends, and all are of such huge standing as to command the confidence and respect of the public / I beg leave to express to them, through you, my profound sense of the value of the complement they have paid me and the delicacy and Kindness of the manner in which it has been rendered. It shall be my constant prayer to be preserved during the small remainder of my ife, from doing anything to diminish the good opinion which they have entertained in regard to me or which may tend to lessen the influence of their example in the way of high appreciation of science don the future action of wealthy and influential citizens of our country. Accept for yourself my dear sir, the assurance of my grateful sense of the manner in which you have communicated to me the action of the contributors to the testimonial and believe me very truly your friend and servant. /s/ Joseph Henry
Joseph Patterson Esq. Philadelphia.