Voices from the 18th Century: Hopkinson Dedication to George Washington
A statesman, musician, and man of many talents, Francis Hopkinson is best remembered as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
He was deeply inclined towards music, played the harpsichord from the age of seventeen, and is recognized as the composer of the earliest surviving American musical composition—a song for voice and harpsichord entitled “My Days have been so Wondrous Free,” written in 1759.
However, he didn’t regard the distinction for “My Days” as his first, perhaps because it went unpublished. He considered another work to have pride of place, a collection of pieces, “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano,” published in Philadelphia (1788) and dedicated to George Washington, months shy of his election as the first president of the United States.
Hopkinson’s dedication is a tour de force statement of humility, patriotism, and hope for the arts in a nascent country.
To His Excellency
George Washington, Esquire
I EMBRACE, with heart-felt satisfaction, every opportunity that offers of recognizing the personal Friendship that hath so long subsisted between us. The present Occasion allows me to do this in a manner most flattering to my Vanity; and I have accordingly taken advantage of it, by presenting this Work to your Patronage, and honouring it with you Name.
It cannot be thought an unwarrantable anticipation to look up to you as seated in the most dignified situation that a grateful People can offer. The Universally avowed Wish of America, and the Nearness of the Period in which that Wish will be accomplished, sufficiently justify such an Anticipation; from which arises a confident Hope, that the same Wisdom and Virtue which has so successfully conducted the Arms of the United States in Times of Invasion, War, and Tumult, will prove also the successful Patron of Arts and Sciences in Times of national Peace and Prosperity; and that the Glory of America will rise conspicuous under a Government designated by the Will, and an Administration founded in the Hearts of THE PEOPLE.
With respect to the little Work, which I have now the honour to present to your notice, I can only say that it is such as Lover, not a Master, of the Arts can furnish. I am neither a profess’d poet, nor a profess’d Musician; and yet venture to appear in those characters united; for which, I confess, the censure of Temerity may justly be brought against me.
If these Songs should not be so fortunate as to please the young Performers, for whom they are intended, they will at least not occasion much Trouble in learning to perform them; and this will, I hope, be some Alleviation of their Disappointment.
However small the Reputation may be that I shall derive from this Work, I cannot, I believe, be refused the Credit of being the first Native of the United States who has produced a Musical Composition. If this attempt should not be too severely treated, others may be encouraged to venture on a path, yet untrodden in America, and the Arts in succession will take root and flourish amongst us.
I hope for your favorable Acceptance of this Mark of my Affection and Respect, and have the Honour to be Your Excellency’s most obedient, and Most Humble Servant,
Philadelphia, Nov. 20th, 1788.
Learn More: Who is Francis Hopkinson?
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