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JQA Diary, volume 40 10 January 1836
JQA Neal Millikan Religion Smithsonian Institution American Revolution

10. V:30. Sunday.

Morning service at the Presbyterian Church. Mr Bishop preached from Matthew 5.16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven— Mr Wardwell was in my pew; but the congregation was very thin— This young man preaches good works too much for the taste of a Presbyterian Calvinistic Society— His discourses are all practical. They rivet the attention of his hearers, and are never tedious— He preaches more to my satisfaction than any other person whom for many years I have heard in this City— After Church I called successively upon Mr Bankhead, the Charge d’Affaires from Great Britain, and upon Coll. Aspinwall, who is at Fullers, to enquire if either of them could give me any further information respecting Mr James Smithson, but they could not— I was desirous of obtaining it for the purpose of introducing into the Report of the Committee upon his bequest some complimentary notice of the donor— But so little are the feelings of others in unison with mine on this occasion, and so strange is this donation of half a million of dollars, for the noblest of purposes, that no one thinks of attributing it to a benevolent motive. Vail intimates in his Letter that the man was supposed to be insane— Bankhead thinks he must have had republican propensities, which is probable— Coll. Aspinwall conjectures that Mr Smithson was an antenuptial son, of the first duke and duchess of Northumberland; and thus an elder brother of the late duke— But how he came to have a nephew named Hungerford, son of a brother named Dickinson and why he made this contingent bequest to the United States of America, no one can tell— The report if it hazards any reflection upon the subject must be very guarded. Mr Bankhead thought it was a fine windfall for the city of Washington, and hoped if a professor of divinity should be wanted, we should remember his friend Hawley.— Mrs Bankhead was in admiration of the splendid edifice that might be erected with the money— Coll. Aspinwall said it would be easy to obtain the information which I desired in England; but that he had made no enquiries at the time when he had procured, and forwarded to the Department of State a copy of the Will, because the bequest was then contingent, and it was very uncertain whether it would ever take effect.— The will was made in 1826— The year before which the Testator’s nephew, the present Duke of Northumberland, had been upon a magnificent Embassy Extraordinary, at the Coronation of Charles the 10th. of France. There seems to have been a determination in the mind of the Testator, that his Estate should in no event go to the Duke of Northumberland or to any of his family— But certainly in the bequest itself there is a high and honourable sentiment of philanthropy, and a glorious testimonial of confidence in the Institutions of this Union. A stranger to this Country, knowing it only by its history, bearing in his person the blood of the Percy’s and the Seymour’s, brother to a nobleman of the highest rank in British heraldry; who fought against the Revolution of our Independence at Bunker’s Hill, that he should be the man to found at the City of Washington for the United States of America an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men, 160is an event in which I see the finger of Providence compassing great results by incomprehensible means— May the Congress of the Union, be deeply impressed with the solemn duties devolving upon them by this trust, and carry it into effect in the fullness of its Spirit, and to the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men— After dinner I attended at St. John’s Church. Mr Hawley read prayers for the first Sunday after the Epiphany—with only the second Lesson of the day, and gave a brief discourse upon a text from the Psalms— Heavy Gale of wind, and a light snow.