The Ancient Virtue of Gratitude

THIS letter was written, more than seventy-five years ago, by a schoolmaster to a wealthy and benevolent clergyman of the Church of England, in acknowledgment of a present of old clothing.

Reverend and worthy, indulgent and compassionate, bounteous and ever valuable sir!

The present you have sent has laid me under an obligation to write rather sooner than I intended, and if I were not to seize the very first opportunity that offered, to return thanks for so very valuable a present, I should be guilty of such a piece of insensibility as that the very stones (to allude to the dialect of Heaven) would become vocal and rise to upbraid me, especially as a few grateful expressions may be easily uttered, without any expense obtained, and the best that can be rendered to any person, by whom such kindness is bestowed. No one is more ready to acknowledge a benefit, nor perhaps less able to make a retaliation than myself. I have it in my heart to do as much and in my power to do as little, in return for favors, as any man living. However, as far as the value and efficacy of thankful and affectionate expressions extend, am free to do the utmost, and if it were possible for a sheet of paper to contain on the one hand, and if it were not altogether unnecessary on the other, I would give you as many thanks as the clothes contain threads. I thank you, my dear sir, for the handsome and very valuable black coat, I thank you for the genteel blue coat. I thank you for the neat cloth trousers, and I thank you for the pieces you sent to repair them with. I thank you for the beautiful wig. I thank you for paying the carriage of the whole. Shall I further tell you that I fervently and constantly pray for you, that I have the highest esteem for you, and I am daily forming a thousand wishes for your present and future welfare. Dear sir, I will and need only say that you have my heart for your favors. I bless you for what you have done for me, and am ready to conclude from this instance of your bounty that you will be a great friend to me and my family. I thank you and again I thank you. On Saturday last I received your parcel — immediately had my hair cut off, that I might have the honor of appearing on the Sabbath in your wig, and being desirous to wear the black coat at once, for your sake, went to meeting in it. My body was never so elegantly arrayed since it came out of the hands of its Creator. The clothes fitted me well and sat gracefully upon me. Dear sir, I thank you and again I thank you. Was proud to tell Mr. A. what a favor you had sent me. Mr. A. seemed quite pleased. Indeed, if any person who had seen me in my dirty, ragged apparel two years ago, had beheld me last Sabbath, so differently dressed in yours, they would have been apt to think that I was the reality of one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, there being so striking a difference between my former and my present situation. Dear sir, I thank you and again I thank you and again I thank you.

To conclude, dear sir, you say in your letter, ‘I have sent you some clothes, if you will not refuse them.’ Refuse them! Refuse them! Refuse them! Dear sir, what do you mean? Am surprised at your expressions. If you had sent me an old pair of shoes and stockings, should have been thankful for them. Much more for a present so large and rich as yours, the value of which I so well know. I am persuaded they never were yours for ten pounds.

Dear sir, if at any time you have any old garment to spare, I shall thankfully receive it, and my family enjoy the benefit of it. What follows I am ashamed to tell, yet must own that your present would have been rather more complete if you had obliged me with a waistcoat along with it. Have not one proper to wear with the clothes you have sent me, and these being so valuable and fitting me so well, it will be a pity to break them for that. I have nothing to add but an expression of the sincerest and most prevailing concern for your real happiness, and am, dear sir, what shall always be proud to call myself and my wife and family along with me,

Your highly henefitted and obliged humble servant

N.B. The handwriting and spelling and composition, am sensible is wretched; time short, matter great, tackle bad, and obliged to write in haste. Would do rather better had I more time.

As I have cut off my hair, am at a loss for a cap. If you have one to spare of silk or velvet, would be glad of it.