1823: Francis Markoe to Edgar Leonard Ormsbee

This letter was written by Francis Markoe (1801-1872), the son of Francis and Sally (Caldwell) Markoe. Following his graduation from Middlebury College in 1823, Markoe studied law in the law office of John Sergeant in Philadelphia and practiced for two years. He then entered government service (1832-1861) serving as Chief, U.S. Consular Bureau and then in the Diplomatic Bureau. He married Mary Galloway Maxey in 1834. He died in Baltimore, Maryland.

Markoe wrote the letter to his college chum, Edgar Leonard Ormsbee, (1805-1861), the son of Thomas Jolls Ormsbee (1776-1810) and Sarah Belnap (1783-1845). Ormsbee prepared for College in Newton Academy, Shoreham. He graduated from Middlebury College (1823), the Litchfield Law School (1826), and was a lawyer in Rutland, Vt., between 1826-1861. State’s Attorney, 1845-1847. He married Maria Ann Hopkins, June 4, 1841. (Source for both Markoe and Ormsbee biographies: the Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont 1800-1900, compiled by Walter E. Howard & Charles E. Prentiss, pub. by Middlebury College, 1901)

An interesting vignette concerning Markoe involves his candidacy for the position as Secretary of the new Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. in 1846. The following was said of Markoe:

In his mid-forties, Markoe was a clerk in the Diplomatic Bureau of the State Department, as well as the corresponding secretary of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, an organization based in Washington and founded with the hope of receiving the Smithson bequest to establish a national museum.

Markoe had a botanical collection and was recognized as a mineralogist of some ability. But his most important qualification for the position of secretary was his extensive political connections. He claimed President James K. Polk, as well as current and former members of Congress and cabinet members, among his supporters. His selection would be a sign that the secretaryship was a post to be awarded on the basis of political patronage.

Markoe didn’t get the selection, however. He was passed over for Joseph Henry, a professor of natural philosophy (physics_ at the College of New Jersey.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Edgar L. Ormsbee, Esq., Middlebury College, Vermont

Page 1

[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]
June [1823]

My Dear Friend, The Lord forgive the delinquencies of the post master on the great day when he shall be called upon to give an account of his postmastership. I can not “presume to ______ be the date” of this letter. Yours is dated 9th June & I take it for granted that this letter of yours could never have taken up the remaining days of ye same month in reaching even this remote province. Ergo, June shall head this sheet.

Page 2

It must have been a trying moment that which beheld you all assembled in the presence of the Almighty ____ to receive your “last inexorable doom” the August appointments of next August. But Ah! what room is here for moralistic speculations. When my classmates were listening to the reward of their ‘good works’ where was I — Scripture how true thine adage ‘Seventeen shall be in the class throne shall be taken & the others left. But querulousness is not beseeming. So then a long farewell to college & commencement. Othelo’s occupation’s gone — the punctum saliens of my collegiate course has suddenly & almost at the moment of birth, ceased its pulsations. Those were halcyon mementos there in college as my good old chum was wont to say — Happy as I am in the bosom of my family, in the midst of serene pleasures of social luxury & social virtue occasionally mingled with the noisy throng of boisterous dissipations with many allurements to sin, & many incitements to holiness — all these can never banish from my soul college recollections. I often think of the Dr., the Colonel, the Capt’n, Old Chum & the last of all I mention Ormsbee, yet not less frequently or with less pleasure.

Page 3

In your just curses, how heartily I unite. Where you feel in the sacramental state of mind read over the oriental, catholic, maledictions of Tristram Shandy transcribed from Errulphus & translated by our friend Sterne with so much apparent feeling. There is a minute____ & particularity in this latter which tho it allows no corner or part of the unfortunate Cursee to escape or elude the witherings of its deep & searching anathema’s, yet in your malediction there is a laconic all mightiness which leaves a doubt in my mind by which bolt I would prefer Damnation. Chum, who has as much of the “milk of human kindness” in him as My Uncle Toby had would no doubt exclaim with the same “I could not have the heart to curse the Devil himself so bitterly.” I shall say nothing about appointments except that as you are all pleased or pretend to be pleased with them so I suppose I must be, or pretend to be pleased, with my DISAPPOINTMENT. You will no doubt excuse this play upon words when you reflect that it is at my own expense.

Page 4

Please to make my most militaries compliments to Colonel Hubbell; a letter from Fred would be an attention very gratifying to me. Pray have you received Byron’s last satire which I enclosed in paper & transmitted you by mail? Scot’s last novel, Quentin Durward came out 2 days ago. I have just commenced it. I have no means of sending it or would. Lord Byron has joined the army of the Greeks. Oh, what a man is here my countrymen! Let me know in your next whether you would like me to send it to you. It can not cost more than a dollar or so with the covers off. I must request you to reserve L. Empriere’s Biographical Dictionary.

Now perhaps you may feel enough interest in me to know what I am about. I am matriculated into the College of Jurisprudence. My name is entered into John Sergeant’s Office as a student of law with an “absolvitur ex officio ad voluntatem” which the Capt. would render “a furlough from duty at discretion.” I am to spend this indulgence in the acquisition of the German, French, & Italian & Spanish.

Page 5

Now it seems to me mentions to the Dr. that Guild owes me $2.50 for straw hat. He was to pay when he returned from Springs. What say our honest friends in College about my mysterious disappearance? “No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, I hope? How much does the million, as Ann Yearsley would say, know of this dark transaction? How is David Farsham? of the Tower of Wolf’s Crag — for his lair is as destitute of civil & comfortable police as that ____ tower — yet both the tower & Laird’s ___ were places of interest to me, else I never would have read of the one a second time, nor have visited the other one hundred. It is just three o’clock when the Dinner Bell — that Tocsin of the Soul — ‘rings it alarums swinging slow with sullen roar.’

Pray write me soon & more frequently & longer. Tell Chum to write for “Auld Lang Syne.”  — F. M.

I must add that some of my old acquaintances are going partake dinner with & you may assure yourself that as soon after dinner as the ladies withdraw, we will have a most generous carouse. We have just returned from the Academy of Fine Arts, the annual exhibition which attracts an immense deal of company. If you were an amateur or I a connoisseur, I should _____ upon the airs of Guido — Corregies City of Corregio — the grand contour of Angelo — the coloring of Titian &c. &c., but I hate canting as much as ever Ormsbee or Sterne did. I yielded up the reins of my imagination into the Painter pallets & paws, & was pleased. I knew not why & cared not therefore. And now I bethink me, I have a dispute in the Society & I nominate you “in loco absentis” but upon rebethinking, I believe you don’t belong to the same division. Well, let it pass verb urn ’emiss urn set irrevocable.’

I regret that you were not more explicit with regard to my affairs, “the settling of the estate” as you are pleased _____ terms it. I am just thinking at this moment that if this letter miscarries I will — what? Will you? Well I swear I hardly know myself. But this I know, that whether it miscarries or not, as the Irishman says, I beg you will immediately let me know. I have written two sides since the first dinner bell rung & now God bless you for a few moments, I shall return drunk or sober to fill up this sheet tho God knows there is but little space left between the surface and the brim.

Tell [Bradford Leonard] Wales I want him to box up my books & send them on as soon as he finds time. I shall write him in my next where to send them & how to direct. How are the girls? Is Joe as industrious as ever? Remember me to [Julian Griswold] Buel & Hooker. Yours affectionately, — F. M.


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