Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Nicolas Gouin Dufief, 23 December 1800

From Nicolas Gouin Dufief

à Philadelphie, ce 23 de decembre. 1800.


Je profite de l’occasion que m’offre Mr. Jones l’un des representans de l’état de Géorgie, au Congrès, pour vous adresser les deux ouvrages que vous desiriez avoir, & qui ne se trouvoient pas dans ma collection, lorsque j’eus l’honneur de vous voir à Philadelphie. Je les ai reçus depuis peu, avec plusieurs autres livres. J’attends vers le mois de Mars, un assortiment assez étendu des meilleurs auteurs français dans tous les Genres & des ouvrages nouveaux les plus piquans. Je vous enverrai la liste & la notice litteraire de ceux que je croirai devoir vous intéresser le plus. Ce sera un vrai plaisir pour moi de le faire, & non point une peine, ou une perte de tems; ainsi je serois bien fâché d’en être dispensé.

Je respecte trop les soins importans dont vous étez chargé, pour vous parler d’un ouvrage que je me propose de livrer a l’impression. Le sujet en est entièrément neuf, ce qui ne seroit pas un grand mérite si l’utilité n’y etoit jointe. Je l’ai composé dans la vue de faciliter & d’abréger considérablement le tems que l’on passe ordinairement à apprendre les langues vivan[tes.] L’addresse ci incluse vous donnera une idée de cet ouvrage & de la méthode qui étant analytique, s’applique à tous les Idiom[es.]

Quand il aura acquis toute la maturité, que je suis susceptible de lui donner, je le soumettrai au jugement du premier homme de Lettres des Etats-Unis, du Président de la Societé Philosophique.

Je ne saurais conclure cette lettre que je crains être beaucoup trop longue, sans me joindre, ex toto corde et animo, à ceux qui se felicitent de ce que le choix des Citoyens des Etats-Unis vient de vous porter a une place distinguée.

J’aime à voir les Philosophes tenir les rênes du Gouverneme[nt;] cela nous rappelle le beau Siecle de Pericles & celui de Solon.

Acceptez les assurances de ma haute Estime & de mon respectueux dévoüement.

N. G. Dufief, Professeur de Lang. Françoise

editors’ translation

at Philadelphia, this 23rd of December 1800.


I am taking advantage of the occasion offered by Mr. Jones, one of the representatives of the state of Georgia, in Congress, to forward to you the two works which you wished to have, and which were not in my collection when I had the honor of seeing you in Philadelphia. I received them a short while ago, with several other books. I am expecting, towards the month of March, a rather broad assortment of the best French authors in all genres and some most tempting new works. I will send you the list and the literary review of those that I think most likely to interest you. It will be a real pleasure for me to do so, and not a chore or a waste of time; hence I should be quite sorry to be exempted from it.

I respect too much the important cares with which you are burdened to speak to you of a work that I propose to hand over to be printed. The subject is completely new, which would not be of great worth if utility were not joined to it. I have composed it with the object of facilitating and considerably abridging the time ordinarily spent in learning living languages. The enclosed prospectus will give you an idea of this work and of the method, which, being analytic, is applicable to all languages.

When it has attained the full maturity that I am capable of giving it, I shall submit it to the judgment of the first man of letters in the United States, the President of the Philosophical Society.

I could not conclude this letter, which I fear is much too long, without joining, with whole heart and spirit, those who congratulate themselves that the choice of the citizens of the United States has just borne you to a distinguished position.

I like to see philosophers hold the reins of government; that reminds us of the fine age of Pericles and that of Solon.

Receive the assurances of my high esteem and my respectful devotion.

N. G. Dufief, Professor of the French Language

RC (DLC); damaged; endorsed by TJ as received 1 Jan. 1801 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: probably Dufief’s address “To the Lovers of the French Language,” printed in the Gazette of the United States, 1 Sep. 1800, a clipping of which is in DLC (with Dufief’s letter to TJ of 27 Feb. 1807); the address, subjoined to an announcement of Dufief’s opening of a school in Philadelphia for instruction in French, discussed his approach to the teaching of language and outlined the work that he later published under the title Nature Displayed (see below); the address also appeared in the Aurora beginning 30 Aug. 1800.

Nicolas Gouin Dufief (1776–1834) became an important source of books for TJ’s library. From a French aristocratic family of strong antirevolutionary sympathies-his mother was renowned as the “heroine” of the Vendée-Dufief, while still in his teens, joined a royalist military corps, then sought exile in Britain and the West Indies before finally arriving in Philadelphia. According to his later assertions, he fled the city in the summer of 1793 to escape yellow fever and, finding himself stranded in Princeton without his recently acquired English grammars and dictionaries, taught himself English by concentrating on phrases and conversation rather than the mastery of rules and individual words. He developed that method, of which William Rawle claimed to be the true source, as a teacher of French and a writer on the subject of language instruction. Dufief’s two-volume Nature Displayed, in her Mode of Teaching Language to Man (Philadelphia, 1804), of which TJ was one of the original subscribers, was reprinted in multiple editions. In 1799 Dufief entered the book trade, and four years later he sold a significant portion of Benjamin Franklin’s library. It was Dufief who in 1804 supplied TJ with Greek and English editions of the New Testament for the compilation of TJ’s “Philosophy of Jesus.” In 1817 Dufief went to Europe, leaving his Universal Book Store under the supervision of John Laval. He returned to the United States at least once, but died in England (Madeleine B. Stern, Nicholas Gouin Dufief of Philadelphia: Franco-American Bookseller, 1776–1834 [Philadelphia, 1988], 9–32, 35–46, 60–8, 71, 74–5; EG description begins Dickinson W. Adams and Ruth W. Lester, eds., Jefferson’s Extracts from the Gospels, Princeton, 1983, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 27; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 4819; TJ to Dufief, 20 Jan. 1804).

Les deux ouvrages: the books that Dufief sent were probably Jean Paul Rabaut Saint Étienne, An Impartial History of the late Revolution in France, from its Commencement to the Death of the Queen, and the Execution of the Deputies of the Gironde Party (Philadelphia, 1794), which was Mathew Carey’s printing of a translation by Englishman James White of a work first published in Paris in 1792; and Fragments sur Paris (Hamburg, 1798), Dumouriez’s translation of a work in German by Friedrich Johann Lorenz Meyer (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 229, 3895; TJ to Dufief, 9 Jan. [1801]). For TJ’s search for the latter work, see Vol. 31:87, 88n.

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