Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Louis Sébastien Mercier, [30 August 1802]

From Louis Sébastien Mercier

12 fructidor an X de La Republique
[i.e. 30 Aug. 1802]


honnoré de L’amitié de Thomas Payne, permettéz que Je sois ici L’interprete du corps litteraire qui voit avec joye sur la liste de ses membres Le nom d’un de ces hommes éminement chers aux lettres et à la liberté. c’est donc un hommage merité et volontaire que nous nous sommes empressés à vous rendre. nous avons acquitté la dette de plus d’une Nation et nous nous sommes ainsi honorés nous mêmes aux yeux de L’Europe et de La Postérité—Madame Bonneville que nous connoissons sous les rapports de L’Estime et de L’amitié en quittant L’Europe S’est separée de personnes qui la cherissoient. Nous vous prions de vouloir bien remplacer les amis qu’elle a perdus. C’est à vous seul, tres honnoré Collegue, qu’il appartient d’affoiblir aujourdhui nos regrets et de nous consoler de sa separation



12 Fructidor Year 10 of the Republic
[30 Aug. 1802]

Citizen Colleague

Honored by the friendship of Thomas Paine, I ask that you permit me to speak on behalf of the literary society that joyfully acknowledges on its membership list the name of a man who is eminently dear to letters and to liberty. It is thus a willing and deserved honor that we were eager to bestow on you. We have fulfilled the debt of more than one nation, and in so doing have brought honor upon ourselves in the eyes of Europe and posterity. Madame Bonneville, for whom we have both esteem and friendship, has left behind in Europe people who cherished her. We beg you to replace the friends she has lost. You alone, most honored colleague, can assuage the loss we feel today and console us for this separation.


RC (DLC); addressed: “à Thomas Jefferson, President des Etats unis et de L’Institut-national de france”; English date supplied; endorsed by TJ. Tr (DLC). Tr (NHi: Gallatin Papers); endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 6 Dec. 1802.

Louis Sébastien Mercier (1740–1814) was once one of the best-known writers in France. He penned, among other works, dramas, novels, literary criticism, social and political commentary, satire, and essays. Early in his career he taught rhetoric at Bordeaux, and he was later a professor of history. He admired Diderot and made Rousseau’s writings available to a wider audience, but alienated Voltaire, Robespierre, and Bonaparte. In the 1780s, the government banned publication of Mercier’s Tableau de Paris, a multivolume collection of anecdotes and observations of his native city. The author moved to Switzerland for several years of self-imposed exile and had his works printed outside France. TJ sent Madison a copy of the Tableau from Paris in the summer of 1787, describing it as “truly a picture of private manners in Paris, but presented on the dark side and a little darkened moreover. But there is so much truth in it’s ground work that it will be well worth your reading. You will then know Paris,” TJ continued, “(and probably the other large cities of Europe) as well as if you had been here years.” Mercier returned to France and served in the National Convention during the Revolution. After imprisonment in the Reign of Terror, he sat on the Council of Five Hundred. Among his writings were a satire of France cloaked as a utopian description of the year 2440; a series of allegorical tales, the Songes philosophiques; and the Néologie, a lexicon of new words and meanings. TJ owned, in addition to the Tableau de Paris, some volumes of Mercier’s historical dramas, a set of reflections from the author’s residence in Switzerland, and L’An 2440, the futurist treatise (Biographie universelle description begins Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, new ed., Paris, 1843–65, 45 vols. description ends , 28:12–16; H. Temple Patterson, Poetic Genesis: Sébastien Mercier into Victor Hugo [Geneva, 1960], 35–49; Robert Darnton, The Literary Underground of the Old Regime [Cambridge, Mass., 1982], 26, 64, 140–1; Richard Becherer, “The Revolutionary Look of Louis Sebastien Mercier’s Tableau de Paris,” Journal of Architectural Education, 42 [1989], 3–14; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 1165; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 173, 174, 1351, 1352, 3890, 4593; Vol. 11:663).

DU CORPS LITTERAIRE: Mercier in 1795 was named one of the founding members of the class of moral and political sciences of the National Institute. In December 1801, TJ was elected as the first associé étranger of that class (Amable Charles, Comte de Franqueville, Le premier siècle de l’Institut de France, 25 Octobre 1795–25 Octobre 1895, 2 vols. [Paris, 1895–96], 1:78–9; Vol. 36:208–9).

Marguerite (Margaret) Brazier de BONNEVILLE was the wife of the French writer and publisher Nicolas de Bonneville, who had printed several of Thomas Paine’s tracts. Paine also lived with the Bonnevilles in Paris beginning in 1797. After Nicolas de Bonneville, a longtime promoter of republican ideals, made a comparison between Bonaparte and Oliver Cromwell, the police closed down his newspaper and kept him under surveillance. Paine’s return to the United States presented an opportunity for Marguerite and the Bonnevilles’ three young sons to leave France. Paine arrived at Baltimore on 30 Oct. 1802. Marguerite de Bonneville and her sons landed at Norfolk by mid-November. Paine, who was then in Washington, undertook to pay the cost of her passage and advised her to go to Bordentown, New Jersey, where he expected to be in several weeks’ time. He also offered to deliver the letter, printed above, that she had brought for the president from her husband’s friend Mercier. Over the next several years Marguerite received some financial assistance from Paine, although he refused to pay all her expenses. Paine in his will bequeathed most of his assets to the Bonnevilles and named Marguerite one of the executors of his modest estate. In a derogatory biography published soon after Paine’s death in 1809, James Cheetham declared that the old pamphleteer and Marguerite de Bonneville had been lovers. One of Marguerite’s sons, according to Cheetham, had “the features, countenance, and temper of Paine.” After a well-publicized trial, a New York court found Cheetham guilty of libel and fined him $150 for his statements about Madame de Bonneville’s relationship with Paine. Marguerite de Bonneville corresponded with TJ in 1809, seeking an appointment for her son Benjamin to the U.S. Military Academy, and in 1813, about TJ’s correspondence in Paine’s papers (Dictionnaire description begins Dictionnaire de biographie française, Paris, 1933–, 19 vols. description ends , 6:1036–7; Biographie universelle description begins Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, new ed., Paris, 1843–65, 45 vols. description ends , 5:38; Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. [New York, 1945], 2:1430–1, 1499–1500; James Cheetham, The Life of Thomas Paine [New York, 1809], 226–8, 234–8; Speech of Counsellor Sampson on the Trial of James Cheetham, for Libelling Madame Bonneville, in his Life of Thomas Paine; with a Short Sketch of the Trial [New York, 1810], 4–6; John Keane, Tom Paine: A Political Life [London, 1995], 354, 433, 435, 437–8, 451–2, 494, 512, 521–2, 532–3; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends ., 4:151–2; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , s.v. “Bonneville, Benjamin Louis Eulalie de”; Vol. 32:192n; Paine to TJ, [on or before 3 Nov. 1802]; TJ to Mercier, 6 Feb. 1803; Marguerite de Bonneville to TJ, 22 Jan. 1809, 13 Mch. 1813, in DLC).

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