Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Volney, 21 March 1803

From Volney

Paris 30 Ventose an XI
21 Mars

Monsieur le president des etats unis

Je profite de l’occasion de Mr. Curwen de Philadelphie qui retourne chez lui par Norfolk, pour Vous adresser un exemplaire de la nouvelle traduction angloise de mes Ruines qui a enfin paru. Le paquet sera remis à Mr. Le Dr. thornton à Washington avec recommandation de Vous le faire parvenir. J’attache un grand prix à ce que ce travail obtienne Votre approbation et que sa publication Vous soit agréable. Votre ordre pour annuller des feuilles Manuscrites a été ponctuellement executé. Je crains que deja mon envoy actuel n’ait été prevenu par celui de l’editeur qui a fait passer Mille à 1200 copies à Newyork; mais Mr. Stone ne m’a delivré les Miennes que 3 Semaines après son expedition.

Ce sont là dailleurs de bien petits interets auprés de ceux qui Vous entourent et dont Vous êtes le foyer. Nous Voyons avec anxiété les evenemens possibles qui se préparent; Si la guerre a lieu, et tot ou tard une disposition constante d’irritation la determinera, elle causera dans le monde politique et moral des changemens plus grands et plus prompts que l’on ne veut ici le Croire ou le prévoir. On parle d’excluze de l’Europe un grand peuple; mais il pourrait arriver en revanche que l’Europe fut exclue des deux indes. Spectateur solitaire et presqu’infirme de passions que je ne partage point, et de Mouvemens tragiques qui M’affligent, mon rôle est de Souhaiter la paix publique, et de faire des Voeux constans pour le bonheur particulier des hommes qui comme Vous, Monsieur, placent le1 leur à faire celui de la pauvre humanité. Agréez Mon respectueux attachement


Editors’ Translation

Paris, 30 Ventose Year 11,
21 Mch. 1803

Mr. President of the United States,

By kind opportunity of Mr. Curwen of Philadelphia, who is returning home via Norfolk, I am sending you a copy of the new English translation of my Ruines, which has finally come out. The package will be entrusted to Dr. Thornton in Washington with a request that he transmit it to you. I give great weight to having this work meet your approval and to its publication pleasing you. Your order to cancel the handwritten pages was immediately carried out. I fear that my current shipment may have been preempted by that of the editor, who sent 1,000 to 1,200 copies to New York. But Mr. Stone did not deliver my copies until three weeks after they were sent.

These matters are of small interest compared to those that surround you and of which you are the focus. We look anxiously at the events that may loom ahead. If war takes place, and sooner or later the situation of constant irritation will provoke one, it will cause greater and swifter changes in the political and moral world than people here want to believe or foresee. They talk about excluding a great people from Europe, but the reverse could happen: that Europe will be excluded from the two Indies. As a lone and almost helpless spectator of passions I do not share and tragic movements that afflict me, my role is to wish for civic peace, to make constant vows for the personal happiness of men who, like you, Sir, devote theirs to the happiness of frail humanity.

Accept my respectful devotion.


RC (DLC); at head of text: “Mr jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 June and so recorded in SJL.

Joseph curwen also carried several of Robert R. Livingston’s dispatches to Madison (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:332n, 386n, 412n, 432n, 448n).

nouvelle traduction angloise: the translation, in two volumes titled A New Translation of Volney’s Ruins; or Meditations on the Revolution of Empires. Made Under the Inspection of the Author, was published in Paris with an 1802 imprint.

Volney wrote hastily to William thornton on 21 Mch., informing him that he was sending five copies of the New Translation. One copy was for Thornton, and Volney asked him to see that TJ, Madison, Aaron Burr, and Louis André Pichon received the others (DLC: William Thornton Papers).

pour annuller des feuilles manuscrites: much of the new translation of Volney’s Ruines was TJ’s work. Joel Barlow completed the task in Paris. When Volney asked what he should do with TJ’s portion of the manuscript when it was no longer needed by the printers, TJ replied, in April 1802, “it is desired that it may be burnt.” TJ retained copies of those chapters in his own papers (Vol. 33:341–2n; Vol. 34:438, 440; Vol. 37:295, 297n).

Although his name does not appear on the book’s title page, John Hurford stone printed the New Translation and, as Volney mentioned again in his letter of 10 May, Stone was the “editeur” who oversaw the production and distribution of the work. Stone cooperated with the book’s publisher, the firm of Levrault Frères, on other projects as well (Madeleine B. Stern, “The English Press in Paris and Its Successors, 1793–1852,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 74 [1980], 336–9).

1Word supplied.

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