Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Bentley to Thomas Jefferson, 30 October 1815

From William Bentley

Salem Mass. USA. Oct 30. 1815.


I received from my Aged friend & Correspondent Professor C D. Ebeling his Letter of 22 of May last. In it I find the following paragraph, which as I believe was dictated by profound respect & from a man who once said, I wish all [. . .] could produce such a man! I take the liberty to transcribe at length, that you might see the whole history of it.

At present my description of Virginia is printing. About 20 sheets are finished. I hope to send it soon. The Manuscript was ready for the press long ago, but I would not submit it to the French pretention to send it to Paris, to be examined by a Censor, or perhaps be suppressed by him. Since we have been in great want of Composers, & I could not send it elsewhere to be printed, as the many nomina propria required my own care in correcting the proof sheets. I have a mind to dedicate this Volume to Mr Jefferson, as some copies will be printed with the particular title of Description of Virginia. Perhaps it would be possible to give a translation of this part to your countrymen, corrected & improved, as also enlarged as to what belongs to the last 4 or 5 years. Mr Morse will not perhaps much approve it, as I could not make great use of his Geography of this State, which is mostly copied verbatim from Mr Jefferson’s Notes. As to the history of Virginia I regret much not to have at hand the 2d & 3d part of Burke’s history. The first I owe to your kindness. Your literary history of the last five years is almost unknown to me &c.1

The high obligations I am under, in behalf of my learned friend have encouraged the hope, Sir, that you would at your leisure, just give me an outline of such materials, as might finish the work of this good man, whose Geography already finished, in the manner of Busching, has reached six large volumes, & some parts in a second edition & has been kindly received wherever the German language is known.

This Letter has been accompanied with the history2 of Hamburg for private use. One article, written in May, & received while N. was in Paris, I take the liberty to transcribe, as nothing3 could then have been known, of what has happened since N. joined the Army.

It is hoped the war will be short. N & his former friends distrust each other. You have no idea of the spirit of Germany, particularly of Prussia. Only a part of Saxony is behind the rest, because they dislike the partition of their Country, which the Congress of Vienna found necessary (I know not with what right) to sever.4

As the outline given by an eyewitness, & for the use of a friend, may be pleasing to you, & will exhibit the real [sense?] of one of the greatest Commercial Cities, at some future opportunity I will transmit to you. No praise I can utter, can equal the gratitude I feel, as a Citizen5 of the United States, my own highest praise is, in the worst of times, not to have been ungrateful to our greatest national benefactor.

with all respect your devoted Servant,

William Bentley.

RC (DLC); two words illegible; at foot of text (first word illegible): “[. . .]: Thomas Jefferson, Ex President of the US.A. Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 Dec. 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

Bentley loosely quotes from Christoph Daniel Ebeling’s letter of 22 of may 1815, which describes Ebeling’s work on the seventh and final volume of his history of the United States, Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika. Die vereinten Staaten von Nordamerika (Hamburg, 1793–1816; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 368]; TJ’s copy of vol. 7 in PPL, inscribed: “To His Excellency Thomas Jefferson most respectfully offered by the author”), and which gives an extensive history of recent events in Hamburg (MS in MH: Ebeling letters to Bentley). nomina propria: “personal names.” Ebeling chose not to dedicate the seventh volume of his work to TJ and honored Bentley and others instead (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 28:427n). Anton Friedrich Büsching (busching) published his geographical work, Neue Erdbeschreibung, in Hamburg in eleven volumes, 1754–92 (Charles W. J. Wither, Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason [2007], 183).

1Paragraph written in a different hand or possibly by Bentley in a disguised hand.

2Manuscript: “hisory.”

3Manuscript: “nothig.”

4Paragraph written in a different hand or possibly by Bentley in a disguised hand.

5Manuscript: “Citzen.”

Index Entries

  • Bentley, William (of Massachusetts); correspondence of, with C. D. Ebeling search
  • Bentley, William (of Massachusetts); letters from search
  • books; on history search
  • Burk, John Daly; The History of Virginia search
  • Büsching, Anton Friedrich; Neue Erdbeschreibung search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; correspondence with W. Bentley search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; on Germany search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; seeks TJ’s assistance search
  • Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika (C. D. Ebeling) search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; and J. D. Burk’sHistory of Virginia search
  • historiography; of Va. search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Jones, Skelton; and J. D. Burk’sHistory of Virginia search
  • Morse, Jedidiah; writings of search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; returns to power search
  • Neue Erdbeschreibung (A. F. Büsching) search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); J. Morse copies from search
  • Prussia; and Napoleon search
  • Saxony; and Congress of Vienna search
  • The History of Virginia (J. D. Burk, S. Jones, and L. H. Girardin); mentioned search
  • Vienna, Congress of; negotiations at search
  • Virginia; historiography of search