Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Francis Adrian Van der Kemp to Thomas Jefferson, 5 April 1818

From Francis Adrian Van der Kemp

Oldenbarneveld 5 April1 1818.

Dear Sir!

was I to answer a letter—So gratifying to my feelings, as interesting in itself, dated 9 Febr—to another man as mr. Jefferson, who honoured me with2 his courtesy—and So kindly condescended, to give me proof upon proof of his confidential regards, I should feel myself obliged, to make an apology for my long Silence. Now I am dispensed of this task, and communicate to you my Sincere thanks for your kindnesses.

Since you wrote that Letter, I was bereft, within a month, of three highly valued friends—and apprehend every moment—the Same Sad tidings with regard to a promising boy—my Son’s youngest child at Philadelphia. I Spend about a forthnight at Albany to examine the State Records, which I engaged to translate in English—The appointment was unsolicited—not even thought of. The Gov—s conduct was So engaging, every point being arranged to my wishes—with the permission—to take all the records with me home in the wilderness—the entreaties of my friends So urgent—the prospect of usefulness So evident—and the apprehension, that it could not longer at this time be executed by another of my fellow-citisens—made me wave—all other considerations—arising chiefly from my incorrect language, and accept the arduous charge. They are about 40 vol. in Fol! Since the 21 of Febr—I finished above 200 Pag—You See thus—my Dear Sir! I am not permitted to be idle—and I trust, you Shall not find fault with mÿ delaÿ—

I was pleased with your approbation of my thoughts on incestuous marriage. I thank you for the communication on this Subject of a ci-devant Law in Virginia—Your opinion on this topic coincides with that of my worthy friend Judge Platt—licet—Sed non convenit—I can however not discover yet the reality of danger—

The passage in question is, as you Suggested, in the memoir on the discovery of certain bones Tom. IV N. xxx Pag. 255.—with your explanation, our opinions do not widely differ—yet I might have wished, that the principle had been more plainly expressed, or at least not brought forward in Such a Shape—the renovating powers constantly exercised by nature—as these have been used by the French does not lead us to an intelligent3 wise cause—and thus—when I examined that § I could not but regret, that it was penned—apprehending, that it might be represented. Will you permit me Sir! even on your Letter one triffling remark—the universe is now made up of exactly the Same particles of matter, not a Single more or less, which it had in its original creation I can not See yet—that from the continued existence of every animal Since the creation on our globe—the conclusion to the universe is correct. As I can not discover a contradiction that an intelligent—powerful and good Being Should have been allways creating—So I can not See, why it could not continue So.   I endeavoured to establish the theory—that no genus—no Species was annihilated—made use of Some of the arguments which you bring forward, and thank you for the luminous observations of which Some had escaped my attention. If my life is Spared I intend, to devote Some future time on this Subject. Cuvier’s theory is one of the Soundest I ever met with—as it has facts for its4 basis. That this globe was during a certain period in a Chaotic State, is not against Divine wisdom—Suppose—it was before organised in an harmonious order—and inhabitated—by lenght of time—it was destroy’d amalgamed again—and renewed—and may be So again and again—the wisdom—power and goodness—may nevertheless remain unsullied and Shine with new lustre at every restoration—What a puny idea of that incomprehensible Being, that the immense universe Should not have existed before this little globe—indifferent if you take 6000 or Six Millions of year—or that it Should depend—or be influenced by its Seeming5 destruction—or renovation?   But this Speculation has no connection with6 the visionary principle, that genera and Species of animals do not longer exists—We may not conclude from what is not discovered—

Had Fracastorius lived in our days, he would have attracted the Philosopher’s notice—neither Should I have been Surprised, at his pretentions—that many Species—were now unknown—in Some parts—because—although they existed in the neighbourhood, they were drowned—engulphed—at that tremendous convulsion—when the wall between the Adriatic and Atlantic was broken down—the Antilles divulsed from our continent from the one, from the other Side New-found Land—when the barriers of our High lands and those in the St. Lawrence were Swept away—and the immense beautiful Atalantis immersed in the gulph Stream—then—as the passage—was Short—the Megalonyx—the Mammoth fled to the coast and were there too overwhelmed by the waters—or perished by famine by Six and Sevens—

   Insula, tum prisci Regis de nomine dicta,

   Ingenti terræ concussa Atlantia motu

   corruit—absorpta oceano: quem mille carinis

   Sulcavit toties, terræ Regina marisque:

   Ex illo et pecudes—et Grandia Quadrupedantum

   Corpora, non ullis unquam reparata diebus,

   æternum periere:

The outlines of his theory, could have been used by Cuvier—although perhaps the latter has Seen no more of Fracastorio—than Astruck when he wrote his treatise on the Guiacum—which the Italian Poët and Physician, had recommended as divinum donum—in lue venerea.

I Suppose—you received Baron Steuben’s Biography—If you have not Seen it before, I presumed it would not be unacceptable—If my conjecture is correct, then it is from General North’s pen: It must be pleasing—that Such a respectable Federalist did justice to your character in a point—too long basely misrepresented—and although,7 you may feel yourself to much above Similar Slanders—to have noticed these—the vindication of our Character by a worthy man is allways a pleasing tribut.

Far be from you the apprehension, that your long letter might give birth to the wish to See its end—It enhanced with the value of the gift, and the only real regret I feel, is, that8 it is not in my power to reciprocrate Such distinguished attention—I may only endeavour to deserve its continuance by my good will, while I trust, that not the least doubt can lurk in your breast, or you might without the least hesitation command my Services—could I become useful to you in any respect.

Permit me to assure you, that I remain with the highest consideration and respect

Dear Sir Your most obliged

Fr. Adr. van der kemp

Dr Mitchell has now on the press an Amer. ed. of cuvier’s theory—with an additional mem—on the bones of Quadrupeds—he Send me a Sheet—the Engraving resemble much those in Buffon’s large 4to Par. ed—.

RC (DLC); dateline adjacent to signature; endorsed by TJ as received 6 May 1818 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Patrick Gibson, 21 June 1818, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson LLD. at his Seat Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Trenton, N.Y., 7 Apr.

gov—s: Governor Dewitt Clinton’s. licet—sed non convenit: “it is permitted, but inappropriate.” For TJ’s memoir on the discovery of certain bones of the megalonyx, see PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 41 vols. description ends , 29:291–304. The quotation actually appears on page 256, not 255, of APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions 4 (1799). divulsed: “torn apart or asunder” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

insula, tum prisci regis de nomine dictaæternum periere (“Then the island of Atlantis, so named after its former king, having been shaken by a huge earthquake, collapsed and was engulfed by the ocean, which this queen of the land and sea had traversed many times with a thousand ships. By this event, both cattle and large quadrupeds perished forever, never to be restored”) is from Girolamo Fracastoro’s epic poem Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus (Verona, 1530), 3.274–80.

In a work that summarized the findings of many earlier physicians, including Fracastoro, Jean Astruc (astruck) discussed the efficacy of guaiacum (guiacum) and other remedies for venereal disease (A Treatise of the Venereal Disease, In Six Books, trans. William Barrowby, 2 vols. [London, 1737], esp. 1:176–92). divinum donum—in lue venerea: “a divine gift—for venereal disease.” buffon’s large 4to par. ed was Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, 44 vols. (Paris, 1749–1804; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1024).

1Reworked from “march.”

2Manuscript: “witch.”

3Manuscript: “illigent,” with an expansion mark over it, here and below.

4Manuscript: “it.”

5Word interlined.

6Manuscript: “wit.”

7Manuscript: “altthoug.”

8Manuscript: “than.”

Index Entries

  • Astruc, Jean; A Treatise of the Venereal Disease (trans. W. Barrowby) search
  • Atlantis (mythical island) search
  • A Treatise of the Venereal Disease (J. Astruc; trans. W. Barrowby) search
  • Barrowby, William; translatesA Treatise of the Venereal Disease (J. Astruc) search
  • books; biographical search
  • books; on medicine search
  • books; on natural history search
  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de; Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière search
  • cattle; mentioned search
  • Clinton, DeWitt; and F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Cuvier, Georges; Essay on the Theory of the Earth (ed. R. Jameson; appendix by S. L. Mitchill) search
  • Essay on the Theory of the Earth (G. Cuvier; ed. R. Jameson; appendix by S. L. Mitchill) search
  • extinction; of species search
  • Fracastoro, Girolamo; quoted search
  • Fracastoro, Girolamo; writings of search
  • guaiacum (guajacum); used as medicine search
  • health; venereal disease search
  • Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière (G. L. L. Buffon) search
  • Jameson, Robert; editsEssay on the Theory of the Earth (G. Cuvier) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; on megalonyx search
  • marriage; incestuous search
  • mastodon (mammoth, Ohio); F. A. Van der Kemp on search
  • medicine; books on search
  • medicine; guaiacum (guajacum) search
  • megalonyx search
  • Mitchill, Samuel Latham; adds appendix toEssay on the Theory of the Earth (G. Cuvier) search
  • natural history; books on search
  • natural history; study of search
  • New York (state); public records of translated search
  • North, William; biography of F. W. von Steuben by search
  • Platt, Jonas; as judge search
  • Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm von; biography of search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and incestuous marriage search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and natural history search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; family of search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; letters from search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; translates public records search
  • Virginia; laws of search