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Francis Adrian Van der Kemp to Thomas Jefferson, 14 April 1812

From Francis Adrian Van der Kemp

Oldenbarneveld 14 Apr. 1812.


I Should be at loss for an apologÿ in writing you again, had not the polite manner—in which you was pleased to bestow on me a new favour required mine Sincere thanks for this condescension. I feel proud—I was highly gratified with this distinction—more So—as it enabled me—by your delicate hint of a radical defect to fill up the gap in this Sketch. It might have been, that in its developing the idea had occurred, as it now was1 Struck that it did escape mÿ attention in ebauching it. If you deem the Sketch worthÿ preserving—be pleased then to fill it up. Between the General view of Europe in 1763 and the following great link Revolutions I Should wish to have inserted—

Revolutiarÿ Spirit—its developement
  Man—a rational—Sociable—moral Being.
Scholiumcorollarium 2
Social compact—its basis—its requisites—its boundaries—unalienable rights—Safety of life—Security of property civil and Religious Liberty.
Theories—to obtain—to Secure these possessions—in the highest degree of perfection to all the associated—meansobstaclesremedies3
Contour of the Tableau—its parts: ExecutiveLegislative judicial
their cementornamentsmeans of preservation Symptoms of deseasedangersremediesTribunal of correction4

It is only a contemplation—as—if I am not mistaken—I insinuated—I have not a Shadow of hope to accomplish it—mÿ advanced age—mÿ Situation and deep retirement in the western woods would prevent it—and even could I Surmount all these potent obstacles, then yet, I Should not be vain enough to presume—that I could finish it in Such a manner, that a fastidious public would not nauseate at its uncouthlÿ dress—the utmost I have aspired at—after amusing myself a while—is that thro mÿ friendlÿ correspondents a more aspiring genius might undertake the task and create a masterly Statue with a vivifying6 Scissel from this rude blok—it would be Some flattering praise—when bÿ connoisseurs it was declared marble.

In the general creed, as you delineate it—of goverment’s object—I doubt not or we are in unison—it maÿ be, that we varied—in its extension to particular tenets—and then yet—by agreing in what we accorded and with accurate definitions about which we differed—with a liberal dozis of mutual forbearance and concessions—the disparity remaining might appear So insignificant—as not to be worth contention— and it is mÿ Sincere belief could these data be made palatable to Philosophers and Divines—nine tenths of the dissentions among them would evaporate in Smoak: but I do not Soon yet expect a millennium.

I finished Some time ago a historico-Political work—which—I flattered might be of use to my countrÿ—a Sketch of the Achaic Republick—but this dream of enchantment is dispelled. Its intrinsic merit, how partial Self love, and too indulgent friends may be, can not overbalance its incorrect language.—

My friend R. Livingston writes me about the contemplated work—“that it might be best, So to divide the work, as that each part Should make a Separate whole, So that, if anÿ thing Should interrupt the progress of the work what is finished maÿ not be thrown awaÿ, but carrÿ its own interest with it.”7 But the Same objection would remain in regard to its finishing, and I believe not that I Should possess courage enough—to do a thing by halves—to undertake what I could not execute.

I Send last year to Dr. Mease at Philadelphia—at his request for Publication a Dissertation on the use of copper bÿ the Ancients—which—mÿ friend Luzac Should have embellished—had not his fatal death bereft me of his aid. If Dr Mease is discouraged with correcting—of which I Shall not be Surprised—without finding fault with him, I Shall be So free to take hold of an opportunity—if it occurs—to Submit it to your criticisms

If mÿ days are prolonged—having just now finished Literarÿ Sketches on Servetus and Calvin—I hope next8 winter, to laÿ the last hand at mÿ various essays on Nat. Historÿ. These, if I may Succeed So far, I Should ardently wish, and ask you, to grant me the favour, to Submitt these to your inspection, and request your criticisms upon them. There are manÿ problematical topics—and Some—perhaps hazarded—Speculations—but the chief point is—that I have dared to differ from men as Jefferson and Bufton—and, althow their publication does not yet appear highly presumtif—without—a friend—who would charge himself with the correction—or more favorable circumstances, which might enable me to paÿ a corrector—upon which condition the publication has been offered to me, to acquiesce in this without having first exposed them to your view might appear at least an indelicate return towards a man—by whom I was obliged—before I was one of this So Supereminently Blessed nation.

You certainlÿ are acquainted with Dr Tenney’s observation in regard to Some of the So Styled primarÿ colours—This Seems to me a hint which might be pursued bÿ Successful experiments—and perhaps not three onlÿ—but all Seven might, bÿ an ejectment, be driven from their ground: whÿ Should colours more9 exist in reality in a pencil of Sunraÿs—than in other bodies? The chief difficulty is to divïde the light making—from the heat making raÿs—and this is perhaps not insurmountable. would Such a trial not be a worthÿ amusement for Mount-icello’s Philosopher?

Pardon me—if I actuallÿ have abused your indulgence—I promise, to use hence forward more discretion. Permit me to assure that I remain with considerations of the highest regard

Sir! your most obed. & obliged St

Fr Adr van der Kemp

RC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Apr. 1812 and so recorded in SJL.

ebauching: a form of ébauche, meaning an outline drawing or first attempt (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 ). The additions from revolutiarÿ spirit through prospect to the book synopsis that Van der Kemp enclosed in his 18 Feb. 1812 letter to TJ were included in the version he published in the Cambridge, Mass., General Repository and Review 4 (1813): 393. scissel: metal clippings from coining or other mechanical operations (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 ); Van der Kemp probably meant “chisel.” Samuel tenney’s observation in his 1791 paper, “Observations on Prismatick Colours” (Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 2, pt. 1 [1793]: 37–9), postulated the existence of four primarÿ colours.

1Manuscript: “wa.”

2 General Repository here adds “Progress of the human mind.”

3Word omitted from General Repository.

4In General Repository, preceding three words follow “judicial” above.

5Manuscript: “encouragenent.”

6Manuscript: “vifying.”

7Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

8Word interlined in place of “this.”

9Manuscript: “mor.”

Index Entries

  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de; and F. A. Van der Kemp search
  • Calvin, John; F. A. Van der Kemp’s essay on search
  • copper; F. A. Van der Kemp’s work about search
  • General Repository and Review; and F. A. Van der Kemp’s proposed book search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; and F. A. Van der Kemp’s proposed book search
  • Luzac, Jean; and F. A. Van der Kemp’s work on copper search
  • Mease, James; and F. A. Van der Kemp’s work on copper search
  • religion; and Christianity in F. A. Van der Kemp’s proposed book search
  • Serveto (Servetus), Miguel; F. A. Van der Kemp’s work on search
  • Tenney, Samuel; observations on colors search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and copper use by ancients search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and proposed book search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; and R. R. Livingston search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; essays on natural history by search
  • Van der Kemp, Francis Adrian; letters from search