Thomas Jefferson Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude" AND Period="Madison Presidency" AND Correspondent="Jefferson, Thomas"
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Destutt de Tracy to Thomas Jefferson, 12 June 1809

From Destutt de Tracy

a auteuil ce 12 juin 1809.

Monsieur

je Suis Saisi de la plus timide inquietude quand je pense qu’un ouvrage de moi Sur les objets les plus importants au bonheur des hommes, va etre mis Sous les yeux de l’homme de l’univers que je respecte le plus et dont j’ambitionne le plus le Suffrage. cependant je ressens une joye vive de penser qu’aprés avoir fait le bonheur de votre pays, aprés lui avoir donné le plus grand et le plus utile exemple dont l’histoire fasse mention, aprés avoir rempli, autant que possible, par cet exemple, une dangereuse lacune de Sa constitution, vous avez du loisir pour vous occuper de Spéculation, et que vous daignera peut-etre examiner les idées que je vous Sousmets. Si je Suis assez heureux pour qu’elles vous plaisent je remets entre vos mains le livre et l’auteur. je Serois charmé qu’on leur fit l’honneur de transporter ces idées dans votre langue maternelle, et qu’elles pussent etre publiées Sous vos auspices. mais il est de la plus grande importance pour moi qu’on ne Sache jamais, ou du moins qu’aprés ma mort, que cet ouvrage vient de moi. Si meme le nom de Condorcet pouvoit conduire a le Soupçonner, il Seroit peut-etre a propos de le Suprimer. disposez, je vous Suplie, du tout comme il vous plaira, pour le corriger et l’ameliorer, Si vous voulez bien en prendre la peine.

je Suis avec les Sentiments de la plus vive reconnoissance et du plus profond respect que vous doivent tous les amis de l’humanité dans toutes les nations.

Votre trés humble et trés obeissant Serviteur.

Destutt-Tracy

P.S. Depuis que je n’ai eu l’honneur de vous ecrire, j’ai perdu mon excellent et illustre ami Mr Cabanis qui etoit penetré pour vous de la plus tendre veneration. Sa mort a achevé d’empoisonner le reste de ma vie. ma plus douce consolation est dans les Sentiments que m’accorde le Genereux ami qui me procure l’avantage de vous presenter mes hommages. il est bien malheureux, lui meme, et je partage bien douloureusement Ses chagrins.

permettez moi de vous offrir le discours que j’ai prononcé a l’institut quand j’ai eu le malheur d’y prendre la place de mon ami, et quelques vers de lui qui ont été lus dans cette Séance, et d’y joindre les hommages de Sa digne veuve qui est la fidelle dépositaire de tous Ses Sentiments, et qui me charge d’etre Son interprete auprés de vous.

Editors’ Translation

Auteuil 12 June 1809.

Sir

I am seized with the most apprehensive anxiety at the thought that a work of mine about the objects most important to the happiness of man is going to be placed under the eyes of the man I respect the most in the universe and from whom I crave approval the most. However I am delighted to think that after having made your country prosperous, after having given it the greatest and the most useful example known in history, after having filled, as much as possible, by this example, a dangerous gap in its constitution, you find enough leisure to be engaged in speculation, and you will perhaps deign to examine the ideas that I am submitting to you. If I am fortunate enough that they please you, I put into your hands the book and the author. I would be delighted if they had the honor of being translated into your native tongue and if they were published under your auspices. But it is of the greatest importance to me that it never be known, at least not until after my death, that this work is mine. If even only the name of Condorcet could cause suspicion, it would perhaps be appropriate to suppress it. I beg you to do as you please with all of this, to correct it and to improve it, if you would be kind enough to take the trouble to do it.

I am, with the warmest feelings of gratitude and the most profound respect which is owed to you by all friends of humanity in all nations,

Your very humble and obedient servant.

Destutt-Tracy

P.S. Since the last time I had the honor to write you, I have lost my excellent and illustrious friend Mr. Cabanis, who was filled with the most tender veneration for you. His death finished poisoning the rest of my life. My sweetest consolation is in the sentiments accorded to me by the generous friend who gives me the means of presenting my regards to you. He himself is quite unhappy, and I very painfully share his grief.

Allow me to offer you the speech I gave at the Institut when I had the misfortune to take the place of my friend, and a few of his verses that were read during that session, and to join to them the regards of his worthy widow who is the faithful trustee of all his sentiments, and who charges me to be his interpreter with you.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 28 Sept. 1809 and so recorded in SJL. Translation by Dr. Genevieve Moene. Enclosures: (1) French-language Dft, not found, of Destutt de Tracy, A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Philadelphia, 1811; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 2327). (2) Discours prononcés dans la séance publique tenue par la classe de la langue et de la littérature françaises de l’Institut de France (Paris, 1808), which included Destutt de Tracy’s eulogy of Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis.

Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy (1754–1836), a French writer and philosopher, was an influential voice for reform during the French Revolution. He renounced his title of nobility in 1789 and joined ranks with the Third Estate. A member of the liberal group known as the Idéologues, Destutt de Tracy was a member of the Institut de France and a vocal opponent of Napoleon. He corresponded frequently with TJ after 1804, when he sent him the first two installments of his Élémens d’Ideologie (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1239). TJ thought so highly of Destutt de Tracy and his work that he arranged for the translation and publication of the manuscript on Montesquieu enclosed here, and he spent a great deal of time in 1816 preparing his own translation of another of Destutt de Tracy’s works, A Treatise on Political Economy (Georgetown, 1817 [1818]), for which TJ found a publisher and supplied a preface under his own name (DBF description begins Dictionnaire de biographie française, 1933– , 19 vols. description ends ; Biographie universelle description begins Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, new ed., 1843–65, 45 vols. description ends , 42:77–9; Gilbert Chinard, Jefferson et les Idéologues d’après sa correspondance inédite avec Destutt de Tracy, Cabanis, J.-B. Say et Auguste Comte [1925], 97–188; Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 6:208–11, 305–7; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1320).

Destutt de Tracy’s commentary on Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois also included a discussion of that work by condorcet. Destutt de Tracy succeeded philosopher and physiologist Pierre Jean Georges cabanis as president of the Académie Française. TJ had known Cabanis when he was in France and had received his publication on the physical and moral faculties of man in 1803 (Chinard, Jefferson et les Idéologues, 44; TJ to Cabanis, 13 July 1803 [DLC]; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1246).

Index Entries

  • Cabanis, Charlotte Grouchy (Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis’s wife) search
  • Cabanis, Pierre Jean Georges; death of search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); preparation of search
  • Condorcet, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de; and Montesquieu search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Discours prononcés dans la séance publique tenue par la classe de la langue search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; identified search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; letters from search
  • Discours prononcés dans la séance publique tenue par la classe de la langue (Destutt de Tracy) search
  • French language; letters in, from; Destutt de Tracy search
  • Institut de France; members of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; translates Destutt de Tracy’s works search