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Charles Thomson to Thomas Jefferson, 16 May 1816

From Charles Thomson

Lower Merion, near Philadelphia May 16. 1816

My very dear, much loved as well as ancient friend

Your letter of the 9 of January last which did not reach me till the latter end of April was to me indeed a cordial. It recalled to mind the trying Scenes through which we passed with undessembled confidence, but in a particular manner rejoiced me as it informed me of the firm state of your health and the full enjoyment you have of your faculties both of body and mind and more especially of the precious little book you have composed and which you call the philosophy of Jesus, which is to you a document in proof that you are a real Christian, that is a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus and can look to the consummation of life with the composure of one qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat. For the good of our country I could wish that day to be distant; but on account of the infirmities with which age1 is accompanied and which I experience, I dare not. Nothing but your earnest desire could induce me to trouble you with a detail of what I experience2 and feel. Though I have reached and am near closing, my 87th year, my constitution was naturally not of the robust, but of a weak and delicate kind, subject to bilious complaints and fevers by which I have been several times brought to the gates of death and have (I may say miraculously) recoverd and with returning strength have found the powers of the mind restored. But that is not the case now. I find as I advance3 in life that disorders of any kind make more lasting impressions. They dull the senses and stupify the mind so as to render it incapable of exercising its powers. I have parted with most of my teeth and4 the few stumps that remain are unfit for mastication. My Eyes indeed (though in 1778 I almost lost the use of them by what the french call a Coup de Soleil) have been so far restored that I write and read without spectacles and use them only occasionally to ease the Eyes when tired or when the print is too small. My hearing is so dull that I can take no share in common conversation So that when my friends visit me and wish to communicate any thing or ask me a question they must sit near me and bawl. My memory is like a riddle—

But why should I proceed with this detail of weaknesses. How few at my age enjoy greater comforts. I am free from gout or stone or any acute disorder. My sleep is sweet, and when tired, whether by day or night I can, by laying my head on a pillow, enjoy that comfort. I read the news papers for amusement and glance over the debates of sages and am sorry to say I find more to disgust than to please. I lately met with Allen’s history of Lewis and Clarks interesting expedition up the Missouri to its source, thence across the rocky mountains and down the river Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. It is a wonderful instance of persevering resolution I wish it had undergone another revision before it was committed to the press, and that it was accompanied with a better map.

I ought to have informed you that from an early period of life I have continued the constant use of the flesh brush, always in the morning and sometimes at night just before going to bed. This serves instead of riding and I have the benefit of an air bathe instead of a water bathe. But to finish this string of Egotisms I beg leave to assure you that I am with constant and5 undessembled love your affectionate

Chas Thomson

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 May 1816 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Payne Todd, 15 Aug. 1816, on recto; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr at Monticello Virginia”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 21 May.

qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat is a variant of “summum nec metuas diem nec optes” (“don’t fear your last day, nor yet pray for it”), from Martial, Epigrams, book 10, poem 47, line 13 (Martial, Epigrams, trans. David R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library [1993; later printing with variant pagination], 2:360–1). coup de soleil: “sunstroke; sunburn.”

1Reworked from “old.”

2Manuscript: “experienc.”

3Manuscript: “advanc.”

4Manuscript: “and and.”

5Manuscript: “and and.”

Index Entries

  • aging; C. Thomson on search
  • Allen, Paul; and N. Biddle’s history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Biddle, Nicholas; History of the Expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark search
  • books; on Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • deafness; and old age search
  • Epigrammata (Martial); quoted search
  • health; bile search
  • health; deafness search
  • health; dental search
  • health; fever search
  • health; sunburn search
  • health; vision loss search
  • History of the Expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark (N. Biddle) search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; history of search
  • Martial (Roman poet); C. Thomson quotes search
  • Thomson, Charles; friendship with TJ search
  • Thomson, Charles; health of search
  • Thomson, Charles; letters from search