Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Chastellux, 24 December 1784

To Chastellux

Paris Dec. 24. 1784.

Dear Sir

Whenever I have had the pleasure of seeing you, you have so filled up the time with agreeable conversation that I have omitted to speak to you on a subject which interests me as it does in some measure yourself. When I was in Philadelphia in the winter of 1782. 1783. a gentleman of my acquaintance, whose candour and good sense yeilds to that of no one, told me with much concern that you had written a book of journals and had a few copies printed, which had not only given great offence, but had very much lessened the public opinion of your talents &c. I think I need not tell you how deeply I felt this. He repeated to me perhaps half a dozen passages from it; they were from your Voiage de Newport a Philadelphie, and contained strictures on some of the ladies whom you had seen. This gentleman did not know you, and having heard me speak of you, made this communication in order to induce a suspicion in me that I had estimated you rather partially. I need not tell you my answer particularly. The circumstances noted, the not intending they should be public, the conversations I had with you at Monticello which had removed all possibility of error in my estimate of you &c. &c. furnished me just ground enough to make my friend suppose that the passages he quoted must not be considered as sufficient to undo the public opinion of you. I heard much afterwards of these same passages and two or three others. A twelvemonth after this, that is in the last winter 1783. 1784. Mr. Marbois shewed me the book itself. I never was so astonished. I found it the most flattering account of America that had ever been written. I found indeed the passages which had been quoted; and what was remarkeable was, that there were in the whole book but about eight of these which could give offence to any body, and that the malice and curiosity of the world had immediately fished out these from those who were possessed of the book, had got verbal and literal possession of them, knew not one word else of what was in it, but formed a general opinion that the whole was like this, a collection of personal strictures and satyre. I observed to Monsr. Marbois that it was much to be wished that you would let us strike out these passages, and translate and publish the work. He thought with me that it would be very pleasing to the Americans and valuable to yourself as far as their opinions can interest you. He said he would write to you on the subject. I was to do the same; but my appointment to come here prevented my doing it. I do not know that you have any occasion to set any value on the opinions of my countrymen. But you must allow myself to do it and many others of them who have formed a just esteem for you. It is irksome to us to have your worth mistaken; and it is much our wish to set it in it’s just point of view. This would be done effectually by translating and publishing the book, having first struck out the passages which gave offence and which were of the least importance of any in it. A preface might admit the former existence of such passages, justify their insertion in what was intended for the eye of a dozen friends only, and equally justify their omission when the work is offered to the public. Perhaps you would permit to be added a translation of your letter to Mr. Madison on the probable influence of the revolution on our manners and laws, a work which I have read with great pleasure and wish it could be given to my countrymen. Be so good as to reflect on these things and let them be the subject of our next conversation. I have given you the detail historically as the circumstances happened, believing you would thence form a better judgment of them. I am with very great esteem Dr. Sir your friend & servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Archives de Chastellux, by courtesy of M. le Duc de Duras, Chateau Chastellux, Yonne, France, 1952); addressed: “A Monsr. le Marquis de Chastellux en son hotel Quai d’Orsai a Paris.”

The person in Philadelphia in the winter of 1782.1783. who told TJ of Chastellux’ Voyage de Newport, Philadephie [sic], Albany, &c [1781] must have been James Madison (see TJ to Madison, 20 Feb. 1784); Chastellux knew Madison and TJ’s assertion that this gentleman did not know you need not be regarded as anything more than an effort to conceal Madison’s identity. TJ himself had made a copy of certain passages from the extremely rare 1781 edition (Vol. 6: 550–1, note), but these did not include the strictures on some of the ladies. Chastellux acted upon TJ’s advice, but the “Avertissement de l’imprimeur” in the 1786 edition was not quite the admission and justification of the former existence of such passages that TJ counseled, as shown by the following translation of Chastellux’ prefatory explanation in the London, 1787, edition: “The Public have been long informed that the Marquis de Chastellux had written Journals of his Travels in North America, and they seem to have wished to see those Journals more generally diffused. The Author, who had arranged them solely for himself and for his friends, has constantly refused to make them public until this moment. The first and most considerable, in fact, were printed in America; but only twenty-four impressions were struck off, and this with no other view than to avoid the multiplying of copies, which were become indispensably necessary in a country and at a time when there was very little hope of any packets reaching Europe, but by the means of duplicates. Besides that, he thought proper to avail himself of the small printing press on board the squadron at Rhode Island. Of these twenty-four impressions, not above ten or twelve reached Europe, and the Author had addressed them all to persons on whom he could rely, and whom he had requested not to suffer any copies to be taken. The curiosity, however, which every thing respecting America at that time inspired, excited much anxiety to read them. They passed successively through a great many hands, and there is reason to believe that the readers have not all been equally scrupulous; nor can it even be doubted that there exist some manuscript copies, which being hastily executed, may be presumed to be incorrect” (Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782, London, 1787, i, p. iv; Voyage de M. le Marquis de Chastellux dans L’Amérique Septentrionale, Paris, 1786, i, p. 5–6). On the basis of this general statement, the several references to Mrs. Samuel Powel and Mrs. Philip Schuyler that had excited comment (see Chastellux to TJ, 27 Dec. 1784) were greatly modified in the expanded edition of 1786. In the 1781 edition Chastellux wrote of Mrs. Powel: “J’ai déja parlé de M. Powel, il faut à présent parler de sa femme; car en dépit des moeurs américaines, c’est elle qui dans le ménage fait (suivant l’expression italienne) la prima figura. Elle me reçut dans une belle maison accommodée à l’angloise, & ce qui me toucha le plus, ornée de belles estampes &a de très-bonnes copies des meilleurs tableaux d’Italie: c’est que M. Powel a voyagé en Europe, & qu’il a eté à Rome & à Naples, où il a pris le goût des beaux arts. Pour Madame Powel elle n’a pas voyagé; mais elle a de l’esprit & de la mémoire, parle bien & parle beaucoup; elle m’a fait l’honneur de me prendre en amitié & m’a trouvé beaucoup de mérite, parce que j’avois celui de l’écouter‥‥ Je passai le reste de la soirée chez Madame Powel, où, comme on le peut croire, la conversation ne tomba pas; elle fut agréable & animée & je m’y oubliai assez long-tems” (Voyage de Newport, p. 80–1, 89; Grenville Kane copy, NjP). In the 1786 edition this became: “J’ai déja parlé de M. Powel; il faut à présent parler de sa femme; & en effet il seroit difficile de séparer l’une de l’autre, deux personnes qui depuis 20 ans vivent ensemble dans la plus douce union; je ne dirai pas comme mari & femme, ce qui n’emporteroit pas en Amérique l’idée d’une parfaite égalité, mais comme deux amis singulierement assortis par l’esprit, les goûts & les connoissances. M. Powel, comme je l’ai dit plus haut, a voyagé en Europe, & en a rapporté le goût des beaux arts: sa maison est ornée d’estampes précieuses & de bonnes copies de plusieurs tableaux d’Italie. Madame Powel n’a pas voyagé, mais elle a beaucoup lu, & avec profit: il seroit peutêtre injuste de dire qu’elle differe en ce point de la plupart des dames américaines; mais ce qui la particularise le plus, c’est le goût qu’elle a pour la conversation, & l’usage vraiment européen qu’elle sait y faire de son esprit & de ses connoissances‥‥ Je passai le reste de la soirée chez Madame Powel, où je comptois bien trouver une conversation agréable; mon attente ne fut pas trompée, & je m’y oubliai assez longtems” (Voyage, 1786, i, p. 168–9, 186). On Mrs. Schuyler Chastellux wrote in the 1781 edition: “… cependant j’avois observé que Madame Schuyler étoit une grosse hollandoise, d’humeur assez sérieuse, & qu’elle paroissoit être la maîtresse dans la maison: je pensai qu’il ne falloit pas en user trop cavaliérement avec elle, & comme je savois qu’on étoit instruit de mon retour, je trouvai plus à propos de temporiser, & je fis très-bien. En effet, le Colonel Hamilton vint me voir dans la matinée, parut un peu embarrassé & ne me fit aucune proposition. Je promis d’aller dans la soirée rendre visite au Général, & je rassemblai chez moi tous les étrangers pour leur donner un diner, qui ne réussit pas si bien que le souper de la veille. A six heures du soir on nous envoya des traîneaux, & nous nous rendîmes chez le Général Schuyler. Nous le trouvâmes dans son salon avec M. & Mme. Hamilton seulement; on nous dit que Madame Schuyler étoit incommodée & nous le primes pour argent comptant‥‥ nous passâmes dans une autre piece où nous trouvâmes Madame & Mademoiselle Schuyler auprès du feu, ayant l’air de se porter assez bien” (Voyage de Newport, p. 152–3). Others of the ladies included a Miss Dorrance and “une Miss Vining, cèlebre par sa coquetterie … et, bonne Whig en tout point, elle ne met point de bornes à sa liberté” (same, p. 128; for other characterizations that were later softened or deleted, see p. 3, 63–4, 113, 116, 124–5, 127, 167, 174, 183).

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