Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Philip Mazzei, 26 October 1785

From Philip Mazzei

Paris 26 Oct. 1785 Wednesday night

My very Dear Sir

Since you had said the day before yesterday that you would not go to Fontainebleau today unless the weather was good and since it rained yesterday all day without any sign of change in the near future I hoped to see you after dinner at Chaillot and I have learned with great sorrow that I shall have to leave for Holland without seeing you.

Monday evening after we parted I went to Mr. Meyer’s house and took him with me to Williamos’ to have him meet him. The thing went marvelously well; Williamos took great pleasure in conversing with this semi-countryman and he asked him to come back to see him. Meyer assumed the obligation to give him two écus every two days and he will begin Friday. I had given him two on Saturday as I told you and two I gave him on Monday when I went to see him with Meyer, but this evening I gave him nothing, because I learned from him himself that he has received a louis and a half from Mr. Barclay today, and that out of that sum he must pay only fifteen lire for some small purchases that he has made in the neighborhood. In addition I asked him whether he was in need and he himself replied no. As for the louis that I paid out I have an understanding with Meyer to whom your Excellency can pay it together with what additional sum he will give Williamos. On your return it will be well for you to see him and tell him to do (if you think it appropriate) as I have done, that is to give him the two écus every two days when he is in need and to give him nothing when he receives assistance from other quarters. Last night he was much better and from what I’ve been told the doctor hopes to bring him around.

I enclose herewith the note for the fifty louis and I am taking the liberty of taking with me the papers that you lent me which are so important to you. I take this liberty because I have great hopes of being able to have a copy made for myself in the office of the Van Staphorst brothers; because in my hand they are just as safe as if they were in your study and because I must return so soon that there is no likelihood that you could need them in the interval.

I should be much obliged to you if you would take the trouble to reply on the subject of this letter and to send me the reply chez Messrs. Nicholas & Jacob Van Staphorst à Amsterdam.

At my death I shall probably leave what little I shall have on me, that is, clothing, watch, &c. to those who attend me at that time. In my will, which I wish to make immediately, I shall dispose of the two lots in Richmond, of my money in the loan office, the military certificates, Colle, and the asses if I succeed in sending them to Virginia and in establishing title to them. My only definite and legitimate debts will probably be with the Van Staphorst brothers or with some other house which may take their place. Therefore the only trouble for my executor will be to safeguard the rights of my creditors and those to whom I shall leave the remainder, particularly against the claims of the scoundrelly Petronilla, indeed of her alone because I cannot see that any can arise from any other quarter. I should like to know if your Excellency will do me the favor to accept this responsibility in which case you would relieve me of a worry which weighs upon me. I should like to know also whether it is necessary to mention in the will the power of attorney given to Ed. Randolph and Mr. Blair or whether the said power of attorney ceases with my life.

I should very much like you to have the kindness to put in writing for me the formula for making a second mortgage in such a way that I may be sure of avoiding mistakes which might prejudice my creditors when my soul is dead and my body dissolved.

To avoid my wife’s being entitled to half of the money in the Virginia bonds, or the military certificates, could I not mortgage the interest for a given sum or for a certain number of years to those persons to whom I should want to leave it?

If you will be kind enough to reply to me concerning everything, you will do me the greatest favor; and I now pass to a subject about which it would not be well to reply in writing.

After my return to Virginia I came to know better than I had known before that being born in a foreign country and not being wealthy tend to exclude one from those occupations reputed to be honorable and in which the zealous and active citizen can be useful to his country even though he have but mediocre ability. The persuasion that I could be useful, the desire to be so, my active nature and that sort of ambition which to me seems praiseworthy, do not permit me to see myself neglected without grave and continuous unhappiness. Men cannot change themselves as regards their innermost feelings even though they may be the absolute masters of their actions. If I could render some service in Europe so as to become honorably known in America the scene would doubtless change; and I am convinced that your Excellency and Mr. Adams could without difficulty open the path for me to do so if you would write what you know of me concerning my zeal (not for the trees or the rivers or for the land of America but for the asylum of liberty), the confidence that may be had concerning my honesty, about my connections which are perhaps still a great support for success in business, and of my knowledge of the world, particularly of those quarters where our wise compatriots probably would have need of charting a new course. I do not think it would be indelicate to mention to Mr. Adams, when you write to him about other matters, my desires and hopes, and to ask him for his opinion. Both of you know very well that every instrument has a particular use, and that many of the most learned and judicious men are not as capable of conducting an affair as one of mediocre ability who has a first-hand knowledge of the particulars.

Speaking of financial matters I ought to have asked you also to show me the method to keep from losing title to the asses if I succeed in sending them in my name or in the name of someone else and if it should happen that an heir of the person who appeared to be the owner should claim the title.

Pardon the inconvenience of such a long hodge-podge. I beg you to favor me with the information I need as soon as possible, honor me with your commands, and believe me invariably with the highest esteem, your most humble servant, most obliging and most affectionate friend,

Filippo Mazzei

I have informed the M. de la Fayette of your present address. I beg you to send the letter to Mr. Adams by the first opportunity, and if you think he is able to send the other 3 to America first, pray send him those also.

RC (DLC); in Italian; endorsed. Not recorded in SJL. The enclosed note “for the fifty louis” has not been found; it was probably in acknowledgement of the 600 francs that, according to an entry in the Account Book for 22 Oct. 1785, TJ had lent Mazzei. The enclosed letter to John Adams was evidently that of 29 Oct. 1785 (MHi: AMT); see note below. The three other letters destined for America have not been identified.

The nature of the papers that you lent me which are so important to you is not precisely known, but some are identified in Mazzei’s letter to TJ of 6 Feb. 1786. Mazzei evidently took these with him in the hope of persuading Luzac, publisher of the Gazette de Leide to use them as counter-propaganda. Lafayette’s return from the Prussian maneuvers was no doubt Mazzei’s immediate stimulus in this direction. In his letter to Adams of 29 Oct. Mazzei wrote: “The Marquis de la Fayette is just returned from Germany, where he has been in the way of observing, that the many lies and exaggerations which are everywhere spread to our disadvantage must be injurious to our national honor, if we neglect contradicting them, as we have done hitherto with too much indulgence.” He added that Lafayette had written to friends in Congress proposing to maintain a printer in behalf of American interest and urging them “not to mind a certain sum of money which can hardly be better employed.” Mazzei thought the newspapers had not done as much harm as the writings of “the untrue and partial Abbé Raynal and the good natured and uninformed Abbé de Mably. The first is an Angloman and the second has written for the mere sake of writing, probably in his dotage, without knowing what he was about.” He also asked Adams whether he had authority to contradict the assertion of Abbé Mably “that you desired him to write on the several constitutions of the United States” (Mazzei to Adams, 29 Oct. 1785; MHi: AMT). “When I first came to Europe,” Adams replied, “… my Indignation was roused, at the shameless falshoods which were continually propagated and I took a great deal of pains to have them contradicted, but I have long since found it an Augean stable. The Truth is, that this impudence is encouraged in France, almost as much, and in Germany still more, than in England. The real motive is to discourage Emigrations. One half of Germany and more than half of England, Scotland and Ireland would be soon on tiptoe and no inconsiderable Part of France—to fly to America for relief from that intollerable Load which they now carry on their shoulders, if they knew the true state of facts in America. The English Ministers and the whole Hierarchy of their Dependents are aware of this, and there is an incredible Number of Persons constantly employed in preparing Paragraphs to represent the United States to be in a state of Anarchy and Misery‥‥You may contradict them to Eternity to no Purpose. Everything you insert will only occasion ten more lies to be made and your truths will be disbelieved and all the lies credited‥‥I don’t believe you will do any good by entering into the Fracasseries of the Men of Letters in France. De Mably was as honest a Man and as Independent a Spirit as you will find among them” (Adams to Mazzei, 15 Dec. 1785; MHi: AMT). Mazzei yielded no ground in his reply: “As to News-papers, I beg leave to transcribe for your perusal the conclusion of a paragraph, which Marquis de la Fayette, to contradict a false assertion in which he had been named, sent to several Gazeteers in various parts of Europe, and was by them faithfully inserted. ‘C’est une occasion d’avertir Messrs. les Gazetiers Européens que toutes les lamentations qu’ils reçoivent sur la prétendue Anarchie, corruption, et détrêsse des Américains n’ont en général d’autre but que de combattre à couvert les Etats Unis, les idées de liberté, et surtout l’esprit d’Emigration.’ The publishing of such a paragraph, and others which at different times have been sent to several printers by Mr. Jefferson or myself, show most clearly that the printers are not all bribed, or controuled by the Governments they live under, at least on affairs relative to America. Some of them are; but that being known, they are not much credited. The harm is done by those who, although they would be glad to furnish their readers with true American accounts, are obliged to copy them from English papers, for want of a better information. Even the great Republican Luzac has found it necessary to do the same, not to appear negligent or partial in our favor, though he did not credit himself such things as his business, or rather his duty as a gazeteer, obliged him to insert in his gazette‥‥National honor has been my first inducement to undertake the confutation of the mistakes, follies, indiscretions and falsities of certain writers‥‥As to Buffon, who has been unwillingly induced into error … I shall refer my reader to the Annotations on the State of Virginia, wherein Mr. Jefferson has confuted him most masterly and completely. I will prove that Abbé Raynal is a willful lyer; and as to Mably, I have already brought to a geometrical demonstration his ignorance of our Constitutions and Codes of Laws‥‥He proves nothing, and teaches nothing if we except a few wrong, silly, and overbearing principles of Government. The stile is the only thing of his writings, that may be of some service in certain diseases, as it operates quicker than Laudanum. I defy the whole Corps of his friends to point out, in any one of his whole works, a single good part of his own, or any matter whatsoever properly discussed and thoroughly digested” (Mazzei to Adams, 23 Jan. 1786; MHi: AMT). This was scarcely convincing to Adams on either point—Mably’s Observations upon the Government and Laws of the United States had been written in the form of letters addressed to Adams, who had once expressed great pleasure at seeing “the pens of a De Mably, a Raynal, a Cerisier, a Price, turned to the subject of government” (Adams to Cerisier, 22 Feb. 1784; Works, ed. C. F. Adams, ix, 522–3)—but it provides additional information as to the extent to which TJ, as well as Lafayette and Mazzei, sought to counteract hostile accounts in the European press. See Vol. 7: 540–5; TJ’s account of the Stanhope affair, printed under 1 Nov. 1785; and note to Mazzei to TJ, 6 Feb. 1786.

The scoundrelly Petronilla was Mazzei’s wife, from whom he had expressed the intention of obtaining a divorce “as soon as in our republic we shall have wise and sacred laws authorizing the dissolution of matrimonial ties” (quoted by Marraro, WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly description ends , 3rd ser., i [1944], 378, note 8). It was evidently at TJ’s request—perhaps made during their conversation Monday eveningthat meyer assumed the obligation when he and Mazzei discussed Williamos’ situation. On his return from Fontainebleau, TJ, according to an entry in his Account Book under 8 Nov. 1785, “gave Mayer for support of Williamos 120f.” See note to TJ to Williamos, 7 July 1785.

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