Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Gilmer, 11 December 1785

From George Gilmer

Pen-Park 11 Decr. 1785

Dear Sir

Monsr. Doradour presented me with your agreeable favor some time after his arrival at Charlottesville, although accident placed me in his way the day of his arrival at Colo. Lewis’s, where I was obliged to stand interpreter. Both being under uneasy anxiety from not being able to convey an Idea to each other, myself much distressed from my inaccurate french, and not so easily comprehending Monsr. Doradour as his companion, he unfortunately seemd disgusted from his first arrival. After sojourning a month or two at Colle he was induced to Philadelphia by some friend there, recommending lands to him.

This has not been my first attempt to converse with you, but the precariousness of geting a line towards Paris has prevented. Nothing can afford me more serious anxiety, than your want of health. I pray it may be speedily restored, without the aid of Animal magnatism, or the quill of Oesculapius, till there is more stability in the medical tribe, and medecine less influenced by fashion. The former nostrum will be less injurious in general than the aid of the aggregate body of Physick, including every denomination of practitioners.

The health and agreeable situation of your sweet daughter affords me singular Joy. May they both command the graces, and lead the sciences, and ever console you with their native gentle, easy, free dispositions. We have to lament the want of proper seminaries for Instruction in this country, particularly in this quarter. Wish your noble plan could be reduced to practice. Mrs. Gilmer gave me a fine girl two months past, her tenth child. She enjoys better health than ever, makes nothing of walking home from Charlottesville after an Assembly through snow. She still makes her excurtions ambling. My gout has been ashamed to shew itself. Haveing lived [at] my chunk the abstemious life of Lucullus, the debauche[ry of] Charlottesville may revive it. By Madison you’l rece[ive ou]r present system of politics, if there is any at all; the [Doc]tor is out of the line, and Will be perfectly happy if h[e can on] your arrival (which heaven speed) delight your [eyes by hi]s hill with the gay green, which shall soon [be cover]ed with verdure, and if the wolves will permit [some? he]rds having still a great fondness for graces [grasses]. I shall by the next, probably send you a few seed of the Georgia bryar, the Vegetable that links the animal and vegetable system together. You’l observe the Mychunkites now reside at Robin Adams old place, which at present may with propriety be said to be rudes indigestaque moles. M[r.] Harmer is giving it some form. Mrs. Gilmer begs her most affectionate compliments may be united with mine to you and your dear Girls. Adieu.

George Gilmer

RC (DLC); endorsed; MS torn at lower right and left corners; missing words are supplied in brackets by the editors. Recorded in SJL as received 23 June 1786.

The Noble Plan that Gilmer referred to was TJ’s “Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” (see Vol. 2: 526–35). The Georgia Bryar…that links the animal and vegetable system together was evidently Leptoglottis, a plant that is extremely sensitive to the touch, generally called sensitive brier. Jedidiah Morse described two plants that seemed to 18th century observers to have properties that linked “the animal and vegetable system together”: “A species of the sensitive plant is also found here [in North Carolina]; it is a sort of brier, the stalk of which dies with the frost, but the root lives through the winter, and shoots again in the spring. The lightest touch of a leaf causes it to turn and cling close to the stalk. Although it so easily takes the alarm, and apparently shrinks from danger, in the space of two minutes after it is touched, it perfectly recovers its former situation. The mucipula veneris is also found here” (Am. Univ. Geog., 3rd ed., 1796, p. 650). The latter is Dionaea muscipula (Venus’ fly-trap) an insectivorous species; but it is not a brier and, being found only on the coastal plain of the Carolinas, would probably have been inaccessible to Dr. Gilmer. Leptoglottis is found from Virginia to Florida (see also R. S. Walker, Lookout: The Story of a Mountain, 1941, p. 58). My chunk: Mechums (Meachamps, Mechumps, Mechunk) river, which flows through Albemarle county.

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