Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 14 August 1786

To David Humphreys

Paris Aug. 14. 1786.

Dear Sir

I wrote you on the 7th. of May, being immediately on my return from England; and have lately received your favor of June 5. and thank you for the intelligence it contains. Every circumstance we hear induces us to beleive that it is the want of will, rather than of ability, to furnish contributions which keeps the public treasury so poor. The Algerines will probably do us the favour to produce a sense of the necessity of a public treasury and a public force on that element where it can never be dangerous. They refuse even to speak on the subject of peace. That with Marocco I expect is signed before this time; for which we are much indebted to Spain.

Your friend Mr. Trumbul is here at present. He brought his Bunker’s hill and Death of Montgomery to have them engraved here. He was yesterday to see the king’s collection of paintings at Versailles, and confesses it surpassed every thing of which he even had an idea. I persuade him to stay and study here, and then proceed to Rome.—Europe is yet quiet, and so will remain probably till the death of the K. of Prussia which is constantly expected. Whether this will be the signal of war or not, is yet to be seen. The two empires and Venice keep alive certain pretensions which may give colour to the commencement of hostilities when they shall think the occasion good. This country is much more intent on sea than on land preparations. Their harbour of Cherbourg will be completed and will hold their whole navy. This is putting the bridle into the mouth of England. The affairs of the United Netherlands have so long threatened civil war, that one ceases almost to believe any appearances. It must be confessed they cannot be stronger. Your friends here are well. La Comtesse d’Houditot asks kindly after you. The public papers continue to say favourable and just things of your poem. A violent criticism of Chastellux’s voiages is just appearing. It is not yet to be bought. I am labouring hard with the assistance of the M. de la fayette to get the general commerce of the U.S. with this country put on a favourable footing, and am not without some hopes. The Marquis is gone into Auvergne for the summer. The rest of the beau monde are also vanished for the season. We give and receive them you know in exchange for the swallows.—I shall be happy to hear from you often, and to hear that you are engaged usefully to your country and agreeably to yourself, being with the most real esteem Dear Sir Your sincere friend & servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Andre deCoppet, New York, 1949); endorsed. PrC (DLC). Your friend Mr. Trumbul is here: The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull, ed. Theodore Sizer (New Haven, 1953), an accurate and well-annotated edition of Trumbull’s Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters (New Haven, 1841), presents an excellent account of TJ’s relations with Trumbull at this period: “Mr. Jefferson… had a taste for the fine arts, and highly approved my intention of preparing myself for the accomplishment of a national work. He encouraged me to persevere in this pursuit, and kindly invited me to come to Paris, to see and study the fine works there, and to make his house my home, during my stay.—I now availed myself of this invitation, and went to his house, at the Grille de Chaillot, where I was most kindly received by him. My two paintings, the first fruits of my national enterprise, met his warm approbation, and during my visit, I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of his information and advice” (Sizer, Autobiography, p. 92–3; see illustration in this volume). On Sunday 6 Aug., Trumbull had gone “with Mr. Jefferson and others to see the ceremony of crowning the rosière of Sarennes, a village near St. Cloud, four miles from Chaillot” (Trumbull gives the date as “Sunday, August 5th,” but it is evident that here and elsewhere in editing his Paris diary for publication he erred in assigning dates to the days of the week); the party evidently did not include Trumbull’s friends the Richard Cosways, for TJ’s Account Book shows that he bought only three “tickets to Suresne,” one of them doubtless being for Short. TJ may have been present on Monday, 7 Aug., when Trumbull “Went with M. and Madame Houdon, to the salon on the Boulevards, to see his little Diana in marble”; he was almost certainly present on Thursday the 10th when Trumbull “Went to the Luxembourg palace with Mr. and Mrs. Cosway” and others; he evidently was not with Trumbull when the latter “Went to Versailles with Mr. and Mrs. Cosway, MM. D’Hancharville, Poggi, Bulfinch, Coffin, &c.” The last expedition was on Sunday the 13th (the 12th by Trumbull’s dating), and on Monday the 14th Trumbull “Dined, in company with Mr. Jefferson, at the Abbés Chassi [Chalut] and Arnout [Arnoux] in Passy; a jour maigre, or fast day, but the luxury of the table in soups, fish and fruits, truly characteristic of the opulent clergy of the times. After dinner visited Madame De Corny” (same, p. 98–9, 107, 118). Unhappily, Trumbull suffered the loss of one or two sheets of his diary toward the close of Aug. Under date of 19 Aug. (i.e., 20 Aug.) he wrote late in life: “I distinctly recollect, however, that this time was occupied with the same industry in examining and reviewing whatever relates to the arts, and that Mr. Jefferson joined our party almost daily; and here commenced his acquaintance with Mrs. Cosway, of whom very respectful mention is made in his published correspondence” (same, p. 120). A violent criticism of chastellux’s voiages: This was Brissot de Warville’s Examen critique des “Voyages dans l’Amérique septentrionale de M. le Marquis de Chatellux”; ou lettre à M. le Marquis de Chatellux dans lequel on réfute principalement ses opinions sur les Quakers, sur les Nègres, sur le peuple et sur l’homme, which had appeared in July (C. Perroud, J.-P. Brissot, Correspondance et Papiers, Paris, 1911, p. 90; although this title, like some others by Brissot de Warville, bears the imprint “Londres,” it was in fact printed in Paris—a device made necessary by the radical nature of the writings of the young philosophe. At the conclusion of 135 pages of criticism of Chastellux’ Voyages, Brissot declared that there was no Frenchman nor American who would not derive pleasure from re-reading “les portraits de Washington, du savant M. Jefferson, et de ce jeune et brave François que vous caractérisez si bien comme l’espérance de notre Nation, spes altera Romæ, dont le nom sera cité à jamais à côté de celui de son père, de son ami Washington, dans les Annales des Etats-Unis”—a tribute that Lafayette must have read with pleasure (see Lafayette to TJ, 30 Aug. 1786). The public papers continue to say favourable and just things of your poem:The issue of Mercure de France for 5 Aug. 1786 contained a tribute to Chastellux’ translation of “un Poëme d’un Officier Américain, qui peut disputer de verve et de beautés avec les meilleures pièces de vers Angloises” (p. 40).

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