Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 11 April 1791

To David Humphreys

Philadelphia Apr. 11. 1791.

Dear Sir

There has been published at Madrid, by some bishop who had been to Mexico, and found there an original collection of the letters of Cortez, a book containing those letters. I do not know how it happened that I did not ask the favor of you to procure this book for me. I now supply the omission, and add a request to procure also la historia del Amirante D. Christoval Colomb by Fernando Colomb, his son, in Spanish, or Ulloa’s translation of it into Italian, or Cotolendi’s translation into French, or all three of them. I am in hopes there are such communications between Madrid and Lisbon as to enable you to get them for me. I have received Mr. Bulkeley’s letter and samples of wine. The Termo, and Torres are exactly what I had in view. As it will not be time to order wines over till the hot months are past, I shall in July inclose them an order and a bill of exchange for a pipe of the oldest Termo they can procure, this being the most approved of the six qualities they sent me. This will be in time for the wine to be shipped in September. As I shall probably send to them annually, I will add to my bills of exchange for them, any little disbursements for the books or other thing I may trouble you for. I am with great esteem Dear Sir Your friend & servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP); at head of text: “Private.” PrC (DLC).

TJ had learned about the publication of Cortez’ letters before leaving Paris, when he acquired a copy of J. F. Bourgoing’s three-volume Nouveau voyage en Espagne (Paris, 1789), in which the collection published by the Archbishop of Mexico was mentioned (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 3899). It is significant that, in remedying the omission, TJ appealed to Humphreys in Lisbon rather than to Carmichael in Madrid, to whom he had written on the same day in a letter to be forwarded by Humphreys. This was only another indication of TJ’s growing conviction that the chargé could not be depended upon (see note, TJ to Carmichael, 11 Apr. 1791). Ironically, TJ’s long quest for Lorezana y Butron’s Historia de Nueva-España, escrita por su Esclarecido Conquistador Hernan Cortes, aumentada con otros documentos, notas (Mexico, 1770) came to a successful conclusion through the efforts of Carmichael, who appealed to Lorezana y Butron himself, then Archbishop of Toledo. The copy that TJ ultimately received was procured by him after “a great deal of trouble.” TJ’s copy still survives in the Library of Congress (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 4120; James Blake to TJ, 6 June 1795). It came to TJ only after Carmichael’s death. So, too, did the memorial of the French and Spanish capitalists concerning the possibility of a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. The latter was an item TJ had long urged Carmichael to procure for him as “a vast desideratum for reasons political and philosophical” (TJ to Carmichael, 3 June 1788). In the period when he was alert and unafflicted, Carmichael had labored to meet this request and had reported frequently concerning it (Carmichael to TJ, 14 Apr., 24 July, 9 Sep. 1788, and 26 Jan. 1789). When and how he succeeded is not known. But late in life, when TJ presented the manuscript to the American Philosophical Society, his failing memory led him to give the credit to the Chevalier Bourgoing (TJ to DuPonceau, 6 Dec. 1817, quoted above in note to TJ to Carmichael, 3 June 1788, in which the Editors mistakenly accepted TJ’s statement as correct). TJ had forgotten that both the Historia de Nueva-España and the manuscript on the proposed canal were gifts from Carmichael, transmitted to him by his widow and acknowledged by him twenty years earlier (TJ to James Blake, 29 Feb. 1796; TJ to Mrs. Carmichael, 8 May 1797).

Mr. Bulkeley’s letter: An entry in SJL shows that TJ received a letter of 18 Jan. 1791 from John Bulkeley & Son, Lisbon, on 28 Feb. 1791. Another entry records the receipt on 30 Mch. 1791 of a letter from the same merchants, probably a duplicate of the first. Neither has been found, but see TJ to Bulkeley & Son, 13 July 1791. On Humphreys’ relation with Bulkeley, see note to Humphreys to TJ, 3 May 1791.

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