Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Charles Pougens, 5 February 1803

To Charles Pougens

Washington Feb. 5. 1803.


I have to acknolege the reciept of several letters from yourself and mr Short making a friendly tender of your services as a bookseller. but the fact is that my collection of books is now so extensive, & myself so far advanced in life that I have little occasion to add to it. being charged with procuring some books for Congress, and observing you had established a correspondence with mr Duane, I put into his hands a catalogue, and at the same time wrote to mr Livingston our minister at Paris to advise in the execution of the commission and to pay for the books. I desired they might not be shipped till April, having experienced great damage to books in winter passages.

I am a subscriber to the Encyclopedie Methodique, and possess about 90. whole volumes of text and about as much of the plates as will make 16. or 17. volumes, and I am desirous of getting the parts since published. to do this I know no method so certain as to give you a state of what I possess, and you will hence be able to take up the sequel at the proper point and to send it to me. and if you will note the additional parts that you send me, you will be able hereafter to send what further comes out, which I should be glad you would do annually in the month of April. our minister at Paris can advise the channel of conveyance, but if you will send them to M. de la Motte our Vice-consul at Havre, no surer conveyance can be recommended. as I am utterly uninformed of the extent of the parts published subsequent to what I possess, I cannot conjecture the amount of cost, and therefore have imagined it might not be inconvenient, on the reciept of your bill to permit me either to pay the money into the hands of mr Duane, or to remit you a bill on Paris, Amsterdam or London as you should prefer. the books may come in any vessel bound to New York, Philadelphia, or any port of the Chesapeake. Accept my salutations and respects.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “M. Pougens.” Recorded in SJL with notation “Encycl. Buffon. Aeschylus.”

Marie Charles Joseph Pougens (1755–1833), born in Paris, received an exemplary education in a variety of subjects and began his career with diplomatic missions in Rome and Great Britain. In the libraries of the Vatican and the British Museum he researched the origins of languages, and in Rome he also studied art. He lost his eyesight to smallpox at the age of 24. As a chevalier of the Knights of Malta he received revenues from estates, but he lost that source of income during the French Revolution. Sentenced to death in 1794, he survived when the execution of Robespierre brought an end to the Reign of Terror. The National Convention awarded him a pension, and in 1795 he opened a business in Paris selling books on commission. He attempted without success to develop a market in the United States for sets of books published in France. By 1803 he suffered financial losses, but Napoleon Bonaparte authorized a loan from the national treasury and later forgave half the debt. Pougens’s marriage in 1805 to an Englishwoman of means enabled him to retire from business three years later. He was a scholar and writer who translated travel accounts, compiled dictionaries, wrote books on philosophy, science, language, and antiquities, and authored a historical drama. In 1799, he became a member of the section on ancient languages in the class of literature and fine arts of the National Institute of France. He was also honored by other learned societies, and the American Philosophical Society elected him to membership in 1829. After his death the APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends memorialized him with a formal obituary. As a young man, Pougens was a protégé of Madame de Tessé. That bond ended after Pougens and Sophie Ernestine de Tott, whom Madame de Tessé treated like a daughter, fell in love and Madame de Tessé forbade the relationship (A. V. Arnault and others, Biographie nouvelle des contemporains, ou dictionnaire historique et raisonné de tous les hommes qui, depuis la Révolution Française, ont acquis de la célébrité, 20 vols. [Paris, 1820–25], 17:49–55; Biographie universelle description begins Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, new ed., Paris, 1843-65, 45 vols. description ends , 34:210–11; J. C. F. Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’a nos jours, 46 vols. [Paris, 1855–66], 40:916–18; Mémoires et Souvenirs de Charles de Pougens … commencés par lui et continués par Mme Louise B. de Saint-Léon [Paris, 1834], 156–7, 179, 188, 240–2; Amable Charles, Comte de Franqueville, Le premier siècle de l’Institut de France, 25 Octobre 1795–25 Octobre 1895, 2 vols. [Paris, 1895–96], 1:133; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 596, 648, 656, 670; Vol. 10:158–9n; Vol. 29:597; Vol. 30:319, 482n; Vol. 38:135).

several letters: Pougens wrote to TJ in December 1797, a few months after William Short first recommended him to TJ. Pougens’s letter reached TJ in March 1798, but has not been found. Short continued to mention him in correspondence to TJ (Vol. 29:333, 597, 598n; Vol. 30:481; Vol. 32:147, 158; Vol. 34:287, 292).

On 16 July 1802, TJ sent William duane the list of books wanted from Paris for the Library of Congress, and Duane indicated on 18 Oct. that Pougens would be handling those purchases. livingston: see TJ to Robert R. Livingston, 20 Nov.

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