Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Willson Peale, 2 June 1803

From Charles Willson Peale

Museum June 2d. 1803.

Dear Sir

After a long silence Rembrandt again communicates to me, dated London March 28th.—1803. “The best news I can tell you, is that we are all well from, Influenza, coughs & colds, and feel the balmy breath of Spring; Nothing but a tempory Fog obscures the morning Sun, our Parlour fire is extinguished, the buds are bursting & the fragrant Hyacinth is drest in all her gaiety: such a pleasing change on the face of Nature in unnatural London almost1 compels us to be happy!

The worst news I can tell you is that from present appearances, the Exhibitional income will not afford us the means of leaving London. Had we landed in November & opened in December, I have no doubt but that it would have done something handsome. My debt, at this moment to Mr. Vaughan for the rent of the Room &c amounts to 350 Dollars more than I am in possession of. Gladly would I hide this2 picture from your sight, but unless you see it you cannot excuse my deficiences in writing—perhaps I may look with too serious an eye to this adverse cloud, but I certainly have done more to deserve success since I have been here than I ever thought I could—every nerve has been strained and every Cel in my brain has been racked. I really believe had I continued to exhibit in America & sold it there, I should have money enough to purchase a Home and to have enabled me to spend a few months in London & Paris with great advantage.” again, “Much as Bones may tend to strengthen & exhilerate when properly treated in a Digester, yet hung on a London Gallows (that is a Gallows in London) they afford but a Tyburn kind of comfort! for Fortune has not touched them with her wand.”

My other Son (Rubens) writes me, “that Rembrandt has began a Portrait of the celebrated Bloomfield the author of Farmers Boy, and will begin the likeness’s of Sir Joseph Banks and the celebrated Mr. Erskin the Lawyer.”

Rembrandt says, “some evenings since I was present at Mr. Pepys (a Scientific Citizen who has a private Laboratory where every Monday his particular friends are invited to converse or experiment) when he exhibited some brilliant experiments in Galvanism; the Battery consisted of 60 double plates of Copper & Zinc soldered togather 6 Inches square (180 square feet) fitted into a trough and each rendered water tight so as not to suffer the liquid to flow between them—2 Gallons of water & 2 quarts of nitric Acid were mixed & put between them. Moveable wires connected the first and last troughs & the effects were truely astonishing, Charcoal of Box was instantly in a red heat, wires and leaves of Gold, Silver, Platina lead, Tin, Iron &c were instantly, inflamed, melted & Calcined—these effects lasted three hours—Something wonderful will certainly be discovered by means of this extraordinary agent.

Wars and rumours of wars, have lately much alarmed the good folk here, I have felt no uneasiness, not being willing to persuade myself either nation would foolishly rush into the folly again. Still all is a mystery & the mighty Politicians heart still palpitates.

But I believe something is to be apprehended betwixt America & France. Avert it heaven!”

I have given extracts of the most interesting parts of my Sons letters—I wish Rembrandt had been more particular—had given me some account of what prospects he had of selling the Skeleton in London, or whether he might not dispose of it to the Paris Museum reserving the exhibition of it for a stated period, as Mr. Roume proposed to the National Institute. If he should try to visit Paris, perhaps our Ministers or Consuls might render them some services in the necessary pasports of his Packing Cases from London to Paris—The countenance of a Public officer is often of greater import than Money.

I shall write to Mr. Vaughan to inform him that I will pay the Principal part of what is due to him if Rembrandt draws on me.

I hope Rembrandt will not want friends to aid him if it is known that he is in want.

I have made for him a Portable Physiognotrace of Mr. Hawkins invention which I will send by Mr Hawkins who has now taken his passage for England in a Vessel which is to sail about the 18th.—

Mr. Hawkins intends to visit Paris soon after his arrival in England. His object is to make some profit by his improvements of Musical Instruments.

He requests me to ask your favor of recommendations to some of your corrispondants in that City.

I send Enclosed some profiles, presuming it is not necessary to say of whom. The correctness of likeness given by this engenious invention, brings considerable numbers of Visitors to my Museum. very probable Rembrandt if he now had one it might help to carry him through his difficulties.

I am with much esteem your friend

C W Peale

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr.”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 June and so recorded in SJL. PoC (PPAmP: Peale-Sellers Papers). Enclosures not found.

Rembrandt and Rubens Peale became indebted to the London merchant and philanthropist William vaughan at the outset of their visit to Britain, when he loaned them money to pay customs duties on their mastodon bones. Vaughan, a brother of Benjamin and John Vaughan, was a member of the Royal Society and other learned societies (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:467, 485; DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Vol. 35:699n).

The digester was a pressure cooker invented by Denis Papin in the 1670s. The elder Peale had incorporated such devices into his designs for kitchens (OED description begins J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1989, 20 vols. description ends ; H. W. Robinson, “Denis Papin [1647–1712],” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 5 [1947], 47–50; Vol. 33:222, 224n).

Public executions had formerly taken place at tyburn Hill in London (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:534n).

The portraits by Rembrandt Peale were of the poet Robert bloomfield, Joseph Banks, and Thomas Erskine. William Hasledine pepys was a surgical instrument maker and inventor (same, 534–5n).

charcoal of box: chemists put charcoal made from boxwood to various uses in the laboratory (J. G. Children, “An Account of Some Experiments with a Large Voltaic Battery,” in Royal Society of London, Philosophical Transactions, 105 [1815], 369; Palmer’s New Catalogue of Chemical and Philosophical Apparatus, 2d ed. with supplement [London, 1839], 43).

In Rembrandt Peale’s report from London, the mighty politician was William Pitt (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:535n).

paris museum: after viewing the mastodon skeleton on display in Philadelphia, Philippe Rose roume urged that the elder Peale be made a corresponding member of the National Institute and that the French government purchase, for the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, the skeleton that his sons had taken across the Atlantic for exhibition (same, 535n; Philosophical Magazine, 13 [1802], 206–8; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 1212; Vol. 37:566n).

i shall write to mr. vaughan: Peale wrote to William Vaughan on 4 June, saying that by curtailing expenditures at his museum he could let Rembrandt draw on him for $200, half at 60 days’ sight and half at 30 days’ sight. In a letter to his father dated 20 July, Rubens Peale reported that Rembrandt had settled their account with Vaughan as the brothers closed their exhibit in London and moved the skeleton to Reading (Peale, Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller and others, eds., The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, New Haven, 1983–2000, 5 vols. in 6 description ends , v. 2, pt. 1:535–6, 584–5).

1MS: “almosts.”

2MS: “his.”

Index Entries