Thomas Jefferson Papers

Regnault de Bécourt to Thomas Jefferson, 25 November 1812

From Regnault de Bécourt

chez Mr Bosio, South Street, No 144, à Philadelphie ce 25 9bre 1812.


Je suis pres-qu’à la veille de mettre sous presse l’ouvrage dont il est question dans le Prospectus, ci-joint. Que V. E. daigne prendre ou non, la peine de se faire inscrire sur la liste des Souscripteurs; comme ami des sciences je n’en prendrai pas moins la liberté de lui en faire tenir un emplaire.

Je supplie V. E. d’avoir la bonté d’excuser l’espèce d’indiscrétion que je comets en l’obligeant à payer le port de cette lettre-ci. Ma situation est si triste et si malheureuse, en ce moment, que je défie qu’on puisse trouver, dans toute l’Amérique, un homme qui me soit comparable.

Pris par les Anglais, il y a près de 4 ans, en naviguant sur un bâtiment Autrichien, je fus conduit en Angleterre où je restai, en qualité de prisonnier de guerre, l’espace de 42 mois. Je dûs y épuiser toutes mes ressources quand bien même l’événement qui vient de m’amener sur ces côtes—ci n’aurait point suffi pour cela. Je ne rougirais donc point que V. E. daignât me faire tenir le plus mince, le plus faible secours pécuniaire, à la charge de lui en faire la remise dans 6 semaines ou dans deux mois d’ici. Je préférerais recevoir ce bienfait des mains d’une Personne si estimée dans mon pays, plutôt que de la devoir à mes compatriotes établis, ici, qu’on dit d’ailleurs être très endurcis bien pourtant qu’ils doivent tout ce qu’ils possèdent à la générosité si hospitalière des américains. Quoi qu’il en soit, monseigneur je n’en serai pas moins, toute la vie,

de Votre Excellence, Monseigneur, Le plus humble et le plus respectueux de vos Serviteurs.

R. de Bécourt

Editors’ Translation

house of Mr. Bosio, South Street Number 144, Philadelphia 25 November 1812.

Your Highness!

I am on the eve of sending the printer the work described in the enclosed prospectus. Whether or not Your Excellency deigns to subscribe, I will nevertheless take the liberty of giving you a copy as a friend of science.

I beg Your Excellency to be kind enough to excuse my impropriety in making you pay for the postage of this letter. My situation is so sad and unhappy at present that I defy anyone to find a man who could compare with me in all of America.

Taken by the British, roughly 4 years ago, while traveling on an Austrian ship, I was carried to England, where I stayed as a prisoner of war for 42 months. There I had to deplete my resources, as if the event that has recently brought me to these shores—had not been enough to produce the same result. I therefore would not blush in shame if Your Excellency would consider giving me the slightest, the most insignificant monetary help, against my promise of repaying you within 6 weeks or two months. I would prefer receiving this kindness from the hand of a person so esteemed in my country, rather than owing it to those of my compatriots who have settled here, for they are rumored to be hard-hearted, even though they owe everything they possess to the generous hospitality of Americans. Be that as it may, Your Highness, I will nevertheless remain all my life,

the most humble and the most respectful of Your Excellency’s servants.

R. de Bécourt

RC (DLC); dateline at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Dec. 1812 and so recorded in SJL. Translation by Dr. Roland H. Simon. Enclosure: prospectus for Bécourt’s book soon to be published as La Création du Monde, ou Système d’Organisation Primitive Suivi De l’explication des principaux Phénomènes qui se sont opérés dans la Nature, depuis l’Origine de l’Univers jusqu’à nos jours (Philadelphia, 1813; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4930), stating that the work would be published by subscription and dedicated to Alexander I of Russia; describing it as “purely philosophical” and interesting to persons involved in scientific investigations; that its three parts would consist of sections on the organization of all natural bodies, on bodies derived from nature but considered accidental, and on artificial bodies, with notes on astronomy enabling the reader to assess the errors of the “Copernican System”; indicating that the work is to be printed in octavo on fine paper, at a cost of $1.50 for subscribers and $2 for nonsubscribers, with a list of subscribers to appear at the head of the work and future subscriptions received at the bookstores of Bradford & Inskeep, Nicolas G. Dufief, William Duane, jewelry manufacturer Simon Chaudron, and French printer Andrew J. Blocquerst; noting that publication will depend on the collection of subscriptions sufficient to pay expenses; inviting subscriptions from “The Learned, Members of the Academies and other Litterary Societies, Professors of Universities and Colleges, and in general all Gentlemen who like litterature, and a reasonable system”; and expressing the author’s regret that the work will not be published in English while adding that, “in a Country where the liberal arts are in such forwardness, and where the knowledge of the French language is quite general,” this should present no obstacle (broadside in DLC: TJ Papers, 199:35357–8; in English and French; undated; addressed by Bécourt: “S. E. Monseigneur T. Jefferson, Ancien Président des Etat-Unis à Washington city”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 25 Nov.).

Regnault de Bécourt taught in Paris and tutored the princes of the German house of Rantzau Lynar before arriving in Philadelphia. There he established a school to teach the French language according to the methods set out by Nicolas G. Dufief in Nature Displayed, in her Mode of Teaching Language to Man (Philadelphia, 1804; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4819; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends , 14 [no. 879]), of which Bécourt offered to “demonstrate the superiority of that system over any other.” Dufief was later arrested for selling Bécourt’s book which, contrary to his and TJ’s expectations that it was on geology or astronomy, was perceived to be an attack on religion. A second edition of Création du Monde was published in Givet, France, in 1816 under the pseudonym “un Austrasien,” and in 1827 a London publisher brought out a translation of a work by Bécourt as The Grave of Human Philosophies, Ancient and Modern, or, The Universal System of the Bramins Unveiled (Julian P. Boyd, “Subversive of What?,” Atlantic Monthly 182 [Aug. 1948]: 19–23; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 29 Dec. 1812; Dufief to TJ, 6, 27 Apr. 1814; TJ to Dufief, 19 Apr. 1814; Olivier Barbier, René Billard, and Paul Billard, Dictionnaire des Ouvrages Anonymes [1872], 1:814).

emplaire: abbreviation for “exemplaire” ("copy").

Index Entries

  • Alexander I, emperor of Russia; and R. de Bécourt’s book search
  • Bécourt, Regnault de; identified search
  • Bécourt, Regnault de; La Création du Monde search
  • Bécourt, Regnault de; letters from search
  • Bécourt, Regnault de; seeks funds from TJ search
  • Blocquerst, Andrew J. search
  • Bradford & Inskeep (Philadelphia firm); and R. de Bécourt’s book search
  • Chaudron, Simon search
  • Duane, William; and R. de Bécourt’s book search
  • Dufief, Nicolas Gouin; and R. de Bécourt’s book search
  • Dufief, Nicolas Gouin; Nature Displayed search
  • French language; letters in, from; R. de Bécourt search
  • La Création du Monde (R. de Bécourt); attacked as antireligious search
  • La Création du Monde (R. de Bécourt); prospectus of search
  • Nature Displayed (Dufief) search
  • subscriptions, for publications; scientific search