Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Manners to Thomas Jefferson, 24 January 1814

From John Manners

Flemington Jan. 24th 1814

Dear sir,

Altho’ I have not the honour of a personal Acquaintance with you, yet impelled by a desire of being informed on a subject of natural science, and knowing no person upon whose opinion I could place so much reliance, I have taken the liberty of writing to you—

Nor should I now obtrude1 on your time, had I not known that you take pleasure in distributing useful knowledge—

The subject on which I wish to be informed is respecting the classification of animals—Whether with Dr shaw and the British Zoologists you adopt the classification of Linnæus:—whether with the french naturalists you prefer that of M. Cuvier or of M. Blumenbach—whether you have not formed one peculiar2 to yourself—or whether you, with the learned M Buffon reject all classification as injudicious and impracticable—

This opinion of the french naturalist certainly has its analogy—Diseases were formerly divided into classes orders genera species & varieties by Dr Sydenham Dr Cullen and other nosologists; and in fact nosology was adopted by the medical world—But these divisions have been shown to the satisfaction of most pathologists to be injudicious impracticable and even injurious by my illustrius and truly worthy friend and preceptor in medicine Dr Rush; and disease proteiform as it is has been demonstrated to be an unit—But I think notwithstanding the ingenuity and erudition with which M. Buffon has defended his opinion, that the classification of animals stands on a more solid basis—But upon the propriety and manner of classification I must importune your opinion—

While a student of medicine I attended several courses of lectures on natural History in the Museum of Mr Peale by Dr Barton. He adopted the classification of M. Cuvier with some few modifications—

As the nomenclature of the Classes orders genera & even some of the species is highly objectionable—I have attempted to reform it, but have not dared to make it public—

Another subject upon which I wish to consult you is with respect to that curious genus of animals the Ornothorhyncus—I wish to know to what order, or even to what class you assign it: I say to what class; because it [dif]fers materially from the mammalia—[. . .] Home nor no other zootomist who has had an opportunity of desecting them ever find them to possess mammæ—They differ also in other important particulars—It seems to approximate more to the Aves in having the mandibles—Cloaca—and in having a spur on its leg (at least the O. paradoxus) I am ignorant where to give it a place; but am rather inclined to the opinion we shall have to constitute a new class for this anomalous genus—on this subject, however, it becomes me to be silent untill I hear your opinion

I am most respectfully Your obt Servant

John Manners

RC (DLC); mutilated at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello Virginia”; stamped; postmarked Flemington, 24 Jan.; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Feb. 1814 and so recorded in SJL.

John Manners (1786–1853), physician, chemist, attorney, and public official, was a native of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. He established a medical practice in Philadelphia about 1811. The following year Manners graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s medical department, where he studied under Benjamin Rush. He married a daughter of Thomas Cooper and eventually became the latter’s literary executor. Manners lectured on the institutes and practice of medicine at the Cabinet of Sciences of Philadelphia. He was also president of that institution and corresponding secretary for the Philadelphia Medical Society. Manners’s published essays included descriptions of his chemical investigations and experiments. Returning to New Jersey, he established a medical practice in Hunterdon County. Manners was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1820. From 1850 until his death he represented Hunterdon County in the state senate, winning a term as president of that body in 1852 (The Biographical Encyclopædia of New Jersey of the Nineteenth Century [1877], 453–4; James Robinson, The Philadelphia Directory, for 1811 [Philadelphia, 1811], 206; Memoirs of the Columbian Chemical Society, of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1813], vol. 1; Kite’s Philadelphia Directory for 1814 [Philadelphia, 1814]; The Medical Repository of Original Essays and Intelligence relative to Physic, Surgery, Chemistry, and Natural History, new ser., 2 [1815]: 15–9; Manners to TJ, 20 May 1817; TJ to Manners, 12 June 1817; William Riker Jr., Rules of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey [1901], 62; John Blane, History of the District Medical Society for the County of Hunterdon [1872], 47–8; Journal of the Eighth Senate of the State of New Jersey, 7–9 [76th sess., 13 Jan. 1852]; New York Times, 2 July 1853; New Jersey Medical Reporter 6 [1853]: 347–8).

proteiform: “assuming many forms, extremely variable” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). Ornithorhyncus (ornothorhynchus) anatinus is the scientific name for the platypus, of which Everard home published one of the first scientific descriptions in 1802 (Home, “A Description of the Anatomy of the Ornithorhynchus paradoxus,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 92 [1802]: 67–84). A zootomist studies the structure of animal bodies (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). aves: “birds.”

1Manuscript: “obtruded.”

2Manuscript: “one of peculiar.”

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; and classification of animals search
  • Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich; and classification of animals search
  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de; and classification of animals search
  • Cullen, William; and nosology search
  • Cuvier, Georges; and classification of animals search
  • Home, Everard; on platypuses search
  • Linnaeus, Carolus (Carl von Linné); and scientific classification search
  • Manners, John; and classification of animals search
  • Manners, John; identified search
  • Manners, John; letters from search
  • medicine; nosology search
  • natural history; classification of animals search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; and Philadelphia Museum search
  • Philadelphia; Museum search
  • platypus search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and nosology search
  • Shaw, George; and classification of animals search
  • Sydenham, Thomas; and nosology search