Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 30 September 1816

From John Adams

Quincy Sept. 30. 16

Dear Sir

The Seconds of Life, that remain to me, are So few and So Short; (and they Seem to me Shorter and Shorter every minute) that I cannot Stand upon Epistolary Ettiquette: And though I have written two Letters, yet unnoticed I must write a third. Because I am not acquainted with any Man on this Side of Montecello, who can give me any Information upon Subjects that I am now analysing and investigating; if I may be permitted to use the pompous Words now in fashion.

When I read Dr Priestleys Remarks upon “Du Puis,” I felt a Curiosity to know more about him. I wrote to Europe and engaged another to write. I had no Idea of more than one or two Volumes in 8o or 12mo

But Lo! I am overwhelmed1 with 8 or ten Volumes2 and another of Planches!

Sixteen years of Research the Author acknowledges, and as he quotes his Authorities I would not undertake to verify them in 16 years, If I had all his Books which Surely are not to be found in America.

If you know any Thing of this “Monsieur Dupuis”3 or his “origine de tous les Cultes”; candidus imperti.

I have read only the first Volume. It is learned and curious. The whole Work will afford me Business, Study and Amusement for the Winter.

Dr Priestley pronounced him an Atheist, and his Work “The Ne Plus ultra of Infidelity.” Priestley agrees with him, that the History of the Fall of Adam and Eve, is “an Alegory,” a Fable, an Arabian Tale, and So does Dr Middleton, to account for the origin of Evil; which however it does not

Priestly Says that the Apocalypse,4 according to Dupuis is the most learned Work that ever was written.

With these brief Fletrissures, Priestly Seems to have expected to annihilate5 the Influence of Dupuis Labours; as Swift destroyed Blackmore with his

Did off Creation with a Jerk

And of Redemption made damn’d Work.” And as he disgraced Men as good at least as himself by his

Wicked Will Whiston,

And Good, Master Ditton.”

But Dupuis is not to be So easily destroyed.

The Controversy between Spiritualism and Materialism between Spiritualists and Materialists, will not be Settled by Scurrilous Epigrams of Swift, nor by dogmatical Censures of Priestly.

You and I have as much Authority to Settle these Disputes as Swift Priestley or Dupuis, or The Pope.

And if you will agree with me, We will issue our Bull,6 and enjoin upon all these Gentlemen to be Silent, till they can tell Us, What Matter is and What Spirit is! And in the mean time to observe the Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

J. Adams

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 7 Oct. 1816 and so recorded in SJL. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Thomas Eston Randolph, 20 Oct. 1816, on verso; addressed by Susan B. Adams: “Thomas Jefferson Esqre Late President of the US. Monticello Virginia”; postmarked Quincy, Mass., 30 Sept. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

planches: “plates; illustrations.” candidus imperti: “pass it on, my good fellow,” from Horace, Epistles, 1.6.67 (Fairclough, Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica description begins H. Rushton Fairclough, trans., Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, Loeb Classical Library, 1926, repr. 2005 description ends , 290–1).

Joseph Priestley referred to Charles François Dupuis, Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle, 12 vols. in 7 (Paris, year III [1794/95]; Adams’s copy in MBPLi), as the ne plus ultra of infidelity in his A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations; with Remarks on Mr. Dupuis’s Origin of all Religions (Northumberland, Pa., 1799), 301. Flétrissures (fletrissures) are “blots” or “stains.”

did off creation with a jerk and of redemption made damn’d work is from Jonathan Swift, “Verses To be placed under the Picture of England’s Arch-Poet: Containing a compleat Catalogue of his Works” (Miscellanies. Consisting of Verses by Dr. Swift, Dr. Arbuthnot, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Gay [London, 1742], 4:254). The couplet satirizes Sir Richard Blackmore and his poems on Creation (1712) and Redemption (1722). wicked will whiston, and good, master ditton, drawn from Swift’s “Ode, for Musick. On the Longitude” (Miscellanies, 4:145), ridicules a proposal by the mathematicians William Whiston and Humphry Ditton that rockets fired from a network of ships at known positions could be used to determine a seagoing vessel’s longitude (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ).

1RC: “overwhilmed.” FC: “overwhelmed.”

2RC: “Volums.” FC: “volumes.”

3Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

4RC: “Apocalypes.” FC: “Apocalypse.”

5RC: “annilate.” FC: “annihilate.”

6RC: “Bulle.” FC: “bull.”

Index Entries

  • A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations (J. Priestley) search
  • Adam (Old Testament figure) search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on religion search
  • Adams, John; reading habits of search
  • Bible; Ten Commandments search
  • Blackmore, Richard; J. Swift satirizes search
  • Ditton, Humphry; J. Swift satirizes search
  • Dupuis, Charles François; Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle search
  • Eve (Old Testament figure) search
  • Horace; quoted by J. Adams search
  • Middleton, Conyers; writings of search
  • Origine de Tous les Cultes: ou, Religion Universelle (C. Dupuis) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; A Comparison of the Institutions of Moses with those of the Hindoos and Other Ancient Nations search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • religion; works on search
  • Swift, Jonathan; J. Adams on search
  • Swift, Jonathan; quoted search
  • Swift, Jonathan; satirical writings of search
  • Whiston, William; J. Swift satirizes search