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Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Letter To John Adams - Monticello, Apr. 8, 1816

        _To John Adams_
        _Monticello, Apr. 8, 1816_


        DEAR SIR -- I have to acknolege your two favors of Feb. 16. and
Mar. 2. and to join sincerely in the sentiment of Mrs. Adams, and
regret that distance separates us so widely.  An hour of conversation
would be worth a volume of letters.  But we must take things as they
come.


        You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years
over again?  To which I say Yea.  I think with you that it is a good
world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of
benevolence, and more pleasure than pain dealt out to us.  There are
indeed (who might say Nay) gloomy and hypocondriac minds, inhabitants
of diseased bodies, disgusted with the present, and despairing of the
future; always counting that the worst will happen, because it may
happen.  To these I say How much pain have cost us the evils which
have never happened?  My temperament is sanguine.  I steer my bark
with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.  My hopes indeed
sometimes fail; but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy.
There are, I acknolege, even in the happiest life, some terrible
convulsions, heavy set-offs against the opposite page of the account.
I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of Grief could
be intended.  All our other passions, within proper bounds, have an
useful object.  And the perfection of the moral character is, not in
a Stoical apathy, so hypocritically vaunted, and so untruly too,
because impossible, but in a just equilibrium of all the passions.  I
wish the pathologists then would tell us what is the use of grief in
the economy, and of what good it is the cause, proximate or remote.


        Did I know Baron Grimm while at Paris?  Yes, most intimately.
He was the pleasantest, and most conversible member of the diplomatic
corps while I was there: a man of good fancy, acuteness, irony,
cunning, and egoism: no heart, not much of any science, yet enough of
every one to speak it's language.  His fort was Belles-lettres,
painting and sculpture.  In these he was the oracle of the society,
and as such was the empress Catharine's private correspondent and
factor in all things not diplomatic.  It was thro' him I got her
permission for poor Ledyard to go to Kamschatka, and cross over
thence to the Western coast of America, in order to penetrate across
our continent in the opposite direction to that afterwards adopted
for Lewis and Clarke: which permission she withdrew after he had got
within 200. miles of Kamschatska, had him siesed, brought back and
set down in Poland.  Altho' I never heard Grimm express the opinion,
directly, yet I always supposed him to be of the school of Diderot,
D'Alembert, D'Holbach, the first of whom committed their system of
atheism to writing in `Le bon sens,' and the last in his `Systeme de
la Nature.' It was a numerous school in the Catholic countries, while
the infidelity of the Protestant took generally the form of Theism.
The former always insisted that it was a mere question of definition
between them, the hypostasis of which on both sides was `Nature' or
`the Universe:' that both agreed in the order of the existing system,
but the one supposed it from eternity, the other as having begun in
time.  And when the atheist descanted on the unceasing motion and
circulation of matter thro' the animal vegetable and mineral
kingdoms, never resting, never annihilated, always changing form, and
under all forms gifted with the power of reproduction; the Theist
pointing `to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, and to the
waters under the earth,' asked if these did not proclaim a first
cause, possessing intelligence and power; power in the production,
and intelligence in the design and constant preservation of the
system; urged the palpable existence of final causes, that the eye
was made to see, and the ear to hear, and not that we see because we
have eyes, and hear because we have ears; an answer obvious to the
senses, as that of walking across the room was to the philosopher
demonstrating the nonexistence of motion.  It was in D'Holbach's
conventicles that Rousseau imagined all the machinations against him
were contrived; and he left, in his Confessions the most biting
anecdotes of Grimm.  These appeared after I left France; but I have
heard that poor Grimm was so much afflicted by them, that he kept his
bed several weeks.  I have never seen these Memoirs of Grimm.  Their
volume has kept them out of our market.


        I have been lately amusing myself with Levi's book in answer to
Dr. Priestley.  It is a curious and tough work.  His style is
inelegant and incorrect, harsh and petulent to his adversary, and his
reasoning flimsey enough.  Some of his doctrines were new to me,
particularly that of his two resurrections: the first a particular
one of all the dead, in body as well as soul, who are to live over
again, the Jews in a state of perfect obedience to god, the other
nations in a state of corporeal punishment for the sufferings they
have inflicted on the Jews.  And he explains this resurrection of
bodies to be only of the original stamen of Leibnitz, or the
homunculus in semine masculino, considering that as a mathematical
point, insusceptible of separation, or division.  The second
resurrection a general one of souls and bodies, eternally to enjoy
divine glory in the presence of the supreme being.  He alledges that
the Jews alone preserve the doctrine of the unity of god.  Yet their
god would be deemed a very indifferent man with us: and it was to
correct their Anamorphosis of the deity that Jesus preached, as well
as to establish the doctrine of a future state.  However Levi insists
that that was taught in the old testament, and even by Moses himself
and the prophets.  He agrees that an anointed prince was prophecied
and promised: but denies that the character and history of Jesus has
any analogy with that of the person promised.  He must be fearfully
embarrassing to the Hierophants of fabricated Christianity; because
it is their own armour in which he clothes himself for the attack.
For example, he takes passages of Scripture from their context (which
would give them a very different meaning) strings them together, and
makes them point towards what object he pleases; he interprets them
figuratively, typically, analogically, hyperbolically; he calls in
the aid of emendation, transposition, ellipsis, metonymy, and every
other figure of rhetoric; the name of one man is taken for another,
one place for another, days and weeks for months and years; and
finally avails himself of all his advantage over his adversaries by
his superior knolege of the Hebrew, speaking in the very language of
the divine communication, while they can only fumble on with
conflicting and disputed translations.  Such is this war of giants.
And how can such pigmies as you and I decide between them?  For
myself I confess that my head is not formed tantas componere lites.
And as you began your Mar. 2. with a declaration that you were about
to write me the most frivolous letter I had ever read, so I will
close mine by saying I have written you a full match for it, and by
adding my affectionate respects to Mrs. Adams, and the assurance of
my constant attachment and consideration for yourself.