Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 9 January 1816

To Charles Thomson

Monticello Jan. 9. 16.1

My dear and antient friend

An acquaintance of 52. years, for I think ours dates from 1764. calls for an interchange of notice now & then that we remain in existence, the monuments of another age, and examples of a friendship unaffected by the jarring elements, by which we have been surrounded, of revolutions, of government, of party & of opinion. I am reminded of this duty by the receipt, thro’ our friend Dr Patterson, of your Synopsis of the four Evangelists. I had procured it as soon as I saw it advertized, and had become familiar with it’s use. but this copy is the more valued as it comes from your hand. this work bears the stamp of that accuracy which marks every thing from you, and will be useful to those who, not taking things on trust, recur for themselves to the fountain of pure morals. I too have made a wee little book, from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. a more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw. they have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognise one feature. if I had time I would add to my little book the Greek, Latin and French texts, in columns side by side, and I wish I could subjoin a translation of Gassendi’s Syntagma of the doctrines of Epicurus, which, notwithstanding the calumnies of the Stoics, and caricatures of Cicero, is the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagancies of his rival sects.

I retain good health, am rather feeble to walk much, but ride with ease, passing two or three hours a day on horseback, and every three or four months taking, in a carriage, a journey of 90. miles to a distant possession, where I pass a good deal of my time. my eyes need the aid of glasses by night, and with small print in the day also; my hearing not quite so sensible as it used to be; no tooth shaking yet, but shivering and shrinking in body from the cold we now experience, my thermometer having been as low as 12.° this morning. my greatest oppression is a correspondence afflictingly laborious, the extent of which I have been long endeavoring to curtail. this keeps me at the drudgery of the writing table all the prime hours of the day, leaving for the gratification of my appetite for reading only what I can steal from the hours of sleep. could I reduce this epistolary corvée within the limits of my friends, and affairs, and give the time redeemed from it to reading and reflection, to history, ethics, mathematics, my life would be as happy as the infirmities of age would admit, and I should look to it’s consummation with the composure of one ‘qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat.’

So much as to myself; and I have given you this string of egotisms in the hope of drawing a similar one from yourself. I have heard from others that you retain your health, a good degree of activity, and all the vivacity & chearfulness of your mind. but I wish to learn it more minutely from yourself. how has time affected your health, your strength, your faculties & spirits? what are your amusements literary & social? tell me every thing about yourself, because all will be interesting to one who retains for you ever the same constant & affectionate friendship & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Thomson Papers); hole in manuscript and edge torn away, with missing text supplied from PoC; addressed: “Charles Thompson esq. near Philadelphia”; franked; postmarked Milton, 16 Jan. PoC (DLC).

Charles Thomson (1729–1824), secretary of the Continental Congress and revolutionary leader, emigrated from Ireland with his family about 1739. Following the death of his father during the voyage, he was placed in the care of a blacksmith in Delaware. By 1743 Thomson began classical studies under Rev. Francis Alison, and in 1750 he became a Latin tutor at Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Academy, later the University of Pennsylvania. Thomson was a member and later a leader of Benjamin Franklin’s “Junto,” the forerunner of the American Philosophical Society. He served as one of the founding secretaries of the latter organization. Having served as a liaison between the local Native Americans and colonial officials, Thomson published An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (London, 1759). In the years prior to the American Revolution, he became a leader of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty. After a few largely unsuccessful business endeavors, Thomson served successively as secretary of the First Continental Congress in 1774, the Second Continental Congress, 1775–83, and the Confederation Congress, 1783–89. He was noted for his active role in conducting foreign affairs during his tenure as congressional secretary, but his outspokenness gained him numerous enemies, including John Adams and Richard Henry Lee. Thomson retired from public life when he received no post under the new federal government in 1789. He spent the remainder of his years at Harriton, his estate near Philadelphia, where he worked on translations of the Septuagint and the New Testament, published as The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Covenant, commonly called the Old and New Testament: translated from the Greek, 4 vols. (Philadelphia, 1808–09; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1474). (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Boyd Stanley Schlenther, Charles Thomson: A Patriot’s Pursuit [1990]; Catalogue of the Alumni of the University of Pennsylvania … 1749–1877 [1877], 14; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 3:196; An Historical Account of the Origin and Formation of the American Philosophical Society [1914], 17, 19, 24, 34, 43; Paul H. Smith and others, eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789 [1976–2000]; Eugene R. Sheridan and John M. Murrin, eds., Congress at Princeton: Being the Letters of Charles Thomson to Hannah Thomson, June–October 1783 [1985]; Robert Patterson to TJ, 24 Nov. 1815; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 18 Aug. 1824).

For TJ’s philosophy of jesus, see EG description begins Dickinson W. Adams and Ruth W. Lester, eds., Jefferson’s Extracts from the Gospels, 1983, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 45–122. gassendi’s syntagma: Pierre Gassendi, Syntagma Epicuri Philosophiae (The Hague, 1659). TJ owned a six-volume collected edition of the works of Gassendi, a French philosopher and mathematician (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4914). qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat: “who neither fears the last day nor prays for it.” TJ here adapted the final line of an epigram by the Latin poet Martial, Epigrammata, book 10, poem 47 (Martial, Epigrams, ed. and trans. David R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library [1993; later printing with variant pagination], 2:360–1). TJ owned two editions of Martial’s works (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 4496–7).

1RC: “15.” Reworked to “16.” on PoC.

Index Entries

  • aging; TJ on his own search
  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • A Synopsis of the Four Evangelists (C. Thomson) search
  • Bible; works on search
  • Christianity; TJ on search
  • Cicero; TJ on search
  • Epicurus (Greek philosopher) search
  • Epigrammata (Martial); TJ references search
  • eyeglasses search
  • Gassendi, Pierre; Syntagma Epicuri Philosophiae search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; good health of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Martial search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Christianity search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Jesus search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth search
  • Jesus; TJ on search
  • Martial (Roman poet); TJ quotes search
  • Patterson, Robert; and books for TJ search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • religion; works on search
  • Syntagma Epicuri Philosophiae (P. Gassendi) search
  • Thomson, Charles; A Synopsis of the Four Evangelists search
  • Thomson, Charles; friendship with TJ search
  • Thomson, Charles; identified search
  • Thomson, Charles; letters to search
  • weather; cold search