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Two urns by Jove's high throne have ever stood,
Putting to myself your question, would I agree to live my seventy-three years over again forever ? I hesitate to say. With Chew's limitations from twenty-five to sixty, I would say yes; and I might go further back, but not come lower down. For, at the latter period, with most of us, the powers of life are sensibly on the wane, sight becomes dim, hearing dull, memory constantly enlarging its frightful blank and parting with all we have ever seen or known, spirits evaporate, bodily debility creeps on palsying every limb, and so faculty after faculty quits us, and where then is life? If, in its full rigor, of good as well as evil, your friend Vassall could doubt its value, it must be purely a negative quantity when its evils alone remain.
Yet I do not go into his opinion entirely. I do not agree that an age of pleasure is no compensation for a moment of pain. I think, with you, that life is a fair matter of account, and the balance often, nay generally, in its favor. It is not indeed easy, by calculation of intensity and time, to apply a common measure, or to fix the par between pleasure and pain; yet it exists, and is measurable. On the question, for example, whether to be cut for the stone ? The young, with a longer prospect of years, think these overbalance the pain of the operation. Dr. Franklin, at the age of eighty, thought his residuum of life not worth that price. 1 should have thought with him, even taking the stone out of the scale. There is a ripeness of time for death, regarding others as well as ourselves, when it is reasonable we should drop off, and make room for another growth. When we have lived our generation out, we should not wish to encroach on another. I enjoy good health ; I am happy in what is around me, yet I assure you I am ripe for leaving all, this year, this day, this hour. If it could be doubted whether we would go back to twenty-five, how can it be whether we would go forward from seventy-three ? Bodily decay is gloomy in prospect, but of all human contemplations the most abhorrent is body without mind. Perhaps, however, I might accept of time to read Grimm before I go. Fifteen volumes of anecdotes and incidents, within the compass of my own time and cognizance, written by a man of genius, of taste, of point, an acquaintance, the measure and traverses of whose mind I know, could not fail to turn the scale in favor of life during their perusal. I must write to Ticknor to add it to my catalogue, and hold on till it comes. There is a Mr. Vanderkemp of New York, a correspondent, I believe, of yours, with whom I have exchanged some letters without knowing who he is. Will you tell me? I know nothing of the history.of the Jesuits you mention in four volumes. Is it a good one? I dislike, with you, their restoration, because it marks a retrograde step from light towards darkness. We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat. But ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not of bigotry, not of Jesuitism. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a colossus shall we be when the southern continent comes up to our mark! What a stand will it secure as a ralliance for the reason and freedom of the globe! I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past,—so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that Mrs. Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.
TO MRS. M. HARRISON SMITH.
MONTICELLO, August 6, 1816. I have received, dear Madam, your very friendly letter of July 21st, and assure you that I feel with deep sensibility its kind expressions towards myself, and the more as from a person than whom no others could be more in sympathy with my own affections. I often call to mind the occasions of knowing your worth, which the societies of Washington furnished ; and none more than those derived from your much valued visit to Monticello. I recognize the same motives of goodness in the solicitude you express on the rumor supposed to proceed from a letter of mine to Charles Thomson, on the subject of the Christian religion. It is true that, in writing to the translator of the Bible and Testament, that subject was mentioned; but equally so that no adherence to any particular mode of Christianity was there expressed, nor any change of opinions suggested. A change from what ? the priests indeed have heretofore thought proper to ascribe to me religious, or rather anti-religious sentiments, of their own fabric, but such as soothed their resentments against the act of Virginia for establishing religious freedom. They wished him to be thought atheist, deist, or devil, who could advocate freedom from their religious dictations. But I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests. I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a couvert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives, and by this test, my dear Madam, I have been satisfied yours must be an excellent one, to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me. But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there. These, therefore, they brand with such nick-names as their enmity choses gratuitously to impute. I have left the world, in silence, to judge of causes from their effects; and I am consoled in this course, my dear friend, when I perceive the candor with which I am judged by your justice and discernment; and that, notwithstanding the slanders of the saints, my fellow citizens have thought me worthy of trusts. The imputations of irreligion having spent their force ; they think an imputation of change might now bę turned to account as a bolster for their duperies. I shall leave them, as heretofore, to , grope on in the dark.
Our family at Monticello is all in good health ; Ellen speaking of you with affection, and Mrs. Randolph always regretting the accident which so far deprived her of the happiness of your former visit. She still cherishes the hope of some future renewal of that kindness; in which we all join her, as in the assurances of affectionate attachment and respect.
JOHN ADAMS TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, August 9, 1816. DEAR SIR,—The biography of Mr. Vander Kemp would require a volume which I could not write if a million were offered me as a reward for the work. After a learned and scientific education he entered the army in Holland, and served as captain, with reputation; but loving books more than arms he resigned his commission and became a preacher. My acquaintance with him commenced at Leyden in 1790. He was then minister of the Menonist congregation, the richest in Europe ; in that city, where he was celebrated as the most elegant writer in the Dutch language, he was the intimate friend of Luzac and De Gysecaar. In 1788, when the King of Prussia threatened Holland with invasion, his party insisted on his taking a command in the army of defence, and he was appointed to the command of the most exposed and most important post in the seven provinces. He was soon surrounded by the Prussian forces; but he defended his fortress with a prudence, fortitude, patience, and perseverance,
which were admired by all Europe ; till, abandoned by his nation, destitute of provisions and ammunition, still refusing to surrender, he was offered the most honorable capitulation. He accepted it; was offered very advantageous proposals; but despairing of the liberties of his country, he retired to Antwerp, determined to emigrate to New York ; wrote to me in London, requesting letters of introduction. I sent him letters to Governor Clinton, and several others of our little great men. His history in this country is equally curious and affecting. He left property in Holland, which the revolutions there have annihilated ; and I fear is now pinched with poverty. His head is deeply learned and his heart is pure. I scarcely know a more amiable character.
He has written to me occasionally, and I have answered his letters in great haste. You may well suppose that such a man has not always been able to understand our American politics. Nor have I. Had he been as great a master of our language as he was of his own, he would have been at this day one of the most conspicuous characters in the United States.
So much for Vander Kemp; now for your letter of August 1st. Your poet, the Ionian I suppose, ought to have told us whether Jove, in the distribution of good and evil from his two urns, observes any rule of equity or not; whether he thunders out flames of eternal fire on the many, and power, and glory, and felicity on the few, without any consideration of justice ?
Let us state a few questions sub rosa.
1. Would you accept a life, if offered you, of equal pleasure and pain ? For example. One million of moments of pleasure, and one million of moments of pain! (1,000,000 moments of pleasuse = 1,000,000 moments of pain.) Suppose the pleasure as exquisite as any in life, and the pain as exquisite as any; for example, stone-gravel, gout, headache, earache, toothache, cholic, &c. I would not. I would rather be blotted out.
2. Would you accept a life of one year of incessant gout, headache, &c., for seventy-two years of such life as you have enjoyed? I would not. (One year of cholic=seventy-two of