Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 22 September, 1813.
Considering all things, I admire Dr. Priestley’s last effort, for which I am entirely indebted to you. But, as I think it is extremely imperfect, I beg of you to pursue the investigation according to your promise to Dr. Rush, and according to your syllabus. It may be presumptuous in me to denominate any thing of Dr. Priestley’s imperfect; but I must avow, that among all the vast exertions of his genius, I have never found one that is not imperfect, and this last is egregiously so. I will instance, at present, in one article. I find no notice of Cleanthes, one of whose sayings alone ought to have commanded his attention. He compared “philosophers to instruments of music, which made a noise without understanding it or themselves.” He was ridiculed by his brother philosophers, and called “an ass.” He owned he was the ass of Zeno, and “the only one whose back and shoulders were stout enough to carry his burdens.” Why has not Priestley quoted more from Zeno and his disciples? Were they too Christian? Though he lived two centuries and a half before Christ.
If I did not know it would be sending coals to Newcastle, I would, with all my dimness of eyes and trembling of fingers, copy in Greek the hymn of Cleanthes, and request you to compare it with any thing of Moses, of David, of Solomon. Instead of those ardent oriental figures, which are so difficult to understand, we find that divine simplicity, which constitutes the charm of Grecian eloquence in prose and verse. Pope had read, if Priestley had not, the
“Most glorious of immortal beings! Though denominated by innumerable names and titles, always omnipotent! Beginning and end of nature, governing the universe by fixed laws, blessed be thy name!”
What think you of this translation? Is it too Jewish or too too Christian? Pope did not think it was either, for the first sentence in his universal prayer is more Jewish and more Christian still. If it is not a literal translation, it is a close paraphrase of this simple verse of Cleanthes,—
But it may be said, for it has been said, that Pope was a Deist, and Swift too, as well as Bolingbroke. What will not men say? But is the existence, the omnipotence, the eternity, the alpha and omega, and the universal Providence of one Supreme Being governing by fixed laws, asserted by St. John, in his Gospel, or in the Apocalypse, whether his or not, in clearer or more precise terms? Can you conjecture a reason why Grotius has not translated this hymn? Were Grotius and Priestley both afraid that the stoics would appear too much like Unitarians, Jews, and Christians? Duport has translated the sentence thus:—
Bougainville has translated it,—
I am so awkward in Italian, that I am ashamed to quote that language to you; but Pompeius, a gentleman of Verona, has translated it thus, and you will understand it.
It appears to me that the great principle of the Hebrews was the fear of God; that of the Gentiles, honor the gods; that of Christians, the love of God. Could the quiveration of my nerves and the inflammation of my eyes be cured, and my age diminished by twenty or thirty years, I would attend you in these researches with infinitely more pleasure than I would George the Fourth, Napoleon, Alexander, or Madison. But only a few hours, a few moments remain for your old friend.