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System of Nature

Thomas Jefferson owned several editions of Baron d'Holbach's System of Nature.

SET 1:

His first set is a 2-volume work which he acquired while in France between 1784-1789. He records it both in his 1789 Catalog on p. 22, and his 1783 Catalog on p. 77 as:

Systeme de la nature ) 8vo. par le Baron D’Holbach
Vrai sens du systeme de la nature )

He appears to have held this set back from the 1815 sale to Congress, as it appears in his Retirement Library manuscript on page 62 as: Systeme de la Nature. 2.v. 8vo. 1771.

SET 2:

He also acquired a 6-volume edition in petit format most likely post-France, recorded also on p. 77 of his 1783 Catalog as: do. 6.v. p.f.

This set turns up in his Poplar Forest Library, as it appears in the 1873 Leavitt catalog as: D’Holbach (Baron.) Systême de la Nature. 6 vols. 12mo, calf, gilt. Paris, 1790

SET 3: (Vol. 1 only)

In addition, he had an English edition of vol. 1, recorded also on p. 77 of his 1783 Catalog as: The System of nature (d’Holbach’s) Eng. 1st. vol. 12 mo.

This copy was sold to Congress in 1815 and appears in the Sowerby as entry #1260. This copy, which survives at the Library of Congress, has a preface dated January 1808, with the following imprint info:

System of Nature; or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World. Translated from the French of M. Mirabaud, one of the forty Members of, and perpetual Secretary to, the French Academy . . . Part First. Volume First. Philadelphia: Published by R. Benson, 1808.

Sowerby writes,

In a letter to John Adams, dated from Monticello April 8, 1816, Jefferson wrote: “ . . . 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 . . . Paul Heinrich Dietrich, Baron D’Holbach, 1723-1789, French philosopher. This work was originally published in French in 1770, under the name of Mirabaud. This is the first edition in English printed in America.[1]


  1. Sowerby, 2:14.


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