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 p. 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 E. Millicent Sowerby's Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson 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]

- Endrina Tay, 12/3/07

Further Sources

  • LeBuffe, Michael, "Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d'Holbach", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


  1. ^ Sowerby, 2:14. Jefferson to Adams, April 8, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 9:650. Transcription available at Founders Online.