ADAMS, John, President. Autograph letter signed ("John Adams") to Samuel Latham Mitchill (1764-1831), Quincy, 7 February 1817. 1 page, 4to, neat repairs on verso to small marginal tears, otherwise fine. Note in upper corner: "John Adams Babylon bricks." Enclosed in a quarter red morocco clamshell protective case.
ADAMS PONDERS AN ARCHEOLOGICAL CURIOSITY: "IF BY THE JEWS IN THE TIME OF THE CAPTIVITY, WOULD NOT THE INSCRIPTION HAVE BEEN IN HEBREW?"
A characteristically thoughtful letter on a puzzling print of antiquities from the Holy Land, of which Mitchill has sent him an engraving: "I thank you for a curiosity, which...is as inexplicable as anything in antiquity. At what time, and by what People was that Monument to Daniel erected? If by the Jews in the time of the Captivity, would not the Inscription have been in Hebrew? Would the Chaldeans have permitted the Jews to erect such a Monument even with an inscription in their own or in Eqyptian Hierogliphicks? or may the Mahomitans within 1300 years have erected this Monument and roguishly employed Chaldean Magi to write the Inscriptions? Yet the figures represent nothing in the Constellations above, or the Earth beneath. The Freemasons may conjure a meaning...Can you account for the total loss destruction and Annihilation of all the Languages excepting the Hebrew...antecedent to the Greek? If I were Fifty Years younger it would give me pleasure to accompany you...in your industrious Researches into all Things."
Mitchill was an admirer of Jefferson, to whom he also sent a copy of the "print of the characters...on the Chaldean bricks lately brought to New York," and which Jefferson found equally baffling (Jefferson's response, dated 20 February 1817, was sold here in 1992). Mitchill (1764-1831), a Columbia College professor, physician and chemist, was a curious polymath described as "a chaos of knowledge," "remembered more for the goodness of his heart than for the strength of his head" (DAB); he corresponded with Joseph Priestley, investigated Saratoga water, and experimented with gunpowder, fertilizers and other products. From 1801 he served in Congress, later in the Senate (1804-1809) and again in the House (1810-1813). When the College of Physicians and Surgeons was founded, he joined its faculty and in 1826 helped establish Rutgers Medical College. In 1826 he published A Discourse on the Character and Services of Thomas Jefferson...as a Promoter of Natural and Physical Science. Henry Adams wrote that Mitchill "supported the Republican Party because Jefferson was its leader and supported Jefferson because he was a philosopher."