William Clark (1770-1838)

"It is a faculty of the Soul, whereby it perceived external Objects, by means of the impressions they make on certain organs of the body. These organs are Commonly reconed 5, Viz:1 the Eyes, whereby we See objects; the ear, which enables us to hear sounds; the nose, by which we receive the Ideas of different smells; the Palate, by which we judge of tastes; and the Skin, which enables us to feel—the different, forms, hardness, or Softness of bodies."

William Clark

By Charles Willson Peale

Clark's most popular portrait

Independence National Historic Park

Clark wrote the above paragraph in his journal late in January 1804. His purpose is unknown, but his source is certain. It appears under the word Sense in A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, published in 1764 by W. Owen, and commonly referred to as Owen's Dictionary.2 Along with other contextual evidence, such as the similarities between Lewis's description of a certain species of salmon (March 13, 1806) and that in Owen's (page 2792), it helps to confirm the supposition that Lewis purchased a set of volumes for his small expeditionary reference library, even though there is no mention of it anywhere in his supply lists, nor in the known journalists' writings.3Clark's copy is almost verbatim, with relatively insignificant differences, as may be seen through a comparison of his version with a transcription of the original:

SENSE, a faculty of the soul, whereby it perceives external objects, by means of the impressions they make on certain organs of the body. These organs of sensation are commonly reckoned five, viz. The eye, whereby we see objects; the ear, which enables us to hear sounds; the nose, by which we receive the ideas of different smells; the palate, by which we judge of tastes; and the curis, or skin, which enables us to feel the different forms, hardness, or softness of bodies.

Clark's exercise has no apparent relation to anything else in the expedition's known journals, and so the question remains, Why did he choose this particular paragraph from among the entire 3538 pages comprising Owen's?

Perhaps it is a crisp shadow of a conversation with Lewis about the challenges they faced as explorers. Otherwise, it may be related to something more personal, for its content is roughly parallel with that of a certain section of the Second, or Fellow Craft, Degree of the Masonic Order. Eight years before the expedition began, Lewis had risen quickly to the degree of Past Master Mason in the Door to Virtue Lodge No. 44 in Albemarle County, Virginia, and by 1799 to the status of Royal Arch Mason in Widow's Son Lodge at Milton, Virginia. From time to time Lewis would reflect his own Masonic loyalty in his journaling, and now, perhaps, he had begun to introduce his friend to the principles of the Order, and Clark was taking him seriously. In 1809, just a few months before Lewis's tragic death, Clark was inducted into the St. Louis Lodge No. 111, which Lewis had helped to establish the previous year.


1. "Viz." is an abbreviation for the Latin expression videlicet, a compound word literally meaning "it is permitted to see," but commonly employed during the 16th through the 19th centuries in place of "that is to say" or "namely," and often to introduce an enumeration.

2. A New and Complete dictionary of Arts and Sciences; comprehending all the branches of useful knowledge, with accurate descriptions as well of the various machines, instruments, tools, figures, and schemes necessary for illustrating them, as of the classes, kinds, preparations, and uses of natural productions, whether animals, vegetables, minerals, fossils, or fluids; together with the kingdoms, provinces, cities, towns, and other remarkable places throughout the world. Illustrated with above three hundred copper-plates, curiously engraved by Mr. Jeffreys, geographer and engraver to his Royal Highness the prince of Wales. The whole extracted from the best authors in all languages, by a Society of Gentlemen. London: Printed for W. Owen, at Homer's Head, in Fleet-street. MDCCLXIV. [London, 1753; 2nd ed., 1764]

3. Donald Jackson, "Some Books Carried by Lewis and Clark," Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, Vol. XVI, No. 1 (October, 1959), 3–13.