Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Featured Manuscript: Jefferson Letters Regarding the University of Virginia Library

original rotunda image from virginia.edu
On Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone are three achievements he wished to be remembered for: 1) Writing the Declaration of Independence, 2) Authoring the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and 3) Founding Father of the University of Virginia. Any one of these would have sufficed to earn him a lasting place in history; yet combined, he felt these left the greatest imprint on America and its long term survival. The theme running through each of the three accomplishments is freedom: political freedom; religious freedom; and intellectual freedom.
   The University of Virginia (UVA) is today one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America, and in some aspects the world. UVA is also (the historic lawn area designed by Jefferson as his Academical Village with the magnificent rotunda library) a UNESCO world heritage site.
Morristown NHP Park collection, Mss.3
   The creation of the University was the work of Jefferson’s mature years and the University officially opened March 1825, just sixteen months before Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.
   Jefferson created UVA from scratch: he designed it architecturally, he sought out and hired professors, he designed the curriculum, and he even sought out specific books for the library. That fascinating bit of work is reflected in two letters held at Morristown NHP as part of the Park Collection.

   In these two letters written to booksellers (Jefferson obviously couldn’t just go on Amazon to buy them—surprisingly though, many are still available in reprint and in pricey first editions from antiquarian booksellers) he enquires about precise titles. In the first letter, dated Monticello, May 22, 1825, Jefferson writes to an unknown bookseller:
Morristown NHP Park Collection, Mss. 3, Recto 

As our Anglo-Saxon instruction is suspended until we can get books, I must pray you to procure for your bookstore here, copies of the following books for purchase by the students, which cannot be obtained but from England, to wit:
  • Grammatica Anglo-Saxonica ex Hickesiano Linguarum Septentrionalium thesauro excerpta.
  • Vocabularium anglo-saxonicum lexico Gul.
  • Heptateuchus, liber Job, et Evangelium Nicodemi, Anglo-Saxonice historiae Judith fragmentum, Dano-Saxonice / edidit nunc primum ex mss. codicibus Edwardus Thwaites.
  • Barrington’s Orosius, Anglo-Saxon & England.

Morristown NHP Park Collection, Mss. 3, Verso
Jefferson ends this letter enquiring about:

  • Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxon.
  • Langard’s History of England.
  • Brodie’s History of the Stuarts.

The second letter, dated Monticello, July 25, 1825, Jefferson writes to William Hilliard, of the Boston bookselling firm of Cumings, Hilliard, and Co. Among the books Jefferson desires are:

Morristown NHP Park Collection, Mss. 1, Recto

  • Morristown NHP Park Collection, Mss. 1, Verso
    Stephani Thesaurus. Gr.
  • Paris’s Pharmacologia.
  • Bulen calculus integralis.
  • Psalterium A. Saxonicum.
  • Johnson’s Dict. by Todd.
  • Crescembeni Storia della Poesia.
  • Herrera Historia de los Hechos de los Castellanos.

Blog Entry by Jude Pfister, D. Litt., Curator

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