Don Quixote (Novel)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Don Quixote was one of the few works of fiction that Thomas Jefferson was clearly partial to. He used the text in its original language to learn Spanish, and had his children do the same. Jefferson owned a number of different editions over his lifetime.

Primary Reference Sources[1]

1771 August 3. (Jefferson to Robert Skipwith). "Don Quixot. by Smollett 4 v. 12 mo. 12/"[2]

1783 December 5. (Jefferson to Marbois). "I had left her [Martha] with a Gil Blas, and Don Quichotte which are among the best books of their class as far as I am acquainted with them."[3]

1784 July 24. (Jefferson to Cabot). "Have delivered his Don Quixote to Mr. Tracy."[4]

1790 March 7. (Jefferson to Elizabeth Wayles Eppes). "She [Polly] is fond enough of reading and will require no pressing on that head for any thing but her Spanish. I have insisted on her reading ten pages a day in her Spanish Don Quixot, and getting a lesson in her Spanish grammar."[5]

1790 April 11. (Jefferson to Mary Jefferson). "How many pages a-day do you read in Don Quixot? How far are you advanced in him?"[6]

1790 April 25. (Mary Jefferson to Jefferson). "I have not been able to read in Don Quixote every day, as I have been travelling ever since I saw you last..."[7]

1790 May 23. (Jefferson to Mary Jefferson). "Your last told me what you were not doing: that you were not reading Don Quixot...I hope your next will tell me what you are doing."[8]

1790 May 23.(Mary Jefferson to Jefferson). "I read in don quixote every day to my aunt and say my grammar in spanish..."[9]

1791 January 22. (Mary Jefferson to Jefferson). "I owe sister thirty-five pages in Don Quixote, and am now paying them as fast as I can."[10]

1791 February 2. (Thomas Mann Randolph to Jefferson). "Polly is in fine health: her fondness for her little niece and attention to her Sister, have kept her back some pages in Don Quixote which she was on the point of finishing."[11]

1791 April 18. (Mary Jefferson to Jefferson). "I have finished Don Quixote..."[12]

1794 November 4. (William Short to Jefferson). "I shall send by him [James Blake] an edition of Don Quixote which I ask you to accept as a small token of my remembrance. It is the 8vo. edition of the academy and equally complete and correct with the 4to. edition, and more transportable, for which purpose I have chosen it, and send it unbound. If you have not previously had this edition, though I have some idea you have, I recommend particularly to you the Analysis at the beginning by Dr. Vincente de los Rios."[13]

1795 January 29. (William Short to Jefferson). "I sent you by Mr. Blake who did not sail from Cadiz until the 21st. instant the 8vo. Academy edition of Don Quixote."[14]

1795 June 1. (Jefferson to Edmund Randolph). "Mr. Short...mentions to me that Mr. Blake would bring for me a copy of Don Quixote, and the Cortez's letters I had been so anxious to get. The former I have received."[15]

1795 August 30. (Jefferson to Mann Page). "I have laid up my Rosinante in his stall, before his unfitness for the road shall expose him faultering to the world."[16]

1799 August 18. (Jefferson to Edmund Randolph). "Who would have conceived in 1789 that within ten years we should have to combat such windmills."[17]

1808 November 24. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "His [anyone's] error does me no injury, and shall I become a Don Quixot to bring all men by force of argument, to one opinion."[18]

1822 July 19. (Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse). "Don Quixote undertook to redress the bodily wrongs of the world, but the redressment of mental vagaries would be an enterprise more than Quixotic. I should as soon undertake to bring the crazy skulls of Bedlam to sound understanding as inculcate reason into that of an Athanasian."[19]

1850s. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Henry Randall). "Books were at all times his chosen companions, and his acquaintance with many languages gave him great power of selection. He read Homer, Virgil, Dante, Corneille, Cervantes..."[20]


  1. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  2. PTJ, 1:78.
  3. Ibid., 6:374.
  4. Ibid., 7:383.
  5. Ibid., 16:208.
  6. Ibid, 16:331.
  7. Ibid, 16:384.
  8. Ibid, 16:435.
  9. Ibid, 16:436.
  10. Randolph, Domestic Life, 193.
  11. PTJ, 19:240.
  12. Ibid, 20:238.
  13. Ibid, 28:185-186.
  14. Ibid, 28:255.
  15. Ibid, 28:377.
  16. Ibid, 28:440.
  17. Ibid., 31:170-171.
  18. Peterson, Writings, 1195.
  19. L&B, 15:391.
  20. Randall, Life, 3:345.