Library (Book Room)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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'''Color:''' There is evidence that this space was originally wallpapered; today painted oyster white '''Color:''' There is evidence that this space was originally wallpapered; today painted oyster white
-'''Purpose of Room:''' Held Jefferson's libraries, the largest of which consisted of more than 6,000 books and was [[Library of Congress Sale|sold to Congress in 1815]]+'''Purpose of Room:''' Held [[Thomas Jefferson|Thomas Jefferson's]] libraries, the largest of which consisted of more than 6,000 books and was [[Library of Congress Sale|sold to Congress in 1815]]
'''Architectural features:''' Part of a "suite" of private rooms used by Jefferson, comprised of the Library, [[Southeast Piazza (Greenhouse)|the Greenhouse]], the [[Cabinet]], and Jefferson's [[Bedchamber|Bedroom]]; the plan based on an octagon, a favored architectural shape for Jefferson '''Architectural features:''' Part of a "suite" of private rooms used by Jefferson, comprised of the Library, [[Southeast Piazza (Greenhouse)|the Greenhouse]], the [[Cabinet]], and Jefferson's [[Bedchamber|Bedroom]]; the plan based on an octagon, a favored architectural shape for Jefferson
'''Furnishings of Note:''' [[:Category:Books |Books]] (most of the books in Monticello today represent the same titles but not the original books Jefferson owned); book boxes stacked as bookshelves (today, reproductions are shown); an octagonal filing table, with drawers labeled for alphabetical filing; the easy chair which Jefferson, according to tradition, used while vice president; Jefferson's desk used for reading, writing, or drawing. '''Furnishings of Note:''' [[:Category:Books |Books]] (most of the books in Monticello today represent the same titles but not the original books Jefferson owned); book boxes stacked as bookshelves (today, reproductions are shown); an octagonal filing table, with drawers labeled for alphabetical filing; the easy chair which Jefferson, according to tradition, used while vice president; Jefferson's desk used for reading, writing, or drawing.
- 
- 
-== The Man Who Couldn't Live Without Books == 
- 
- 
-It is by now a familiar story of how the 
-former president, Thomas Jefferson, living in 
-retirement, offered his own magnificent library, 
-which he had spent a lifetime and a fortune 
-creating, as a [[Library of Congress Sale | replacement for the congressional 
-library]] that had been destroyed by the 
-British troops in August of 1814; how the 
-Congress debated its purchase on shamefully 
-partisan grounds; how they finally voted by a 
-very narrow margin to acquire it at a bargain 
-price; and how Jefferson's great library then 
-became the foulidation of the future Library 
-of Congress. In retrospect, it seems fairly clear 
-that had the Congress not bought the extraordinary collection of Thomas Jefferson, its 
-collection would have developed in accordance 
-with a much narrower conception and the Library 
-of Congress would never have become 
-what it is now, a great national repository for 
-all manner of materials, on every imaginable 
-subject, for the use and benefit of all. <ref>Based on Douglas L. Wilson, [http://tjportal.monticello.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=6515 Monticello Keepsakes], April 12, 2002.</ref> One 
-would not have to know vely much about Jefferson 
-to infer that by the time he had carefully 
-arranged, labeled, and boarded the books 
-up in their presses and shipped them off in 10 
-wagons to Washington in the Spring of 1815, he had already started to build a new library, 
-a collection which would burgeon, in his 11 
-remaining years, to more than 2,250 volumes. I 
-It was at this time that he confessed to John 
-Adams, "I cannot live without books." 
- 
-This addiction to books was an early phenomenon. His father was without formal education, but, as Jefferson put it, "read much and 
-improved himself." Perhaps as a consequence, 
-the boy grew up with books, and his inqnisitive 
-nature and studious temperament were 
-formed and fed by reading from an early age. 
-By the time he was five, he is said to have read 
-all the books in his father's modest library. He 
-then began formal schooling, and by age 14 
-he was well grounded in Latin, Greek, and 
-French. He relished his studies and gained a 
-reputation as a zealous student, who, as a 
-schoolboy, when a holiday was declared, would 
-not take part in the frivolity until he had prepared 
-his lessons for the next day. At the 
-College of William and Mary, he said he studied 
-15 hours a day, and though he had close 
-friends and liked to socialize with them, his 
-classmate John Page tells us that he "could 
-tear himself from the company of his dearest 
-friends and fly to his studies."  
- 
-Jefferson's was truly an extraordinary capacity 
-for learning. When he left William and 
-Mary in 1762 after only two years and without 
-takig a degree, it was in order to further his education. His principal instructor, Dr. 
-William Small, may have felt that Jefferson 
-had gotten all that the college curriculum had 
-to offer him, for he arranged for his star pupil 
-to become apprenticed to the eminent lawyer 
-and classical scholar, George Wythe. In the 
-five years before he began to practice before 
-the bar, the young Jefferson read exhaustively 
-in all facets of the law; he taught himself Italian 
-and Anglo-Saxon; he increased his fluency 
-in Greek; and he read intensively in history, 
-philosophy, and literature. 
- 
-All of this time, of course, he was building 
-a library, about which we have, unfortunately, 
-only sketchy information. We have a record of 
-the books he bought from the office of the Virginia 
-Gazette for the years 1764 and 1765, 
-and we have the commonplace books in which 
-he entered extracts from his reading in law 
-and literature. A few other clues exist about 
-the character of this early version of his library, 
-but we do not have the books themselves, 
-for in 1770, even as he was starting to build 
-quarters for himself on the little mountain 
-across the river, his mother's house burned, 
-and he lost almost everything he owned, including 
-most of his library. The only tangible 
-clue to its size is the £200 he estimated it was 
-worth, a problematical indicator because of the 
-wide disparity between the cost of locally purchased 
-as opposed to imported books. But a reasonable estimate, taking these factors into 
-consideration, is 300-400 volumes. 
-By the standards of the time, even among 
-wealthy Virginia planters, this was an unusually 
-large collection of books. But this was 
-no usual collector. He now conceived an ambitious 
-and comprehensive plan for the library 
-that would complement the contemplated grandeur 
-of Monticello, and he acted vigorously to 
-implement this plan. In just three year's time, 
-he had assembled a collection of 1,250 books 
-at Monticello alone, and he had more books in the quarters he maintained at Williamsburg. Making sort of Jeffersonian calculation, we may observe that this would constitute an average 
-acquisition rate over the three-year period 
-of about one book per day. His ability to acquire 
-books in a colony that published relatively 
-few of its own, and at a time when most 
-books had to be imported from abroad, was 
-truly remarkable. By the end of the Revolution 
-some 10 years later, during which time trade 
-was much impeded or entirely cut off, he had 
-accumulated a library that numbered 2,640 
-volumes. 
- 
-How did he manage this incredible feat? 
-For one thing, he was constantly placing orders 
-with booksellers, both at home and abroad, 
-directly and through friends and other intermediaries. 
-He bought large numbers of books 
-at the dispersal sales of private libraries, such as that of William Byrd of Westover, the 
-learned Richard Bland, and the leader of the 
-Virginia legislature, Peyton Randolph. When 
-the hostilities between the colonies and the 
-crown prompted certain citizens, such as teachers 
-at the College of William and Mary, to 
-return to England, Jefferson's library benefited 
-from the purchase of books that could not be 
-carried back. And during the sessions of the 
-Continental Congress, he was apparently combing 
-the bookstalls of Philadelphia, the intellectual 
-and publishing center of the colonies. 
- 
-By 1783, as he prepared to travel to France, 
-the catalogue of his library that listed the 2,640 
-books he owned also carried the titles of scores 
-of others he hoped to acquire in Europe. During 
-the five years that he remained in France 
-representing the United States, he acquired 
-well over 2,000 additional volumes for his library. 
-Thus, in the twenty-year period between 
-1770 and 1790, Jefferson acquired something 
-in the neighborhood of 5,000 books, for an 
-average of about 250 books a year. 
- 
-The dimensions of Jefferson's bibliomania 
-are thus staggering, and it would not be unreasonable 
-to suppose that his ability to acquire 
-books must have thoroughly outstripped his 
-ability to read and assimilate them. And while 
-it is more than likely that he owned many books 
-that he never read all the way through, the 
-evidence is overwhelming that his familiarity with the contents of his books was very great 
-indeed, that he acquired each book for a particular 
-reason, and that, in fact, far from being 
-an indiscriminate glutton for books of any 
-kind, he was actually very selective about the 
-books that he put on his shelves. 
- 
-Jefferson's library, vast as it was by any 
-available standard, was, then, carefully and 
-deliberately built. He prided himself most on 
-the care with which the books were chosen, 
-and he emphasized this selectivity in characterizing 
-his library to others. It was, be always 
-insisted, a library for use, and it had been designed 
-to aid him in the particular business of 
-his life, which made it heavy on law, history, 
-and politics. Had his life taken different turns, 
-he argued, had he not been called upon to 
-participate in the great political movements 
-of the day, his library would have been quite 
-different. Nonetheless he had books to consult 
-for all his interests and occupations, and he 
-used them assiduously. One of the most telling 
-glimpses we have of Jefferson in his library 
-is given by his former slave, Isaac, whose recollections 
-constitute a series of incisive pictures 
-of the man in his characteristic employments. 
-Isaac remembered: "Old master had abundance 
-of books: sometimes would have twenty of 'em 
-down on the floor at once: read fust one then 
-tother. Isaac has often wondered how old master 
-came to have such a mighty head: read so many of them books: & when they go to ax 
-him anything, he go right to the book & tell 
-you about it." 
- 
-I have written above about the numbers that 
-constituted. at various stages.. this abundance 
-of books because it is a subject about which 
-there has been much confusion and a good deal 
-of misinformation. Although Thomas Jefferson 
-was an unusually methotical man who kept 
-careful records on everything from the weather 
-to the contents of his wine cellar, when it came 
-to the size of his great library, he was surprisingly 
-vague. He told a correspondent in 1811 
-"my bibliomany has possessed me of perhaps 
-20,000 volumes," a figure he probably intended 
-as an exaggeration. In January 1814, 
-he estimated his library at "about seven or 
-eight thousand volumes." Both of these seem 
-to be serious estimates, but why they should 
-be at variance, and why the first should turn 
-out to he more accurate than the second, is difficult 
-to explain. This uncertainty about the 
-size of Jefferson's famous library has proved 
-strangley infectious and continues down to the present day. As late as 1958, the ''Encyclopedia 
-Britannica'' was reporting its size as 13,000 
-volumes, and, more recently, the dust jacket 
-of a book published just last year put this number 
-at 10,000. 
- 
-When E. Millicent Sowerby prepared her 
-monumental five-volume ''Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson'' for the Library of 
-Congress, one might have expected that she 
-would resolve this problem once and for all, 
-but in fact she only added to the confusion. 
-Her own numbering system was not geared to 
-volumes, and in discussing her work a few 
-years later before the Bibliographical Society 
-of America, she confessed that she could never 
-discover whether the figure usually given for 
-Jefferson's library of 6,500 referred to "hooks 
-or volumes." In spite of Miss Sowerby's expressed 
-confusion, that figure clearly derives 
-from a volume count made at the time of the 
-sale. This count was not made by its owner 
-nor was it made at Monticello. It was performed 
-at Jefferson's request by Joseph Milligan, 
-a Georgetown bookseller, and was done 
-in Washington from the manuscript catalogue 
-that had been sent for the inspection of the 
-joint congressionlal library committee. He was 
-able to make a count away from the library 
-because Jefferson's catalogue entries specified 
-the number of volumes for each entry. The exact 
-number arrived at by Milligan, which was 
-duly written into the congressional legislation 
-authorizing the purchase of Jefferson's library, 
-was 6,487 volumes, but even this number was, 
-alas, in error. 
- 
-When the decision to purchase the library 
-had finallv been taken by Congress, Jefferson's 
-manuscript catalogue was returned to him at Monticello in March 1815, and he proceeded 
-to "revise" his library, by which he meant carefully 
-comparing the catalogue with the books 
-on the shelves. In offering his books to Congress 
-six months earlier, he had warned: "I have not revised the library since I came home 
-to live, so that it is probable some of the books 
-may be missing . . ." With the numbers specified 
-so precisely in the legislation, he became 
-concerned that he might not be able to provide 
-what the Congress had coutracted for. Upon 
-making a careful count, he was relieved to 
-discover that the number of volumes accidentally 
-excluded from the catalogue far exceeded 
-the number included but missing from the 
-shelves. 
- 
-In perfect keeping with the ambiguity surrounding 
-the size of Jefferson's library is the 
-fact that his own tally sheet, an important 
-document which survives but seems to have 
-gone unnoticed, contains totals that are overmitten 
-and therefore difficult to read, but the 
-grand total, being the number of bound volumes 
-that were sent off to Congress in April, 
-was 6,707. According to Jefferson's final reckoning, 
-he sent Cougress 220 volumes more 
-than they had bargained for, something he felt 
-obligated to do because they had contracted, 
-at his insistence, for the entire library. As a 
-consequence, he actually received $1,172 less 
-than he might have, but characteristically, though he reckoned up the difference on his 
-tally sheet, he offered no complaint. 
- 
-Sadly, almost two-thirds of the original volumes 
-of Jefferson's great library are no longer 
-in the Library of Congress, largely due to a 
-disastrous fire in 1851. But it seems likely that 
-nothing could have given Thomas Jefferson 
-more pleasure and satisfaction than to know 
-that his library would continue to he studied 
-and talked about even after a substantial portion 
-of it had been destroyed, and that it would 
-still be important to posterity if not a single 
-copy of the original librnry survived. This is 
-an object lesson in the kind of immortality that 
-Jefferson believed in-a dispensation wherein 
-things that have lost their material form retain 
-their value and so take on an importance that 
-transcends the limits of time and space. And 
-this importance that we accord Jefferson's library 
-is perhaps the final and most fitting 
-tribute to the man who couldn't live without 
-books. 
- 
-==Footnotes== 
-<references/> 
[[Category:Monticello (House)]] [[Category:Monticello (House)]]
[[Category:Books]] [[Category:Books]]

Revision as of 13:15, 23 July 2007

View into the Bookroom from Jefferson's Cabinet (Study)
View into the Bookroom from Jefferson's Cabinet (Study)

Dimensions: 14' 10"x 15' 3" (with an annex 10' 10" x 10' 1"); ceiling 10' 0"

Order: Tuscan

Color: There is evidence that this space was originally wallpapered; today painted oyster white

Purpose of Room: Held Thomas Jefferson's libraries, the largest of which consisted of more than 6,000 books and was sold to Congress in 1815

Architectural features: Part of a "suite" of private rooms used by Jefferson, comprised of the Library, the Greenhouse, the Cabinet, and Jefferson's Bedroom; the plan based on an octagon, a favored architectural shape for Jefferson

Furnishings of Note: Books (most of the books in Monticello today represent the same titles but not the original books Jefferson owned); book boxes stacked as bookshelves (today, reproductions are shown); an octagonal filing table, with drawers labeled for alphabetical filing; the easy chair which Jefferson, according to tradition, used while vice president; Jefferson's desk used for reading, writing, or drawing.