Those [Virginia’s laws] in MS. [manuscript, i.e. hand-written] were not sent, … because some of them will not bear removal, being so rotten, that in turning over a leaf it sometimes falls into powder. These I preserve by wrapping & sewing them up in oiled cloth, so that neither air nor moisture can have access to them.
To George Wythe, January 16, 1796
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Careful leaders take great care in preserving the past.
Jefferson was sending Wythe, the man who guided his legal training 35 years earlier, his collection of Virginia’s printed laws. In an earlier post from this letter, he suggested printing all of the laws and distributing copies broadly in libraries. (May 3, 2013 post, “I just want you to know …,” categoried under Education and History)
Here, Jefferson demonstrated his concern that none of Virginia’s history be lost. He wouldn’t forward hand-written documents so fragile that they might fall apart. Instead, he employed the historic preservation technique available to him. He sealed those documents in cloth treated with oil, probably linseed oil rendered from the linen-producing flax plant. That process made them impervious to water and air.
Perhaps he knew a future generation would have a method to restore such documents? Until then, he would keep them safe.