Tag Archives: Library

A cherry on top! (7 of 7)

should this establishment take place on a plan worthy of approbation, I shall have a valuable legacy to leave it, to wit, my library, which certainly has not cost less than 15,000. Dollars. but it’s value is more in the selection, a part of which, that which respects America is the result of my own personal searches in Paris for 6. or 7. years, & of persons employed by me in England, Holland, Germany and Spain to make similar searches. such a collection on that subject can never again be made.
Thomas Jefferson to Littleton W. Tazewell, January 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Passionate leaders endow their own dreams.
Jefferson concluded his long letter envisioning the University of Virginia by putting a cherry on top. He would give it his personal library, several thousands of books. He had spent more than 35 years compiling that collection from the best sources in America and Europe. It had no equal.

But it was not to be. Before the University would open two decades later, an even more compelling need arose. The British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812 (“Mr. Madison’s War,” they called it.) and its small library. In 1815, Thomas Jefferson sold his beloved library to the federal government, where it would become the foundation of the Library of Congress.

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson spent maybe 100 hours compiling a list of books the University should acquire. The number of books and their cost were nearly identical to the size and value of the library he sold to Congress nine years earlier.

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What does a local library mean for US? Part 4 of 4

… having had more favorable opportunities than fall to every man’s lot of becoming acquainted with the best books on such subjects as might be selected, I do not know that I can be otherwise useful to your society than by offering them any information respecting these which they might wish. my services in this way are freely at their command …
To John Wyche, May 19, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are helpful but not too helpful.
This was Jefferson’s closing in his response to news of a proposed county library in south Virginia. He had stated the importance of an educated citizenry, the value of a lending library toward that end, and the types of books that library should contain. Now, he limited his invovlement in their effort.

He did not endorse that particular library. He did not contribute to the capital campaign to establish it. Yet, acknowledging his good fortune when it came to books (his personal library contained over 6,000), he offered to advise them on what books they should acquire. He did not offer that counsel unsolicited; they would have to ask again.

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What does a local library mean for US? Part 3 of 4

these should be such [books in your library] as would give them a general view of other history & particular view of that of their own country, a tolerable knolege of geography, the elements of Natural philosophy, of agriculture & mechanics. should your example lead to this, it will do great good.
To John Wyche, May 19, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Educated leaders encourage foundational reading for all.
What types of books should be in a county library for circulating among its citizens?

  1. History in general, to know what preceded us on a global scale
  2. History in particular, that of the United States
  3. Basic geography, how the elements of our earth are represented
  4. Science (“Natural philosophy”)
  5. Agriculture, how we feed and clothe ourselves
  6. “Mechanics,” how things work

A basic knowledge in these six areas would be sufficient for citizens to know, respect and safeguard their rights as free Americans.

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What does a local library mean for US? Part 2 of 4

I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expence than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county to consist of a few well chosen books, to be lent to the people of the county under such regulations as would secure their safe return in due time.
To John Wyche, May 19, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Frugal leaders seek the most bang for the buck.
In the first excerpt from this letter, Jefferson explained the vital importance of an educated citizenry as essential to protecting their own rights. He supported any institution which furthered that end.

In this excerpt, he focused on the one institution which could best help accomplish that goal at the least expense, a library in every county. It could be small. It’s books should be well-chosen. It should lend those books to citizens and provide for their safe return.

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What’s the best way to get there?

The best road [to Washington, D. C.],  by far, for the waggons at this season, is from Monticello by Orange Court House, Culpeper Court House, Fauquier Court House, Emil’s mill, Sorgater Lanes, and George T. Ferry, because it is along cross roads nearly the whole way, which are very little travelled by waggons. The road by Fredericksburg is considerably further, and deeply cut through the whole. That by Stephensburg is the shortest and levellest  of all, but being generally a deep living clay is absolutely unpassable from November to May. The worst circumstance of the road by the Court Houses is that two of the branches of the Rappahannock and three of the Occoquam are to be forded, and they are liable to sudden swells.
Observations on the Transportation of the Monticello Library, February 27, 1815
The Complete Jefferson, Assembled by Saul K. Padover, c. 1943, P. 1070

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Clear-headed leaders know the best way to get from here to there.
In the previous two posts, Jefferson explained how he prepared his books for transport and considered the cost to ship them. Now, he directed the route his precious library should take. Generally, that route was NE/N about 80 miles, then east into Washington.
The national government had moved from Philadelphia to Washington in 1800. Jefferson had probably explored a number of routes as he traveled back and forth until 1809. Like any good leader, Jefferson considered alternate courses and explained why he chose this one, even as he warned of five potentially dangerous water crossings.
The wagons were loaded and departed in the last half of April. Jefferson then left for a few weeks to his get-away home, Poplar Forest, near present-day Lynchburg. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer that Jefferson learned that all of his beloved books had arrived safely at their new, permanent home in the nation’s capital.

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It costs HOW MUCH more in Washington?

[Transporting about 6,500 books, 27,000 pounds, will require] … eleven waggon loads …
It is said that waggon hire at Washington [D.C.] is eight dollars a day, finding themselves here it is exactly half that price … I think it would be better, therefore, to employ the waggons of this neighborhood … I presume a waggon will go loaded in seven days, and return empty in six, and allowing one for loading and accidents, the trip will be of a fortnight and come to $56* [per wagon].

Observations on the Transportation of the Monticello Library, February 27, 1815
The Complete Jefferson, Assembled by Saul K. Padover, c. 1943, P. 1069-70

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Economy-minded leaders are cautious with money (sometimes**).
In the previous post, Jefferson described how his library was to be packaged for transport to Washington. Here, he calculated the cost to do so.

* Padover provides this interesting footnote to counter Jefferson’s claim that local transport wagons cost half of what they did in the nation’s capital:

“Joseph Doughterty***, the master wagoner, wrote to Samuel Harrison Smith (a Washington newspaper publisher and good friend of Jefferson’s), on March 20:
“I will now state what my travelling expenses will amount to per day – so that you may see what my compensation would amount to per day. Horse-hire, $1.25 per day; breakfast, $0.50; dinner, $0.75; supper and lodging, $0.75, for gallons oats and hay, $0.87. Expense per day, $4.12.”
Daugherty asked for $6.00 per day, but was finally paid $5.00.”

** Jefferson was notoriously conservative at spending public funds but often just the opposite with his own money. I can’t determine whether the cost for transport was Jefferson’s or Congress’, but I would guess the former.

*** Dumas Malone, the definitive Jefferson biographer, referred to Dougherty as “Jefferson’s old coachman.” That would put Dougherty in the Charlottesville area, rather than from Washington. He disproved Jefferson’s assertion of $4/day/wagon. (Volume Six, Jefferson and his Time, The Sage of Monticello, P. 181)

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How do you move a library? A BIG library?

The books stand at present time in pine cases with backs and shelves without fronts … 3 tier, one upon another, about 9 feet high … [estimated weight] 27,046 pounds, or eleven waggon loads … a great many elegant bindings will require to be wrapped in waste paper …
And the books should go in their cases … on their arrival need only to be set up on end, and they will be arranged exactly as they stand in the catalog. I will have the fronts closed with boards for the journey, … [to be]  taken off on their arrival at Washington … But the books will require careful and skilful packing, to prevent their being rubbed in so long and rough a journey, by the jolting of the wagons.
Observations on the Transportation of the Monticello Library, February 27, 1815
The Complete Jefferson, Assembled by Saul K. Padover, c. 1943, P. 1069-70

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Reader-leaders protect their books as they would their children.
Congress agreed to purchase Jefferson’s library, to replace a much smaller one that had been destroyed in the War of 1812. Almost 6,500 volumes, Jefferson’s was the largest library in America. It became the foundation of the Library of Congress.

At Monticello, Jefferson had organized his books within categories and arranged them by size in long, open-front boxes, stacked to become shelving or bookcases. Before transport, he wrapped individual books in waste paper and packed the empty spaces with more waste. For transport, he simply nailed fronts on the boxes. In Washington, the fronts could be removed, the waste discarded, and the boxes stacked as directed. The volumes would then be arranged according the book catalog (inventory) he had prepared.

Padover included this footnote, “Jefferson packed the books so well that not one was damaged …”

The next post will cover the cost, the following one the route taken by the wagon-master.

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What’s in your (wallet)? No, library!

I sat down with a design of executing your request to form a catalogue of books to the amount of about 50 lib. sterl. But could by no means satisfy myself with any partial choice I could make. Thinking therefore it might be as agreeable to you I have framed such a general collection as I think you would wish and might in time find convenient to procure. Out of this you will chuse for yourself to the amount you mentioned for the present year and may hereafter as shall be convenient proceed in completing the whole.
To Robert Skipwith, August 3, 1771

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are very well-read!

The recipient was the brother-in-law of Martha Wayles Skelton, whom Jefferson would marry 17 months later. Skipwith had requested a reading list, “suited to the capacity of a common reader who understands but little of the classicks and who has not leisure for any intricate or tedious study. Let them be improving as well as amusing..“ He was willing to spend 50 pounds. (Jefferson would have been wiser still had he applied Skipwith’s self-limitation to himself. Strict when it came to public spending, Jefferson demonstrated little discipline in his personal finances.)
The 28 year old Jefferson could not whittle his reading list to the budget. Instead, he gave a much more extensive list and suggested Skipwith spend 50 pounds on some of these works now and acquire the rest as he was able.
Here is Jefferson’s letter to Skipwith, which includes the list.
Monticello’s web site adds helpful “brief subject categories” to that list.
How much, you ask, is “50 lib. sterl.” In today’s money? Good luck. This article from Colonial Williamsburg explains the difficulty in answering that question. Perhaps it would be $3-4,000 in 2013. (The top photo in this article features Bill Sommerfield, aka George Washington. We presented together five times, four at his invitation, once at mine. He was excellent and greatly encouraging to me! Bill passed away several years ago.)

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