Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson"), 2 1/2 pages, 4to (9 3/4 x 8 in.; 248 x 203 mm), Monticello, 30 June 1825, to Rufus King, American Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, enclosing remittances for the purchase of books and mathematical and scientific instruments for the newly founded University of Virginia, integral address on verso of second leaf; browned, a few small holes caused by ink oxidation. Half green morocco over linen folding-case, brown morocco lettering pieces.
The sage of Monticello and Founding Father of the University of Virginia entrusts funds to Rufus King, American minister to Great Britain, for the purchase of library books and scientific instruments for the newly opened institution. "I presume that while with us you must have become informed that we were establishing in Virginia an university on a scale of considerable respectability. we are now provided with funds to procure for the institution a competent library and apparatus. for the former we have engaged a special agent, now on his departure for Europe, on that business: for the selection and purchase of our apparatus we hope to have the aid of a highly qualified Mathematician, mr. Barlow, Professor of mathematics in the royal institution at Woolwich. we still want the friendly aid of some person in London; who will consent to be the depository of the funds placed there for this acquisition. having no acquaintance there myself to whom i could propose this office, I have hoped that your friendliness to science, and desire to see it promoted in your country would induce you to lend us a hand in this enterprize. the sum we propose to deposit in London for this purpose is 6300 D. or 1350£ sterl. which I have taken the liberty of having made payable to you by the bill of exchange inclosed."
Jefferson had long espoused the idea that the liberty of the mind, the freedom of open and unfettered inquiry was the necessary condition of scientific progress. He formulated the plan for the establishment of the University of Virginia in 1800. Farmland just outside Charlottesville was purchased from James Monroe by the Board of Visitors of what was then Central College in 1817. Guided by Jefferson, the school laid the first cornerstone of its first building (now Pavilion VII) later that year and the Commonwealth of Virginia chartered the University on 25 January 1819. The University of Virginia was a unique and advanced institution for its day. Instead of offering only three areas of specialization—Medicine, Law, and Religion—it provided a broader curriculum embracing fields as diverse as Astronomy, Architecture, Botany, Philosophy, and Political Science. Jefferson explained to William Roscoe in a letter dated 27 December 1820: "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it" (quoted in Malone, Jefferson and His Time: the Sage of Monticello, pp. 417–418). Between 1814 and 1823 Jefferson corresponded with other architects and drew up plans for the University's academic village, with the grounds centered on the Rotunda, which would house the Library, rather than on a chapel. Because of construction, the opening of the University was delayed until March 1825; it would initially serve 123 students.
The founding of the Library. Because of his broad intellectual curiosity and his insatiable appetite for books, Jefferson's initial selection for the Library was of comprehensive scope and authoritative quality. He had intended to donate his private collection but when the Library of Congress collection was destroyed by the British during the War of 1812, he felt impelled to offer his private library for acquisition by the Federal Government. In June 1825, Jefferson completed his list of desirable volumes, arranged according to a subject classification adapted from Francis Bacon. The total number was nearly 7,000 volumes. The subjects most fully covered in his list were law, history, science, medicine, ethics and religion, belles lettres, geography, politics, and mathematics. (H. Clemons, The University of Virginia Library, 1825–1950, p. 1–10, passim).
Jefferson indicates, however, that some of the funds for the purchase of books might need to be redirected in order to redeem the bond of one of the newly engaged professors, Charles Bonnycastle. Bonnycastle was hired to teach Natural Philosophy (as physics was then known) but later became the University's second Mathematics professor. Jefferson explains: "Mr. Bonnycastle, our Professor of Natural Philosophy, recieved a part of his education, as I understand, at some public institution, perhaps that of Woolwich or Portsmouth; and, to obtain this position, had given a bond with security, in the penalty of 500£ sterl. not to enter into any foreign service, without the consent of his government. he was in France when mr. Gilmer, our agent, was engaging Professors for us, and returned to London just as mr. Gilmer was about to leave it; so that there not being time to obtain the permission of his government regularly, he engaged with mr. Gilmer in the expectation of being able to obtain it afterwards. delays however occurred, the season for departure pressed, his co-professors took their passage in a ship bound for Virginia directly, and not to lose the opportunity, he came away with them without having obtained leave actually."
Should the remission be obtained, continues Jefferson, he would like it applied to the purchase of mathematical and scientific apparatus, of which he was an enthusiast, owning many instruments himself. However, "if the bond, or any part of it is rigorously exacted then so much of our deposit must be taken as may be necessary to make the payment and apparatus to the amount of what remains only, must be purchased; suspending the purchase of the residue until the fact may be made known to us, and a supplementary remittance be made.
"I inclose the letters of mr. Bonnycastle and of myself to mr. Barlow open for your perusal, as also the catalogue of instruments, and the explanation of that catalogue. ... within a few days I shall have to ask of you a similar favor on behalf of our anatomical and Medical school, to permit yourself to be the depository of another remittance of about one half the preceding sum for the purchase of prepared subjects and apparatus, which will be procured by a special agent, in like manner, who will certify the bill or bills to you for an order for payment. this will be the subject of another letter, and will close the trouble we shall have occasion to give you on account of this institution."The books, when arrived, were stored in a building on the West Lawn pending completion of the Rotunda. Jefferson died before the Library could be installed in the Rotunda. He insisted his tombstone mention only his status as author of the Declaration of Independence and Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia, eschewing all mention of his Presidency.
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