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Introduction to
Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order

edited by
James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson

1989 Library of Congress

Reproduced 2001

Table of Contents   |    Sources cited   |  Catalog record and links to related information from the Library of Congress catalog


The Library and the Catalog

One of Thomas Jefferson's most avid lifelong interests was his library. His first collection of books was largely destroyed by fire in 1770, but the twenty- six-year-old lawyer immediately set out to replace it with a more extensive li- brary, one that would encompass virtually the whole of recorded knowledge. And in spite of the disruptions of the ensuing revolution, Jefferson noted in 1783 that he had acquired the remarkable total of 2,640 volumes. When he departed the following year for Europe he looked forward to greatly expanding his library, and, whenever he was not carrying out his duties as the American minister to France, he haunted the Parisian booksellers and frequently placed orders with book dealers in London and other European cities. On returning to America in 1789 he possessed a library twice the size of the one he had owned at his departure. By 1815, he had a collection of 6,700 volumes. But it was not so much on the size of his library that Jefferson prided himself as on the fact that the books it contained had been chosen with great care. He realized that the combination of his intense love of books, his extensive travels, his keen knowledge of bibliography, and his ample means had provided him unique opportunities as a collector to acquire a library that was unrivaled in America. At some point Jefferson decided that this splendid library should not remain private property, thinking at first that he might donate it to a univer- sity. But when the congressional library in Washington was burned by the in- vading British army in 1814, the former president promptly offered his own. Though he was then in serious financial straits, Jefferson's primary purpose was to assure that the nation's legislators had access to the best sources of informa- tion and ideas, for he said that he would accept whatever price and terms of payment Congress thought appropriate as long as the entire collection was pur- chased. Though the debate was partisan and often rancorous, Congress ap- proved the purchase of the collection in early 1815 for $23,950. In March, only weeks before Jefferson's books were to be hauled in wagons from Monticello to Washington, George Watterston was appointed Librarian of Congress by President James Madison on the recommendation of Joseph Milligan, the Georgetown bookseller who had appraised Jefferson's books for Congress. Watterston's most pressing duty was to oversee the transfer of the 1 Jefferson books and to install them in the temporary Capitol building. He later wrote that he single-handedly labeled and arranged the books on shelves when they arrived in Washington.¹ When Jefferson offered his library to Congress in September 1814, he sent along his handwritten catalog for the inspection of the congressional library committee. Not only did this catalog arrange the books in subject categories, but the categories themselves were part of an overall classification scheme that was adapted from the second book of Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning. "One of the most systematic of men," Dumas Malone has written of Jefferson, "he was in character as a cataloguer."² Perhaps no activity so repre- sents the man and his distinctive mentality as the cataloging and classification of books. In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon had organized all knowledge into the categories of Memory, Reason, and Imagination. Memory was divided into four parts: natural (which consisted of technology and information about inan- imate and animate things), civil, ecclesiastical, and literary. Reason was broken down into divine, natural, and civil sections. Lastly, Imagination was arranged according to narrative, representative (drama), and parabolical (allegory). Jef- ferson renamed Bacon's three categories History, Philosophy, and the Fine Arts. In the section devoted to History, Jefferson relegated Bacon's major division of Ecclesiastical History to a subsection of Civil History and eliminated altogether the section reserved for literary matters. In Philosophy, he combined Bacon's Civil and Divine Reason categories into a new division entitled Moral Philoso- phy. His treatment of theological and ecclesiastical subjects stems from his dis- trust of organized religions. On the other hand, Jefferson expanded Bacon's Imagination section into a Fine Arts category that embraced not only literary works but also such decorative and fine arts as gardening, painting, architecture, and music. Jefferson added a further dimension to Bacon's scheme by creating forty- four chapters, as he termed them, that identified specific subjects. Some chap- ters dealt with areas such as chemistry that were unknown in Bacon's time. Jefferson saw this elaborate arrangement not as a rigid system but as a flexible model adaptable to the exigencies of time and circumstance. Since during his own life he was deeply involved in political and legal matters, these sections in his classification scheme were necessarily very detailed. He allowed that a phy- sician or theologian, having acquired a different kind of library, would have created different chapters. 2 To twentieth-century eyes, parts of Jefferson's classification may seem puz- zling. It is no surprise to find categories such as Modern British History under the broad division of History, but such unexpected subjects as Agriculture, Surgery, and Natural History also appear there. The second broad category, Philosophy, combines subjects such as Mechanics, the Law of Nature and Na- tions, Politics, Phonics, and Arithmetic. Today's reader might sensibly ask not only what Agriculture and Modern British History have in common but also how Mechanics and the Law of Nature and Nations can both be related to what we call Philosophy. To pursue these questions is to confront Jefferson's world and his world view. History, the first of his three major categories, was composed of all known facts about the physical universe. This universe consisted of what could be learned about human activity through time (Civil History) and what had been discovered about the nature of plants, animals, and minerals (Natural History). Understanding the historical dimension of any subject was crucial to a meaning- ful comprehension of the present. A fact discovered long ago was no less valid than one recently established. If History dealt with the known world, Philoso- phy was concerned with the laws that governed those facts-the Moral for human affairs and the Mathematical for the forces of nature. Keeping in mind the meaning of the general organizational principles when looking at specific chapters helps explain the sometimes apparently strange jux- tapositions. Anatomy is composed of all the known facts about the human body just as Antient History is composed of all known facts about the classical world. This common link explains why they are both found under History. By the same token, Law Ecclesiastical governs religious communities just as the rules of Ge- ometry govern the relationships of circles, triangles, and other such figures. Consequently, both Law Ecclesiastical and Geometry are found under Philos- ophy. The catalog that Jefferson sent to Washington was particularly important because it presented the books within the forty-four chapters in a meaningful order. This order Jefferson described as "sometimes analytical, sometimes chronological, & sometimes a combination of both."³ This ordering of the chap- ters and of the individual books within each chapter is a detailed and telling product of Jefferson's distinctive imagination at work and has been aptly de- scribed by Arthur Bestor as "a blueprint of his own mind."4 After the books were unpacked and set up in Washington, Librarian George Watterston corresponded with Jefferson about the form the printed 3 catalog that Congress had authorized should take. There was no standard method for organizing book catalogs at the time, though most printed library catalogs of the period arranged titles either according to the size of the volumes or in broad subject categories. Another method was alphabetical by author or title, but Jefferson wrote Watterston that he found this "very unsatisfactory, because of the medley it presents to the mind, the difficulty sometimes of re- calling an author's name, and the greater difficulty, where the name is not given, of selecting the word in the title, which shall determine its alphabetical place."5 But Watterston's printed catalog, which appeared in 1815, struck a compro- mise. While it preserved Jefferson's classification and kept the books in the chapters he had assigned, it alphabetized the entries within the chapters and therefore destroyed Jefferson's carefully worked-out, sometimes analytical, sometimes chronological order.6 Watterston was probably unaware of the care with which Jefferson had ordered the entries in the catalog. In his novel Wanderer in Washington, Watter- ston expressed his genuine admiration for the former President: "Mr. Jefferson's was a constitution of iron; he could act and reflect more than any man I ever saw, without being fatigued or exhausted.... He lived like a philosopher."7 But Jefferson had not given his collection a detailed arrangement as a casual exercise in philosophical taxonomy. The arrangement was very important to him, and he objected to Watterston's changes in a letter to Joseph Cabell: "The form of the catalogue has been much injured in the publication; for although they have preserved my division into chapters, they have reduced the books in each chap- ter to alphabetical order, instead of the chronological or analytical arrangements I had given them."8 The handwritten catalog that Jefferson had sent to Congress along with his library was retained by Watterston, who claimed it as his personal property when he was dismissed from the post of Librarian of Congress in 1829. It has never been located by scholars, and its disappearance has meant that the ar- rangement of individual books that was so important to Jefferson has been lost. In the meantime, Jefferson's library has become the object of great interest for the light it sheds on one of America's most remarkable men. Adrienne Koch observed in her book The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson: " Since his library was the product of extraordinary devotion and, as he said, 'handpicked,' it is a val- uable index to his intellectual attachments."9 In view of this kind of interest and in tribute to its Jeffersonian origins, the Library of Congress sponsored an annotated catalog of the great library that 4 Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815. It was compiled by E. Millicent Sowerby and published by the Library in five large volumes between 1952 and 1959. The Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson listed the abbreviated entries given in the 1815 printed catalog edited by Watterston, tried to establish a full biblio- graphic entry for each work, and gathered anything Jefferson had written to correspondents about each book. When it was published, Sowerby's work was heralded by Douglass Adair of the William and Mary Quarterly as a "major event in the field of Jefferson studies." In this biobibliography, as she termed it, Sowerby arranged the books ac- cording to Jefferson's chapters. She realized the importance of the manuscript that Watterston had retained, however, and attempted to restore the order of the books within each chapter by using another manuscript catalog of his library that Jefferson had composed much before the one he sent to Washington in 1814.10 This earlier catalog is a densely interlined and worked over manuscript dated 1783 that is now in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Sowerby's promising plan miscarried, not only because of the difficulty of fath- oming the intended order in certain heavily revised parts of this manuscript but also because Jefferson had made extensive changes in compiling the later ver- sion of the catalog that he sent to Washington with his library. Many books sold to Congress were not in the 1783 catalog. Jefferson also condensed the forty-six chapters in the earlier manuscript into forty-four in the one he sent to Congress. In the foreword to volume 4 of the Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Miss Sowerby was forced to admit ruefully that her plan to establish Jefferson's original order for the books had failed. Jefferson's Order Restored The catalog of Jefferson's library contained in the pages that follow pre- sents the entries in an order assigned by Jefferson. The restoration of Jefferson's order has been made possible by the rediscovery of a manuscript that was com- missioned and corrected by Jefferson for the purpose of reconstructing the orig- inal catalog order that had been obliterated in Watterston's printed congres- sional catalog of 1815. This manuscript has an unusual provenance and an obscure history. It was donated to the Library of Congress in 1917 by Frank Goodell, who had found it in the library of which he was in charge at Camp Wheeler in Georgia. For many years, it was mistakenly labeled as a catalog of the library at the University of Virginia11 and may have been intended for its 5 collections. Bound with the manuscript catalog, which was clearly not in Jeffer- son's hand, was a copy of the 1815 printed catalog. The volume donated by Goodell remained in the Library's Manuscript Division until 1954 when it was transferred to the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. There it rested uncataloged and virtually unnoticed at the end of the library that Jefferson had sold in 1815.12 A close comparison of the manuscript and the 1815 printed catalog makes clear, however, that the two contain the same entries, though each is arranged in a different order. Not much is known about the early history of the manuscript, but it ap- pears to have been prepared for Jefferson at his request in 1823 by Nicholas P. Trist, the young man who would eventually become his grandson-in-law and private secretary. It is not surprising that Jefferson's thoughts should have turned to book catalogs in 1823 since he was then actively engaged in organizing the University of Virginia library. The manuscript is in handwriting and on paper that perfectly match those of the commonplace book Trist kept in the summer and fall of 1823,13 and its origin is confirmed by an exchange of letters. Writing to Jefferson from Louisiana on October 18, 1823, Trist says: "I avail myself of the first opportunity that offers to return your catalogue, the absence of which will have proved, I fear, a greater inconvenience than can be compen- sated by the copy I have made."14 Jefferson replied on his eighty-first birthday, April 13, 1824: "The catalogues, printed and ms. were safely received. the last has given you more trouble than I ought to have subjected you to. it is very precious to me, and I am truly thankful to you for it."15 The remarks suggest that Jeffer- son had sent to Trist a copy of the 1815 printed catalog that he had annotated to indicate his intended order for the books. Trist then compiled the manuscript catalog that is published here and sent it, along with Jefferson's annotated copy of the printed catalog, back to Jefferson when the job was completed. Though Jefferson's marked 1815 printed catalog has not been found and is presumed lost, we now have the Trist manuscript copy that was precious to Jefferson be- cause it reclaimed the results of an important undertaking that had nearly been lost-his painstaking and distinctive ordering of the books in his magnificent library. It is printed here for the first time. The chapters, as has been noted, are subject categories and are themselves arranged in a significant order that constitutes an overall classification scheme. Jefferson followed conventional eighteenth-century bibliographical format to describe each title listed within the chapters, providing concise information on 6 the author, title, number of volumes, and size. A typical entry from the first chapter (Antient History) reads:
114. Middleton's life of Cicero 2 v. 4. This signifies a two-volume life of Cicero by Conyers Middleton published in quarto. Quarto refers to the size of the volume. Folio books are the largest, quarto the next largest, and octavo and duodecimo follow in descending order. For some books, information about language, edition, and place and date of publication is also supplied:
6. Appolodorus. Gr. Lat. Heyne, 4 v 12 Goettingae, 1782 This work is a four-volume duodecimo edition of Apollodorus in both Greek and Latin edited by Christian Heyne and published in Goettingen in 1782. The small p before the size of certain volumes, such as the first entry in chapter 7, indicates that the volume is petit or a smaller format than usual. Thus "p folio" shows that the book is a folio but smaller than most other folios.
The initial number assigned to each entry refers not to its catalog order but to its shelf position. The numerical sequence began anew with each chapter.16 In Jefferson's bookcases in Monticello, the smaller books, such as the duodeci- mos, were put on the upper shelves; the middle-sized quartos and octavos were on ranges below them; and the folios were stored on the bottom shelves. In this way, the books in each chapter were kept together on Jefferson's shelves, and at the same time he was able to take advantage of the economies of space afforded by shelving according to size. In the first chapter, for example, the numbering sequence works out as follows: 1-16 duodecimos 17-101 octavos 102-115 quartos 116-129 folios A few entries begin with letters rather than numbers. These books were partic- ularly large and must have been kept separately. To refer to earlier examples, Middleton's life of Cicero (no. 114) is posi- tioned with the quartos on one of the middle shelves of the bookcase devoted to Antient History, and Heyne's edition of Appollodorus (no. 6) would be found near the beginning of the duodecimos at the top. Thus the numbering (and arrangement) of the books on the shelves was perfectly orderly, though in the catalog it appeared chaotic. As Jefferson explained the system to Watterston, 7 "On every book is a label, indicating the chapter of the catalogue to which it belongs, and the order it holds among those of the same format. So that, al- though the numbers seem confused on the catalogue, they are consecutive on the volumes as they stand on their shelves, and indicate at once the place they occupy there."17 Jefferson's catalog order, which his commission to Trist shows he was at pains to reestablish, relates then to the content of the books rather than to their size or shelf order. In listing the books in his catalog, he sought to place them in an order that reflected their relationship to their subject and to each other, either historically or by some other analytical connection. Such a catalog enables one not only to see the books of his great library as Jefferson wanted us to see them but also to learn something about his characteristic perceptions and to witness the distinctive ways in which he conceptualized historical developments and intellectual phenomena. This is what Arthur Bestor meant when he referred to Jefferson's catalog as a "blueprint" of his mind. In the ordering of his books on American geography, for example, Jeffer- son varies the chronological and analytical aspects of his arrangement in telling ways, to which no description can do justice. His chief coordinates are chrono- logical (early-to-late) and directional (North-to-South), giving the appearance of a systematic, objective approach. But his weaving of topics and titles, far from being obvious or straightforward, is artful and deft. For instance, the principal account of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which he himself promoted in the nineteenth century, is prominently positioned in the early part of the chapter with works on Indians and North American exploration. The accounts of La Salle's important seventeenth-century expeditions and books about Louisiana are placed much further on, precisely the reverse of what one might logically expect. To take another example, though the Spanish were first in the New World, Jefferson had the books about their American ventures and the states that emerged in these areas come last in this chapter of his catalog. The architecture chapter is of particular interest. In the Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Sowerby arranged these books roughly by imprint date. The earliest, such as Vitruvius's Les dix livres d'architecture (1684), are placed at the beginning of the chapter and later publications, such as Friedrich Meinert's Die Schone Landbaukunst (1798), are at the end. This arrangement totally obscures Jefferson's belief that a knowledge of the rules of classical ar- chitecture was the most essential guide in constructing modern buildings, whereas the Trist manuscript clearly reveals Jefferson's deep respect for the clas- 8 sical tradition. In Trist's manuscript copy of Jefferson's catalog, the architecture chapter begins with relatively recent books that describe the existing ruins of Greece and Rome, suggesting that these extant buildings should be the models for all the structures that followed. The listing then continues by giving the titles of books whose authors attempted to reconstruct classical monuments and buildings that no longer existed and works that explained the theory of Greek and Roman building design. The chapter then leads up to Vitruvius and Palla- dio, whom Jefferson valued as the best interpreters of antiquity. Jefferson com- pleted the architecture chapter by listing treatises on practical aspects of archi- tecture that were in use in America. The deep respect for the classical tradition that is demonstrated in this section also extended to many of his other interests. After retiring from public service in 1809, Jefferson considered reading the Latin and Greek classics in their original languages to be one of his most cher- ished activities. The geography and architecture chapters from the 1815 printed catalog have been reproduced in facsimile at the end of this book as representative examples so that the reader may conveniently compare their arrangement of the Jefferson books with the order offered in the Trist manuscript. The usefulness of the Trist manuscript to those interested in Jefferson's life is clear. He once observed to John Adams that he could not live without books. In fact, Jefferson's reading seems to have informed so many of his activities that close attention to the books in his library offers useful insights to students of almost any aspect of his multifaceted career. The order in which he placed his books will of course also be of interest to students of broader topics, such as the Enlightenment in America. In a wider symbolic sense, this catalog catches America at one of its most characteristically hopeful moments. Americans living at the end of the eigh- teenth century were infused with an exciting sense of freedom that encouraged them to experiment with the social and political orders. The new beginning represented by the independence the Colonies wrested from Great Britain would offer the opportunity for the citizens of the new Republic to winnow out the errors of the European tradition that repressed the natural human instinct toward self-betterment that many Americans believed to be present in all seg- ments of society. During his lifetime as a dedicated reader, Jefferson constantly sifted through world literature seeking those books that contained information and ideas that might benefit his country. This catalog presents the distillation of the efforts by one of America's leading intellectuals to organize the knowledge 9 of the Old World so as to make it useful for the New. Jefferson's efforts in this area are a testament to his belief that knowledge and the unobstructed access to ideas are necessary tools for social improvement. As such, his library not only offers a key to his own thinking but also symbolizes an admirable and important part of the cultural tradition of the American society he envisioned and helped to found. James Gilreath Douglas L. Wilson Library of Congress Knox College 10 Notes 1. George Watterston, "Memorandum," George Watterston Papers, box 2, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. 2. Dumas Malone, The Sage of Monticello (Boston: Little, Brown and Com- pany, 1981), 169. 3. Jefferson to George Watterston, 7 May 1815, quoted in E. Millicent Sow- erby, ed., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 5 vols. (Washington: Library of Congress, 1952-59), 5:218. 4. Arthur E. Bestor, "Thomas Jefferson and the Freedom of Books," in Three Presidents and Their Books (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1955), 6. 5. Jefferson to George Watterston, 7 May 1815, quoted in William Dawson Johnston, History of the Library of Congress (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904), 144. 6. Library of Congress, Catalogue of the Library of the United States (Washing- ton: Printed by Jonathan Elliot, 1815). 7. George Watterston, Wanderer in Washington (Washington: Jonathan Elliot, 1827), 57. 8. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 2 February 1816, Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 vols. (Wash- ington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903-4), 14:418. 9. Adrienne Koch, The Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), xiii. 10. Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, l:ix. 11. The label on the cover of the volume, presumably affixed after its acquisition by the Library of Congress, reads: "University of Virginia / Catalogue of the library. With two / Ms. corrections by Thos. Jefferson. / Autograph docu- ment, Followed by print- / ed copy of the Library of Congress cata- / logue, 1815." Despite the assertion on the label that Jefferson made two corrections in Trist's manuscript, the editors have been able to identify positively only one emendation in Jefferson's hand (see page 14). 12. The manuscript and the printed catalog have now received Library of Con- gress cataloging and are available in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division by call number. 13. Nicholas P. Trist Papers, box 14, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. 14. Nicholas Trist to Jefferson, 18 October 1823, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. [page 11] 15. Jefferson to Nicholas Trist, 13 April 1824, Jefferson Papers, property of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in the custody of the Manuscript Department, Alderman Library, University of Virginia. The editors thank Ruth Lester of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson for calling this letter to their attention. 16. An exception is chapter 16, Ethics, a very long chapter, in which the two major divisions, Moral Philosophy and the Law of Nature and Nations, are numbered separately. 17. Johnston, History of the Library, 144.

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Foreword   |   Introduction   |   Selected Reading List   |   Editorial Note   |   Chapter: 1  |  2   |   3  |  4   |   5  |  6   |   7  |  8   |   9  |  10   |   11   |   12   |   13   |   14   |   15   |   16   |   17   |   18   |   19   |   20   |   21   |   22   |   23   |   24   |   25   |   26   |   27   |   28   |   29   |   30   |   31   |   32   |   33   |   34   |   35   |   36   |   37   |   38   |   39   |   40   |   41   |   42   |   43   |   44   |   Appendix

Table of Contents  |   Sources cited   |   Catalog record and links to related information from the Library of Congress catalog

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