“I labour grievously under the malady of Bibliomanie.”
Thomas Jefferson to Lucy Ludwell Paradise June 1, 1789.
“I had understood that Mr. Randolph had directed that you should have the free use of the Library at Monticello or I should have directed it myself. I have great pleasure in finding an opportunity of making it useful to you.”
Jefferson to James Ogilvie, Jan 31, 1806.
“I cannot live without books.”
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams. June 10, 1815
homas Jefferson was a lifelong lover of books. [figure 4.12] For Jefferson, reading was as vital to survival as the air he breathed. As the son of a Virginia surveyor and prosperous landowner, he was well educated, having been tutored from the time he was five years old. Despite his father’s death when Jefferson was fourteen, his guardians continued to indulge their precocious charge with the finest tutors and schools to be had in Virginia. After attending the College of William and Mary, he, like Adams, studied law and went on to became one of the nation’s founders. [figure 4.14]
Throughout Jefferson’s life he read widely, becoming a gentleman scholar steeped in classical tradition. From Aesop and Euclid to Coke upon Littleton, he delved deeply into his books for the lessons to be learned by a man leading his state on the road to revolution and in founding a new nation.
So great was Jefferson’s love of books that he amassed not just one library but four, two of which he housed in his suite of rooms devoted to learning at the beloved home he called Monticello. Jefferson’s first library consisted of a cherry bookcase filled with fewer than fifty books on law, history, travel, geography, and religion, which he inherited from his father. Over time he added books of his own to this collection. When this library, and his father’s Shadwell house, burned to the ground in 1770, Jefferson was devastated by the loss of his books. Soon, however, Monticello was built—and with it a library that included a Book Room, Book Room Annex, Portico, Cabinet, and Bedchamber, each of which were created to give Jefferson opportunities to read, write, and experiment in a manner conducive to such gentlemanly acts. After the British burned the Congressional Library during the War of 1812, Jefferson sold this library—6,487 volumes in all—to Congress. But never one to abide a house bereft of books, Jefferson once again began acquiring books to restock his empty shelves. His so-called Retirement Library contained a respectable 940 volumes that he was devoted to until his death in 1826. [figures 4.11 and 4.13] Jefferson also had one more library squirreled away at his mountain retreat, Poplar Forest, in the Virginia hinterland. This library housed nearly 1,000 volumes. All told, Jefferson bought between 9,000 and 10,000 volumes in his lifetime and created one of the finest personal libraries of the early Republic.
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