Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jefferson's books and Missouri

Jefferson's copy of "Plutarch's Lives" with his own handwritten notes.

Also in the better late than never category is news that broke on Presidents' Day concerning 74 volumes from Thomas Jefferson's last library that turned up unexpectedly in the rare books collection at Washington University in St. Louis.

Dispersed as part of a collection of 1,600 Jefferson-owned books at auction in 1829 by the late president's heirs to help pay his debts, the 74 volumes were acquired by a grandson-in-law, Joseph Coolidge. One of Coolidge's sons-in-law, Edmund Dwight, passed them on without noting the Jeffersonian connection in 1880 to the library at Washington University, founded in 1853. A great-uncle of Dwight was among Washington University founders.

How the books were found is a good story about historical sleuthing and may be read on The New York Times Web site here (at least temporarily) or perhaps more permanetly at The History Blog, which is here.

“It strikes me as particularly appropriate these are in Missouri," said Shirley K. Baker, dean of Washington University libraries. "Jefferson bought this territory, and we in Missouri identify with him and honor him. And I was thrilled at the detective work our curators had done.”

Iowa, of course, was part of that purchase, too. Wouldn't it be cool if a few of his books turned up here as well?

While you're at The History Blog, take a look at this piece about restoration at the Smithsonian Institution of "Jefferson's Bible," an elaborately bound scrapbook of clippings from six books of the New Testament related to the ethical teachings of Jesus --- references to divinity and miracles excluded. Jefferson, a deist, was interested in Jesus and his teachings as a human, but considered accounts of miraculous goings on less than credible. 

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