Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Pemberton, 16 July 1791

From John Pemberton

7th month. 16th. 1791.

Esteemed Friend

I send the Books thou paid for 2 months past. They are not in such good order as I could have wished. They suffered while in the Bookseller’s hands—that if thou does not approve of them, I cannot insist on thy taking them.

6 vol; Plutarch’s lives Greek. } 2.10.—
7 vol; do …………… Latin.

Thy friend,

John Pemberton

I have not as yet received any reply to the Letter I wrote my Brother Isaac Zane respecting the Other books thou pointed out from the Catalogue.

RC (MHi); addressed: “For Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 July 1791 and so recorded in SJL.

On the day before TJ departed on his northern tour, he paid Pemberton $6.66 for the two sets of Plutarch’s Lives in Greek and Latin editions (Account Book, 16 May 1791). These were but two titles out of a total of fifty-two, aggregating 223 volumes, in which he had indicated an interest. These were offered at £243–4–3, which was not much less than TJ’s quarterly salary. Pemberton, a Quaker missionary, was a member of one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families, long experienced in the Indian and shipping trade. But in this transaction he was dealing with one of the most astute and knowledgeable bookmen of the day, just returned from Europe where he had dealt with the leading booksellers of Paris, London, and Amsterdam. We know what titles TJ had asked Pemberton to set aside for his consideration and what TJ offered because of the letter that Pemberton wrote to his brother-in-law, Isaac Zane—the latter a friend and legislative colleague of TJ’s of long standing. Pemberton’s letter to Zane reads in part: “Loving Brother … I annex a list of some books which T. Jefferson has some mind to take, but his terms are such I thot, it right to Consult thee first. I offered to take £110 for them, but he says he would not give £60. Thou may see they are many of them in Latin and Greek, and so not like to suit every man. They have lain long and probably may remain yet Long unless sold Low. But his Offer is so far below the valuation in 1782. I Could not Consent to it, until I had informed thee, and desire thy Spedy Answer as he will want to know the re[sult]” (John Pemberton to Isaac Zane, 14 May 1791, PHi: Zane Papers). The enclosed list is as follows:

Price in the catalogue
Folio No. 8 Montfaucon 10  £35 
 237 Rycauts Peru 1  1 
 293. Ligons history of Barbados 1  7. 6.
 293. Ligons history of Barbados 1 
Quarto.      Dauphin Editions, in Latin
vols. Price
No. 12 Plautus Comedies 2  £4
   14. the same, (elegant) 2.  4.4
   15 Statius 2.  4.4
   16 Apuleius works 2.  4.4
   17 Cicero on Oratory 2.  4.4
   18 Horace 2.  4.4
   19 Plinys Natural histy 5. 10 10
   20 Quintus Curtius 1.  2.2
   22 Panegyrici Umberes 1.  2.2
   23 Aurelius’ Compendium 1.  2.2
   24 Boethius 1.  2.2
   25 Livy’s Compendium 6. 12.12
   26 Cornelius Nepos 1.  2.2
   27 Trcitus 4.  8.8
   28 Ovid 4.  8.8
   29 Petronius 2.  4.4
   30 Justin  1.  2
   31.Salust  1.  2
   32 Phedrus 1.  1.1
   33 paterculus 1.  1.1
   34 Eutropius 1.  1.1
   35 Ciceros Orations 3.  6.6
   36 Valerius Maximus 1.  2.2
   37. Claudian 1.  2.2
   38 Prudentius 1.  2.2
   39 Aulius Gellius 1.  2.2
   40 Juvenal & Persius 1.  2.2
   42 Manilius’ Astronomy 1.  2.2
   43 Martials Epigrams 1.  2.2
   44 Pompius Sextus 1.  2.2
   45 Ciceros Epistles 1.  2.2
   46 Terence 1.  2.2
   48 Quintilian &ca. 2.  3
   49 Catullus &ca. 2.  3.5
   50 Quintilian 2.  3.10
   51. Florus 1.  2
   52. Dictys Cretensis 1.  2 127  16 
   54. Histroy of the French Academy of Sciences 26  30 
   60 Acta erudita 43  25 
   87. Philosophical Transactions 29  15 
  142 Marcellinus 1  5 
Octavo    74. Sales 2d. Voyage to America 1  5 
  104 Plutarchs’ Lives, Greek 6  1. 10 
   132 Glauber 1  3. 9 
   133   ditto 1  5 
   202 Boyle’s works 4  1 
Duodo.      3 Journal de Scavans 24  3 
    38 Plutarch’ Lives—Latin 7  2 
   345 Boyle’s Philosophical works 4  12 
223. vols £243. 4. 3 

At the foot of the text Pemberton added a note showing that the prices were “from the Catalogue delivered Wm. Pritchard” and that “Thomas Jefferson offers £57. for the whole in this List or he will leave out Monfaucon £35-the Dauphin Editions £127.16,” totalling£162–16–0. For the remainder, valued at £80–8–3, TJ offered £25 (enclosure, undated, PHi: Zane Papers). In brief, TJ offered about a fourth of the list price for the whole and about a third for the remnant. Apparently the offer was not accepted.

TJ owned several editions of Plutarch’s works, including the first printed edition of the Lives (Florence, Giunta, 1517) and the first complete edition of his Opera (Geneva, Stephanus, 1572), the latter having been acquired from the library of Colonel William Byrd of Westover (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 68, 69, 1312, and 1313). Indeed, one of his last library acquisitions was Plutarchi politica, published in Paris in 1824 (President Jefferson’s Library, Poor sale, Washington, 1829, No. 641). Why, then, on the eve of his departure on his northern tour did he single out and pay for Plutarch’s Lives from the lot offered by Pemberton and leave the acquisition of the remainder to be decided after his return? Surely, on a journey of observation of a month’s duration, under rather strenuous conditions and through a section of the nation he had never before travelled, he would not have added to his luggage thirteen volumes, even in duodecimo. It beggars credulity to suppose pose that, on such a tour of topographical, political, economic, and botanical exploration, he would have wished to read about Greeks and Romans whose lives had long since become familiar to him. Only one explanation for his selection of Plutarch at this particular moment seems to accord with plausibility. Young John Wayles Eppes had just arrived in Philadelphia and was being guided by TJ in his studies. He was eighteen and perhaps had not been given the kind of instruction in the classics that TJ had received under the Rev. James Maury, thereby acquiring the lifelong habit and the inestimable “Luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals”—an acquisition for which he felt more indebted to his father “than for all the other luxuries his cares and affections have placed within my reach” (TJ to John Brazer, 24 Aug. 1819; on TJ’s classical education, see Malone, Jefferson, description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–1981, 6 vols. description ends i, 40–6, and L. B. Wright, “Thomas Jefferson and the Classics,” Am. Phil. Soc., Procs., lxxxvii [July, 1943], 223–33). Whether or not TJ thought Eppes deficient in the classics, he was at this time much concerned about the need for keeping the youth on the straight path of his studies at an age when he might be “more susceptible of delights from other sources” (TJ to John Brazer, 24 Aug. 1819). It is easy to imagine TJ, as he was about to leave his nephew alone in the capital for a month, advising him to read and profit from the moralistic parallels set forth in Plutarch’s biographies of eminent Greeks and Romans (on his concern about Eppes’ course of studies and temptations that might interfere, see his letters to Eppes’ parents, 15 May 1791). Didactic and disciplinary with his own children, he would have been quite in character if, in presenting the volumes to Eppes, he had gently admonished him that he would expect a report of progress on his return. It is also plausible to assume that TJ may have had Eppes’ training in the classics in mind when he offered to purchase the Dauphin editions of classical works, many of which he already possessed in other editions at Monticello and some of which had come in the shipment of books he received from Paris a few months earlier (see note, Short to TJ, 7 Nov. 1790).

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