Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to G. C. Delacoste, 24 May 1807

Washington May 24. 07.


I recieved in due time your favor of April 10. inclosing a scheme and subscription for the establishment of a Museum of Natural history at Williamsburg by private contributions. no body can desire more ardently than myself to concur in whatever may promote useful science, and I view no science with more partiality than Natural history. but I have ever believed that in this, as in most other cases, abortive attempts retard rather than promote this object. to be really useful we must keep pace with the state of society, and not dishearten it by attempts at what it’s population, means, or occupations will fail in attempting. in the particular enterprises for Museums, we have seen the populous & wealthy cities of Boston & New York unable to found or maintain such an institution. the feeble condition of that in each of these places sufficiently proves this. in Philadelphia alone has this attempt succeeded to a good degree. it has been owing there to a measure of zeal & perseverance in an individual rarely equalled: to a population, crowded, wealthy, & more than usually addicted to the pursuit of knolege. and, with all this, the institution does not maintain itself. the Proprietor has been obliged to return to the practice of his original profession to help it on. I know indeed that there are many individuals in Williamsburg & it’s vicinity, who have already attained a high degree of science, & many zealously pursuing it. but after viewing all circumstances there as favorably as the most sanguine of us could wish, I cannot find in them a rational ground of expecting success in an undertaking to which the other positions have been found unequal. I sincerely wish I may be mistaken, & that the success which your zeal I am sure will merit, may be equal to your wishes, as well as ours. but, for the present, I would rather reserve myself till it’s prospects can be more favorably estimated; because the aid we would be disposed to give to a promising enterprize would be very different from that we might offer to a desperate one. altho’ less sanguine on this particular subject, I do entire justice to the zeal for the promotion of science which has excited your effort, and shall see it with uncommon pleasure surmounting the present difficulties, or engaged in other pursuits which may reward it with better success. be assured that no one is more sincere in wishing it, and accept my salutations & assurances of great respect & consideration

Th: Jefferson

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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