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Thomas Jefferson to Jason Chamberlain, 1 July 1814

To Jason Chamberlain

Monticello July 1. 14.


I thank you for the copy of the Iroquois Spelling book, as also for your inaugural oration on the subject of Classical learning: and I entirely concur in your estimate of the great value of the latter. to the models left us by the Greeks & Romans are we principally indebted for the chaste and rational style of modern composition, instead of the inflated & vague manner of the Eastern & Northern nations, into which our Northern ancestors might have been seduced by the examples they possessed. Were we to consider Classical learning merely as a luxury in literature, I should feel myself more indebted to my father for having procured it to me, than for any other luxury I derive from his bounty. We might too, in our academies and colleges, avail ourselves of the study of the Greek & Roman languages, to economise both the time and expence employed in these institutions. in most of them we have Professorships of Antient history, Ethics, Rhetoric & Belles lettres. but the teacher of Latin and Greek, with very little additional trouble, might supply the functions of all these; since the very books which are resorted to for instruction in these languages, are those also which form the basis of the other studies.

in Antient history Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus, Cornelius Nepos, Livy, Sallust, Caesar, Tacitus form such a body as the Student would easily fill up in the after-portions of his1 life. in Ethics Epictetus, the Socratic writers, Antoninus, Cicero, Seneca, would require such occasional observations only from the teacher, as might systematise their matter; and what finer specimens could he produce & comment on in Rhetoric than Cicero, Demosthenes, Aeschynes & the other Grecian orators; and in Belles lettres than Homer, Anacreon, Theocritus, Virgil, Horace, Terence & the Greek tragedians, all of them school books? I really think that the grammar schools might thus be made to supply these distinct professorships to the equal advantage, in time & expence, of the institution and it’s students; both of which, in our country, are considerations of moment. I do not however pretend to have matured these speculations, nor to have examined minutely how they would work in practice. they have occurred when occasionally reflecting on the subject, and being recalled to my mind by the matter of your inaugural oration, I hazard them for consideration. be pleased to accept with them the assurances of my esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP: Thomas Jefferson Collection); addressed: “Jason Chamberlain, Esq. Burlington Vermont,” with corrections of address in other hands successively forwarding it to Philadelphia and Washington; franked; postmarked, Milton, 6 July, and Philadelphia, 23 July; endorsed by Chamberlain. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

1Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Aeschines; TJ recommends search
  • Anacreon search
  • An Inaugural Oration delivered at Burlington, August 1, 1811 (J. Chamberlain) search
  • Caesar, Julius; mentioned search
  • Chamberlain, Jason; and Iroquois language search
  • Chamberlain, Jason; An Inaugural Oration delivered at Burlington, August 1, 1811 search
  • Chamberlain, Jason; letters to search
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius; TJ recommends search
  • Demosthenes; TJ on search
  • Diodorus Siculus; TJ commends search
  • education; Latin search
  • education; TJ on search
  • Epictetus (Greek philosopher); mentioned search
  • Greek language; TJ on search
  • Herodotus; in collegiate curriculum search
  • Homer; study of search
  • Horace; in collegiate curriculum search
  • Jefferson, Peter (TJ’s father); and TJ’s education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives books search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; classics search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • language; TJ on study of search
  • Latin; study of search
  • Latin; TJ on search
  • Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121–180), Roman emperor search
  • Nepos, Cornelius; study of works of search
  • Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus); TJ on search
  • Seneca (Roman statesman and philosopher); mentioned search
  • Tacitus; in collegiate curriculum search
  • Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) search
  • Theocritus; mentioned search
  • Thucydides; TJ on search
  • Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro); in collegiate curriculum search
  • Xenophon; in collegiate curriculum search