Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Robert Skipwith, 17 July 1771

From Robert Skipwith

17th July 1771.

Dear Sir

This I have left at the Forest to remind you of your obliging promise and withal to guide you in your choice of books for me, both as to the number and matter of them. I would have them suited to the capacity of a common reader who understands but little of the classicks and who has not leisure for any intricate or tedious study. Let them be improving as well as amusing and among the rest let there be Hume’s history of England, the new edition of Shakespear, the short Roman history you mentioned and all Sterne’s works. I am very fond of Bumgarden’s manner of binding but can’t afford it unless Fingal or some of those new works be bound up only after that manner; that one, Belisarius, and some others of the kind I would have if bound in gold. Let them amount to about five and twenty pounds sterling, or, if you think proper, to thirty pounds.

With the list please to send me particular directions for importing them, including the bookseller’s place of residence. Your very hble servant,

Robt. Skipwith

RC (MHi). Addressed: “To Thomas Jefferson Esquire. To the care of Miss Wayles.” Endorsed: “Rob. Skipwith to T. J.”

Robert Skipwith married about this time Tabitha Wayles, the “Tibby” of the following letters, half-sister of TJ’s bride-to-be (Kimball, Road to Glory, p. 324; Malone, Jefferson, i, 433). This is the first of many similar requests for a choice of books that survive among TJ’s papers, and the ready and full response to it (see TJ to Skipwith, 3 Aug. 1771) was of the kind TJ unfailingly made. (Except in striking or important cases, the editors have not attempted to identify titles, authors, and editions in these requests and lists.) Bumgarden, i.e., Baumgarten, one of a group of German bookbinders at work in London in the eighteenth century, was distinguished for his use of marbled papers and marbled edges (information supplied by Mr. Ellic Howe, of London, whose forthcoming monograph, A List of London Bookbinders, 1650–1815, to be published by The Bibliographical Society, contains a detailed note on Baumgarten.)

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