Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Peder Blicher Olsen, 21 January 1803

To Peder Blicher Olsen

[21 Jan. 1803]

Th: Jefferson presents his friendly salutations to mr Olsen and incloses him a letter for the Governor of Virginia of which he prays him to be the bearer. as a traveller wishes to know what is most worth seeing at any place which he visits, Th:J. informs mr Olsen that at Richmond the objects to be seen, are the Capitol, & it’s model kept at the Governor’s house the Penitentiary, the Manufactory of arms, and the James river canal of about 6. miles in length. the whole may be seen between breakfast & dinner.

Th:J. has recieved by the stage from Baltimore a box containing a dozen bottles of wine, with this stamp on the bottle. no letter or explanation accompanied it, but he suspects it to be the Tokay of which mr Olsen was so kind as to undertake to direct the person who had it, to send him a small quantity. is he right in his conjecture?

Th:J. is still going through the little book of French Neology which he finds very amusing. he will be ready to return it when mr Olsen gets back from Richmond. he advises him much against setting out on his journey until the weather becomes milder, which cannot according to our experience, be more than a few days.

PrC (DLC); undated. Recorded in SJL as a letter of 21 Jan. Enclosure: TJ to John Page, 20 Jan.

The book of french neology to which TJ was referring may have been the 1801 work by Louis Sébastien Mercier, La Néologie, ou vocabulaire de mots nouveaux, à renouveler, ou pris dans les acceptions nouvelles. Mercier structured the work according to the many French lexicons of new words that appeared during the Revolution, but far from a dictionary, La Néologie operated as humorous social criticism and as a celebration of the creativity inherent to all language formation (Daniel Rosenberg, “Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s New Words,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36 [2003], 367–86). Although TJ owned several works by Mercier, there is no record of his owning La Néologie. He did own a 1795 French lexicon, Nouveau Dictionnaire Français, contenant les expressions de nouvelle création du Peuple Français, by Leonhard Wilhelm Snetlage, a professor at the University of Göttingen (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952-59, 5 vols. description ends No. 4828). Snetlage’s dictionary is mostly notable for having inspired in 1797 a critical response by Giacomo Casanova. It was the Italian adventurer and scholar’s last publication (Ma voisine, la postérité: à Leonard Snetlage, docteur en droit de l’université de Goettingue [Paris, 1998]).

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