Thomas Jefferson Papers

William C. Rives to Thomas Jefferson, 30 August 1811

From William C. Rives

Oak-Ridge August 30th, 11.—

My dear sir,

Since I had the pleasure of being at Monticello, the unsettled state of my health has totally disqualified me for intellectual exertion. Indeed, for the last two years, either the incapacity resulting from this cause, or the avocations of business have materially obstructed my desire of knowledge, by taking away the physical power of obtaining it.—The former evil being now partially removed by a recent visit to the Springs, I am determined, in spite of the latter, to renew my studies with energy & zeal.—But finding myself deficient in those elementary parts of learning which serve as a scaffolding for higher attainments, & having always meditated a recurrence to them when circumstances should favour my design, I must adopt some new arrangement for the purpose of comprehending them in my future course. The subjects to which I allude, are Mathematics, Physics, the antient, & some of the modern, languages, all of which will become subservient, either directly or indirectly, to my ultimate profession.—In order to incorporate these with my other studies, it will be necessary, however, to make the reading of Law for some time a secondary object; nor will the temporary abridgement of my legal researches be at all inconvenient, as I am not anxious to precipitate the period of active employment. It will be necessary likewise, to change the scene of my literary labours, for the difficulties of Mathematics cannot be easily overcome without the aid of an instructor or the co-operation of a fellow-student, the principles of Natural philosophy cannot be distinctly understood without experimental proofs, and the dull exercise of committing grammars & vocabularies to memory cannot be patiently endured without sharing it with a companion. Possessing none of these advantages at home, I have been induced to look abroad for a more favourable situation, and bounding my view by the limits of the State, I have at length selected Williamsburg as the best. I have not extended my view to other states, because it appears desirable that every person should receive his education in the particular state which is destined to be the theatre of his future life, as he is thereby better enabled to accommodate himself to the tone of feelings & manners which prevail among his fellow-citizens.—In Wms-burg there are able professors in all the departments I have mentioned. As a Mathematician, Mr. Blackburn is supposed to be inferior to no man in Virginia, and the original simplicity of his method of instruction entitles him to the first rank as a teacher. Bishop Madison, I believe, has acted a distinguished part in the Philosophical transactions of his own country, and in Europe, his name is highly respected. The professor of modern languages, also, is said to be a man of considerable erudition, & possesses a critical & complete1 knowledge of the French, which is his vernacular tongue.—To these advantages, I may superadd the edifying society of studious & enlightened young-men of whom there are at least six or seven at that place, in years of the greatest scarcity.—

The very friendly disposition which you have manifested towards me, together with your experience in matters of this kind particularly & the rectitude of your judgement on all, has emboldened me to solicit your remarks & advice on the subject of my future course. Will you do me the favour, sir, to say whether you consider Wms-burg an eligible2 situation for the objects I propose, and if not, what other you would recommend? I desire to be most respectfully presented to Mr. & Mrs. Randolph & their family, and with zealous prayers for the continuance of your health & happiness,

I have the honour to be your mo. obt. serv.

Wm C Rives

RC (MHi); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson late President of U.S. Monticello. pr. mail to Milton”; franked; postmarked Lovingston, 30 Aug., and Nelson Court House, 31 Aug. 1811; endorsed by TJ as received 5 Sept. 1811 and so recorded in SJL.

In 1812 Rives returned to the College of William and Mary, from which he had been expelled in 1809 (William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888 [1941] description ends , 34). He may be referring to its former professor of modern languages, Louis H. Girardin.

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Reworked from “a proper.”

Index Entries

  • Blackburn, George; professor at College of William and Mary search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; W. C. Rives on search
  • health; and warm springs search
  • Madison, James, Bishop; W. C. Rives on search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Rives, William Cabell search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); greetings to search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); greetings to search
  • Rives, William Cabell; letters from search
  • Rives, William Cabell; returns to College of William and Mary search
  • Rives, William Cabell; visits Monticello search
  • springs; therapeutic search
  • William and Mary, College of; expulsion and readmission search
  • William and Mary, College of; professors at search