Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, 29 October 1814

To Samuel H. Smith

Monticello Oct. 29. 14.

Dear Sir

Your favors of the 19th and 21st were recieved by our mail of the day before yesterday. presuming that the proposition in my letter of Sep. 21. was not sufficiently explained, I will state more particularly the course I had supposed the transaction would have taken. the proposition was that the books should be valued by persons named by the committee themselves, and the payment made in whatever form, and at such distant time as they might think accomodated to the circumstances of the times. I supposed they would send one or two persons here, acquainted with the subject, perhaps booksellers, to value the books either singly, or by an average deduced from their sizes and numbers. this valuation I expected to be binding on me, while I had, and have no objection to a right of rejection either in the Committee or in Congress. if the valuation were accepted by them, I supposed they would send on some person to see to the exact delivery of the books, and to their safe conveyance. they are arranged at present in plain pine cases, close in the back, but open in front, & so compact that they might go as they stand on their shelves, the fronts only being nailed up, and be ready to set up in any room, in perfect order. having no anxiety about the sum or mode of valuation, but wishing the collection secured to the public, and at the moment of the recent loss rather than any other, I supposed a valuation by persons of their own choice the most unexceptionable ground I could propose to the committee: but persevering in the same object, I will acquiesce in any other which they shall prefer, except that of proposing a value myself, for which I really am not qualified by a sufficient familiarity with prices, nor willing to trust myself in a case where motives of interest might subject me to bias, & certainly to the suspicion of it. I cannot propose to you the trouble of making an estimate, of which no one would be more capable: but the labor of counting in every page of the catalogue the number of folios, 4tos 8vos & 12mos and summing all these, might be performed by another, and might furnish you ground, by an average of numbers & size, to name to the Committee a sum which you would deem reasonable: and whatever sum you should name shall be binding on me as a maximum, subject to be reduced, but not enlarged by actual valuation by any persons the committee shall think proper to appoint. in all this I wish myself to be entirely passive, and to abide absolutely by the estimate thus formed. as the condition of the books must enter of course, as an element, into their valuation, mr Millegan, bookseller of Georgetown, who has lately had an opportunity of seeing them, can give you information on that head; and I have written to ask the favor of him to take the trouble of numbering them in the catalogue, & of reporting the sizes and numbers to you, from which you could readily deduce an estimate of the total, to be proposed as a maximum. mr Millegan had asked permission of me to print the catalogue on his own account, as a book of sale. you must still be aware that some of the books entered in the catalogue will doubtless be missing. the collection has not been revised since my return from Europe. during my absences from home it has been open to limited uses, and I have occasionally found books missing. some of these may be only misplaced, but some are probably lost. I should mention also that there are two entered in the catalogue which I did not possess, but meaning to import them immediately, I entered them while writing the catalogue; the war however supervening prevented my importing them. these are the Geoponics, Gr. Lat. & an English translation of them lately published.

I had expressed in my letter a wish to keep some of the books during my life, not to be paid for of course until delivered; but that I should retire from the wish if at all unacceptable. I must of course replace many by new purchases. but, among my classics particularly, there are some special editions which could not now be replaced; & some mathematical books which I should unwillingly be without until peace shall open the means of getting them from Europe. the number I might wish to retain, for awhile at least, would be between one and two hundred volumes. but I repeat my willingness to let all go at once if preferred by the committee.

I shall set out tomorrow on a journey which will occasion an absence of about a fortnight. the return of the Catalogue by that term, if the Committee shall have no further1 use for it would be desirable; because I would then begin the general review of the library, the restoring to their proper places the volumes which have been misplaced, and the ascertaining such as may have been lost. this would be a work of several days, and it would only be after that operation that the valuation could take place, if that idea be accepted by the committee. I tender you with great sincerity the assurances of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: J. Henley Smith Papers); at foot of first page: “Samuel H. Smith esq:.” PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

the committee was the congressional Joint Library Committee. An image of a replica of one of TJ’s plain pine cases is reproduced elsewhere in this volume, as is a likeness of Smith. TJ’s return from europe took place in 1789. Thomas Owen’s two-volume translation of Cassianus Bassus’s geoponics was published in London, 1805–06.

1Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • agriculture; books on search
  • Bassus, Cassianus; Γεωπονικά Geoponicorum sive de re rustica libri XX (ed. T. Owen; 1805–06) search
  • bookcases; at Monticello search
  • books; on agriculture search
  • books; on mathematics search
  • building materials; pine search
  • furniture; bookcases search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; catalogue of search
  • Library of Congress; and library committees of Congress search
  • Library of Congress; payment for TJ’s library search
  • Library of Congress; TJ prepares books for transportation search
  • Library of Congress; TJ sells personal library to search
  • Library of Congress; TJ’s catalogue of books sold to search
  • Library of Congress; transportation of TJ’s books to Washington search
  • mathematics; books on search
  • Milligan, Joseph; and catalogue of TJ’s books search
  • Milligan, Joseph; and sale of TJ’s library to Congress search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); furnishings at search
  • Owen, Thomas; edits Γεωπονικά Geoponicorum sive de re rustica libri XX (C. Bassus; 1805–06) search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); TJ plans visit to search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; and sale of TJ’s library to Congress search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; letters to search
  • Γεωπονικά Geoponicorum sive de re rustica libri XX (C. Bassus); edited by T. Owen (1805–06) search