Thomas Jefferson Papers

George Ticknor to Thomas Jefferson, 14 August 1817

From George Ticknor

Paris Aug. 14.1 1817.

Dear Sir,

Your favour of June 6 reached me July 29 and contained—what I had long desired—the very welcome intelligence, that the Books Mr. Warden shipped from Havre and those I sent from Hamburg had reached you in good condition and met your approbation. Yesterday your duplicate of the same letter arrived, together with your order to the Messrs. De Bure. In this order I made but two alterations—one indicated by yourself, that of Schweigheuser’s Herodotus, which was not published when I mentioned the other editions in my letter from Göttingen of Oct. 14. 1815—and one, of which I presume you had no knowledge—Durot de la Malle’s translation of Livy in 10. 8vo which is much better than the translation of Guerin as well as more recent & in the form you prefer. On the whole2 of the catalogue I consulted Mons. le Chevalier, whose Voyage de la Troade you had ordered; & who approved these changes but made no others. In this state, your order will be immediately executed and the books sent to America in the course of this month.

I have been in Paris about five months, & am now preparing to move slowly Southward, in the intention3 of entering Italy in the first days of October and passing the winter there to finish my study of its language & literature.—In the Spring—extraordinary revolutions excepted—I purpose to pass into Spain with the same objects I have in Italy—spend a little time in Portugal & in the fall return to England, where I shall probably divide the winter between Edinboro’ & London and, in May 1819 embark for America.—If, in the course of this series of Journies, I can be of any service to you, I hope it is not necessary for me to say, I am entirely at your disposal.—

In France, my expectations have been, in part exceeded—&, in part, disappointed, respecting the state of publick Instruction. After all the changes of the Revolution, you will recollect, that the System of national Education was fixed by Buonaparte in two decrees, one of 1808 & the other of 1811. By this System, all France was formed into one University as it was called, which was subdivided in Lycea, Colleges, Schools &c so that every Institution4 in the Empire, of whatever kind, & whether publick or private was made a part of it & all depended on a Grand Master, who was endowed with extraordinary powers to keep the whole immense machine in just movement. It was, in fact, from what I can learn, & even what I see, an appalling system of military education and the whole University was a kind of grand military cloister, which, if it could have been made to operate in the spirit in which it was devised, would have blasted the whole land with the mildew of its influences. This, however, was not possible. It was in vain that severe laws were5 enacted, & a kind of police introduced into the system of Education—it was in vain that the Professors & teachers were clothed with the power & took the tone of Officers rather than Instructers—and that their Disciples were dressed in uniform often and often marched to their exercises by the beat of the Drum—for here, as in his system of Government, Buonaparte seemed to think he could do the work of centuries in a single generation. But, though he could not anticipate the future in this, as he did in his conscriptions & taxes, he could obliterate the past & so faithfully has he done it, that no traces of the ancient style of instruction remain, and almost the means of restoration seem to be wanting. In the physical6 & exact sciences, I presume there is nothing in Europe like Paris—; but in all that relates to what is commonly called Learning England & Germany vastly exceed her. Nothing, I imagine, in the world, can be brought to oppose the sixty four members of the Academy of Sciences;—but the three other Academies could ill meet the learned men of the North. The reason is, I suppose, that this has been the nature of the publick demand, which in all such matters always creates its own supply.—It is not, therefore, astonishing, that after an interval of thirty years of neglect, Learning does not come into the new order of things by Adhesion like wealth & power & rank. The Bourbons must reign, a long time in peace before they can have even an age of scholarship again, and, as to their Augustan age, I take it for granted from the principles of their language & the history of national talent, that this has gone by forever, and that futurity can have no Louis XIV for them.—In form, every thing rests now as it did, when Buonaparte left it—a desolate & inefficient University—except that there is no grand Master; but a commission of five with the Minister of the Interior at its head—& that the military tone & spirit no longer forces its defilement into the halls of Instruction. The lectures, in the mathematical & physical sciences, are, I am told, such as to leave nothing more to desire—on all the other subjects of publick Instruction they are bad. Solitary individuals give courses on History, Criticism, Belles-Lettres, Archeology &c &c that are much followed but a simple & severe style of teaching is not known. The Lecturer, to be popular, makes his lessons approach in a greater or less degree to that sort of spectacle wh. the genius of the French people requires in everything, so that when I go to hear Lacretelle, Villemain, Andrieux &c it is for the same reasons & with the same feelings, I go to ye Theatre. Excuse me for writing you so long a letter on a matter which you, no doubt, understand so well already, that I can tell you nothing new. Let me finish, then, by Saying to you, that I feel very grateful for your letters and for the kind expressions they contain of your regard & that of your family, which, I hope, I shall study to deserve.—

Your’s respectfully

Geo: Ticknor.

P. S. Before closing my letter, it occurs to me, that it is probable you are acquainted with Mr. Irving our Minister at Madrid; & if you are, that you will perhaps do me the favour to give me your countenance in an introductio[n] to him, which you can forward through my father.—If this request be in the least inconvenient to you, I pray you, that it may be, as if it had never been made.—

G. T.—

RC (DLC); torn at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson, Esquire, Monticello, Albermarle County, Virginia”; stamped “Forwarded by your obedient servants Welles Williams & Greene Havre  18 ” and “SHIP”; franked; postmarked Baltimore, 7 Nov.; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Nov. 1817 and so recorded in SJL.

For the two decrees, see Bulletin des Lois de l’Empire Français 8 (1808): 145–71; 15 (1812): 425–56. The Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France was comprised of sixty-five members, not sixty four. The three other academies were the Académie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Charles Franquet, comte de Franqueville, Le Premier Siècle de l’Institut de France [1895], 26–7).

1Reworked from “12.”

2Word interlined in place of “rest.”

3Manuscript: “intendion.”

4Manuscript: “Instution.”

5Ticknor here canceled “established.”

6Word interlined in place of “mathematical.”

Index Entries

  • Académie des Beaux-Arts search
  • Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres search
  • Académie des Sciences search
  • Académie Française search
  • Andrieux, François Guillaume Jean Stanislas; lectures of search
  • de Bure Frères (Paris firm); TJ purchases books from search
  • Dureau de la Malle, Jean Baptiste; translatesHistoire Romaine de Tite-Live (Livy) search
  • education; in France search
  • Erving, George William; as minister plenipotentiary to Spain search
  • France; Bourbon dynasty restored search
  • France; education in search
  • Germany; scholarship in search
  • Great Britain; scholarship in search
  • Herodoti Musae sive Historiarum Libri IX (Herodotus; ed. J. Schweighaeuser) search
  • Herodotus; Herodoti Musae sive Historiarum Libri IX (ed. J. Schweighaeuser) search
  • Histoire Romaine de Tite-Live (Livy; trans. J. B. Dureau de la Malle) search
  • Institut de France; academies of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; purchases from de Bure Frères (Paris firm) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Lacretelle, Jean Charles Dominique; lectures of search
  • Lechevalier, Jean Baptiste; as librarian search
  • Lechevalier, Jean Baptiste; Voyage de La Troade, Fait dans les années 1785 et 1786 search
  • Livy; Histoire Romaine de Tite-Live (trans. J. B. Dureau de la Malle) search
  • Louis XIV, king of France; reign of search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; educational system of search
  • Schweighaeuser, Johannes; editsHerodoti Musae sive Historiarum Libri IX (Herodotus) search
  • Ticknor, Elisha; forwards letters to and from TJ search
  • Ticknor, George; and books for TJ search
  • Ticknor, George; letters from search
  • Ticknor, George; on education in Europe search
  • Ticknor, George; TJ’s letters of introduction for search
  • Ticknor, George; travels of search
  • Villemain, Abel François; lectures of search
  • Voyage de La Troade, Fait dans les années 1785 et 1786 (J. B. Lechevalier) search
  • Warden, David Bailie; and books for TJ search