Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John Farrar, 10 November 1818

To John Farrar

Monticello Nov. 10. 18.


I have duly recieved the Introduction to the elements of Algebra which you have been so kind as to send me, and return you my thanks for this mark of your attention. it will be a valuable present to the young Algebraists of our country, as the author from whom it is taken was certainly remarkable for the perspecuity as well as profoundness of whatever he wrote. I have often wondered however that Bezout’s course of mathematics has not been translated and introduced to the use of our schools. it is certainly the plainest for the student1 of any one I have ever seen, and particularly far more so than Hutton’s which is generally, I believe, used with us. this author’s talent for explanation is remarkably happy. he presents his idea so simply and directly, that however difficult, it is comprehended as soon as presented. he has the disadvantage for us, which all the continental mathematical authors have, of giving the Infinitesimal method of calculus, instead of that of fluxions, which to us are more familiar, and perhaps more convenient of notation. like other continental authors also he takes no notice of Ld Nepier’s Catholic rule in Spherical trigonometry, so valuable for the ease with which it is retained in the memory. but with these changes, I know of no book so valuable for the use of schools. Accept the assurance of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP: Andre deCoppet Collection); addressed: “Mr John Farrar Professor of Mathematics Cambridge Mass.”; franked; postmarked Charlottesville, 12 Nov.; endorsed by Farrar. PoC (DLC); on verso of reused address cover of Robert Walsh to TJ, 6 July 1818; torn at seal, with one word rewritten by TJ; endorsed by TJ.

John Farrar (1779–1853), mathematician and educator, was a native of Lincoln, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1803 and studied at Andover Theological Seminary for two years before returning to Harvard, first as a tutor of Greek and, in 1807, as the Hollis professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. He held this position for the remainder of his career, retiring for health reasons in 1836. Farrar translated many important French scholarly works and introduced the latest European methods of teaching mathematics and science to Harvard. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1808 and served as its recording secretary, 1811–23, and vice president, 1829–31. Farrar occasionally sent TJ books and pamphlets he had authored or translated. When TJ’s granddaughter Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge and her husband, Joseph Coolidge, lived in Boston, they became friendly with Farrar, and through them in 1827 he offered advice on candidates to fill the vacant chair in mathematics at the University of Virginia. Farrar died in Cambridge (DAB; DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ; Harvard Catalogue description begins Harvard University Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates, 1636–1925, 1925 description ends , 22, 63, 184; Joseph Coolidge to Nicholas P. Trist, 18 Apr., 1, [2], 28 June, 18 July, 16 Oct. 1827 [DLC: NPT]; Boston Daily Atlas, 11 May 1853; John G. Palfrey, Notice of Professor Farrar [1853]; gravestone inscription in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.).

The Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler was the author on whom Farrar drew for his work, An Introduction to the Elements of Algebra, designed for the use of those who are acquainted only with the first principles of Arithmetic. Selected from the Algebra of Euler (Cambridge, 1818; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 8 [no. 395]). For John Napier’s (nepier’s) theorem, see TJ to Louis H. Girardin, 18 Mar. 1814, and TJ’s Notes on Napier’s Theorem, printed above at that date.

1Manuscript: “studest.”

Index Entries

  • A Course of Mathematics (C. Hutton) search
  • An Introduction to the Elements of Algebra (J. Farrar) search
  • Bézout, Étienne; Cours De Mathématiques search
  • Cours De Mathématiques (É. Bézout) search
  • Euler, Leonhard; as mathematician search
  • Farrar, John; An Introduction to the Elements of Algebra search
  • Farrar, John; identified search
  • Farrar, John; letter to search
  • Hutton, Charles; A Course of Mathematics search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • mathematics; books on search
  • mathematics; Napier’s theorem search
  • Napier, John (of Merchiston); mathematical theorem of search