Thomas Jefferson Papers

George Blaettermann to Thomas Jefferson, 27 April 1819

From George Blaettermann

London 27th of April 1819:1
33. Castle Street Holborn


La connaissance que j’ai faite avec Mr Ogilvie, qui a vecu en Amérique et qui parle avec enthusiasme des qualités éminentes qui vous distinguent, m’ayant procuré celle de M. Ticknor, M. Preston et Mr Bevan, j’ai su, par ces Messieurs, que dans un comité dont vous êtes le President on s’occupe de l’exécution du projet d’établir un college en Virginie. J’en ai lu le rapport; je l’admire comme tout ce qui regarde ce pays surprenant.

Je me sens la capacité de remplir avec honneur les fonctions de Professeur en langues modernes, et j’ose prendre la liberté de solliciter cette place, si toutefois l’avantage du college naissant, la justice et l’amour de la patrie qui vous ont tant distingué dans l’emploi de cette autorité quanta maxima in liberâ civitaté unius esse potest, s’accordent à m’en trouver digne. J’ai enseigné avec avantage, depuis douze ans, le français, l’Allemand, l’Italien, l’Anglois et le Latin, langues que je parle avec facilité. Je connois aussi l’Espagnol, quoique, faute d’avoir vecu dans le pays, je le parle avec difficulté. Quant à l’Anglo-saxon, comme je connois les dialectes des côtes de la mer Baltique, quelques mois d’études m’en mettront aisément au fait. D’ailleurs la nécessité du savoir, et le desir de me rendre utile me feront poursuivre ces études avec plus d’ardeur et de suite, que ne feroit le seul amour du savoir. J’ai trente six ans; je suis dans la vigueur de l’age; Allemand de nation; j’ai reçu une partie de mon éducation à Leipsic. J’ai voyagé quelque temps, j’ai vu le monde, j’ai même fait la campagne de Russie, en Qualité de Commissaire, sous Buonaparte dont la chûte m’a poussé jusqu’à Londres, où je me suis acquis quelques amis qui par leurs lumieres sont en état de juger de mes talents et dont je prends la liberté de2 joindre les témoignages, vous priant de vouloir bien daigner y faire quelque attention.

Agréez l’hommage du plus profond respect avec lequel je suis, Monsieur, Votre tres humble serviteur

G. Blaettermann

Editors’ Translation

London 27th of April 1819:
33. Castle Street Holborn


My acquaintance with Mr. Ogilvie, who has lived in America and who speaks with enthusiasm of the eminent qualities that distinguish you, led me to meet Mr. Ticknor, Mr. Preston, and Mr. Bevan, through whom I have learned that you are president of a committee working to establish a college in Virginia. I have read the report, and I admire it as I do everything relating to this astonishing country.

I feel that I can honorably fill the duties of professor of modern languages, and I dare take the liberty of soliciting that position, provided, however, that the best interests of the fledgling college and the justice and love of country that have so distinguished you in the use of this authority quanta maxima in liberâ civitaté unius esse potest agree in finding me worthy of it. For twelve years I have had the privilege of teaching French, German, Italian, English, and Latin, and I speak these languages with ease. I also know Spanish, although, having never lived in that country, I speak it with difficulty. As for Anglo-Saxon, inasmuch as I know the dialects spoken on the Baltic coast, a few months of study will easily familiarize me with it. In any case, the need to learn and the desire to render myself useful will make me pursue these studies immediately and with more ardor than the mere love of knowledge. I am thirty-six years old, in my prime, and a German. I have received part of my education in Leipzig and spent some time traveling and seeing the world. I even took part in the Russian campaign as a commissary under Bonaparte, whose fall induced me to go to London. Here I acquired some friends who, being enlightened, can evaluate my talents. I take the liberty of enclosing their testimonials and ask that you kindly condescend to pay them some attention.

Accept the tribute of the most profound respect with which I am, Sir, your very humble servant

G. Blaettermann

RC (ViU: TJP); between dateline and salutation: “G. Blaettermann À Monsieur le President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 17 June 1819 and so recorded in SJL. Translation by Dr. Genevieve Moene. Enclosures: (1) Giovanni Aldini and Francesco Romeo’s Letter of Recommendation for Blaettermann, London, 24 Apr. 1819, testifying that Blaettermann is well-known and respected among the learned as a teacher of both living and dead languages and that he has distinguished himself especially as a professor of Italian (MS in ViU: Letters of Recommendation for Blaettermann; in an unidentified hand, signed by Aldini and Romeo; in Italian). (2) James Compton’s Letter of Recommendation for Blaettermann, [by 27 Apr. 1819], stating that Blaettermann is well-qualified to teach French, with Compton signing as pastor of a congregation of French Protestants at Saint John’s Chapel in Bethnal Green, London (MS in ViU: Letters of Recommendation for Blaettermann; undated). (3) John Jones to TJ, 27 Apr. 1819, not found but recorded in SJL as received 17 June 1819 from London. Enclosed in George Ticknor to TJ, 27 May 1819.

George Wilhelm Blaettermann (1782–1850), educator, was born in Saxony and educated in Göttingen, Heidelberg, and Leipzig. Early on he mastered the English, French, German, Italian, and Latin languages. Blaettermann knew enough Anglo-Saxon, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish to teach those as well. Roughly two years after serving in the French commissary corps during Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, he relocated to London, where he supported himself as a teacher. Having offered himself to the University of Virginia in 1819 as professor of modern languages, Blaettermann was appointed to that post five years later. His tenure at the school was, however, troubled. Arrogant, surly, rude, and a poor instructor, Blaettermann proved unpopular with both his students and colleagues. Indeed, enrollment in his classes had so fallen by 1830 that his salary was reduced. Blaettermann’s stormy marriage also caused great concern. After he publicly beat his estranged wife on two separate occasions late in the summer of 1840, the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors dismissed him. Blaettermann retired to his Albemarle County home, Limestone Farm, where he spent the rest of his life as a recluse. At the time of his death his personal estate was worth just over $2,000 (DVB description begins John T. Kneebone, Sara B. Bearss, and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 vols. description ends ; Ronald B. Head, “The Declension of George W. Blaettermann: First Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Virginia,” Virginia Cavalcade 31 [1982]: 182–91; Minutes of University of Virginia Board of Visitors, 5–7 Apr. 1824, 14 Sept. 1840 [ViU]; DNA: RG 29, CS, Albemarle Co., 1840; Richmond Enquirer, 8 Jan. 1850; Albemarle Co. Will Book, 19:461–5, 20:10–9).

quanta maxima in liberâ civitaté unius esse potest: “as great as can belong to any one man in a free community” (David R. Shackleton Bailey, ed. and trans., Cicero: Letters to Quintus and Brutus, to Octavian, Invectives, Handbook of Electioneering, Loeb Classical Library [1972; repr. 2002], 238–9).

1Reworked from “1818.”

2Manuscript: “dé.”

Index Entries

  • Aldini, Giovanni; recommends G. W. Blaettermann search
  • Anglo-Saxon (Old English) language; study of search
  • Bevan, Joseph Vallence search
  • Blaettermann, George Wilhelm; identified search
  • Blaettermann, George Wilhelm; letter from search
  • Blaettermann, George Wilhelm; recommendations of search
  • Blaettermann, George Wilhelm; seeks position at University of Virginia search
  • Cicero; quoted search
  • Compton, James; recommends G. W. Blaettermann search
  • education; English language search
  • education; French language search
  • education; German language search
  • education; Italian language search
  • education; Latin search
  • English language; Anglo-Saxon (Old English) search
  • English language; study of search
  • French language; letters in, from; G. W. Blaettermann search
  • French language; study of search
  • German language; study of search
  • Italian language; study of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Rockfish Gap Report of the University of Virginia Commissioners search
  • Jones, John (of London); letter from accounted for search
  • Latin language; study of search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; defeated in Russia search
  • Ogilvie, James; and G. W. Blaettermann search
  • Preston, William Campbell; and G. W. Blaettermann search
  • Romeo, Francesco; recommends G. W. Blaettermann search
  • Russia; Napoleon defeated in search
  • Spanish language; study of search
  • Ticknor, George; and G. W. Blaettermann search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; commissioners’ report search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; faculty applicants search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; modern languages professorship search