Thomas Jefferson Papers

Constantine S. Rafinesque to Thomas Jefferson, 25 January 1821

From Constantine S. Rafinesque

Lexington Ky 25th Jany 1821

Respected Sir—

I have delayed answering your last favor until I could send you my Ichthyology of the Ohio, and the Western Minerva. The former I have now the pleasure to forward you, and shall be glad to know your opinion on it. But I cannot send you the Western Minerva, although the first number is printed, because this Journal is not to be published at present. It has been condamned before its appearance (upon some proof-sheets) by a new kind of1 Western Literary Inquisition and Censorship, and forbidden to be published, to which we have been compelled to assent for peace-sake. C’est une cabale nouvelle de l’ignorance contre les lumieres. The principal motives stated in the verbal decree of this new Inquisition, were, that the Journal was too learned, that it dared to inculcate political and moral Wisdom, to surmise that the Sun does not stand still and has an orbit2 and that the Earth therefore performs a spiral course through Space, to teach Agricultural truths, to employ mystification against ignorance and folly &c &c. You will perhaps hardly believe that this could happen in the U. St. but it is a fact, and although we had 2 or 300 suscribers, we must suppress the work, and are even forbidden or rather prevented to publish the fact in the newspapers—If I can recover some proof-sheets, I will send them to you: they will be a literary Curiosity, and you will judge whether the decree was just, timely or even excusable.—

This is but one of the many difficulties which I experience in the prosecution of my labors; but after a momentary despondency, my courage and zeal overcome them.—

I am however tired of being sequestered in a spot where my labors are but partially appreciated, and I long for a wider field, where I may have an opportunity of enlarging the Sphere of Knowledge without restraint.

I have read your Report to the Legislature of Virginia. I am sorry to perceive that you do not wish to organize immediatly your University. You must be aware that the Professors which are to be called to it; must come from far, some perhaps from Europe (if I am rightly informed) and one or two years, will be requisite for them to prepare themselves, settle their interests and come.—It might perhaps be advisable to name immediatly your Professors, which might only take possession in due time; if some should refuse the appointment, you would then have time to name others. I Say so because it is my wish that a prompt decision might take place and in your lifetime. If I was elected in any branch, it would be greatly beneficial to me, even if I was only to take possession in five years: and meantime I am prevented by this hope from applying any where else.

I have heard it mentioned in conversation that you meant perhaps to send to Europe for all your Professors. I hope that this is not the case, at least for all: and in what relates to me, I do not know a single Individual either in the U. St. or in Europe, who is at the same time equally acquainted with Geology, Mineralogy Meteorology3 Zoology and Botany as I am—I am in correspondance with the most distinguished Naturalists & Botanists of both continents, and when it will be needful, extracts from their Letters will show how they value my labors and discoveries.—It will be sufficient to name in Europe Dr Leach the best Zoologist of England,

Prof— Hooker of Glasgow, the best scotch Botanist

W. Swainson—the author of Zoological Illustrations

Dr. Sealy—of Cork in Ireland—

Chevalier Cuvier—of Paris—

Prof— Decandolle of Geneva, the best European botanist

Prof Delille of Montpellier—

Mr. Bory St Vincent Editor of Annals of Phys. Science

Prof— Gravenhorst, of Breslaw.

Mr Blainville—Paris—Editor of Journal D’hist. Naturelle

And in the United States, Stephen Elliot of Charleston, Dr. Torrey of Newyork. Dr. Mitchill, Govr Clinton, &c.—

If the Election of your Professors is still delayed, and you may recomend me meantime for some other literary situation, I hope you will remember me. The liberal offer of my Library Museum and Herbarium, ought to show how zealous I am for Science, even against my interest. Whenever I shall have a liberal Salary, I shall not spend it as many of4 our American Professors have done till now, in giving parties and carousing; but in performing Scientific Travels (in the vacations), publishing important works, purchasing rare books &c

I hope you will excuse whatever may be too personal, and bold in this Letter. I write under some sharp feelings; and wish you could know me thoroughly. Your discernment will perform the task. Believe me Respected Sir, Sincerely Yours

Prof. C. S. Rafinesque

PS. Who are the other Trustees of your University

RC (MHi); addressed: “Honble Thomas Jefferson &c &c &c Monticello near Charlotteville Virginia”; stamped; postmarked Lexington, 2 Feb.; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Feb. 1821 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Rafinesque, Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or Natural History of the Fishes Inhabiting the River Ohio and its tributary streams, Preceded by a physical description of the Ohio and its branches (Lexington, Ky., 1820).

c’est une cabale nouvelle de l’ignorance contre les lumieres: “It is a new cabal of ignorance against enlightenment.”

1Preceding four words interlined in place of “an American or rather.”

2Preceding four words interlined.

3Word interlined.

4Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Annales Générales des Sciences Physiques search
  • Blainville, Henri Marie Ducrotay de search
  • books; on fish search
  • books; on natural history search
  • books; on zoology search
  • Bory de St. Vincent, Jean Baptiste G. M.; editsAnnales Générales des Sciences Physiques search
  • botany; collegiate education in search
  • botany; scholars of search
  • Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de; as reference for C. S. Rafinesque search
  • censorship; ofWestern Minerva, or American Annals of Knowledge and Literature search
  • Clinton, DeWitt; as reference for C. S. Rafinesque search
  • Cuvier, Georges; mentioned search
  • Delile, Alire Raffeneau; and C. S. Rafinesque search
  • Elliott, Stephen; as botanist search
  • fish; ichthyology search
  • geology; collegiate education in search
  • Gravenhorst, Johann Ludwig Christian search
  • Hooker, Sir William Jackson; as botanist search
  • Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or Natural History of the Fishes Inhabiting the River Ohio and its tributary streams (C. S. Rafinesque) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Journal de physique search
  • Leach, William Elford; as zoologist search
  • meteorology; collegiate education in search
  • mineralogy; collegiate education in search
  • Mitchill, Samuel Latham; mentioned search
  • natural history; books on search
  • Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel; editsWestern Minerva, or American Annals of Knowledge and Literature search
  • Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel; Ichthyologia Ohiensis, or Natural History of the Fishes Inhabiting the River Ohio and its tributary streams search
  • Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel; letters from search
  • Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel; seeks professorship search
  • Sealy, James search
  • subscriptions, for publications; journals search
  • Swainson, William; Zoological Illustrations search
  • Torrey, John (1796–1873); as botanist search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; annual reports of search
  • Virginia, University of; Board of Visitors; members of search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; faculty applicants search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; recruitment of faculty from Europe search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Western Minerva, or American Annals of Knowledge and Literature search
  • Zoological Illustrations (W. Swainson) search
  • zoology; books on search
  • zoology; collegiate education in search
  • zoology; scholars of search