Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 31 October 1806

Washington Oct. 31. 06.

Dear Sir

I was so extremely sick on both the days you were so kind as to call on me that I had been obliged to desire the porter to recieve nobody, except the Secretaries. I am now well enough to do business & shall be glad to see you whenever it shall be convenient to you to call. in the mean time I will observe that the information you have recieved that I was displeased with the mode of lighting the dome by pannel lights has been a misconception which might well arise from the little I said on the subject. I shall state facts very briefly. the ribbed sky lights of the Halle au blé were coeval with the idea of substituting a dome instead of a cieling. in the progress of the building you often stated it’s difficulties, & I as often recommended a recurrence to the resources of your art which I thought would surmount them: but at length on the representation in your letter of Aug. 31. 05. I wrote to you Sep. 8. leaving to yourself to attempt or to abandon the ribbed sky lights according to the judgment you should ultimately form of their practicability. of their beauty the world had already pronounced their verdict in the case of the Halle au blé. some time after this you proposed to me the substitute of pannel lights. I was delighted with the idea, because I believed it would be as beautiful & a more mild mode of lighting, because it would be an original & unique, & I knew that all experience had proved that a skylight of a single pane, bedded in wood, was easily secured from leaking: & as to the sun, we had agreed on the mode of fixing Venetian blinds to be commanded internally. this plan was therefore settled, and as I presumed, every thing was proceeding on it when I went to Monticello, last. there I recieved your letter of Aug. 27 informing me that fearing the glass would not arrive in time you had directed a lanthern light for the center, which we might put on, if we were otherwise disappointed. this was well, because at that time we hoped the room would be ready for the session, & this guarded us against a disappointment from the want of glass. when I returned to Washington I learnt that the lanthern light was ready & was to be immediately put up, that there was not a single preparation for the pannel lights, but on the contrary that the dome was to be solidly sheeted & covered over the whole, & when on examining the roof I saw that the ribs had not been formed with pannels for the lights, & that the inserting of them could not take place hereafter without cutting the ribs, I told mr Lenthall the plan established had been departed from, that it was wrong, & that it must be recurred to, by having the pannels immediately prepared and also that as there was now no hope of the room being ready for the session, the lanthern need not be set up: for it had never been thought of but to prevent a disappointment now certain to take place but at the same time so to finish the circle in the center as that by opening the cover, the lanthern might be put up hereafter should experience of the pannel lights render that desirable. I certainly should not abandon a plan which I believe will constitute one of the important beauties of the building on the hypothesis that it may occasion a dripping by condensed vapour. these sky lights have been in long & general use in private buildings, yet have never occasioned any dripping from this cause. nor would the remedy be difficult. if the experiment succeeds it will be a beauty: if it does not the lanthern can be put up, & the experiment will not have added an half per cent to the cost of the building.   be assured that in the whole of this business I have permitted no sentiment to arise unfriendly to you. I saw a departure from the plan & it was my duty to bring it back to it’s course. I ascribed it more to your absence than any thing else, & regretted the sufferings which kept you away, as much as the effect here. Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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