Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Carr, 28 April 1807

Monticello Apr. 28. 07.


I took the liberty the other day of making the necessary enquiries from your son, mr Lewis Carr, as to the pursuits & progress of his studies heretofore, in order to aid your decision as to the future. I learn from him that he reads French readily, has, in Latin read Virgil entire, has gone through the first six books of Euclid, learnt geography the use of the globes, surveying and arithmetic as far as the extraction of the roots & that his destination is the law. he says further that you are disposed to send him to Wm. & Mary college the next autumn and wish him to be properly employed in the mean time. presuming he can be relied on for a proper assiduity at home I think he may during the summer be as usefully engaged there as in any school. considering the advance he has made in Latin it would be a pity he should not perfect himself in it. I would therefore advise him to read Livy, Tacitus, & Horace this summer. the two former will give him a good knolege of the Roman history, while they instruct him in the language. he may at the same time read Anacharsis in French, which will strengthen his knolege of that language & possess him of the Grecian history. I would advise him to read too Baxter’s history of England as a corrective of Hume, which he has read. indeed it is Hume republicanised. this course of reading will employ all his industry till autumn. all these books he can get from this place or Edgehill (by application to mr Randolph) except Livy, which mr Peter Carr tells me he possesses & will lend him.

While at College, I presume it is your intention he should attend the course of law lectures, to which he should add Rhetoric, as an essential preparation for public speaking. but there are some other branches of science, which though not immediately entering into the field of the law, it is disreputable for any person of decent education, & especially of a liberal profession to be entirely ignorant of. such are Astronomy, the principles of natural philosophy, & the more useful branches of the Mathematics. his attendance on these schools may go hand in hand with that on the law lectures. I do not place Ethics on this list; because nature has not made a Science of what the happiness of society makes it necessary every man should understand. it’s dictates are written in the heart of every good man, & the head of every wise one. reading by himself, without the aid of a master, will strengthen his moral sense by exercise, and correct it by the use of his own reason. nor would I recommend Politics among the sciences to be pursued at College, because by reading alone he can make himself sufficiently acquainted with them; & because, as his time there will probably be limited, he should apply the whole of it to those sciences which require the aid of an instructor.

I have hazarded these general ideas hastily, & in the midst of the hurry of business, in hopes they may be of some use for the present. I shall be here again in Summer, and accordingly as that shall have been employed, may then perhaps be able to add to, or correct them: and shall be very happy to be useful to your son, or to do in these things what shall be gratifying to yourself: Accept my salutations and assurances of esteem.

Th: Jefferson


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