What: “I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson once said. In his will, he left a personal library of 931 titles to his beloved University of Virginia. But his estate was riddled with debt, and that library was scattered forever at forced auction in Washington in 1829.
After curious wanderings, three titles independently made their way to Princeton: a little chemistry book by French scientist J.L. Gay-Lussac; Boston diplomat Alexander Everett’s large-format book on population that rebutted Malthus and hoped for a burgeoning America; and a two-volume set of Sophocles published in England in 1665.
Time has been unkind to Jefferson’s libraries. His original collection burned in a 1770 house fire. Subsequently Jefferson amassed 6,700 volumes at Monticello, then sold them to the federal government in 1815 for much-needed cash. Two-thirds perished when the Library of Congress caught fire in 1851.
Princeton’s precious volumes appear in Jefferson’s handwritten catalog of his “Retirement Library,” assembled during his last years for what he called “amusement and not use” — final testament to his “canine appetite for reading.”
Where: Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library