Examine selected books in the “Imagination” (Fine Arts) section and view the pages of The Builder’s Dictionary, an eighteenth-century handbook that details aspects of building design, construction, and finishes..
“Among the Most Important Arts”
Andrea Palladio’s books had a profound influence on Jefferson’s architecture; he referred to the Italian architect’s classical designs as his “architectural bible.” Palladian theory informed Jefferson’s designs for Monticello and the University of Virginia campus.
The classical lines of Palladian architecture blended well, in Jefferson’s mind, with the forthright and earnest architecture needed for the fledgling democratic nation. Most of the Arts chapters in Jefferson’s collection were destroyed by the 1851 fire, including his entire architecture section. This copy replaces the one Jefferson sold to the nation in 1815.
Builder’s Dictionary Consulted by Jefferson
Books of practical application are scattered throughout Jefferson’s section on Architecture. Among the classical and theoretical works is the Builder’s Dictionary, a two-volume handbook that covers all aspects of building design, construction, and finishes.
In its time, the Dictionary was considered the most complete summary available for use by English architects and members of the construction trades. Jefferson is thought to have consulted this work as early as 1779.
Architectural Inspiration for Jefferson
Leonbatista Alberti, architect, poet, and philosopher, was a model Renaissance man. Alberti’s architectural works, compiled and translated by Casmir Bartoli, inspired Jefferson’s own Neoclassical style in his designs for Monticello and the University of Virginia.
A Book about Harpsichord Playing
Jefferson did not play the harpsichord, so his interest in the instrument was on behalf of his daughter Martha. He took on the study with characteristic zeal and eventually commissioned a bespoke harpsichord for his daughter, asking Jacob Kirckman “to make for me one of his best harpsichords with a double set of keys.” Once the instrument was received, he encouraged Martha to follow his same regimen of practice: “Do not neglect your music. It will be a companion which will sweeten many hours of life to you.”
Jefferson’s Music Technique Book
Music, according to Jefferson, was his “favorite passion” and the violin his preferred instrument. Jefferson was schooled in music at an early age and cultivated his love of music throughout his life. As an accomplished violinist and music aficionado, Jefferson owned four violins, including a so-called “kit,” an instrument small enough to fit neatly into a coat pocket. He was known to take his kit along on his travels to practice while away. At home, he could play his other instruments as well as consult his personal copies of contemporary musical treatises such as this one by Francesco Geminiani. Jefferson rarely wrote in his books, but this book includes Jefferson’s inscription of Charles Burney’s discussion of violin technique.
Although it was thought that the entire section of Jefferson’s library devoted to didactic literature was destroyed in the 1851 fire, this book reappeared in 1940, when it was presented to the Library of Congressy bookdealer Max Harzof. Petronius’ Satyricon is a comic, satiric fictional narrative of Roman life in the first century AD. It was of interest to Jefferson because of his love of Tacitus, who mentions Petronius (as Gaius) in his Annals.
Titus [or Gaius] Petronius Arbiter (ca. 27–66). Titi Petroni Arbitri Equitis Romani Satyricon; Et diversorum Poëtarum Lusus in Priapum. Cum selectis variorum Commentariis. . . . Utrecht: Gisberti á Zyll and Theodori ab Ackersdyck, 1654. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4489) (42.00.00)
This is the only work of tragedy in Jefferson’s collection that survived the 1851 Christmas Eve fire. Jefferson’s literary taste was somewhat conservative, and his collection was relatively selective. Thomas Otway, a Restoration dramatist, typically wrote in rhymed verse. His plays and poetry retained popularity until the mid-nineteenth century.
Works of Humanist Erasmus
In many ways, Jefferson’s education mirrored that of Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch humanist whose classical training allowed him to devote his life to producing numerous editions of Greek and Latin authors. As the voice of humanism, Erasmus was soon seen as a challenge to certain tenets of the Reformation. In works such as In Praise of Folly and the Colloquia, a kind of textbook and guide to life, he managed to alienate Luther and others with his insistent humanism, prompting Luther to complain that: “My liking for Erasmus declines from day to day. . . . The human is of more value to him than the Divine.”
Jefferson chose the category of “Dialogue—Epistolary” as the chapter in which to place collected letters of authors. By and large books in this category represented classical Roman authors such as Lucianus, Cicero, and Pliny, represented here by a French and Latin edition of Pliny’s letters.
Caius Caecilius Plinius Secundus (ca. 61–ca. 113). C. Plinii Caecilii Secundi Episotlae et Panegyricus nervae Traiano dictus curante Ioanne Petro Millero Berolini.—Lettres et Panegyrique de Trajan par Pline le Jeune traduits par Mr. de Sacy de L’Academie Françoise. Berlin: 1750. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4631) (45.00.00)
John Adams’s Gift to Jefferson
These volumes were given by John Adams as a gesture to Jefferson following their reconciliation in 1812. Adams inscribed the title page “John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 1. 1812,” and sent a letter to Jefferson informing him that the package was on its way: “I take the Liberty of sending you by the Post a Packett containing two Pieces of Homespun lately produced in this quarter by one who was honoured in his youth with some of your Attention and much of your kindness.” Jefferson assumed Adams was sending two samples of cloth. In characteristic style, he responded with a lengthy discussion of the virtue of homespun, forcing Adams to reply: “The Material of the Samples of American Manufacture that I sent you, was not Wool nor Cotton nor Silk nor Flax nor Hemp nor Iron nor Wood. They were spun from the Brain of John Quincy Adams.”
John Quincy Adams (1767–1848). Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, Delivered to the Classes of Senior and Junior Sophistors in Harvard University. 2 vols. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Hilliard and Metcalf, 1810. Volume II. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4659) (46.00.00, 46.01.00)
An Ode to Jefferson’s Administration
Thomas Erskine Birch served in the naval efforts during the American Revolution. He commemorated the events with this compendium of poetry and prose. Among the many mentions of Jefferson in this work, Birch specifically dedicated an ode to Jefferson’s presidential administration: “Such as it―ah might it worthier be, Its scanty foliage all is due to thee.”
Thomas Erskine Birch, comp. (1760–1820). The Virginian Orator: Being a Variety of Original and Selected Poems Orations and Dramatic Scenes; to Improve the American Youth in the Ornamental and Useful Art of Eloquence & Gesture. Richmond: Samuel Pleasants, 1808. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 4680) (47.00.00)
Bilingual Version of Aristotle’s Poetica
This bilingual Greek and Latin edition of Aristotle’s Poetica was printed in Glasgow by the famed Foulis Press, an important publishing venture that produced numerous scholarly editions of classical authors. The work is an early attempt by Aristotle to arrive at the principles of poetics, especially tragedy.
It is likely that Jefferson acquired this classical title because of the bilingual nature of the publication. Jefferson often used multilingual editions to hone his classical languages and teach himself modern romance languages.
Account of European Theater
The bookplate of Reuben Skelton found at the front of this history of European theater suggests that Jefferson may have obtained this copy on his marriage to Martha Skelton, Reuben’s sister-in-law. Luigi Riccoboni wrote several documentary works on eighteenth-century Italian theater and especially on the style of Italian comedy. As the son of the original modern Pantalone, Riccoboni was well versed in the subject. Jefferson owned very little of this kind of literature. He placed this copy in the section devoted to “Criticism―Theory.”