Description

    The Rare First American Edition of
    Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia

    Thomas Jefferson. Notes on the State of Virginia. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Prichard and Hall, 1788. Scarce first American edition of the only full-length book by Jefferson published during his lifetime. Small octavo in fours. [4], 244, [4, publisher's advertisements] pages. Complete with the folding letterpress table of the Indian Tribes of Virginia between pages 100 and 101 (with no splits or tears), and several other tables, including "A Comparative View of the Quadrupeds of Europe and of America" (pages 49-52), "Birds of Virginia" (pages 72-76), as well as tables of prevailing wind speeds, the number of settlers and census of inhabitants, the number and condition of the militia, commercial productions, crimes, and weights and measures of currency. Full-page woodcut "Eye-Draught of Madison's Cave" on page [20]. Contemporary full tree calf, spine ruled in gilt, with burgundy gilt morocco lettering label. Joints cracking, binding worn, rear hinge starting, endleaves foxed and offset, small curved paper label ("Water Twist") affixed to first blank, text somewhat toned and offset, with some intermittent foxing, edges of text block with ink stains (not affecting text), evidence of removal of a small slip from page 101 at the gutter. Bookplate of James Rees, Philadelphia. Overall, a very good copy.
    Notes on the State of Virginia was originally written in response to a series of twenty-three questions about Virginia sent, in 1781, to various members of the Continental Congress by François de Barbé Marbois, secretary of the French legation to the United States. Becoming fascinated with the questions, Jefferson converted the task- one of instructing America's revolutionary ally- into an intellectual self-discovery of his native land. In December 1781, Jefferson sent his answers to Marbois, and over the next few years continued to expand and revise the information he had compiled. In 1785, in Paris as Minister to France, Jefferson paid to have 200 copies of his revised text printed for private distribution as Notes on the State of Virginia, with the date 1782 on the title-page. The 200 copies Jefferson had printed did not begin to meet the demand for the book, and pirated editions forced him to authorize a French translation in 1786, and in 1787, he authorized his London bookseller, John Stockdale, to publish for general sale a somewhat expanded edition of the work. Both the 1786 French edition and the 1787 English edition contained a folding map (in two different states) prepared by Jefferson and engraved by Samuel J. Neele. This 1788 first American edition was issued with neither a map, nor the plate of the "Natural Bridge," both of which appeared in later American editions. "A digest of information and opinion on many subjects, Notes on Virginia is uniquely interesting as a guide to Jefferson's mind as well as to his country. It exhibits his insatiable curiosity, his manifold interests, painstaking detail, and speculative bent. It reveals the man of science disciplined to empirical fact and eager to possess nature for the mind, yet also the man of almost romantic sensibility enraptured by the wonders of the American continent even as he quested for useful knowledge. Of special importance was Jefferson's vindication of American nature against current European theories of biological impotence and decay in the New World. The book was a virtual manual of Jefferson's political opinions, and some of its passages-on slavery, on the virtues of husbandry, on religious freedom, on the errors of the Virginia constitution-became so well known that they were said to be 'stereotyped in the public voice'" (American National Biography Online).
    Evans 21176. Howes J78 "aa." Sabin 35897 (erroneously calling for 204 pages). Verner 1788. See Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 4167 (IV, pages 301-330).


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    November, 2015
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