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Copy Of A Book In Thomas Jefferson’s Collection Is Given By U.Va. To Library Of Congress

February 17, 2000 -- University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III today presented to the Library of Congress a copy of one of the books missing from the personal collection of Thomas Jefferson that the Library had purchased from Jefferson in 1814.

The Library of Congress has been searching for copies of a number of highly sought-after books from Jefferson's collection -- about 780 in all -- to replace volumes that were lost in a Christmas Eve fire in 1851.

At the suggestion of Albert H. Small, a member of both the University's Board of Visitors and the Library of Congress's Madison Council, U.Va. librarians reviewed the list of missing volumes and found that the University possessed two copies of a slim volume of Constantin-Francois Volney's "The ruins: or A survey of the revolutions of empires," a translation from the French and published in 1796 by William A. Davis in New York. This translation of Volney’s work is the same edition as the one Jefferson sold to Congress.

Although the small and worn Volney volume is not significant in appearance, Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, said that because of Jefferson’s importance as author of the Declaration of Independence and as the country’s third president, it is important to know first-hand the sources that influenced his thinking.

University Librarian Karin Wittenborg, noting that the U.Va. Library had duplicates of the Volney title, said it seemed appropriate to give one copy to the Library of Congress. "We feel a special affinity for the Library of Congress, beyond the simple fact that we are two research libraries with important collections relating to Jefferson and American history and literature. Both of our founding collections were personally selected by Thomas Jefferson." The Library of Congress hopes to assemble the complete set in time for the Library’s 200th anniversary in April.

Volney, a philosopher who taught at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, was an author well known to Jefferson. During Jefferson’s years in France they probably met, and Volney also visited Jefferson at Monticello the same year the English translation of his book appeared. In his work, Volney combines picturesque description with philosophical discussion on the origin and growth of social, political, and religious institutions. Volney concludes his discussion in favor of the equality of all men before the law and the overthrow of tyranny, and states a need for religious toleration. Similar ideas were represented in Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

For more information or for a photo of the book and presentation, contact Jeanne Hammer at the University Library at (804) 924-3246.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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