Monday, 13 October 2008

Thomas Jefferson's unpublished letter

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third president of the USA. He was the chief author of the Declaration of Independence and served two terms in office. In private life he founded the University of Virginia.
By a strange coincidence, if that's what it was, and this is what Poet-in-Residence is interested in, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (1735-1826) who was the second President of the USA died on the very same day; the 4th July 1826, the 50th anniversary of American independence.
As regular readers will know, one of Poet-in-Residence's hobbies is hunting in flea market banana boxes for book bargains. A recent endeavour produced a bargain priced pile of Sotheby's catalogues pertaining to Fine Manuscripts & Printed Americana.
In one of these splendid catalogues, fax-codeword '6553Spangle' (New York sale of Tuesday May 3, 1994, with cover picture of Lot 104: post-battle damage assessment report map of Pearl Harbour, prepared and drawn by Mitsuo Fuchida, the lead pilot of the Japanese air attack, for a briefing of Emperor Hirohito, pen and watercolour on light wove paper $100,000 - $150,000) Poet-in-Residence discovered the unpublished Jefferson letter.
Lot 60 is described as 'Jefferson, Thomas, third president, autograph letter, 1 page on laid paper, Williamsburgh, 26 July 1764, evidently to John Page; a few short fold separations and repairs, mounting remnant on verso. A photocopy of the letter appears in the catalogue. Jefferson's neat schoolbook style of handwriting presents no problems.

Wmsburgh July 26th 1764

I like your proposal of keeping up an epistolary correspondence on subjects of some importance. I do not at present recollect any difficult question in natural philosophy, but shall be glad to have your opinion on a subject much more interesting. what that is I will tell you. in perusing a magazine some time ago I met with an account of a person who had been drowned. he had continued under water 20hours, and upon being properly treated when taken out he was restored to life. the fact is undoubted, and upon enquiry I found that there have been many other instances of the same kind. Physicians say that when the parts of the body are restrained from performing their functions by any gentle cause which does not in any manner maim or injure any particular part, that to restore life in such a case nothing is requisite but to give the vital warmth to the whole body by gentle degrees, and put the blood in motion by inflating the lungs. but the doubts which arose in my mind, on reading the story were of another nature. we are generally taught that the soul leaves the body at the instant of death, that is, at the instant in which the organs of the body cease totally to perform their functions. but does not this story contradict this opinion? when then does the soul take its departure? let me have your opinion candidly and at length on this subject. and as there are doubts which, were they to come to light, might do injustice to a man's moral principles in the eyes of persons of narrow and confined views it will be proper to take great care of our letters. I propose as one mean of doing it to put no name or place to the top or bottom of the letter, and to enclose it in a false cover which may be burned as soon as opened. no news in town only that Sir John Cockler has given Knox L450 for his house and lots here. Orion is 3 Hours in 40' west of the sun and of consequence goes down and rises that much before him. So you must rise early in the morning to see him. the upper star in his belt is exactly in Aequinotical.

(no earlier letter by Jefferson has ever been offered at auction)($20,000 - $30,000)

Is synchronicity the unseen hand in the affairs of man? asks Poet-in-Residence.

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