Three books from the Retirement Library of Thomas Jefferson are now held in Firestone: one came as a gift in the 1870s, another was presented in 1905, and the third gift arrived in 1944. Their journey toward Princeton began in Washington in 1829 when Nathaniel P. Poor auctioned the library formed by Jefferson during the latter years of his life.
At Monticello each book had a particular place in Jefferson’s bibliothecal scheme. Central to the scheme was his positing a continuum between book in hand and thought in mind. For Jefferson, mind entailed memory, reason, and imagination. These three faculties were, in turn, mirrored by human endeavors in history, philosophy, and the fine arts. Considered as an outcome of one of these endeavors, any book could be placed within one of these three classes or its sub-divisions. So placing it situated the book both in mind and on the shelf.
Now held at Princeton are auction lot numbers 236, 716, and 753. It’s extraordinary that these three gifts — each received decades apart — today form a pattern: the Library now has one book each from Jefferson’s three major classes.
• Memory / History is represented by
• Reason / Philosophy is represented by
• Imagination / Fine Arts is represented by
[Jefferson’s own handwritten entries in his 124 page library catalogue, now available digitally at the Library of Congress.]