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Observations sur la Virginie....

Par M. J***. Traduites de l'anglois.

Availability: In stock

Published: Paris by Pierre-Theophile Barrois, 1786

Stock Code: 116669

OR On display in 43 Dover Street


First edition in French and the first published edition. The only book-length work of Jefferson's published in his lifetime originated as a relatively simple list of responses to queries from Francois Barbe de Marbois, then secretary to the French legation at Philadelphia. In May 1781 Jefferson told Marbois that he would give him "as full information as I shall be able to do on such of the subjects as are within the sphere of my acquaintance" and duly forwarded Marbois his answers in December of that year. At the urging of Chastellux, Jefferson refined and augmented his text, which was first printed in an English-language edition of 200 copies for private circulation only (Paris, May 1785, though dated 1782 on the title).
Jefferson claimed more than once that the present French edition was pirated by Pierre-Theophile Barrois, who "employed a hireling translator and was about publishing it in the most injurious form possible" (TJ Papers 9:265). This fostered the theory that Jefferson felt compelled to have Stockdale publish his Notes in London in order to prevent its re-translation from the supposedly butchered French version into English.
However, in his lengthy article, "Unraveling the Strange History of Jefferson's Observations sur la Virginie" (Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, 2004, Vol. 112, Issue 2), Gordon S. Barker refutes the general notion that Jefferson had disowned the French edition at the time of its publication. In fact, Jefferson persuaded Barrois to delay publication until he could further hone and polish the translation. Jefferson used the delay to rearrange his text from a sequence of answers to a questionnaire into a more unified work. The result of this careful editing was "probably the most important scientific and political book written by an American before 1785", and the document upon which "much of Jefferson's contemporary fame as a philosopher was based" (Peden, Introduction to Notes on the State of Virginia, p. xi).
One important addition was the map of Virginia for which Jefferson sent instructions to the London engraver S. J. Neele in September 1786; the map was completed by December. Jefferson paid 33 francs to have 40 copies of his map coloured by Le Valle and added to later copies of his 1785 private edition. There were, however, errors in the first plate which Jefferson corrected before the printing used in this edition; a restrike of this map on thinner paper was used in Stockdale's London edition of 1787.

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Octavo (198 x 119 mm). Contemporary French speckled calf, smooth spine gilt in compartments, tan leather title label, marbled endpapers, blue endleaves, red edges. Custom brown morocco-backed folding case.


Folding engraved map, folding table, two leaves of errata at end.


Minor wear at head of spine just exposing headband, short closed tear to inner margin of map, spotting to blue endleaves, else an unusually fine and fresh copy.


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