[JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826)]
Observations sur la Virginie, Par M. J***. Traduites de l'Anglois
French translation by the Abbé André Morellet. Paris: chez Barrois l'ainé, 1786. 8vo. (7 13/16 x 5 inches). , viii, 290 [i.e., 390]pp. plus pp. errata and folding letterpress table. Without the map. Half title. Three-quarter calf and contemporary marbled boards, neatly rebacked. Minor foxing and soiling.
The first published edition of this enduring American classic.
The first edition of Notes... was printed privately for Jefferson in 1785 in an edition of 200 copies, which he distributed to personal friends. Initially, Jefferson had resisted the idea of publishing the work so that it could reach a larger audience. However, the widespread interest the book aroused soon led to rumors that a pirated edition would appear, and to forestall this, regular published editions came out with his blessing in French (the present work, Observations... translated by the Abbe Morallet and published in Paris in 1786) and in English (London, 1787) followed by an American edition (Philadelphia, 1788.) The work ultimately went through several dozen editions before his death, and remains in print today. This is the only book-length work published during Jefferson's lifetime and is a cornerstone of any collection of printed Americana. The first private edition is virtually unobtainable, making this edition not only the first published edition, but also the first which is even remotely obtainable. Jefferson originally wrote the Notes... in response to a series of queries sent to him by the French diplomat Francois Barbe-Marbois, composing them after the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1781. On the urging of their mutual friend, the distinguished French soldier and scientist, the Marquis de Chastellux, he later expanded his responses into a series of twenty-three essays on every aspect of his native state; geography, landforms, products, agriculture, climate, population, armed forces, Indians, towns, laws, religion, manners, and history. The Notes... are vastly informative, but they were also a mirror of Jefferson's tastes and personality. J. M. Edelstein noted, "Jefferson wrote about things which interested him deeply and about which he knew a great deal; the Notes, therefore, throws a fascinating light on his tastes, curiosities, and political and social opinions."
Clark I:262; Howes J78; Sabin 35895; Sowerby IV, pp.301-30; Vail 760.