“I cannot live without books, but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object.”–(Thomas Jefferson, from a letter to John Adams written on June 10, 1815)
On August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812, the British invaded and captured Washington D.C. burning most of the government buildings including the White House and the Capitol. The Capitol housed the Library of Congress at the time. With the Capitol essentially gutted on the inside, the Library was destroyed.
Thomas Jefferson, an avid reader and book collector, offered to sell his collection to the government to begin the process of replenishing the library. On this day (January 30th) in 1815 Jefferson sold his collection of 6,487 volumes for $23,950 to the United States Congress, which was approved by President James Madison. The Library of Congress was reborn.
Almost immediately Jefferson began buying books. The reason for his new acquisitions was made obvious by his letter to Adams in June of 1815. He simply could not live without books.
I am not much of a fan of Jefferson’s theology nor do I care much for his views on Jesus, but I certainly agree with him on books. I love books. Yes, I have an ereader and I use it to read ebooks, but there is nothing that can replace reading a good, old-fashioned paper and ink with pages bound book while sitting in a comfortable chair.
Jorge Luis Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” And Cicero wrote, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
There can be no doubt that both men were right.