[JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826), President]. Notes on the State of Virginia: written in the year 1781, somewhat corrected and enlarged in the winter of 1782, for the use of a Foreigner of distinction, in answer to certain queries proposed by him.... [Paris: Philippe-Denis Pierres for the author], 1782 [i.e., 1785].
8vo (7¼ x 5 1/16 in.). Collation: \Kl\k2, A-Ab8, Bb4. 198 leaves. Folding table bound between pp.168 and 169, full-page woodcut of Madison's Cave on page . Contemporary French calf, mottled in red and green, flat spine gilt, black morocco spine label gilt-lettered NOTES ON VIRGINIA, speckled edges, marbled endpapers (top of front joint slightly split, joints, corners and board edges rubbed).
FIRST EDITION, ONE OF ONLY 200 COPIES PRINTED for private circulation among Jefferson's scientific and intellectual circles. FIRST ISSUE, with leaves D2-3 uncancelled (containing a theory to account for the presence of fossils at high elevations, deleted in the later issue). Jefferson's only book-length publication, in which he "did more than describe his country, he revealed his own thought" (D. Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, p.374).
PRESENTATION COPY, WITH A LENGTHY INSCRIPTION ON THE FRONT BLANK, TO CHRéTIEN-GUILLAME DE LAMOIGNON DE MALESHERBES (1721-1794): "Mr Jefferson having had a few copies of these notes printed to present to some of his friends and to some estimable characters beyond that line, takes the liberty of presenting a copy to Monr. de Malsherbe [sic] as a testimony of his respect for his character. Unwilling to expose them to the public eye, he begs the favor of Monsr. de Malesherbe [sic] to put them into the hands of no person on whose care and fidelity he cannot rely to guard them against publication."
Jefferson's extended series of 23 descriptive essays on Virginia ranges widely, embracing topography, natural history, "productions mineral, vegetable and animal" (one of the longest), native inhabitants ("aborigines") laws, manners, constitution, religion, educational facilities, commerce, manufactures, and "histories, memorials, and state papers" (a pioneering bibliography). The compilation of the work was begun by Jefferson in the spring of 1781 as a considered response to a series of questions from the Marquis de Barbé Marbois, Secretary of the French Legation in Philadelphia, on behalf of his own government. Marbois's list of queries was forwarded by a Virginia delegate in Congress, Joseph Jones, to the outgoing governor, Jefferson, who informed the Marquis on 4 May 1781 that he intended, as soon as he had adequate leisure as his disposal, to give "as full information as I shall be able to do" (Papers, ed. Boyd, 5:58). He had, for some years, Malone reports, "been making memoranda about Virginia on loose sheets of paper," and after leaving the governorship, started in earnest upon the project upon his return to Monticello (ibid., p.374). By December, he was able to forward Marbois "answers to the queries which Mr. Jones put in my hands," but cautioned that "you will find them very imperfect" (Papers, ed. Boyd, 6:142). Over the next two years, Jefferson continued work on the memoranda, and sent copies of his manuscripts to various friends for comments and suggestions. Others who learned of the work asked him for copies, and Jefferson eventually concluded that it would be advisable to produce a private edition, but this proved difficult to accomplish before he embarked to take up his post as U.S. Minister to France. Writing from Philadelphia, to Charles Thomson on 21 May 1784, he complained that "my matter in the printing way is dropped," since John Dunlap (printer to Congress, who issued the broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence) was out of town, while another possible printer, Aitken, had raised his rates and was unable to deliver the sheets soon enough. "Perhaps I may have a few copies struck off in Paris," he concluded (Papers, ed. Boyd. 7:282). From Paris, in Masy 1785, he informed James Madison that "They yesterday finished printing my notes. I had 200 copies printed, but do not put them out of my own hands, except two or three copies here, and two which I shall send to America, to yourself and Colo. Monroe..." (Papers, ed. Boyd, 8: 147). This copy is certainly one of the "two or three" Jefferson presented to French friends, another being one to the Comte de Buffon (sold, Sotheby's 9 November 1989, lot 163, $165,000).
Malesherbes' copy contains several interesting contemporary marginal inscriptions in a clear hand, not that of Malesherbes. On page  the commentator observes that "Capetain [sic] Hutchings [Thomas Hutchins (1730-1789)] is now geographer general to the United State [sic] and the best Virginia map is made by him." On pp.156-159, where Jefferson expresses concern that new immigrants to the U.S. will import a tast for monarchism, the commentator disagrees: "there is nothing to fear, I think, for the constitution of the country..." And, on p., beneath a chart of Virginia's militia by counties, he comments that "the state of Virginia never had in the field at any one time during the war, more than 7000 militia except perhaps at the seige of Yorck [sic] where they may have had double that number." At page 238, in a section dealing with the judiciary, the commentator notes that "the marquis de la fayette commanded in Virginia at the time in which these notes were written." Finally, on page 304, at the beginning of Jefferson's chapter on the commerce of Virginia, he notes "these notes upon their production and commerce is [sic] perhaps, what makes them unwilling that this book should be public."
Malesherbes, a botanist and agronomist, member of the Académie Royal des Sciences was a strong supporter of the American revolutionary cause. His interest in North American botany brought him into correspondence with Marbois, Franklin, Jefferson and H. St. Jean de Crèvecoeur. He has been characterized "one of the most enlightened officials of the ancien régime," and an "influential spokesman for freedom of the press, religious toleration and tax reform" (Dictionary of Scientific Biography). But in the turmoils of 1792 he unwisely volunteered to serve as defense counsel to Louis XVI, a demonstration of allegiance that proved fatal as Malesherbes himself became a victim of the guillotine on 22 April 1794. Bernstein, Are We to be a Nation?, pp.133-136; Church 1189; Howes J-78; Sabin 35894 (citing the present presentation copy); Streeter Sale 3:1722.
Provenance: Chrétien-Guillame de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, with Jefferson's presentation inscription on front integral blank leaf; Ink inscription on front fly: "this book was purchased at Mr. Talma's sale and the Ms notes are asserted to be in the hand writing of that celebrated tragedian"; "E.C.H.," with note "bought...of Thorpe [London bookseller] in 1828"; Harry J. Sonneborn (sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 5 June 1980, lot 24).