JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th. Jefferson") to Gen. J. H. Cocke, 20 May 1826. 2 pages, 4to, inlaid to repair chips along edges, catching portions of a few words, a docket written across portion of the text on recto.
AN ANGRY JEFFERSON WONDERS IF THE WORKMEN AT HIS UNIVERSITY WANT "TO MAKE THE JOB LAST FOR LIFE"
Just 45 days before his death, Jefferson vents his frustration about slow and shoddy work on his beloved University. "I am extremely dissatisfied," he tells Cocke, a member of the Board of Visitors, "with the train in which our works at the University are going on, and were it not for my great confidence in the integrity of those we employ, I should be unable to resist the suspicion of a willingness in them to make the job last for life. I am at present suffering under a relapse so serious as to put it out of my power to go there as frequently as is requisite. I will subjoin some notes of things of strong urgency, and submit to your own consideration whether they are not sufficiently so to call for our joint efforts and consultation as soon as your own affairs will permit your coming to us. Altho always injured by the ride there I should be able to accompany you & endeavor to supply a spur to those needing it."
He then offers six lengthy notes on problems: "Dome [of the library Rotunda] leaks so that not a book can be trusted in it until remedied. This is from the ignorance of the workmen employed." He suggests a new contractor, "whose competence...we know." Next, the water pipes were improperly laid, so the pipe borer, Mr. Ziegler, was being sent "to the North to learn the art of boring now in practice there." Wouldn't it be simpler, Jefferson asks, to just hire a trained borer from the North? Then the lamps had to be changed. The faculty wanted gas instead of oil lamps "on account of economy and brilliancy." But there was some good news: Congress "have remitted the duties on our marbles" and "we are now to take measures as to the clock." Finally, Jefferson reports that he and Professor J. P. Emmet had decided on a site for the Botanical Garden and "this work should be begun immediately."
"But a stimulus must be applied," Jefferson says, "and very earnestly applied, or consultations and orders are nugatory...Your books are in a dangerous state. They cannot be opened...till the Dome room is rendered dry." These were only some of the difficulties in the school's second year. Enrollment was down. The few professors on hand grumbled about their teaching loads (Dr. Emmet balked loudly at having to teach botany--and didn't). Disorderly students--a few "vicious and worthless scape-graces" Jefferson called them--raised hell on and off campus. Yet Jefferson's determination and optimism never flagged. He made his shake-up visit with Cocke in early June, and surveyed the ongoing work from a chair supplied by a student. That would be his last visit to the University of Virginia.