#1267 Fiction or Non

I had a canine appetite for reading.
— Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson

This week, President Jefferson shares his views on reading fiction versus non-fiction and recommends works of fiction from his time.

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On this episode, Jefferson recommends five books: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.

Quoted on this Episode

Emphases added.

From Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Monticello May 17. 18:

my repugnance to the writing table becomes daily & hourly more deadly & insurmountable. in place of this has come on a canine appetite for reading. and I indulge it: because I see in it a relief against the taedium senectutis; a lamp to lighten my path thro’ the dreary wilderness of time before me, whose bourne I see not. losing daily all interest in the things around us, something else is necessary to fill the void. with me it is reading, which occupies the mind without the labor of producing ideas from my own stock.

From Thomas Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, with a List of Books for a Private Library, 3 August 1771:

every thing is useful which contributes to fix us in the principles and practice of virtue. When any signal act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with it’s beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with it’s deformity and conceive an abhorrence of vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions; and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise. [...] Thus a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics and divinity that ever were written. This is my idea of well-written Romance, of Tragedy, Comedy, and Epic Poetry.

From "Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, as Dictated to Charles Campbell by Isaac" (1847):

Old Master had abundance of books; sometimes would have twenty of 'em down on the floor at once-read fust one, then tother. Isaac has often wondered how Old Master came to have such a mighty head; read so many of them books; and when they go to him to ax him anything, he go right straight to the book and tell you all about it.

From Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell Monticello, March 14, 1818:

A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. This mass of trash, however, is not without some distinction; some few modelling their narratives, although fictitious, on the incidents of real life, have been able to make them interesting and useful vehicles of sound morality.

Further Reading

What Would Jefferson Do?

WWTJD_1267 Federal Agencies.jpg
I’m a little concerned to think that this, our happy republic, has a federal bureau of police.
— Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson

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