The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Natural History, Anatomy, Chemistry, Botany, will become amusements for your hours of relaxation, and auxiliaries to your principal studies. Precious and delightful ones they will be. As soon as such a foundation is laid in them, as you may build on as you please, hereafter, I suppose you will proceed to your train objects, Politics, Law, Rhetoric, and History. As to these, the place where you study them is absolutely indifferent. I should except Rhetoric, a very essential member of them, and which I suppose must be taught to advantage where you are. You would do well, therefore, to attend the public exercises in this branch also, and to do it with very particular diligence. This being done, the question arises, where you shall fix yourself for studying Politics, Law, and History? I should not hesitate to decide in favor of France, because you will, at the same time, be learning to speak the language of that country, become absolutely essential under our present circumstances.

The best method of doing this, would be to fix yourself in some family where there are women and children... The principal hours of the day, you will attend to your studies, and in those of relaxation, associate with the family. You will learn to speak better from women and children in three months, than from men in a year. Such a situation, too, will render more easy a due attention to economy of time and money. …I have proposed to you, to carry on the study of the law with that of politics and history. Every political measure will, forever, have an intimate connection with the laws of the land; and he, who knows nothing of these, will always be perplexed, and often foiled by adversaries having the advantage of that knowledge over him. Besides, it is a source of infinite comfort to reflect, that under every chance of fortune, we have a resource in ourselves from which we may be able to derive an honorable subsistence. I would, therefore, propose not only the study, but the practice of the law for some time, to possess yourself of the habit of public speaking.

With respect to modern languages, French, as I have before observed, is indispensable. Next to this, the Spanish is most important to an American. Our connection with Spain is already important, and will become daily more so. Besides this, the ancient part of American history is written chiefly in Spanish.

to T.M. Randolph, Jr., 6 July 1787