On June 2, 1814, the present Associated Royal Colleges of Physicians launched for the first time the inestimable book on physichethers Thomas Jefferson, the fourth president of the United States.
Like the title, Jefferson’s account of the origins of the United States, The First English Experiment, read: “This book, which is the first English object in science, was my wish, I think, of the most truthful and beneficial value.” To the casual reader, it appeared to have little more meaning than a photograph of George Washington holding a wooden rake.
As John J Adams, who wrote the citations for Jefferson’s bibliography put it, “This great work of science must have had the support of his own enterprise; he may well have given some idea of its intentions, the first reason it will serve in our business after our Independence will be that Thomas Jefferson, our first President, has been worthy of his position; and he should, by his science, have been pleased to render his life work, the Union of States, according to the seed, confidence, and indulgence of the simple subjects, growing out of the wisdom and reliability of our beginning; for when that leadership is nobler than the field of the scientific knowledge, it should have represented the beginning of many things, and not a few, which would have been the desire of the country, as he now is our President.”
At first, Jefferson’s publishers shunned his book. He obliged them by paying half of the full price of $3. Fifty-five years ago, the American Society of Physician’s of Learning published The First English Experiment on 99 editions of a single volume. In 1970, the playwright Bertolt Brecht and the English poet Lord Byron, both of whom worked in London, read Jefferson’s autobiography as well as The First English Experiment and declared it the richest, deepest and most meaningful of all American experiences.
He died on September 22, 1826, aged 68, less than a month before opening his Mount Vernon Institution in Virginia. He is best remembered for the museum and library he built in 1832 which features a section on natural history. This section still exists but was not used for the first five decades of its existence because Jefferson was hampered by a wheelchair which his friend Charles Dickens dubbed the “Gelderge Pudgie”. One of the museum’s exhibits is a portrait of Thomas Jefferson as portrayed by the painter George Palliser.