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DESCARTES LETTER RETURNED


PARIS – A letter penned by one of history’s greatest thinkers was finally recovered!

A rare four-page letter written in 1641 by the French philosopher Rene Descartes and stolen in the 19th century was given back on Tuesday to the Institut de France. The letter was found in the library of Haverford College, which decided to return it. It puts an end to a detective tale which featured a Google search and a thieving Italian count.

“I am, of course, a bit amazed at what a simple search at home from your home computer late at night can bring about,” Erik-Jan Bos, a Dutch Descartes scholar who found the letter through the web, said before a handover ceremony.

The letter written by Descartes went missing more than 150 years ago, one of a vast collection of documents stolen by Italian count, Guglielmo Libri. The count, a math professor in France was also in charge of inspecting archived papers, is believed to have stolen thousands of letters and documents, selling them to collectors and booksellers.

In a formal ceremony in the Institute’s timbered library, Chancellor Gabriel de Broglie thanked Haverford’s president Stephen Emerson for the “integrity and honesty” of his gesture, which will bring to 17 the number of Descartes letters held by the Institute.

“Your university will eradicate the bad memories that Libri left in our institution,” Mr de Broglie said at the ceremony.

The letter was important no only because it was from Descartes, writing to his friend Marin Mersenne, who was acting as an editor for him as well, but also because it contained significant substance. In the letter, the author of the famous statement “I think, therefore I am” discusses his soon to be published “Meditations on First Philosophy,” writing of potential changes, among other things.

The Institute awarded Haverford $17,900 for its gesture, which Mr. Emerson said will go to purchase new historical documents and set up a fund to finance future studies in France by Haverford students and faculty.