Haverford Will Return Stolen Descartes Letter

A French library director had taken and sold the letter, among other things, in the 1800s.

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What started as an awesome discovery at a Haverford College library turned into quite a story.

A Haverford librarian came across a four-page letter scribed by French philosopher Descartes in a library catalog last fall. The letter was included in a 12,000-piece donation to Haverford in 1902 by the widow of Haverford alum Charles Roberts, the Associated Press reports. The only problem was that the letter was stolen by a French library director in the 1800s. The library director was eventually charged in absentia with thievery. Haverford officials tell the AP that they don't believe Roberts knew where the letter came from or how it was acquired before he purchased it.

The letter was a correspondence to a French priest, whom Descartes told that he was struggling with his now-famous book, Meditations on First Philosophy. A Haverford librarian actually posted the stumbled-upon letter online before realizing that it was stolen.

"We're not in the business of keeping stolen property," Haverford President Stephen Emerson tells the AP.

The letter was returned to Institut de France, whose chancellor offered Haverford $19,000 as a reward. Emerson will accept the reward at a ceremony in Paris next week, the AP says. Emerson says the money will be put toward French studies.

"The gesture honors you and exemplifies the depth of moral values that you instill in your students," Institut de France Chancellor Gabriel de Broglie wrote to Haverford.

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