Key Letter by Descartes, Lost for 170 Years, Turns Up at Haverford

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A long-lost letter by René Descartes has come to light at Haverford College, where it had lain buried in the archives for more than a century, and the discovery could revolutionize our view of one of the 17th-century French philosopher's major works.

The find, made last month by a Dutch researcher, Erik-Jan Bos of Utrecht University, prompted Mr. Bos to quote another great thinker.

"Eureka," he said he yelled on opening a digital image of the letter that Haverford had scanned from its special collections and e-mailed to him. At the time, nobody knew how important the letter was. In fact, few knew of its existence.

But for Haverford, the discovery was a two-edged sword. The letter, Mr. Bos said, was stolen property.

The president of the Pennsylvania college, Stephen G. Emerson, said this week that when he found out the letter had been stolen—from Paris's Institut de France about 170 years ago—he knew it must be returned. So in June, Mr. Emerson will fly to France with the letter in his carry-on bag, and give it back....

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