Descartes letter found by web surfer heads home to France

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Letter stolen by notorious 19th-century book thief Guglielmo Libri had been gathering dust in a US college library.

The name Guglielmo Libri will mean little to anyone outside the inner circles of academia. But a mere mention of the 19th-century Tuscan noble and polymath to European scholars still has the power to provoke hand-wringing and despair.

Count Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja was more than a respected scientist and a decorated professor of mathematics. He was also – and more notoriously – a book thief, guilty of intellectual larceny on an international scale.

In the mid-1800s, Libri pilfered tens of thousands of precious manuscripts, tomes and documents from Italian and French libraries, including 72 letters written by the great French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes.

Now, in an emotional ceremony, one of the letters has been handed back to France after collecting dust in a library at a small American college since 1902....

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