|Courtesy of Haverford College.
You can find just about anything on Google - recipes, song lyrics, movies, or an invaluable stolen letter from a 16th Century French philosopher.
A 1641 letter penned by Rene Descartes was part of a lengthy exchange between the philosopher and his friend Marin Mersenne about Descartes’ influential work, Meditations on Metaphysics, which was published later that
That correspondence was once housed at the Institut de France in Paris, but was stolen in the early 1800s by the Italian mathematician Count Guglielmo Libri.
Libri fled to England and sold the letters to numerous collectors and booksellers, one of whom happened to be Charles Roberts, a document collector who attended Haverford College in Philadelphia, class of 1864.
Roberts bequeathed his extensive collection to Haverford when he died more than 100 years ago, but the private liberal arts college had no idea it had a stolen letter in its possession.
It remained tucked away in a library until this February, when a student found it in a Google search while researching a paper for a junior-level history course.
Various experts examined the discovery and determined it to be genuine.
Haverford president Steve Emerson opted to return it to the Institute de France - for a cash reward of 15,000 Euros ($19,000CAN).
“Haverford values social responsibility and commitment to community as much as we value rigorous academics,” said Emerson in a statement.
“While we’ve certainly benefited from having the Descartes letter in our collection ... there was really only one possible course of action: do the right thing, and offer to return the letter. We certainly hope someone else would do the same for us if the shoe were on the other foot.”
The document is being returned at a formal repatriation ceremony in Paris Tuesday, with a representative from Google France in attendance.
“Search isn't a solved problem, but it certainly helps solve
problems - whether you’re looking for something as simple as the library hours of a small liberal arts school outside Philadelphia or trying to uncover a long-lost letter in the archives. Makes me wonder what mystery might be uncovered next,” John Saroff, a Haverford graduate and the manager of
strategic partnership development for Google TV Ads, said in a statement.