Dumas Malone, 94, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, whose multi-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson won him the Pulitzer Prize and is regarded as a monument of American historical scholarship, died yesterday at his home in Charlottesville.
Dr. Malone was acclaimed for his graceful writing, professional craftsmanship and historical learning, and his epic work was regarded as a shining symbol of the value of individual scholarship.
His family said he died after a brief illness; the specific cause of death was not immediately known.
In 1943, at the university that Jefferson founded, Dr. Malone began work on the six-volume biography, which was published under the overall title, "Jefferson and His Time." In 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize in history for the first five volumes. At the time he was 83 and the oldest person to receive the award.
Publication on July 4, 1981, of the final volume brought the project to a widely hailed conclusion, marking Dr. Malone's triumphant persistence despite the infirmities of age and the failure of eyesight that left him nearly blind.
Despite these handicaps, Dr. Malone had pressed on, completing his task at the age of 89, after doggedly composing in longhand about 500 words a day.
"More than any biographer who comes to mind, Mr. Malone embodied in his own life and scholarship the very values of that eminent American about whom he wrote," said U-Va. President Robert M. O'Neil.
Each of the six volumes of the biography carried an individual subtitle. For the first it was "Jefferson the Virginian;" for the sixth it was "The Sage of Monticello." In Charlottesville and in other scholarly circles, Dr. Malone was sometimes admiringly identified as "The Sage of Thomas Jefferson."
Although he described Jefferson as "not the sort of man who gives himself away" and noted that the third president kept no diary and rarely referred to personal matters in letters, Dr. Malone said his subject was not inaccessible to research.
Among other things, he said, "I have had the privilege of reading the letters . . . . I think I know how his mind works pretty well, and, yes, I think I understand him pretty well."
Well enough so that Dr. Malone was often referred to as "Mr. Jefferson's Alter Ego."
And in response to the inevitable questions of interviewers, he supplied in a voice that seemed at once rich, soft and sonorous what he believed Jefferson's reactions would be to the recent state of the nation he helped found.
"He would be appalled by the bigness of things," Dr. Malone said in a 1981 interview. "He would not like the way the dollar has become the measure of all things . . . .
"He would naturally advocate the decentralization of government. But he would argue against the ushering in of a new era of intolerance, and he would tell President Reagan not to throw out the baby with the bath."
A native of Coldwater, Miss., Dr. Malone was the grandson of a Confederate army veteran and the son of a clergyman father and a pioneering suffragist mother. Boyhood admiration for Robert E. Lee was credited with arousing in him an early interest in history.
Dr. Malone grew up in Georgia and received a bachelor's degree in 1910 from Emory College, now Emory University, in Atlanta. After studying theology at Yale University, he served in the Marines during World War I, becoming a second lieutenant, an achievement he recalled with pride years afterward.
Military service turned him from his desire to follow in the career footsteps of his father. "Being a professional good man somehow didn't appeal to me," he said. He returned to Yale to study history, earning his doctoral degree in 1923.
That year he began his first period of teaching at U-Va., where he ultimately became Thomas Jefferson Foundation professor of history, from 1959 to 1962, when he was named biographer in residence. He also taught at Yale and at Columbia University from 1945 to 1954.
He interrupted his U-Va. teaching career in 1929 to become editor of "The Dictionary of American Biography," a multivolume reference work. He was editor in chief of the Harvard University Press from 1936 to 1942.
The next year brought him back to Charlottesville to begin work on the Jefferson biography on a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
In 1957, in the midst of a period now often cited for social and political conformity, Dr. Malone suggested some of the fascination Jefferson held for his political heirs. At a time when his massive, sometimes interrupted project was in midpassage, Dr. Malone told a group in Alexandria that "Jefferson was the greatest embodiment of the free individual in our history."
"All the forces of our time -- bigger and bigger business, labor, government, wars and the threat of wars -- have been to the disadvantage of individual freedom.
"Consequently," he said, "we turn back to Jefferson as a symbol."
Dr. Malone's work was described as representing the traditional school of biography, detailed and balanced in approach. He was steeped, through his reading and later through what was read to him by an assistant, in all the available material about his subject, his times and his thinking.
He said it was a "great mistake to think you can go back to Jefferson for policy. You can't do it . . . . You know the man never even saw a train . . . . "
But he maintained that Jefferson could be relied on for principle, for affirmation of a belief in the people. "If the people aren't sovereign, who is?" Dr. Malone asked. "Jefferson never doubted it."
The first volume of the biography, published in 1948, covers the 41 years from Jefferson's birth to the end of the American Revolution. The second, "Jefferson and the Rights of Man," was published in 1951 and includes Jefferson's service in George Washington's first cabinet. "Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty," the third volume, appeared in 1962. Volume four, "Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805," was published in 1970 and was followed five years later by volume five, "Jefferson the President: Second Term."
The final volume describes the last 17 years of Jefferson's life, ending with his death on July 4, 1826.
Among the awards Dr. Malone received was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civlian honor.
Survivors include his wife, Elisabeth Gifford Malone of Charlottesville; a son, Gifford, of McLean; a daughter, Pamela, of Charlottesville, and a granddaughter.