In Episode 53. Professor Burstein talks about the timeless way of writing that Jefferson had as one of his many gifts. After all, he did write the Declaration of Independence.
While Jefferson was serving as the US Minister to France, it is speculated that he fell in love for the last time with an unavailable Maria Cosway. She was an intelligent, beautiful & spirited Anglo-Italian artist & musician. She was versed in many languages (and unhappily married). The two met close to the French Revolution and enjoyed a wonderful month together, exploring the countryside by carriage and entertaining at each others homes. They spent many hours enjoying each other’s company visiting art exhibits and developing a romantic relationship that was soon to end by her leaving for England.
The following is an excerpt Professor Burstein quoted from Jefferson’s Head/Heart letter to Maria in 1786 when they parted for the last time:
“Let the gloomy monk sequestered from the world, seek unsocial pleasures in the bottom of his cell. Let the sublimated philosopher grasp visionary happiness while pursuing phantoms dressed in the garb of truth. Their supreme wisdom is supreme folly & they mistake for happiness the mere absence of pain. Had they ever felt the solid pleasure of one generous spasm of the heart, they would exchange for it all the frigid speculations of their lives.” Now that is moving, isn’t it?
Text of the letter is online: HERE
A portrait miniature of the beautiful Maria Cosway by her husband Richard
My opinion of Thomas Jefferson is that he is one of the most important if not THE most important Founding Father. A sophisticated and highly intelligent man, who was soft spoken and very sensitive. At six years old he was pouring over his father’s books, already studying Greek & Latin and he soon learned how to play the violin. Prodigy comes to mind. In his adult life, he lost almost all that mattered to him, yet he remained an optimist and believed in the future. He answered Adam’s letter that he would indeed live his 73 years over again from the cradle and thought life gave more good then bad. This is after he lost his wife (early on) and all of his children except Patsy (Martha). Thank goodness he had Patsy by his side to the end. Speaking of the end, he died the same day as John Adams, July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day that his Declaration of Independence was signed, what an uncanny event.
I am not saying Jefferson was perfect, the slavery issue will always follow him. He was born into a world where it was the norm, but he knew it was wrong and that all men are created equal. He had some failed attempts to pass emancipation related bills that were heavily defeated. He thought it was important to keep his legacy in the founding of our American Republic and let the next generation deal with the issue. There is no easy answer as to why he did not free his own slaves as other did. Perhaps part of his rational was his comfortable life and what would change if he did. Another issue was that he died in a large amount of debt, $100,000 or so. That translates to $2,240,000 GPI today. It was a sad situation in January 1827 when the personal property was sold in a five day auction. It was especially sad as the slaves were sold as well. A newspaper clipping auction ad. here. So though the man had his flaws not to be forgotten. His overall legacy is that he changed our world and help create our independent nation.
People from our past like Thomas Jefferson & Abraham Lincoln gave of themselves to make our world a better place. Since Abraham Lincoln is another favorite, I hope to bring a Lincoln historian to our podcast within the year. I was lucky enough in my career to handle and hold in my hands, the second to last letter Lincoln ever wrote. It was just a note he wrote on his knee in the White House stairway on the evening of April 14, 1865, just before he left for Ford’s Theater. It is a moving experience for me to hold something that the great man held in his hands and wrote. I feel that way when I hold and read letters by Thomas Jefferson and others as well.
My friend auctioneer John McInnis in Massachusetts had a six page George Washington letter in an auction a few years ago. Washington’s hand writing is not as easy to read as Jefferson’s. It took a good deal of time to transcribe, but what I found was: I had to use the dictionary several times as there were words I had never seen before. Secondly, in six pages of writing, there was not a single misspelling.
I had handled a major auction back in 1989 of one of the Signers of The Declaration, Josiah Bartlett. I am going to do a podcast on that in 2011. For now, and old press release is HERE. A video clip on that auction is HERE.
I want to end by posing a question for your pondering. What do you think our world would be like if Thomas Jefferson was never born?
I want to thank our guests sincerely, Professor Andrew Burstein and Monticello Curator Susan Stein for taking time out of their busy schedules to share with us. If you have not listened to the Jefferson podcasts yet, they are Episodes: 53, 55 & 58. They are all cross linked together as well.
CDs are always available for any of our podcasts at $3.00 each with free shipping in Continental US.
I hope you enjoy our podcasts on history as much as I do making them.