The grieving optimist- Jefferson lost nearly everyone dear to him…. so he could relate grief to his dear friend, John Adams upon hearing of the death of Abigail. Relating grief is not the same as understanding it, however…..
“Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine….although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again.”
” I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of Grief could be intended.”
Even the eternal optimist within… Thomas Jefferson was dragged down to earth by loss. Behind the iconic image was a man who loved deeply and lost nearly everyone dear to him. Despite the pain, Jefferson remained optimistic, immersing himself in books and his correspondence. He told his friend John Adams;
“You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea. I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence, and more pleasure than pain dealt out to us.”
Tugging at his enlightened nature… was the depression that followed the loss of his loved ones. Jefferson pondered the concept of grief to Adams;
“I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of Grief could be intended. All our other passions, within proper bounds, have a useful object.”
Jefferson outlived his wife and all but one… of their children. The thought of living out his days alone terrified him;
“This morning between 8 & 9. a clock my dear daughter Maria Eppes died…. My evening prospects now hang on the slender thread of a single life. Perhaps I may be destined to see even this last chord of parental affection broken!”
Sadness and reflections….
Thomas Jefferson celebrated Christmas… but not with stockings and Christmas trees- modern incarnations of the season didn’t take hold in America until after the Civil War. Jefferson’s Christmas was a time for family, friends, and as he described it, “merriment.” Family was all important to the Sage of Monticello, and he described the day” “the day of greatest mirth and jollity.”
Christmas in Albemarle
He received the greatest joy from watching his grandchildren… opening gifts and playing games in Monticello. Describing the scene to a friend, Jefferson observed his youngest grandson; “He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out ‘a merry christmas’ ‘(this is) a christmas gift” His music library included many Christmas standards including the family favorite, Adeste Fideles.
Mincemeat for the season
Good friends, good food, and good conversation… marked the holiday season at Monticello. Plenty of wine was on hand to compliment Jefferson’s holiday favorite, mince pie. Mince at Monticello consisted of apples, raisins, beef suet(fat), and spices.
3-4 glasses at dinner
Jefferson’s love of wine is well documented… but his first journey to France in 1784 permanently changed his tastes. British trade policies before the Revolution limited colonial access to French wines. Jefferson and the other Founders largely drank the stronger, heavier wines from Portugal, like Madeira. Jefferson definitely sought something easier to drink:
“The taste of this country was artificially created by our long restraint under the English government to the strong wines of Portugal and Spain.”
Most superlatively good.
The lighter more flavorful wines of France appealed to his evolving palate… Jefferson’s favorites were reds from the Hermitage region of the Rhone Valley. He described it as “the first wine in the world without a single exception.” World conflicts continued to affect his wine supplies and this was made known to the merchants stocking Monticello’s wine cellar:
“Disappointments in procuring supplies have at length left me without a drop of wine. I must therefore request you to send me a quarter cask of the best you have. Termo is what I would prefer; and next to that good port. besides the exorbitance of price to which Madeira has got, it is a wine which I do not drink, being entirely too powerful. wine from long habit has become an indispensable for my health, which is now suffering by it’s disuse.”
Weaning his people
Jefferson wanted nothing more than to change his countrymen’s taste in wine… He had lost his taste for port and fortified wine- blended French wines were his passion and he was willing to use his political influence to convince people he was right:
” I have labored long and hard to procure the reduction of duties on the lighter wines, which is now effected to a certain degree. I have labored hard also in persuading others to use those wines. habit yields with difficulty. perhaps the late diminution of duties may have a good effect.”
Jefferson struggled with his love for Maria Cosway…. going as far as to illustrate his emotional agony to her in a letter- the letter detailed the tug-of-war between Jefferson’s head and his aching heart. Jefferson was perfectly content to remain within his head, buried in his books and letters. But, as seen in the previous post, Jefferson was a man who cared and loved deeply. Maria Cosway was a special woman, he knew he would never find another like her:
Head: In fine, my friend, you must mend your manners. This is not a world to live at random in as you do. To avoid these eternal distresses, to which you are for ever exposing us, you must learn to look forward before you take a step which may interest our peace. Everything in this world is matter of calculation. Advance then with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates…The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves, and to suffice for our own happiness. Those, which depend on ourselves, are the only pleasures a wise man will count on: for nothing is ours which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures.
Heart: This world abounds indeed with misery: to lighten it’s burthen we must divide it with one another. But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, and as you have put into one scale the burthens of friendship, let me put it’s comforts into the other….In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want and accident, yours is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, and to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody.
The recent announcement by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of the restoration of Sally Hemings’ “room”… was based on the opinions of several historians and archaeology supposedly completed through a $35 million grant. The Foundation promises that the newly renovated room will show “Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t” — A recent visit to Monticello revealed a gutted room and some renovation, but little evidence of actual archaeology. ** see image below
The historical record provides no evidence of this room being used by any person, let alone, Sally Hemings…. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation continues to rely on speculation and a disingenuous brand of conjecture disguised as authoritative narrative. If major archaeological discoveries were made, why weren’t they included in the media release? The alleged affair between Jefferson and Hemings is good for business; it sells tickets, books, and research proposals to impressionable philanthropists and unwitting spectators. It diminishes the impact of the Founder who gave this country its creed.
30 miles to the Northeast at James Madison’s Montpelier… archaeologists are meticulously plotting search grids and unearthing artifacts. Since 1999, archaeology has been a centerpiece of understanding Madison’s life at Montpelier. The excavations are providing insight into the original layout and functionality of the plantation, as well as the daily existence of Madison’s slaves. The historians and archaeologists are working with the historical and archaeological records to provide visitors a more complete picture of daily life at Montpelier. Research done at Madison’s home is academically and professionally sound. There is no predetermined narrative being propagated for the sake of political correctness or financial gain.
Friendship was not just a social convention to Jefferson… but he considered it essential to the human condition- a bedrock of civil society. Acquaintances come and go, but true friends grow, mature, and age with you. Jefferson realized that later in life, friendships would be therapeutic.
Oh really…..do tell.
“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.”