Secure in his widowerhood and faithful to the memory of Martha Wayles, not two years dead, Thomas Jefferson had set sail for France in the summer of 1784 as Minister Plenipotentiary to the court of Louis XVI. It may have been that this crossing of the sea was something of a flight from memories, for Jefferson’s love for his young wife and his mourning for her are traditional. His devotion had led him to risk the ruin of his career by absenting himself from the Virginia legislature in the spring of 1782, during the last months of her battle for life, thus giving unwarranted color to the charges against his conduct as Governor.
Martha Jefferson had died on the sixth of September, despite her husband’s tender nursing. “I lost the cherished companion of my life,” he wrote in his Memoir, “in whose affections, unabated on both sides, I had lived the last ten years of my life in unchequered happiness.” Stunned by grief Jefferson had withdrawn from public life and during the year following his wife’s death we find but two letters from his hand. Even the entries in his farm and garden books, as well as the pocket account book, those candid tattlers of his every act, fall off and no further record of the activities at Monticello was kept until after Jefferson’s return from France.
Upon his arrival in Paris, two years later, Jefferson completely revised his mode of life, and the man who has so unjustly and frequently been pictured a shy and lanky countryman from the Blue Ridge of Virginia promptly took his place in the sophisticated society of the gay French capital. Before long Jefferson was one of the most courted men in Paris and a list of his intimates reads like a page from the Almanach Royal.
In contrast to some of his distinguished compatriots, Jefferson did not seek to establish a record as a philanderer. He was human enough to write a young friend: “A young man, indeed, may do without marriage in a great city. In the beginning it is pleasant enough, but take what course he will, whether that of a rambling or a fixed attachment, he will become miserable as he advances in years,” yet, for his own part, he remained insensible to what he described as “the voluptuary dress and arts of the European women.” He descended from the lonely citadel of his constancy on only one occasion and then with a restraint quite foreign to the tempo of the time.
Among the assemblage of dukes and duchesses, counts and marquises, who formed the body of Jefferson’s Paris friends, was an untitled Italian woman of unusual charm and beauty of spirit, Maria Cosway, the wife of an English painter and herself an artist of no mean accomplishments. It was to her that Jefferson addressed his famous Dialogue of the Head and Heart, and it is this dialogue that, unravelled in connection with some unpublished letters, for the first time tells the story of Jefferson’s ascetic love affair. It encompassed but a few months, passing like a whirlwind through his life, and leaving him more than ever devoted to an ideal love from which he was never to swerve.
The dozen or more of impatient, faded letters in Maria Cosway’s not too disciplined hand, neatly addressed “A Monsieur Jefferson, Ministre des Etats Unis de VAmeri-que” are a testimony of a devout attachment on her part, which led her ultimately to renounce the world and seek the comforts of religion.
Jefferson met Maria Cosway during the summer of 1786, after his return from England. Their acquaintance must have progressed rapidly for it is in early September that we find them exploring the environs of Paris together and Jefferson gaily addressing his Lleart, as he recalls one of these excursions: “You particularly had the effrontery to send word to the Duchess d’Anville that, on the very moment we were setting out to dine with her, despatches came to hand which required immediate attention. You wanted me to invent a more ingenious excuse; but I knew you were getting into a scrape and would have nothing to do with it. Well, after dinner to St. Cloud, from St. Cloud to Rug-gieri’s, from Ruggieri’s to Krumfoltz; and if the day had been as long as a Lapland summer day, you would still have contrived means among you to have filled it.”
Maria Cosway was with Jefferson on that fatal fourth of September when he fell and broke his wrist, an injury which remained an affliction for the rest of his life. Undaunted by suffering, Jefferson the following day accompanied his sprightly friend to St. Germain. As usual the pocket diary gives its ingenuous account of the occasion. In Jefferson’s trembling left hand are carefully noted the expenses for the pleasures of the day: “pd. seeing the King’s library, 3 f. Madrid 6 f, pd. seeing machine of Marly, 6 f. the Chateau 6 f.” And again “pd. Petit towards dinner at Marly 12 f., pd. at Concert Spirituel 6 f., pd. seeing Gardes Meubles 12 f.”
The Dialogue of the Head and Heart, which celebrates this holiday, gives a more fervid account: “Oh, my dear friend, how you have revived me by recalling to my mind the transactions of that day! How well I remember them all, and that when I came home at night, and looked back to the morning, it seemed to have been a month agone. Go on, then, like a kind comforter, and paint to me the day we went to St. Germains. How beautiful was every object! the Port de Reuilly, the hills along the Seine, the rainbows of the machine of Marly, the terrace of St. Germains, the chateaux, the gardens, the statues of Marly, the pavilion of Lucienne. Recollect, too Madrid, Bagatelle, the King’s garden, the Dessert. How grand the idea excited by the remains of such a column. The spiral staircase, too, was beautiful. Every moment was filled with something agreeable. The wheels of time moved on with a rapidity, of which those in our carriage gave but a faint idea. And yet, in the evening, when one took a retrospect of the day, what a mass of happiness we had travelled over!”
Jefferson was conscious that his love affair was to be short-lived and fragile, yet it was with no especial bitterness that he wrote: “Deeply practiced in the school of affliction, the human heart knows no joy which I have not lost, no sorrow which I have not drunk.” On the twelfth of October, 1786, Maria Cosway set out for London with her husband. She was reluctant to leave Paris, yet there was no choice, as she wrote a friend: “We shall go, I believe, this morning. Nothing seems ready, but Mr. Cosway seems more disposed than I have seen him all this time.”
Late that afternoon Jefferson paid a farewell visit to his friends, and, once more alone and at home, he sat down to voice his swan song, as it were, to Maria Cosway and romance.
Having performed the last sad office of handing you into your carriage, at the pavilion de St. Denis, and seen the wheels get actually into motion, I turned on my heel and walked, more dead than alive, to the opposite door, where my own was awaiting me. Mr. Danquerville was missing. He was sought for, found, and dragged downstairs. We were crammed into the carriage, like recruits for the Bastille, and not having soul enough to give orders to the coachman, he presumed Paris our destination, and drove off . . . I was carried home. Seated by my fireside, solitary and sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head and my Heart:
Head, Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.
Heart. I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel, or to fear.
Head. These are the eternal consequences of your warmth and precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us. You confess your follies, indeed; but still you hug and cherish them; and no reformation can be hoped where there is no repentance.
Heart. Oh, my friend! this is no moment to upbraid my foibles. I am rent into fragments by the force of my grief. . . .
Head. Thou art the most incorrigible of all the beings that ever sinned! I reminded you of the follies of the first day, intending to deduce from thence some useful lessons for you; but instead of listening to them, you kindle at the recollection, you retrace the whole series with a fondness, which shows you want nothing, but the opportunity, to act it over again. I often told you during its course that you were imprudently engaging your affections under circumstances that must have cost you a great deal of pain; that the persons, indeed, were of the greatest merit, possessing good sense, good humor, honest hearts, honest manners, and eminence in a lovely art; that the lady had, moreover, qualities and accomplishments belonging to her sex, which might form a chapter apart for her; such as music, modesty, beauty, and that softness of disposition, which is the ornament of her sex and the charm of ours; but that all these considerations would increase the pang of separation; that their stay here was to be short; that you rack our whole system when you are parted from those you love, complaining that such a separation is worse than death, inasmuch as this ends our sufferings, whereas that only begins them; and that the separation would, in this instance, be the more severe, as you would probably never see them again.
Heart. But they told me they would come back again, the next year.
Head. But, in the meantime, see what you suffer; and their return, too, depends on so many circumstances, that if you had a grain of prudence, you would not count upon it. Upon the whole, it is improbable, and therefore you should abandon the idea of ever seeing them again.
Heart. May Heaven abandon me if I do!
Head. Very well. Suppose, then, they come back. They are to stay two months, and, when these are expired, what is to follow? Perhaps you flatter yourself they may come to America?
Heart. God only knows what is to happen. I see nothing impossible in that supposition; and I see things wonderfully contrived sometimes to make us happy. . . .
With a sigh and an apology for having permitted his head and his heart to argue for the length of twelve pages, Jefferson concluded his letter with: “But that you may not be discouraged from a correspondence which begins so formidably, I will promise you, on my honor, that my future letters shall be of a reasonable length. I will even agree to express but half my esteem for you, for fear of cloying you with too full a dose. But, on your part, no curtailing. If your letters are as long as the Bible, they, will appear short to me. Only let them be brimful of affection. I shall read them with the dispositions with which Arlequin, in Les deux billets, spelt the words ’je t’aime’ and wished that the whole alphabet had entered into their composition.”
Jefferson enclosed this in a note written in the cold light of the next day:
Just as I had sealed the enclosed, I received a letter of good length, dated Antwerp, with your name at the bottom. I prepared myself for a feast. I read two or three sentences; looked again at the signature to see if I had not mistaken it. It was visibly yours. Read a sentence or two more. Diable! Spelt your name distinctly. There was not a letter of it omitted. Began to read again. In fine, after reading a little and examining the signature, alternately, half a dozen times, I found that your name was to four lines only, instead of four pages. I thank you for the four lines, however, because they prove you think of me; little, indeed, but better little than none. To show how much I think of you, I send you the enclosed letter of three sheets of paper, being a history of the evening I parted with you. But how expect you to read a letter of three mortal sheets of paper? I will tell you. Divide it into six doses of half a sheet each, and every day, when the toilette begins, take a dose, that is to say, read half a sheet. By this means, it will have the only merit its length and dullness can aspire to, that of assisting your coiffeuse to procure you six good naps of sleep . . . My right hand presents its devoirs to you, and sees, with great indignation, the left supplanting it in a correspondence so much valued. You will know the first moment it can resume its rights, the first exercise of them shall be addressed to you, as you had the first essay of its rival. . .
The yellowed and crumbling pages of Maria Cosway’s reply to Jefferson’s avowal and renunciation, for in its conclusion it is nothing less, have remained neglected and unpublished for nearly a century and a half. After a few impetuous English sentences, which cannot be entirely reconstructed, as part of the letter has been obliterated by the years, she lapses into her native Italian. Aware of the uncertainties of the eighteenth century post and of a possible battery of secretaries, she expresses herself, after the initial gasps, with a restraint that rivals Jefferson’s own:
. . . Your letter could employ me for some time, an hour to consider every word. To every sentence I could write a volume, but I wish that my selfishness was not reproaching me, for with difficulty do I find a line but, after having admired it, I recollect some part concerns me. Why do you say so many, kind things? Why present so many opportunities for my feeling undeserving of them? Why not leave me a free consolation in admiring a friend?. . .
But, foolish thing! Why write so much English when I could write my own language and make myself a little less confused. I did not know what I was doing; I shall have to rewrite it. But no! You would wish me to send the first sheet, the first lines I wrote on my arrival in London, let the consequences be what they may. Oh, Heavens! If my letters were worthy of yours, how perfect they would be. I can only express my gratitude for your friendship.
Forgive me if your commands were not obeyed in regard to the time prescribed for reading your letter. It was one of my first pleasures to find it and I could not resist the desire to read it immediately, even at the cost of committing an act of disobedience. Forgive me, the fault merits it.
Our trip was pleasant, my health perfectly restored. The weather, except those days before our departure from Paris, was pleasant, the company of Mr. Trumbull delightful.
But London! Between the clouds and the smoke, the sadness in every heart, if we may judge from the physiognomy of those we meet, it means that we must return as soon as possible to my country, so as not to fall prey to the melancholy which this ungrateful climate inspires. In the company of pleasant friends, practicing the fine arts, one can hope to escape sadness, even if something is lacking to perfect happiness.
All is tranquil, quiet and sad here. There are no bells which ring to announce some festival or holiday. Neither do they toll a De profundis, carrying with them the hope that some poor soul, gone to a better life, enjoys that holy peace which the world never fully accords. Here in the night is heard a voice every hour which tells that it is past; it recalls that the hour will not return. Here are no monasteries with monks who pray for us every hour—and he for whom they do not pray is lost.
In the long winter evenings when you have an unoccupied moment, sacrifice it to me, to give me news of you. I long to receive a letter from your right hand. It must be very inconvenient to write with the left. This sacrifice will be received with great gratitude by one who put her faith in the promises made out of goodness of heart, instead of hope of reward.
My husband makes you a thousand compliments and prays you to present ours to Mr. Short and to Mr. D’an-charville when you see him. I shall never forget your kindness and attention to us. Sometime we shall talk of the tour for next year, whether in Paris or in Italy. Many things could prevent me from carrying it out, but many more impossible things have come true.
Accept my best wishes for your health and happiness, and believe me your deeply indebted and most affectionate friend,
A long silence followed this interchange of letters, a silence that ended, as had the famous Dialogue, in a victory for Jefferson’s head. Maria Cosway was the first to break this silence, two months later, with an impetuous lament, reviving memories of the happy Paris days and recalling to her correspondent much of her naive and wistful charm.
My dear friend:
You promised to come to breakfast with me the morning of my departure, and to accompany me part of the way. Did you go? I left Paris with much regret, indeed, I could not bear to take leave any more; I was confus’d and distracted, you must have thought me so when you saw me in the evening. Why is it my fortune to find amiable people where I go, and why am I obliged to part with them!—It is very cruel.
I hope our correspondence will be more frequent and punctual than our meetings were while I was in Paris. I suspected the reason and would not reproach you since I know your objection to company. You are happy you can follow so much your inclinations. I wish I could do the same. I do all I can but with little success. Perhaps I don’t know how to go about it.
We have had a very good journey, except the last two days I was very ill. It has been a pleasure to me to find my relations and friends, but it does not lessen the pain of finding myself so far from those of Paris. Accept this short letter this time. I mean to send a much longer one soon, but meanwhile answer me this by a long one.
I hope your pretty daughters are well. Remember me to Mr. Short and believe me ever,
Yours most affectionately,
Mr. Cosway joins his compliments.
The hope for a lively interchange of letters was not to be fulfilled. Christmas day, 1786, had still brought no word from the delinquent American Minister to France and an inevitable, feminine suspicion began to torment the lovely Maria Cosway. She writes with mingled sarcasm and misery:
How do you do, my dear friend? You came to the invitation of my breakfast the morning of my departure! and what did you think of me? I did it to avoid the last taking leave, I went too early for anybody to see me. I cannot express how miserable I was in leaving Paris. How I regretted not having seen more of you. And I cannot have even the satisfaction to unburden my, displeasure by loading you with reproaches. Your reasons must be sufficient, and my forcing you would have been unkind and unfriendly. It would be cruel to insist on what is totally disagreeable to you . . . I am perfectly sure it was my fault, but my misfortune. And then we can bear to be contradicted in our wishes with more resignation.
Have you seen yet the lovely Mrs. Church? You must have seen her by this time. What do you think of her? She calls me her sister. I will call her my dearest sister. If I did not love her so much I should fear her rivalship. But no, I give you free permission to love her with all your heart and I shall feel happy if I think you keep me in a little corner of it, when you admit her even to reign queen.
I have not received any letter from you. I feel the loss of it. Make it up by sending me very long ones and tell me all you do, how you pass your time. When you are at your Hermitage, all that regards you will be interesting to me. . . .
Yours most affectionately
In spite of this plea for very long letters none seem to have been forthcoming and once more Mrs. Cosway, had recourse to Italian, the better to express her impatience, her annoyance, her dismay and her longing. She was a thoroughly unhappy woman, yearning for her friends and for the gay and charming international society of Paris, hating the English, their climate and their customs. Her child-like nature seemed totally untroubled by the fear that her correspondent might find reproaches and laments a little tiresome.
London, January 1787
My dearest friend:
I have waited with great eagerness and anxiety for the long letter which will explain to me my disgrace and tell me for what offence I must suffer the anguish of Tantalus. Each day I expect it, but it has never come. In your last letter of a century ago you tell me of having received one of my letters. I have written three in all, as I recall, addressed to the bank, according to the directions that Mr. Trumbull gave me. But the loss is mine since it deprives me of those moments that you sacrifice to read my letters; those moments that recall me for an instant to your mind, thus justifying me in my desire to make you my compliments and to pay you some attention, which you so much merit by your kind indulgence and friendship for me. . . .
Tell me whether your arm is cured, whether you have received the book of music that I sent you some time back, etc., etc., etc. Here are subjects sufficient to fill at least two lines. . . .
I am the worst person in the world to send news since I do not ever enter into that subject. I am aware of the severity of the season in this ungrateful climate and in the melancholy of the country. Perhaps it seems more severe to me after the happy months that I spent in Paris where all is gay I am very susceptible and all that surrounds me has great power to magnetize. . .
I am surrounded by lovable people, friends, and all that is attractive. I pass more time in the house, and may say that pleasures come to me since I do not go searching them elsewhere. All day I paint and exercise my fancy on such things as suggest themselves. Great is the pleasure of painting when one has the liberty of pursuing it only when desire is the inspiration. The evening generally is passed in practicing my music, and an amiable society makes the harmony complete. Both unite to produce a truly happy pastime. . . .
But I have written all this when I began with the intention of setting down only two words to confess the truth.— I want to hold myself to your example. I do not want to gush, for I am mindful of the pleasure which conversing with you a little will procure for me. . . . I will close with assurances that I am always, with intense esteem and affection,
Your most affectionate servant and true friend,
What does this silence mean? I await the post with so much anxiety and when each time it arrives without bringing me a single letter from Paris, I am truly uneasy. I suppose you must be ill, and that your arm is worse. I think of a thousand things at once—aside from my friends having already, forgotten me. If you are planning to make me another big present of a long letter, I beg you to send me shorter ones but more frequent. I have no patience to wait longer and have resolved to take up my pen without being sure if I should complain, if I should implore patience, or if I should express my mortification and anxiety at this disappointment. . . .
The weather here is very bad, melancholy and sad. Many of my friends are in the country, so that I pass my time with the few who are here, in painting, playing on the harp, the tabor, and singing, in which way, you will say to me, I cannot but be content. I agree, too, but I do not know. There is something so very heavy in this air, that all this makes me sad. . . .
When I began this I thought but to say, three words; unconsciously I have reached this point without ever knowing what I have said. When women begin to talk it is difficult to restrain them.
I have seen Mr. and Mrs. Paradise several times and had the pleasure of talking of you with them. It will forever be an infinite satisfaction to mention the name of one whom I so esteem.
On their return to London Mr. and Mrs. Cosway had established themselves in a handsome house on Berkeley Street and had promptly taken a leading part in the artistic and social life of the city. Richard Cosway was at that time a very successful and fashionable artist and his wife’s reputation was scarcely second to his. Their evening parties were regarded as among the most important salons in London and we find Horace Walpole noting: “Curiosity carried me to a great concert at Mrs. Cosway’s t’other night,” and “you know I used to call Mrs. Cosway’s concerts Charon’s boat: now, methinks, London is so. I am glad Mrs. C. is with you; she is pleasing.”
Although, on his marriage, Mr. Cosway had considered his wife’s manners so foreign that he kept her in seclusion until she learned the English language and English customs, her correspondents seemed to find her Italian ways full of a winning charm. Walpole writes the Countess of Ossory: “I received a little Italian note from Mrs. Cosway this morning to tell me that as I had last week met at her house an old acquaintance without knowing her, I might meet her again this evening, en connoissance de cause, as Mile, la Chevaliere D’Eon. . ..”
But Maria Cosway was not happy; the admiration of London failed to satisfy her. Flattered by the cool admiration of the austere American Minister to France, she remained baffled and tantalized. Surrender seemed to her the only natural and plausible outcome. She was incapable of understanding a man who had lately written: “The domestic bonds here are absolutely done away, and where can their compensation be found? Perhaps they may catch some moments of transport above the level of the ordinary tranquil joy we experience, but they are separated at long intervals, during which all the passions are at sea without a rudder or compass.”
Six months after leaving Paris, Mrs. Cosway was still hopeful, still begging for more than “one and short” letter, still writing Jefferson with a charming and petulant femininity,:
London 6 of March.
I have waited some time to try if I could recover my usual peace with you, but I find it is impossible yet, therefore must address myself to you still angry. Your long silence is unpardonable, but what is the name I must give to—Mr. Trumbull and Mrs. Church not bringing me a letter from you? No, my war against you is of such a nature that I cannot even find terms to express it. Yet I will not be in your debt. I think it is a great one since it is to acknowledge one letter from you. One and short. However, I believe that you know how I value every line which comes from you, why will you add scarcity? But I begin to run on and my intention was only to say nothing, send a blank paper, as a Lady in a Passion is not fit for anything. What shall you do when you will be much farther (away), I can’t bear the idea. . .
Will you give Mr. Trumbull leave to make a copy of a certain portrait he painted at Paris? It is a person who hates you that requests this favor.
If you want a private conveyance to send me a letter there are many, ask Abbe Piattoli, Madame de Corny, and many others. Tho’ I am angry I can hardly end my letter. Remember I do you justice by not thinking of you now. . . .
The “Lady in a Passion” apparently clung to her resolution not to give much more thought to her distant admirer. It is not until a year later that we find another letter directed to Jefferson in the familiar hand. Meanwhile two had reached London, but they are not preserved among the Jefferson papers.
London, February 15, 1788.
I have the pleasure of receiving two letters from you, and though very short I must content myself, and lament much the reason that deprived me of their usual length. I must confess that the beginning of your correspondence has made me an enfant-gdtee. I shall never learn to be reasonable in my expectations, and shall feel disappointed whenever your letters are not as long as the first was; thus you are the occasion of a continual reproaching disposition in me. It is a disagreeable one and will tease you into a hatred towards me, notwithstanding the partiality you have had for me till now, for nothing disobliges more than a dissatisfied mind, and that my fault is occasioned by yourself you will be the most distant to allow. . . .
I have written this in memoria of the many pages of scrawls addressed to you by one whose good intentions repay you for your beautiful allegories with such long, insipid chit-chat. . . .
If I should be happy enough to come again in the summer to Paris, I hope we shall pass many agreeable days. I am in a million fears about it; Mr. Cosway still keeps his intentions, but how many chances from our inclinations to the gratification of our wishes!
Poor Danquerville has been very ill. I received a long letter from him appointing himself my correspondent in Paris. I know a gentleman who causes my faith to be weak on this occasion, for he flattered me with hopes that I have seen fail; nevertheless I have accepted this offer, and shall see if I find a second disappointment. . . .
I hope you are quite well by this time, and that your hand will tell me so by a line. I must be reasonable, but give me leave to remind you how much pleasure you will give by remembering sometimes with friendship one who will be as sensible and grateful of it as is
Jefferson sailed for the United States in October, 1789, and there is no record of a farewell. Some time later Maria Cosway wrote with not a little despair:
London, 6 of April, 1790.
I fear my dear friend has forgot me. Not one line since your departure from this part of the world! I have heard of you though not from you. Don’t let my reproaches be too severe, for I am willing to think you have been prevented by important reasons. However, silence from a person who feels the privation of your letters, would be impossible. The greatest effort I can make is a short letter not to take up too much of your time but to bring you the recollection of an affectionate friend in
If ever you see Mr. Trumbull I hope you will speak of me together. I shall be happy to have my name breathed up by the delightful air of your country among the charms of friendship, hospitality and many other qualities it possesses, and which I wish I could admire in persona as well as I do at a distance.
With the Atlantic ocean safely between them, Jefferson’s thoughts once more turned affectionately toward his old friend. In 1792 he wrote the “lovely Mrs. Church,” whom Mrs. Cosway had once visioned “reigning as the queen” of his heart: “We have with us a Mr. Niemcewitz, a Polish gentleman who was with us at Paris when Mrs. Cosway was there and who was of her society in London last summer. He mentions the loss of her daughter, the gloom into which that and other circumstances have thrown her, that it has taken the hue of religion, that she is solely devoted to religious exercises and superintendent of a school she has instituted for Catholic children, but that she still speaks of her friends here with tenderness and desire. Our letters have been rare but they have let me see that her gayety was gone and her mind entirely placed on a world to come.” The following year he again wrote Mrs. Church: “And Madame Cosway in a convent! I knew that to much goodness of heart she joined enthusiasm and religion: but I thought that very enthusiasm would have prevented her from shutting up her adoration of the god of the Universe within the walls of a cloister; that she would rather have sought the mountain top. How happy should I be that it were mine that you, she and Madame de Corny would seek.”
The volatile Maria Cosway did not find a convent any more to her liking than she had the world. After a few years’ seclusion she returned to London, cheerfully to take up again her art and her evening parties. Meanwhile she had been busy etching the plates for a large folio, “Gallery of the Louvre, represented by etchings executed solely by Mrs. Maria Cosway.” It was to this that she doubtless referred when she wrote Jefferson in 1802.
Paris, 25 Feb. 1802.
I have had the pleasure of writing to you several times, but not that of hearing from you for a long time. Surely you have not forgotten such an old friend! I am now in the place which brings me to mind every day our first interview, the pleasing days we passed together.
I send you the prospectus of a work which is the most interesting ever published as everybody will have in their possession the exact distribution of this wonderful gallery. The history of every picture will also be very curious as we have collected (it) on the spot where the first works of art which were spread all over Italy. I hope you will make it known among your friends who may like to know of such a work. This will keep me here two years at least and everybody seems very much delighted with the enterprise.
Have we hopes of ever seeing you in Paris? Would it not be a rest for you after your laborious situation? I often see the only friend remaining of our set, Madame de. Corny, the same in her own amiable qualities but very different in her situation. But she supports it very well.
I am come to this place in the best time for the profusion of fine things is beyond description and not possible to conceive. It is so changed in every respect that you would not think it the same country or people.
Shall this letter be fortunate enough to get to your hands? Will it be still more fortunate to procure me an answer! I leave you to reflect on the happiness you will afford your ever affectionate and sincere
After a silence of nearly twenty years Jefferson finally rewarded the companion of his youthful Paris days with the long letter for which she had pleaded a lifetime. Christmas, 1820, found him seated in his study at Monticello. overlooking the blue Virginia hills, thinking, doubtless, of that Christmas letter of 1786, and writing a last time to the wilful and lovely woman who had so nearly captured his heart. It was a farewell from a man who had long since passed his three score years and ten, to old memories and to old friends.
“Over the length of silence I draw a curtain,” is an expression, my dear friend, of your cherished letter of Apr. 7, 19, of which it might seem I have need to avail myself; but not so really. To 77 years add two of prostrate health during which all correspondence has been suspended of necessity, and you have the true cause of not having heard from me. My wrist, too, dislocated in Paris while I had the pleasure of being there with you, is, by the effect of years, now so stiffened that writing is become a most slow and painful operation, and scarcely ever undertaken but under the goad of imperious business. But I have never lost sight of your letter, and give it now the first place among those of my transatlantic friends which have been laying unacknowledged during the same period of ill health. . . .
Our friend Trumbull is well, and profitably and honorably employed by his country in commemorating with his pencil some of its revolutionary honors. Of Mrs. Cruger I hear nothing, nor for a long time of Madame de Corny. Such is the present state of our former coterie: dead, diseased, and dispersed. But “tout ce qui est differe n’est pas perdu,” says the French proverb, and the religion you so sincerely profess tells us that we shall meet again; and we have all so lived as to be assured it will be in happiness. Mine is the next turn, and I shall meet it with good will, for after one’s friends are all gone before them, and our faculties leaving us too one by one, why wish to linger in mere vegetation, as a solitary trunk in a desolate field, from which all its former companions have disappeared?
You have many good years remaining yet to be happy yourself and to make those around you happy. May these, my dear friend, be as many as yourself may wish, and all of them filled with health and happiness, will be among the last and warmest wishes of an unchangeable friend.