Margaret Bayard Smith’s Account of a Visit to Monticello in 1809, as published in 1823

FOR THE ENQUIRER.

RECOLLECTIONS OF A VISIT TO MONTICELLO.

Dining once at the President’s house, I was standing at a window, before the company assembled, conversing with Mr. Jefferson. I was admiring the scenery which lay before us, and speaking of the pleasure derived from a contemplation of nature, and observed that even winter had its beauties, and that its snow storms and tempests had their charms.—“Here,” said he, casting his eyes on the level plain before us, “Here you can form no adequate idea of the beauty or sublimity of a winter’s storm: but standing, as I have often stood at Monticello, to watch its progress—rising over the distant Alleghany, come sweeping and roaring on, mountain after mountain, till you feel its fall and shudder at its blast; and then to turn to the fire-side, and amidst its comforts to listen to the howling wind, the pelting storm—to contrast the gloom without to the bright blaze within—the war of elements, and the peace of home! this is to enjoy a winter’s storm!”

Well, I have seen those distant mountains, over which the winter storm has swept, now rearing their blue and misty heads to the clouds, and forming a sublime and magnificent horizon, round one of the most extended and beautiful views on which the eye ever rested. I have seen that beloved family, whose virtues and affections are the best reward, the dearest treasure of their father, and of their country’s father!—I have seen—I have listened to one of the greatest and best of men!—He has passed through the tempestuous sea of political life; has been enveloped in the clouds of calumny, and the storms of faction; assailed by foreign and domestic foes; and often threatened with a wreck of happiness and fame. But these things have now all passed away, and like the mountain on which he dwells, fogs, and mists, and storms, gather and rage below, while on its summit shines unclouded sunshine. How simple and majestic is his character: the affection he inspires is mingled with such veneration, that meek, gentle, kind and unassuming as he is in his manners, I cannot converse with him with ease; my mind is busied in thinking of what he is, rather than in listening to what he says.

After a very delightful journey we reached Monticello in the morning. When I crossed the Rivanna, a wild and romantic little river, which winds round the foot of the mountain, my heart beat quick, at the thought that I had now crossed as it were the threshold of his dwelling; and I looked eagerly around, expecting to meet with some traces of his superintending care. In this, I was disappointed, for no vestige of the labor of man was visible; nature seemed to hold her undisturbed dominion. We began to ascend the mountain; still, as we rose, I searched for some trace of cultivation, but could discern nothing but untamed woodland. After winding upwards for a mile, over a rugged road, we saw a field of corn, amidst grounds wild and uncultivated. I every moment expected to reach the summit, which seemed to recede as we advanced, and I felt as if we should never reach the end of this steep and rugged road, lengthened certainly by my impatience, since from the outer gate on the river to the house, is only two miles.

At last we reached the mountain’s top, and never shall I forget the emotion, excited by the first view of this sublime scenery! Below me, extended for more than sixty miles around a country covered with forests, plantations and houses. Beyond, arose the blue mountains, in all their grandeur!

Monticello, an isolated mountain, of a conical form, rising five hundred feet above the river, commands on all sides an unobstructed, and I suppose one of the most extensive views, any spot on the globe affords. The sides of this mountain, covered by woodland, with scarcely a speck of cultivation, presents a fine contrast to its summit, crowned with a noble pile of buildings surrounded by an extensive lawn, and shaded here and there with some fine trees.

As we reached the house, we met Mr. Jefferson, on horseback; he had just returned from his morning’s ride, and when on approaching the carriage, he recognized our faces, he received us with one of those benignant smiles, and cordial tones of voice, that convey an undoubted welcome to the heart. He dismounted, and assisted me from the carriage, led us through a noble portico to the hall, where he again bid us welcome. I was so struck with the appearance of this hall, that I lingered to look around me, but he led me forward, smiling as he said, “You shall look bye and bye, but you must now rest:” leading me to a sofa in the drawing-room, as singular and beautiful as the hall. He rang, and desired Mrs. R. to be informed of our arrival, and bade the servant bring us refreshments.

“We have quite a sick family” said he—“my daughter is in the sick room of her son; my grand-daughter, who has been confined, still keeps her room, and several of the children are ill.”

This information, clouded my satisfaction, and cast a gloom over my expected pleasure. Mrs. R— soon entered; welcomed us with an affectionate smile, and soon dispersed my gathering gloom, by her kind and cheerful manners. I begged her not to let me detain her from her little boy, but to allow me to sit with her in her nursery; she consented, and leaving my husband with Mr. Jefferson, I sat with her until dinner time.

At five o’clock, the bell summoned us to dinner, where all the rest of this numerous and interesting family were assembled. As I looked on this venerable patriarch, in the midst of his children and grand-children, my eyes filled with tears, and my heart, with emotions of tenderness and veneration. The table was plainly, but plentifully spread. It was the respectable board of a private gentleman, from which was discarded the French cookery and foreign luxuries, which used to distinguish his table when President; the rich and costly variety of wines, for which he used to be remarkable, were now discarded for Claret and Madeira; thus, in his public and private situation, discovering equal taste and propriety.

We sat at table, until near sun down, where we enjoyed agreeable and instructive conversation, in which every one seemed to expect and wish Mr. J—— should take the chief part. This is the part of the day, in which he gives most time to his guests, and seems himself most to enjoy society; and I found during the few days we passed at Monticello, these were the most social hours. The dessert is not removed; the wine freely, but not rapidly circulated round the table, and the ladies do not withdraw, until the hospitable master leads the way. Every one who has known, has acknowledged the colloquial powers of this excellent man. He is frank and communicative in his manner, various and delightful in his conversation. With a mind stored by much reading, long experience, accurate observation, deep research, an intimate acquaintance with the great and good men of Europe and America; with the events, and scenes and customs of both countries; he possesses a store of intellectual wealth, which falls to the lot of few; and of those, how many, who possess the treasure, have not the faculty of imparting it to others. But, Mr. J——, has not only the sterling gold, but has the lesser coins, which afford an easy currency to thought, and are so important in social intercourse. No subject could be started, which he did not illustrate by luminous observations, or enliven by sprightly anecdotes. One quality he has, which I never knew equalled in any other man: a quick and intuitive perception of the character, taste and feelings of his guests, and with a benevolence, equalling in warmth, the greatness of his perception; he always turned the conversation, so as to draw forth the powers and talents of each guest, bestowing on all, the same gracious attention: he, above all men, has the art of pleasing, by making each pleased with himself. Why can I not recollect every word which fell from his lips, during these charming conversations, for every word deserved to be remembered!

But, so many recollections are crowded in these short and interesting days, that I should fill a volume, should I record them all. But where have I wandered from the social board, around which we were sitting? Yes, but the sun was sinking behind a mountain, and we rose from the table, to enjoy its last rays as they gilded the beautiful landscape that spread around.

Mr. Jefferson first led us to a garden, which he is laying out on the south side of the mountain, where it commands a most noble view.—Little is yet done; a terrace of seven hundred feet, and about forty wide, is already made, and in cultivation. Against the wall which supports it, are raised fine figs; on the outer side is a grass walk; and the interval is laid out in beds for various culinary vegetables. This terrace is to be doubled in length and another made below it. It is still in a rough unfinished state, and I rather think Mr. Jefferson will find, in chusing a southern aspect, and in laying out his garden so as to expose it to the greatest degree of heat, that in our climate, he will have not only more than sufficient, but a degree, which will prove destructive to vegetation. He has, all his life, been so exclusively engaged in public affairs, that he has little practical knowledge of rural or domestic management. With the same inattention to the effects of the climate, he has levelled the top of his mountain, and formed on its surface, a lawn of at least ten acres, shaded only by a few trees of foreign growth; foreign I mean to the mountain soil, such as willows, Italian poplars, &c. &c. Lawns may be beautiful in the northern states, or in a humid atmosphere like England, but they do not answer in the southern states, where in the heats of mid summer, when the eye must require the reviving sight of verdure, the grass is so withered and dry, that it often crumbles to dust under the feet. And I much fear, the same fate will attend his summer vegetables, exposed as they are to the full blaze of the southern sun. The same want of practical utility, convenience and comfort, is obvious in the site of his mansion, and the arrangement of its offices. Placed on the very pinnacle of the mountain, it is exposed to all the ardours of summer, and all the bleak storms of winter. Had it been placed on the declivity of the mountain, it might have been sheltered from both, nor would he have been obliged, as he now is, to have all the water used in the family brought from the foot of the mountain. The kitchen is at a hundred, perhaps, near two hundred feet from the dining room, to which it is joined by a long cold vaulted passage.

But his plans, are those of a man of taste, a statesman, a philosopher; that is, an intellectual being, wholly unacquainted with the every day wants and comforts of common life. He is a great agriculturist and horticulturist in theory, but practically, I imagine, he knows little of any cultivation, but that of flowers, of which he is extremely fond.—Here again, I have wandered from my party and the new garden, and if I can find the way, must return to where I left him explaining his plans, and gathering his figs, which were really fine. Leaving the garden, he led us through, or rather by the side of an almost impervious grove of aspins, whose straight and aspiring branches, and ever quivering leaves, formed a fine contrast with the majestic and wide spreading ashes, and other forest trees, which shade this part of the grounds. We afterwards entered a shady road, cut around the top. There are three of these roads encompassing the mountain, at equal distances, about two hundred feet apart, and joined to each other by winding roads and path-ways, and when completed, will afford a beautiful and shady ride of about seven miles. The first circuit is about a mile, with vistas cut through the trees for distant views. We passed the outhouses for the slaves and workmen, which though better than I have seen on other plantations, to an eye, unaccustomed to the abodes of slavery, seem poor and uncomfortable, and to northern feelings form an unpleasant contrast to the palace that rises so near them. Mr. J. has carpenters, cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, and other tradesmen in his establishment, and finds his slaves ingenious and good workmen.

As we walked, he explained his future designs of cultivation and improvement, “for my long absence from this place, (said he) has made a wilderness around me.” “But you have now returned,” I replied, “and the wilderness shall blossom like the rose, and you I hope, will long sit beneath your own vine and your own fig tree.” It was almost dark, when we returned to the house; we were taken into a charming little tea-room, which opened on the north terrace. Its form was a half circle, divided from the dining room by a glass, or sashed partition. There was a feeling of social comfort in this small apartment, which was lost in the largeness and loftiness of the other rooms. As Mrs. R. was still engaged with her invalids, Mr. Jefferson sat with us until tea time, which was seldom before 3 o’clock—afterwards there was fruit, of which he seldom staid to partake, as he always withdrew immediately after tea: even while President, he always retired early at night, and rose early in the morning. We generally sat an hour, and sometimes longer, with Mr. and Mrs. R. and their lovely children.

The morning after my arrival, I arose before the sun and went to the terrace, to contemplate scenery, so sublime and beautiful, and to me, the inhabitant of plains, wonderful and new. The interval between Monticello and the Alleghany mountains, (from sixty to eighty miles) was covered with a thick fog or vapor, which had all the appearance of an ocean, and was unbroken, except where wood crowned hills rose from the plains, and looked like verdant islands. As the sun arose, the mass of vapour was broken, and assumed the most various and fantastic forms—lakes, rivers and bays—and as it ascended, hung in white fleecy clouds on the sides of the moutains. An hour afterwards you would scarcely believe it was the same place you looked on, and it seemed as if some magician’s wand had raised and then dispersed this enchanting scenery!

Though chilled by the morning breeze that blew from the mountains, I could not tear myself away until the breakfast bell rung. The long table was again surrounded by the numerous family, for this affectionate parent gathered round him at his meals, even his youngest grandchildren, who at their age are generally confined in nurseries. Instead of the assistance and attendance of slaves, which is the usual custom in the southern states, these sweet little creatures were attended to by their elder brothers and sisters, between whom they were placed. There was an affectionate and patriarchal simplicity in this, with which I was delighted—and this mutual aid and dependance methought, drew closer the bands of affinity. Our breakfast was not the substantial and Virginia breakfast I expected, nor indeed was the general mode of living at Monticello, that of a Virginia planter, but accorded rather with my ideas of European elegance.

On leaving the table I soon learned that it was the habit of the family, separately, to pursue their own occupations.

Mr. Jefferson retired to his own apartments, which occupy the south wing, where not even his children enter without permission, and so sacred seemed his retirement, that when speaking of it to him, I always called it his sanctum sanctorum. Mrs. R. withdrew to the apartment of her children, whom she instructs, and to whom she devotes the greater portion of her time. As for them, they seem to be the inseparable companions of this fond and indulgent mother, this intelligent and highly informed woman—With what delight could I dilate on her excellencies; but since I have consented to the publication of this journal, I have expunged from my manuscript, all that relates to her wise management, her private virtues, her peculiar opinions, which I sought after with eager avidity, knowing that to her modest and retiring excellence, even praise would be painful—otherwise the picture I could draw of this lovely and interesting woman, would charm every heart, and kindle a noble emulation in the bosom of every mother!—Happy mother, of the best of children—worthy daughter of the best of fathers!

Visitors generally retire to their own apartments, or walk about the grounds. Those who are fond of reading, can never be at a loss—those who are not, will find the long interval between breakfast and dinner very wearisome, as no amusements are provided, and the descent and ascent of the mountain is so rough and difficult, that the fatigue of riding into the adjacent country, would not be compensated by any pleasure such a ride could afford.

The dinner bell rings twice—the first collects the family in the drawing-room a little while before the second announces dinner to be on the table, which is generally between four and five o’clock.

We arrived on Saturday: the next day after breakfast, instead of withdrawing, Mr. Jefferson proposed our taking a view from the balcony on the roof of the house. The morning was favorable to the study of landscape: The dark and heavy clouds which announced the coming storm, threw large masses of shade athwart the mountain side, which finely contrasted with the bright sun shine which gleamed on other spots. It was a prospect so rich and so varied, so vast and so sublime, that I could have gazed whole hours and days, without weariness. The view was too wide and grand for a painter’s pencil, but it was calculated to rouse and fill a poet’s soul.

On the top of the house was a ghan, instead of a bell—why he preferred this Chinese invention, to our mode of calling people together, I cannot tell, except it is on account of its newness and originality. Another was placed in a tree on the lawn, to summon the workmen to their meals. We looked into a beautiful circular room in the dome—it is 26 or 27 feet diameter—has eight circular windows and a handsome sky-light. It was designed for a lady’s drawing-room when built, but soon found, on account of its situation in the dome, to be too inconvenient for that use, and was abandoned to miscellaneous purposes. The house is but one story, with an attic, in which the chambers are comfortable and neat, but without any attempt at elegance.

Thither we descended into the hall—he asked us into what I had called his sanctum sanctorum, into which it is very seldom any one is admitted.

This suit of apartments open from the hall, and occupy the south wing—it consists of three rooms, formerly filled by his valuable and extensive library, which I cannot but regret he ever parted with: Another opening from these for his cabinet, which is furnished with every convenience for a man of letters—communicating with his chamber in which he sleeps. The bed is built into the wall, in a sort of alcove, which in winter must be very comfortable, as it excludes every draught of air—but in summer, must for the same reason be very uncomfortable. I observed the same arrangement in all the chambers I saw. On the wall, at the foot of the bed was hung his pistols and sword, which I imagine has not been moved for many a year: against the wall, at the head of his bed, was a lamp, which enabled him, when he wished to read, to do it with great safety and convenience. He opened a closet, in which was a variety of curious little inventions for his own personal comfort—among others, the very best contrivance for garden seeds I have ever seen. A frame, or stand, consisting of two upright pieces of about two inches thickness, in which were neat little truss hooks. On these were suspended phials of all sizes, tightly corked, and neatly labelled, containing garden seeds, of the smaller kind; those of the larger were in tin canisters. When in his garden this stand could be carried about and placed near him, and if I remember, there must have been near a hundred kinds. It is well worthy the adoption of all gentlemen and lady gardeners. Mr. J. appears extremely fond of this delightful occupation, and has for the purpose the nicest and most convenient utensils. His cabinet, where most of his hours were passed, was to me the most interesting spot in the house. I noticed every chair and table, and desk, and cabinet—examined many of the books, which were chiefly the old classical authors, generally in the original, and all the best English, Italian and French poets. A course looking volume attracted my notice: on opening, I found it to consist of pieces cut out of newspapers, and pasted on the blank-leaves of the book. The vol. was entitled Libels, and contained all that has so lavishly, during the war of political parties, been written against him. This indeed, will one day afford curious materials for the examination of the moralist and philosopher. When all the petty jealousies of contending parties, when their violence and their rancour, when all the misrepresentations and calumnies shall be cleared away by the bright rays of truth, then shall the character of the great and good man, rise in all the beauty and majesty of virtue, like his own native mountain, when the rays of the sun has dispersed the fogs and mists which conceal its beauties in the early morning. Even now, many of the prejudices, much of the violence, and I believe all of the bitterness of party spirit, have yielded to the influence of his proved wisdom as a statesman, and his virtue as a man, and when that wisdom and that virtue, are hallowed by the lapse of ages, should this volume survive, what a fable would it seem!—He bade us select what books we chose for our amusement—and as I had been looking with some curiosity over some Greek romances, he found me one translated into French, the others being translated into Italian or Latin; with this and a few others, I retired to my own room, where the romance and the poetry were thrown aside, while I contemplated the scenery of Monticello, and thought of all I had heard fall from the lips of this true philosopher.

After dinner, with some of the younger members of the family, I had a ramble in the mountain-walk, and at twilight on entering the tea-room, found no one but Mr. J. with whom we had a long and interesting conversation, in which he described with enthusiasm, the tranquillity he had enjoyed since his retirement from public life, and dilated on the heart-felt pleasures domestic scenes afforded him.

On Monday morning I again arose before the sun, in order to watch the various appearances the landscape assumed, as the vapour with which it was covered was broken and dispersed by the rising sun. But the distant mountains now lighted up with all the brightness of sunshine, and were thrown into deep shadows by passing clouds along whose side the vapoury curtain, was hung in fantastic drapery, in whose valleys and recesses it reposed like streams and gulfs, afforded objects, on which every morning I gazed with new wonder and delight. As I walked this mountain top, and inhaled these mountain breezes, I felt as if I breathed a purer atmosphere, and as if my soul with more elastic wing, could rise from ‘nature, up to nature’s God.’ There was too, in the sighings of the breeze among the trees—round me, & in the louder roar of distant winds sweeping through distant forests, a soothing power, which seemed to lift me through the little cares, and little pleasures of the world below! I was awakened from the sweet trance, into which these sights and sounds had lulled me, by the distant sound of the breakfast bell, and hastened back to enjoy in the society that encircled the hospitable board, the contemplation of moral beauty and moral grandeur. After breakfast, Mr J—— invited me in company with one of his grand-daughters to ride with him round the mountain. The carriage in which we rode, was a kind of chaise, which was made by one of his workmen, and might well be called a sociable.

The first course or circuit, the road was good, and I enjoyed the various views which opened on every side, and still more the easy and familiar conversation, which our sociable promoted. But when we descended into the second and third circuit, our road was so precipitous and rocky, fear took from me the power of seeing, speaking, or even listening. His frequent assurances of safety, could not diminish my alarm, although I had resolution to keep my seat, until coming to a rock, over which one wheel must inevitably pass; I jumped out, and the servant who followed on horseback, darted forward and held up the carriage, otherwise, I really think, we must have all been rolled down the mountain.—Notwithstanding all the terror I suffered, I was well compensated by the pleasures this ride afforded. Mr. Jefferson described various plans of improvement and ornament, for the different spots we visited. Two springs gushing from adjacent rocks, were highly picturesque, and would admit of rural ornament—the burial place of the family which is about half way down the mountain, in a sequestered and lonely spot—here he said he intended to erect a small gothic building—a little higher up, where a grassy mound, crowned with a clump of trees arose, he meant to place a monument to his friend Wythe.—These, and a variety of other similar plans, he had designed, if executed, will greatly add to the interest and beauty, of scenery which though grand and picturesque, is now too wild and uncultivated. We returned by a road, which did not encircle the mountain, but wound up to its summit by a gentle ascent, and being more smooth and safe, I was able again to enjoy all the charms of free and unreserved conversation. Indisposition and anxiety confined Mrs. R—— to the nursery of her little invalid; and after dinner, instead of walking, I sat the evening with her. Her father soon after entered, and I was delighted in studying his character in this new and endearing form. How tender, how affectionate and soothing were his attentions to this dear daughter, as he sat by her, and held her hand for more than one hour—our conversation was characterized by that tone of intimacy, which no circumstances less affecting, could have imparted. There was something indescribably interesting in the contemplation of this illustrious citizen, this enlightened philosopher, this successful statesman, whose name was familiar to the world—to see him who had guided the helm of empire, thus cheering the sick-room of his children, and fondly supporting the head of his daughter, had in it something so touching, that it was impossible for me to repress the tears which would rise from my swelling breast.

Tuesday morning—I went down stairs, and with my husband wandered in the adjacent grounds. Mr. J. joined us, and led into a charming walk which borders the lawn, and pointed out the views in which the house appeared to most advantage.——Being a little wearied, I sat down on a mossy stone, on the skirts of the wood, which encompasses the lawn. There, I silently gazed on him, as he walked the top of this isolated mountain, and looked on him, as a being, elevated above the mass of mankind, as much in character as he was in local situation. I reflected on the long career of public duty he had run; the high offices he had filled; the revolutionary turmoil through which he had struggled; and that after forty years, tossing on the tempestuous sea of political life, he had now cast anchor, in the haven of domestic peace. Here, while the political storm still roared, he could hear its roarings, and be at peace!—He had been a faithful laborer in the harvest-field of life; his labours were crowned with success, and he had reaped a rich harvest, of fame and of honour and of happiness, which will diffuse its gladdening influence over the winter of his years.

In him, I perceive no decay of mind, or debility of frame, and to all the wisdom, and experience of age, he adds the enthusiasm and ardour of youth. I listened with wonder as I heard him describe the various objects and improvements in which he was busied, both here, and at a fine estate he has in Bedford.—A whole life seemed requisite to carry them into effect, and a young man might well doubt his capacity for their completion and enjoyment. But he seems to have transported his hopes, his desires and projects into the existence of his children; it is for them he plans, and it is in them he lives: and I really believe, that he finds more delight, in the idea that they will enjoy the fruits of his present labors, than if he was certain of enjoying them himself. If full occupation of mind, heart, and hands, is happiness—surely, he is happy!—The sun never finds him in bed, and his active mind designs more than many hands can execute, or the day, even his long day, can fulfil—The idea that this was the last day I was to spend here, the last time I should behold this venerable patriach, thus surrounded with his children, his grand-children, and his great-grand-children—that although his name would live to future ages—that he, must soon be carried by the waves of time, into the ocean of eternity, and that in this life, I should see him no more! When I thought of this, my voice was choaked by tears—I could not speak—and on my part, this social hour was passed in silence. In the evening when I returned from a solitary ramble in the grounds, I sought the little children, to whom I had promised another and a last story, and was seated with them on the steps of the portico, when Mr. Jefferson came out and joined us. They ran to him, pulling him down on the steps, climbing on his knees, and loading him with caresses.—After awhile, he proposed their running a race round the lawn, which on this side of the house was a course of about a quarter of a mile; he placed them at distances, according to their age, and giving the word for starting, away they flew, and were well tired by the time they returned, panting and out of breath, to throw themselves into their grand-father’s arms, which were extended to receive them; he pressed them to his bosom, and gave the promised kiss, as the reward to the victor. He was setting on the steps of the portico; the last rays of the setting sun, gleamed on his mild countenance; his white locks, waved in the evening breeze, and his arms encircled his lively little ones, glowing with health and beauty. What a picture! O! how I wished for a painter’s skill, to have preserved it for the view of others—for myself, it would have been unnecessary; it is imprinted too deeply on my heart, for time or distance to efface.—“What delight and amusement,” said I, “do these little creatures afford!” “Yes,” he replied, “it is only with them, a grave man can play the fool.” After resting awhile, they called on him to run with them, “to catch them if he could”—he could not long resist their solicitations, and seemed delighted in delighting them. Oh! ye, whose envenomed calumny has painted him as the slave of the vilest passions, come here, and contemplate this scene! See here, the simplicity, the gaiety, the modesty of a child, united to all that is great and venerable in the human character. His life, is the best refutation of the calumnies which have been heaped upon him; and it seems to me impossible for any one, personally to know him, and yet remain his enemy.

It was dark by the time we entered the tea-room, and I was glad to close the windows and shut out the cold air from the mountains. As it was the last evening we were to remain, Mr. Jefferson sat later than usual after tea—sat in the midst of those beloved objects, “for whose society his heart had panted”—enjoyed that tranquility for which in the bustle and turmoil of public life, he had so often longed. At a time when others looked upon his elevated station with envy, I knew not that the honors lavished on him by his country, were “splendid torments” to his unambitious spirit and affectionate heart.—Circumstances had placed him at the head of the political party, to which he was from choice and principle attached; and from which he could not retreat, without sacrificing the interests of his party, on whose success he devoutly believed the best interests of his beloved country depended, to a selfish indulgence of his own wishes. The next morning, while seated round the breakfast table, I felt too sad to join in the conversation; I looked on every object around me—all was examined with that minuteness, which a last look inspires. At last the carriage was announced, and I rose, to bid farewell to this interesting family.

As I lingered in the portico, Mr. Jefferson approached, and in the most cordial manner, urged our making another visit the ensuing summer; I told him with a voice almost inarticulate, “that I had not hope of such a pleasure,” “this” said I, raising my eyes to his, “is the last time I ever hope to see you, in this world at least—but there is another world.” But the idea of how soon he might pass to that other world, so affected me, I could not finish the sentence, but turned hastily to repeat my farewell to each individual of this excellent family—then gave him my hand, which he shook affectionately, as he helped me into the carriage, saying “God bless you my dear madam, God bless you”—“and may God bless you,” I replied from the very bottom of my heart. My husband got in, the door was shut, and we drove from this habitation of philosophy and virtue! How rapidly did we seem to descend that mountain, which had appeared so tedious in its ascent.

Yes—he is truly a good man, and eminently a great one! There is a tranquility about him, which an inward peace, only could bestow.—His tall and slender figure is not impaired by year, though slightly bent by care and study. His whitened locks, announce an age, which is contradicted by his activity, strength, health, gaiety, ardour and enthusiasm. His face, owes all its charm to its expression and intelligence—his features are not good, and his complexion is bad; but his countenance is so full of soul, and beams with such benevolence, that when the eye rests upon his face, it is too busy in perusing its expression, to think of its features or complexion. His low and mild voice, harmonizes with his countenance rather than with his figure. But his manners! how gentle—how meek—how kind.

In his mild accents, his meanest slave must recognize a friend. What then must be the feelings of a friend?

If his conduct through life had not proved the contrary, I should have pronounced him rather a man of imagination and taste, than a man of judgment; a literary rather than a scientific man; and least of all a politician; a character for which nature never seemed to have intended him and for which the natural turn of his mind, his disposition, taste and feelings equally unfitted him. I should have been sure that this was the case, even had he not told me so himself. In an interesting conversation one evening he observed, “the whole of my life has been at war with my natural taste, feelings and wishes. Domestic life, and literary pursuits was my first and latest desire. Circumstances, and not inclination, led me into the path I have trod; and like a bow, tho’ long bent, when unstrung, flies back to its natural form; I resume with delight, the character and pursuits for which nature designed me.—The situation of our country, at my entrance into life were such, that every honest man felt compelled to take a part, and when once engaged, new circumstances were continually arising; new duties devolved, which has never since allowed me to leave the course, into which I had been impelled by the force of events.”

Printed in the Richmond Enquirer, 18 Jan. 1823. Printed based on earlier versions in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 1:386–401.
Author
Margaret Bayard Smith
Date Range
Date
July 29, 1809
Repository
Richmond Enquirer, 18 Jan. 1823