Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Grand Recipe for Felicity

Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter to his daughter to Martha ("Patsy") Jefferson on May 21, 1787 from France:

 "I write to you, my dear Patsy, from the Canal of Languedoc on which I am at present sailing, as I have been for a week past, cloudless skies above, limpid waters below, and find on each hand a row of nightingales in full chorus. This delightful bird had given me a rich treat before at the fountain of Vaucluse. After visiting the tomb of Laura at Avignon, I went to see this fountain, a noble one of itself, and rendered for ever famous by the songs of Petrarch who lived near it. I arrived there somewhat fatigued, and sat down by the fountain to repose myself. It gushes, of the size of a river, from a secluded valley of the mountain, the ruins of Petrarch's chateau being perched on a rock 200 feet perpendicular above. To add to the enchantment of the scene, every tree and bush was filled with nightingales in full song. I think you told me you had not yet noticed this bird. As you have trees in the garden of the convent, there must be nightingales in them, and this is the season of their song. Endeavor my dear, to make yourself acquainted with the music of this bird, that when you return to your own country you may be able to estimate it's merit in comparison with that of the mocking bird. The latter has the advantage of singing thro' a great part of the year, whereas the nightingale sings but about 5. or 6 weeks in the spring, and a still shorter term and with a more feeble voice in the fall. I expect to be at Paris about the middle of next month. By that time we may begin to expect our dear Polly. It will be a circumstance of inexpressible comfort to me to have you both with me once more. The object most interesting to me for the residue of my life, will be to see you both developing daily those principles of virtue and goodness which will make you valuable to others and happy in yourselves, and acquiring those talents and that degree of science which will guard you at all times against ennui, the most dangerous poison of life. A mind always employed is always happy. This is the true secret, the grand recipe for felicity. The idle are the only wretched. In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resource of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind. We are now entering the port of Toulouse, where I quit my bark; and of course must conclude my letter. Be good and be industrious, and you will be what I shall most love in the world."

Adieu my dear child. Yours affectionately,
Th. Jefferson
NOTE: The grand scale of the Languedoc Canal is thought to have appealed to Louis XIV, who seemed to prefer that all projects associated with his reign have a quality of grandeur. A proposal for the canal dates to at least 1516, when Leonardo da Vinci accompanied the French King Francis I home from Milan and discussed a method for building a canal across southern France, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. But it was not built until the reign of the Sun King, who opened the canal in 1681 after fourteen years of construction. Serious consideration of the canal was possible only after a practical scheme for supplying water to the summit was worked out in 1661 by Pierre-Paul Riquet (1604-1680) with the assistance of Fran├žois Andreossy (1633-1688). Even now, building it seems a fantastic undertaking. It crosses rivers, passes through tunnels, uses three major aqueducts, is 620 feet above the Mediterranean at its highest point, includes over 100 locks, crosses over countless streams that are routed underneath through culverts, and flows beneath numerous road bridges constructed across it. In time the name was changed to the Canal du Midi – a prototype for later canals, and one that is still in use.

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