Sunday, May 31, 2015

Thomas Jefferson's Scrapbooks













In 2006, Jonathan Gross edited and introduced the world to “Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks.”[1] As Richard Dixon of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society observed, “This is a book of Thomas Jefferson’s poetry; not poetry that he wrote, but poems that he collected. …Jefferson began the scrapbooks in 1801, and compiled them through his two terms as president. …This is not the standard Jefferson biography. The author calls it an ‘autobiography of the heart,’ and indeed it is. ”[2] Jefferson’s ‘autobiography of the heart’ contains numerous poetic references to virtue, virtuous anecdotes, and moral lessons (along with patriotic and other themes). As examples of these, see: “Patriotic Odes for the Year 1808” (p.120), “To Virtue” (p. 164),“The Choice of a Wife” (pp. 259-60), “Advice to Young Women” (p. 296),“Moral and Natural Beauty” (pp. 314-315), and “Epitaph on a Young Lady” (p. 384). Let us turn to one of these poems titled Advice to Young Women (Anonymous):

Detest disguise, remember 'tis your part
By gentle fondness to retain the heart.
Let duty, prudence, virtue, take the lead,
To fix your choice:  – but from it ne'er recede.
Abhor coquetry;  – spurn the shallow fool
Who measures out dull complements by rule,
And, without meaning, like a chattering jay;
Repeats the same dull strain throughout the day,
Are men of sense attracted by your fate?
Your well turn’d figure, or their compound grace?
Be mild and equal, moderately gay;
Your judgment rather than your wit display…
Disdain duplicity – from pride be free:
What every woman should, you then will be.

All of such poems he read, gathered, cut, pasted and compiled into four volumes during the eight years he served as President of the United States (and all the while also compiling “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.). No small task indeed, but more momentous in regard to his pursuit of virtue, and his desire to share that pursuit with his loved ones – whom, next in importance to his daughters, were his grandchildren. As his granddaughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge reflected, “My Bible came from him, my Shakespeare, my first writing table, my first Leghorn hat, my first silk dress. …Our Grandfather seemed to read our hearts, to see our invisible wishes…” [3] His scrapbooks were most likely fashioned as much for them as they were for himself.    



[1] Jonathan Gross, Ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks: Poems of Nation, Family & Romantic Love (Steerforth Press, Hanover, 2006).
[2] Book Review online at http://www.tjheritage.org/booksfiles/Thomas-Jeffersons-Scrapbooks.pdf
[3] Henry S. Randall, Life of Thomas Jefferson (Derby & Jackson, New York, 1858), pp.348-49.

1 comment:

Brad Teare said...

He was an amazing guy! Along with Ben Franklin has always been a great example to me.