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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jours Heureux! - Follow Up

In February, I wrote a post titled Jours Heureux! in which I discussed the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway. It is probably my favorite post this year because I enjoyed writing and researching it so much and it allowed me the rare opportunity to contemplate a topic that is both beautiful and intriguing. I say "rare" because so much of this year has revolved around the rather unpleasant themes of political and economic crisis. Also, given the present context, any chance to reflect upon the life of Jefferson, a man who is the premiere historical embodiment of the committment to freedom and individual rights, is a profound and necessary inspiration to those of us who carry the torch for these same values.

In the post, I had linked to a miniature that Trumbull had painted of Jefferson and presented to Cosway. I also linked to a picture of an engraving of Cosway that Jefferson kept at his home, Monticello. Shortly after I wrote that post, I had a chance to visit Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia for the first time. When I stepped into the South Square Room and saw the engraving hanging in front of me, needless to say, a few chills went up and down my spine.

Monticello has an excellent
web site which allows you to virtually tour the house. If you go from the Northeast Portico to the South Square Room, the engraving is on the wall to your left just as you pass through the door. You can click on a picture of the that wall but it is hard to see. It is hanging on the top left, between the silhouettes and the two large pictures. There are two chairs against this wall. The site has a link to the Cosway engraving at the bottom of the web page.

To truly experience a sense of that era and that time in Jefferson's life, I also recommend that while on the tour, you listen to the music that I
linked in the post. Jefferson sent a copy of the song to Cosway in a letter saying:
...I send you the song I promised. bring me in return its subject, Jours Heureux!
The song was from Antonio Sacchini's opera "Dardanus" which premiered in Paris in 1784. The song is:

Jours heureux, espoir enchanteur!
Prix charmant d'un amour si tendre!
Je vais la voir, je vais l'entendre
Je vais retrouver le bonheur!

(Happy days, Enchanting hope!
Charming prize of a love so tender!
I'm going to see her, I'm going to hear her
I'm going to find happiness again!)


Perplexio said...

My wife & I had the pleasure of visiting Monticello back in November 2006 when we were visiting my brother in the Fredericksburg area (only about an hour from Charlottesville). I agree with you in that it is quite remarkable. Jefferson was quite a remarkable man. I found it interesting that he wanted to be remembered more for writing the Declaration of Independence and for the University of Virginia than for being President of the United States.

I also recall reading that he was hesitant to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France because he didn't feel he had the consent of the American people to do so. It was only at the urging of some of his advisers that he did purchase the land.

The Rat Cap said...

Thanks for bringing that up. His grave stone says:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson author of the Declaration of American Independence of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom and father of the University of Virginia"

From my readings, I get the sense he liked being more of a behind the scenes kind of guy and I get the sense he enjoyed the intellectual more than the political. I recall reading in John Adams (McCullough)that he rarely if ever spoke during the original Continental Congress. He ran an aggressive campaign in the famous election of 1800 but even then he didn't go around giving great speeches or anything.

At Monticello, the tour guide said he spent until about noon reading and writing letters. Then in the afternoon, he spent a few hours riding around the plantation to check on everything. Then at around evening, he gave himself over completely to his family and visitors. (incidentally, his office and the alcove for his bed that separates the office from the bedchamber is a great design.)

One theme I have had in my head is the idea of how wrong it is for so many to be focused on politics and what is going on in Washington. If the government was properly limited, we should not really care that much other than the occasional foreign affairs issues. Really, we should be focused on our locality and our state but mostly our own lives and interests. It angers me that we have to deal with it. I think the Founders, especially Jefferson, were torn by their love of their home lives and the pressure to act on the national stage given the pressing issues of the time.

Lynne said...

Monticello is quite an inspiring place and the website is great, particularly in preparation for your visit.

While I always read, but hardly comment on informative political blog posts, days of personal happiness are something I can fully grasp and appreciate. Thank you for this follow-up to that interesting and mostly unknown episode in Jefferson's life.

The Rat Cap said...


Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it!