Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 23 Head versus Heart

PARIS seemed like home to Jefferson after England, and he viewed with a fresh and keen delight the amiable, civilized people among whom it was his fortune to be resident for so many years. Their smooth, well-rubbed ways, their politesse that made even a refusal seem palatable, were contrasted favorably with the insolence and boorishness of even the greatest English lords, not to speak of King George and his consort.

The moment he landed at Calais, he noted the difference, and was happy to present "the successor of Sterne's monk" there with a donation of a franc, 4 sous.1

But he was no sooner safely ensconced in Paris than he hankered for certain items that were obtainable only in London. Young Col. William S. Smith, secretary to Adams and shortly to become his son-in-law, sent Jefferson a small traveling copy press he had ordered. It cost five pounds, ten --an outrageous price, Smith admitted, "but I know of no Gentleman better qualified to pass over the disagreables [sic] of life than Mr. Jefferson." Smith was slyly giving back some of the advice which Jefferson had been so fond of handing out to the younger generation. "So he makes his calculations for a certain quantity of imposition," Smith continued, "which must be admitted in his intercourse with the world--when it shews itself in high colours--he has only to count ten and he is prepared for the subject--happy state of mind."2Jefferson's favorite advice was to count ten when one was angry; if still angry, proceed to a hundred.

Jefferson had also ordered a harpsichord made to his specifications before leaving London. It was to be one of Kirkman's best, "with a double set of keys, and the machine on the top resembling a Venetian blind for giving a swell. The case to be of mahogany, solid not vineered [sic], without any inlaid work but deriving all its beauty from the elegance of the wood." To this instrument was to be added a "celestini apparatus." He wanted the harpsichord to be worked by either a weight or a spring, instead of the usual treadle, since "the constant motion of the foot on a treadle diverts the attention & dissipates the delirium both of the player & hearer." He was also in the market for an organ, proper for "a chamber 24 feet square & 18. feet high.3

Jefferson's passion for minute details (so strangely opposed to that "delirium" of which he speaks) often got him into trouble; and this was a shining example. His specifications occasioned considerable misunderstand

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