Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV

My Head and My Heart

What a mass of happiness had we travelled over!

Jefferson to Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786 1

Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway spent their first afternoon together at a most unlikely spot for the beginning of a romance. This was the Halle aux Bleds, the big, new, noisy Paris grain market, crowded with peasants and merchants, and smelling of hay, flax, and barley. It was, nevertheless, one of the attractions of the day, famous for its giant dome—130 feet across—constructed of wooden ribs in such a fashion that the interior was flooded with light. Outside rose an old Renaissance column with circular steps inside, where visitors who climbed to the top were told that it had been built for Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II, who climbed it often with her astrologer to learn the will of the stars.

Jefferson had mixed feelings about going on the excursion at all. "The Halle aux bleds might have rotted down before I should have gone to see it," he later wrote. 2 But John Trumbull, the young American artist Jefferson had recently met in London who was presently staying with him as he worked out the design of his planned canvas of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, persuaded him to go, promising him amusing company. It consisted of two artists from London, Richard Cosway and his wife. Thinking that he might at least see architecture worth copying for a market in Richmond, Jefferson acquiesced. What he saw there, he wrote later to Maria, was "the most superb thing on earth." But he was not writing "of a parcel of sticks

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