Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20 Minister to France

THE voyage was calm, pleasant and surprisingly rapid. It took only nineteen days from landfall to landview, something of a record for that time, and the sun was out practically every day.

Jefferson busied himself with the usual minutiae of a landsman taking his first sea voyage, entering in his account book such information as the daily log, the ship's bearings, the temperature, wind direction; and duly noting the gannets and "pettrils" that circled the vessel, and the whales, sharks and Portuguese man-of-war that inhabited the depths. Since the sea was calm as a lake, the little party suffered no seasickness.1

On July 26, 1784, they landed at West Cowes on the isle of Wight, and transshipped to Portsmouth. Patsy had been running a fever the last few days of the voyage, and Jefferson called in a doctor, nurses and an apothecary to care for her. The child recovered rapidly and Jefferson was able to proceed on the 31st.

He took passage to Havre de Grace, posted to Rouen and on August 6th was in Paris.2 Patsy, now well again, had viewed the strange country through which they passed with delight, and kept her friend Mrs. Trist, in Philadelphia, informed of all the details. What impressed her most, perhaps, was the venerable habit of cheating strangers, from which, it seems, her father was not immune.3

The first thing Jefferson did on arrival in the French capital was to get himself set. He took lodgings at the Hôtel d'Orléans, on the Rue Richelieu. where six days' house rent cost him 72 francs. The next thing was to go on a buying spree. He had no intention of being out of fashion in Paris. He purchased a complete outfit for Patsy; a map, cambric, lace ruffles, hat, sword and sword belt, knee and shoe buckles for himself. And, of course, the inevitable books. He was literally to indulge in an orgy of bookbuying all through his European stay. Here were in abundance the volumes whose titles he had surveyed with longing eyes in America, and whose physical possession had been possible, if at all, only through extended negotiations and survival of the lengthy ocean voyage between. Within a few days he was giving young William Franklin, his old friend's illegitimate son, who was departing for London, a commission and 16½ guineas to buy him more books and a copying press in England.4 The latter was important. Jefferson liked to have copies on hand of every letter he wrote, of every scrap of paper on which he scribbled notations; and the copying press, though only taking wet impressions (the ink

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