Sunday, July 4, 2010

July, July!

This invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. --Phaedrus, Plato.

The Life of a country Parson cou'd have no greater Distractions & attendancies than mine; for every night I must spend in divers Quandries, Plans, and Executions. The bed 'pon which I recline offers the Figure of Mme. Bainton, taken to Complaint, crouch'd thro' her morning Hours above a Basin, heaving; the Candle by which I compose my Post-mails recalls Goodman's false Promise to retrieve newe Wax from Winchester, suppos'd to burn with a nigh-perpetual Flame; the open Window, by which a Breeze replenishes the starch'd Air, is yet fill'd with the groaning Murmur of Cattle, and the whisper'd Urgencies of fitful Loves that betray my Estate's Harmony with a Kiss.

Thus do I carp & moan. I took myself to walking about, a pasttime Mme Bainton has had me surrender, as my legs have creak'd more than an old leather Strap. Beneath my Knees a mysterious Fiber has been strain'd; the Physick's Counsel, thusly:

"Ye are sturdy & well-built. But Keep ye apprized, Sir, that eatin hevvy of the Hamm-hock, & then pursuin the Duckk in the feld, will only bring sorrow to ye. You must give mor rest to yr jints than ye have, for runnin and walkin cross these hilltops, and dinin in as uncommon a way as Ye do, ye must in time break yr poor body's heart. Remember, sir, a man is only so rich, as he can learn to let things in this world alone."

My Physic, tho' intention'd well, for it is true that I frequent those Siam & Indian Currees, that I delight my Tongue with the rich Flesh of the Duck, and that I have of a time stout'd myself with Drink, is yet not to be mistaken with a Galen. His Note came yesterday, while I was travailing the country with Ned Bearskin; &, like a meddlesome Beau, it had kept Company with my wife all the while, so that, besteam'd with Exertion & pleas'd with Spoil, I must needs revert to Contrition, lest Mme. Bainton threaten again to spatter my poor Frame with buckshot.

& so it was with some Risk that I took myself down the Plank-road to peer at the Moon, risen waxing over Massanutten Ridge. A pair of tiny Lights implied a Jett headed to the Federal City, as the flash of silver Earrings in a Garden hints at a demoiselle. The Interstate, usually a river of Commerce, lay silent as a Brook in August, dried up to bare Sand.

There is a Story, of this already storied Day, that in Albermarle Co. there liv'd an Enthusiastic Democrat, who believ'd Jefferson had "rais'd himself and his party one step higher in the temple of fame," by dying on the anniversary of Independence. When inform'd that Adams had died as well this die, he wou'd not credit such, and in the end wou'd only admit a "damn Yankee trick!"

"[Jefferson] remark'd on the tendency of his mind to recur back to the events of the Revolution. Many incidents he wou'd relate...he remarked that the curtains of his bed had been purchased from the first cargo that arriv'd after the peace of 1782." - Col. Randolph, grandson, of the deathbed.

It was a scene of Augury. George Wythe Randolph, who wou'd later chew up Pages of oratory in favor of Secession & dividing his grandfather's Country, was then only 8, & stood uncomprehending at the Old Sage's bedside. Old Tho. utter'd his advice, his admonitions, his final testaments to his grandchildren, & seeing the namesake of his old teacher so befuddled, he smiled, that "George does not understand what all this means."

Tho' much business is usually made of Old Tom's insistence that his Gravestone be simple, and no mention of his vaunt'd Presidency, Vice-Presidency, &c., be made, the more peculiar was this Command in his Instructions: that the Stone be hewn from the same Rock as his coarse Columns, that no one be tempt'd to destroy it for the value of the materials.

How well had Tom taken the Temper of his new Citizens! For sure as he said, his Countrymen have chopp'd at the Past, taking as little Reverence for an old Building as a Ploughman has for an uncut Field. For tho' a woodpile provides plenty enough warmth in Winter, in Summer it is only a dusty Refuge for Rattlesnakes. & thus have we treat'd our Patrimony, that we shou'd only make it a cold & zoned Museum, girdled apart from human Intercourse; or, that it should be slic'd up & grill'd, for the better Delectation of an Asphalt Impressario.

Up the Seaboard John Adams turn'd to Death in Peacefield. Thus did two Lights whisper, flicker, & vanish.

End, then, this copybook Post-Mail, with a copybook entry. Tho sat by his wife, who was sickly & dying. She cou'd no longer read, so she began to copy, in regular school-book Hand, these Lines from Sterne's Tristram Shandy:

"Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen. The days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return - more every thing presses on -" [and here her Pen dropp'd, & Tho finish'd with] "and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to the eternal separation which we are shortly to make!"

Beneath, in another hand, written by Jefferson, alone:

"...quo fata trahunt retrahuntque sequamurquidquid erit, superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est." -Aeneid V.709.

"let us follow, where the fates take us or take us back: whatever will be, every Turne of Fate can be overcome, by Endurance."