My head and my heart
February 13, 2011 by Bill
In February we celebrate President’s day and Valentine’s day. To find these two events combined symbolically in one man is a rare and unique experience, especially when they are combined in a man who was one of the most distinguished intellectual giants of civilization… Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was in love with a French artist named Maria Cosway. Her love for him was equally strong. The only problem was she was married. When Jefferson left France to return home, he sat down and wrote her a 28-page letter in longhand. The title he gave the letter was, “My Head and My Heart.” In the letter he lets his heart debate his head. It has been called one of the most beautiful and classic love letters of history.
Here was the HEAD that wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The HEAD that designed Monticello and all the furniture in it.
The HEAD that designed the University of Virginia.
The HEAD that could write and speak in FIVE languages.
The HEAD that had a personal library of over 2000 books by the time he was 21…that later became the Library of Congress.
The HEAD that was an expert violinist.
The HEAD that had read the bible in Hebrew and Greek and rejected it all as superstition and mythology.
The HEAD that was 200 years ahead of his time in Horticulture and animal husbandry.
The HEAD that was a classical scholar…in the days when there were no corner book stores. All books had to be ordered.
The HEAD that allows his HEART to win the debate. As a man of passion and feeling, he fully understood the words of Blaise Pascal: “The Heart has its reasons that reason cannot know…I do not wish I had been more logical…I often wish I had been more passionate.”
Before I quote from the text of his letter I will tell you more about Maria Cosway, the woman of Jefferson’s heart.
Maria Cosway was small, exquisite and very feminine. Jefferson’s duties as minister were fulfilled in the mornings and his afternoons were free. Jefferson and Maria began to see each other alone in the afternoons. In 1786 there were inns and intimate restaurants and Jefferson and Maria sought out the most idyllic spots in all of Paris.
Jefferson wrote a letter to the wife of John Adams, Abigail, saying, “we have dancing…singing…laughter and merriment. We kiss one another. This is the truest wisdom.”
Divorce was not approved of during this period. A mistress or lover was approved of, but not a divorce, so that Maria could not return to Monticello with Jefferson.
From his letter of goodbye, a few passages to give you the feeling:
HEAD: “Well friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.”
HEART: “I am the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel.”
HEAD: You have cancelled engagements so that you could dine together…
HEART: “Oh, my dear friend, you have revived me by recalling those evenings. Let the gloomy monk seek unsocial pleasure at the bottom of his cell. Let the sublimated philosopher grasp visionary happiness while pursuing phantoms dressed in the garb of truth. Their supreme wisdom is supreme folly. Had they ever felt the solid pleasure of one generous spasm of the heart, they would exchange for it all the frigid speculations of their lives. In short, my friend, HEAD, leave me alone. Respect for you has induced me to enter into this discussion, and to hear principles uttered that I detest. Leave me, HEART, alone. I am but a son of nature, loving what I see and feel, without being able to give a reason, or caring whether there even be one.”
Jefferson, that brilliant HEAD, knew that “the heart has reasons that reason cannot know.”
The brilliance of the Declaration of Independence and the beauty and perfume of eros and amor combined in this one man…what a rare gift to remember in this month celebrating President’s day and Valentine’s day.