Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Bellini, [ca. August 1785]

From Charles Bellini

[ca. Aug. 1785.] Persuaded that whatever office TJ should hold, he would wish to be no “other than Thomas Jefferson,” Bellini does not use an honorific in addressing him, for “to pay compliments to a philosopher of your dignity, would be equal to blasphemy.”

Acknowledges TJ’s letter from Annapolis of 8 May 1784, which he found so comforting and encouraging at the time of his wife’s illness: “just your name, written by your own hand now and then will sustain my waning philosophy.” Encloses a packet of letters for Mazzei who instructed when he left America that his letters should be sent to TJ. Sends his compliments to Martha Jefferson, William Short, and the Marquis de Chastellux.

RC (DLC); 4 p.; in Italian; undated; endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 26 Sep. 1785 without date.

The familiarity employed by Bellini in the salutations of this and other letters (“My dearest Thomas,” “My most estimable friend and patron Thomas,” “My dearest Thomas, most worthy friend and patron”; see translations by N. G. Nardini in WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly description ends , 2d ser., v [1925], 1–7) are not to be understood as indicating that Bellini stood on a more intimate footing with TJ than other friends who did not thus freely abandon the honorific. Even in young manhood TJ’s closest friends (Nelson and Page, for example) addressed him as “Dear Jefferson” and he in turn saluted them by using their surnames, a practice which all seem to have abandoned with maturity (see Page to TJ, 23 Aug. 1785). The intimate salutations in Bellini’s letters reflect, rather, a trait bordering on obsequiousness in his own character. TJ invariably replied to these embarrassingly familiar salutations by using his customary “Dear Sir” or “Sir.” In this and other respects TJ’s “manners were those of that polished school of the Colonial Government, so remarkable in its day—under no circumstances violating any of those minor conventional observances which constitute the well-bred gentleman, courteous and considerate to all persons” (T. J. Randolph to Henry S. Randall; Randall, Life description begins Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson description ends , iii, 674). The use of nicknames and Christian names in ordinary discourse and in correspondence among cultivated adults in the America of TJ’s time was almost non-existent, despite the evidence to the contrary in historical novels and dramatizations of the 20th century. This evidence is of recent manufacture.

Index Entries