Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 13 October 1786

To Maria Cosway

Paris Octob. 13. 1786

My Dear Madam

Just as I had sealed the inclosed I received a letter of a good length, dated Antwerp, with your name at the bottom. I prepared myself for a feast. I read two or three sentences: looked again at the signature to see if I had not mistaken it. It was visibly yours. Read a sentence or two more. Diable! Spelt your name distinctly. There was not a letter of it omitted. Began to read again. In fine after reading a little and examining the signature, alternately, half a dozen times, I found that your name was to four lines only instead of four pages. I thank you for the four lines however because they prove you think of me. Little indeed, but better a little than none. To shew how much I think of you I send you the inclosed letter of three sheets of paper, being a history of the evening I parted with you. But how expect you should read a letter of three mortal sheets of paper? I will tell you. Divide it into six doses of half a sheet each, and every day, when the toilette begins, take a dose, that is to say, read half a sheet. By this means it will have the only merit it’s length and dulness can aspire to, that of assisting your coëffeuse to procure you six good naps of sleep. I will even allow you twelve days to get through it, holding you rigorously to one condition only, that is, that at whatever hour you receive this, you do not break the seal of the inclosed till the next toilette. Of this injunction I require a sacred execution. I rest it on your friendship, and that in your first letter you tell me honestly whether you have honestly performed it.—I send you the song I promised. Bring me in return it’s subject, Jours heureux! Were I a songster I should sing it all to these words ’Dans ces lieux qu’elle tarde à se rendre’! Learn it I pray you, and sing it with feeling.—My right hand presents it’s devoirs to you, and sees with great indignation the left supplanting it in a correspondence so much valued. You will know the first moment it can resume it’s rights. The first exercise of them shall be addressed to you, as you had the first essay of it’s rival. It will yet, however, be many a day. Present my esteem to Mr. Cosway, and believe me to be yours very affectionately,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); written with TJ’s left hand. Enclosures: (1) TJ to Mrs. Cosway, 12 Oct. 1786, which was 12 pages in length, or “three mortal sheets of paper.” (2) Song from Dardanus (see below; also Helen Duprey Bullock, My Head and My Heart: A Little History of Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosway, New York, 1945, p. 27–8).

The song I promised: Dardanus, a tragedy based on a poem by Le Bruère, adapted by Guillard and set to music by Sacchini, included in Act ii, Sc. 4 the lines mentioned by TJ:

“Jour heureux, espoir enchanteur! Prix charmant d’un amour si tendre! Je vais la voir, je vais l’entendre, Je vais retrouver le bonheur!

Dans ces lieux écartés qu’elle tarde à se rendre!

De quel trouble nouveau je me sens agité!

Moment que j’ai tant souhaité Ah! ne vous faites plus attendre!”

Dardanus was produced at the Académie Royale de Musique on 3 Oct. 1786 (Journal de Paris, same date). There is no indication in TJ’s Account Book, but it is quite possible that a party including the Cosways, TJ, and perhaps others saw the play two days before the former left Paris and that—perhaps on the route to St. Denis the morning of the 5th—TJ made the promise that he fulfilled in the present letter.

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