Richard Rush’s Account of a Visit to Montpellier and Monticello
Washington October 9. 1816.
I have never seen Mr Madison so well fixed any where as on his estate in Virginia, not even before he was burnt out here. His house would be esteemed a good one for any of our country seats near Philadelphia, and is much larger than most of them. The situation is among mountains, and very beautiful. A fine estate surrounds him, at the head of which he appears to eminent advantage, as well in his great as in his estimable qualities. He has the reputation of being an excellent manager, and is a model of kindness to his slaves. He lives with profuse hospitality, and in a way to strike the eye far more agreeably, than while keeping tavern here. on the fourth of July I was told ninety persons dined with him. To be sure it was a special occasion; but not a week, scarcely a day, passes that he is not doing hospitality in a large way. He was never developed to me under so many interesting lights; as during the very delightful week I spent under his roof. Perhaps I should add, that French cookery, and Madeira that he purchased in Philadelphia in :96 made a part of every day’s fare!
Monticello is a curiosity! artificial to a high degree; in many respects superb. If it had not been called Monticello, I would call it Olympus, and Jove its occupant. In genius, in elevation, in the habits and enjoyments of his life, he is wonderfully lifted up above most mortals. The fog I was told never rises to the level of his mountain; and it is just so with what the newspapers say of him. Further: the dew does not fall on it; nor are there any insects there; nor, by consequence, any birds! Now, figure to yourself a house exalted upon such an eminence as all this bespeaks, and that house, thus as it were in the sky, decked off with art and wealth, and you have Monticello. I saw nothing so cheap as a print on his walls; nothing but paintings or statuary, with curious assemblages of artificial or natural objects forming quite a museum.
He lamented to me the loss of his library, and expects an importation of books this fall from Europe. His chief reading is the antient classicks, in the originals. He admitted that they were of no use; but he exclaimed, “they are such a luxury.” He reads, he says, no longer for knowledge, but gratification. I need not tell you with what open doors he lives, as you well know that his mountain is made a sort of Mecca.
RC (PHi: Charles Jared Ingersoll Collection); endorsed by Ingersoll.
Rush’s visit to Montpellier and Monticello took place late in August 1816. poor Joseph Alston (who had recently died), Charles J. Ingersoll, and Daniel Elliott huger all attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) with Rush during the latter half of the 1790s (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends , 1:229; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , 11:647; General Catalogue of Princeton University 1746–1906 , 111, 112).
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