Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 8 July 1820

To John Holmes

Monticello July 8. 20.

Dear Sir

Your favor of June 19. is recieved and I congratulate, not yourself, but your state, on preserving to the councils of the nation your useful talents. their entrance into the Union is thus marked by an act of peculiar magnanimity, proving that in becoming a member of the nation, they will rise above local considerations, & think & act on the National scale.

You ask leave to publish my letter of apr. 22. but the wise man tells us there is a time for every thing; of course, for retiring from business as well a[s] for entering into it; and my time for retiring is long since arrived. I feel it most sensibly in all the faculties of mind and body: and in nothing more than in the wish to pass the remainder of life in tranquility, and in the peac[e] and goodwill of all mankind.—of all mankind, have I said?—No—that is impossible. it was my fortune, good or bad, to be placed at the head of the phalanx which entered first the breach in the federal ramparts. and our opponents, like Nero, wishing for a single neck, chose to consider mine as that of the whole body, and to spend on that all the hackings and hewings of their wrath. some, I know, have forgiven, some have forgotten me: but many still brood in silence over their angry recollections. and why should I rekindle these smoking embers? why call up from their cearments the ghosts of the dead? the letter, you think, would have weight. it might be acceptable to those who think with it; but otherwise to those of the opposit[e] sentiment. save me then, dear Sir, from this Arena of gladiators; from th[e] ridicule of Priam in juvenile arms: and perform rather the office of the good old Hecuba, who withdrew him to the asylum of the altar ‘et sacrâ longaevum, in sede locavit.’ for this good office, and for all your good services, I shall offer my prayers to heaven for your health & happiness

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); edge trimmed; at foot of text: “The honble J. Holmes.”

there is a time for every thing is from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3.1). The Emperor Caligula, not nero, reportedly cried out, “I wish the Roman people had but a single neck,” presumably in order that he might easily sever the head (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, 4.30.2, trans. John C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library [1913–14; rev. ed. 1997–98], 1:464–5). cearments is a variant of “cerements” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

When Hecuba, in Virgil’s Aeneid, 2.517–25, saw her husband, King Priam of Troy, “harnessed in the armour of his youth” (in juvenile arms) as his kingdom fell, she exclaimed, “what dreadful thought has driven you to don these weapons … Come hither, pray; this altar will guard us.” Then she drew him to her “and placed him on the holy seat” (et sacrâ longaevum, in sede locavit) (Fairclough, Virgil description begins Virgil, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, Loeb Classical Library, 1916–18, rev. by G. P. Goold, 1999–2000, repr. 2002–06, 2 vols. description ends , 1:350–1).

Index Entries

  • Aeneid (Virgil) search
  • Bible; Ecclesiastes referenced by TJ search
  • Caligula (Roman emperor) search
  • Federalist party; TJ on search
  • Hecuba (mythological character) search
  • Holmes, John; and publication of TJ’s letter search
  • Holmes, John; elected to U.S. Senate search
  • Holmes, John; letters to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; publication of papers search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Virgil search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Federalist party search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; retirement search
  • Maine; elections in search
  • Nero (Roman emperor); TJ references search
  • Priam (mythological character) search
  • Virgil; Aeneid search
  • Virgil; TJ quotes search