« AnteriorContinuar »
Thus glided on the evening of Mr. JEFFERSON’s patriotic and benevolent life; as age wore gradually away the energies of his body, his mind, shone with intelligence undiminished; and his efforts and desires for the progress of human happiness and knowledge, knew no change. Years, however, had crowded upon him; and when the increase of infirmities at length prevented him leaving his chamber, he remarked to the physician, who sought to assist him by the aid of his art, that “the machine had worn out, and could go on no longer.” During the spring of 1826, he had suffered from increasing debility, but it was not until the 26th of June, that he was obliged to confine himself to his bed. The strength of his constitution and freedom from bodily pain for a short time encouraged the hope, that this confinement would be only temporary ; but his own conversation showed that he did not himself so regard it. “Do not imagine,” he said to those around him, “ that I feel the smallest solicitude as to the result. I do not indeed wish to die, but I do not fear to die.” His temper retained all its usual cheerfulness and equanimity; his only anxiety seemed to be for the prosperity of the university, and he expressed strongly his hopes that the state would not abandon it; he declared that if he could see that child of his old age fairly flourishing, he was ready to depart—to say “nunc dimittis domine," a favorite quotation with him. On the 2d of July, he appeared free from disease, but his weakness was such, that his physicians expressed a doubt whether his strength would prove sufficient to restore him. Conscious himself that he could not recover, and without any bodily or apparently mental pain, he calmly gave directions relative to his interment, which he requested might be at Monticello without parade or pomp; he then called his family around him, and conversed separately with each of them; to his beloved daughter, Mrs. Randolph, he presented a small morocco case, which he requested her not to open till after his death; when the sad limitation had expired, it was found to contain an affectionate poetical tribute to the virtues of her from whom he was thus torn away; he desired, if any inscription were placed on his tomb, he should be described only as “the author of the declaration of independence, of the statutes of Virginia for religious freedom, and the father of the university.” On Monday, the following day, he inquired of those around him with much solicitude, what was the day of the month ; they told him it was the 3d of July; he then eagerly expressed his desire that he might be permitted to live to another
day, to breathe the air of the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of independence. His wish was granted: the morning of the 4th of July,
1826, found him still living; and after declaring himself gratified by the affectionate solicitude of his family and servants, and having distinctly articulated these words, “I resign myself to my God, and my child to my country,” he gradually expired without a murmur or a groan. At the time of his death, Mr. JEFFERSON had reached the age
of eighty-three years, two months, and twenty-one days. In person he was six feet two inches high, erect and well formed, though thin; his eyes were light and full of intelligence; his hair was very abundant, and originally of a yellowish red, though in his latter years silvered with age; his complexion was fair, his forehead broad, and the whole face square and expressive of deep thinking; his countenance was remarkably intelligent and open as day, its general expression full of good-will and kindness, and, when the occasion excited it, beaming with enthusiasm; his address was cordial, confirming the welcome of his lips; his motions were flexible and easy, his step firm and sprightly; and such were his strength and agility, that he was accustomed, in the society of children, of which he was fond, to practise feats that few could imitate. His manner was simple, mingled with native dignity, but cheerful, unassuming, frank, and kind; his language was remarkable for vivacity and correctness; and in his conversation, which was without apparent effort, he poured forth knowledge the most various from an exhaustless fountain, yet so modestly, and so engagingly, that he seemed rather to seek than to impart information.
In his disposition he was full of liberality and benevolence; of this the neighborhood of Monticello affords innumerable monuments, and, on his own estate, such was the condition of his slaves, that in their comforts his own interests were too often entirely forgotten. Among his neighbors he was esteemed and beloved in an uncommon degree, and his sentiments and opinions were regarded by them with extreme respect, the reward rather of his private worth than of his public services. His kindness had no limits; he omitted nothing in his power to alleviate distress. On one occasion, when president, passing on horseback a stream in Virginia, he was accosted by a feeble beggar, who implored his aid to help him across; without hesitation he carried him over behind him, and, on the beggar telling him he had neglected his wallet, he as good-humoredly recrossed the stream, and brought it to him. When the British and German prisoners, taken at Saratoga, were quartered in his neighborhood, he treated them with marked kinndess; he enlisted the benevolent dispositions of the neighborhood to supply their wants, obtain provisions, and secure their habitations against the inclemency of the season; and to the officers he threw open his library, and offered all the hospitalities of Monticello. On leaving Virginia, they wrote him letters conveying the warmest gratitude; and when he subsequently visited Germany, many of these grateful men flocked around him, loading him with respect and affection.
In his temper he displayed the greatest equanimity: his oldest friends have remarked that they never beheld him give way to passion; and he treated his family and domestics with unvarying gentleness. Even during the exciting political contests in which he was so prominent an actor, he never displayed personal enmity, or used his influence or power with an angry or vindictive spirit. When the celebrated traveller, Humboldt, was once visiting him, he saw a newspaper lying on his table, containing a slanderous and acrimonious attack; pointing it out to Mr. JEFFERSON, he said "why do you not hang the man ?" “Put the paper in your pocket,” replied the president with a smile, "and on your return to your own country, if any one doubts the freedom of our press, show it to him, and tell him where you found it.” Even at the period when his elevation to the chief magistracy was contested with so much violence, he says, in a letter to Governor Henry, of Maryland, a political opponent, “I feel extraordinary gratification in addressing this letter to you, with whom shades of difference in political sentiment have not prevented the interchange of good opinion, nor cut off the friendly offices of society. This political tolerance is the more valued by me, who consider social harmony as the first of human felicities, and the happiest moments those which are given to the effusions of the heart." His attachment, indeed, to his friends was warm and unvarying; he imparted to them, with unstudied and fearless confidence, all that he thought and felt; he entertained no ungenerous caution or distrust, and he had his reward in that firm support, which he received and had a right to expect from them, in every exigency.
The domestic habits of Mr. JEFFERSON were quite simple. His application was constant and excessive. He always rose very early; to a remark once made to him of surprise at his being able, amidst the numerous interruptions to which his public station exposed him, to transact his business, he replied, “I have made it a rule never to let the sun rise before me, and before I have breakfasted, to transact all the business called for by the day.” His habits were so exact, that in a cabinet abounding with papers, each one was so labelled and arranged as to be immediately found. After his retirement from public life, he maintained a correspondence wonderfully extensive. He usually rode every day for an hour or two, and continued to do so until a very short period before his death; and though he retired early, his afternoons were, to the last, devoted to study, as his evenings were to his family circle.