JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826), President. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") to Amos J. Cook, Preceptor of Fryberg Academy in the district of Maine, Monticello, 21 January 16. 1½ pages, 4to. Paper slightly brittle, light browning, center fold separated with a small piece detached, partly obscuring two words (repairable).
JEFFERSON DISCUSSES JOHN ADAMS'S TRANSLATION OF ECCLESIASTES AND FURNISHES "SOMETHING IN THE HANDWRITING OF GEORGE WASHINGTON"
"IF THE WISE BE THE HAPPY MAN, AS THESE SAGES SAY, HE MUST BE VIRTUOUS TOO". At all stages of life, Jefferson sought occasions to read, translate, interpret and discuss--with a select few correspondents--the classical authors he revered. Retirement from public office finally yielded him (and his former political adversary, John Adams) ample time for such literary and philosophical explorations. Here, responding to a letter from to a New England academic, Jefferson thanks him for "the elegant and philosophical lines communicated by the Nestor of our revolution [John Adams]" which were "well worthy the trouble of being copied and communicated by his pen. Nor am I less thankful for the happy translation of them. It adds another to the rare instances of a rival to its original: superior indeed in one respect, as the same outline of sentiment is brought within a compass of better proportion, for if the original be liable to any criticism, it is that of giving too great extension to the same general idea. Yet it has a great authority to support it, that of a wiser man than all of us.
He then offers his own paraphrase of Ecclesiastes: "'I sought in my heart to give myself unto wine; I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards, I made me gardens and orchards, and pools to water them; I got me servants and maidens and great possessions of cattle; I gathered me also silver and gold, and men singers, and woman singers, and the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all sorts; and whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld my heart not from any joy. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and behold! All was vanity and vexation of spirit. I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.'"
Asked to supply passages of value to students, Jefferson modestly observes "I am not so happy as my friend and antient colleague, Mr. Adams, in possessing anything original inedited, and worthy of comparison with the epigraph of the Spanish Monk. I can offer but humble prose; from the hand indeed of the father of eloquence, and philosophy; a moral morsel, which our young friends under your tuition should keep ever in their eye.... 'Hic, quisquis est, qui moderatione et Constantia quietus animo est," etc. [a lengthy quotation from Cicero, Tusculanarum disputationum, Book 1].
"Or, if a more poetical dress will be more acceptable to the fancy of the juvenile student: "Quisnam igitur liber? Sapiens, sibique imperiosusIn quam manca ruit semper Fortuna." [Horace, Sermonum, Book 2.27, ll. 83-88].
In conclusion, the founder of the University of Virginia Jefferson offers a profound summation: "And if the wise be the happy man , as these sages say, he must be virtuous too; for without virtue, happiness cannot be. This is the scope of all academical emulation."
Finally he responds to Cook's request for "something in the handwriting of George Washington." He tells Cook that "I enclose you a letter, which I received from him, while in Paris, covering a copy of the new Constitution." [For that letter, see lot 327]. Cook's letter to Jefferson does not survive; but Jefferson's retained polygraph copy of his own reply is in the Library of Congress, Jefferson Papers, Series One, General Correspondence. 1651-1827.