Thomas Jefferson’s private rooms at Monticello.
Let us suppose that you read in six languages, correspond with hundreds of friends, that you invent labor-saving devices, that each day you arise before the sun to tend your gardens and get everyone up and moving together in the most efficient direction, which perhaps you do, and if you do you will understand Thos. Jefferson’s need for efficiency in his bedroom; yet, what accounts for the room’s beauty. Well, good taste, and genius, and funds to affect both. Then too, knowledge of the best that has been thought, said, done. As in relation to the craft of architecture, Jefferson wrote, “antiquity has left us the finest models for imitation; and he who studies and imitates them most nearly, will nearest approach the perfection of the art.” which Jefferson did, with adaptation for condition, improvement in use.
The first effect you notice upon entering Jefferson’s bedroom is the color, blue; then, your eye is drawn upward to the skylight, 18’-6” above, and there a most delicate, delightful ornament, a frieze of ox skulls, candelabra, swags, putti, inspired by the frieze of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis (of “Manly Fortune”), Rome. Here before us, the famous alcove, Jefferson’s sleeping quarters, a bed but one inch longer than his 6’-2”, personed frame, toe-to-top. Always, with Jefferson in the alcove, two pistols and a sword, and that famous timepiece of Jefferson’s design, the dual obelisks that support the planet of the clock which chimed upon the hour, and the half hour.
See there, opposite side the alcove, Jefferson’s “Cabinet”, his home-office, and here his polygraph, perfected by the painter C.W. Peale; telescope, drafting equipment, microscope; orrery to trace movement of the heavens, and Jefferson’s astronomical clock that observations could be minutely measured; and this, the revolving book stand, capable of holding five books or documents, simultaneously, a most useful device, as any scholar would admit … should mention, the stand was designed by Jefferson, or by his eidolon brother-in-law and servant, John Hemmings. True, Thos. Jefferson was an agriculturist, yet, he was also a Classive scholar, author, architect, poet, skilled musician and bon vivant interested in the latest technology, eager to acquire the new, the novel, the fashionable, as who is not.
Next the Cabinet, the “Book Room”, the library containing thousands of volumes on diverse subjects, a library that Jefferson would cede to the nation after the British burned our congressional library (1814); that collection seeded our Library of Congress (6,707 volumes); today, its building, the Jefferson Building, enriches the nation with information, knowledge, wisdom. Next the Book Room, the Greenhouse where grew acacia, orange, and lime, plants that I have grown in my sunroom, and can tell you, for their care I am rewarded twice yearly with weeks of delicious fragrance. Also here, mockingbirds … do not know how he stood the noise … right, had not considered: it is the mockingbird who first sings the day, perhaps this the cause for the sun never catching Jefferson napping.
These, the Greenhouse, the Book Room, the Cabinet, the Bedroom, with its sleeping alcove nestled between, was the great man’s private quarters, well … no … nothing private about them: tall windows all-around, perhaps two-hundred people tromping past, day-and-night, friends, family, servants, slaves, guests, hangers-on hanging about … no, nothing at all private … the notion of some attached, secret, trysting room, absurd … everyone at Monticello knew everything about everyone at Monticello … why Progressives invent narratives, I do not know, perhaps self-serving fibbing is in their nature. Anyway, the place was so very busy that from time-to-time Jefferson would remove himself from Monticello to his retreat at Poplar Forest where he might hear himself think, and rest.
It has been said, and truly said, “the history of the house is the history of privacy”; these 500 years bear witness to this truth. During the late Middle Ages we might sleep one-hundred-crowded in the Lord’s great Hall, smoke-chocked from a floor-centered fire, uncomfortably bedded on straw-strewn stone, a log for pillow. Soon, some few of us would have houses … houses, really? … walls of sticks, mud, dung wattled together to form a gaping room where the family in whole would sleep on an organic, insect-rich bed, while beside us would sleep our chickens, sheep, pigs, cow, if we had one. On this continent, we hacked logs from thick, tangled wood, expanding our house in size as the family grew in number, in wealth, in liberty, enjoying then some little of what we today understand as, “privacy”.
By liberty, by wealth, by means for those free to work for themselves, to improve themselves, we came to construct what today we recognize as a “classic” house, the kind you might find on any street, Peoria to Detroit (well, in Detroit, some yet unburned by democrats). In those days, the 18th Century, education was Classive Civilization, all the best from Homer to us, the art of literature, ethics, the mathematics of Pythagoras, science by the encouragement of the Church to know God, invention practical and intellectual, invention enlivened by English liberty, that time we flatter with the term, “Enlightenment”. Jefferson’s home, Monticello, enjoyed a then recent, enlightened innovation in floorplan design. Some few decades before Jefferson began design and construction of Monticello (circa 1772), houses and palaces were yet being built without privacy, one room opening into another, into another, into another, most often without doors, room-to-room, higgledy-piggledy.
By Reason, “intelligent design”, selection, each room to its purpose, necessity, size, each room to location for convenience, the pattern of the day … garden to kitchen, to dining room, to office, to living room, to bed. Jefferson saw all of this, and more. Many people see things, few understand what they see, fewer still critique what they see, of these, some very few will innovate in design, with beauty: only the minute few in history will bring a new thing into the world, Jefferson is among these few who have brought a new thing into the world … in philosophy, equality by the Creator, in architecture, form reasoned, Classively, that notion of man extending himself actively, by wisdom into space … this form of architecture, Jeffersonian, a most American style, a style individually willed, composed of the best that has been thought, said, done, a style in use to this day … well, by those who understand America, these United States of America, to be a thing coterminous with Athens, Rome, London, and by Jefferson, Paris.
By book, by example, by field observation, by the physical measurement of buildings Roman, French, et cetera, Thomas Jefferson, an artist, created a personal, architectural style with universal appeal. Then too, the style tells something of who we were, of who yet we are: a people of Roman order in politics and law, inspired by Greek beauty, informed by European achievement, defined by Christian personality. And what are we, what might we become: creatures who by striving to excellence might rise above animals to pass angels, ascend to the Divine, and there enjoy harmony in God. Here, on Earth, by Jefferson’s example, by reason divinely inspired, we might realize something of Athens’ wisdom, of Jerusalem’s peace … speaking theologically, of course.
Here, the obvious segue: the “bedtime prayer”, a prayer of the young, in innocence, of the old, in wisdom, of those between, in desperation, a prayer of desire, of insurance, et cetera … some will kneel, some will bow, some will recline, as I do, wishing my “good night” to the relatives pictured on wall and in imagination … a-passing into thanks for my many gifts, perhaps deserved, requesting some extra portion of good for others, an “Amen”, then brief thoughts in conclusion of the day … as here I consider Jefferson in conclusion of his day. I, a theist, he, a deist, each curious, questioning. He with more questions than I. He might look to his bedroom or to his cabinet, his studies and projects, or through the window, to his estate, the management of its business, the care of all the souls in his charge, and beyond, to a nation inspired by his idea, hopeful, confident that the best will come. As by experience, Homer to himself, the best had come. Yet, you will know, Jefferson, a deist, supposed God merely got the pattern patterning, then left we men to discover what is best for creatures alike ourselves … in this, a deist has much cause for worry.
Hum. What is best for creatures alike ourselves. If merely material, if merely bodies, as Thales and Democritus hold, we want convenience for body, things tangible, practically useful. If fully dual, body and soul, as Socrates and Jesus hold, we want health in mind, in body. For health in soul, things beautiful, and good, and true, tangibly intangible, practically divine. The Materialist is philosophically Progressive; the Dualist is philosophically Classive; the two are incompatible, a schizophrenia to our Classive civilization. Perhaps you know, the Classive Plato is rumored to have burned the Progressive Democritus’ books … doubt this biographical detail to be factually true, yet, apocryphally true.
This we can say: In all, Thomas Jefferson’s multi-use, multi-perspectived bedroom is with us, today; no longer a place shared with sheep, family, friends and servants gathered into one bed, but a place in beauty, of quaint privacy and pragmatic convenience, of useful technologies that hum and chime and entertain, closets for store, chair, table, dresser for use, bed, for the most exquisite comfort, a large window to encourage light, curtains to keep night.
What’s more to say … let Jefferson have his way and tell as he would tell:
“Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.” Ah, a true artist.
“Architecture being one of the fine arts, and as such within the department of a professor of the college [meaning William & Mary, re. its buildings, etc.*] … perhaps a spark may fall on some young subjects of natural taste, kindle up their genius, and produce a reformation in this elegant and useful art.” “Utility then, is the standard and test of virtue.” And so it was, and so it is, true.
Of how many places might we say, excepting the University of Virginia, that buildings themselves teach: “The introduction of chaste models of the orders of architecture taken from the finest remains of antiquity, and of specimens of the choicest samples of each order was considered as a necessary foundation of instruction for the students in this art … We therefore determined that each of the pavilions erected … should present a distinct and different sample of the art … the lecturer, in a circuit attended by his school, could explain to them successively these samples of the several orders, their varieties, peculiarities and accessory circumstances.”
Well, there it is, tradition.
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* Here, above, Jefferson was speaking of faults, of deficiencies, vice in buildings, in the architecture from which people would learn humanity. Jefferson recognized the re-forming, reforming quality of architecture upon the mind, upon character, upon humane congress. In his design of the Academical Village of The University of Virginia, Jefferson inspired natural taste, potential genius, not only of Virginia’s students, but of the nation. Jefferson concluded the architecture section of his “Notes on the State of Virginia” (1787) with comments on the country being a tabula rasa, a “scraped tablet” (id est, “an erased blackboard”) upon which every 50 years we set out something new … which here I annotate with something new and true: Progressive architecture is, hos epi to polu, malformed and inhumane, is almost universally disliked by the American people (see the evidence, here), is most universally approved by media, academia, and international corporatists … Progressive architecture has been a common failure, obvious and regrettable … time for a virtuous, Classive Renewal, time to construct a healthful, humane edifice of civilization, a foundational architecture, homes for Classive, souled beings in the way of Jefferson, reasoned in Beauty, Commodious to the genial creatures that we are.
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