“When I recollect that at 14 years of age, the whole care and direction of my self was thrown on my self entirely, without a relation or friend qualified to advise or guide me, and recollect the various sorts of bad company with which I associated from time to time, I am astonished I did not turn off with some of them, and become as worthless to society as they were.
I had the good fortune to become acquainted very early with some characters of very high standing, and to feel the incessant wish that I could even become what they were…
From the circumstances of my position I was often thrown into the society of horseracers, cardplayers, Foxhunters, scientific and professional men, and of dignified men; and many a time have I asked myself, in the enthusiastic moment of the death of a fox, the victory of a favorite horse, the issue of a question eloquently argued at the bar or in the great Council of the nation, well, which of these kinds of reputation should I prefer? That of a horse jockey? A foxhunter? An Orator? Or the honest advocate of my country’s rights?
Be assured my dear Jefferson, that these little returns into ourselves, this self-cathechising habit, is not trifling, nor useless, but leads to the prudent selection and steady pursuits of what is right.”
A section of a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in response to his oldest grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, on November 24th, 1808.
The portraits were painted of TJ and TJR at roughly the time of this correspondence. In November of 1808, Thomas Jefferson was 65-years-old, and Thomas Randolph was 16.
Read more from Jefferson – to John Adams, following the death of his wife Abigail. Jefferson writes a short but profound letter of condolence to his friend and political rival; it is supplemented with some commentary on grief, including a passage from Saul Bellow’s novel Ravelstein and a recent exchange on the subject which I had with Noam Chomsky:
Check out Jefferson’s biographer John Meacham discuss Jefferson’s passions and the roots of his relationship with Sally Hemings:
Or look at two more great letters from founding fathers. In the first, Alexander Hamilton is looking for a female companion. In the second, John Adams is venting to his.