“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. You’ll get it in his compendious Thomas Jefferson: Letters and Personal Papers.
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.