Jefferson's Travels to the South of France and Italy in 1787
In case you are traveling to the south of France, I am including some of the things Jefferson saw when he made such a journey in 1787.
After hurting his wrist in a fall when walking with Maria Cosway in the Tuileries park in Paris, Jefferson sought a cure for the lasting discomfort in his badly set wrist in the famous waters of southern France, notably at Aix en Provence. He continued his tour to the north of Italy. On his way he admired the architecture and the pastoral life style in his path and also collected information about French wine and other agriculture which he later sent on to America. His two month trip took him to Marseilles and then eastward along the French coast as far as Milan in Italy and then back again through Toulouse, Bordeaux and along the Loire to Paris. He returned without going as far as Rome because he could not stay away longer from the work that waited him as Ambassador in Paris.
The Maison Carre in Nimes-an old Roman temple as Jefferson saw it in 1787. Click to enlarge.
The Maison Carre: An architectural drawing from Book Four of The Architecture of Palladio published in London in 1721. Click to enlarge.
THE MAISON CARRE Jefferson's Letter to Madame de Tess from Nimes in the south of France (spelled Nismes at the time).
Nismes, March 20, 1787
Here I am, Madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison quarre, like a lover at his mistress. The stocking weavers and silk spinners around it, consider me as a hypochondriac Englishman, about to write with a pistol, the last chapter of his history. This is the second time I have been in love since left Paris. The first was with a Diana at the Chateau de Laye-Epinaye in Beaujolois, a delicious morsel of sculpture, by M. A. Slodtz. This, you will say, was a rule, to fall in love with a female beauty: but with a house! It is out of all precedent. No, Madam, it is not without a precedent, in my own history. While in Paris, I was violently smitten with the Hotel de Salm, and used to go to the Thuileries almost daily, to look at it. The loueuse des chaises, inattentive to my passion, never had the complaisance to place a chair there, so that sitting on the parapet, and twisting my neck round to see the object of my admiration, I generally left it with a torti-colli.
From Lyons to Nismes I have been nourished with the remains of Roman grandeur. They have always brought you to my mind, because I know your affection for whatever is Roman and noble. At Vienne I thought of you. But I am glad you were not there; for you would have seen me more angry than, I hope, you will ever see me. The Praetorian palace, as it is called, comparable, for its fine proportions, to the Maison quarre, defaced by the barbarians who have converted it to its present purpose, its beautiful fluted Corinthian columns cut out, in part, to make space for Gothic windows, and hewed down, in the residue, to the plane of the building, was enough, you must admit, to disturb my composure. At Orange too, I thought of you. I was sure you had seen with pleasure, the sublime triumphal arch of Marius at the entrance of the city. I went then to the Arenae. Would you believe, Madam, that in this eighteenth century, in France, under the reign of Louis XVI. they are at this momont pulling down the circular wall of this superb remain, to pave a road? And that too from a hill which is itself an entire mass of stone, just as fit, and more accessible? A former intendant, a M. de Basville has rendered his memory dear to the traveller and amateur, by the pains he took to preserve and restore these monuments of antiquity. The present one (I do not know who he is) is demolishing the object, to make a good road to it.
I thought of you again, and I was then in great good humor, at the Pont du Gard, a sublime antiquity, and well preserved. But most of all here, where Roman taste, genius and magnificence, excite ideas analogous to yours at every step. could no longer oppose the inclination to avail myself of your permission to write to you, a permission given with too much complaisance by you, and used by me, with too much indiscretion. Madame de Tott did me the same honor. But she, being only the descendant of some of those puny heroes who boiled their own kettles before the walls of Troy, I shall write to her from a Grecian, rather than a Roman canton: when I shall find myself, for example among her Phocaean relations at Marseilles. Loving, as you do madam, the precious remains of antiquity, loving architecture, gardening, a warm sun and a clear sky, I wonder you have never thought of moving Chaville to Nismes. This, as you know, has not always been deemed impracticable; and therefore, the next time a Sur-intendant des batiments du roi, after the example of M. Colbert, sends persons to Nismes to move the Maison quarre to Paris, that they may not come empty handed, desire them to bring Chaville with them, to replace it.
A propos of Paris. I have now been three weeks from there, without knowing any thing of what has passed. I suppose shall meet it all at Aix, where I have directed my letters to be lodged, poste restante. My journey has given me leisure to reflect on this Assemble des Notables. Under a good and a young King, as the present, I think good may be made of it. I would have the deputies then, by all means, so conduct themselves as to encourage him to repeat the calls of this Assembly. Their first step should be, to get themselves divided into two chambers instead of seven; the Noblesse and the Commons separately. The second, to persuade the King, instead of choosing the deputies of the Commons himself, to summon those chosen by the people for the Provincial administrations. The third, as the Noblesse is too numerous to be all of the Assemble, to obtain permission for that body to choose its own deputies. Two Houses, so elected, would contain a mass of wisdom which would make the people happy, and the King great; would place him in history where no other act can possibly place him. They would thus put themselves in the track of the best guide they can follow, they would soon overtake it, become its guide in turn, and lead to the wholesome modifications wanting in that model, and necessary to constitute a rational government. Should they attempt more than the established habits of the people are ripe for, they may lose all, and retard indefinitely the ultimate object of their aim. These, Madam, are my opinions; but I wish to know yours, which, am sure, will be better.
From a correspondent at Nismes, you will not expect news. Were I to attempt to give you news, I should tell you stories one thousand years old. I should detail to you the intrigues of the courts of the Caesars, how they affect us here, the oppressions of their praetors, prefects, &c. I am immersed in antiquities from morning to night. For me, the city of Rome is actually existing in all the splendor of its empire. I am filled with alarms for the event of the irruptions daily making on us, by the Goths, the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals, lest they should re-conquer us to our original barbarism. If I am sometimes induced to look forward to the eighteenth century, it is only when recalled to it by the recollection of your goodness and friendship, and by those sentiments of sincere esteem and respect, with which I have the honor to be, Madam, your most obedient and most humble servant, Thomas Jefferson