This week, we ask President Jefferson to confirm or deny these reported talents.
- Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States by James Parton (Public domain on archive.org)
- Founders Online: From Thomas Jefferson to David Rittenhouse, 19 July 1778
Jefferson’s early biographer James Parton famously said the third president could “Calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin.”
A version of that famous list of talents has been in my stage-performance introduction for several decades now. But when I actually paused to read Parton’s statement carefully the other day, I realized, all over again, what a remarkable man Jefferson was. And that’s just an abbreviated list of his talents.
It also made me realize, all over again, my own glaring limitations as a man and as a Jefferson impersonator. Let’s go through the list. Calculate an eclipse. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I understand how an eclipse works. I remember at Stonehenge long ago my Oxford friend Douglas, a physicist, explaining an eclipse to a scientifically challenged friend using an orange, a grapefruit, and a tangerine. If the experts tell me there will be a total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017, I know how to plan my schedule and get myself somewhere in the eclipse corridor where the summer skies are likely to be clear that day. But if I had all alone to calculate the next total eclipse of the sun, I’d be flummoxed. To put it lightly.
Read this week's Jefferson Watch essay, "Order a Pizza, Tie my Shoes, Sing in the Shower, Overdraw my Checking Account, Change a Printer Cartridge".