This week, we speak with President Jefferson about his hospitality and good manners. In her book, The First Forty Years of Washington Society Margaret Bayard Smith quotes federalist Supreme Court Justice William Paterson’s opinion of Thomas Jefferson. Of Jefferson he said, “No man can be personally acquainted with Mr. Jefferson and remain his personal enemy.
You probably know that I am starting an entirely new humanities enterprise, my one-man program about the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare. I began my life as a public humanities scholar decades ago while studying English Renaissance literature, first at the University of Minnesota and then at Oxford. I’ve given my whole adult life to close reading of great texts, whether it was the sermons of John Donne, or the statements that Robert Oppenheimer made after the atomic bomb detonated successfully at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. I can feel the nuances in Jefferson’s carefully modulated letters. I have honed my ability to find the fissure points in historical personalities and some contemporary ones too. The humanities have made me generous in observing the ones who then and now rise above the radar, because the humanities have taught me that Saints Theresa and Francis were not always saints, and not even Mussolini and Richard Nixon are void of spectacular moments of insight and achievement.
Read this week's Jefferson Watch essay, "The Seven Ages of Jefferson."