June 7, 2013

I cannot live without books...

I hope you've put on your walking shoes, because we are going to start our home tour today!  Welcome to the EAST FRONT of Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson:

Not to be confused, please, with the WEST FRONT of the house. (I'm not making this up!)

My husband is going to welcome you in to the hallway, past the columns that are sandpainted and the white wood siding of the entrance area, painted to look like brick. Washington used the same 'rustication' techniques at Mount Vernon.
Note the Native American artifacts displayed in the grand entrance room--part of the Lewis and Clark expedition
View from the second floor overlooking the entry way
The Entrance Hall served as a reception area and waiting room for visitors and a museum of American natural history, western civilization, and Native American cultures. The large clock over the door was designed by Jefferson. To impress visitors who may have never met Jefferson before, art on display included eleven copies of Old Masters paintings, as well as busts of prominent figures such as Alexander Hamilton and Voltaire. Of course the Declaration of Independence was celebrated with the display of two engravings, one showing John Trumbull's famous depiction of the signing, and the other John Binn's embellished print of the text. Indian artifacts numbered at least forty, including pipes, clothing, domestic objects, and a Mandan buffalo robe depicting a battle scene. The room held natural history specimens such as antlers and bones, as well as maps, such as one of Virginia as surveyed by Jefferson's father, Peter Jefferson. Most visitors never made it past the grand entry, so to accommodate many visitors at once, the room contained up to twenty-eight chairs.

One reason that Jefferson holds a soft spot in my heart is that he was a passionate bibliophile. Entering his library you have no idea how much I wanted to reach out and touch one of the thousands of books lined up in bookshelves and cabinets, but at the risk of being whisked away by security I kept my fingers to myself.
Jefferson said in an April 12, 1817 letter to Joseph Delaplaine, "I was educated at William and Mary college in Williamsburg. I read Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English of course, with something of it's radix the Anglo-Saxon." Jefferson had dictionaries, vocabularies, and grammars in a number of other languages in his library as well, including Arabic, Gaelic, and Welsh.
View into Jefferson's library from his study

During the War of 1812, British forces entered Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol building and 3,000-volume library inside it. Jefferson expressed his particular distress at this loss: "I learn from the newspapers that the vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited." Recognizing that it would be difficult for Congress to replace the library that had been lost, given the war and the difficulty of procuring items from Europe, Thomas Jefferson offered up his large personal library to Congress, consisting of almost seven thousand books.

Here's a fun poem for you today that celebrates the love of good books...the ones that Jefferson stacked beside his bed and carefully arranged on his revolving bookstand and on his library shelves, as well as the ones I pile up on my bedside table, in the dining room, in the living room and family room, tuck in my purse and leave in the car.  It's title is Bookshelf, by Robert William Service.

I like to think that when I fall,
A rain-drop in Death's shoreless sea,
This shelf of books along the wall,
Beside my bed, will mourn for me.

Regard it.... Aye, my taste is queer.
Some of my bards you may disdain.
Shakespeare and Milton are not here;
Shelly and Keats you seek in vain.
Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning too,
Remarkably are not in view.

Who are they? Omar first you see,
With Vine and Rose and Nightingale,
Voicing my pet philosphy
Of Wine and Song.... Then Reading Gaol,
Where Fate a gruesome pattern makes,
And dawn-light shudders as it wakes.

The Ancient Mariner is next,
With eerie and terrific text;
The Burns, with pawky human touch -
Poor devil! I have loved him much.
And now a gay quartette behold:
Bret Harte and Eugene Field are here;
And Henly, chanting brave and bold,
And Chesteron, in praise of Beer.

Lastly come valiant Singers three;
To whom this strident Day belongs:
Kipling, to whom I bow the knee,
Masefield, with rugged sailor songs....
And to my lyric troupe I add
With greatful heart - The Shropshire Lad.

Behold my minstrels, just eleven.
For half my life I've loved them well.
And though I have no hope of Heaven,
And more than Highland fear of Hell,
May I be damned if on this shelf
ye find a rhyme I made myself.

Happy Friday!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the photos and the information on Monticello. I've never been there and hope to visit someday.

    I feel the same way about books as Thomas Jefferson.