Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, & Weltschmerz

Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart

At the moment I am reading "Thomas Jefferson", a bio of Jefferson by Fawn Brodie. I don't have to remind you that Jefferson became President of the United States in 1801. Now, one of the main reasons I, as opposed to other family members, was interested in the Samuel Meeker portrait was because he was a peer of Goethe. As was Jefferson.

Here is a tale of a lovesick Jefferson taken from Brodie's biography: "In April [1764] he barely missed seeing the new Mrs. Ambler [a passion of Jefferson, she married another fellow] at a party at the home of Frances Burwell..., to which he had been invited. "What I high figure I should have cut had I gone!" he wrote to Page. "When I heard who visited you there I thought I had met with the narrowest escape in the world. I wonder how I should have behaved? I am sure I should have been at a great loss." The deprivation for Jefferson in losing Rebecca Burwell was more anguishing than has been acknowledged by some of his biographers. Malone holds that 'Jefferson carried on this rather absurd affair mostly in his imagination.' Nathan Schachner believes 'his passion could not have been too unmanageable, for he made no move to journey down to see her,' and labels his melancholy 'sentimental Weltschmerz.' "

Sentimental Weltschmerz can be roughly translated into an emotional 'ennuie and sadness with the world'~ This feeling and expression of emotion, by men, was increasingly common in the mid 1700s to the early 1800s, culminating in the novel "Die Leiden des jungen Werther" (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1775, when he was 25. In this fiction told in letter-form, Goethe capitalized on the fad of men expressing suffering, emotion, ennuie [this was the time of Sturm und Drang]~ and with the publication of this story of male suffering, Goethe enjoyed huge success as his book became the main topic of the salons, and he became a worldwide celebrity.

"Die Leiden des jungen Werther" gelten den meisten nur als gefühlvoller Liebesroman, und das Werk ist in der Tat einer der schoensten and leidenschaftlichsten Liebesromane der Weltliteratur.

Jefferson was devastated at the death of his wife Martha, he never married again, but his long term relationship with Sally Hemmings raised eyebrows, for she was a slave. Goethe would have approved, or lets say, he would not have disapproved. He knew very well what it was like to transgress social norms.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When I saw this statue in the garden of the villa Mount Pleasant on the Schuylkill, I wondered if it was once in...the villa garden of Fountain Green!

Below is the William Birch illustration of the country seat of Samuel Meeker on the Schuylkill River Philadelphia (courtesy of the River Print Department & Digital Collections Library Company of Philadelphia), the famed estate called Fountain Green. The estate, oringially comprising over 300 acres when first deeded to the Mifflin family by British royalty, was by now only about 25 acres but still maintaining substantial financial worth, considering its proximity to the river, and amid sizable increases in the price of real estate post revolution. (The canal was new and was not finished at the time. I have yet to understand the reason why this canal was built in the first place, and then taken away.) Just below the full depiction of Fountain Green is, in detail, the statue adorning the garden grounds. Look at it closely. Does it not look eerily similar to the statue I photographed in the garden of the neighboring villa Mount Pleasant, this summer? Here is my theory. When the villa Fountain Green burned, sometime in the 1870s, the owners of neighboring Mount Pleasant either bought at auction, or salvaged, the statue and put it in their garden. Is it an original piece from Samuel Meeker's days? I think it would be very difficult to find out... I will try! But, I think it is.

statue presently in the front garden of Mount Pleasant...

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