I was so unlucky when very young, as to read the history of Fortunatus. He had a cap of such virtues that when he put it on his head, and wished to be anywhere, he was there.
Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, Dec. 24, 1786
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 10:627
The distance to which I am removed [France] … seems to have given a keener edge to all the friendly affections of the mind. Time, absence, and comparison render my own country much dearer … Fortunatus’s wishing cap was always the object of my desire, but never so much as lately. With it I should soon be seated at your fireside to enjoy the society of yourself and family.
Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Cary Miles, Aug. 12, 1787
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 12:23
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The honest leader indulges in “what if” once in a awhile.
Kevin Hayes explains in The Road to Monticello, P. 16, where both excerpts are found, “ … The History of Fortunatus told a fantastic tale about an adventurous man who acquired an inexhaustible purse and a magic cap that made him not only invisible but also transported him anywhere he wished to go. The work was so widely known that Fortunatus’ purse and cap had become proverbial.”
Jefferson was not a widely-traveled man, literally. He saw the territory between home and New York in his official capacities, plus five years in France, where he also visited Italy and England. The remainder of his time was all spent in his native Virginia. Figuratively, though, he might have been the most well-traveled man in the world, through his libraries. Books became his “cap of Fortunatus,” allowing him to go anywhere, anytime. (The magic purse alluded him, however!)
1. Fortunatus, who chose wealth and self-indulgence over wisdom, willed his cap and purse to his two sons, whose jealousy and greed did them in.
2. Jefferson was still pining for Maria Cosway, who had left France several months before. Hayes’ excerpt of this letter ends with these words, “Yet if I had it, I question if I should use it but once. I should wish myself with you, and not wish myself away again.”
Read this post for a refresher on Jefferson’s “Head and Heart” dialogue.
Let Thomas Jefferson’s remarks to your audience be their “cap of Fortunatus.”
Invite him to speak!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739