Th Jefferson presents his respects to Mrs. Merry, and sends her a few seeds of the Dionaea muscipula, or Flytrap, so much celebrated as holding the middle ground between the animal & vegetable orders. tho’ a native of Carolina, this is the first he has been able to recieve after a course of six years efforts & all the interest he could make there. he recieved it the last night by post & sends mrs Merry the half of what he recieved. the plant will be best in pots because it will need some shelter in winter.
To Elizabeth Leathes Merry, December 26, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders separate personal interests from political ones.
Mrs. Merry was the wife of Anthony Merry, the new and highly disliked ambassador from England. Merry expected preferential treatment from the President and was greatly incensed not to receive it. His wife was gregarious, presumptuous and loved being the center of attention. Still, she was intelligent, a conversationalist and had an interest in botany, qualities Jefferson admired.
So, when a six year quest for seeds of the Venus flytrap was finally successful, he immediately shared half of his supply with her. He found some of her personal traits distasteful but overlooked those to cultivate the common ground they shared.
Two weeks later, in a letter to James Monroe, Jefferson disparaged both husband and wife, referring to her as a “virago.” Wikipedia describes a virago as a manly woman, a female warrior or heroine, but acknowledges a later, more common usage, found in another online search, an ill-tempered, domineering woman. Chances are Jefferson meant the latter definition.
Regardless, Mrs. Merry penned her thanks to the President later that day.