Being about to embark for Europe, (induced to change the Scenes which Surround me, from a recent melancholy Event having rendered them peculiarly distressing) …
William Bingham to Thomas Jefferson, July 25, 1801
I had before felt a sincere concern for the circumstance which has made you wish for a change of scene, having myself … learnt from experience the indelible effects of such a loss. time is the only medicine & but an imperfect one.
To William Bingham, July 29, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know recovery comes only with time.
Bingham’s “melancholy event” was the death two months earlier of his wife and the mother of their three children. He was leaving for Europe to escape surroundings that reminded him of her.
Jefferson knew what Bingham was experiencing. His wife Martha died in 1783. Time was his only medicine then, as it would be Bingham’s.
A change of scenery can help, though. It was through the action of his friends that Jefferson became a minister to France after Martha’s death. His recovery continued there, probably faster than it would have come if he remained at Monticello.
There is a delightful letter from the late Anne Willing Bingham to Minister Jefferson in Paris in 1787. She acknowledged his position that “many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies” made them trivial in his sight. She countered very good-naturedly that he had ignored their good qualities and proceeded to enlighten him.