my strongest predilections are for study, rural occupations, & retirement within a small but cherished society. born, as I unfortunately was, in an age of revolution, my life has been wasted on the billows of revolutionary storm. the sweet sensations & affections of domestic society have been exchanged with me for the bitter & deadly feuds of party: encircled with political enemies & spies, instead of my children & friends. time however & the decay of years is now fast advancing that season when it will be seen that I can no longer be of use, even in the eyes of those partial to me: and I shall be permitted to pass through the pains & infirmities of age in the shades of Monticello.
To Madame De Corny, April 23, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Committed leaders play the hand dealt to them.
De Corny was one of a small number of cultured, educated women Jefferson came to admire during his ambassadorship to France, 1784-89. They resumed a correspondence in 1801 after a decade of self-imposed silence, though he had periodically inquired about her and sent regards to her through others. Her letter to him a year before was full of sadness over a lack of communication from him and her greatly diminished existence in post-revolutuionary France.
Prehaps Jefferson wanted to commiserate with De Corny by contrasting the life he would have preferred with the one thrust on him by events. He had to forego the joys of home, family, friendship, farming and books for the thankless task of politics, governing, and enemies at every turn.
Not 14 months into his Presidency that would consume seven more years, he was already looking forward to retirement, when through time and decrepitude, “I can no longer be of use.” Only then could he enjoy what was left of his life at Monticello, where he would have preferred to spend all of it.