[This is the “Head” portion only of the 10th and final interchange in Jefferson’s internal dialog between his head and his heart, anguishing over Maria Cosway’s departure.]
Head … Everything in this world is a matter of calculation … Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, & see which preponderates … The art of life is the art of avoiding pain: & he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks & shoals with which he is beset …
Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another? Is there so little gall poured into our cup that we must needs help to drink that of our neighbor? A friend dies or leaves us: we feel as if a limb was cut off. He is sick: we must watch over him, & participate of his pains. His fortune is shipwrecked; ours must be laid under contribution. He loses a child, a parent, or a partner: we must mourn the loss as if it were our own.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Beware the leader whose choices are only the paths of least resistance.
This final interchange is by far the longest of the ten, comprising nearly half of the letter. I cannot do justice to it in one post. Jefferson’s Head will get this one post, edited to about 1/4 of what he wrote. Heart’s response was more twice as long and will become the subject of multiple posts.
Head advises caution in all things, always weighing pluses and minuses, with the goal of avoiding pain. Life deals each person enough disappointment of their own. No point in looking for more or helping bear others’ grief.
In an omitted portion, Head commends intellectual pursuits, for no one can take away the pleasures gained there. Those allow one to ride above the “bustle & tumult of society,” occupied by those who are too much guided by their emotions.