[This is the 18th & final post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is the end of Heart’s final reply.]
Heart: We are not immortal ourselves, my friend; how can we expect our enjoyments to be so? We have no rose without its thorn; no pleasure without alloy … True, this condition [Maria’s absence] is pressing cruelly on me at this moment. I feel more fit for death than life. But when I look back on the pleasures … they were worth the price I am paying … Hope is sweeter than despair ..
Know then, my friend (Head), that I have taken these good people into my bosom … that I love them, & will continue to love them through life: that if fortune should dispose them on one side the globe, & me on the other, my affections shall pervade its whole mass to reach them. Knowing then my determination, attempt not to disturb it …”
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Faithful leaders know “hope is sweeter than despair.”
Jefferson acknowledged that life brings both pleasure and pain, sometimes arising from the same event. If he enjoyed happiness, he was prepared to accept any sadness that might follow. It was part of life.
He concluded his internal dialogue by affirming undying love for his friends, even though he was suffering in their absence. No matter how far away they were, his affections would reach them. He instructed his Head not to bother him about it any longer.
With the Head & Heart dialogue over, he addressed Maria Cosway directly, promising shorter letters but inviting longer ones from her. Even if she wrote one “as long as the bible,” it would be “short to me.” He ended with this personal assessment, “As to myself my health is good, except my wrist which mends slowly, & my mind which mends not at all, but broods constantly over your departure.”
Jefferson and Cosway saw one another the following year, but the infatuation of their first meeting had faded. They corresponded throughout their lives. Cosway died in 1838, at the age of 78, a dozen years after Jefferson’s death.