We hope Mr. Short will do us the honor of transmitting the things we entrusted to him, in order to bring us back to the extravagance of planting and sowing after age 60.
Woe to him who lives only for his own lifetime!
From Madame de Tesse to Thomas Jefferson, May 21, 1802
… I cannot but admire your courage in undertaking now to plant trees. it has always been my passion; insomuch that I scarcely ever planted a flower in my life. but when I return to live at Monticello, which may be in 1805. but will be in 1809. at the latest … I believe I shall become a florist. the labours of the year, in that line, are repaid within the year, and death, which will be at my door, shall find me unembarrassed in long-lived undertakings.
To Madame de Tesse, January 30, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders long for some short-term gratification!
Jefferson met Madame de Tesse (1741-1813) during his service in France in the late 1780s. An educated woman, she ran a salon, a gathering of individuals for intellectual discussion. Such women always appealed to Jefferson.
They also shared an interest in horticulture, which was the subject of his letter. “Mr. Short” was William Short, a mutual friend who facilitated their exchange of seeds and plants. Some of the plants she requested of Jefferson must have been trees, whose maturity she would never live to see. Yet, she concluded her letter, ” Woe to him who lives only for his own lifetime!”
Jefferson admired her long-term vision but sounded a contrary interest for himself. His political life had been characterized by long-term vision, but he was already looking forward to retirement, two or six years hence, when he could become a florist! Whatever he planted would pay him back in beauty that same year. When he died, he wouldn’t be embarrassed by plantings that hadn’t yet reached maturity.