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Thomas Jefferson
by [?]

* * * * *

Had Jefferson lived in a great city he would have been an architect. His practical nature, his mastery of mathematics, his love of proportion, and his passion for music are the basic elements that make a Christopher Wren. But Virginia, in Seventeen Hundred Sixty-five, offered no temptation to ambitions along that line; log houses with a goodly “crack” were quite good enough, and if the domicile proved too small the plan of the first was simply duplicated. Yet a career of some kind young Jefferson knew awaited him.

About this time the rollicking Patrick Henry came along. Patrick played the violin, and so did Thomas. These two young men had first met on a musical basis. Some otherwise sensible people hold that musicians are shallow and impractical; and I know one man who declares that truth and honesty and uprightness never dwelt in a professional musician’s heart; and further, that the tribe is totally incapable of comprehending the difference between “meum” and “tuum.” But then this same man claims that actors are rascals who have lost their own characters in the business of playing they are somebody else. And yet I’ll explain for the benefit of the captious that, although Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry both fiddled, they never did and never would fiddle while Rome burned. Music was with them a pastime, not a profession.

As soon as Patrick Henry arrived at Williamsburg, he sought out his old friend Thomas Jefferson, because he liked him–and to save tavern bill. And Patrick announced that he had come to Williamsburg to be admitted to the bar.

“How long have you studied law?” asked Jefferson.

“Oh, for six weeks last Tuesday,” was the answer.

Tradition has it that Jefferson advised Patrick to go home and study at least a fortnight more before making his application. But Patrick declared that the way to learn law is to practise it, and he surely was right. Most young lawyers are really never aware of how little law they know until they begin to practise.

But Patrick Henry was duly admitted, although George Wythe protested. Then Patrick went back home to tend bar (the other kind) for Laban, his father-in-law, for full four years. He studied hard and practised a little betimes–and his is the only instance that history records of a barkeeper acquiring wisdom while following his calling; but for the encouragement of budding youth I write it down.

* * * * *

No doubt it was the example of Patrick Henry that caused Jefferson to adopt his profession. But it was the literary side of law that first attracted him–not the practise of it. As a speaker he was singularly deficient, a slight physical malformation of the throat giving him a very poor and uncertain voice. But he studied law, and after all it does not make much difference what a man studies–all knowledge is related, and the man who studies anything if he keeps at it will become learned.

So Jefferson studied in the office of George Wythe, and absorbed all that Fauquier had to offer, and grew wise in the companionship of Doctor Small. From a red-headed, lean, lank, awkward mountaineer, he developed into a gracious and graceful young man who has been described as “auburn-haired.” And the evolution from being red-headed to having red hair, and from that to being auburn-haired, proves he was the genuine article. Still he was hot handsome–that word can not be used to describe him until he was sixty–for he was freckled, one shoulder wets higher than the other, and his legs were so thin that they could not do justice to small-clothes.