The Vagabond


Even on the warmest day--and summer is sultry in the Virginia Piedmont--a cool breeze skims across the hilltop of Monticello. The trees are always moving, the branches opening and closing holes through which appear glimpses of the surrounding hills, or of the little red and white village of Charlottesville a mile away. Down below in the valleys the woods have been cleared, the red earth turned and turned again with the plow, and planted with seed, so that the valley floor is flecked with patches of fertile green and yellow. All around are the gentle foothills of the Blue Ridge, criss-crossed with sparkling streams, and molded down into a leisurely alternation of heights and lowlands. It was here that Thomas Jefferson brought his bride, to live in a one-room cabin while he built his great house which he called Monticello. In twenty years he finished it, a low and yet magnificent house, all of fine red brick, with sturdy white columns on both front and rear, a perfect expression of its builder's mind, balanced, rational, austerely beautiful. And no house ever looked more a part of the red Piedmont hills.

These red hills, separate and distinct from any other province of Dixie, were uniquely the South of Thomas Jefferson. The cheerful landscape and crisp air of the Piedmont were a world apart from the swampy, dream-like, hunting lowlands of the South Carolins coast, or the immense sugar plantations that lay along the broad Mississippi in Louisiana. In Charleston was concentrated an urbane civilization that drew its lifeblood from rice and cotton. Along the palm-lined Battery strolled such elegant Huguenot grandees as the Manigualts and Ravenels, who every year spent a gay social season in the city, replete with races, receptions, and balls. In lively Creole New Orlcans that city of crawfish bisque and gumbo file. Spanish pompano and mackerel, fried plaintains, baked bananas, claret and Bourbon, absinthe, Sazerac and silver gin fizz--a life of dissipation was more alluring than anywhere else on the continent. But none of the hot blood of Charleston and New Orleans flowed in the veins of Thomas Jefferson, for he was above all a child of the Age of Reason. Reason was not his God, even though many New England families, in fright at his election as President, hid away their Bibles. To Jefferson reason was the greatest gift of God, the one to be cherished above all others. And still he had a genius--perhaps he drew it from the very air of Monticello--which made him truly representative of the whole diversified empire of Dixie.

Vag has always been fascinated by this man. His letters and conversation charmed some of the greatest minds of Europe and America, and Vag, reading them, has been charmed too. Vag knows he was an awkward, unprepossessing giant, a bore on the speaking platform, a fantastic figure receiving an Ambassador in his slippers and dressing gown. Vag respects and shares his fear of concentrating too much power in the hands of one man, but applauds his stony determination that struck fear into the hearts of the Adamses, Girards, and Astors. Vag would like to have followed him around his house and farm, to have heard him talk about his thoroughbred horses, his violin, and his scientifically rotated crops. As the next best thing, Vag is determined to make another visit to Monticello this spring. In the meantime, he is going to drop in on Professor Buck's lecture and question period on Thomas Jefferson in the "History of the South" at 12 o'clock this morning in Harvard 5.