Tag Archives: thomas jefferson

The Declaration of Independence as Self Help

“…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Woah, TJ. Heavy.



Ladies Love George and Gil: the Virginia State Capitol

Bonus post before bed!

Another quick side trip on the way to someplace else: the Virginia State Capitol.

Sadly, I don’t have much to show or say about the capitol itself. For this visit, I was on a mission, and since I drove to Richmond, Va., from Tennessee this time, I had only 30 minutes before closing to complete it.

My mission: to see the Houdon bust of the Marquis de Lafayette (commissioned by the state of Virginia and based on a life mask of Lafayette).

(Of course, there was also the full-sized Houdon statue of Washington, also based on a life mask, and yeah, I saw that too, but MISSION, you guys. I was on one.)

And I saw it. Now you can, too.


I didn’t have a lot of time to be picky about the photos by the time I got there, but by this angle, you may note that the bust was way up high off the ground in an alcove. You know. To keep the ladies off of it.

Here’s as good of a close-up as I could get given that I only had a few minutes, I was in the state capitol, and I didn’t want to come off as a terrorist:


The Houdon busts that I’ve seen done from life masks always seem like the face is pasted on the head, thus making the head seem longer from front to back than it otherwise should. Given that all the portraits I’ve seen of Lafayette give him an frighteningly receding hairline and a nose that seems to start behind his ears (adorable though it may be), this may not be entirely inaccurate here. Also, it’s not as pronounced from this side as it is from the other.

Houdon also did a life mask of Washington from which he sculpted a full-length statue (also here in the Virginia State Capitol) and some busts. I like the way that the Washington statue is positioned as though it’s looking out to Lafayette’s bust on the wall almost at his eye level. For those not in the know, Washington considered Lafayette as an adopted son, so I find this very sweet.


You’ll note that little fence around George. Also for the ladies. (As evidenced by this letter in which George gives Lafayette some crap threatens to steal the Marquise Adrienne from our good friend the Marquis:)

But at present must pray your patience a while longer, till I can make a tender of my most respectful compliments to the Marchioness. Tell her (if you have not made  a mistake, and offered your own love instead of hers to me) that I have a heart susceptable of the tenderest passion, and that it is already so strongly impressed with the most favourable ideas of her, that she must be cautious of putting loves torch to it; as you must be in fanning the flame. But here again methinks I hear you say, I am not apprehensive of danger. My wife is young, you are growing old and the atlantic is between you. All this is true, but know my good friend that no distance can keep anxious lovers long asunder, and that the Wonders of former ages may be revived in this. But alas! will you not remark that amidst all the wonders recorded in holy writ no instance can be produced where a young Woman from real inclination has prefered an old man. This is so much against me that I shall not be able I fear to contest the prize with you, yet, under the encouragement you have given me I shall enter the list for so inestimable a Jewell.

George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, September 30, 1779

Before I go, I should give the Washington statue it’s due. It’s based on this life mask, and I always find it stunning to look at Washington’s true face in comparison to the multitudes of less accurate portraits with which Americans are bombarded throughout their lives. In that life mask is a very real face that I could imagine seeing somewhere on the street today.


So, it is little surprise to me that Lafayette declared this statue the most accurate likeness of Washington upon his return visit to the States in 1824.


Bonne nuit!

* * *

Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank Street; Richmond, VA
Hours and Tour Information
Free admission (though parking is a pain)
Capitol Tour Desk: (804) 698-1788 or capitoltourguides@house.virginia.gov

18th Century, and the robots are already here, seigneur…

Here is a video of a small robot given to Marie Antoinette.

It’s about an exhibition at the Château de Versailles, but the video itself takes place at my absolute favorite museum in the entire world, the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. À ne pas manquer!!!

(Here is a link to an English description of the exhibit at Versailles, which, of course, ends next weekend. Oh, for a spare thousand dollars to drop on a plane ticket for this. I suppose I will have to content myself with having finally gotten to see Thomas Jefferson’s total MacGyver setup at Monticello this past winter.)

“Does this pike make me look fat?”

Kate Beaton’s done a series of strips on the French Revolution. As usual, they are glorious and Wrong.

And, yes, TJ. That Revolution was super creepy.

My Daytrip to Philadelphia, formatted as a 5th grade show-and-tell

So, this wekeend, I totally went here:

Independence Hall 3

Inside that building, it looked like this:

Independence Was Declared

In that room, John Adams ran his mouth a lot while Thomas Jefferson made longing, furtive glances at him, and Ben Franklin sat in the back row cackling over dirty magazines and ignoring everyone until the mood struck to spout out something brilliant but completely unrelated.

Okay, that’s not really how it happened, or so they say. But I know better.

Thomas Jefferson never set foot in the house below. It was built in 1975. But the house where he DID write the Declaration of Independence was in this spot until it was demolished and, I believe, was identical.

Declaration House

And, if the musical 1776 is to be believed, there was lots of sex in this house when his poor newlywed wife made the mistake of stopping by after TJ had been trapped in that grey room above with sweaty, aging white men for weeks on end. Also, the other founding fathers and sang a lot for no good reason. This may not be the way things happened, but I choose to believe that it is.

Like the Declaration House, Ben Franklin’s home and print shop were demolished sometime between 1790 and today when some forward-thinking Philadelphian of ages past decided that America needed another blighted urban strip of Foot Lockers, pawn shops, and cell phone stores. Today, these “ghost houses” have been raised on the spot of Franklin’s original house to mark its memory, and excavations are going on beneath to unearth its foundations.

Ben Franklin's Ghost House

This carriageway and some of the surrounding structures are some of the only remnants in Franklin Court of Ben’s time there.

Carriageway to Franklin Court

Today, Ben’s lodging is much smaller, and the cemetery where he’s buried is the only thing that charged me admission the whole day long: $2.

TJ's BFF BF and the Missus

I’ll commemorate this lovely portrait of Ben’s grave with my absolute favorite quotation from his autobiography:

“But this affair having turned my thoughts to marriage, I look’d round me and made overtures of acquaintance in other places; but soon found that, the business of a printer being generally thought a poor one, I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable. In the mean time, that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense and great inconvenience, besides a continual risque to my health by a distemper which of all things I dreaded, though by great good luck I escaped it.”

Now, here’s a photo of the Liberty Bell and an unhappy child.

Liberty Bell and Unhappy Kid

I don’t know who this is, but she looks as unhappy that her parents made her stand so long in front of the bell as I was. Seriously, people. It’s a snapshot, not a professional portrait. Click it, move on.

All in all, it was only a day trip. I only had a few hours in town and didn’t have time to go far, but I did walk down to South Street where I ran into this charmer. I knew I had found my Place when I saw this giant painting of Larry with a fiddle there to greet me.

South Street Larry

And, a bit to the left of the above photo, what to my wondering eyes did appear but a MAOZ.

Maoz in Philly!

That’s right, it was a Maoz. The restaurant for which I braved daily fights with uber irritable waitresses in Paris. Right here in the US. (I hear that there is one in DC, and I even have it on Google Maps, but I haven’t had time to track it down yet – it’s over in the left part of the city where people as poor as me aren’t allowed to go.) Anyhow, the shop was staffed by employees who were amazingly friendly and obviously huge stoners. It was, however, almost as small and cramped as the one in Paris with even less seating (if that is possible). Got mine to go and walked off into the sunset, falafel pita in one hand, fries in the other. It was a good day. And it was indeed sunny.