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Gettin’ Old

July 30, 2012

September 22, 1813 – November 14, 1813

Sentiments like these begin to creep in:

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson: “Could the quiveration of my nerves and the inflammation of my Eyes be cured and my Age diminished by 20 or 30 years: I would attend you in these researches, with infinitely more Pleasure, than I would be George the 4th. Napoleone, Alexander, or Madison. But only a few Hours; a few minutes remain for Your Old Friend.”

TJ to JA: “I have thus stated my opinion on a point on which we differ, not with a view to controversy, for we are both too old to change opinions which are the result of a long life of inquiry and reflection; but on the suggestion of a former letter of yours, that we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

JA is 78, TJ is 70. They both have a good 13 years left in them, which feels crude for me to say, as if I’m an angel of death hovering above their gray (or white) heads as their quills tremble and scurry across the page. This reminds me that biographies are a problem, because the ending is always the same. The hero dies. No matter how inspired I feel by reading the life of a great historical person, I’m haunted by a touch of sadness and discomfort. You can’t read a biography without confronting your own mortality. This is frightening.

And that’s gotta be a joke about Madison.

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2 Responses to “Gettin’ Old”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Why? Why is this a joke?! You’ve exposed yet another in an endless list of gaps in my historical knowledge. Actually, I don’t think they’re so much gaps as one giant hole with tiny, random specks of historical trivia that float around like suspended dust particles.


  2. My abyss of ignorance is also a sieve, so that any dust particles of information I do obtain soon disappear anyway.

    Knowing that JA is no friend of James Madison, he must be getting in a dig here. Of course, JA can’t be an admirer of George IV or Napoleon either, so this whole thing is dripping with sarcasm.


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