Thomas Jefferson Casually Inquires About Maria Cosway – 5/24/1797

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Thomas Jefferson met Maria Cosway in Paris while he was holding the position of U.S minister to France. The year was 1786, and Jefferson was a widower. Cosway was the daughter of English parents and was been born in Italy. By the time she was meeting Jefferson, Cosway was already an accomplished musician and painter. 

The two developed a deep friendship even though Cosway was married. A sexual relationship has never been revealed, but the two became close friends. It is reported that Jefferson had madly fallen in love with the married woman and that he had lost around her. At one point, it is said that Jefferson broke his right wrist after falling while in the company of Cosway. Jefferson had leaped over a stone fountain while the two were walking.

After his wrist had healed, an embarrassed Jefferson wrote the famous Head and Heart Letter in 1876. The letter was directed to Cosway just after she had left for London with her spouse. The letter is a revelation that Jefferson had been absorbed by his desire for Cosway. The letter was a confirmation that his intellect was battling with a heart that was aching for a woman who was married. A woman he was sure he could never have.

In the letter, Jefferson admits his desires for Cosway and confesses that his desires have made him miserable. He also rebukes himself for falling for a married woman. He admits emotional attachments have made him a wreck. The letter is a revelation that Jefferson is struggling between maintaining his integrity and having another man’s wife. Eventually, the head emerges the winner over the desires of his heart. Jefferson then admits that the only way to safeguard ourselves from such pain is to retire within ourselves and to generate our own happiness.

Jefferson was implying that he was over the woman. However, two years later, his letters to Cosway still expressed his longing for her. Jefferson wrote another letter to Cosway in 1787. The letter painted a picture of the two together sometime in the future. According to Jefferson, they would have breakfast every day, go to the desert, dine under the bowers, and forget that they are supposed to separate. In 1788, he wrote another letter from Paris. In this letter, Jefferson expressed his love of affection, and he wished that Cosway were with him. He wrote the letter even though it was evident he would never have Cosway. 

In the end, Jefferson returned from Paris, and that eased things a bit. His physical separation from Maria and the knowledge that the two would never end together helped him control his emotions. He returned to his country in 1789, and his letters became less frequent. Around that time, Jefferson was preoccupied with his new position as the secretary of state to the then president, George Washington. Despite his reluctance, Cosway continued to write to him and expressed his frustration at his growing lack of concern for her.

Among the last letters, Jefferson mostly spoke about his scientific studies and not his affection or desire for Cosway. He finally admitted that his love for her had faded. On May 24, 1797, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Angelica Church. He was casually inquiring about their mutual friend, Maria Cosway. 

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