Friendly Advice, August 10, 1787

Thomas Jefferson, forever the mentor…followed in the footsteps of George Wythe and Dr. William Small, his two favorite mentors, sharing advice daily through letters, as well as verbally with those who crossed his path.

The following are highlights from a letter written by Jefferson, while living in Paris as Minister of France, to his nephew Peter Carr back home in Virginia.

It’s exciting that Jefferson’s tips still apply today. They’re invaluable…I happily share them here (some words were spelt differently back then):

Aug 10, 1787

Dear Peter,

Friendly introduction! To this… “I will add a few particular observations.”

(1) Italian. … “will confound your French and Spanish”… “I have never seen a person speaking the three languages who did not mix them.”

(2) Spanish. “Bestow great attention on this, and endeavor to acquire an accurate knowledge of it. Our future connections with Spain and Spanish America will render that language a valuable acquisition. The antient history of a great part of America too is written in that language. I send you a dictionary.”

(3) Moral Philosophy. We were “destined for society.” Our conscience is shaped relative to this. We were all born with a sense of right & wrong in stronger or weaker degree. We can strengthen our conscience through exercise just like any of our other limbs. Besides this we must read books that provide us with insights in aiding our moral development. (Enclosed is a list of books.) But above all else, “lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just, orderly, courageous, etc. Consider every act of this kind as an exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties, and increase your worth.”

(4) Religion. The “consequence of error” of your religious beliefs may “be too serious.” The laws of nature must be applied to the bible, reject everything in the bible that contradicts nature. God surely “approves the homage of reason” above “blindfolded fear.” Read the New testament, all the histories of Christ. Christ was either: (1) “…begotten by god, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven” (2) “of those who say he was a man, of illegitimate birth, or a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally…by Roman law.” … “you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject any thing because any other person, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but the uprightness of the decision.

(5) Travelling. Makes men wiser, but not necessarily happier…this because when they return home, they can’t easily apply all that they learned while traveling to their current circumstances. “Their eyes are forever turned back to the object they have lost, and its recollection poisons the residue of their lives.”

There is no place where your pursuit of knowledge will be so little obstructed by foreign objects as in your own country, nor any wherein the virtues of the heart will be less exposed to be weakened.”

Be good, be learned, and be industrious, and you will not want the aid of traveling to render you precious to your country, dear to your friends, happy within yourself.”

Additional Notes:

    • Walking is the best exercise. Walk a lot. Two hours per day.
    • Health is the MOST important focus after morality.

Write to me often and be assured of the interest I take in your success, as well as of the warmth of those sentiments  of attachment with which I am, dear Peter, your affectionate friend,

Th Jefferson

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