Sunday, June 27, 2010

june 27, 1810 (wed.)

Even in retirement there's not enough time to follow every interest. Judge Thomas Cooper writes asking Mr. Jefferson to join him in the study of mineralogy, but fascinated as Mr. Jefferson is by natural philosophy, his time and energy right now are largely taken up with sheep and sheep dogs for the Merino project.

He forwards Judge Cooper's letter to James Cabell, writing that in his old age he is out of touch with the current state of the science, familiar with nothing past the time of Linnaeus. Tongue in cheek, he writes, "... [M]ihi Cui bono?" ("What good is it to me?") It's safe to joke around like this with a friend who knows he's not really that self-centered. Heaven help his image if some literal-minded historian in the future, who doesn't know him that well, misinterprets the remark. The early 19th century has no emoticons to designate "just kidding."

Science, religion, and politics are mixed in this age of enlightenment. Judge Cooper, along with Joseph Priestley and others, lives in Philadelphia now because the politico-religious climate in England was hostile to their ideas. Several years ago, angry mobs burned Dr. Priestley's house in a full-scale riot. It's a bit safer to hold dissenting and progressive ideas in this new country.

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