THE SAGE OF MONTICELLO by Dumas Malone

THE SAGE OF MONTICELLO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The sixth and concluding volume of Malone's monumental biography of Thomas Jefferson--fully as accomplished and judicious as its predecessors but almost inevitably lacking their dramatic tension and thematic coherence. Malone begins with Jefferson's departure from Washington in 1809, at the age of 66, and ends with his death in 1826, at the age of 83--some 17 years in which Jefferson never strayed far from his beloved Monticello and passed the days happily reading Tacitus, writing letters (his renewed correspondence with John Adams was especially gratifying), receiving old comrades like Lafayette and a steady stream of pilgrims, playing with his numerous grandchildren, and just puttering around the old plantation. He kept closely informed about national and international affairs but scrupulously made little or no attempt to inject himself into them. Even when negotiating the sale of his library to Congress and campaigning for the creation of a new state university--the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia rank among the greatest achievements of his entire career--he was no longer young enough or strong enough to plunge into the thick of things; and, indeed, he seems to have been increasingly aware that the world beyond Monticello had changed too much for him to do so successfully in any event. It is exactly this combination of diversity and detachment, however, that makes Malone's task unusually difficult: Jefferson remained alert and active to the last, but he was also now in retirement, his life no longer dedicated to the single compelling cause or idea or responsibility that Malone exploited so effectively in previous volumes. The ""Sage of Monticello"" is a far more elusive figure than the revolutionary patriot or opposition politician--""an apostle of enlightenment and a patron of learning,"" to be sure, but also an old man whose energies and interests were far from focused on such matters. There are misfortunes and challenges enough to give the story depth and texture --the mounting debts, the drunken and eccentric relations, the notorious ""Baxter episode"" and the emancipation question, all of which Malone handles deftly and intelligently--but it is nothing like the old days, when Jefferson was doing battle with Tories, Redcoats, and Federalists.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1981
ISBN: 0813923603
Publisher: Little, Brown