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Thomas Jefferson And Maria Cosway
It was a romance in which the statesman found his Head at war with his Heart
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
Maria Cosway and Thomas Jefferson continued to exchange letters. She never travelled farther from England than to her native Italy. Some years later, still devoutly religious, she retired to a convent in Lodi, where she established a girls’ college attached to the Church of Santa Maria délia Grazie. For her efforts the emperor of Austria created Maria the Baroness Cosway of Lodi.
As the years stretched out for Jefferson and Maria, so did the months between their letters. In April of 1819 she wrote to the then-retired President: “To the Length of Silence I draw a Curtain,” and told him of her life at Lodi and of the serious illness of her husband. She spoke of many deceased friends and the illness and age of those few who remained. Then, strangely after so long a time, she made reference to the Head and Heart dialogue. With her work in the school and nursing her husband, she was “Happy in self gratification of doing my duty, with no other consolation. In your Dialogue your head would tell me, ‘ that is enough ,’ your heart perhaps will understand, I might wish for more . God’s will be done.”
Jefferson, close to eighty and frequently ill, did not reply until late the following year. “Such is the present state of our former coterie—dead, diseased, and dispersed.” His turn was next, he told her, “and I shall meet it with good will. …” Maria had many good years yet before her, he continued, and he hoped that they would all be filled with health and happiness. The two of them would meet again, in another world. “… the religion you so sincerely profess tells us that we shall. …”
Maria wrote to the Virginian in June, 1823, and again in September of 1824. The last letter reached Monticello on February 21, 1825. It was never answered. Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the nation’s independence, July 4, 1826. Baroness Maria Cosway of Lodi went to join him on January 5, 1838. Her mortal remains were interred below the nun’s chapel in the Church of Santa Maria delta Grazie.