Tuesday, March 9, 2010

With TJ it was Science, With Me Luck

Have you ever had one of those conversations where, as the words are being spoken, you realize that a future outcome has just been changed? I've had these experiences before and I had one again today.

I walked to the Library of Virginia for their noontime lecture; today's speaker was Martin Clagett, the author of a new book, Scientific Jefferson Revealed. Having attended these events many times, I know they have a table outside the lecture hall for people to enter to win the book being discussed that day. As I stopped to fill out an entry, a woman already there started to tell me why I should fill out a card. I told her that I'd been to dozens of these lectures, so I knew the drill. "Oh, then you've probably already won dozens of the books," she presumed.

"Actually I've never once won, but I enjoy the lectures so much that it doesn't matter." As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew what had just happened.

Clagett's book was about how T.J. always saw himself as a scientist and it was only his ego that got him into politics, a distraction which he felt only got in the way of his scientific endeavors. His book Notes on the State of Virginia was considered the most important scientific book written by an American in the 18th century; it established the superiority and fecundity of the New World, completely disproving the European assumption that ours was an inferior continent.

His scientific interests ranged from archaeology to zoology with practically everything scientific in between. As evidenced by an inventory of his extensive library, fully a third of the books were scientific in nature; the next most populated subject was Ethics, a category that included law, obviously a necessity for him. What fascinated me most was how a man who saw himself as a scientist, a man who spoke and thought in mathematical terms, was a failure at financial matters, always owing and dying deeply in debt.

And then it was the end of the lecture and Clagett went to pull a name from the entry box; I heard my name before he even said it. So after years of going to these lectures, I had finally been gifted with the book of the day. It wasn't much of a surprise since I'd sensed the shift in my fate when that woman and I were talking, but it was a lovely bonus to today's lecture experience.

Walking back down Broad Street with my new book in hand, the streets were full of people waiting for the bus, having animated conversations, just enjoying the weather. I ducked into a mini-mart for a Chocolate Eclair ice cream bar because it felt like a great day for eating ice cream on a walk.

Continuing on with my eavesdropping and ice cream enjoyment, I was rewarded with three student-looking types having an intense linguistics discussion as I passed. " It's called a southern accent for a reason, yo!" the guy told the two girls.

Okay, it may not be scientific observation, but it was hysterical.

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