24 February, 2012

The Age Of Intelligence

This week I posted a photo of one of the gardens designed by Mr. Jefferson at the University of Virginia, and although I should be grading papers, I find myself thinking about Mr. Jefferson and his wonderful intellect. He has had such a profound influence on my life and, in fact, the lives of all Americans.

The exact quote seems to be in some doubt, but this is the way it's noted at the JFK Library. They ought to know. At a White House dinner honoring a variety of Nobel Laureates, President Kennedy remarked, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

High praise, indeed, and Mr. Jefferson deserves it.

I studied at the University of Virginia which he founded and have long ago lost track of the number of visits I have made to his Memorial in Washington or to his beloved home, Montecello, on the southeast edge of Charlottesville. My personal library has numerous biographies and products of his "masterly pen."

I know his life - the good and the not so good, but it's hard not to appreciate most that glorious product of divine inspiration, the Declaration of Independence. John Adams spoke of Jefferson's "peculiar felicity of expression." It's why he was chosen to write the Declaration. Yet there was much in the Declaration that had other inspiration. For example, significant elements of it are owed to John Locke, the great English philosopher. I don't recall ever reading an annotated Declaration that ascribes appropriate credit to others, but The Declaration of Independence: A Study on the History of Political Ideas by C. L. Becker should be good. It is clear that Jefferson was well educated and that his lessons on Locke were well learned. These were two very intelligent men.

It's actually Locke that today's post is about - really just a happy memory and reminder of how helpful our fellow humans can be. Over several trips to England, I had visited his birthplace and where he went to college. On this trip with my younger daughter, I was in search of his grave.

It started ominously. We had spent the night in an old section of Canterbury and in the morning took a cab to the rental car place, leaving our bags at the hotel. I thought we would get the car and drive back for the bags. After taking out every possible kind of insurance on that car (since I was so confident about driving on the left side of the road), we headed back to the hotel. I hadn't, however, counted on the number of one-way and blocked streets in Canterbury. It was like a rabbit warren. We never really got to the hotel, but we did get close enough to walk and get our bags. We were off to the English countryside on a beautiful sunny day.

We managed to get on the road out of town in spite of having no GPS. Lots of traffic - and I was having trouble judging where the left side of the car was since I was driving from the right side of the vehicle. Who said this would be easy? Oops - what was that noise? And why was the left sideview mirror hanging at that odd angle? Evidently I clipped our mirror against the mirror of a car parked on the side of the road. Too much traffic to stop though. Sorry, old chap. Not bad, Thom - on the road 10 minutes and already glad I took out the extra insurance.

Three blocks later I bumped the curbstone coming out of a turn. "Megan, does that sound like a flat tire to you?" Of course. I pulled into a quick-stop-type place and called for road service. My word, I've had quieter rides in bumper cars at an amusement park. An hour or so later were advised we would need a new tire and told where to go. We did manage to get to the tire store which was no small miracle. My extra insurance was now paying for a new tire too. I'm a genius - just like Mr. Locke and Mr. Jefferson. Either that or just prescient.

Another hour or so and we were finally on the motorway and heading northeast - on the hunt for the tiny spot known as High Laver, Essex. Thank goodness.

We arrived at the exit I knew to look for and were now onto a side road off of a side road. So exciting. Forth and back. Back and forth. I couldn't find it. I might not have been lost, but I was sure bewildered.

Just a short distance ahead I saw a couple of utility linemen. I thought if anyone should know their way around these parts, they should. Nope. Never heard of High Laver. They did, however, have some computerized map gear in their truck which they were more than happy to go get. Surely that would reveal the location of the quickly-becoming-mythical High Laver.

Nope, but they were doing all that they could to help a couple of ex-colonists in need. Just about then a jogger came trotting by. They flagged him down and asked him if he could help us.

I said we were looking for High Laver. As soon as he heard my American accent, he said, "Why you must be looking for John Locke. You're close. Turn around, make a left at the first corner, and High Laver will be about a mile down the road on the right." It was, and we arrived at All Saints Church in High Laver and the tomb of John Locke.


We - and Mr. Jefferson - owe him a great deal. I also owe a debt to all of those Brits who went out of their way to help me out of my self-induced misery. I experienced nothing but generosity and goodwill that day, and I shall continue to remember those gifts and hope that I can honor them by showing similar kindness to others.