Third Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Front view of the Old Courtyard / Colonnade of the Louvre facing Rue du Louvre, Paris, France

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Last night, I arrive a bit late, having cheered on my husband on as he set off on the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in Saint Quentin en Yvellines, a suburb near Versailles. I’m back from Berlin and Saint Quintin, staying this time at 136 rue Montmartre, another Airbnb bargain. The red front door of my room enters a narrow white building decorated from top to bottom with two rows of classical statues in niches, and opens to a shabby, ancient spiral stairway. Though my room is plain with ugly and mismatched furniture, it’s roomy and spic-and-span, with a big comfortable bed with crisp clean bedclothes. My thoughtful host has every basic need stocked: bottles water of water chilled in the fridge (bubbly and still), decent coffee, soap and shampoo, even band aids (I can’t be the first traveler to have stayed here who have walked too far in shoes that are too new for a full day of walking. Two painful blisters are the inevitable result). I settle in happily, get a good night’s sleep, and then…

I head towards the Seine, towards the wonderful Saint-Germaine-des-Pres neighborhood and its environs across the river where many sites associated with my subjects are; I’m really looking forward to spending the bulk of my day here. On my way down towards the Seine down the rue de Louvre, I pass by the colonnade of the older part of the Louvre, which Thomas Jefferson admired very much.

Colonnade of the Louvre facing the rue du Louvre, Paris, France

Old Courtyard behind the Colonnade of the Louvre, facing the rue du Louvre

A panoramic view of the Old Courtyard behind the Colonnade of the Louvre

Jefferson was forward thinking in science and human rights theory, but looked more to the past for his politics, art, and architecture. He thought, up to his time, that the ancients Greeks and Romans had reached the pinnacle of architectural and the artistic achievement up to that point, just as they had done in politics by with their democratic and republican forms of government (though he believed that ancient Germanic tribes were actually the first to govern in the spirit of respect for human rights) and in philosophy with their focus on reason and the development of virtue. He loved the Greek and Roman-revival art and architecture the most, all the rage in Paris at the time of his visit, and believed it inspired virtuous sentiments in all who beheld its beauty and symmetry. Jefferson spent his five years here drinking it all in, seeking inspiration for great new public buildings for his own country and well as for his own home.

Street view of the Monnaie de Paris on the Quai de Conti, once the Hôtel des Monnaies

hotel de monnais, sophie de grouchie salon site, paris, france, 2018 amy cools, 1

Hotel de Monnais, entry to Sophie de Grouchie salon site on rue Guénégaud, Paris, France

Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were both regular guests, along with Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin, of the famous salon of Sophie de Grouchie and her husband, the great Marquis de Condorcet, at the Hôtel des Monnaies. It’s the French Royal Mint, and Condorcet held the position of Inspecteur general des monnaies (chief currency inspector), so he and his family were given a suite of rooms there, on therue Guénégaud. The Monnaie is a grand building facing the Seine, on quai Conti between rue Guenegaud and the impasse de Conti in the 6th Arrondissement, not far to the east of the Institut de France. I peeked inside the gate to see one of the grand entryways, but I can’t back up quite enough get a good picture of the front of the building without falling off the wall onto the Seine walkway, so you’ll have to visit the Monnaie website if you’d like to see the entire facade. There’s also a statue of Condorcet just a block away, also on the quai Conti facing the Seine, near the corner of the quai and the impasse de Conti.

De Grouchie was an embodiment of the successful Parisian society woman of the 18th century, very fashionable and an accomplished intellectual. She translated Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments into French, and her salon was well attended by the best minds in Paris.

Statue of Condorcet on the Quai de Conti, France, Photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Statue of Condorcet on the Quai de Conti

The Marquis de Condorcet was a mathematician, philosopher, and author, and he lived at the Hôtel des Monnaies. He was an ardent supporter of the American Revolution and hoped its influence would lead to similar forms of government to spread throughout Europe as well. He shared the Enlightenment belief, along with Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson, in the perfectibility of humankind through education and through civic participation in a democratic state founded on human rights, and also believed the inevitable triumph of the human race against government oppression and usurpation of the right of self-rule.

Like Paine and unlike Jefferson, Condorcet was unequivocal on the subject of full and equal rights for people of all races, and with, Paine, declared the concept of human rights meaningless if it did not apply to all, so he called for the immediate and full emancipation of all slaves. Like Wollstonecraft, he was what came to be called feminist, though he was more ardent and unequivocal in his belief that women were full intellectual equals with men and should have the exact same political rights. Of course, all of these were among the topics of discussion at the salons, along with the meaning of French Revolution itself and the direction it was going.

Condorcet held onto his faith in the ultimate benefit of the Revolution to his country despite the extremist faction that had taken over and plunged it into violence. Since he believed that, once awakened, the people would ultimately triumph in their fight for human rights, he saw the Terror as a temporary setback, a bump in the road to liberty. Condorcet would become one of its most tragic martyrs. He hid out at a friend’s house for eight months, then fled to the woods, after the Robespierre’s Jacobins ordered his arrest in 1793. He was captured when he left the woods three days later, famished, attempting to purchase a meal. He was found in his prison cell two days later, the victim of an apparent suicide.

Looking down rue Bonaparte south of the Quai De Conti

On my way to my next destination, I walk a short way west and turn left down rue Bonaparte, keeping an eye out for a site which two of my sources describe as near this end of this street, but neither give an exact address.

Thomas Jefferson stayed here for a short time in August 1784, when he moved to the more comfortable Hôtel d’Orléans from a smaller one he first stayed at upon arrival in Paris. This street, called rue des Petits-Augustins in Jefferson’s time, is also in the 6th Arrondissement. Despite looking carefully, I don’t see a marker identifying the site of the Hôtel. I do see a grand entryway with a historic plaque describing 5 Rue des Petits-Augustins, near the north end of the street, as a former residence of many famous people, especially artists. This is a bustling arts district, crowded with wonderful and elegant little galleries. Anne-Sophie Duval, Galerie de Vos, and Lawrence Esnol Gallery share the ground floor of that Hotel. I consider it a possible candidate for the location I seek, since it’s a grander hotel than the others I see within these two blocks, but since I can’t confirm it, I move on.

Grand entryway with a historic plaque describing 5 Rue des Petits-Augustins as a former residence of many famous people

At rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte

My next confirmed destination (at least, a specified address, without reference to whether the street numbers ever changed) is a house that Mary Wollstonecraft often visited and later lived at for awhile. In September 1793, she returned from her sojourn in Neilly-sur-Seine to Paris. She had become pregnant with Imlay’s child and moved in with him to Faubourg Saint-Germain, to a house of her close friend Ruth Barlow, wife of Joel Barlow, Paine’s and Jefferson’s friend, statesman, and poet (more on Mr. Barlow shortly). At the time they moved in together here, it was still a happy stage in Wollstonecraft and Imlay’s relationship. Wollstonecraft was described by friends and acquaintances as glowing and never so lovely as at this time, and Imlay was temporarily dazzled enough by his intellectual, unconventionally lovely, and emotionally intense lover to put his womanizing on hold. The small house the Barlows owned here was rue Jacob, number 22. If this address address matches its modern location, it’s near the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the 6 Arrondissement. Now there’s a jazz club / cabaret and Galerie Eberwein on the ground floor of this place.

22 rue Jacob, former home of the Barlows near the Musée National Eugene Delacroix

Street view of 10 rue de L’Odeon, Nicholas de Bonneville / Thomas Paine House

I continue my trek farther south and a little to the east in this oh-so-charming neighborhood, among my favorites, especially as I’ve gotten a little deeper in and away from the crush of tourists and tacky souvenir shops. I head down rue de l’Odeon, below Boulevard Sainte-Germain.

Thomas Paine moved in with printer and writer Nicholas de Bonneville in the spring of 1797, after the Monroes had left Paris, and lived in his place for five years, until 1802. While here, Paine wrote a series of articles for Bonneville’s paper promoting the invasion of Britain by France for the purposes of overthrowing the corrupt monarchical system there. Napoleon Bonaparte visited Paine there, interested in the strategies for doing so that Paine had outlined. At first, they were friends, but Paine became disillusioned with Bonaparte and didn’t end up trusting that his intentions were anything other than self-serving. He moved out of this house and back to the United States in September of 1802, at the invitation and with the help of newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, to the latter’s credit. Paine’s reputation had been seriously undermined in the United State after the publication of The Rights of Man and with his involvement in the French Revolution.

Plaque Over Librairie Guenegaud awning of 10 Rue De L’Odeon, Nicholas de Bonneville / Thomas Paine House, Paris

I find that the street number to this house has definitely changed with the name. The plaque that identifies the house as the former residence of Paine and Bonneville is at number 10, while the biographies I referenced for this site list 4 rue du Theatre Francais, the former name of rue de l’Odéon. It’s above the Librairie (bookstore) Guelegaud. I discover a fun fact: it’s next to the building where Sylvia Beach published James Joyces’ Ulysses in 1922.

Odeon Theater, Paris, France

Arched and vaulted walkway along the Odeon Theater

As I’ve mentioned in this series already, Thomas Jefferson was quite the theater-goer, and from 1784 and onwards, he often attended performances at Theatre Francais, later the Theatre Odeon. He saw the 16th performance of Baumarchais’ Mariage de Figaro there on Aug 4th, 1786. The Odeon is at 2 rue Corneille near the convergence of place, rue, and currefour de l’Odeon. The front door of the theater opens to a lovely foyer, but almost immediately after I go inside, the guard at the front door pounces on me, informing me that taking photos inside is forbidden. I explain the object of my trip and he becomes a little friendlier, but still says no, since the video cameras would reveal he let me take photos without official permission, which I could seek by writing to the building’s administrators when they return on September 1st. Oh well. There’s always the website!

I go around to the side to see if I could find a historical marker or plaque, passing through an elegant vaulted promenade lined with hanging lamps, then walk all around the building. No luck. It’s a very lovely theater, someday I hope to go inside.

La Fontaine Medicis, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

I head down to the Luxembourg gardens and palace. After I do a little photography of the informational signs and before I do my historical explorations, I sit down to eat my lunch and do a little writing at La Fontaine Medicis, a beautiful little rectangular pool below an ornate fountain. It’s a lovely day, balmy with a cool breeze blowing and partly cloudy, a relief after the first week of oppressive heat, though the warm evenings were a definite upside. Today’s the day that many Parisians open up shop again, having been away for vacation for the last month, and I’m sure they’re very glad at being welcomed back home by the beautiful weather. The Jardin de Luxembourg is a very happy place, a mix of formal geometric gardens and meandering paths among beautiful trees and flowers, more like botanical gardens. People are picnicking and sunning themselves by the dozens, and children are sailing their little boats in the big reflecting pool.

A front view of the Luxembourg Palace, now the Senate Building

Children sailing boats in the Luxembourg Gardens reflecting pool, Paris, France

Colorful flowerbeds at the Luxembourg Gardens

It’s a far cry from the dark days of the Terror when the Luxembourg became a prison, albeit one of the better ones, reserved for prisoners who even the architects of the Terror felt deserved some respect. Paine, after all, was still one of the revered fathers and authors of the Revolution of France as well of the United States. Robespierre turned against him because he was growing increasingly paranoid and suspicious, as his overweening pride of power turned to bloodlust for the Revolution’s enemies, real or imagined. This came to include all foreigners, so despite his status as an honorary citizen of France, off to prison went Paine. He spent over ten months there, watching in horror as old friends, and new ones he made while in prison, were carted off to the guillotine. Mary Wollstonecraft visited her good friend Paine her, along with other friends and like-minded people imprisoned here at this time.

Another view of the Luxembourg Palace, now the Senate Building

Paine was popular with his prison mates and made a lot of friends. This was a good thing, too, since Paine eventually fell seriously ill with typhoid for the second time, and again nearly died from it, probably only saved because of the good care taken of him by his new friends, one of which was a prison guard. There’s a story, probably though not certainly true, that Paine was finally assigned his turn for the guillotine. The doorway was marked with chalk accordingly, but because Paine was boiling with fever, the guard allowed the door to remain open to cool the room. When the man came to collect those condemned to die, the door had since been closed, concealing the chalk mark, so Paine was passed over. Why the mistake was never remedied is never explained, which casts some doubt on the story. Perhaps the author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man was still just too valued and his would-be executioners lost their nerve, who knows? It’s a great story nonetheless.

Looking down the street at the entryway to the Pantheon, Paris, France

Looking up in the entryway to the Pantheon

I head for my last historical excursion for the day: the Pantheon. I had seen the building’s exterior when in Paris seven years ago, and had promised myself to go inside next time. Today is the day!

Formerly the basilica of Saint Genevieve, it was decommissioned as a reliquary for the bones of this beloved and ancient patron saint of Paris and made a temple dedicated to the intellectuals and great people of France during the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson greatly admired this incredible monument, modeled on the classical ‘temple of all the gods, and visited with his new friend and platonic lover, the beautiful and consummate conversationalist Maria Cosway.

Interior of the Pantheon under the dome

Convention Nationale Sculpture in the Pantheon

As beautiful and perfectly designed as it is on the outside, the inside is stunning. The dome soars high overhead, but right now it’s covered on the inside by a screen showing the faces of people from around the world. It’s currently being renovated, as you can see from the scaffolding and supports around the dome from the outside. It’s massive, and the enormous frescoes add color and light to the place, which is otherwise maybe just a little too dark and somber. It had originally been designed to let in a lot of light, but many of its windows and open spaces were walled up since 1793, four years after Jefferson’s time in Paris, because the architect charged with transforming into a mausoleum thought it should have a more solemn look and feel. The Pantheon was never restored to its original open design, and perhaps the walls remain because the frescoes they contain are just too beautiful to tear out.

Condorcet’s and Abbe Gregoire’s tombs in the crypt of the Pantheon

Condorcet’s tomb is here, though his actual remain are lost. Voltaire and Rousseau are actually interred here: their tombs are placed opposite of one another, on either side of the central main aisle of the crypt. They were in many ways opposites in thought: in general, Voltaire emphasized the Head, Rousseau the Heart; Voltaire was a satirist, Rousseau a romantic; Voltaire critiqued all religions, Rousseau though being religious was important but also though all were equally valid: Voltaire loved science and culture, Rousseau thought that all that removed human beings from their raw ‘natural’ selves was corruption, and so on. I love how well thought out their final resting places are arranged: the statue of Voltaire has a genial expression, as if looking around the room, ready to enter into witty repartee with one who has the time to stop and chat. Rousseau has no statue, but the tomb of this incurable romantic is carved with a facsimile of his hand reaching out to offer the world a bouquet of flowers.

All three of my subjects, Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson, read Voltaire and Rousseau and were very much influenced by them. Wollstonecraft, in particular, was very critical of Rousseau’s views on women, especially regarding education and their ‘natural’ roles in society. Like the others, however, she admired his defense of the natural origins of human rights.

Voltaire’s alcove with statue and tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon, Paris

Voltaire’s tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Rousseau’s alcove with tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Side view of Rousseau’s tomb in the crypt of the Pantheon

Well, this has been a particularly long, fascinating, and beauty-filled day, yet there is still much more to come of my journeys in Paris. To be continued in Part 4….

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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.
http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060957742/vindication

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Jenkinson, Clay. ‘The Magna Carta‘. The Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast, episode 1141.

Monnaie de Paris, website.

 Morgan, George. The Life of James Monroe. Boston: Small, Maynard, and Co., 1921
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
Soufflot: The Pantheon, Paris.’ Khan Academy
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Second Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson, Part 2

At Passage Des Petits Peres and Place Des Petites Peres

Monday, August 10th, 2015, continued

…From the Opera Comique (formerly Theatre des Italiens), I head south towards the Seine and past the Bourse (a center of commerce) to White’s Hotel, Hôtel d’Angleterre in French, also called the Hôtel de Philadelphie at that time, perhaps because of the French admiration for the new American experiment in self-government centered in Philadelphia. Mary Wollstonecraft, initially a little depressed and lonely at the house on rue Meslay, began to meet with a group of expatriates who gathered and dined here at 7 Passage des Petits Pères, just off the square in front of Basilique Notre-Dame des Victoires.

The Square In Front of Notre Dame Des Victoires at Place Des Petites Peres, Paris, France

One of these expatriates was our man Thomas Paine, who lived here intermittently in 1792 and 1793. I don’t find a building with this address on it, though it appears it would have been to the left hand side of east-west entrance to the Galerie Victoire, at the end of the passage farther from the basilica. Paine finished the first part of The Age of Reason here, where he moved again after his stay at the mansion farmhouse on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. He smuggled the manuscript to his friend, diplomat and poet Joel Barlow (who I mentioned in my previous Thomas Jefferson series), for safekeeping at the time of his arrest in December of 1793, in hopes that Barlow could have it published while he was imprisoned.

The Colonnade Behind the Palais Royal, Paris, France

The next site I visit is the Palais Royal, just down the way towards the river. Thomas Jefferson visited the Palais Royal on August 6th, 1786 and other occasions (it’s especially easy to track the movements of Jefferson, being a prolific letter writer and meticulous record keeper). The Palais was a public shopping, entertainment, arts, and business center, originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu for whom the street that runs parallel to it is named, then expanded and updated by the Dukes d’Orleans. It was known for attracting revolutionaries, dissidents, writers, Freemasons, and prostitutes. I approach it from the back garden area, enclosed and crisscrossed by collonades in a classical style, a later addition that Jefferson would certainly have approved of. It’s a lovely shady spot to rest in on this hot day.

The Courtyard Behind the Palais Royal

I continue on towards the Seine and pass through the front courtyard of the Louvre, where the main entrance and the famous glass pyramid is. Thomas Paine visited the Louvre several times some years before the dangerous period of the French Revolution.

A view of the Louvre with the glass pyramid, Paris, France

After the American Revolutionary War ended, he found himself without an active cause to support, and turned to science, one of his other main interests. He was elected into the American Philosophical Society in 1785, founded by his great friend and mentor Benjamin Franklin (I write about my visit to the APS headquarters in an earlier piece), which was an illustrious company of scientists, inventors, and other innovators in various fields. Paine had been inspired, during his previous visit to Paris in 1780 to help negotiate a loan for the American revolutionary cause, by a design proposal for a new type of pier-less iron bridge; the usual materials used at the time were wood and stone. He thought he could improve the design, and spent about a year working it out and creating a detailed model with a craftsman named John Hall. When it was finished, he was disappointed to find that no one was willing to fund the building of such a bridge in Philadelphia or anywhere else in America; it was just too expensive and risky an undertaking when just about everyone with means found their resources strained by war debt.

A view of the Musée du Louvre

So Thomas Paine went to Paris again in 1787 for a time to present his plans for the iron bridge to the Academie des Sciences of France, which met here in the Louvre until the 1790’s. Perhaps the French, who had so lavishly supported the American cause, would like to be the first have such a marvelously inventive new type of bridge over the Seine, surely they could use one more in such a busy riverside metropolis.

The Obelisk at Place de la Concord, Paris, France

I walk along the Tulieries gardens in front of the Louvre (more on this place in a later piece, since it has significance for my visit, but there’s something I’d like to confirm first), headed for the Place de la Concorde. In June of 1793, Mary Wollstonecraft moved to Neilly-sur-Seine, west of the city and north of the Bois de Boulonge. She had fallen deeply in love with an adventurer, and as it turned out, womanizer, named Gilbert Imlay. For a person who described herself as so wedded to reason, she was prone to allow her emotions to overwhelm her when it came to love, and no one would do but exciting yet unsuitable men who broke her heart every time. Imlay was one of these, and she went to Neilly-sur-Seine both to escape the deadly excesses that the French Revolution was falling into, and to pursue her love affair in private. Imlay remained in Paris, but they would pass back and forth to visit one another.

She would enter Paris through a gate at the Place de Louis Quinze, now called the Place de la Concorde. She described, on one occasion, slipping in the blood of executed victims of the Terror as she passed through the gate, as a well-used guillotine was set up here. Like Paine, the Revolution broke her heart: it was so full of promise, yet here its leaders were, becoming the oppressors they had professed to hate.

Side view of the building where Hôtel de Langeac once stood, on the Avenue Des Champs-Elysees, Paris, France

Next, I head east along the Champs-Élysées, where Thomas Jefferson finally settled down in the autumn of 1785. He lived here at the Hôtel de Langeac until he returned to America in September 1789. It’s right on the corner of Champs-Élysées and Rue de Berri, in the new quarter named Faubourg du Roule that Louis XV had built. He had moved from place to place in his first year here in Paris, renting rooms, staying with friends, and remodeling the Hotel Taitbout to suit his tastes. He changed his mind about living there, however, since it was so expensive, and he had already spent a quarter of his yearly budget on the place. Jefferson habitually lived far beyond his means, and American Congress, having little power to tax, did not regularly pay expenses of its ministers.

An entrance to the building where Hôtel de Langeac once stood. Thomas Jefferson lived here, on the Avenue Des Champs-Elysees

Plaque on the wall where Hôtel de Langeac, former residence of Thomas Jefferson, once stood

So, Jefferson sold up and moved to the Hôtel de Langeac. It turned out to be a perfect compromise between his love of culture and its refinements, and his moral preference for rural living. At that time, it was on the outer edges of Paris, halfway between the bustle of the city and the peace of the Bois (woods) de Boulogne, which he visited nearly every day. Horseback riding was among his favorite forms of exercise, and he could let the horse really go in this natural setting. Now, however, the full bustle of Paris has enveloped Hôtel de Langeac’s street corner and beyond. As I was absorbed in finding a good angle to photograph the building, I was startled to realize that some of the honking and shouting I was hearing in the background was aimed at me: turns out I was standing right in the driveway of a subterranean parking garage, which lets out right in the middle of a wide sidewalk. Oops.

At this point, I’m regretting the pace at which I toured the city today. My knees ache terribly, especially the right one, and I’m disappointed in myself. I’m an avid hiker and consider myself an able and enthusiastic walker, but today’s tour did me in. Then I remember: I had just been sitting for hours sleeping with my legs all twisted up in the cramped space in front of my airplane seat, so my knees had likely been strained. Next time, I’ll pace myself appropriately. In the meantime, I buy a tall can of Hoegaarden (a favorite ‘easy beer’) and some snacks, and sit by the Seine writing notes under a shade tree; it’s a lovely way to rest. I recover a bit, then stroll some more through the Latin Quarter. It’s touristy to the nth degree. I wish I could have seen it decades ago when it was still bohemian and more interesting, but I do appreciate seeing so many people out on holiday having a good time.

Street view of the Pantheon of Paris

I pass by at the Pantheon, which so inspired Thomas Jefferson, in the early evening, after I had resumed my stroll but paused my historical explorations, simply wandering wherever street, garden, or structure beckoned. At this hour, it’s closed to the public.

I consider where to go next: I’ll be meeting up with my husband at Gare du Nord tomorrow morning, so I need to get out the house in good time. He’s flying in with his fellow randonneurs and his bike and cycling gear to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200-kilometer cycling event that’s been put on every four years for over a century. Before the big ride, we’re taking a detour to Berlin to visit family for a few days, then I’ll see him off on his ride and return to Paris. I’ll be returning to the Pantheon then for a real visit, and to continue my adventures following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson.

Stay tuned!…  >>> Third Day 

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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Jul. 17 2015.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Palais-Royal‘, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Second Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson, Part 1

22 rue Meslay, Paris. Mary Wollstonecraft may have lived here at Aline Filliettaz’s house from December 1792 through June 1793. See update to the search for the Filliataz house

Monday, August 10th, 2015

I get up at a decent hour, though of course not too early: I discovered early on when I began to travel in earnest that proper rest is essential for clear thinking, map-reading capabilities, and the good humor necessary for enjoying the day.

Since there’s such a huge number of sites to visit on my itinerary, I’ve decided to visit them in an order determined not by subject nor in any kind of chronological order, but by proximity to one another, so I can better cover them all.

I make my way from my temporary digs on Boulevard Voltaire up toward Republique, then make a soft left and head for 22 rue Meslée (now called the rue Meslay). Mary Wollstonecraft lived here at her friend Aline Filliettaz’s house from December 1792 through June of 1793, shortly after arriving in Paris. Wollstonecraft was full of hope for the Revolution and longed to be a part of it, and thought that the humanitarian and egalitarian Enlightenment principles she espoused were more likely to take hold there before they would in her home country of England, as they had (to an extent) in America. By the time she arrived in Paris, she was a self-made woman, a governess and schoolmarm who had become the bestselling author of two progressive and highly influential books, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790 (a scathing rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792.

In fact, her Rights of Men was published the year before Paine’s Rights of Man, which was also a response to Burke, but Paine’s became the most famous by far. However, Wollstonecraft held her own with Rights of Woman, as it’s now widely considered the founding work of modern feminism. Wollstonecraft was lonely and blue when she first lived at this house, since her hosts were away and the servants behaved haughtily and uncooperatively towards her, but she soon cheered up when she began to get out more and hang out with her expatriate friends and their Parisian social circle. (More on that soon.)

Building where 22 rue Meslay is now located in Paris, France

The Fillattaz house is on a little side street in the Marais district, near the medieval Temple where the royal family was held during the French Revolution, before the King was guillotined in December of 1793 and Marie Antoinette was sent to the Concierge. Wollstonecraft wrote in her account of this period in her life that she saw the King being taken from the Temple prison to his trial at the Hôtel de Ville, where the Convention Nationale was held, from her window at this house. See update to the search for the Filliataz house

By the way, it’s important to make this point at the beginning: as is the case with all private residences and some other sites I visit during this tour, unless I can find a clear indicator of the history of the building (in accounts I have access to, on plaques, on cornerstones, etc), it’s very possible that I may not have found the exact location, especially if it’s not a public building with a clearly documented history. Many of my sources list an address without specifying whether it’s the modern address or the historical one and numbers change over time, and some streets are re-routed or disappear entirely, as do many of the original buildings, and records are not always consistently kept or may have been lost in the intervening years. Since my subjects were all here well over two centuries ago, it’s likely that at least a few of these locations are approximate, rather than the exact sites, despite my best efforts to discover them. This is especially true of Mary Wollstonecraft since she’s the only one of my subjects who never held public office or had any government appointments.

Courtyard behind 22 rue Meslay

63 rue Faubourg St-Denis, Paris, France. It’s the right address but not actually the site of Paine’s once-time residence, since the address had changed since his time. You can the story of how I find the true site here.

For example, poking around for historical details of the rue Meslay, I found that George Sands was born on that same street, and the address was 15 in her time, 46 now. I didn’t find any info as to whether Wollstonecraft’s 22 address is the new one, old one, or just that same address in different sources, but since she described seeing the King’s carriage pass by her window on the way to trial, it may be that the Filliettaz house was further up the street, in a taller building or at a higher elevation, so that she could see as far over as Boulevard Saint-Martin, the next street over and the route he would taken. But another source describes the house as having six stories, and the house now at 22 matches this description.

If I have time, I might swing back over there for further explorations since the place I’m staying now and the place I’ll be staying when I return to Paris (I’ll be joining my husband Bryan tomorrow for a quick family visit to Berlin, then to Saint Quentin en Yvellines where he’ll commence the Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event) are not too far away.

A mural on a wall on rue Faubourg St-Denis

Next, I head for 63 rue Faubourg St-Denis, at rue des Petits Ecuries, where Thomas Paine moved in 1793 to share the ground floor of a ‘mansion farmhouse’ with six friends. Paine wrote in glowing terms of the lifestyle there, and they had farm animals and grew fruits and vegetables, as that area was still pretty rural, and they would romp in the garden to take their minds off the tumult and violence in Paris. He was living here when he, with a committee of nine others, drafted a new constitution for France, though this one was unsuccessful: the Girondin faction which Paine worked with were moderates, while the radical Jacobins were gaining power and, over time, took over the Revolution entirely, instituting the Reign of Terror. (See update on the search for the rue Faubourg Saint-Denis house).

It’s unlikely that any part of the building that stands here now is original, either in whole or in part, given Paine’s description of it, and the current address may not the same as the historical one [this turns out to be the case]. The only fruits and vegetables to be obtained here now are from the colorful produce shops that line this now urban, rough-around-the-edges but vibrant and colorful part of the city. I think this neighborhood is wonderful, and it reminds me in many ways of the Mission district of San Francisco before it became mostly taken over by hipsters and tech people.

A view of rue Faubourg St-Denis

At 101 rue de Richelieu, Paris, France.

Next, I head down to rue de Richelieu in search of the place where Thomas Paine moved in with James Monroe’s family in November 1794. Monroe had finally secured Paine’s release from his eight-month imprisonment at the Luxembourg (I’ll return to this subject after I’ve visited that palace-turned-prison-turned-Senate house). Paine lived with the Monroes for about 2 years, not all of them here, since they moved more than once. At the time of his release, they lived at 101 rue de Richelieu, which begins at Bd. Montmarte where it meets Bd. Poissonere, in the 2nd Arrondissement.

At 101, I find a classy place, fit for an honored foreign dignitary, with a lovely courtyard with a lovely arched entryway, updated with a modern reflecting pool. Again, I’ll return to this street soon for further explorations, which will be easier next time since I’m now getting very familiar with this corner of Paris, and as I find more source material with which to confirm whether the numbers have changed. (See update to the search for the Monroe house on rue de Richelieu.)

Courtyard at 101 rue de Richelieu

An entryway to 101 rue de Richelieu

When Paine was released from prison, he was broken down in health and spirits: he had nearly died from typhus, and he had an open ulcer on his side that wouldn’t heal. He had also felt that his American friends in high places had deserted him, not doing what they could to rescue him from his predicament. He was especially upset with Gouverneur Morris, the ambassador (then ‘Minister Plenipotentiary’) to France at the time, and with president George Washington. Morris was the primary author of the preamble to the United States Constitution as well as many of its other sections and he was an able statesman, but the French government lacked confidence in him; he was recalled after they repeatedly requested he be replaced by another. From their writings, it appears that Paine and Morris alternately liked, respected, and loathed one another. Morris often writes very sarcastically about Paine, and though I’m quite the Paine fan-girl, I find some of his remarks very funny and witty, though others are just plain bitchy and catty.

While Paine did offer valuable assistance to Monroe (Morris’ replacement) in his role as the new American ambassador, Paine was at this time also, as an aftereffect of his imprisonment and disillusionment with the French Revolution, given to depression, anger, and paranoia, and as a result of all of these, binge drinking. He was to acquire a reputation as an alcoholic, but since these accusations came almost entirely from his political enemies during and after his lifetime, this characterization is suspect. His friends and colleagues describe him as a social drinker, wont to make merry in the evenings and engage in enthusiastic discussions about politics, science, and philosophical topics as long as anyone was willing.

I next head north to rue Taitbout and turn left on rue de la Victoire, and go to the grand house at 60 rue de la Victoire, which was 6 rue Chantereine in Paine’s time, in the 9th Arrondissement.

60 rue de la Victoire, once 6 Rue Chantereine, former Home of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte

It was likely in this house that Paine attended a party thrown by Julie and Francois-Joseph Talma in October 1792. The house was owned by Mrs. Talma, formerly Louise-Julie Carreau, and she held a famous salon here. Her husband was a well-known actor and passionate Revolutionary, friends with Jacques-Louis David (who, I was surprised to discover was among those who voted in favor of executing the King) and Napoleon Bonaparte, who moved into this house in 1796 with his new wife Josephine). Like Paine and Wollstonecraft, the Talmas were Girondinist in their sympathies, yet there was a ruckus between Paine and other attendees of the party, many of whom had begun to turn on this once-beloved muse and author of two revolutions.

Two Details of 60 rue de la Victoire, former Home of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte

The history of the French Revolution is, among other things, a prime example of how people, even as they see themselves pursuing the same lofty goals and are members of the same political party, just can’t seem to avoid petty infighting. This sort of thing undermines so many important projects, and as we see all too often, petty disagreements can devolve to self-righteousness and even blind radicalism over time. French culture, in that era especially, placed a high value on ‘sensibility’, valuing the free expressions of both raw and cultivated emotions. As we have also seen in the French Revolution, unbridled passion was very often allowed to trump reason. To Paine’s dismay, he watched the beloved Enlightenment campaign for rational democratic government, that he served so enthusiastically and so well, turn into a bloody campaign of vengeance and terror.

View of Église Notre-Dame de Lorette from Rue Lafitte, Paris, France

Side view of Opera Comique, Formerly Theatre Des Italiens

It was very near this place that Thomas Jefferson moved for awhile, eight years earlier in October 1784, on the cul-de-sac (impasse) Taitbout off rue La Fayette near rue St Georges. He signed a long-term lease at Hotel Landron, also called Hotel Taitbout, but only ended up living here for about one year. I explore this area very thoroughly, peeking into every courtyard, driveway, and byway I can find, but a hotel by this name is nowhere to be found so far as I can see. (By the way, ‘hotel’ wasn’t used in the same sense as we use it today: It could refer to a grand house or a large public building.) This area is very near where I’ll be staying next week, so I’ll return if I find more leads, and I’m looking ever more forward to doing so, it’s such a beautiful neighborhood.

Jefferson was an avid patron of the arts, and attended the theatre often while living in Paris to see plays and musical performances. He often went to the Theatre des Italiens, very near his Taitbout place on Boulevard des Italiens. There is no theatre today with that name, but I find Opera Comique in just about the right place. Could this be the same building? The building appears to be of the right vintage. I look into it, and sure enough, it is! It’s in the process of getting a facelift and a good cleaning, but the side entrance is in good repair and attractive with its lovely cast iron lacy canopy.

Opera Comique, formerly Theatre Des Italiens, Paris, France, under repair

I still have many sites I’ll be visiting throughout the course of the day, so I’ll take a break here.

To be continued in Part 2:  >>>

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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060957742/vindication

Grossman, Ira. ‘The House on the Rue de la Victoire
Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.’

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Jul. 17 2015.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

First Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

My first rented room in Paris, France, following Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

I arrive at Charles De Gaulle airport on Sunday afternoon, fairly well rested for once. Usually, I don’t sleep well on planes, and stumble off the walkway groggy and stupified. This time I slept about two thirds of the way through the 10 1/2 hour flight …not well, mind you, but much better than nothing. I attribute it to the ibuprofen tablets I took shortly before boarding, making the cramped quarters less painful to sleep in: my travel tip of the day! It was great to arrive and feel competent to navigate the trains, find my destination, and go out and start enjoying myself without delay.

At about 6pm, I meet my host Aurelia at 46 Rue Voltaire, a couple blocks down from Oberkampf station, in the 11th Arrondissement. She is sweet and helpful, and a practiced Airbnb-er: she has a series of photos on her iPhone at the ready so she can show me how to navigate the passageways, six flights of stairs, and unmarked doors to reach my mini apartment. The place is tiny, with the loft bed over the desk, the toilet tucked into a cubbyhole beside the shower, and the whole place the size of a small bedroom. On the whole, it suits me just fine, since it’s clean, private, and in a great neighborhood at a cheap price, but being somewhat tall and not used to these close quarters, I whack my head often.

Triomphe de la République, the sculpture at the Place de la Nation

I decide not to dive right in my historical adventures, but to take an aimless walk around instead, to get my bearings, wake up a little more, and re-immerse myself in this city which I last visited seven years ago on honeymoon. Right away, I find myself feeling a little wistful, feels odd to be here without Bryan. He’ll be joining me in a couple of days, so I console myself and head out.

I walk down Boulevard Voltaire in search of something better to eat than airplane food, which takes me awhile: most places are closed (usual in late July to mid-August, as my host informs me), until I get closer to Place de la Nation, which is is getting busier as the night crowd are starting to emerge. I find a boulangerie, where I pick up a butter croissant and another sweet one for tomorrow’s breakfast. I admire the sculpture, then turn up Boulevard Diderot, sit down for an Edelweiss (lightly tart beer), a couple of smokes (an old habit I like to indulge myself in on special occasions) and a little people-watching. It’s a lovely warm evening.

Latin dancers at the Quai St-Bernard along the Seine, Paris, France

I continue on towards the Seine, cross the Pont d’Austerlitz, and walk east along the river. In the park and sculpture garden on Quai St-Bernard, I happen upon masses of people dancing on three dance floors: the first was dedicated to the foxtrot, the other two to Latin dancing. One was huge, must have been well over a hundred people dancing until the sweat was dripping, ringed by crowds of spectators. I dare not join in the dancing: I can’t seem to learn steps to save my life, last time I took a dance class I caught the teacher apologizing to my assigned dance partner, probably for the bruises I pounded into his feet with my own.

The sunset is pink, orange, and gold against the blue sky and above the silver Seine as I pass by Notre Dame.

Gazing at the Île de la Cité from the Left Bank of Paris, France

On the bridge to the Île de la Cité, there was another crowd clapping and cheering for three performers, two on roller skates and one on rollerblades. In turn, they speed-skate up a ramp and over a crossbar set very high in the air, perhaps 15 feet or so.

As I’m reminded constantly on my evening stroll, Paris, like our Washington D.C., has not forgotten its nation’s Revolution. Its heroes and events are memorialized in the names of street after boulevard after avenue, in monument after statue after city square: Rue La Fayette, Place de la Bastille, Place de la Republique. So are its philosophes: along with Voltaire and Diderot, there’s Jean Jacque Rousseau, Montesquieu… even our own Thomas Jefferson is an honorary member of this elite company: his larger-than-life bronze sculpture adorns the Left Bank of the Seine.

Hôtel de Ville, Paris, France, on the right bank of the Seine

Other than some of the street names and monuments, my evening stroll took me by only one site
associated with a subject of my trip: the Hôtel de Ville, which has several connections with the life of Thomas Paine. It’s a very grand building, and looks both lovely and impressive all lit up at night, but it’s not the original building of Paine’s time. That one was burned down in another French revolution in 1871, in the same round of anti-monarchical arsonists that claimed the Tuileries palace and nearly claimed the Louvre.

I walk around the building to see if one of the statues in its many niches was Paine, but I can’t find one. It’s pretty dark out, though; the statues I see whose caption I can see in the half-light are all Frenchmen. However, Paine was a celebrity in France following his publication of Common Sense, which offered a comprehensive philosophical defense for the rightness of the cause for American Revolution, and again when he wrote The Rights of Man. His arguments resonated with many of the French people, who felt themselves chafing under a rigid hierarchical structure and high taxation maintained and imposed by an unchallengeable monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy. So it was at the Hotel de Ville on August 26, 1790 that the Paris Commune voted to make Paine an honorary citizen. When he returned to Paris in September of 1792, he was elected to the French National Convention; no matter that he couldn’t really speak French, one who so eloquently speaks for human freedom and dignity speak to all. So though he might be properly honored by a sculptural portrait here, so far as I can find out, he has none among the niches.

More to come soon: my next day in Paris is entirely dedicated to following in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson. Stay tuned!  > Second Day, Part 1
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Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my fourth philosophical-historical themed adventure, this time in Paris, France to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson at the time of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution, following on the heels of the American Revolution, inspired and horrified many. The financial crisis, caused by over-expenditures in recent wars (including assistance to the Americans) and food shortages, caused by a series of crop failures, led to an uprising mostly of professionals and merchants, joined later by members of the laboring classes. The movement for reform called for disestablishment of the monarchy, who entangled the nation in wars and continued to spend lavishly in times of want, and for ending the special privileges of the aristocracy and clergy, whose tax exemptions often placed the heaviest financial burden on those who could least afford it.

Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson were three Enlightenment thinkers whose work is central in the intellectual legacy of modern human rights movements, and who were heavily influenced by the French Revolution. Paine, a British-born corset-maker who became involved in local politics and reform movements in his native country, in America, and in France, set down his political theory and freethought philosophy in Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. Mary Wollstonecraft, who was also born in England and also moved to Paris to take part in the revolutionary activism taking place there, followed Paine’s The Rights of Man with her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, now considered the founding work of the modern feminist movement. Thomas Jefferson, founding father of the United States and eventual President, was an American statesman living in Paris as the events leading up to the French Revolution unfolded, and continued to defend its core democratic values, if not all its tactics, even as it devolved to the bloody Terror.

So off to the Paris I go! There, from August 9th through the 21st, I’ll visit landmarks associated with their lives at this time, and see how the events that occurred at that time in the places where they lived, worked, died, thought, wrote, studied, rested, and played contributed to their thought during and after the Revolution.

~ Thank you, Ronnie Ruedrich and Mark Sloan, for your generous support

Here’s the story of the trip and related essays about these three thinkers and their ideas:

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 3: Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Third day, April 21st, 2015

I wake up very early to beat rush hour traffic and head northeast to Philadelphia.

My husband Bryan and I visited Philadelphia several years ago and had explored the Old City, so I have a fairly clear memory of the general layout and some of the sites I’m looking for. But we hadn’t seen Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution was signed, because 1) it was being renovated at the time, and the front of it was covered by scaffolding and a gigantic dropcloth printed with an image of the facade and 2) it was a weekend day during tourist season and they were mobbed by tourists, out of tickets to tour the inside by the time we got there. I had learned my lesson, and this time around, I make a beeline for the visitor’s center to get my ticket. Even on a Tuesday in April, there was an over three-hour delay between the time I get my ticket and the time I will be admitted. That’s no problem since I have plenty of exploring to do, but if you plan to go sometime, my advice is to get your ticket as far ahead of time as possible.

The President’s House Site, Old City Philadelphia

I start my wanderings with the President’s House site, where the first two Presidents of the United States, George Washington and John Adams, had lived while the White House was being built. (Adams moved in to the unfinished White House in 1800, during the last months of his presidency.) Jefferson visited this house many times during both of their administrations. The foundations exist and were excavated and studied, and now have an open-air exhibit there, which was brand-new when we were there years ago.

It’s a lovely exhibit, not only describing the house and the presidents and their families that lived there, but telling the stories of Washingtons’ slaves, left out of history until recently. More on this in a later piece.

Benjamin Franklin’s Grave, Christ Church Burial Ground, Old City Philadelphia

Next, I visit the Christ Church burial ground across from the Free Quaker Meeting House, where Jefferson’s friend and personal idol Benjamin Franklin is buried. I head first to Franklin’s tomb, where he lies with his wife and members of his family. Franklin had the virtues Jefferson admired most: he was a curious, adventurous, learned, and sociable man; a gifted politician, diplomat, storyteller, and above all, a scientist. In other words, Franklin was the embodiment of the ideal Enlightenment man. More about Franklin to come.

When I ask one of the men attending the gate where another of Jefferson’s colleagues, Dr. Benjamin Rush, is buried, he’s very glad to show me the way, exclaiming that Rush is his favorite among those notables buried here. Rush was also a great friend of Jefferson’s and frequent correspondent, and without his efforts, Jefferson and John Adams may never have resumed their friendship, which had been strained by the infighting among Washington’s administration between Adams and Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans, and broken by their contentious presidential races.

Benjamin Rush’s Grave, Christ Church Burial Ground, Old City Philadelphia

The man who showed me the way is right: I would find Rush an excellent subject of another history series like this in his own right, as he lived a long, fascinating life. In addition to his role as a founding father of the United States, he cared deeply about important social issues and founded or served in several public service organizations. He was also curiously backward-thinking and innovative at the same time as a physician: for example, he continued to practice and promote blood-letting as a medical cure even as the medical field was doubting its efficacy and phasing it out, and had rather medieval-sounding theories about how disease is spread; yet, he was a pioneer in the study of mental disorders, describing them diseases of the mind instead of ‘spiritual’ maladies, and is often referred to as the founder of American psychiatry.

I discover that Francis Hopkinson is buried here as well. He was another good friend of Jefferson’s, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence and fellow member of the American Philosophical Society; he helped lead its revival after the Revolution. ‘Philosophical’, in that time, was a broader term than it is today, referring to inquiry into everything that exists and how it all works; scientific inquiry was included. Franklin put it this way: the APS was a foundation dedicated to ‘the promotion of useful knowledge’. (I prefer Franklin’s description to today’s conception of philosophy and approach it much the same way.) More on the APS shortly.

5th and Market Streets, Old City Philadelphia

Then on to the corner of 5th and Market, where Mary Houses’ boarding house stood. There’s nothing now marking the site that I could find. After the death of his wife (Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson to the rest of the world, Patty to him) in September of 1782, he was inconsolable for awhile. His friend and protege James Madison helped persuade him to go to France, where he could assist in negotiations with Britain over the Treaty of Paris. He took his oldest daughter Patsy with him. The two had grown very close after Martha’s death, and he wished her to receive some of her education in Europe. The treaty ended up being finished before the weather would allow for the journey overseas, and after a stay of a couple months or so, he returned to Monticello, then on to other government positions. He was appointed minister to France in 1784, and returned to stay at Mrs. Houses’s, with Patsy, on their way to Paris again that summer.

Statue in Honor of Religious Liberty, Old City Philadelphia

As I turn around to head to my next destination, I notice a beautiful statue in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History, across the street from where the boarding house had been. It’s entitled ‘Religious Liberty’.

There was a historic exchange between George Washington and his administration, of which Jefferson was Secretary of State, and the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, which was an important moment in the new nation’s history of establishing a completely secular government which tasked itself with defending the right to complete religious liberty. (We’re still figuring out how to best go about it to this day.) Jefferson had made the establishment of religious freedom among the most important missions in his life; he directed that his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom be one of only three of his accomplishments carved on his tombstone. For a nation which had just separated themselves from the Old World, torn apart with one bloody religious conflict after another over for centuries, religious liberty was a wonderfully freeing, invigorating, humanistic social experiment.

Near the Bourse, Old City Philadelphia

Then on to a site at the east end of the Bourse, a funny name for the old commodities exchange building, now a retail, dining, and business center. (It’s so nice inside, I’m tempted to stop here for refreshment, but it’s still early and I have much to see.) Francis’s Tavern used to stand here, on Fourth Street between Market and Chestnut. Jefferson lived here for awhile while he was Vice President in the late 1790’s until the government moved to the new capital in 1800. John Adams and many other government officials stayed there as well.

I go next in search of the site where Benjamin Randolph’s house used to stand: I know it’s not there anymore but I’m hoping for a plaque. After all, it was the first place Jefferson stayed in Philadelphia; he rented rooms from Randolph, cabinet maker, in 1775 when he arrived on June 11 as a newly elected member of the Second Continental Congress.

Benjamin Franklin’s house site near Chestnut between 3rd & 4th, Old City Philadelphia

It’s somewhere between 3rd and 4th on Chestnut. But I don’t know exactly where, and I find nothing indicating where it had been. Instead, I’m drawn to a sign indicating the site of two buildings Ben Franklin owned and lived in with his family the last five years of his life is located just down an alley next to the National Liberty Museum. I take a peek. Those curved concrete structures you see among the steel outlines of the original shapes of the buildings are windows into the archaeological excavations of the sites. So interesting. I love archaeology; I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid. (Like most kids of the Indiana Jones generation, I’m sure!)

Carpenter’s Hall and surrounding buildings, Old City Philadelphia

Across the street, I find Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Continental Congress met. Jefferson wasn’t a delegate to that first one in 1774, but he wrote ‘A Summary View of the Rights of British America’ that year which Washington and Adams, who attended, admired and passed around to the other delegates. It was among the reasons Jefferson was eventually asked to write the Declaration of Independence since he had already done such an excellent job on what Washington called ‘Mr. Jefferson’s Bill of Rights.’

The Hall is open to the public, so I go inside. I ask a man attending the door, and a woman working behind a counter, if either of them knows of the site I’m looking for, but they don’t. The woman helpfully goes to her computer to see if she can find anything, but no luck.

I’m glad I asked though. By way of explanation as to why the site may be lost to history, the man tells me a brief history of how the National Park service took over Independence Hall and the Old City area of Philadelphia in the 1950’s, and the shockingly careless and reckless way they went about ‘restoring’ it (by today’s standards). The old buildings were crumbling and crowded by shabby, more modern buildings, and the city quickly had much of them condemned so they could be cleared away and the character of the old city could be revealed.

Carpenter’s Hall, Old City Philadelphia

So, the man continues, the National Park Service ‘marked everything with an X’ that wasn’t immediately identifiable as having to do directly with the founding of the nation, and the wreckers went to work. Philadelphians who knew the city and its history better, however, started flooding the NPS and city officials with letters, informing them that they were knocking down important historical buildings, among them the first military building of the new nation, to the right and in front of Carpenter’s Hall (which they rebuilt from the rubble they had just made of it; you can see it in the first photo of the Hall above, to the right of the cobblestone alley) and Gilbert Stuart’s house, painter of some of the most iconic portraits of Jefferson, Washington, and other founders. OOOPS!!!

The man’s story reminds me of what I discovered in NYC in my Rose and Stanton series, that until very recently, we Americans had a distinct lack of appreciation for our historical architecture. In the restless pursuit of progress, we went about knocking our old buildings down with wild abandon, as long as someone could make a few bucks by doing so. Much of our history has been lost in this way, and in my opinion, many United States cities have been uglified as a result. Sigh. I wonder if this is part of the reason why Europeans historically have disliked and distrusted American tourists. I’m glad to say we’re much better about such things these days.

The Todd House, Old City Philadelphia

Reconstructed 18th century garden behind the Todd House, Old City Philadelphia

Then to a reconstructed 18th century garden behind the old Todd house. The garden is pretty, with lots of gorgeous tulips and trees with their new tender springtime leaves, but like the old-style gardens behind the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, too rigidly geometric in design for my taste.John Todd’s young widow Dolley married Jefferson’s close friend, protege, and ‘Father of the Constitution’ James Madison just a year after Todd’s death in 1793. (If it seems a little heartless to move on so quickly, well, what else could a woman do in those days? It was either be married and have social standing and financial support, or single, jobless, and unless you inherited money, penniless.) Anyway, it’s a handsome house, but just like the others.

Philosophical Hall, Home of the American Philosophical Society, Old City Philadelphia

To my amusement, a plaque I come across states more or less the same observation I’ve been making in my historical tour of this area. In 1799, a visiting British diplomat reported ‘The regularity of Philadelphia is so great, the streets are so much like each other and the houses so nearly the same size (being built of one coloured brick) that I do not think there is anything else wor
thy of remark about it.’

I suddenly notice how quickly time’s passing, and I hurry back to the Independence Hall square to queue up for my visit, since there’s a security inspection first. After I’m cleared and waiting with the tour group, I find I’m actually standing right next to my next intended destination, Philosophical Hall (one of the two halls of the American Philosophy Society), behind and to the left of Independence Hall if you’re facing it from the front.

Independence Hall, Old City Philadelphia

I’m so disappointed to find that the APS museum, which has an amazing-looking Jefferson-and-science exhibition going on right now, is closed, and will not be open again till Thursday. So, so sad! because I won’t have the chance to get back before I leave. My first big disappointment of the trip.

But anyway, I do get to go inside Independence Hall, beautifully restored. I discovered that the only original artifact here, besides the building itself and its architectural accoutrements, is the large chair on which Washington sat, presiding over the room on its dais in the center of the long wall. Here, Congress conceived of the Constitution, debated its contents, signed it, and voted it into law. Cool.

Congressional Meeting Room, Independence Hall, Old City Philadelphia

First Senate Building, site of Washington’s and Adam’s presidential swearings-in, next to Independence Hall

After wandering around Independence Hall and getting a good look at it from all sides, I find, in front and to the right, the place where Jefferson’s hero Washington (hero in integrity and military prowess, but not politically or even intellectually) was sworn in as the first President of the United States, as was Jefferson’s dear friend and despised political enemy Adams. The first sessions of the Senate and House of Reps were also held here, until the new capitol building in Washington D.C. was finished in 1800.

I leave the Independence Hall grounds and continue my tour around the corner down 5th Street, where the American Philosophical Society’s beautiful Library Hall stands (across the street from Philosophical Hall). It’s a reproduction of the original, with a grand statue of its founder presiding over its facade in a large central niche over the front entrance.

The American Philosophical Society Library, Old City Philadelphia

‘Jefferson’s Three Greatest Men’ (Locke, Newton, and Bacon), The American Philosophical Society Library

As aforementioned, the APS was founded in 1743 by America’s most-loved brainiac, Ben Franklin. Franklin was America’s native scientist extraordinaire, and spent his life conducting scientific experiments, disseminating knowledge to the public as widely as possible, participating in politics, and traveling the world. In other words, he lived out the virtues and carried out the practices of Jefferson’s designated ‘Three Greatest Men’ Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Locke. Jefferson admired Bacon for his primary role in inventing the scientific process of observation, theory formulation, and experiment; Newton, for his brilliance in mathematics and logical reasoning and his radical new approach to physics; and Locke, for re-evaluating human nature and their rights and formulating a new political theory more in keeping with human dignity.

Dr. Benjamin Rush house site, Old City Philadelphia

The exhibits in the main entry hall are fascinating and beautifully laid out.

I leave Library Hall and return to where I had left Todd house earlier to hurry back for my Independence Hall tour. I find what I’m looking for: the site of the aforementioned Dr. Benjamin Rush’s house, down the street from the Todd house on Walnut, at the 3rd Street end of the block. Jefferson visited this house regularly.

I continue my tour to the site of Robert Bell’s print shop. The first edition of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ was printed here in January of 1776. As you probably know, Paine’s pamphlet was the most famous and most eloquent exposition of the colonies’ cause for independence from Britain, and did more to popularize and gather support for it than any other publication. Jefferson was a great friend and admirer of Paine, and shared not only his political views, but many (yet not all) of Paine’s progressive religious views, probably best described as Deistic with shades of Unitarianism.

Site of Robert Bell’s print shop, which created the first printing of Tom Paine’s Common Sense, Old City Philadelphia

Declaration House (formerly Jacob Graff’s house), Old City Philadelphia

In fact, Jefferson remained a staunch supporter of Paine even after his reputation suffered and most of his friends abandoned him following his publication of his anti-clerical, unorthodox ‘The Age of Reason’. Always the champion of freethought and religious liberty, Jefferson put his money where his mouth was and put his own political career at risk by welcoming Paine as an honored visitor to the White House.

I realize I’ve been a little haphazard in my site-seeking, and should skedaddle back to re-visit Declaration House, a little museum where Jacob Graff’s house used to stand, just outside of the Old City area at 7th and Market. Jefferson lived here in 1776, where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I had visited this site a few years ago during my visit years ago with Bryan, but this journey I’m on won’t really be complete unless I return for at least a brief visit. Graff’s actual house is no longer standing, just the house that was next to it, but I remember that the original rooms were carefully re-created. I arrive to find that the Declaration House, the museum, the old house next to it, and the grounds are closed ’till summer at least, according to the guard standing watch, due to construction around the site.

I return to Old City, to the corner of Market and 2nd near Christ Church, where John Dunlap’s print shop used to stand, which printed the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence. I can’t find a plaque or anything else to indicate exactly where it stood. (I subsequently discover there is a small, rather obscure plaque marking the site, on the building you can see in the far left of my photo: it’s to the right of the right-hand door that’s obscured by the white tile-covered structure. So hurray, I take a picture of the correct building without realizing it!)

Ale, soup, and bread at City Tavern, Old City Philadelphia

Last but not least, I return to City Tavern, where, because I can very sentimental at times, I pay way too much for a ‘Thomas Jefferson ale’ as I had when I was here years ago with Bryan, and accompanied it with some indifferent (yet welcome, since I was tired and hungry) soup and bread. Jefferson spent a lot of time in the original City Tavern, and ate a lot of his meals here, as did Adams and Franklin, among others; the one I’m sitting in is a reproduction, built very recently in 1975, but faithful enough to the original style that it’s hard to tell at a glance that it’s not an original artifact.

Then off on a happy early evening stroll across Philadelphia’s beautiful and vibrant downtown, to grab a coffee and sit down in the lovely Belle Arts public Free Library to type up my notes.It’s been a very long, fascinating day.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes.

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Sources and Inspiration:

American Philosophical Society website.

Benjamin Rush‘, Penn Biographies, Penn University Archives and Reference Center website.

George Washington and his Letter to the Jews of Newport‘, Touro Synagogue website.

Gilbert Stuart: The Complete Works. Website

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

James Madison‘, White House website.

Jefferson: Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.

Jefferson’s Walking Tour of Philadelphia‘. apsmuseum.org: website of the American Philosophical Society

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson HourPodcast.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.

Religious Liberty‘, article, History page of the National Museum of American Jewish History website.

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves“, Frontline, PBS.org

Timeline of Jefferson’s Life‘. Monticello.org. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Happy Thomas Paine’s Birthday!

It’s January 29th, the date commonly chosen to commemorate the birth of the great freethinker and author of the American revolution, Thomas Paine. (His exact birthdate is unknown.) Paine offered eloquent political and moral arguments in support of the colonies’ right to break away and form independent states, using ordinary language accessible to all. He probably did more than any other individual to rally popular support to that cause. But Paine not only offered compelling arguments in favor of freedom from tyranny in politics: he was a staunch deist and opponent of religion, and considered the clergy as oppressive as any monarch could be.

Paine, whom Theodore Roosevelt once referred to as a ‘filthy little atheist’ died in poverty and obscurity, yet many of us quote him frequently without even knowing it. He shared with Thomas Jefferson the uncanny ability to encapsulate ideas into perfectly turned phrases so well, that they remain in common usage today.

If you’re intrigued, find out more about Thomas Paine here
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/paine/
here,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine
and, very briefly, here
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1592233