President John F. Kennedy, in his remarks to a White House dinner attended by every living American Nobel laureate. In what Lee Bockhorn, writing in today‘s Wall St. Journal, calls a “profound and exquisitely written meditation on the mind of America’s most enigmatic founder,” Michael Knox Beran, in his book, “Jefferson’s Demons,” explores the highs and lows of one of the more fascinating figures in our history. From the WSJ article:
“At several points in his life, Jefferson suffered bouts of severe depression – ‘ennui,’ as he called it – that crippled his ability to act. The most intense of them occurred in the 1780s, when Jefferson was beset with personal tragedy and political irrelevance. Mr. Beran reminds us of such periods of apathy and despair not to make his subject more palatable to today’s readers but rather to show us that even Jefferson needed ‘a philosophy that did more than reason and common sense could to facilitate the expedition of the will.’”
“It is Mr. Beran’s argument that Jefferson managed to rouse himself to action by listening to his own ‘demons.’ By this term Mr. Beran is not referring to the man’s secret vices or mental problems but echoing the ancients’ concept of genii or manes – inner spirits that ‘either cripple a man’s productive power or enable him to channel it more effectively.’ Jefferson learned to carry on an interior conversation with his demons, his varied interior personas. By freely manipulating these roles, he tapped into newfound wellsprings of creativity.”
Mr. Bockhorn is full of shit.
I am reminded of my then-wife’s command to me, when I was profoundly depressed and completely nonfunctional, to “snap out of it.” No one who herself or himself has not suffered through this hellish disease can begin to understand a pain so great as to dwarf any physical agony.
Jefferson did NOT learn “to carry on an interior conversation with his demons,” or “freely manipulate these roles”; rather, like so many before and after him, he withstood a crippling assault on his very being, somehow enduring the hellish punishment that one’s own mind can dole out in spades. That he survived his bouts with this violent visitor is wonderful; don’t, though, make it seem as if it’s something you can “work through,” if only you “think right.” Much ignorance continues to pervade even the minds of intelligent people like Bockhorn.
There are those who have “been there, done that,” and subsequently made it their life’s mission to spare others some of the misery they endured; time spent amongst such souls is well worth the investment, both for oneself and one’s loved ones. Sooner or later, someone in your family or someone you know will be struck: it’s almost a certainty. Knowledge, while not necessarily power, is much preferable to the alternative when that moment comes.
Monticello, Jefferson’s home, is 7.4 miles from my house: in winter, when the leaves are off the trees, I can see it on a clear day. It is one of the very few places I have ever been to that far exceeds one’s expectations. Not only the house, but the grounds and the gardens, now planted to Jefferson’s original design, are most moving. The view is nothing short of spectacular. Standing before the daybed that Jefferson died in on July 4, 1826, is beyond profound. Should you ever find yourself anywhere near Charlottesville, you would be well advised to visit. Let me know: I’ll give ya directions!