Thomas Jefferson, painted by Charles Willson Peale, c. 1790.
• Meeting with the descendants of Thomas Jefferson—and his slaves: “In the past 20 or so years, many Americans have taken it as fact that Jefferson established a long-term relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, mother to at least six of his children, and his widow’s half-sister. ‘The Jefferson-Hemings affair,’ writes Clarence Walker, ‘given Jefferson’s place in the pantheon of the Founding Fathers, raises questions about the national identity or racial provenance of the United States…At the moment of its creation the nation was not a white racial space but a mixed-race one, in which Jefferson and Hemings, as a mixed-race couple, rather than George and Martha Washington, should be considered the founding parents of the North American republic.’” (Literary Hub)
• Medical marijuana in the nineteenth century. (Public Domain Review)
• The insult comedy today is directly rooted in the “jest books” of the sixteenth century: “‘The terrible famine years of the 1520s and 1530s coincided with a literary craze for jest books,’ wrote Linda Woodbridge in Vagrancy, Homelessness, and English Renaissance Literature. Pegged as humorous, jest books were influential for all the wrong reasons—the elaborate and lengthy stories compiled were often written at the expense of immigrants, the poor, or women.” (Atlas Obscura)
• Why are we so obsessed with lost jungle cities? “For years, legends abounded of a lost city in a jungle-choked section of eastern Honduras called La Mosquitia. The evidence was scant. Even the name—‘the White City’—sounded suspect. Many professional archaeologists considered the notion far-fetched, if not outright offensive. Then, two years ago, it turned out to be totally legit. Experts, it seems, have underestimated the landscape-altering capabilities of pre-Columbian peoples—and the old treasure-hunting legends that had always hinted at them.” (Paris Review Daily)
• Considering Zelda Fitzgerald: “It was not until the publication in 1970 of Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A Biography that people began to write about Zelda Fitzgerald as something other than Scott’s glamorous but mad spouse. And while Milford was inclined to romanticize her subject, she was still judicious in appraising Zelda’s slender body of work, not exaggerating its literary merits but arguing that it was of continuing value as a document of a strongly individual personality who was interesting not merely as the wife of a major American author but in her own right.” (Commentary)
• Attention shoppers! It will soon be possible to own a letter in which Marcel Proust complains about the loud amorousness of his neighbors. (The Guardian)