Quotations on Views from Monticello

1771. "Let the exit of the spiral at (a) look on a small and distant part of the blue mountains."[1]

1785. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "I am little acquainted with the phaenomenon [looming] as it shews itself at sea; but at Monticello it is familiar. There is a solitary mountain about 40 miles off, in the South, whose natural shape, as presented to view there, is a regular cone; but, by the effect of looming, it sometimes subsides almost totally into the horizon; sometimes it rises more acute and more elevated; sometimes it is hemispherical; and sometimes its sides are perpendicular, its top flat, and as broad as its base. In short it assumes at times the most whimsical shapes, and all these perhaps successively in the same morning. The Blue ridge of mountains comes into view, in the North East, at about 100 miles distance, and, approaching in a direct line, passes by within 20 miles, and goes off to the South-west. This phaenomenon begins to shew itself on these mountains, at about 50 miles distance, and continues beyond that as far as they are seen."[2]

1786 October 12. (Jefferson to Maria Cosway). "And our own dear Monticello, where has nature spread so rich a mantle under the eye? mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious Sun, when rising as if out of a distant water, just gliding the tops of the mountains, and giving life to all nature!"[3]

1788 July 19. (Jefferson to Rev. James Madison). "I have often seen a leg of the bow below my level. My situation at Monticello admitted this, because there is a mountain there in the opposite direction of the afternoon's sun, the valley between which and Monticello is 500 feet deep. I have seen a leg of the rainbow plunge down on the river running through that valley."[4]

1796 July 3. (Jefferson to Jonathan Williams). "I examined, with great satisfaction, your barometrical estimate of the heights of our mountains; and with the more, as they corroborated conjectures on this subject which I had made before. My estimates had made them a little higher than yours (I speak of the blue ridge). Measuring with a very nice instrument the angle subtended vertically by the highest mountain of the Blue ridge opposite to my own house, a distance of about 18. miles southwestward, I made the highest about 2000. f. as well as I remember, for I can no longer find the notes I made."[5]

c1804. (General ideas for the improvement of Monticello). "The ground between the upper and lower roundabouts to be laid out in lawns and clumps of trees, the lawns opening so as to give advantageous catches of prospect to the upper roundabout. Vistas from the lower roundabout to good portions of prospect...This spring at Montalto either to be brought to Monticello by pipes or to fall over steps of stairs in cascade, made visible at Monticello through a vista...Vistas to very interesting objects may be permitted, but in general it is better so to arrange thickets as that they may have the effect of vista in various directions...Temples or seats at those spots on the walks most interesting either for prospect or the immediate scenery."[6]

1806 July. (Jefferson to William Hamilton). "Of prospect I have rich profusion and offering itself at every point of the compass. Mountains distant and near, smooth and shaggy, single and in ridges, a little river hiding itself among the hills so as to shew in lagoons only cultivated grounds under the eye and two small villages. To prevent a satiety of this is the principal difficulty. It may be successively offered, and in different portions through vistas, or which will be bettter, between thickts so disposed as to serve as vistas, with the advantage of shifting the scenes as you advance on your way."[7]

1809 August. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "'Here,' said he, casting his eyes on the level plain before us, 'Here you can form no adequate idea of the beauty or sublimity of a winter's storm; but standing, as I have often stood at Monticello, to watched its progress--rising over the distant Alleghany, come sweeping and roaring on, mountain after mountain, till you feel its fall and shudder at its blast; and then to turn to the fire-side, and amidst its comforts to listen to the howling wind..."[8]


  1. MB, 1:247.
  2. Notes, ed. Peden, 80-81.
  3. PTJ, 10:447.
  4. Ibid, 13:380.
  5. Ibid, 29:139.
  6. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0031
  7. Peterson, Writings, 1168-1169.
  8. Richmond Enquirer, January 18, 1823.

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