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Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The

We know that the Maison Quarree has pleased

I have the honor to be, with the most perfect respect and esteem, Gentlemen,

your most obedient

and most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson.



Paris, January 26, 1786.


I had the honor of writing to you on the receipt of your orders to procure draughts for the public buildings, and again on the 13th of August. In the execution of these orders, two methods of proceeding presented themselves to my mind. The one was, to leave to some architect to draw an external according to his fancy, in which way, experience shows, that about once in a thousand times a pleasing form is hit upon; the other was, to take some model already devised, and approved by the general suffrage of the world. I had no hesitation in deciding that the latter was best, nor after the decision, was there any doubt what model to take, There is at Nismes, in the south of France, a building, called the _Maison Quarree_, erected in the time of the Caesars, and which is allowed, without contradiction, to be the most perfect and precious remain of antiquity in existence. Its superiority over any thing at Rome, in Greece, at Balbec, or Palmyra, is allowed on all hands; and this single object has placed Nismes in the general tour of travellers. Having not yet had leisure to visit it, I could only judge of it from drawings, and from the relation of numbers who had been to see it. I determined, therefore, to adopt this model, and to have all its proportions justly observed. As it was impossible for a foreign artist to know what number and sizes of apartments would suit the different corps of our government, nor how they should be connected with one another, I undertook to form that arrangement, and this being done, I committed them to an architect (Monsieur Clerissauk), who had studied this art twenty years in Rome, who had particularly studied and measured the _Maison Quarree_ of Nismes, and had published a book containing most excellent plans, descriptions, and observations on it. He was too well acquainted with the merit of that building, to find himself restrained by my injunctions not to depart from his model. In one instance, only, he persuaded me to admit of this. That was, to make the portico two columns deep only, instead of three, as the original is. His reason was, that this latter depth would too much darken the apartments. Economy might be added, as a second reason. I consented to it, to satisfy him, and the plans are so drawn. I knew that it would still be easy to execute the building with a depth of three columns, and it is what I would certainly recommend. We know that the Maison Quarree has pleased, universally, for near two thousand years. By leaving out a column, the proportions will be changed, and perhaps the effect may be injured more than is expected. What is good, is often spoiled by trying to make it better.

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