A Decalogue Of Canons For Observation In Practical Life

by Thomas Jefferson
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"When Angry, Count Ten Before You Speak"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190

Context: Thomas Jefferson was one of the most enlightened men of his generation. Besides statecraft, his interests included classical learning and literature, scientific speculation and experiment, agriculture, architecture, and education. Throughout his life he was in constant communication with friends and acquaintances in all parts of the world, and his...

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Context: Thomas Jefferson was one of the most enlightened men of his generation. Besides statecraft, his interests included classical learning and literature, scientific speculation and experiment, agriculture, architecture, and education. Throughout his life he was in constant communication with friends and acquaintances in all parts of the world, and his letters make fascinating reading. In an epistle written the year before his death, he conveys philosophic counsel to his namesake, Thomas Jefferson Smith. Writing at the request of the boy's father, the aged statesman remarks that the "writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels." Following a poetic description of "a good man" which stresses the importance of moral stamina and sound spiritual development, Jefferson states ten maxims designed as practical advice for the problems of daily life. The tenth is concerned with the passion of wrath. The lawyer hero of Pudd'nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain (1835-1910), has, however, a wrier maxim, which the quick-tempered Twain himself found useful throughout life: "When angry, count four; when very angry, swear" (Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chapter 10). Jefferson writes:

When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

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