Some writers have one book, sometimes less, just a text of a few words. It’s not that they had a vast unpublished trove that never found a publisher: that is all they ever wrote, just the one thing. Some like Gone with the Wind are phenomenons and there are a lot of one-off novelists of the one big hit and then the three minor works. But the main thing is that there isn’t a body of work, say five novels, a few plays, and three collections of short fiction.

A one time writer is as curious as a one time sports star. Imagine all that training and hard work and then winning one race (holding a gold cup to cheering fans), then never doing it again.

One of the most remarkable one-off writers is Thomas Jefferson the architect. Being called an architect is more accurate than anything else as he produced more buildings than published words; the fifty thousand letters apart. Now he is known as the scribe of the Declaration of Independence. It had many authors, John Adams et. al. and a history, or a bibliography, stretching back to the English enlightenment but it had one writer who drafted the text, Jefferson. It is pointless to praise the writing of the Declaration – that has been done many times before – as it is a exemplary piece of English writing.

In these days of abstract management terminology it does provide ample defense against the management jargon. It’s a document transacting in high political ideas, in lofty human aspirations; and yet it is clear and precise with language easily understandable by anyone.

Now, much later, the enduring question how is it that someone so able at expressing his thoughts and writing was so uninterested in using his skills in other written works? No one knows. Jefferson had little time for decorative arts and he was a proud pragmatist; he was also paradoxical viz. his views and actions on slavery. It is a shame that he did not write more, perhaps without the hidden authors of the Declaration those works would not have been so great, but, whatever the case, it would have been good to read more of his words on subjects he had considered.

Guy Cranswick
11 May 2012