By Jeremy Dibbell
Many of those following John Quincy Adams on Twitter have asked for additional information about his extensive shipboard reading, so without further ado, here is the first in a series of posts which will track, and (where possible) link to digital copies of the books Adams reads during his journey, so that if the urge strikes you to follow along, you may do so. I cannot vouch for the external links (they all are working as of the time I am writing); if one’s not working, feel free to let me know (email@example.com) and I’ll do my best to find an alternate.
Like all of us, JQA was very careful about the books he chose to take with him on his journey – of course a two-month sea voyage and then a long period away from home meant that he had to be even more choosy about what books travelled with him. Early in the voyage he reflects on this: in his long diary entry for 7 August (just two days after setting sail), JQA writes: “The afternoon I pass’d in reading Chantreau’s Travels in Russia – I find that after all the pains I had taken to have l’Evesque’s history of Russia [Pierre Charles Levesque, Histoire de Russia (Hambourg: 1800)] with me, it has been packed up, if at all, in one of the boxes which I cannot open on the passage. Before I sailed I felt uncertain what kind of books I should most incline to – I now find that it is those relating to Russia, and I have nothing but Chantreau.”
Nothing but Chantreau specifically relating to Russia perhaps, but JQA’s shelves were by no means bare. As those reading his daily short entries on Twitter have noticed, he notes his reading almost every day; and in his longer entries he often offers further comments and thoughts about the selections he’s studied that day. Beyond the readings listed here, JQA noted in an entry following 31 August in his long diary that he “read ten or fifteen chapters in the bible” each morning.
This post will include those readings for August, and I’ll create a new post for September’s reading list.
8/6/1809: Massillon’s Carême Sermons 2 & 3. Jean-Baptiste Massillon, Sermons de M. Massillon, évêque de Clermont … a carême. Also published in English: an 1807-1808 edition, Sermons for every Sunday and festival of the year, chiefly taken from the sermons of M. de Massillon, Bishop of Clermont (London: Keating, Brown & Keating) has been digitized by Google Books: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3.
8/7/1809: Chantreau’s travels. Pierre Nicolas Chantreau, Philosophical, political and literary travels in Russia, during the years 1788 and 1789. (Perth: Printed by R. Morison, Junior, for R. Morison and Son, Booksellers, Perth; and Vernor and Hood, Birchin-Lane, London, 1794). A scanned copy of this title is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2. As mentioned above, JQA wished he had packed more books pertaining to Russia so that he could access them during the voyage.
8/8/1809: Langhorne’s Life of Plutarch, and began with Theseus. Plutarch’s Lives, translated from the original Greek: with notes critical and historical and a new life of Plutarch. In six volumes … by John and William Langhorne. An 1804 edition (Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, Jun.) is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6. You can also just read the life of Plutarch, or the biography of Theseus. In his long diary entry, JQA adds “In the evening a little of Chantreau.”
8/10/1809: Plutarch’s life of Romulus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Romulus. In his long diary entry, JQA provides a bit more: “I read some chapters in the Bible, Plutarch’s life of Romulus, and some of Mrs. Grant’s letters from the Mountains (Scotch Mountains).”
8/11/1809: Mrs Grant’s Letters. Anne McVicar Grant, Letters from the mountains: being the real correspondence of a lady, between the years 1773 and 1807. An 1809 edition (Boston: printed by Greenough and Stebbins) is available via the Internet Archive: Volume 1, Volume 2. In his long diary entry, JQA writes “I employed much of [the day] in reading Mrs. Grant’s letters, which I find more interesting than Plutarch. I return to them of choice, but Plutarch is a task, and a heavy one. I never could read him through. I find it especially hard to read him after a sleepless night; after two harder still.”
8/12/1809: Lives of Lycurgus and of Numa. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Lycurgus and Numa. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison of Lycurgus and Numa (scanned copy), and says further “But with a cabin about 20 feet square, between seven persons and a child, which is the eating room, and bed chamber of all the company, I find the power of self-abstraction, fails.”
8/13/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon; and made minutes from Plutarch. See entries for 8/6 and 8/8. In his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription) JQA offers his thoughts on the Massillon sermon, those treating the forgiveness of injuries and preaching.
8/14/1809: Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. See entry for 8/12. In his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription), JQA makes reference to additional readings: “I made minutes of the two sermons of Massillon, which I read yesterday; and on Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus. Read also his life of Solon (scanned copy). I find amusement in these occupations, and our weather is mild and sea so smooth that I can employ more time in reading and writing than I ever could at sea before. Yet it seems to me that I do not employ my time to the best advantage. My thermometer is an amusement. A celestial globe would also be an agreeable companion. And de Lapede’s Natural History of Fishes, Pinkerton’s Geography, and Mavor’s little collection of Voyages and Travels.
8/17/1809: Lives of Themistocles and Camillus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Themistocles and Camillus.
8/18/1809: Pericles & Mrs. Grant’s Letters. See entries for 8/8 and 8/11. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Pericles. JQA notes in his long diary entry that he finished Mrs. Grant’s letters and the first volume of Plutarch. He calls the Pericles biography “as interesting as any in the volume.”
8/19/1809: Fabius Maximus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Fabius Maximus.
8/20/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon. See entry for 8/6. JQA was less positively inclined toward these two sermons (on the certainty of a future state and on the reverence to be observed in churches), writing in his long diary entry (manuscript image, partial transcription) “They pleased me less than those of the last week.”
8/21/1809: Life of Alcibiades. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Alcibiades.
8/22/1809: Life of Coriolanus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Caius Marcius Coriolanus. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between Alcibiades and Coriolanus (scanned copy).
8/23/1809: Timoleon and Paulus Æmilius. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Timoleon and Paulus Æmilius. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between the two (scanned copy).
8/24/1809: Life of Pelopidas. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Pelopidas. In his long diary entry, JQA complains that he “suffered so much weariness that I could neither write nor read with satisfaction.”
8/25/1809: Marcellus- Absalom & Achitophel. For Marcellus, see entry for 8/8. Scanned copy of Plutarch’s biography of Marcellus. Second book is John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel: A poem (first published at London in 1681). An annotated digital edition is available here. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparsion between Pelopidas and Marcellus (scanned copy), and makes comments on Dryden’s text.
8/26/1809: Aristides and Cato the Censor. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Aristides and Cato the Censor. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he began reading “something of the life of Mahomet, introductory to Savary’s french translation of the Koran.”
8/27/1809: Two Sermons of Massillon, on Relapses and Prayer. See entry for 8/6. JQA adds comments about the sermons in his long diary entry.
8/28/1809: Philiopoemen and Flaminius. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Philopoemon and Titus Quinctius Flaminius. In his long diary entry, JQA adds that he also read Plutarch’s comparison between Philopoemon and Flaminius, completing the second volume of Plutarch.
8/29/1809: Pyrrhus and Caius Marius. Savary’s Mahomet. For Pyrrhus and Caius Marius, see entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Pyrrhus and Caius Marius. Second book is one of several editions of the Koran as translated into French by Claude Etienne Savary (with the life of Mohammed appended; see entry for 8/26). A scanned copy of the biography, from a 1786 Amsterdam edition of the Koran, is available here via Google Books.
8/30/1809: Lysander and Sylla. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Lysander and Sylla. In his long diary entry JQA writes that he did not complete the sketch of Sylla’s life.
8/31/1809: Cimon and Lucullus. See entry for 8/8. Scanned copies of Plutarch’s biographies of Cimon and Lucullus. In his long diary entry, JQA reports “leaving the latter [Lucullus] unfinished.”
See the September post for a continuation of JQA’s reading list.