No. 4. Copied. ["No. 4. Copied. " added by Chrarles Francis Adams][No transcription available -- see page image]
Inside Front Cover
OF A LETTER TO JONA. SEWALL, OCTR. 1759
The true End, which we ought to have in View, is that praeclarum ac
Singulare quiddam, which follows here.
Tis impossible to employ with full Advantage the Forces of our own minds, in
study, in Council or in Argument, without examining with great Attention and
Exactness, all our mental Faculties, in all their Operations, as explained by
Writers on the human Understanding, and as exerted by Geometricians.
Tis impossible to judge with much Prcision of the true Motives and
Qualities of human Actions, or of the Propriety of Rules contrived to govern
them, without considering with like Attention, all the Passions, Appetites,
Affections in Nature from which they flow. An intimate Knowledge therefore of
the intellectual and moral World is the sole foundation on which a stable
structure of Knowledge can be erected.
And the structure of british Laws, is composed of such a vast and various
Collection of materials, taken partly from
Denmark, partly from
Rome, and partly from the cannon and feudal Law, that, 'tis
impossible for any Builder to comprehend the whole vast Design, and see what is
well and what
jointed, without Acquainting himself with Saxon, Danish, Norman
well as Greek and Roman History, with
civil, feudal and Cannon Law.
Besides all this, tis impossible to avail our
selves of the genuine Powers of Eloquence, without examining in their Elements
and first Principles, the Force and Harmony of Numbers, as employed by the
Poets and orators of ancient and modern times, and without considering the
natural Powers of Imagination, and the Disposition of Mankind to Metaphor and
figure, which will require the Knowledge of the true Principles of Grammar, and
Rhetoric, and of the best classical Authors.
Now to what higher object, to what greater Character, can any Mortal aspire,
than to be possessed of all this Knowledge, well digested, and ready at
Command, to assist the feeble and Friendless, to discountenance the haughty and
lawless, to procure Redress of Wrongs, the Advancement of Right, to assert and
maintain Liberty and Virtue, to discourage and abolish Tyranny and Vice.
Began Octr. 12th, in Pursuance of the foregoing
Plan to transcribe from Brightlands english Grammar, Answer's to Mr.
Gridleys Questions for that Grammar.
I have begun too, to compare Dr. Cowells Institutes of the
England, with Justinians Institutes of the Laws of
Rome, Chapters by Title by Title, that each may
reflect Light upon the other, and that I may advance my Knowledge of civil and
common Law at the same Time.
for entries dating from 1760.]
Another Year is now gone and upon Recollection, I find I have executed none
of my Plans of study. I cannot Satisfy my self that I
am much more knowing either from Books, or Men, from this Chamber, or the
World, than I was at least a Year ago, when I wrote the foregoing Letter to
Sewal. Most of my Time has been spent in Rambling and
Dissipation. Riding, and Walking, Smoking Pipes and Spending Evenings, consume
a vast Proportion of my Time, and the Cares and Anxieties of Business, damp my
Ardor and scatter my attention. But I must stay more at home -- and commit more
to Writing. A Pen is certainly an excellent Instrument, to fix a Mans Attention
and to inflame his Ambition. I am therefore beginning a new literary Year, with
the 26th. of my life.
NOVR. 14TH. FRIDAY.
I am just entered on the 26th Year of my Life, and on the fifth Year of my
studies in Law, and I think than it is high Time for a Reformation
both in the Man, and the Lawyer. 25 Years of the Animal Life is a great
Proportion to be spent, to so little Purpose, and four Years, the Space that we
spend at Colledge is a great deal of Time to spend
for no more Knowledge in the science and no more Employment in the Practice of
Law. Let me keep an exact Journal therefore of the Authors I read, in this
This day I am beginning my Ld.
Hales History of the Common Law, a Book borrowed of Mr.
Otis, and read once already, Analysis and all, with great
Satisfaction. I wish I had Mr.
Blackstones Analysis, that I might compare, and see what Improvements
he has made upon Hale's.
But what principally pleased me, in the first Reading of
Hales History, was his [illegible] Dissertation
upon Descents, and upon Tryals by a Jury.
Hales Analysis, as Mr. Gridley tells me,
is an Improvement of one, first planned and sketched by Noy,
an Attorney General in the Reign of Charles 1st. And
Mr. Blackstone's is an Improvement upon
NOVR. 14 FRIDAY.
The Title is "The History of the Common Law of England." The Frontispiece, I
cannot comprehend. It is this.
[No transcription available -- see page image] [John Adam's transcription of a Greek
phrase that appeared in the publication mentioned above.]
His great Distribution of the Laws of
England is into Leges scriptae and Leges non scriptae. The first
are Acts of Parliament which are originally reduced to writing before they are
enacted, or receive any binding Power, every such Law being in the first
Instance, formally drawn up in Writing, and made as it were a Tripartite
Indenture, between the King, the Lords and Commons.
The Leges non scriptae, altho there may be some
Monument or Memorial of them in Writing (as there is of all of them) yet all of
them have not their original in Writing, but have obtained their Force by
immemorial Usage or Custom.
NOVR. 21 ST. FRIDAY.
Finished the History of the Common Law, the second Time. The Dissertation on
hereditary Descents, and that on Tryals by juries,
are really, very excellent Performances, and well worth repeated, attentive
NOVR. 26TH. WEDNESDAY.
Ten days are now elapsed, since I began Hale the
2d time, and all the Law I have read, for 10 days, is
that Book once thro. I read Woods Institute
thro the first Time with Mr. Put.
in twice that time i.e. in 3 Weeks, and kept a school every day. My present
Inattention to Law is intolerable and ruinous.
NOVR. 26TH WEDNESDAY.
Night before Thanksgiving. -- I have read a Multitude of Law Books --
mastered but few. Wood. Coke. 2 Vols.
Lillies [Abridgment]. 2 Vols.
Salkeld's Reports. Swinburne.
Hawkins Pleas of the Crown. Fortescue.
Fitzgibbons. [illegible] Ten Volumes in folio I
Worcester, quite thro -- besides
Octavos and Lesser Volumes, and many others of all sizes that I consulted
occasionally, without Reading in Course as Dictionaries, Reporters, Entries,
and Abridgments, &c.
I cannot give so good an Account of the Improvement of my two last Years,
Braintree. However I have read no small Number of Volumes, upon
the Law, the last 2 Years. Justinians Institutes I have read,
, in Latin with Vinnius's
perpetual Notes, Van Muydens Tractatio Institutionum
Justiniani, I read thro
, and translated, mostly into
English, from the same Language. Woods Institute of the Civil
Law, I read thro
. These on the civil Law; on the Law
England I read Cowells Institute of the Laws of
England, in Imitation of Justinian, Dr. and
student, Finch's Discourse of Law, Hales
History, and some Reporters, Cases in Chancery, Andrews
&c. besides occasional searches for Business. Also a general Treatise of
naval Trade and Commerce, as founded on the Laws and Statutes.
this series of Reading, has left but faint Impressions, and
very Imperfect system of Law in my Head.
I must form a serious Resolution of beginning and pursuing quite
thro, the Plans of my Lords Hale,
and Reeve. Woods Institutes of common Law I
never read but once, and my Ld. Coke's Commentary on
Littleton I never read but once. These two Authors I must get,
and read, over and over again. And I will get em too, and break
thro, as Mr. Gridly expressed it,
Besides, I am but a Novice in natural Law and civil Law. There are
multitudes of excellent Authors, on natural Law, that I have never read, indeed
I never read any Part of the best authors, Puffendorf and
Grotius. In the Civil Law, there are Hoppius,
and Vinnius, Commentators on Justinian,
Domat, &c. besides Institutes of Cannon and feudal Law,
that I have to read.
Much may be done in two Years, I have found already. And let it be my Care,
that at the End of the next two Years I be better able to shew that no Time has been lost than I ever have been
Let me practice the Rule of Pythagoras.
[No transcription available -- see page image] [John Adams wrote this passage in
Thus let me, every night before I go to bed, write down in this Book, what
Book of Law, I have read.
NOVR. 28TH. FRIDAY.
I have not read one Word of Law, this Day. But several Points, and Queries
have been suggested to me, by the Consultors. -- In whom is the Fee, and
Freehold of our burying Yard? What Right has any Man to erect a Monument, or
sink a Tomb there, without the Consent of the Proprietors? In
England, the Church Yards are the Places of Burial, and the
Parson is seised in fee, of them as of the Ground
whereon the Church stands. But our Burying Yards, as well as the Ground, on
which our Temples stand, are not vested in our incumbent Ministers, but in the
Precinct or Parish, (the Corporation so called) where they lie, according to
the late Resolution in the
The Property of our Meeting House, is in the Precinct, i.e. the dissenting
Part of it, -- And I think the Precinct, by its Committee sold the Pews to
particular Persons, and perhaps, the Persons who have erected Tombs, might
previously ask And obtain the Priviledge of the
NOVR. 29TH. SATURDAY.
Read no Law. -- An exclusive Property is certainly claimed and enjoyed, by
private Persons, in Tombs and Monuments, as well as in Pews. Inhabitants of
other Towns, have usually asked Leave of the Select Men, to bury their dead in
our burying Place. But I should think the Precinct Assessors, or Parish
Committee, had rather the Inspection of our burying Yard. My Father never knew
License given nor asked of Town, nor Precinct to sink a Tomb, nor to
[raise a] Monument.
Suppose my Father, Wife, Child, friend died, and I order the sexton, or on
his Refusal my own servant to open any Tomb in our burying Yard, and without
further Ceremony deposit the Corps there, can the pretended Proprietor have any
Action, or Remedy against me? The Course of the Descent of these Tombs and
Pews, when undisposed by Will, is a matter of uncertainty too. Do they descend
to the Heirs, as Inheritances in Houses and Lands, or do they go to the
Executor or Administrator, as personal Estate?
There is an Anecdote in the Spectator, of De Wit, the
famous dutch Politician. Somebody asked him how he could rid his Hands of that
endless Multiplicity and Variety of Business that passed thro them, without Confusion? He answered, "by doing one
Thing at once." When he began Any Thing, he applied his whole Attention to it,
till he had finished it. -- This Rule should be observed in Law. If any Point
is to be examined, every Book should be consulted and every Light should be
considered, before you proceed to any other Business or study. If any Book is
to be read, no other Book should be taken up to divert or interrupt your
Attention till that Book is finished.
Order, Method, Regularity in Business or Study have excellent Effects both
in saving of Time and in bettering and improving Performance. Business done, in
order, is done sooner, and better.
Read no Law. Read Bolinbroke.
I am beginning a Week and a month, and I arose by the Dawning of the Day.
And by sun rise had made my fire and read a number of Pages in
Bolinbroke. Tuesday and Wednesday passed, without reading any
TUESDAY JANY. 27TH.
Last Fryday I borrowed of Mr.
Gridley, the second Volume of the Corpus Iuris Canonici Notis
illustratum. Gregorii 13 Iussi editum.complectens Decretum Gratiani. Decretales
Gregorii Papae 9. Sextum Deeretalium Bonifacii Papx 8. Clementinas,
Extravagantes Ioannis Papae 12. Extravagantes communes.
Accesserunt Constitutiones Novx summorum Pontificum, nunquam antea editae,
quae 7. Decretalium Loco esse possint:-Annotationes Ant. Naldi, cum Addit.
novis. -- Et qux in Plerisque Editionibus desiderabantur, Petri Lancelotti,
Institutiones Iuris Canonici; Regulae Cancellariee Apostolicae : cum Indicibus
Mr. Gridley about 15 months since, advised me to read an
Institute of the Cannon Law-and that Advice lay broiling in my Head, till last
Week, when I borrowed the Book.
I am very glad, that he gave, and I took, the Advice, for it will explain
many Things in Ecclesiastical History, and open that system of fraud, Bigotry,
Nonsense, Impudence, and Superstition, on which the Papal Usurpations are
founded, besides increasing my skill in the latin Tongue, and my Acquaintance
Law, for [illegible]
in many Respects the
Cannon Law is grafted on the civil.
FRIDAY  FEBY.
I have now almost finished the first book of Peter
Lancelotts Institute, which first Book is taken up De jure Personarum,
and is well analized in the 29th Title De Clericis non Residentibus, in these
Words vizt. "Personarum quidam Laid sunt, quidam Clerici. Rursus Clericorum,
quidam sunt in Sacerdotio constituti, quidam in sacris, licet non in
sacerdotio, quidam nee in sacris, nec in sacerdotio. Eorum rursus, qui in
sacerdotio constituti sunt, quidam sunt in celsiore gradu, ut Episcopi: quidam
in inferiore, ut Presbyteri. In sacris vero dicuntur constituti Diaconi et
subdiaconi qui vero nec in sacerdotio, nec in sacris reperiuntur, ii sunt, qui
Bunt in Minoribus ordinibus constituti. Caeterum, quoniam adhuc quidam in
Ecclesia sunt, qui non minus in Laicatu, quam in Clericatu constituti Domino
Deserviunt, ut sunt Regulares ac Monachi, restat, ut et de his Pauca
MONDAY. FEBY. 9TH.
This morning, as I lay abed, I recollected my last Weeks Work. I find I was
diligent, constantly in my Chamber,
Spent no Evenings abroad, not more than one at the Drs. Have
taken no Walks, [illegible]
on Horseback the
whole Week, excepting once, which was on Tuesday, when I went to
Boston. Yet how has this Retirement, and solitude been spent? In
too much Rambling and Straggling from one Book
to another, from
the Corpus Juris Canonici, to Bolingbroke, from him to Pope,
from him to Addison, from him to Yoricks
sermons, &c. In fine, the whole Week, and all my Diligence has been lost,
for want of observing De Wits Maxim, "one Thing at once." This
Reflection raised a Determination to re-assume the Corpus Juris, or Rather
Lancelots Institutes, and
read nothing else, and
think of nothing else -- till sometime.
With the Week then, I begin the second Book Institutionum Juris Canonici. --
De Rerum Divisione, atque illorum Administratione. Titulus primus. Res
Ecclesiasticae sunt, aut spirituales, aut temporales.
Res Spirituales sunt aut incorporales, aut corporales: et corporales
dividuntur in sacramenta, in res sacras, sanctas et religiosas.
This Institute is a curious Monument of Priestly Ambition, Avarice and
subtlety. Tis a system of sacerdotal Guile.
JUNE 20TH. 1761
I have been interrupted from Reading this Institute ever since
Feby. Amidst the Dissipations of Business,
Pleasure, Conversation, Intrigue, Party &c. what mortal can give Attention
to an old latin Institute of the Cannon Law? But it is certainly worth while to
proceed and finish it, as I have already been 2/3 thro it.
I began Lancelotts Institute last Jany., and have read no farther than Liber 3.
[Titulus] 8. De Exceptionibus et Replicationibus.
Another Year is come about round, and I can recollect still less
Reading, than I could last Novr. The Increase of my Business, within 12ve
months, has been nothing. I drew fewer Writs last October Court than I drew the
October Court before, tho I drew an uncommon Number
at both. -- Yet I have advanced a few Steps. Have procured my Brother, his
office, abated Nathan Spears Writ, Battled it with
Capt. Thayer at Majr.
Crosbeys, recovered of Jo. Tirrell for
Lambard, recovered of Lawrence for
Tirrell, abated Kings Writ, conducted the
[illegible] [Petition ]vs. [Taverns]. All These Things have
been done in one Year. Besides have bought some Books &c. but have read but
This morning I have been Reading [illegible] Archbp.
Sharps sermon, To the Upright there ariseth Light in the Darkness. His
Character of the Upright man, &c. Same day read a Number of his sermons in
his first Volume. He is a moving, affectionate Preacher-devotional, more than
Tillotson, but not so moral.
14TH. 1761 .
Brother Quincy and I were Sworn, before
the Superiour Court. It is now more than five Years
since I began the study of the Law. And it is about three Years, since I was
sworn at the Inferiour Court.
20TH. 1761. MONDAY.
This day removed to my Chamber, and made a Fire. The Forenoon was Spent in
Conversation with Zab, in walking to Dr.
Turners, and up
Pens Hill, and this afternoon in Conversation with
Grindal Rawson and Zab at Mrs.
Marshes. Yet I have caught several snatches of Reading and Thinking,
in Blackstone, Gilbert &c. But I, as
usual, expect great Things from this Chamber, and this Winter.
Eleven Years have passed since I minuted any Thing in this Book. What an
admirable Advantage it would have been if I had recorded every Step in the
Progress of my Studies for these Eleven Years.
If I had kept an exact journal of all my journeys on the Circuits, of all
the Removes of my Family, my Buildings, Purchases, the gradual Increase of my
Library, as well as of my and Family, as well as of the
Improvement of my Mind by my Studies, the whole would have composed
entertaining Memoirs, to me in my old Age, and to my Family after my
One Thing in this Book shall be a Lesson to me. The
Gentleman to whom the Letter is
directed, an extract of which is in the Beginning of this Book, Eleven Years
ago I thought the best Friend, I had in the World. I loved him accordingly and
corresponded with him, many Years, without Reserve: But the Scaene is changed. At this Moment I look upon him
[as] the most bitter, malicious, determined and implacable
Enemy I have. God forgive him the Part he has acted, both in public and private
Life! It is not impossible that he may make the same Prayer for me.
I am now about removing, a Second Time from
Boston. In April 1768 I removed to
Boston, to the white House in
Brattle Square, in the Spring 1769, I removed to
Cole Lane, to Mr. Fayerweathers House. In 1770
I removed to another House in
Brattle Square, where Dr. Cooper now lives, in
1771, I removed from
Braintree, in the Month of April, where I have lived to this
Time. I hope I shall not have Occasion to remove so often for 4 Years and an
half to come.
The numerous journeys and Removes, that I have taken in this Period, have
put my Mind into an unsettled State. They have occasioned too much Confusion
and Dissipation. I hope to pass a more steady, regular Life for the future in
When I chance to meet with any of my own Compositions, of Ten Years old, I
am much inclined to think I could write with more Accuracy and Elegance then
than I can now, and that I had more Sense and Knowledge then, than I have now.
My Memory, and Fancy were certainly better then, and my judgment,
[illegible] I conjecture quite as good.
Inside Back Cover
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