Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5

John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 10 November 1782 Thaxter, John AA John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 10 November 1782 Thaxter, John Adams, Abigail
John Thaxter to Abigail Adams
Paris Novr. 10th. 1782

We arrived here the 26th. last Month after a tedious Journey in a crazy Carriage, with the additional Circumstances and Douceurs of constant Rains and bad Roads. Nothing however compared to Spain.1 At Valenciennes, the first City of France in coming from Holland, we stopped half a day. The greatest Curiosity we saw there was in a Church, where we found the Virgin Mary encirling the City with a Cord to preserve the City from Plague. She had commissioned a parcel of little Angels to hold the Ends of the Cord. A pretty Representation enough—help thou my Unbelief. At Cambray, another City, we saw in the Cathedral the Monument of Monsieur de Fenelon, the Author of Telamachus,2 and the Portrait of the same Gentleman together with those of all the Archbishops of Cambray: that of Mr. de Fenelon is well executed. In saying this, You may well suppose I found that Delicacy, Benignity, Tenderness and equisite Sense in the features, that shine with so distinguished a Lustre in his Writings. There is that certain something in the Portrait that is more easily concieved than described. There is a Je ne scais quoi in some features that Language cannot reach in Expression. I saw this in the Archbishop's Portrait. By way of digression, Madam, tis this same Je ne scais quoi, that determines the Partiality of a young Lover for his Mistress, and old Lovers too. This is my Idea of the Matter. The Observation is just as far as it respects me—for it has started my Phlegm into clear sheer Love two, three or four Times. In the same Cathedral, we saw a Representation of the Passion of our Saviour by Clock Work. At every Hour one may see this curious operation. The whole Representation is conducted by wooden Images fastened by Wires, and so connected with the Clock of the Church that as soon as the Chime begins, this Machine is set in Motion, and finishes with 34the Hour. It is a pretty Ornament in the Church, and an Amusement for the Eye. But it means something more than to gratify the external Senses. A Mind uninformed and superstitious is affected and impressed by it, and believes that there is something sacred in this Wood and Wire. At Notre Dame de Halle3 in the Emperor's Dominions, we saw our Saviour in Petticoats, the Virgin Mary in a handsome Chintz— in other Places in Rags and tattered Garments, in Agonies &ca &c. There is a vast deal of Imagination and Contrivance in some of these Representations, and for what Purposes, it is unnecessary to mention to You, Madam, whose Penetration will readily discover their Ends and point out their Uses.

Your dearest Friend has at length wrote for You to come over with Miss Nabby, upon certain Conditions mentioned in his Letter, which is dated the 7th. or 8th of this Month. The Letter will go by the Way of Philadelphia, and a Copy, which Mr. Storer has made of it, will go by another Conveyance: so that I hope one or the other will come safely to hand. I am rejoiced on his as well as your Account, and could have wished the same Letter had been written two Years ago. You have a Right to come after such repeated and long Seperations, or to insist upon his returning. A Spring Passage is not dangerous—there is little to fear at any time with a good Ship. Having made the Voyage once, I cannot but wish myself back to have the honor of conducting You across the Rivulet—for I am good Sailor, if not a civil one. However, whenever You embark God grant You a short and an agreable Passage. 'Tis most probable, I shall return in the Spring to my own Country, unless there shall be a great deal of Business on hand, but I hope to have the pleasure of welcoming You and Daughter on this side the Atlantic, before my Departure. I begin to think 'tis time to go home, and try to do something to enable me to keep Batchelor's Hall. As to a Partner, that's out of the Question. I have philosophized myself out of that Notion—the Destinies are against me, and I am resolved to set down in Life a single Man. I am very happy that Mr. Storer happened to be in Europe, and that a Successor, who I am persuaded is very agreable to Mr. A., is disposed to continue with him. I could not think of leaving him alone, nor would I have done it upon any Consideration.

As to News, there is very little. How the Peace Negotiation goes on, You will learn from another Quarter. You are sensible, Madam, that my Situation imposes silence. Gibralter has been relieved,4 as many expected.

A Trip to Paris after two Years Residence in Holland has not a bad 35Effect upon the Constitution. It don't answer to live under Water too long. I always consider myself at Sea there. If that Country was overflown, I would not undertake to count the Noah's or Arks—so much I know, that I would not trust to such a kind of Salvation if I could help it. Remember respectfully and affectionately as due, particularly to your Family.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect, Madam, your most obed. and very hble Servt.

RC (Adams Papers).


JA describes the troubles with the carriage in his Diary, and recounts the entire journey from Amsterdam to Paris, including his impressions of each town that Thaxter mentions below ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:29–37). The arduous journey of Thaxter and the Adamses through Spain, Dec. 1779–Jan. 1780, is given vivid treatment in same, 2:403– 433, 4:193–238; JQA, Diary , 1:11–31; and JA, Papers , 8:292–305, 309–313.


Both JA (Diary and Autobiography , 3:34) and JQA (Diary, 1:178) record their visits to the tomb of Cambrai's celebrated archbishop, and JQA also mentions Fenelon's Les aventures de Télémaque (1699).


Ten miles southwest of Brussels, in the Austrian Netherlands.


In October, Adm. Richard Howe eluded the French and Spanish fleets and managed to bring enough supplies to Gibraltar to ensure its defense, to the great disappointment of the Spanish, for whom reconquest was an important war aim (Morris, Peacemakers , p. 342).

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 13 November 1782 AA JA Abigail Adams to John Adams, 13 November 1782 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
My dearest Friend November 13. 1782

I have lived to see the close of the third year of our seperation. This is a Melancholy Anniversary to me; and many tender Scenes arise in my Mind upon the recollecttion. I feel unable to sustain even the Idea, that it will be half that period e'er we meet again.

Life is too short to have the dearest of its enjoyments curtaild. The Social feelings grow Callous by disuse and lose that pliancy of affection which Sweetens the cup of Life as we drink it. The Rational pleasures of Friendship and Society, and the still more refined sensations to which delicate minds only are susceptable like the tender Blosom when the rude Nothern Blasts assail them shrink within collect themselves together, deprived of the all chearing and Beamy influence of the Sun. The Blosom falls, and the fruit withers and decays—but here the similitude fails—for tho lost for the present—the Season returns; the Tree vegetates anew; and the Blossom again puts forth.

But alass with me; those days which are past, are gone forever: and time is hastning on that period, when I must fall, to rise no more; untill Mortality shall put on immortality, and we shall meet again, 36pure and unimbodied Spirits. Could we live to the age of the Antediluvians we might better support this seperation, but when three score Years and ten circumscribe the Life of Man, how painfull is the Idea, that of that short space only a few years of social happiness are our allotted portion.

Perhaps I make you unhappy. No you will enter with a soothing tenderness into my feelings; I see in your Eyes the Emotions of your Heart, and hear the sigh that is wafted across the Atlantick to the Bosom of Portia. But the philosopher and the statesman stiffels these Emotions, and regains a firmness which arrests my pen from my Hand.

November 25

I last evening received a line from Boston,1 to hasten my Letter down or I should again lose an opportunity of conveyance. I was most unfortunate by the Fire Brands sailing and leaving all my Letters behind. A storm prevented my sending the day appointed, and she saild by sun rise the Next morning. Tho my Letters were in town by nine o clock they missd. I know if she arrives how dissapointed you will feel. I received from France per the Alexander yours bearing no date,2 but by the contents written about the same time, with those I received per Mr. Guild. Shall I return the compliment, and tell you in a poeticall Stile—

“Should at my feet the worlds great Master fall Himself, his world his Throne, I'd Scorn them all.”

No give me the Man I love.

You are neither of an age or temper to be allured with the Splendour of a Court—or the Smiles of princessess. I never sufferd an uneasy sensation on that account. I know I have a Right to your whole Heart, because my own never knew an other Lord—and such is my confidence in you that if you was not withheld by the strongest of all obligations those of a moral Nature, your Honour would not suffer you to abuse my confidence.

But whither am I rambling?

We have not any thing in the political way worth noticeing. The Fleet of our Allies still remains with us.

Our Friend Generall W—n is chosen Member of C—s. I should be loth he should for the 3d time refuse as it leaves impression upon the minds of our good Citizens no ways to his advantage. But this 37good Man is some how or other embitterd. His Lady opposes if not by words, by that which has as strong an influence.3

Who is there left that will sacrifice as others have done? Portia I think stands alone, alone alass! in more senses than one. This vessel will convey to you the packets designd for the Fire Brand. I hope unimportant as they are, they will not be lost.

Shall I close here without a word of my voyage? I believe it is best to wait a reply before I say any thing further. Our Friends desire me to remember them to you. Your daughter your Image your Superscription desires to be affectionately rememberd to you. O! how many of the sweet domestick joys do you lose by this Seperation from your Family. I have the satisfaction of seeing my children thus far in life behaveing with credit and honour. God grant the pleasing prospect may never meet with an alloy and return to me the dear partner of my early years Rewarded for his past sacrifices by the consciousness of having been extensively usefull, not having lived to himself alone, and may the approveing voice of his Country crown his later days in peacefull retirement in the affectionate Bosom of


RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Portia Nov. 13. Ansd. Jan. 29 1783.”


This letter or note has not been identified; either Isaac Smith Sr., Richard Cranch, or Cotton Tufts is its most likely author. CFA omitted the text, from this sentence to “how dissapointed you will feel,” from AA, Letters, 1840, but not from subsequent editions.


See vol. 4:360 and note 1.


See Cotton Tufts to JA, 10 Oct., note 12, above. James Warren had rejected or resigned from one public responsibility after another—paymaster general of the Continental Army and justice of the superior court in Massachusetts, both in 1776, major general of the state militia in 1777, member of Congress in 1779, lieutenant governor in 1780, and member of the Continental Navy Board in May 1782. One reason for Warren's increasing alienation from public service, beginning in the late 1770s, was his growing hostility to John Hancock, the dominant figure in Massachusetts politics. But Warren's distaste for holding office seems to have had its origins in a complex personality that is still not well understood. See vol. 3:208; vol. 4:16, 20; JA, Papers , 4:14, 408; 5:269–272; 6:188–189; 7:111–114, 141–142, 144; 8:93; DAB ; Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 11:590–600.

CFA omitted this paragraph from AA, Letters, 1840, and from JA-AA, Familiar Letters .