Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 21 May 1786 AA Cranch, Mary Smith Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 21 May 1786 Adams, Abigail Cranch, Mary Smith
Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch
My Dear sister London May 21 1786

Your kind Letter of Feb'ry came safe to hand, and proved my assertion, that I was sure you had written to me tho it did not reach me by the post. As Letters are always Subject to inspection when put into the bag, it is not best to trust any thing improper for a News paper by that conveyance unless addrest to some merchant, which address prevents curiosity. In writing to you, I am not under that apprehension, my Letters going immediately to the place of their destination. I had as leaves trust them in the Bag as by a private hand.

I presume before this reaches you you will be fully satisfied with regard to the Subject you wrote me upon, and can have no apprehensions of Change of mind. It is not unlikly that when I write again to you, you may add another Nephew to the list of your Relatives.1 A House is taken and I have been for the last week employd in buying linnen china Glass &c. In other respects the House is ready furnishd. I wish I had one of my Neices with me, whilst I remain in this Country, but it will not be long before I shall quit it. Not ten days ago I expected to have taken my passage in the july packet, in concequence of some intelligence which afterwards wore a different appearence; things are so fluctuating upon both Sides the water that it is really difficult to draw up conclusions. Prussia has treated; Portugal has treated; and the Emperours minister has just received Powers to treat also; but very unfortunatly the joint commissions of the American ministers expired this month So that nothing can be concluded till new powers arrive.2 Whoever has any thing to do with Courts, must have Patience, for their first Second; and third requisites. I wish I was well out of the Way of all of them. My object is to return to America early next Spring, if nothing arises to oblige us to take this step Sooner. I cannot think of a fall passage, of this I shall be better informd in a few weeks. But there is no office more undesirable than Minister of the united States, under the present embarrasments, there is no reputation to be acquired, and there is much to lose.

Negotiations with other powers may be, and have been effected, but with England there is not the least probability of a treaty untill the States are united in their measures, and invest Congress with full powers for the regulation of commerce, and a minister here can 178be of very little service untill that event takes place. It is true he may be invested with other powers, and one more important than treating with this Country, is making peace with the Barbery States. But as mr A foretold so it has turnd out, Lamb is returning without being able to effect any thing, the dey would not even see him and the demand for the poor fellows who are in captivity is a thousand Dollars pr Man and there are 21 of them.3 The sum allotted by Congress is so inadaquate to the thing, that we must look only for war upon us. Unless Congress endeavour to borrow the sum demanded, and treat immediately, their demands will increase in proportion to the Captures they make, but of all this they are regularly and fully informd. You will not however make these matters known till you hear them from some other quarter. These are droll subjects for one Lady to write to an other upon, but our Country is so much interested in these affairs that you must excuse me for troubleing you with them, and you can communicate with discretion.

I thank you most Sincerely for all your kindness to my dear sons and hope they will ever bear a gratefull remembrance of it. The account you give of their behaviour and conduct is such as I hope they merit.4 The Idea that their success in Life depends upon their diligence and application to their studies, to a modest and virtuous deportment, cannot be too Strongly impresst upon their minds. The foolish Idea in which some of our Youth, are educated: of being born Gentleman is the most ridiculous in the world for a Country like our. It is the mind and manners which make the Gentleman and not the Estate. There is no Man with us, so rich as to breed up a family in Idleness with Ideas of Paternal inheritance, and far distant may that day be from our Land: he who is not in some way or other usefull to Society, is a drone in the Hive, and ought to be Hunted down accordingly. I have very different Ideas of the wealth of my Countrymen, to what I had when I left it. Much of that wealth has proved falacious and their debts exceed their property. Economy and industery may retrive their affairs. I know that the Country is capable of great exertions but in order to this, they must curtail their Ideas of Luxery and refinement, according to their ability. I do not believe any Country exceeds them in the article of dress.5 In Houses in furniture in Gardens and pleasure Grounds and in equipage, the wealth of France and England is display'd to a high pitch of Grandeur and magnificence. But when I reflect upon the thousands who are Starving, and the millions who are loaded with taxes to support this pomp and shew, I look to my happier 179Country with an enthusiastick warmth, and pray for the continuance of that equality of Rank and fortune which forms so large a portion of our happiness.6

I yesterday dinned at the Bishop of Saint Asaphs, in company with dr Preistly and Dr Price and some Strangers. The Bishops Character is well known and respected as a Friend to America, and justly does he deserve the Character of a liberal Man.7 He is polite affable and concequently agreeable. He has a Lady and an unmarried daughter, both of whom are well bred according to my Ideas.8 According to British Ideas good Breeding consist in an undaunted air, and a fearless, not to say, bold address and appearence. The old Lady is both sensible and learned, quite easy and social. The Young one is modest and attentive. This is a family, the friendship and acquaintance of which I should like to cultivate.9

Dr Priestly is a Gentleman of a pale complexion spair habit, placid thoughtfull Countanance, and very few words. I heard him preach for dr Price, his delivery is not equal to the matter of his discourses. I dinned twice in company with the Dr. and was mortified that I could not have more of his company at our own House, but he was engaged every moment of his time whilst in London.–I believe I have frequently mentiond Dr Price. He is a good and amiable Man, a little inclined to lowness of spirits, which partly arises from the melancholy state of Mrs Price who two years ago had a paralytick stroke, and has been helpless ever Since.

Captain Bigolew has promised to take this Letter From your ever affectionate Sister


RC (MWA: Abigail Adams Corr.). Dft (Adams Papers); undated, filmed at 1786, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 369.


In the undated Dft, after this sentence, AA wrote the following in place of the remainder of this paragraph and the next:

“Some affairs have turnd up which give us reason to think that Mr A must go to Holland. If so I shall accompany him and leave to the young folks the care of the House and family and they will be married previous to our going. In a week or ten days it will be known whether we must go, and the result of the business there will determine whether we em bark for America in the july packet, which I assure you I do not think improbable. This will be an unexpected Step, and will not be taken without sufficient reasons to justify it. Those reasons must be kept Secret at present nor would I have our apprehensions mentiond as it would lay open a wide feild for conjecture. As we are too short sighted beings to see far into futurity our only study should be to do our duty for those with whom we are connected, as far as we are capable of judging of it, and leave the event for time to devolope.”

JA's thought of returning to America arose from the shortage of U.S. funds in Europe. To avoid defaulting on interest payments to the Dutch loan, JA was asked to limit his own spending and the amounts drawn for negotiating with the Barbary powers. If these monies were indefinitely appropriated to pay the interest, JA predicted that Barclay and Lamb's missions would be “undone” and that he must either “starve or go home” (Board of Treasury to 180 JA, 7 March; Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst to JA, 5 May, both Adams Papers; and JA to Willinks and van Staphorsts, 11 May, 19 May, and 21 May, all LbCs, Adams Papers).


Florimund Claude, Comte Mercy d'Argenteau, ambassador from the Austrian emperor to France, informed Jefferson of his powers to negotiate upon the latter's return to Paris (Jefferson, Papers , 9:507). The commissions sent to JA, Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to negotiate commercial treaties expired on 12 May, two years from their date of issue ( JCC , 27:372–374).


The most recent reports received by JA predicted that Lamb's mission to free American prisoners and conclude a treaty of amity and peace with Algiers would end in failure (Lamb to Thomas Jefferson, 29 March; Thomas Barclay to the American Commissioners, 10 April, Jefferson, Papers , 9:364–365, 383–384). Lamb ultimately was granted three audiences with the dey of Algiers, but the sums demanded for the prisoners or for peace were so extraordinary that the commissioners suspended the mission and referred the matter back to Congress (John Lamb to the American Commissioners, 20 May; Jefferson to Lamb, 20 June, same, 9:549–554, 667).


In the Dft, AA adds at this point: “I look upon a colledge Life as a sort of ordeal. If they pass unscorchd it is in some measure a security to them against future temptations.”


In the Dft, the previous three sentences read: “Economy and industery will retrieve their affairs and the Country is capable of great things. But their Ideas of Luxery and refinement have leapd a century to be sure. In the article of dress amongst the Ladies of our Country, diamonds excepted, I believe there is no nation exceeds them in extravagance.”


In the Dft, AA continued the paragraph with: “Where industery is sure of a reward, and each individual may become a landholder without being Subject to taxes amounting to 15 Shillings in the pound which is the case here. Inclosed is a print which may give you Some Idea of the taxes of this Nation. Yet notwithstanding all this the kings civil list is 200 thousand in debt and the prince of Wales 4 hundred thousand. What a picture added to their National debt?” The print, if enclosed with the RC, has not been found.


In the Dft, this sentence reads: “He has the manners and appearence which I have always annexed to the Idea of a good Bishop. I need not say that he is liberal in his sentiments with respect to Religion and politicks.”


Two of Jonathan and Anna Shipley's daughters remained unmarried throughout their lives: Betsy (1754–1796) and Catherine (1759–1840) ( DNB ; Franklin, Papers , 18:199–202).


The Dft concludes here with the following passage: “I have written you so frequently of late that I have nothing further to add than my affectionate Regards to every branch of your family. The ship you mention as arriving without letters put up for Nantucket I believe no other has arrived without.”

John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 21 May 1786 JQA JA John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 21 May 1786 Adams, John Quincy Adams, John
John Quincy Adams to John Adams
Dear Sir Cambridge May 21st: 1786 Sunday

I am now much more at my disposal, with respect to my Time, than I was at Haverhill, and can devote more of it to writing, though, it is said, this Quarter, that is, the last of the Junior Sophister year, is most important, and busy, than any other in the four years. Mr: Williams's Lectures on natural Philosophy, render it so; his Course consists of 24 Lectures, 13 of which we have already had. I have hitherto, taken, minutes, while he was speaking, and written off, after I came out, as much as I could recollect of them. Some of my Class have told me, they were not worth the Time, and Pains I 181have spent upon, them; but I think they are, as they may serve to fix firmer in my Mind; the principles of an important branch of Science, which I never before have studied. In my last letter, to you, I requested Desagulier's Translation of S. Gravesande's, in 2 Volumes octavo, there is a 4to: Edition, but the other is that which is studied here. They are very scarce in this Country, as they can neither be bought, nor borrowed out of College. We begin to recite in them tomorrow, but I shall endeavour to borrow them of some Classmate, for the 2 weeks, we shall recite in them this Quarter; and I hope to receive one, before I shall have occasion for it again. This is the last Quarter, in which we recite in the Languages, the next year, we shall be confined to Mathematics, natural Philosophy, and Metaphysics; we shall finish Locke on the understanding, before the end of this year, and begin, in Reid on the Mind;1 our progress here is very slow, but we have so many things to attend to at once, that it cannot well be other wise.

I received a few days since, your favour of March 19th: and at the same time, from my Sister Coll: Humphreys's Poem, which I think superior to the former, among its beauties is, a very happy imitation of a famous passage in Virgil, AEn: 6: 847. &c. It is in the 30th: page

Let other Climes of other produce boast &c.2

I think it is, as Boileau, says of himself, même, en imitant, toujours original.3

America, appears to hasten towards, perfection, in the fine arts; and any Country, would, boast of a Belknap, as an historian, a Dwight, as a Poet,4 and a West as a Painter. There, are in this University, one or two Students, (now Senior Sophister's) who promise fair to become very good Poets. One of them by the name of Fowle, was appointed a few days since, to deliver a valedictory Poem, on the 21st: of June, and it is said, has another assign'd him as a Part at Commencement. There is among the governors of the College, one, who for genius and learning, would make a figure in any part of Europe. I mean the Librarian, Mr: Winthrop. He has lately discovered, a method of trisecting an Angle, which, has so long been attempted, in Vain.5 Mr: Sewall too the former Hebrew Professor, is now producing his talents. He was obliged to resign, because, it was said he was addicted to drinking. He most sacredly declared, at the Time, that the accusation was false; it has been said as an argument, to prove, he was subject to the Vice, that his mental faculties were impair'd: to show that this was not the fact, he has under-182taken, to translate Young's Night Thoughts into Latin Verse. The first Night is to be published soon; the work may be considered as a curiosity, and I shall send one, as soon as they are printed.6

June 14th.

I have been so busy, since the date of the Former Part, of this Letter, that I have not been able to finish it. I have taken in writing extracts of all I remembered of the Lectures upon natural Philosophy. The Course finished last Saturday, and I have now the disposal of my Time, much more than I had before. The Performances at Commencement, are distributed, and are more numerous, than they ever have been before; it is a doubt, at present whether this is only a mark of favour, to the Class that is about to graduate, because it is said to be one of the best Classes taken collectively, for genius, and Learning, that has ever gone through College; or whether, it is the Intention of the Government for the future to increase the number of good Parts as they are called. Hitherto about two thirds of each Class, have had syllogistic disputes, to perform at Commencement, and as they are never attended to, they are held in detestation by the Scholars. And every one thinks it a reflection upon his Character as a genius and a student to have a Syllogistic; this opinion is the firmer, because the best Scholars almost always have other Parts; there are many disadvantages derived, from these Syllogisms, and I know only of one benifit, which is this. Many Scholars, would go through College without studying at all, but would idle away all their Time; who merely from the horrors of Syllogisms, begin to Study, acquire a fondness for it, and make a very pretty figure in College. And it is not uncommon to see young fellows the most idle, in a Class the two first years, have the Reputation of great Students, and good scholars the two Latter.

The next Commencement, there will be delivered, 2 English Poems, two English Orations, two Latin Orations, a greek Dialogue, 3 Forensic Disputes, and an English Dialogue between four. Thompson, a young gentleman from Newbury, has one of the English Orations. He is generally supposed to be the most distinguished Character in College. It is said by his Classmates, that he will outshine Harry Otis, who will deliver at the Same Time an Oration upon taking his second Degree, but it is now a doubt whether Thompson, will appear, as he is very unwell. He has injured his Health by hard study, and it is feared he has a slow Fever.

The Bridge, at Charlestown is very nearly compleated. Next Sat-183urday, being the 17th: of June, there is to be a long Procession, over the bridge, and an Entertainment for 600 persons provided on Bunkers Hill. I know of no News, as I am here quite retired. It is now eight-weeks since this Quarter began. Near as we are to Boston, I have been there only once in that Time. A Person, who wishes to make any figure as a Scholar at this University, must not spend much Time, either in visiting or in being visited.

I Have one more request to add to those I have already made; it is for Blair's Lectures,7 in Octavo, so that they may be in the same form with the Sermons, and because an Octavo is much more convenient than a Quarto.

Your dutiful Son, J. Q. Adams

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by WSS: “21st. May 1786. J. Q. Adams.”


JQA's copy of Thomas Reid, An Inquiry into the Human Mind, On the Principles of Common Sense, 4th edn., corrected, London, 1785, is at MQA.


The line JQA quotes from Humphreys, A Poem, on the Happiness of America, appears on p. 29 of the Hartford, Conn., 1786, reprint edition (Evans, No. 19723). Humphreys suggests that other nations will produce many fine items, “But men, Columbia, be thy fairer growth, / Men of firm nerves who spurn at fear and sloth, / Men of high courage like their sires of old, / In labour patient as in danger bold!” (lines 586–589). JQA is comparing this sentiment to Book Six of the Aeneid, in which Virgil extols the acts of various Romans but praises the development of Roman law and government above all else (lines 847–853).


Even in imitation, always original (Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Oeuvres Poëtiques, London, 1730, Epigram 52).


Rev. Jeremy Belknap of Dover, N.H., published the first volume of his History of New Hampshire in 1784; The Conquest of Canäan, an epic poem by Rev. Timothy Dwight of Greenfield Hill, Conn., and later the president of Yale College, appeared in 1785 ( DAB ).


James Winthrop's findings were printed as “A Rule for Trisecting Angles Geometrically,” Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 2: pt. 1, p. 14–17 (Evans, No. 25092).


Stephen Sewall, Harvard 1761, first began teaching Hebrew at the college in 1761. He served as Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages from 1764 until his dismissal in 1785. Sewall's translation of Young's Night Thoughts , Night I, Nocte cogitata, auctore, anglice scripta, Young, D.D. quae lingua Latii donavit America, was printed in Charlestown in 1786 (Evans, No. 20170; Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 15:107–114).


Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Two copies of these lectures, both later editions but with JQA's bookplates, are located at MQA.