Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

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.

Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams, 21 May 1786 Cranch, Mary Smith AA Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams, 21 May 1786 Cranch, Mary Smith Adams, Abigail
Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams
My Dear Sister Braintree May 21 17861

Is it possible that my dear Niece should really be married and the little visiting Card upon which a peice of Ribbon was wound be the only way in which my sister has thought proper to convey the pleasseing intellegence to her Friends?2 It is an event which almost every one hop'd, and every one I know will approve. For my Self, I 184most heartily congratulate you all, not only upon your acquisition but upon your escape:–can he after this delude another Family, must another unsuspecting fair one fall a victim to his vanity. I have no pity to bestow upon him unless for his folly. He means to brave it I see. He puts on such an air of indifference and gaeity as plainly show's how much he is mortified. He is dressd out to day in his best attire even his head is comb'd. It is Sunday. I hope said he, there will be many strangers at meeting to day—for his comfort there has been mr and Mrs Story and Family.3 We have not chang'd one Word with him upon the subject from the first of the affair to this day. I am rejoice'd that his Letters were not lost.4 I knew he had abus'd me and charg'd me with things which were false. He wanted to impose upon me too and was angry that he could not and reveng'd himself by endeavouring to rob me of the affection of my dear Niece, for this I know not how to forgive him. It was quite accidental that I knew any thing about it—and now I only know in general. I hope she does not believe what he has alleg'd against me. I believe you think I have no curiosity. I have a reasonable share I assure you and wish to know much more than you have told me of the rise and progress of the sudden match in your Family. Do you know that you never mention'd the name of the Gentleman in one of your Letters to any of us nor any thing which could lead us to guess Who it was. The manner in which you spoke of coll. Humphries made us think that it was him rather than coll. Smith,–nor did we know other ways till we Saw Doctor Tufts Letter.5–But oh my Sister must you leave her in Europe when you return. I cannot bear the Idea. Shall I not be a witness to the Happiness I have so often wish'd her. I must hope I shall. How much more pleasure do you feel by introducing a man of such a universally good character into your Family than one exactly opposite to it. May you always have reason to rejoce. By an expression in your Letter to Betsy I cannot help hopeing that you may soon return. Esters Letter too to her mother speaks the same thing. She says you are to return by the way of Holland, is it so? The hope of its being really so has brought a tear of joy into my eye.

You say in one of your Letters that you have written largly to me. I have receiv'd one Letter by the January Pacquit at least it was dated January 26th Mr King sent it. One by mrs Hay one by cushing and one by Lyde as I suppose but they came in so near together that I cannot very well tell which the Letters came in. I have receiv'd the Key of the Trunk the latter is not come ashoar yet.6 Mr and mrs Rogers are not arriv'd in Boston. I went yesterday to see. I hope she 185has Letters for me, for I am not half satisfied with what I have got. They will not all make one long Letter.

I am provok'd with young for his ill conduct about the chocalate. He promiss'd to put it into his chest. We dare not send much at one time. I am now very glad it was no more. I will send more when we can find a captain we can trust. I have no notion of giving a feast to the custom house Officers. I design to speak in Season for some nuts for you. Accep a Thousand thanks my dear Sister for your kind presents to me and my children but why my Sister have you not sent me a Bill of the Silk and apron. I feel my Self under obligations which I cannot repay. I am thankful that your sons stand in need of some of my care and attention, as it is the only way in which we can show our gratitude. They are good children and give us no unnecessary cares. I am sure I long for their vacancys to commence as much, and I believe more than they do. We have a bustling time tis true and have work enough to do to repair the damages of their late session and prepare them for the next, but the chearfulness they infuse is a full compensation for all that is done for them. Our young Folks improve fast in their musick. Two German Flutes, a violin and a harpsicord and two voices form a considerable concert.7 Come my Sister come and hear it. It will give you more pleasure than those scenes of Dissapation which you decribe, you must I think be heartily tir'd of them. You do perfectly right to be a witness to as many of them as you can with propriety so long as you can detest them, but I cannot bear you should leave my Niece in the midst of them: She is young and habit may render them less odious to her. Why has She not written to any of us? Her amiable Partner must not ingross all her time. He must spare her a little to her Freinds, at least long enough to tell them how happy She is. I design to write to her as soon as I am properly inform'd how to address her.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs Cranch May 7th 1786.” The endorsement suggests that AA received this undated letter with Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 7 May, above.


Mary Cranch comments in the course of the letter that she is writing on Sunday and that she visited Boston “yesterday,” an event that Elizabeth Cranch places on the 20th (Elizabeth Cranch to AA, 20 May, above).


For the visiting card from the William Smiths of Clapham that the Cranch family mistakenly believed was intended to annouce AA2's marriage, see Elizabeth Cranch to AA, 20 May, and note 4, above.


Perhaps Ebenezer and Hannah Storer and his children George and Mary, whom Elizabeth Cranch saw at the home of Hannah's stepmother, Ann Marsh Quincy, on Monday the 22d (MHi: Jacob Norton Papers, Elizabeth Cranch Diary, 22 May 1786).


The letters have not been found.


AA to Cotton Tufts, 10 Jan., above, which Tufts received on 19 May.


The trunk was sent with Capt. Lyde and AA's letter of 6 April.


JQA's Diary entry for 17 July describes 186the musical scene at the Cranches: “we play'd on the flute, on the harpsichord, and sung. There is always some fine music of one kind or another, going forward in this House. Betsey, and Miss Hiller finger the harpsichord Billy scrapes the Violin, Charles and myself blow the flute” ( Diary , 2:66).