Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 2

Sunday. March 25th.<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DCA02d607n1" class="note" id="DCA02d607n1a">1</a> CFA Sunday. March 25th. CFA
Sunday. March 25th.1

The Everetts deferred their departure till Thursday 22 March. And I determined to accompany them as far as Baltimore. My mother 113determined to go too. So I got into the carriage, and we took in Abby at about twelve miles and had a very pleasant ride. On Friday after spending the morning in a round of company, I parted with them at the Steamboat when it went to Philadelphia. Anxious to leave town directly, my Mother ordered the Carriage and we rode to Merril’s that night, and starting again yesterday morning, we reached home before two o’clock.

Leave takings are always melancholy. I seldom patronize them and in this case I was obliged to make as little of it as possible. I think I succeeded better than I had hoped. For being prepared for it by time and thought, not to speak of a bottle of Sherry, the larger part of which I swallowed, I came off quite handsomely, and the motion of travelling served to keep off dullness till my feelings were blunted. And although now I am constantly experiencing a vacancy of object, owing to my having devoted my time so entirely to her, I have got over all the dull part of the matter. And my summer, though not positively happy, will at least have the benefit of being calm. I wrote to her today—and propose during the remainder of my stay here to write regularly twice a week.2

My plan for the Summer is Study—and devotion to the objects of my profession and future prosperity. As it is my last Summer here I must make the most of it—and attempt to become much wiser when I go to fix in Boston. I must resume my regular duties long neglected and continue hereafter to be as regular as possible in their performance.


From D/CFA/5.


From this entry through that of 17 July 1827, CFA’s diary is full of references to letters received from, or sent to, Abigail B. Brooks. Unless otherwise indicated, all these letters are in the Adams Papers. Since they are presently available in full in the microfilm edition of the Adams Papers and will shortly be published in large part in the Adams Family Correspondence, it is not necessary to quote or paraphrase each of them in these pages, except where such reference is needed to make the meaning of CFA’s diary clear.

Like any other love letters, these are easier to characterize than to summarize. Though written with 19th-century restraint, they are warmly affectionate in tone. CFA addressed his fiancée as “My dearest Abby,” and she replied to her “dearest Charles.” Both repeatedly wrote of their love. “Why should I be ashamed to confess that I love you better than all the world,” Abigail asked; “I begin to think . . . that I love you too well and think too much about you. . . . To get a kind letter from you makes me all gayety and light-heartedness again” (18 April 1827). “I do not hesitate in declaring my affection for you in almost every line,” Charles replied, “because it may please you, when to another it would seem superfluous and flat” (21 April 1827).

At first filled with reminiscences of the recent season in Washington and of the events leading up to their engagement, the letters soon grew more difficult to write as these topics were exhausted. The trouble was that the young people, though deeply in love, did not have much to talk about. Both remained largely out of society during these 114months. Charles failed to attend the usual round of Washington parties, because “the young ladies here seem to think a person ‘mortgaged’ as they call it not worth expending smiles upon” (9 April 1827). Abigail saw only relatives when she was in Boston, and after she returned to her country home she reported: “I do not pretend to give you any news, that is quite out of my line lately as Medford offers none to amuse any but ourselves” (10 June 1827). Since neither really knew the family of the other very well, there was not much domestic gossip worth exchanging. Charles tried to get his fiancée interested in the books he was reading, but she replied, “I am pretty sensible how tedious it is to gentlemen to hear ladies discuss these subjects therefore I always endeavor not to do it, but with my brother, and Father” (27 June 1827).

Increasingly, therefore, their letters were filled with the discussion of the one subject which most interested them both: themselves. CFA hoped that the correspondence would lead to a formal exposition and analysis of their characters; he begged Abigail to “give me a full account of every thing which concerns you even to the most minute details,” so that he could “have something by which I may still further learn to study your character and appreciate the many good points which I have already perceived” (29 Mar. 1827). Abigail seldom attempted introspection, though she did warn Charles that she had faults: “I am even sometimes free in my manners . . . but perhaps you will make some excuse for me when you consider that I am the youngest and have been a good deal petted” (17 May 1827). Charles, on the other hand, took pains systematically to unfold his personality: “I am grave, sober, formal, precise and reserved,” he wrote (5 April 1827), but he added that his character was “not naturally reserved. Circumstances have made it so with respect to strangers” (24 April 1827). Admitting to an “unyielding temper,” he explained: “it always has been my wish to consult the feelings of others in all things where they are concerned. But in matters relating to the guidance of my own conduct, my notions of independence and of stubborn pride are almost unbounded” (4 May 1827).

As the date of CFA’s return to Massachusetts approached, the letters became more than ever full of anticipation. Shortly before leaving Washington, Charles wrote Abigail: “I am really and terribly and may I add foolishly in love with you, since it makes me say many extravagant things which, were I in my ordinary senses, I should not, but which as it is, I cannot help” (9 July 1827).

Wednesday. March 28th. CFA Wednesday. March 28th. CFA
Wednesday. March 28th.

I have resumed my regular habits and find them quite agreeable. I think more of Abby than I had expected I should, especially upon the journey, and I shall most probably obtain no information of her journey until the latter end of the week. I have resumed the study of law, but without being entirely decided upon pursuing it as a profession. Mr. Webster seems to think it is a man’s only course and I am somewhat inclined to his opinion. Although in very fact my principal motive in thinking of this connection before my feelings were entangled was to avoid that labor. But I feel now like the creature of circumstances, and my own opinion of the proper course to adopt is to make the law a profession so as to rise in character, and if any thing better should present, to take it, provided it is really better. If not, it is at any rate an honorable situation and one which I ought not to complain of. My own prospects at this moment are perhaps 115more brilliant than they ever will be at any other; the result is in the hands of God.

I went last evening to congratulate my friend Weed who was married to Miss McLean, the daughter of the Postmaster general.1 I could not help reflecting upon her situation with sentiments of something like doubt. The step such as it is involves much of the value of life itself, and yet it is strange to see how very few view it in that light. To some it seems a mere matter of a day’s pastime. Millions of ideas rush into my mind in thinking upon this subject, which I would rather not admit. Perhaps a day, a month, or year may increase or destroy them. I dare hardly express them to myself. The die is cast with me however and I am disposed to think that there is no retreating even if I would. But my course is most certainly so far as my own judgment can act upon it, authorized by every principle and feeling in my own mind, and although it involves my own happiness or misery to a great extent, yet it is a question which must some day or other be brought to a test and why not soon when life is new. If at any time it becomes burdensome by implicating the fortune of others besides myself, there is but one alternative, and that is too terrible to think of; I am not writing in a melancholy humour, these reflections pass my mind every day and from custom I bear them with composure. I have firm confidence in a good Providence which has never yet deserted me, and which I trust will avert the evils which I so constantly am dreading.


Arabella Edwards McLean, oldest daughter of John McLean (1785–1861), had just married Elijah J. Weed, of the Marine Corps (Francis P. Weisenburger, The Life of John McLean, Columbus, 1937, p. 218).