Diary of John Adams, volume 3

Ap. 18. Tuesday.

London April 20 1786 Thursday.


This must pertain, at least in part, to JA's efforts to arrange for publication in London of the works of the American authors mentioned in the preceding paragraph. On 5 March David Humphreys, a poet himself and a member of the Connecticut circle that included Timothy Dwight and Joel Barlow, had written JA from Paris to say that WSS was bringing to London a printed copy of Dwight's Conquest of Canaan (which had been published at Hartford, 1785) and a MS copy of Barlow's Vision of Columbus (eventually published at Hartford, 1787), which their authors hoped could be published in London (Adams Papers). JA wrote Dwight on 4 April that he knew “of no heroick Poem superior to The Conquest of Canaan , in any modern Language, excepting always Paradise lost,” but after consulting with Dr. Price and others about the poems he predicted “a cold reception” for them from British publishers and readers (LbC, Adams Papers). On the same day he wrote Barlow in more or less similar terms (LbC, Adams Papers). By one means or another, however, both poems were eventually published in London, Barlow's by Dilly and Stockdale in 1787, and Dwight's by J. Johnson the next year. See Blanck, Bibliog. Amer. Lit. , 865, 5040; Sabin 3435, 21548.

At the end of 1785 David Ramsay, a literary physician and a delegate to the Continental Congress from South Carolina, had published at Trenton his two-volume History of the Revolution of South-Carolina and optimistically sent 1600 copies to Charles Dilly for sale in England. See Ramsay to JA, 23 Dec. 1785 (DSI), and JA's characteristic reply, 9 Feb. 1786 (LbC, Adams Papers). Ramsay later informed JA that Dilly had “declined publishing my history from an apprehension that it would expose him to prosecutions” (14 May 1786, Adams Papers). There were proposals to cut out passages that would give offense in England, but as JA told Ramsay, “your Friends have expressed so much Indignation at them that I hope and believe they will be laid aside, and that by degrees the American Edition may be sold” (1 Aug., LbC, Adams Papers). See, further, Robert L. Brunhouse, “David Ramsay's Publication Problems, 1784–1808,” Bibliog. Soc. Amer., Papers, 39 (1945):51–67.