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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 2


This foot note contained in document ADMS-13-02-02-0003-0003-0016
2. 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. “[W]hy 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. . . . [T]o 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 { 114 } months. 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).