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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5


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Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0228

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Cranch, Elizabeth
Recipient: Norton, Elizabeth Cranch
Date: 1784-09-05

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch

[salute] My dear Betsy

I am situated at a small desk in an appartment about 2 thirds as large as your own little Chamber; this appartment opens into my lodging Chamber which is handsome and commodious, and is upon a range with 6 or 7 others all of which look into the Garden. My Chamber is hung with a rich India patch,1 the bed, Chairs and window curtains of the same, which is very fashionable in this Country, two handsome Beaureaus, with marble tops make up the furniture, which wants only the addition of a carpet to give it all, the air of Elegance, but in lieu of this is a tile floor, in the shape of Mrs. Quincys carpet, with the red much worn of and defaced, the dust of which you may suppose not very favourable to a long train. But since I came we have been at the expence of having several of the floors new painted. This is done with Spanish brown and [glew?] afterward with melted wax, and then rubbed with a hard Brush; upon which a Man sets his foot and with his Arms a kimbow striped to his Shirt, goes driveing round your room. This Man is called a Frotteurer, and is a Servant kept on purpose for the Buisness. There are some floors of wood which resemble our black walnut, these are made of small strips of wood about six inches wide, and placed on Squares; which are rubbed with wax, and Brushes in the same manner I have before discribed: water is an article spairingly used. I procured a woman when I first came, (for the house was excessive dirty), to assist Ester in cleaning. I desired her to wash up the dinning room floor, which is stone made in the same shape of the tile, so she turnd a pail of water down and took a house Brush and swept it out. You would think yourself poisoned, untill time reconciled you to it.
I have however got this place to look more like neatness than any thing I have yet seen. What a contrast this to the Hague? The Garden Betsy! let me take a look at it. It is delightfull, such a Beautifull collection of flowers all in Bloom, so sweetly arranged with rows of orange Trees, and china vases of flowers. Why you would be in raptures. It is square and contains about 5 acres of land, about a 3d. of the Garden is laid out in oblongs, octagons, circles &c. filled with flowers; upon each side are spacious walks with rows of orange trees and pots of flowers, then a small walk, and a wall coverd with grape vines; in the middle of the Garden a fountain of water in a circle walled; about 2 foot, and a thin circle of fence painted Green, in the { 434 } midst of which are two little images carved in Stone. Upon each Side, and at a proper distance, are two small alcoves filled with curious plants exoticks; and round these are placed pots of flowers which have a most agreable appearence, then a small open chineess fence coverd with grape vines, and wall fruit incloses 2 Spots upon each side, which contains vegetables surrounded by orange trees; which prevents your view of them untill you walk to them: at the bottom of the Garden are a number of Trees, the Branches of which unite and form Beautifull Arbours, the tops of the Trees cut all even enough to walk upon them, and look as I set now at the window like one continued tree through the whole range. There is a little summer house coverd by this thicket, Beautifull in ruins, 2 large alcoves in which are two statues terminate the view; the windows to all the apartments in the house are rather Glass doors, reaching from the Top to the bottom, and opening in the middle; give one a full and extensive view of the Garden. This is a Beautifull climate, soft and serene and temperate, but Paris you must not ask me how I like it—because I am going to tell you of the pretty little appartment next to this in which I am writing; why my dear you cannot turn yourself in it without being multiplied 20 times. Now that I do not like; for being rather clumsy and by no means an elegant figure, I hate to have it so often repeated to me. This room is about ten or 12 foot large, is 8 cornerd and panneld with looking Glasses, a red and white india patch with pretty borders encompasses it: low back stuft chairs with Garlands of flowers incircleing them adorn this little chamber, festoons of flowers are round all the Glasses, a Lusture hangs from the cealing adornd with flowers, a Beautifull Soffa is placed in a kind of alcove with pillows and cushings in abundance the use of which I have not yet investigated. In the top of this alcove over the Soffa in the cealing is an other Glass, here is a Beautifull chimny peice with an elegant painting of Rural Life in a country farm house, lads and lasses jovial and happy. This little apartment opens in to your cousins bed Chamber. It has a most pleasing view of the Garden, and it is that view which always brings my dear Betsy to my mind, and makes me long for her to enjoy the delights of it with me; in this appartment I sit and sew, whilst your uncle is engaged at Passy where the present negotiations are carried on,2 and your cousin John in his appartment translating lattin, your cousin Nabby in her chamber writing, in which she employs most of her time: she has been twice at the opera with her Brother, of which I suppose she will write you an account. The present owner of this House and the Builder of it, is a M. le { 435 } Comte de Rouhaut.3 He married young to a widow worth 1,800,000 Livres per annum, 80,000 £ Sterling, which in the course of a few years they so Effectually dissipated, that they had not 100,000 £ Sterling remaining. They have been since that seperated. By some inheritances and legacies the count is now worth about a 100,000 livres a year and the Countess 75,000. They have a Theatre in this house now gone to decay, where for 8 years together they play'd Comedies and tragedies twice a week, and gave entertainments at the same time which cost them 200 £ Sterling every time, they entertaind between 4 and 5 hundred persons at a time. The looking Glasses in this house I have been informd cost 300 thousand liveres. Under this Chamber which I have discribed to you is a room of the same bigness in which is an elegant Bathing convenience let into the floor and the room is encompassed with more Glass than the Chamber, the ceiling being intirely glass. Here too is a Soffa surrounded with curtains.
Luxury and folly are strong and characteristick traits of the Builder. There are appartments of every kind in this House, many of which I have never yet enterd.
Those for which I have a use are calculated for the ordinary purposes of Life, and further I seek not to know.
Write to me my dear Girl and tell me every thing about my dear Friends and country. Remember me to your Brother, to your sister I will write, to Mr. Tyler4 I hope to be able to send at least a few lines. Tis very expensive sending letters by the post, I must look for private opportunities to London. Adieu I hear the carriage; your uncle is come. I go to hasten tea of which he is still fond: yours sincerely
[signed] AA
RC (MSaE: Abigail Adams Letters); notation by Elizabeth Cranch on the first sheet: “No: 2”; docketed on the first sheet: “Letter from Mrs. A Adams to Miss Eliz. Cranch; France Sepr. 5th. 1784.”
1. This material, sometimes described as “copper plate,” was the fashionable indienne textile, also known as toiles de Jouy from the manufactory of Oberkampf at Jouy-en-Josas. An example of this pattern, depicting idyllic French rural life, is the cover design of Rice, Adams Family in Auteuil ; see p. 23, note 11 of that work.
2. That is, the daily meetings between JA , Franklin, and Jefferson at Franklin's house, in which they prepared to negotiate commercial treaties between the United States and several European powers. The commissioners were currently opening up communications with the Holy Roman Emperor, as ruler of the Austrian Netherlands, and with Spain, and were continuing negotiations with Prussia, which led to a commerical treaty in 1785. In addition, Franklin and Vergennes exchanged formal notes in August and September concerning the interpretation of certain articles of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778, whereby the United States formally pledged to France most favored nation status in their commercial relations. See Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:819–821; Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:158–184.
{ 436 }
3. AA errs here. The Comte de Rouault bought the house, which dated from early in the century, in 1767 (Rice, Adams Family in Auteuil , p. 26, note 12).
4. This is printed as “Mr. T.” in AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1848.

Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0229

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Cranch, Lucy
Recipient: Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch
Date: 1784-09-05

Abigail Adams to Lucy Cranch

[salute] My dear Lucy

I promised to write to you from the Hague,1 but your uncles unexpected arrival at London prevented me. Your uncle purchased an Excellent travelling Coach in London, and hired a post chaise for our servants. In this manner We travelled from London to Dover, accommodated through England with the best of Horses postilions, and good carriages, clean neat appartments, genteel entertainment, and prompt attendance, but no sooner do you cross from Dover to Caliss than every thing is reversed, and yet the distance is very small between them.
The cultivation is by no means equal to that of England, the villages look poor and mean the houses all thatchd and rarely a Glass window in them. Their Horses instead of being handsomely harnessed as those in England are, have the appearence of so many old cart horses. Along you go with 7 Horses tied up with roaps and chains rattleing like trucks, 2 ragged postilions mounted with enormous jack Boots, add to the comick Scene. And this is the Stile in which a Duke or a count travel through this kingdom. You inquire of me how I like Paris? Why they tell me I am no judge, for that I have not seen it yet. One thing I know, and that is, that I have smelt it. If I was agreeably dissapointed in London, I am as much dissapointed in Paris. It is the very dirtyest place I ever saw. There are some Buildings and some Squares which are tolerable, but in general the streets are narrow, the shops, the houses inelegant, and dirty, the Streets full of Lumber and Stone with which they Build. Boston cannot Boast so elegant publick Buildings, but in every other respect, it as much Superiour in my Eyes to Paris, as London is to Boston. To have had Paris tolerable to me; I should not have gone to London. As to the people here, they are more given to Hospitality than in England, it is said.
I have been in company with but one French Lady2 since I arrived, for strangers here make the first visit and nobody will know you untill you have waited upon them in form.
This Lady I dined with at Dr. Franklings. She enterd the Room
{ 437 } { 438 }
with a careless jaunty air. Upon seeing Ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out ah Mon dieu! where is Frankling, why did you not tell me there were Ladies here? You must suppose her speaking all this in French. How said she I look? takeing hold of a dressing chimise made of tiffanny which She had on over a blew Lutestring, and which looked as much upon the decay as her Beauty, for she was once a handsome woman. Her Hair was fangled, over it she had a small straw hat with a dirty half gauze hankerchief round it, and a bit of dirtyer gauze than ever my maids wore was sewed on behind. She had a black gauze Skarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room. When she returnd, the Dr. enterd at one door she at the other, upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand, helas Frankling, then gave him a double kiss one upon each cheek and an other upon his forehead. When we went into the room to dine she was placed between the Dr. and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Drs. and sometimes spreading her Arms upon the Backs of both the Gentlemans Chairs, then throwing her Arm carelessly upon the Drs. Neck.
I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct, if the good Doctor had not told me that in this Lady I should see a genuine French Woman, wholy free from affectation or stifness of behaviour and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Drs. word, but I should have set her down for a very bad one altho Sixty years of age and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance with any Ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee where she shew more than her feet. She had a little Lap Dog who was next to the Dr. her favorite. This She kisst3 and when he wet the floor she wiped it up with her chimise. This is one of the Drs. most intimate Friends, with whom he dines once every week and She with him. She is rich and is my near Neighbour, but I have not yet visited her. Thus my dear you see that Manners differ exceedingly in different Countries. I hope however to find amongst the French Ladies manners more consistant with my Ideas of decency, or I shall be a mere recluse.4
You must write to me and let me know all about you. Marriages Births and preferments—every thing you can think of. Give my respects to the Germantown family. I shall begin to get Letters for them by the next vessel.

[salute] Good Night. Believe me your most affectionate Aunt

[signed] Abigail Adams
{ 439 }
RC (MWA: Abigail Adams Corr.).
1. AA may refer to a letter that has not been found, but in her 6 July letter to Mary Cranch, above, under [29 July], she promised Elizabeth Cranch “a discription of some pretty Scene at the Hague, and Lucy shall have a Parissian Letter.”
2. Madame Helvétius; see AA2 to Lucy Cranch, 4 Sept., and note 2, above.
3. The rest of this sentence was omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1840, but restored in the 1841 and 1848 editions.
4. AA wrote “or I shall be a mere recluse,” in finer, lighter characters, apparently as an afterthought.