A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 7

Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-04-07-02-0077

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Tufts, Cotton
Date: 1786-06-02

John Adams to Cotton Tufts

[salute] Dear sir

I am proud to learn by your Letter of 13. April1 that I am so rich at the University. If Thomas gets in, I shall be still happier. The Expence will be considerable, and your Draughts shall be honoured for the necessary.
A Year will soon be about, and what are We to do then with John? What Lawyer shall We desire to take him, in Town or Country? and what Sum must be given with him? and what will his Board and Cloathing cost? and where shall We get Money to pay all these Expences. Shall I come home and take all my Boys into my own office? I was once thought to have a tolerable Knack at making Lawyers, and now could Save a large sum by it. I am afraid I shall not get it done so cheap as I used to do it.
I dont see, why I should stay here, unless there should be a Change in the sentiments and Conduct of my fellow Citizens. There are however some Appearances of an approaching Change.2
Dr Gordons Language is decent and friendly as far as I have heard. I believe the Suspicion of him that appears to have taken Place in America is needless. What Profit he will make of his History I know not. It is a story that nobody here loves to read. Indeed, neither History nor Poetry, or any Thing but Painting and Musick, Balls and Spectacles, are in vogue. Reading is out of Fashion, and Philosophy itself has become a Fop gambolling in a Balloon, “idling { 211 } in the wanton summers Air,” like the Gossamour, so light is Vanity.3 Herschell indeed with his new Glass, has discovered the most magnificent Spectacle that ever was seen or imagined, and I suppose it is chiefly as a Spectacle that his Discovery is admired. If all those Single double, tripple quadruple Worlds are peopled as fully as every leaf and drop is in this, what a merry Company there is of Us, in the Universe?4 All fellow Creatures Insects Animalcules and all. Why are We keept so unacquainted with each other? I fancy We shall know each other better, and shall see that even Cards and Routs, dancing Dogs, learned Piggs,5 scientific Birds &c are not so despicable Things as We in our wonderful Wisdom sometimes think them.
The Bishop of Landaff, has made the Trees, not walk, but feel and think, and why should We not at once settle it that every Attom, thinks and feels?6 An universe tremblingly alive all over.
The more We pursue these Speculations the higher Sense We shall have of the Father, and Master of all, and the firmer Expectation that all which now Appears irregular will be found to be Design. But where have I rambled? Your Fnd
[signed] John Adams
RC (PHi: Society Collection).
1. To AA , above.
2. JA had received reports that New York, the only remaining state to approve the Continental impost, was considering its adoption, and that an interstate commercial convention was planned for Annapolis in September (from Charles Storer, 7 April; from Elbridge Gerry, 12 April; both Adams Papers).
3. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene vi, lines 18–19: “A lover may bestride the gossamer / That idles in the wanton summer air.”
4. Astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), who developed and built increasingly larger telescopes (up to forty feet in length), discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 and recently had completed Catalogue of Double Stars, Catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, and On the Construction of the Heavens, which contained the first approximately accurate model of the Milky Way ( DNB ).
5. For AA2 's reference to performing dogs, “the Learned Pig,” and other animal acts presented in London, see vol. 6:220 .
6. Richard Watson (1737–1816), bishop of Llandaff since 1782, was formerly professor of chemistry at Cambridge. JA 's library includes Watson's Chemical Essays, 3d edn., 4 vols. of 5, London, 1784–1786, and A Collection of Theological Tracts, Cambridge, 1785 ( DNB ; Catalogue of JA 's Library ). Watson's Chemical Essays was one of the first “popular” chemistry texts, selling over 2,000 copies in five years. His work discussed at length how flora and fauna respond to their environment, thus inspiring JA 's comments that trees might “feel and think” (4:preface).

Docno: ADMS-04-07-02-0078

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, John Quincy
Date: 1786-06-03

John Adams to John Quincy Adams

[salute] My dear son

Dr Gordon brought me your Letter of the 2d. of April, which gave me, great Pleasure. In order to get acquainted with the other { 212 } Classes enquire who are the most remarkable Scholars in each, and drop in upon them frankly, make them a visit in a Leisure hour at their Chambers, and fall into Conversation. Ask them about their Tutors manner of teaching. Observe what Books lie upon their Tables, ask Questions about the Towns they were born in, the Schools they were fitted in. Ask them about the late War, what good officers belonged to their Town. Who is the Minister and who the Representative and who the Justices or Judges that live there. What Brigade or Regiment of Militia it is in? &c Or fall into Questions of Literature, Science, or what you will.2
Dr Williams writes me, handsomely of You.3 Minute down Questions to ask him, modestly. He has Sent a Volume of the Transactions of the society of Arts and sciences to sir Joseph Banks,4 but not one of my Friends has thought of sending me one. I long for one.
One should always be a Year or two beforehand with ones affairs, if possible. Pray, do you think of any Place, or office in which to study Law? A Year will soon be round. Or shall I come home and take you into my office? Or are you so disgusted with our Greek Breakfasts at the Hague, and our Euclid suppers at Auteuil as to prefer another Praeceptor?
Take care of your Health. The smell of a Midnight lamp is very unwholesome. Never defraud yourself of your sleep, nor of your Walk. You need not now be in a hurry.
Your Books shall be sent you as soon as possible, but the Trade is so little with Boston and the less the better, that it will be I fear Several Months before I can send them. Love to Charles and Thomas. Your affectionate Father
[signed] John Adams
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr: Adams. April 2. 1786” and “My Father: About June 1786.”
1. An obvious inadvertence. JA 's endorsement on the letter from JQA of 2 April, above, says that he replied on 3 June.
2. During his senior year at Harvard, JQA intermittently entered in his Diary brief biographical accounts and assessments of his classmates. See Diary , 2:index, JQA —Writings and Personal Papers, for the location of each sketch.
“It gives us much pleasure to have two of your Sons in this University. Both of them [ JQA and CA ] are young Gentlemen from whom their friends have the most encouraging hopes and prospects. . . . The eldest has been with us but a short time; and appears to engage with ardor in mathematical and philosophical studies. He cannot do me a greater pleasure than to put it into my power to be of any service to him in this way”
(Samuel Williams to JA , 9 April, Adams Papers).
4. Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1st series, vol. 1, Boston, 1785. Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), a botanist, was president of the Royal Society, 1778–1820 ( DNB ).