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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5


Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0055

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1783-02-26

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

“A Court,” as John Dryden informed me, before Experience, “is a place of forgetfulness for well deservers.1 It is infectious even to the best Morals to live always in it.2 It is a dangerous Commerce where an honest Man is sure at the first of being cheated; and he recovers not his losses, but by learning to cheat others. The undermining Smile becomes at length habitual; and the drift of his plausible Conversation is only to flatter one, that he may betray another. Yet it is good to have been a Looker on, without venturing to play; that a Man may know false Dice another Time, tho' he never means to use { 99 } them. I commend not him who never knew a Court, but him who forsakes it because he knows it.”
Experience has not only given me an Understanding but a feeling of these Observations. I am so disgusted at all Courts, that I long to get away from all of them; and however unpromising and melancholy my Prospects are for myself and Family, in retirement, I had rather take my Chance in it, than remain at any Court in the World. I can live upon a little and teach my Children to do so too as yet, while they have no Habits of Expence: but those Habits once changed, Adieu to all Happiness both for them and me.
I am so bent upon coming home; that it would be a cruel Disappointment to me, to be obliged to stay another Year in Europe, which is a possible and but barely a possible Case. Congress, in Complaisance to a Frenchman,3 revoked my Commission to the King of Great Britain, and the same Complaisance continuing they will appoint some other Person to that important Mission, or will delay appointing any one. But if Congress should think the Honor, Dignity and most important Interests of the United States concerned in an immediate Restoration of that Commission to me, I cannot in honor, and I ought not, from Regard to the Publick, to refuse it. But Faction, Finesse and Intrigue, which first took away the Commission, will no doubt continue to keep it away. I shall therefore certainly come home. If my Resignation is not accepted, but is drawn out into length, I must come home of my own head—for my Family at all Events I must and will join—J'ai besoin d'être Pere, as King Lear says.4
Even if Congress should restore my Commission to Great Britain, don't You think of coming till You hear from me, because I shall probably be going home while You are coming here, and We shall miss each other.
I have lived too long without my Family for the Health of my Body or Mind, and God willing the Seperation shall come to an End.5
LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers).
1. In the dedication to Philip, earl of Chesterfield, of Dryden's translation of Virgil's Georgics. JA quotes from this same dedication in his first letter of 27 Feb., below.
2. JA left out the first half of this sentence: “It is necessary, for the polishing of manners, to have breathed that air; but.”
3. Either Vergennes or his envoy in America, La Luzerne. See JA to AA, 4 Feb., note 4, above.
4. Because he quotes from King Lear in French, JA may have attended the production of the play by the Comédie Française given in January (Le roi Léar . . . représentée à Versailles, devant leur majestés, le jeudi 16 janvier 1783, & à Paris, le lundi 20 du mème mois, par les comédiens françois, Paris, 1789).
5. The present letter was the first of four that JA wrote to AA within two days, evidently to take advantage of several vessels sailing for America (see Charles Storer to AA, 26 April, below). John Thaxter copied all four into JA's { 100 } Letterbook, but only the second letter of 27 Feb., below, survives in the recipient's copy. Although the substance of all four letters is similar, their various references to the reading that JA was doing while he waited for the signing of the definitive treaties, an event he hoped for every day, all show something of his state of mind.

Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0056

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1783-02-27

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

Dryden, whom I have always loved to read now and then, because I learn something from him, informs me,1 if I did not know it before, that “it hath been observed in former times that none have been so greedy of Employments, and of managing the Publick, as they who have least deserved their Stations. But such only merit to be called Patriots, under whom We see their Country flourish. I have laughed sometimes,2 when I have reflected on those Men, who from time to time have shot themselves into the World. I have seen many successions of them; some bolting out upon the Stage with vast applause, and others hissed off, and quitting it with disgrace. But while they were in Action, I have constantly observed, that they seemed desirous to retreat from Business—Greatness they said was nauseous, and a Crowd was troublesome; a quiet Privacy was their Ambition. Some few of them I believe said this in earnest, and were making a Provision against Futurity, that they might enjoy their Age with Ease. They saw the happiness of private Life, and promised to themselves a Blessing which every day it was in their Power to possess. But they deferred it, and lingered still at Court, because they thought they had not yet enough to make them happy. They would have more, and laid in to make their Solitude luxurious. A wretched Philosophy, which Epicurus never taught them in his Garden: they loved the prospect of this quiet in Reversion, but were not willing to have it in Possession. They would first be old, and made as sure of Health and Life, as if both of them were at their dispose. But put them to the Necessity of a present Choice, and they preferred Continuance in Power, like the Wretch who called Death to his Assistance, but refused him when he came. The great Scipio was not of their Opinion, who indeed sought Honors in his Youth, and endured the fatigues with which he purchased them. He served his Country, when it was in need of his Courage and Conduct, until he thought it was time to serve himself: but dismounted from the Saddle, when he found the Beast which bore him began to grow restif and ungovernable.”
I have constantly and severely felt this desire to retreat from Business—But have never made this Provision for futurity, that I { 101 } might enjoy my Age with Ease, much less have I ever wished for a luxurious Solitude.
I have never in any part of my public Life sought Profits or Honors. It was my Destiny to come into Life at a critical dangerous time, and to see Prospects before me that I dreaded and wished to avoid but could not, with Honor or a good Conscience. I took my Part according to the Dictates of my Heart and Head, and have gone thro' it and all its Horrors, and landed the Public safe and glorious in the Harbour of Peace. Thanks be to God! No Honors, not a Crown—no Profits, not all the Indias, would be the smallest Temptation to me now to go thro' it again, nor would ever have tempted me to begin it. I thought it my Duty and that I should be a guilty Wretch if I did not do it. I have done it to the best of my Understanding, Health and Strength.
I seek not Honors nor Profits now. But I have now a Right to be exempted from Dishonour, Spots, Stains and Disgrace. Congress have stained and soiled me. They must wipe it out, or I throw off their Livery.

[salute] Yours with the same Sentiments as ever.

LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers). This and the two letters of the same date that immediately follow are printed here in the order in which they are entered in the LbC.
1. From Dryden's dedication to his translation of Virgil's Georgics, see JA to AA, 26 Feb., note 1, above.
2. JA here omits Dryden's parenthetical question: “for who would always be a Heraclitus?”
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/