A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
close

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5


Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0226

Author: Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
Recipient: Cranch, Elizabeth
Recipient: Norton, Elizabeth Cranch
Date: 1784-09-04

Abigail Adams 2d to Elizabeth Cranch

Here my Dear Eliza is your friend placed in a little village two or three miles from Paris, unknowing and unknown to every person around her except our own family. Without a friend a companion, or an acquaintance of my own sex. In this may I expect to spend the next Winter, retired, within myself, and my chamber, studiously indeavouring, to gain a knowledge of the French Language which I assure you I find not a very easy matter.
There are at Present fewer American Ladies here than for some years past. Ladies of our own Country are the only ones with whom we can with pleasure or satisfaction have any society with. We have become acquainted with Mrs. Volnay,2 and find her an agreeable Woman. Mrs. Hay dined with us yesterday, with another American Lady. She intends to spend the Winter in France, but not near us3—which I regret very much. We should find so agreeable a Woman quite an acquisition.
Were I to attempt giving you my real opinion or a just description of this Country and of the City of Paris in particular I am sure you would not believe it. The people are I believe, the dirtiest creatures in the Human race. Paris has been stiled a beautifull City, perhaps it is judged by the strict rules of—architecture and proportion—but it strikes the eye as very far from beautifull. The streets are very narrow in general, and the buildings amaizing high, all built of stone, and which was once white but by the smoke and dirt they have acquired, a very disagreeable appearance. The publick building[s] are I believe more elegant than in London. I was last Eve at the French Comedy4 which is a most beautifull building without, and within it is the most { 429 } elegant perhaps in the World. But as a City I do not think that Paris in point of beauty and elegance, will bear a comparison with London.
The appearance of the lower class of people, is of a heavy leaden kind of creatures, whose greatest art and what indeed is most attended to by almost all classes is to cheat you of as much as they possibly can, in which they succeed with strangers, much to their own satisfaction.
I shall learn to prize my own Country above all others. If there is not so much elegance and beauty and so many sources of amusement and entertainment, there is what to every honest and virtuous mind will be far preferable, a sincerity, and benevolence which must be prized above every other consideration. Even those who do not possess it admire it in others. I do not see an American that does not ardently wish to return to their Country. Of this I am sure, that it is the first wish of my heart, and <only> not three months absent. At the end of twelve months I shall be quite satisfied with Europe, and impatient to return home.
No arrivals from America since I received yours5 by Mr. Tracy's Ship. I am impatient to hear, from my friends. If they knew what a pleasure and satisfaction they would confer upon me sure I am that they would never permit a Ship to sail without letters. You must remember that I have a dozen Correspondents, and you have to write only to one, and that one feels more interested than ever in every circumstance that may affect her friends. Tell me all about our circle, and what each have done and are doing, who is married and who Dead the two important periods you know. Our friend Miss J—is perhaps by this Mrs. R—. Ah Eliza I shall set down the day as Julia says, and leave its property [it properly?] blank. Time will fill it up. Sincerely do I wish her happy. Perhaps you have by this heard as much of the matter as I did before I left Boston. Interested friends should be very cautious that their influence does not lead them to advise to too great a sacrifise.
How is Nannett—on the high road. I shall be disappointed if I do not hear she is—from my observations when I last saw her. Oh that I could as easily transport myself in reality as I do in idea, amidst you all, you would indeed see a happy Girl if I could. But alas, I have long to sacrifise at the shrine of patience till my own will be quite exhausted I believe.
Remember me affectionately to your family—all of them. To your sister I shall write, from your Brother I shall be happy to hear. When { 430 } I set down to write to my friends, and in idea place myself amongst them, I say to myself surely it is impossible that we are indeed so far seperated.

[salute] Remember me to every one who take the pains to inquire or feels interested enough to think of your friend

[signed] A Adams
RC (MHi: C. P. Cranch Papers); addressed: “Miss Eliza Cranch. Braintree”; endorsed: “Auteiul. AA. Sepr. 4. 1784”; and docketed in another hand: “Letter from Miss A. Adams to Miss Eliz. Cranch France Sepr. 4. 1784.”
1. On 17 Aug., the Adamses “removed to Auteuil . . . at the House of the Comte de Rouault, opposite the Conduit. The House, the Garden, the Situation near the Bois de Boulogne, elevated above the River Seine and the low Grounds, and distant from the putrid Streets of Paris, is the best I could wish for” (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 3:171). Auteuil was then a village on the right bank of the Seine, about four miles west of Paris, and one mile south of Passy, where Benjamin Franklin had lived since 1777, and where Franklin, Jefferson, and JA regularly conducted their business during the Adams' stay in Auteuil. Boileau, Molière, and several other distinguished French authors had established country villas at Auteuil in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. JA and JQA had stayed at the Comte de Rouault's house from 22 Sept. to 20 Oct. 1783, while JA was recuperating from a serious illness, at the invitation of its tenant, Thomas Barclay, the U.S. consul general in France, and Barclay arranged JA's rental of the house in 1784.
The Adamses lived in the Hôtel de Rouault, a large, elegant structure built early in the century, from 17 Aug. 1784 to 20 May 1785, when they departed for London. The house is fully described in AA's letters of September and December, below. It is effectively illustrated with photographs taken in the 1940s in Rice, The Adams Family in Auteuil; and in JA, Diary and Autobiography, 3:xi–xii, and opposite p. 257 (photograph ca. 1920). Further information on the Adams' stay in Auteuil and their activities in Paris is in JA, Diary and Autobiography, 3:120, note 1, 143–146, 171–178; JQA, Diary, 1:209–266; and AA2, Jour. and Corr., 1:14–78.
2. Eunice Quincy Valnais. Eunice Quincy, a distant cousin of AA2, had married Joseph de Valnais, the French consul in Boston, in 1781 (JQA, Diary, 1:210, note 1; AA to Mercy Warren, 5 Sept., below).
3. Katharine Hay was traveling with Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Mather of Boston, and would spend the winter in Beaugency, fifteen miles southwest of Orleans and about eighty miles southwest of Paris (JQA, Diary, 1:210, and note 2; Katharine Hay to AA, 1 Nov., Adams Papers; Hay to AA, 17 Dec., and 7 March 1785, both below).
4. AA2 went with JQA; the play was Le mariage de Figaro (JQA, Diary, 1:210). The Comédie Française opened its new theater, the largest in Paris (1900 seats) in 1782, at what became the Place de l'Odéon. Highly successful in the 1780s, when the Adamses and Thomas Jefferson frequently attended its productions, the theater became politically factionalized during the French Revolution, and the building was destroyed by fire in 1807. The present Théâtre de l'Odéon was built on the site in 1819. Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel.
5. Not found, but see AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, 30 July, above.

Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0227

Author: Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
Recipient: Cranch, Lucy
Recipient: Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch
Date: 1784-09-04

Abigail Adams 2d to Lucy Cranch

No. 1
Will you not think me very unmindfull of you my Dear Lucy that I have not ere this, written you. Be assured that it has not been for { 431 } any reason, but Want of time. A want of subject I am realy ashaimed to offer as an appology, however just it may be, when you will undoubedly suppose me presented with subjects every day to employ my pen upon. There is indeed ample scope for the immagination of an observing sentimental mind to employ itself in. You will be better convinced from my letters than from my assureances, that I either always was or have grown very stupid. A person of a sprightly imagination would find ten thousand scources of amusement and entertainment, a description of which would afford a fund of entertainment, which I pass over without even knowing that they exist.
With this crow quil that I now write and the beautifull flower garden of which I have a fine prospect from the Window I am now sitting at, and the voice of a pretty lass in a garden adjoining, would inspire your Sister Betsys imagination with poetical images sufficient to compose ten pages of poetry—while I can only view them as they realy are, and admire the variety of the flowers and their various colours with the exact proportion of their manner of growing, and can only observe upon the crow quil, that it is much smaller than a goose quil, and that I can write much better with it. Dont you think so too Lucy.1
Believe me my Cousin that comeing to Europe alters people very little. I think my Mammas head is more Metamorphosed than any think elce about us, unless it is your Cousins waist which the mantuamakers have brought to a much less compass than you would believe it possible. The former, has not gained in point of beauty I assure you. It is naturial I believe for us to suppose that people alter in a few months, if they visit Europe. When we hear from them we expect something new, and agreeable, and when we see them again we expect to find them other kind of beings than what we used to know. These expectations are false and will ever be disappointed. It is best for every one to banish the idea and to expect no more of their friends, than that they are and will be human beings. If they are humane after seing and Liveing in this European World, they deserve some merit I assure you.
We have seen but little French company yet. I have seen but one French Lady or rather I have been in company with but one. She was a Lady of Sixty years of age with whom I dined this week at Dr. Franklins.2 I wish it were possible to give you a just idea of her. I know not in America any person of any class that would serve as a description, or comparison, unless it is Mrs. Hunt3 when she is crazy. I could not judge of her conversation as I could not understand a { 432 } word, but if it was in unison with her dress, and manners, I assure you that I consider myself fortunate that I did not. She was a person of some distinction here, a Widow, who has erected a monument to the memory of her husband. From this circumstance and from the character I had heard of her, I was very much disappointed. It would be very wrong to form a judment of the Ladies in general from this one disagreeable figure. When I become more acquainted I will give you a further idea of them.
One of my Pappas friends the Abbyes who visits us very frequently and, is a Man of a good deel of Wit, tho perhaps past sixty years old, himself, and the youngest of three who visit us,4 told me the other day that the French Ladies Counted their age, as you do a game of Piquet. They were always twenty Nine till they were sixty.
I have been writing all day to America. A good opportunity presents from hence to London, and I hear that several Ships sail for America in the course of the next week, and I would not fail to write by every opportunity that presents as I well know from experience, the anxiety of not hearing from our friends and especially of the disagreeable situation of mind when a Ship arrives without any letters.
Remember me to all our friends, to Louisa,5 in particular. I have not time or I would write to her. Write me often Lucy and believe me your friend
[signed] A Adams
RC (MWA: Abigail Adams Corr.).
1. The formation of the characters in this letter, and even more in AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, of this same day, above, is sharper and more precise than most of AA2's letters to Elizabeth Cranch written in America in 1782–1784.
2. This is the celebrated Anne-Catherine, Comtesse de Ligniville d'Autricourt, Madame Helvétius, widow of the philosophe Claude Adrien Helvétius, a near neighbor of the Adamses at Auteuil, and hostess of a major salon, often called l'Académie d'Auteuil. She was sixty-five in 1784. The dinner occurred on 1 Sept. (AA2, Jour. and Corr., 1:17); AA describes Mme. Helvétius even more vividly on that occasion in her letter to Lucy Cranch, 5 Sept., below. Madame Helvétius had been one of Benjamin Franklin's most intimate friends from his arrival in Passy in 1777. He called her Notre Dame d'Auteuil, proposed marriage to her in the winter of 1779–80 (she declined), and maintained a correspondence with her after his return to America. See Claude-Anne Lopez, Mon Cher Papa: Franklin and the Ladies of Paris, New Haven, 1966, chaps. 9–10, and the descriptive list of illustrations.
3. Not identified, but see the reference to “Miss Hannah Hunt” in Mary Cranch to AA, 6 Nov., below.
4. This is the Abbé Arnoux, whom AA thought to be about fifty (to Mary Cranch, 5 Sept. below). His senior colleagues were the Abbé Chalut, whom AA judged to be about seventy-five, and the Abbé de Mably, whom she thought about eighty, but who was actually seventy-five (same; JA, Diary and Autobiography, 4:59–60; JQA, Diary, 1:260).
5. Perhaps AA2's cousin Louisa Catharine Smith.
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/