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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 6


Docno: ADMS-04-06-02-0097

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Cranch, Lucy
Recipient: Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch
Date: 1785-08-27

Abigail Adams to Lucy Cranch

[salute] My dear Lucy

I have not yet noticed your obliging favor of April 26th,1 which reached me by Captain Lyde, whilst I was at the Bath Hotel. I had then so much upon my hands, that I did not get time to write but to your mamma and cousin, who I hope is with you before now. By him I wrote many letters, and amongst the number of my friends, my dear Lucy was not omitted.2
If I did not believe my friends were partial to all I write, I should sometimes feel discouraged when I take my pen; for, amongst so large a number of correspondents, I feel at a loss how to supply them all.
It is usual at a large entertainment, to bring the solid food in the first course. The second consists of lighter diet, kickshaws, trifles, whip syllabub, &c.; the third is the dessert, consisting of the fruits of the season, and sometimes foreign sweetmeats. If it would not be paying my letters too great a compliment to compare any of them to solid food, I should feel no reluctance at keeping up the metaphor with respect to the rest. Yet it is not the studied sentence, nor the elaborate period, which pleases, but the genuine sentiments of the heart expressed with simplicity. All the specimens, which have been handed down to us as models for letter-writing, teach us that natural ease is the greatest beauty of it. It is that native simplicity too, which gives to the Scotch songs a merit superior to all others. My favorite3 Scotch song, “There's na luck about the house,” will naturally occur to your mind.
I believe Richardson has done more towards embellishing the present age, and teaching them the talent of letter-writing, than any { 313 } other modern I can name. You know I am passionately fond of all his works, even to his “Pamela.” In the simplicity of our manners, we judge that many of his descriptions and some of his characters are beyond real life; but those, who have been conversant in these old corrupted countries, will be soon convinced that Richardson painted only the truth in his abandoned characters; and nothing beyond what human nature is capable of attaining, and frequently has risen to, in his amiable portraits. Richardson was master of the human heart; he studied and copied nature; he has shown the odiousness of vice, and the fatal consequences which result from the practice of it; he has painted virtue in all her amiable attitudes; he never loses sight of religion, but points his characters to a future state of restitution as the sure ground of safety to the virtuous, and excludes not hope from the wretched penitent. The oftener I have read his books, and the more I reflect upon his great variety of characters, perfectly well supported, the more I am led to love and admire the author. He must have an abandoned, wicked, and depraved heart, who can be tempted to vice by the perusal of Richardson's works. Indeed, I know not how a person can read them without being made better by them, as they dispose the mind to receive and relish every good and benevolent principle. He may have faults, but they are so few, that they ought not to be named in the brilliant clusters of beauties which ornament his works. The human mind is an active principle, always in search of some gratification; and those writings which tend to elevate it to the contemplation of truth and virtue, and to teach it that it is capable of rising to higher degrees of excellence than the mere gratification of sensual appetites and passions, contribute to promote its mental pleasures, and to advance the dignity of our natures. Sir Joshua Reynolds's observations4 with respect to painting may be applied to all those works which tend to refine the taste, “which, if it does not lead directly to purity of manners, obviates, at least, their greatest depravation, by disentangling the mind from appetite, and conducting the thoughts through successive stages of excellence, till that contemplation of universal rectitude and harmony, which began by taste, may, as it is exalted and refined, conclude in virtue.”
Why may we not suppose, that, the higher our attainments in knowledge and virtue are here on earth, the more nearly we assimilate ourselves to that order of beings who now rank above us in the world of spirits? We are told in scripture,5 that there are different kinds of glory, and that one star differeth from another. Why should not those who have distinguished themselves by superior excellence over their { 314 } fellow-mortals continue to preserve their rank when admitted to the kingdom of the just? Though the estimation of worth may be very different in the view of the righteous Judge of the world from that which vain man esteems such on earth, yet we may rest assured that justice will be strictly administered to us.
But whither has my imagination wandered? Very distant from my thoughts when I first took my pen.
We have a large company to dine with us to-day, and I have some few arrangements to make before dinner, which obliges me to hasten to a conclusion; among the persons invited, is a gentleman who married the only daughter of Richardson.6 She died about six months ago. This gentleman has in his possession the only portrait of her father which was ever taken. He has several times invited me to go to his house and see it. I design it, though I have not yet accepted his invitation.
Write to me, my dear Lucy, and be assured I speak the words of truth and soberness when I tell you that your letters give real pleasure to Your affectionate aunt,
[signed] A.A.
MS not found. Printed from (AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1848, p. 261–263; 1841, 2:109–112; 1840, p. 306–310.)
1. Not found.
2. To Lucy Cranch, 6 May, above.
3. The 1840 edition lacks “favorite.”
4. The 1840 edition has “observation.”
5. “Scripture” is capitalized in the 1840 edition. The scriptural verse is 1 Corinthians 15:41.
6. Edward Bridgen had married Martha Richardson (see AA2 to JQA, 4 July, above).

Docno: ADMS-04-06-02-0098

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Storer, Elizabeth
Recipient: Smith, Elizabeth Storer
Date: 1785-08-29

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Storer Smith

[salute] My dear Madam

Mr. Storer your worthy Nephew will be the Bearer of this Letter. I congratulate his Friends upon his return to them, after several Years absence, tho we shall essentially feel his loss, being as much attached to him as if he was our own. The appointment of a secretary of Legation prevents Mr. Adams from taking any other, which he realy stands in need of. If he had been allowed one, Mr. Storer would have had the preference, and we should have had much pleasure in keeping him in our family. I hope by returning to America he will be able to do better. A Young Gentleman at his time of Life, ought to be establishing himself in some profession, whereby he may serve himself and his generation. It was a thorugh conviction of this truth, that induced us to part with our Son, who I hope is safe arrived before { 315 } this time in his Native Country, where by application and industry he may be sure of obtaining his Bread.
The more my dear Madam that I see of Europe the more I am attached to the method of Education persued in the state of Massachusets. If our Youth have not all those opportunities for improvement in some branches of Literature, and the fine Arts, which these old countries can boast, they have sufficient to qualify them for any departments they may be called to fill. An acquaintance with foreign Countries, is no doubt a benifit when properly improved, as it tends to <improve> remove prejudices, and enlarge the mind. But I question much whether out of the many Youth who come Anually from all parts of America, more of them do not return with corrupted morals, and a distaste to the purer manners of our own Country, than with improved understandings or wiser Heads. As to civility of behaviour, politeness of Manners, true Hospitality and Benevolence, this Country have much more need of going to America to learn them, than our Country has of any embelishment this can bestow. I have seen and heard more narrow prejudice, more Illiberality of Sentiment, not merely with regard to America, but every other Country and its inhabitants; since my residence here, than I ever Saw or heard in America in my whole Life. And all the contracted Sentiments which we ever possesst with respect to other Countries, we imbibed from this, when we Reverenced her and her sentiments as our parent. But as soon as we came to think and act for ourselves, we broke the shackles.
I have never been in company since my return from France without being immediately ask'd which Country I prefer? This I should esteem as mere words of Course if I did not see how quick it touches them to have the least preference in any respect given to France; tho on many accounts I like this Country best, and have in my heart a greater fondness for it, I have been often tempted to shew the Contrary, on purpose to mortify the pride of this people, who realy in point of civility to strangers, and good Breeding, are not to be compared with their Neighbours whom they so contemptably despise. You will think I fear that I am desplaying those very prejudicies which I condemn; but I will appeal to the judgment of all my Countrymen who have visited the two Countries.
Dr. Price has the most liberal sentiments of any Gentleman I have heard converse since my residence here, he is indeed one of the best of Men, but the dessenting Clergy in this Country appear a very different set of Men from those which inhabit ours. They are { 316 } cramped contemned and degraded, they have not that independant appearence, and that consciousness of their own worth which gives an Air of dignity to the whole deportment. Dr. Price notwithstanding his literary fame, and his great abilities, appears like a Man who has been brow beaten. In America he would be revered and caresed, as his merit deserves.
We had a visit the other day from Mr. Tom. Boylstone. He appears to have an affection for Boston and his old Friends, tho he will not allow that there are any honest folks there, my good uncle excepted. He appears to wish for an amicable settlement between the two Countries, tho he says he shall not live to enjoy it.1 He has had a severe fever which he says has left him weak as a Child in Body and Mind. His Nerves are much affected. You will easily believe he is allarmed when I tell you that he keeps a Pheaton and pair,2 and rides every day. He talks of going to the South of France for the winter.
I have been once to see Mrs. Hollowell since I returnd,3 she seems much broke since last I saw her. If I was not here in a publick Character, I should visit her more, and cultivate our old family Friendship, but there are persons who will belie one, and say things which were never meant or thought of, so that there is no safety but in keeping quite clear. Many of the Refugees appear to have lost all Idea of truth, and even those who are well disposed too readily credit their assertions.
I visit Mr. Vassels family, and have seen there, a Mrs. Hobart, who always kindly inquires after you.
I shall miss Mrs. Atkinson and am very sorry to part with her. Mrs. Hay and She are to dine with me to day. You will be so good as to remember me kindly to Mr. Otis and Lady to all my cousins and be assured Dear Madam that I am most affectionately Yours
[signed] AA
Nabby desires her duty and Love to all her Friends.
RC (MHi: Smith-Carter Papers); addressed: “Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Boston”; notation in pencil: “Mrs. Adam[s] London—1785.” A mend at a fold obscures the notation. Dft (Adams Papers).
1. The draft concludes the sentence: “but looks to me as if he would not live long to enjoy it.”
2. AA likely refers to Boylston's notorious stinginess; see vol. 2:295, and note 2; 4:342, note 2.
3. The draft continues: “she is much broken I think since I saw her last year. I should be fond of keeping up an acquaintance and Friendship with the family for her sake, but it is so difficult to visit any of these people without being belied by those with whom one cannot have any connection and who are full of resentment, that I know not any safety in their company.” Despite her caution, AA did become a close friend of Mary Boylston Hallowell, who was JA's mother's first cousin.
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/