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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0003-0003-0008

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1758-12-30

Saturday [30 December].

How a whole Family is put into a Broil sometimes by a Trifle.1 My P. and M.2 disagreed in Opinion about boarding Judah, that Difference occasioned passionate Expressions, those Expressions made Dolly and Judah snivell, Peter3 observed and mentioned it, I faulted him for it, which made him mad and all was breaking into a flame, when I quitted the Room, and took up Tully to compose myself. My P. continued cool and pleasant a good while, but had his Temper roused at last, tho he uttered not a rash Word, but resolutely asserted his Right to govern. My Mamma was determined to know what my P. charged a Week for the Girls Board. P. said he had not determined what to charge but would have her say what it was worth. She absolutely refused to say. But “I will know if I live and breath. I can read yet. Why dont you tell me, what you charge? You do it on purpose to teaze me. You are mighty arch this morning. I wont have all the Towns Poor brought here, stark naked, for me to clothe for nothing. I wont be a slave to other folks folk for nothing.”—And after the 2 Girls cryed.—“I must not speak a Word [to]4 your Girls, Wenches, Drabbs. I’le kick both their fathers, presently. [You]5 want to put your Girls over me, to make me a slave to your Wenches.” Thus when the Passions of Anger and Resentment are roused one Word will inflame them into Rage.
This was properly a conjugal Spat. A Spat between Husband and Wife. I might have made more critical observations on the Course and Progress of human Passions if I had steadily observed the faces, Eyes, Actions and Expressions of both Husband and Wife this morning.
M. seems to have no Scheme and Design in her Mind to persuade P. to resign his Trust of Selectman. But when she feels the Trouble and Difficulties that attend it she fretts, squibs, scolds, rages, raves. { 66 } None of her Speeches seem the Effect of any Design to get rid of the Trouble, but only natural Expressions of the Pain and Uneasiness, which that Trouble occasions. Cool Reasoning upon the Point with my Father, would soon bring her to his mind or him to hers.
Let me from this remark distinctly the Different Effects of Reason and Rage. Reason, Design, Scheme, governs pretty constantly in Put[nam]s House, but, Passion, Accident, Freak, Humour, govern in this House. Put knows what he wants, and knows the Proper means to procure it, and how to employ them. He employs, Reason, Ridicule, Contempt, to work upon his Wife.
I feel a fluttering concern upon my mind.6
Andrew Oliver is a very sagacious Trifler.7 He can decypher, with surprizing Penetration and Patience, any Thing wrote in signs, whether English, Latin, or French. But to what Purpose? Tis like great skill and Dexterity in Gaming, used only for Amuzement. With all his Expertness he never wins any Thing. But this is his Way to fame. One man would be a famous Orator, another a famous Physician, another a famous Phylosopher, or a 4th a famous Dancer, and he would be a famous Decypherer. But I am quite content with the 24 Letters without inventing all the possible Marks that might signify the same Things. Ned Q[uincy] is learning to be such another Nugator Sagax, an ar[t]ificial arrangement of Dots and Squares.
1. The whole of the entry recounting this domestic incident was omitted by CFA in editing JA’s Diary.
2. Papa and Mama, or Pater and Mater. Susanna (1709–1797), daughter of Peter and Ann (White) Boylston of Muddy River, or Brookline, married Deacon John Adams on 31 Oct. 1734; she married, 2d, John Hall, 3 Dec. 1766.
3. JA’s younger brother, Peter Boylston Adams (1738–1823); later a captain in the militia and holder of numerous local offices.
4. MS reads “for”—clearly an inadvertence by the diarist.
5. MS: “I”—another inadvertence.
6. This and the following paragraph, each separated in the MS by lines across the page from what precedes, may have been written on either 30 or 31 Dec. 1758 or even in Jan. 1759 preceding the several undated entries that apparently belong to that month.
7. Andrew Oliver Jr. (1731–1799), Harvard 1749, who published an Essay on Comets, Salem, 1772 (Eliot, Biog. Dict. of N.E.).

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0004-0001-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1759-01

Wednesday [January 1759].1

Drank Tea at Coll. Quincies. Spent the Evening there, and the next morning. In the afternoon, rode out to German Town.
H[annah] Q[uincy] or O.2 Suppose you was in your Study, engaged { 67 } in the Investigation of some Point of Law, or Philosophy, and your Wife should interrupt you accidentally and break the Thread of your Thoughts, so that you never could recover it?
Ego. No man, but a crooked Richard, would blame his Wife, for such an accidental Interruption. And No Woman, but a Xantippe, would insist upon her Husbands Company, after he had given her his Reasons for desiring to be alone.
O. Should you like to spend your Evenings, at Home in reading and conversing with your Wife, rather than to spend them abroad in Taverns or with other Company?
Ego. Should prefer the Company of an agreable Wife, to any other Company for the most Part, not always. I should not like to be imprisoned at home.
O. Suppose you had been abroad, and came home fatigued and perplexed, with Business, or came out of your Study, wearied and perplexed with Study, and your Wife should meet you with an unpleasant, or an inattentive face, how should you feel?
I would flee my Country, or she should.
O. How shall a Pair avoid falling into Passion or out of humour, upon some Occasions, and treating each other unkindly.
Ego. By resolving against it. Forbid angry words &c.?3 Every Person knows that all are liable to mistakes, and Errors, and if the Husband finds his Wife in one he should [ . . . ] reasonably4 and convince her of it, instead of being angry, and so on the Contrary. But if it happens, that both get out of humour and an angry dispute ensues, yet both will be sorry when their anger subsides, and mutually forgive and ask forgiveness, and love each other the better for it, for the future.
O. thinks more than most of her Sex. She is always thinking or Reading. She sitts and looks steadily, one way, very often, several minutes together in thought. E.5 looks pert, sprightly, gay, but thinks and reads much less than O.
[ . . . ]6 expos’d himself to Ridicule, by affectation, by Pretensions to Strength of mind and Resolution, to depth and Penetration. Pretensions to Wisdom and Virtue, superiour to all the World, will not be supported by Words only. If I tell a man I am wiser and better than he or any other man, he will either despize, or hate, or pity me, or perhaps all 3.—I have not conversed enough with the World, to behave rightly. I talk to Paine about Greek, that makes him laugh. I talk to Sam Quincy about Resolution, and being a great Man, and study and improving Time, which makes him laugh. I talk to Ned, about the { 68 } Folly of affecting to be a Heretick, which makes him mad. I talk to Hannah and Easther about the folly of Love, about despizing it, about being above it, pretend to be insensible of tender Passions, which makes them laugh. I talk to Mr. Wibirt about the Decline of Learning, tell him, I know no young fellow who promises to make a figure, cast Sneers on Dr. Marsh for not knowing the Value of old Greek and Roman Authors, ask “when will a Genius rise, that will shave his Beard, or let it grow rather and sink himself in a Cell, in order to make a figure.” I talk to Parson Smith7 about despizing gay Dress, grand Buildings, great Estates, fame, &c. and being contented with what will satisfy the real Wants of Nature.
All This is Affectation and Ostentation. ’Tis Affectation of Learning, and Virtue and Wisdom, which I have not, and it is a weak fondness to shew all that I have, and to be thot to have more than I have.
Besides this I have insensibly fallen into a Habit of affecting Wit and Humour, of Shrugging my Shoulders, and moving [and] distorting the Muscles of my face. My Motions are stiff and uneasy, ungraceful, and my attention is unsteady and irregular.
These are Reflections on myself that I make. They are faults, Defects, Fopperies and follies, and Disadvantages. Can I mend these faults and supply these Defects?
O. makes Observations on Actions, Characters, Events, in Popes Homer, Milton, Popes Poems, any Plays, Romances &c. that she reads and asks Questions about them in Company. What do you think of Helen? What do you think of Hector &c. What Character do you like best? Did you wish the Plot had not been discovered in Venice preserved?8 These are Questions that prove a thinking Mind. E. asks none such.
Thus in a Wild Campaign, a dissipating Party of Pleasure, observations and Improvement may be made. Some Foppery, and folly and Vice, may be discerned in ones self, and Motives, and Methods may be collected to subdue it. Some Virtue, or agreable Quality may be observed in ones self and improved and cherished, or in another and transplanted into ones self.
O. Tho O. knows and can practice the Art of pleasing, yet she fails, sometimes. She lets us see a face of Ridicule, and Spying, sometimes, inadvertently, tho she looks familiarly, and pleasantly for the most part. She is apparently frank, but really reserved, seemingly pleased, and almost charmed, when she is really laughing with Contempt. Her face and Hart have no Correspondence.
{ 69 }
Hannah checks Parson Wibirt with Irony.—It was very sawcy to disturb you, very sawcy Im sure &c.
I am very thankful for these Checks. Good Treatment makes me think I am admired, beloved, and [my] own Vanity will be indulged in me. So I dismiss my Gard and grow weak, silly, vain, conceited, ostentatious. But a Check, a frown, a sneer, a Sarcasm rouses my Spirits, makes me more careful and considerate. It may in short be made a Question, whether good Treatment or bad is the best for me, i.e. wether Smiles, kind Words, respectful Actions, dont betray me into Weaknesses and Littlenesses, that frowns, Satirical Speeches and contemptuous Behaviour, make me avoid.
Mr. Wibirt has not an unsuspicious openness of face. You may see in his face, a silly Pain when he hears the Girls, a whispering, and snickering.
Is Mrs. Palmer9 so infinitely sensible of such soft, tender scenes and actions, or, does she affect to appear so? Or is it partly affected and partly real?
Popularity, next to Virtue and Wisdom, ought to be aimed at. For it is the Dictate of Wisdom, and is necessary to the practice of Virtue in most.
Yesterday, went down to defend an Action for an old Horse vs. Samll. Spear. This was undertaking the relief of distressed Poverty, the Defence of Innocence and Justice, vs. Oppression, and Injustice. Capt. Thayer10 and Major Crosby too had told the Plaintiff that he could not maintain his Action, and advised him to drop it or agree it. And Thayer spoke out, “I would have these Parties agree.” I did not clearly understand the Case, had no Time to prepare to fix in my mind beforehand the Steps that I should take. And Capt. Hollis, Major Miller, and Captn. Thayer, were all 3 very active, and busy and interested themselves in the suit. It was a scene of absolute Confusion. Major Crosby persuading an Agreement, the Parties raging and scolding, I arguing and the 3 Voluntiers proposing each one his Project. And all the Spectators smiling, whispering &c. My Attention was dissipated. I committed oversights, omissions, inexpert Management. I should have adhered to the Relation my Client gave me, and be• { 70 } lieved nothing that came from the other side, without Proof. I should have insisted upon the Entry, and opposed any Motion for an Adjournment till next Week or Continuance till next Hour, to send for Witnesses. For Madam Q. could not swear any Thing, that can support this Action. Should have offered to admit all she could say. If I had strictly pursued the story, that my Client told me, I should have demanded an Entry of the Action, or else a Dismission of the Defendant with Costs. It was equally idle and tame [lame?] to continue the Action, to send for a Witness, and to submit it to referees. For the Witness if sent for could not support the Action, and to submit the original Debt to Referees, was to submit nothing. For by the original Agreement, nothing was due. Agreement was to take the Horse and keep him, and if he lived till April, to pay 2 dollars for him, but if he died before, to pay nothing. Now he actually died in February, and therefore nothing by Contract was to be paid. The Keeping of so old an Horse was more than the service he could do, was worth. The Hay he eat would have hired more riding and drawing than that Horse did thro that Winter.
If Spear had applied to such as know, he would not have brot that Writ. But Deputy Sheriffs, petit Justices, and pettifogging Meddlers, like Faxon, Niles, Hollis, attempt to draw Writts, and draw them wrong oftener than they do right.
The Declaration was an Indeb[itatus] Ass[umpsit] with an Account annexed, for a Horse, sold and delivered. He could have proved, by Spears Confession, that he had the Horse, but could not prove the Sale or Delivery of the Horse, nor could he prove any Price agreed on by the Parties. Far from producing Proof of any express Price agreed on by the Parties at the sale and Delivery, he cant prove the Sale and delivery itself. Now to maintain an Action on an Indeb. Ass. the Plaintiff must aver in his Declaration, and prove at the Trial, a certain, express Price, agreed on by the Parties, or else a customary Price. Tis true there is this Exception to the general Rule, that Merchants and Tradesmen, who keep running Accounts open with their Customers, and deal out their Commodities and Manufactures in small Parcells, shall be allowed to produce their Account Books in Evidence, and if they will swear that they made the Entries of the several Articles att the times they were delivered, and that they charged the Price for them, that was at that time customary, they shall be allowed to recover. But is this Case like that. Will Mr. Spear swear that he entered this Article at the time of the Sale and delivery, and will he swear that he charged the customary Price? Pray what is the Customary Price of a { 71 } Horse. Are not some customar[il]y bot for £100 and some for less than £100.
I must study how to manage Eb. and Atherton Thayer and Hollis, and Eb. Miller and Faxon. They are meddlers, hinters, and Projectors. I should have made a Motion to the Justice, that either the Defendant or I might be consulted in the settlement of this Affair, and that Miller, Hollis and Thayer who had no concern with it, might not determine it, as they please.—I pray your Honour to silence the Clamour of those who have no Concern with the Matter, that those who have may be heard.
Capt. Thayer pretends to great Knowledge in the Law. He could not bear to lose the Honor of knowing and telling Mr. Spear, that an Indeb. Ass. could not lie, but that Quant[um] Mer[uit] could [in] this Case. He was proud, bragged of it before all the Company, bragged, boast[ed], was ostentatious of his Knowledge in Law. So many hinting advice, making Proposals, &c., make Confusion.
O. Pain aims at so many Things, but especially at getting Cash, that he will be distracted. He pursues Cash with all his Hart and soul. He writes well and tells a very droll story, but he is very peevish, fretful, odd tempered. He thinks himself in high favour with the Ladies, but he little thinks how he is blasted sometimes.
1. This is one of only two entries in Jan. 1759 that bear even an indication of the day of the week on which they were written, the next fully dated entry being that of 1 Feb. 1759. The January entries have therefore been placed in two groups but with intervals of space between what may be entries written on different days. A word of caution: since the pages of the MS are loose, it is not always possible to tell with certainty what the original order of the entries was. Their order as printed by CFA is highly arbitrary.
2. In the MS the words “H.Q. or” have been crossed out but in so halfhearted a way that they provide a key to the name of a girl who courted JA rather more energetically than he courted her. This was Hannah (1736–1826), daughter of Col. Josiah Quincy, who was in 1760 to marry Dr. Bela Lincoln. The initial “O.” stands for a fanciful name that may have been Olinda or Orlinda (Salisbury, Family-Memorials, 1:359; JA to Richard Cranch [1759?], in Adams Papers).
3. In the MS this sentence is badly rubbed, and some words have been scored out; the present reading is highly conjectural.
4. The illegible verb may be “use,” in which case JA meant to write “use reason,” as CFA rendered this passage.
5. Esther (1738–1810), daughter of Edmund Quincy and Hannah’s first cousin; she married JA’s friend Jonathan Sewall in 1764.
6. Apparently two initials, now illegible.
7. Rev. William Smith (1707–1783), Harvard 1725, of Weymouth, who was in 1764 to become JA’s father-in-law.
8. Venice Preserv’d, a play by Thomas Otway produced and published in London in 1682.
9. Mary (Cranch) Palmer (d. 1790), wife of Deacon Joseph Palmer of Germantown and sister of JA’s friend Richard Cranch.
10. Capt. Ebenezer Thayer (1721–1794), son and father of other Ebenezer Thayers, was for many years a Braintree { 72 } selectman and representative to the General Court. JA disliked him on two counts: he kept a tavern in the Middle Precinct and dabbled in legal practice.
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/