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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0004-0002-0003

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1759-02-11

Worcester Feb. 11. 1759.

I have been in this Town a Week this night. How much have I improved my Health by Exercise, or my mind by Study or Conversation, in this Space? I have exercised little, eat and drank and slept intemperately. Have inquired a little, of Mr. Putnam and of Abel Willard, concerning some Points of Practice in Law. But dining once at Coll. Chandlers, once at Mr. Pains, once at the Doctors, drinking Tea once at Mr. Paines, once at the Drs. and spending one Evening at the Drs., one at Gardi[ner]s and several at Putnams in Company has wasted insensibly the greatest and best Part of my time since I have been in Town. Oh how I have fulfilled the vain Boast I made to Dr. Webb, of reading 12 Hours a day! What a fine scene of study is this office! a fine Collection of Law, oratory, History, and Phylosophy. But I must not stay. I must return to Braintree. I must attend a long Superiour Court at Boston. How shall I pursue my Plan of Study?
Bo[b] Paine acted a scene that happened on the Com[mon] when the Troops were reviewed by the Governor.1 People crouded very near to the Troops, till a highland serjeant of a gigantic size, and accoutred with a Variety of Instruments of Cruelty and Death, stalked out with his vast Halbert to drive them back. He brandished his Halbert and smote it on the Ground and cryed with a broad, Roaring Voice, Sta ban, i.e. Stand back. Sta ba. His size, armour, Phyz and Voice, frighted People so that they presd backwards and almost trampled on one another. But in the highest of his fury, he sprung onward, and shri[ek]ed out Sta, but then saw some Ladies before him, which softened him. At once, he drops his Halbert, takes off his Bonnet, and makes a very complaisant Bow, pray Ladies, please to stand a little back, you will see a great deal better.
Pain lifts up his Eyes and Hands to Heaven and cryes, of all Instruments of Defence, good Heavens, give me Beauty. It could soften the ferocity of your highland serjeant.
{ 77 }
Paine and Dr. Wendel took Katy Quincy and Polly Jackson, and led them into a retired Room and there laughed, and screamed, and kissed and hussled. They came out glowing like furnaces.
Mr. Marsh.2 Father Flynt has been very gay and sprightly, this sickness.3 Coll. Quincy was to see him, a fast day, and was or appeared to be, as he was about taking leave of the old Gentleman, very much affected. The Tears flowed very fast.—I hope Sir says he in [a] Voice of Grief, you will excuse my Passions.—Ay, prithy, says the old Man, I dont care much for you, nor your Passions neither.
F. Morris said to him, “you are going Sir to Abrahams Bosom, but I dont know but I shall reach there first.”—“Ay if you are a going there, I dont want to go.”
I spent one Evening this Week at Billy Belchers. I sat, book in Hand, on one side of the fire, while Dr. Wendell, Billy Belcher and Stephen Cleverly and another young Gentleman sat, in silence, round the Card Table, all the Evening. Two Evenings I spent att Samll. Quincys, in the same manner, Dr. Gardiner, Henry Q., Ned Q., and S.Q. all playing Cards the whole Evening. This is the wise and salutary amuzement, that young Gentlemen take every Evening in this Town, playing Cards, drinking Punch and Wine, Smoaking Tobacco, swearing &c. while 100 of the best Books lie on the shelves, Desks, and Chairs, in the same room. This is not Misspence of Time. This is a wise, a profitable, Improvement of Time. Cards, and Back Gammon, are fashionable Diversions. I'le be curst if any young fellow can study, in this town. What Pleasure can a young Gentleman, who is capable of thinking, take, in playing Cards? It gratifies none of the Senses, nor Sight, Hearing, taste, smell, feeling. It can entertain the Mind only by hushing its Clamours. Cards, Back Gammon are the great antidotes to Reflection, to thinking, that cruel Tyrant within Us. What Learning, or Sense, are we to expect from young Gentlemen, in whom a fondness for Cards, &c. outgrows and choaks the Desire of Knowledge?
1. This detached entry and the following ones, all recording incidents at Braintree, must have been written at least several days after the preceding entry dated at Worcester, 11 February. The leaves of the MS being loose at this point, one cannot be sure of the original order of entries, but very likely these revealing fragments belong to late February or early March.
2. Joseph Marsh (1710–1761?), Harvard 1728, who had prepared JA for Harvard.
3. Henry Flynt (1675–1760), Harvard 1693, usually known as “Tutor” Flynt from his long service as a Harvard tutor. His sister Dorothy married Judge Edmund Quincy (1681–1738), and he was thus an uncle of Col. Josiah Quincy and of Edmund Quincy (1703–1788), in whose house he frequently stayed. (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, { 78 } 4:162–167.) In the Adams Papers there is a paper endorsed “Of Father Flynt’s Journey to Portsmouth and back to Cambridge AE. 80,” i.e. in 1754, written by David Sewall and probably sent by Sewall to his Harvard classmate JA in 1821. This entertaining account of a famous Harvard character was communicated by CFA to the Massachusetts Historical Society and was printed in its Proceedings , 1st ser., 16 (1878):5–11.

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0004-0003-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1759-03-14

March 14. 1759.

Reputation ought to be the perpetual subject of my Thoughts, and Aim of my Behaviour. How shall I gain a Reputation! How shall I Spread an Opinion of myself as a Lawyer of distinguished Genius, Learning, and Virtue. Shall I make frequent Visits in the Neighbourhood and converse familiarly with Men, Women and Children in their own Style, on the common Tittletattle of the Town, and the ordinary Concerns of a family, and so take every fair opportunity of shewing my Knowledge in the Law? But this will require much Thought, and Time, and a very particular Knowledge of the Province Law, and common Matters, of which I know much less than I do of the Roman Law. This would take up too much Thought and Time and Province Law.
Shall I endeavour to renew my Acquaintance with those young Gentlemen in Boston who were at Colledge with me and to extend my Acquaintance among Merchants, Shop keepers, Tradesmen, &c. and mingle with the Crowd upon Change, and trapes the Town house floor, with one and another, in order to get a Character in Town. But this too will be a lingering method and will require more Art and Address, and Patience too than I am Master of.
Shall I, by making Remarks, and proposing Questions [to] the Lawyers att the Bar, endeavour to get a great Character for Understanding and Learning with them. But this is slow and tedious, and will be ineffectual, for Envy, Jealousy, and self Intrest, will not suffer them to give a young fellow a free generous Character, especially me. Neither of these Projects will bear Examination, will avail.
Shall I look out for a Cause to Speak to, and exert all the Soul and all the Body I own, to cut a flash, strike amazement, to catch the Vulgar? In short shall I walk a lingering, heavy Pace or shall I take one bold determined Leap into the Midst of some Cash and Business? That is the Question. A bold Push, a resolute attempt, a determined Enterprize, or a slow, silent, imperceptible creeping. Shall I creep or fly.
Walked, this afternoon, along the side of the [Bushy?] Pond.1 The Blackbirds were perched on the Trees round the Borders of the Pond, { 79 } and singing. I saw a large flock of Crow Blackbirds alight on the Ground, in search of Grain or Worms, I suppose. The Birds that were behind were perpetually flying over the Heads of all the rest, and alighting in the front of the flock, so that each Bird was in the front and Rear by turns, and all were chattering. It looked like a hovering, half walking, half flying flock of Blackbirds. Soon after, they rose, and alighted on the neighbouring Apple Trees, chattering, and singing all the Time. At the same time, a Number of Crows were croaking, at a little distance on one side, and a wood Pecker and a blue bird were whistling, and cackling, at a little Distance on the other.—This is the first vernal scene I have observed this season. So many Birds of several different species, all singing, chattering, whistling, fluttering, flying, hopping, leaping, on the ground, in the Air, and on the Trees, was a very pleasant Amuzement to me. It is very pleasant to see and hear the flocks of Birds, at their first Appearance in the Spring. The Ground looks naked, and lifeless yet. The Colour of the Ground, before the green [rises?] upp, is pale, lifeless, dead. There is very little beauty [in] the face of the Earth now, but the Vegetables will soon spring fresh and green, and young and sprightly Grass, and flowers, and Roses, will appear on the Ground, buds, blossoms, leaves on the Trees, and 100 species of Birds, flying in Air, alighting on the Ground and on Trees, herds of Cattle, Sheep, horses, grazing and lowing in the Pastures. Oh Nature! how [bright?] and beautiful thou art.
Means not but blunders round about a meaning.2
M.3 has a very confused, blundering Way of asking Questions. She never knows distinctly what she is [after?], but asks at Random, any Thing, and has a difficulty in recollecting the Names of Things. The Names of Things dont flow naturally into My Mind, when I have occasion to use them. I had the Idea of the General Court in my Mind when I said to Otis, the Judges had [some?] important Business to do in &c., but the Words General Court did not arise with the Idea and therefore Otis thought I made [a] silly Speech. My Aunt Cunningham4 has the same difficulty, recollecting Words and Ideas too, especially, of Things that are sometime past. A slothful Memory, a slow, heavy Memory, in oposition to a quick prompt Memory.
[I?] read a letter from one in St.K. to one in P. concerning M. Chateleu going to this Coast.5 M. asks what is that. How confused is this Question? It wants much explanation and restriction, before an Answer can be given, for [ . . . ] she ask,6 who is that letter from or who to, or what Place from or to, or what about, and what Place was { 80 } Chateleu going to. She knows not what she asks. Tis [owing?] to the Hurry and Impatience of Thought—which is the fault of us all.
Common People are not incapable of discerning the Motives and Springs of Words and Actions.
1. This and the following detached entry may have been written any day between 14 and 17 or 18 March.
2. Doubtless a quotation.
3. Presumably JA’s mother.
4. Elizabeth Boylston, sister of JA’s mother, married James Cunningham in 1742 (Boston Record Commissioners, 28th Report, p. 240).
5. An extract of the letter in question, dated 9 Jan., was printed in the Boston Post Boy, 12 March 1759. It was from Jamaica, not St. K[itts], was addressed to a gentleman in Philadelphia, and reported the arrival in the West Indies of the French naval commander Chateleau and his intention to raid Delaware Bay.
6. This passage is obscure. Perhaps JA meant to write: “for should she not ask ...?”
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, 2018.