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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0005

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1757

[1757]

At the time when Fort William Henry was besieged,1 there came down almost every day dispatches from the General to the New England Collonies urging for Troops and Assistance. Col. Chandler the Younger had sent so many Expresses that he found it difficult to get Persons to undertake the Journeys. Complaining of this Embarrassment one Evening, in company, I told him, I had so long led a sedendary Life that my health began to fail me, and that I had an inclination to take a Journey on Horseback. The next Morning by Day break he was at my Chamber Door, with Dispatches for the Governor of Rhode Island. He said a Horse was ready. Without hesitation I arose and was soon mounted. Too much dispatch was necessary for my comfort and I believe for my health, for a Journey so fatiguing, to a Man who was not on horseback more than once a Year on a short visit to his Parents, I cannot think callculated to relieve a valetudinarian. Arrived at Providence I was informed that the Governor Mr. Green [William Greene] was at Newport with the General Assembly. I had then to ride through the Narragansett Country and to cross over Conannicutt to Rhode Island. In the Woods of Narragansett I met two Gentlemen on Horse back, of whom I took the Liberty to enquire whether The Governor was still at Newport? One of them answered he was not: but the Gentleman with him was the Governor. My Dispatches were delivered to him and he broke the Seals and read them on the Spot. He said he believed the French were determined to have the Country: asked many questions, gave me many polite Invitations to return with him to his home, which as he said he had no answer to return by me, and as I was determined to see Newport I civilly declined. Pursuing my Journey I found a great difficulty to get over the Water, As the boat and Men were gone upon their usual Employment. One was found after a { 268 } time very tedious to me and I landed on the Island, and had a good opportunity to see the whole of it as my road to Bristol lay through the whole length of it. To Me, the whole Island appeared a most beautifull Garden: an ornamented Farm: but hostile Armies have since degarnished it of a principal Embellishment, the noble rows and plantations of Trees. Crossing over the Ferry to Bristol I spent a night with Col. Green whose Lady was a Church and Sister to Mrs. John Chandler. Here I was happy and felt myself at home. Next Morning I pursued my Journey by Land to Worcester. The whole Journey was accomplished in four days, one of which was Sunday. As I was obliged to ride all that day I had an opportunity of observing the manners of Rhode Island, much more gay and social than our Sundays in Massachusetts. At Angells in Providence I met a relation and a Neighbour Mr. John Bass, who had lost his Parish at Ashford, by the Intollerance of <orthodoxy at that time> the times and had removed his Family to Providence and begun the Practice of Physick.2 I met another Clergyman and a sensible Man at Bristol. At the Inns as usual there were Scaenes and Characters, for the Amusement of Swift or even Shakespeare.
Another Journey had well nigh proved fatal to me. Mr. Joshua Willard of Petersham, who had married Miss Ward a Niece of General Ward of Shrewsbury, invited me with many other Gentlemen of Worcester, to escort home his Wife.3 I procured the only horse that could be found to be lett. Gay and active enough but the hardest both upon the Trott and Canter, I ever mounted. We went through a Wilderness of old Rutland and New Rutland, now a garden, spent a day or two at Petersham where I conversed much and with great pleasure with Mr. [Aaron] Whitney, a very sensible, entertaining and good humoured Clergyman, the Grandfather of Mr. [Peter] Whitney the amiable, ingenious, eloquent and pious Minister of Quincy and Father of Mr. [Peter] Whitney of Northborough. On our return we rode through Number Six and other Numbers to Number two since called Westminster, a perfect Wilderness and the thickest I ever saw, but now a well cultivated and thick settled Country. We spent a night with Mr. Marsh a Clergyman at the foot of the Wachusett, a Mountain which We ascended to the Top the next morning. From this hight the whole World appeared on a level below Us excepting the Monad• { 269 } nocks. Even the blue hills, which I have since seen very distinct from Mr. Gills house, were scarce discernible. The Wind was so high and the Air so cold that We had little Inclination to remain long upon it. Descending to the foot We found it as uncomfortably warm. We mounted our Horses and returned home by the Way of Lunenbourg and Lancaster. After this Journey, whatever was the cause, whether the fatigue in general or the rude Motions of my horse in particular I know not, I found myself in very ill health. The Physicians told me that close Application to a School and to Studies by night and by Day had [thickened?] and corrupted the whole Mass of my blood and Juices, and that I must have recourse to a Milk Diet according to the Theory and Practice of Dr. Cheyne, at that time the height of the Fassion in Medicine. I had read the Writings of Dr. Cheyne and now read them again, renounced all Meat and Spirits and lived upon Bread and milk, Vegetables and Water. I found my head more at Ease and thought I pursued my Studies to more Advantage: but was tormented with a heart burn every afternoon, which nothing but large potions of Tea at Evening could extinguish. I pursued this course for Eighteen months, six or seven of which passed at my fathers house, with the Advice of Dr. Savil and Dr. Hearsey [Hersey], who were both unqualified Admirers of Cheyne's in Theory, though not in their own practice. My excellent Father at last by his tender Advice at sometimes and a little good humoured ridicule at others converted me again to the Use of a little meat and more comforting Drink, but in both of these I was extreamly sparing for many Years after, and indeed untill I became a Member of Congress and a Traveller, when long Journeys and Voyages made a more generous Regimen essential to my being.
1. Fort William Henry, on Lake George, fell to the French after a siege in Aug. 1757. In his recollections in old age recorded by Harriet Welsh, JA had more to say about the alarms in Massachusetts over the French victories during the early years of the war; he also said that he tried unsuccessfully to obtain a captain's commission for himself in 1755 or 1756 (M/CFA/31, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 327).
2. On the short and unhappy career of Rev. John Bass, Harvard 1737, of Braintree, Ashford, and Providence, see Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 10:114–120.
3. Joshua Willard married Lucretia Ward at Shrewsbury, 28 Feb. 1757 (Charles Martyn, The William Ward Genealogy, N.Y., 1925, p. 154).

Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0006

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1758

[1758]

In 1758 my Period with Mr. Putnam expired. Doolittle and Baldwin visited me in the office, and invited me to settle in Worcester. They said as there were two Sides to a question and two Lawyers were always wanted where there was one, I might depend upon Business in my profession, they were pleased to add that my Character was fair and well esteemed by all Sorts of People in the Town and through the County: that they wished to get me chosen at the next Election which was very near, Register of Deeds, which would procure me something handsome for the present, and insure me Employment at the Bar. That as the Chandler Family had engrossed almost all the public offices and Employment in the Town and County, they wished to select some Person qualified to share with them in these honors and Emoluments. My Answer was that as the Chandlers were worthy People and discharged the Duties of their offices very well I envied not their felicity { 270 } and had no desire to sett myself in Opposition to them, and especially to Mr. Putnam who had married a beautifull Daughter of that Family and had treated me with Civility and Kindness. But there was one Motive with me, which was decisive. I was in very ill health and the Air of Worcester appeared to be unfriendly to me, to such a degree that I panted for want of the Breezes from the Sea and the pure Zephirs from the rocky mountains of my native Town: that my Father and Mother invited me to live with them, and as there never had been a Lawyer in any Country Part of the then County of Suffolk, I was determined at least to look into it and see if there was any chance for me. They replied that the Town of Boston was full of Lawyers and many of them of established Characters for long Experience, great Abilities and extensive Fame, who might be jealous of such a Novelty as a Lawyer in the Country part of their County, and might be induced to obstruct me. I returned that I was not wholly unknown to some of the most celebrated of those Gentlemen, that I believed they had too much candour and Generosity to injure a young Man, and at all Events I could but try the experiment, and if I should find no hope of Success I should then think of some other place or some other course.
An Error was committed at this time by Mr. Putnam or me or both, which I thought not of much consequence at the time, and have never been able to account for since. Mr. Putnam should have presented me, to the Court of Common Pleas in Worcester, and a Certificate of my Oath and Admission, before that Court would have been a sufficient Ground, to justify the Court of Common Pleas in Suffolk, on receiving me there. This was however omitted, and I removed to Braintree without it. Here I passed a few Weeks not without much Anxiety and Apprehension. When the October term arrived I went to Boston and attended the Tryals, full of doubts about the most prudent Steps for me to take. I determined at last to know what my fate was to be, and one Morning went early to Mr. Gridleys Office and was fortunate enough to find him alone.1 I opened to him with much frankness my Situation and my Views. He said Mr. Putnam had mentioned me to him, and he had seen me before in several Companies at Worcester: but have you been sworn? I have not Sir. You must be sworn, before you can practice. As my Master is not here, I have no One to present me to the Court.—How long have you studied Law? How long have { 271 } [you] served in your Clerkship, with Mr. Putnam? Between two and three Years? What Books have you read? Many more I fear than have done me any good. I have read too fast, much faster than I understood or remembered as I ought. I was directed to begin with Woods Institutes, and then to Hawkins's Abridgment of Coke upon Littleton, then to the Work at large, and the second, third and fourth Institute: then to Salkelds Reports and Ld. Raymonds Reports, Bacons Abridgment, &c., then to Instructor Clericalis and Rastalls and Cokes Entries. The former We used dayly for Precedent, the two latter consulted occasionally. The last Book I had read and with most pleasure, because I thought I understood it best was Hawkins's Pleas of the Crown. I mentioned also Hale's History of the Common Law, Doctor and Student2 and an Institute of the common Law in imitation of Justinians Institute....3 Do you read Latin? A little sometimes. What Books have you lately read? Cicero's Orations and Epistles, and the last Latin I read was Justinians Institute with Vinnius's Notes. Where did you find that Work? Mr. Putnam had it not I believe, and I know of no other Copy than my own, in the Country. I borrowed it, Sir, from Harvard Colledge Library, by the Aid of a Friend. Oh? I conjecture it was among the Books that Sir Harry Franklin lately presented to the Colledge. But Vinius is a Commentator more suitable for Persons, of more advanced Age and longer research, than yours: I can lend you Books better adapted to youth: follow me and I will shew you something: He lead me up a pair of Stairs into a Chamber in which he had a very handsome library of the civil and Cannon Laws and Writers in the Law of Nature and Nations. Shewing me a Number of small manuals and Compendiums of the civil Law he put one of them into my hand, and said put that in your Pocket and when you return that I will lend you any other you cho[o]se. I thanked him for his Kindness, and returned with him down Stairs, after I had taken down and looked into a number of Books he pointed out to me. When below he said what have you read upon the Law of Nature and Nations? Burlamaqui Sir and Heineccius in Turnbulls Translation, and Turnbulls Moral Phylosophy. These are good Books, said Mr. Gridley. Turnbull was a correct thinker, but a bad Writer. Have you read Grotius and Puffendorf? I cannot say I have Sir. Mr. Putnam read them, when I was with him, and as his Book lay on the Desk in the office for the most part when { 272 } he had it not in his hand, I had generally followed him in a cursory manner, so that I had some very imperfect Idea of their Contents: but it was my intention to read them both as soon as possible. You will do well to do so: they are great Writers. Indeed a Lawyer through his whole Life ought to have some Book on Ethicks or the Law of Nations always on his Table. They are all Treatises of individual or national Morality and ought to be the Study of our whole Lives. A pause ensued: after which Mr. Gridley turned towards me with the benignity of a parent in his Countenance, and said Mr. Adams permit me to give you a little Advice: I could scarcely refrain from tears when I said I shall certainly receive it as a great honor and felicity. In the first place pursue the Law itself, rather than the gain of it. Attend enough to the profits, to keep yourself out of the Briars: but the Law itself should be your great Object. In the next place, I advize you not to marry early. This was so unexpected to me that it struck up a smile in my face, that I could not conceal. Perceiving it he said Are you engaged? I assure you Sir, I am at present perfectly disengaged: but I am afraid I cannot be answerable how long I shall remain so. At this Mr. Gridley smiled in his turn, and Added, An early marriage will probably put an End to your Studies, and will certainly involve you in expence.... Looking at his Watch, You have detained me here the whole forenoon, and I must go to Court. The Court will adjourn to the last Fryday in this month, (October). Do you attend in the Morning, and I will present you to the Court to be sworn. With some expressions of gratitude I took my Leave. His Advice made so deep an Impression on my mind that I believe no Lawyer in America ever did so much Business as I did afterwards in the seventeen Years that I passed in the Practice at the Bar, for so little profit: and although my Propensity to marriage, was ardent enough, I determined I would not indulge it, till I saw a clear prospect of Business and profit enough to support a family without Embarrassment. I afterwards waited on Mr. Pratt, Mr. Thatcher and Mr. Otis. Mr. Pratt asked if I had been sworn at Worcester. This allarmed me, but I was relieved when he said that Mr. Putnam had given me a good Character.4 Mr. Thatcher, as it was Evening when I waited on him, invited me to Tea and then made me smoke Bridgwater tobacco with him, till after ten O Clock. He said nothing about Law, but examined me more severely in Metaphysicks. We had Clark and Leibnitz, Descartes, Malbranche and Lock, Baxter, Bolinbroke and Berkley, with many others on the Carpet, and Fate, foreknowledge, { 273 } Eternity, Immensity, Infinity, Matter and Spirit, Essence and Attribute, Vacuum and plenum, Space, and duration, Subjects which neither of Us understood, and which I have long been convinced, will never be intelligible to human Understanding. I had read at Colledge and afterwards a great deal on these Subjects: but would not advise any one to study longer than to convince him, that he may devote his time to more satisfactory and more usefull pursuits. We may know more in a future State: but many of these Subjects may be well suspected to be comprehensible only by the Supream Intelligence. Mr. Otis received me more like a Brother than a father, and began to descant on Homer and Horace and Latin and Greek Prosody. He was then composing a Treatise on Prosody. In answer to my request for his Countenance at the Bar, he said Mr. Putnam had mentioned me to him, and asked whether I had seen Mr. Gridley and Mr. Pratt. There were so many Lawyers in Boston he said that it was not worth my while to call upon more than three or four of them. I listened too willingly to this opinion: for I afterwards found there were several others well entitled to this respect from me: and some little offence was taken. Mr. Pratt was made Chief Justice of New York a few years after this: but with him, Mr. Gridley, Mr. Otis and Mr. Thatcher, I lived in entire Friendship till their deaths.
When the last Fryday of October arrived, I was in Boston very early and at Court before it was opened.5 Mr. Pratt presented my Friend Mr. Samuel Quincy and Mr. Gridley presented me. Some Gentleman asked, whether any one knew enough of me to satisfy the Court. Mr. Gridley said he had known me some Years, but that he had lately spent half a day in examining me, and he could say that I had made a very considerable nay “I must say to your honours” a great Proficiency in the Principles of the Law. This was a higher Character than I expected from so great a Man as Mr. Gridley: but I heard it with no small Comfort, as I had been very dubious, whether his examination of me, had not lessened me in his Esteem. Mr. Pratt, Mr. Otis and Mr. Thatcher said I had served a regular Clerkship with Mr. Putnam at Worcester, who had recommended me to them. The Court ordered the Oath to be administered to Mr. Quincy and Mr. Adams, which was done accordingly, and at night I returned to Braintree in good Spirits.
At this Time October 1758 the Study of the Law was a dreary Ramble, in comparison of what it is at this day. The Name of Blackstone had not been heard, whose Commentaries together with Sullivans { 274 } Lectures and Reeves's History of the Law, have smoothed the path of the Student, while the long Career of Lord Mansfield, his many investigations and Decisions, the great Number [of] modern Reporters in his time and a great Number of Writers on particular Branches of the Science have greatly facilitated the Acquisition of it. I know not whether a sett of the Statutes at large or of the State Tryals was in the Country. I was desirous of seeking the Law as well as I could in its fountains and I obtained as much Knowledge as I could of Bracton, Britton, Fleta and Glanville, but I suffered very much for Want of Books, which determined me to furnish myself, at any Sacrifice, with a proper Library: and Accordingly by degrees I procured the best Library of Law in the State.
Looking about me in the Country, I found the practice of Law was grasped into the hands of Deputy Sheriffs, Pettyfoggers and even Constables, who filled all the Writts upon Bonds, promissory notes and Accounts, received the Fees established for Lawyers and stirred up many unnecessary Suits. I mentioned these Things to some of the Gentlemen in Boston, who disapproved and even resented them very highly. I asked them whether some measures might not be agreed upon at the Bar and sanctioned by the Court, which might remedy the Evil? They thought it not only practicable but highly expedient and proposed Meetings of the Bar to deliberate upon it. A Meeting was called and a great Number of regulations proposed not only for confining the practice of Law to those who were educated to it and sworn to fidelity in it, but to introduce more regularity, Urbanity, Candour and Politeness as well as honor, Equity and Humanity, among the regular Professors. Many of these Meetings were the most delightfull Entertainments, I ever enjoyed. The Spirit that reigned was that of Solid Sense, Generosity, Honor and Integrity: and the Consequences were most happy, for the Courts and the Bar instead of Scenes of Wrangling, Chicanery, Quibbling and ill manners, were soon converted to order, Decency, Truth and Candor. Mr. Pratt was so delighted with these Meetings and their Effects, that when We all waited on him to Dedham in his Way to New York to take his Seat as Chief Justice of that State, when We took leave of him after Dinner, the last Words he said to Us, were, “Brethren above all things forsake not the Assembling of yourselves together.”6
1. JA obviously recorded the following interview wholly from memory, and it differs materially from the record in his Diary (entry of 25 Oct. 1758, q.v.). Nearly every author and title mentioned in the conversation will be found in the Catalogue of JA's Library as that collection survives in the Boston Public Library.
2. [Christopher Saint German,] Doctor and Student: or Dialogues between a Doctor of Divinity and a Student in the Laws of England, a 16th-century work which went through innumerable editions (LC, Catalog).
3. Suspension points, here and below in the record of this conversation, are in the MS.
4. See the more detailed and quite different account of this interview in JA's Diary entry of 26 Oct. 1758.
5. The date was probably 6 Nov. 1758; see the entry assigned to that date in JA's Diary, and note 1 there.
6. Benjamin Prat was appointed chief justice of New York Province in March 1761 and left for his new post about the beginning of November (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 10:233–235). A fuller version of his parting injunction to his colleagues at the bar is quoted in a letter from Oxenbridge Thacher to Prat evidently written in 1762 (MHS, Procs., 1st ser., 20 [1882–1883]:48). The records of this early Boston law association have not been found, although JA himself was ordered in Jan. 1770 by the organization that succeeded it to “wait on Judge Auchmuty and request of him, the Records of a former Society of the Bar, in this County” (Suffolk Bar Book, MS, MHi).
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/