A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
close
-
The Adams Papers Digital Edition is undergoing active maintenance while we work on improvements to the system. You may experience slow performance or the inability to access content. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We will endeavor to return to full capabilities as soon as possible.

Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-06-01-02-0007

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Cranch, Richard
Date: 1756-08-29

To Richard Cranch

[salute] My Friend

I am set down with a Design of writing to you.—But the narrow Sphere I move in, and the lonely unsociable Life I lead, can furnish a Letter with little more than Complaints of my hard fortune. I am condemnd to keep School two Years longer. This I sometimes consider as a very grievous Calamity and almost sink under the Weight of Woe.—But shall I dare to complain and to murmur against Providence for this little Punishment, when my very Existence, all the Pleasure I enjoy now, and all the Advantages I have of preparing for hereafter, are Expression of Benevolence that I never did and never could deserve? Shall I Censure the Conduct of that Being who has poured around me, a great Profusion, of those good Things that I really want, because he has kept from me other Things that might be improper and fatal to me if I had them. That Being has furnished my Body with several senses, and the world around it with objects suitable to gratify them. He has made me an erect Figure, and has placed in the most advantageous Part of my Body, the sense of Sight. And He has hung up in the Heavens over my Head and Spread out in the Fields of Nature around me those glorious Shows and appearances with which my Eyes and my Imagination are extremely delighted. I am pleasd with the beautiful Appearance of the Flower, and still more pleased with the Prospect of Forrests and of Meadows, of verdant Feilds and Mountains covered with Flocks, but I am thrown into a kind of Transport when I behold the amazing Concave of Heaven sprinkled and glittering with Starrs. That Being has bestowed upon some of the Vegetable species a fragrance that can almost as agreably entertain our sense of smell. He has so wonderfully constituted the Air we live in, that by giving it a particular Kind of Vibration, it produces in us as intense sensations of Pleasure as the organs of our Bodies can bear in all the varieties of Harmony and Concord. But all the Provision that he has made for the Gratification of my senses, tho very engaging Instances of Kindness, are much inferiour to the Provisions for the Gratification of my nobler Powers of Intelligence { 16 } and Reason. He has given me Reason to find out the Truth, and the real Design of my Existence here, and has made all Endeavours to promote that Design, agreable to my mind, and attended with a conscious Pleasure and Complacency. On the Contrary, he has made a different Course of Life, a Course of Impiety and Injustice, of Malevolence and Intemperance, appear shocking and deformed to my first Reflection. He has made my Mind capable of receiving an infinite Variety of Ideas from those numerous material Objects with which we are environed. And of retaining, compounding and arranging the vigourous Impressions which we receive from these into all the Varieties of Picture and of Figure. By inquiring into the Scituation, Produce, Manufactures &c. of our own, and by travailing into, or reading about other Countries, I can gain distinct Ideas of almost every Thing upon this Earth at present, and by looking into history I can settle in my mind a clear and a Comprehensive View of the Earth at its Creation, of its various Changes and Revolutions, of its progressive Improvement, sudden Depopulation by a Deluge, and its graduall Repeopling, of the Growth of several Kingdoms and Empires, of their Wealth and Commerce, their Wars and Politicks, of the Characters of their principal Leading Men, of their Grandeur and Power their Virtues and Vices, of their insensible Decays at first, and of their swift Destruction at last. In fine we can attend the Earth from its Nativity, thro all the various Turns of Fortune, through all its successive Changes, thro all the Events that happen on its surface, and all the successive Generations of Mankind, to the final Conflagration, when the whole Earth with its appendages shall be consumed by the furious Element of Fire. And after our minds are furnishd with this ample store of Ideas, far from feeling burdend or overloaded, our thots are more free, and active, and clear than before, and we are capable of spreading our acquaintance with Things much further. Far from being satiated with Knowledge our Curiosity is only improved and increasd, our Thoughts rove beyond the visible diurnal sphere, range thro the immeasurable Regions of the Universe, and loose them selves amongst a Labyrinth of Worlds, and not contented with knowing what is, they run forward into Futurity, and search for new Employment there. Then they can never stop! The wide, the boundless Prospect lies before them! Here alone they find Objects adequate to their Desires. Shall I now presume to complain of my hard Fate, when such ample Provision has been made to gratify all my senses, and all the Faculties of my soul? God forbid.1 I am happy and I will remain so, while Health is indulgd to me, in Spight of all the other { 17 } Adverse Circumstances that Fortune can place me in. I expect to be joked upon, for writing in this serious manner, when it shall be known what a Resolution I have lately taken. I have engagd with Mr. Putnam to study Law with him, 2 years, and to keep the school at the same time.2 It will be hard work, but the more difficult and dangerous the Enterprize, a brighter Crown of Lawrell is bestowed on the Conqueror. However I am not without Apprehensions concerning the success of this Resolution. But I am under much fewer Apprehensions than I was when I thought of preaching. The frightful Engines of Ecclesiastical Co[u]ncils, of diabolical Malice and Calvinistical good nature never failed to terrify me exceedingly whenever I thought of Preaching.3 But the Point is now determined, and I shall have Liberty to think for myself without molesting others or being molested myself. Write to me the first Opportunity, and tell me freely whether you approve my Conduct. Please to present my tenderest Regards to our two Friends at Boston, and suffer me to subscribe myself your sincere Friend,
[signed] John Adams
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mr Richard Cranch At Weighmouth These”; endorsed: “Letter from Mr. John Adams Aug. 29th. 1756.” Early Tr, in hand of T. B. Adams Jr. (Adams Papers, Lb/JA/26; Microfilms, Reel No. 114).
1. Compare the similar reflections, including some almost identical language, under dates of 7 and 22 Aug. 1756 in JA's Diary and Autobiography, 1:40–41, 43–44.
2. “22 [Aug. 1756.] Yesterday I compleated a Contract with Mr. Putnam, to study Law under his Inspection for two years” (same, p. 42). According to JA's Autobiography, the terms were that JA would “board in his [Putnam's] House, that I should pay no more, than the Town allowed for my Lodgings [as schoolmaster], and that I should pay him an hundred dollars, when I should find it convenient” (same, 3:264).
On James Putnam (1726–1789), Harvard 1746, then the leading lawyer of Worcester, later a loyalist, see Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 12:57–64, and numerous references in JA's Diary and Autobiography.
3. The protracted and disagreeable case of Rev. Lemuel Briant, Harvard 1739, minister of the First or North Church of Braintree and a reputed Arminian, was fresh in JA's mind. See JA, Diary and Autobiography, 3:262; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 10:341–348.

Docno: ADMS-06-01-02-0008

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Wentworth, John
Date: 1756-09

To John Wentworth

[salute] Dr Sir1

I brought a few Ideas with me when I first came to this Town, that grew in the luxurious soil of Cambridge. These I have dispersd among my Friends, and you have had your share. Be contented, therefore, { 18 } now with such as grow at Worcester. It is a political Climate and the soil produces state Reflections as rank as hogweeds in a Garden. After the melancholly Accounts from the Mediterranean and from Oswego,2 I attended to the Conversation that passed and thought it curious enough to send to you, that you might see how near they resemble the Reflections made in your World. A Lawyer expressd his Apprehension of our calamitous Scituation in this Manner, (viz) where is the Genius the mighty Genius of Britain gone? Is she flown from the Realm and taken Residence in France? What has happend to us?—Before the War commenced we were flattered with pompous Catalogues of the English Navy. The English Marine was strong enough to rend the French to Attoms and blow the Attoms to the Devil as soon as War should be declard. But now war is declard the French are sufferd to steal away with a pitiful Squadron, to Minorca, while our ships are confined in the English Channel, to prevent the French from descending on Great Britain in Canoes. All the Powers of Europe are astonish'd, and cry, “Where is the British Navy that made such a sublime Ringing in the World?”—The Parson says “The Prospect is extremely dark all around us. This is the sad Effect of our abominable Impiety, our Pride, our Luxury, our Hypocrisy. If we had been a godly People, the Lord would not have forsaken us in this manner. It behoves us all to repent and work a speedy Reformation if we expect or desire even temporal salvation.” The Representative says “We are all sold I really believe. I swear our Condition is not to be thought upon with Patience. Bings fleet was completely equipp'd 16 Days before Orders were given to sail. The Devil reigns and his Enemies are Scatterd. And that dastardly Fellow will be promoted, and West, as brave a fellow as ever ruled a ship, will be hangd.”3 The Colonel, “We are gone, that's a certain Case. The French will land 15 or 20,000 men in the Spring at Marble Head and what can we an undisciplind Rabble do against such a regular force? Our Children will have their Brains dash'd out against the Walls, our Daughters and Wives will be ravished by the brutal Lust of a victorious soldiery, and our men will be butcherd by those Engines of Hell the new fangled scalping Knives. Desolation hangs over our Country and threatens suddenly to fall in a Tempest and a Whirlwind upon us.” Others think an Inquisition will be sett up, and all will burn or hang that will not turn papists. Some say the Governor is an Emissary of France and all cry out the Devil the Devil is at the Bottom. By the Gathering of the Clouds, and the angry frowns of the Heavens, we may reasonably expect tempes• { 19 } tuous Weather, my Friend, But should the Vessell be shatterd on the Rocks and the whole Crew and I with the rest be buried in our undistinguished Destruction, nay should the whole system round us break &c. all would not abate the sincerity with which I am your Friend,
[signed] John Adams
P.S. Pray impute my Neglect in not writing you so long, not to the least Indifference but to the eternal Fatigues of my Occupation. And be so kind to write to me often, for a letter from you in my present scituation, gl[e]ams upon me, as the first ray of light gleamed in Chaos. However the Anxiety of mind that has made me uneasy to myself and friends for this year past is at length in some Measure removed. I have begun the study of Law with Mr. Putnam a very sensible and agreable Gentleman of the Profession in this Town. How I shall succeed in the Law, God only knows. I am not without Apprehensions, but I am much less troubled with them than I was before I was determind what Profession to follow. I never thought of the frightful Ecclesiastical Apparatus, of Councils, Creeds &c. without extream Horror. My Compliments to all near you, that I had ever the <Honour> Pleasure of knowing and believe me yours ut semper,
[signed] J A
RC (NN: John Adams Presidents' Papers); addressed: “To Mr. John Wentworth Merchant in Portsmouth These, To be left with Mr Thos Wentworth Student at Harvard Colledge”; docketed in a 19th-century hand: “given by me to R. M. Milnes Esq. MP. C[atherine] F[rances] Gore admx. [administratrix] to the late Sir Charles Mary Wentworth.” (Richard Monckton Milnes, who in 1863 became 1st Baron Houghton, was a warm friend of the Adams family in England during the 1860's; see DNB; HA, Education. On Sir Charles Mary Wentworth and Mrs. Gore, see descriptive note on JA to Wentworth, 12 April 1758, below.)
JA's occasional omission and misplacement of quotation marks in MS have been silently corrected in the present text.
1. John (later Sir John) Wentworth (1737–1820), another member of JA's Harvard class of 1755, was in 1766 royal governor of New Hampshire, the last to hold that dignity. In 1776 he joined the British forces in New York city, in 1778 fled to England, and ultimately was appointed lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia. See Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:650–681, which touches on JA's later relations with Wentworth.
2. In Aug. 1756 an expedition from Canada under Montcalm captured and destroyed the two British forts at the mouth of the Oswego River on Lake Ontario (DAH).
3. Adm. John Byng had been defeated by a French fleet off Minorca in May 1756, and was to be court-martialed and executed early in 1757. His second in command, Rear Adm. Temple West, was cleared of blame. See DNB under both names.
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/