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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-06-01-02-0002

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Cranch, Richard
Date: 1755-09-02

To Richard Cranch

[salute] Dear Sir1

I promised to write you an account of the scituation of my mind. The natural strength of my facultys is quite insufficient for the task. Attend therefore to the invocation. Oh! thou goddess, Muse, or Whatever is thy name who inspired immortal Miltons pen with a confusion ten thousand times confounded, when describing Satan's Voyage thro' Chaos, help me in the same cragged strains, to sing things unattempted yet in prose or Rhime. When the nimble Hours have tack'led Apollo's Coursers, and the gay Deity mounts the eastern sky, the gloomy Paedagogue arises, frowning and lowring, like a black Cloud begrimm'd with uncommon wrath to blast a devoted Land. When the destin'd time arrives, he enters upon action and as a haughty Monarch, ascends his Throne, The Paedagogue mounts his awful great Chair and dispenses right and Justice thro' his whole empire. His obsequious subjects execute the imperial Mandates with chearfullness, and think it their high happiness to be employ'd in the service of the Emperor. Sometimes Paper, sometimes his penknife, now Birch, now Arithmetick, now a ferril, then A.B.C., then scolding, then flattering, then thwacking, calls for the Paedagogues attention. At length, his spirits all exhausted, down comes Paedagogue from his Throne and walks out in awful solemnity, thro' a cringing multitude. In the afternoon he passes thro' the same dreadful scenes, smokes his Pipe and goes to bed.
Exit Muse.
The scituation of the Town is quite pleasant, and the inhabitants (as far as I have had opportunity to know their Character) are a sociable, generous and hospitable people. But the school is indeed a school of affliction, a large number of little runtlings, just capable of lisping A.B.C. and troubling the Master. But Dr. Savil tells me for my comfort, “by Cultivating and pruning these tender Plants in the garden of Worcester, I shall make some of them, Plants of Renown and Cedars of Lebanon.” However this be, I am certain that keeping this school any length of Time would make a base weed and ignoble shrub of me.
Pray write me, the first time you are at Leisure. A Letter from you sir would ballance the inquietude of schoolkeeping. Dr. Savil will packet it with his and convey it to me. When you see Friend Quincy,2 Conjure him by all the Muses to write me a Letter. Tell { 4 } him that all the Conversation, I have had since I left Braintree, is dry disputes upon Politicks, and rural obscene witt. That therefore a Letter wrote with that Elegance of style, and delicacy of Humour, which Characterize all his performances, would come recommended with the additional Charms of Rarity and contribute more than any thing (except one from you) towards making a happy Being of me once more.—To tell you a secret, I dont know how to conclude neatly without invoking assistance but as truth has an higher place in your esteem than any ingenious conceit, I shall please you, as well as my self, most by subscribing myself your affectionate Friend,
[signed] John Adams
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “For Mr: Richard Cranch att Weimouth These”; endorsed: “Lettr. from Mr. John Adams Sep 2d 1755.” Tr (Adams Papers); copied by Thomas Boylston Adams Jr. into Lb/JA/26 (Microfilms, Reel No. 114).
On the provenance of RC, see JQA's Diary, 30 Aug. 1829, when JQA, retired from the presidency, was at Quincy putting together materials for his (never-completed) memoir of JA: “I spent the Evening at Mr. Daniel Greenleaf's. . . . Mr. Greenleaf gave me three Original Letters from my father, written to my Uncle Cranch; the first dated 2. September 1755—The earliest of my fathers writing that I have yet found—the two others in 1756.... Mr. Greenleaf came in possession... as Administrator upon the Estate of my uncle Cranch.”
1. Richard Cranch (1726–1811), a native of Kingsbridge, Devon, came to Massachusetts in 1746, and in Nov. 1762 married Mary (1741–1811), elder sister of Abigail Smith (AA). From 1764, after JA's marriage to Abigail, he was, therefore, in the familiar usage of the time, JA's “brother,” but the two had long been intimate, conducting their courtships of the Smith sisters more or less simultaneously and becoming lifelong correspondents. The founder of a prolific and gifted family in America, Cranch had an exceedingly diverse and checkered career, throughout which he remained an inveterate optimist. From Oct. 1764 onward, all surviving Adams-Cranch correspondence appears in the Adams Family Correspondence (Series II of The Adams Papers).
2. Samuel Quincy (1735–1789), Harvard 1754, currently studying law in Boston, later a prominent lawyer, officer of the crown, and loyalist. See numerous allusions to him in JA's Diary and Autobiography and Legal Papers (sketch at 1:cvii–cviii) and in Adams Family Correspondence; see also Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:478–488.

Docno: ADMS-06-01-02-0003

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Webb, Nathan
Date: 1755-10-12
Date: 1807-04-22

To Nathan Webb, with Comments by the Writer Recorded in 1807

[salute] Dear sir

All that part of Creation that lies within our observation is liable to Change. Even mighty States and kingdoms, are not exempted. If we look into History we shall find some nations rising from contemp• { 5 } tible beginnings, and spreading their influence, 'till the whole Globe is subjected to their sway. When they have reach'd the summit of Grandeur, some minute and unsuspected Cause commonly effects their Ruin, and the Empire of the world is transferr'd to some other place. Immortal Rome was at first but an insignificant Village, inhabited only by a few abandoned Ruffins, but by degrees it rose to a stupendous Height, and excell'd in Arts and Arms all the Nations that praeceeded it. But the demolition of Carthage (what one should think would have establish'd it in supream dominion) by removing all danger, suffer'd it to sink into debauchery, and made it att length an easy prey to Barbarians.—England Immediately, upon this began to increase (the particular, and minute causes of which I am not Historian enough to trace) in Power and magnificence, and is now the greatest Nation upon the globe.—Soon after the Reformation a few people came over into this new world for Concience sake. Perhaps this (apparently) trivial incident, may transfer the great seat of Empire into America. It looks likely to me. For if we can remove the turbulent Gallicks, our People according to the exactest Computations, will in another Century, become more numerous than England itself. Should this be the Case, since we have (I may say) all the naval Stores of the Nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas, and then the united force of all Europe, will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves, is to disunite Us. Divide et impera. Keep us in distinct Colonies, and then, some great men, in each Colony, desiring the Monarchy of the Whole, they will destroy each others influence and keep the Country in Equilibrio.1
Be not surprised that I am turn'd Politician. This whole town is immers'd in Politicks. The interests of Nations, and all the dira of War, make the subject of every Conversation. I set and hear, and after having been led thro' a maze of sage observations, I some times retire, and by laying things together, form some reflections pleasing to myself. The produce of one of these reveries, You have read above. Different employment and different objects may have drawn your thoughts other ways. I shall think myself happy if in your turn, you communicate your Lucubrations to me. I wrote you, some time since, and have waited, with impatience, for an answer, but have been disappointed. I hope that Lady at Barnstable, has not made you forget your Friends. Friendship, I take it, is one of the distinguishing Glorys of man. And the Creature that is insensible of its Charms, tho he may wear the shape, of Man, is unworthy of the Character. In { 6 } this, perhaps, we bear a nearer resemblance of unbodied intelligences than any thing else. From this I expect to receive the Cheif happiness of my future life, and am sorry that fortune has thrown me at such a distance from those of my Friends who have the highest place in my affections. But thus it is; and I must submit. But I hope e'er long to return and live in that happy familiarity, that has from earliest infancy subsisted between yourself, and affectionate Friend,
[signed] John Adams2

[Adams' Comments in 1807]

Quincy April 22 1807. Nathan Webb was the Son of the late Deacon Jonathan Webb of Quincy and the Grandson of Benjamin Webb of the same place. The Father and Grandfather were intimate Friends of my Father and Grandfather, and the Grandson was my Playfellow at the Grammar School in Braintree, and my Contemporary at Colledge. He had Wit, humour and good Nature, equal to his Understanding And Judgment which were very good. He died young, and I attended him in his last Sickness, with equal Grief and assiduity, and watched with him a Night or two before his death. He left this Letter and some others in possession of his Father, who left it with his whole Estate to his Nephew, Captain Jonathan Webb, now of this Town living in the old Seat of the Family, who about a fortnight ago was kind enough to send it to me, after it had lain fifty one years and an half among the Papers of the Family in Oblivion. It was written soon after I took my first degree at Colledge, and some days before I was twenty years old. Nathan was named after his Unkle Nathan Webb the Minister of Uxbridge, who married my Fathers Sister.3
[signed] John Adams
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “For Mr: Nathan Webb Att Braintree these JLC.” (The initials are in monogram form and may be those of the unidentified bearer, though in JA's hand.) Tr (Adams Papers); in JA's hand and with his explanatory comments on Nathan Webb added following the text and signed under date of 22 April 1807; printed herewith. Other early copies in the Adams Papers have no textual value. For the return of the original RC to its writer in April 1807, see JA's added comments. JA was so pleased with the recovery and the content of this very early letter that he enclosed a copy of it (and of his comments) in a letter to Benjamin Rush of 1 May 1807 (LbC, Adams Papers; RC and enclosure have not been located but are printed in Biddle, Old Family Letters, p. 133–138, 5–8). He also made the text available to the editors of the Monthly Anthology and Boston Review, where it was printed at 4:256–257 (May 1807), with a brief editorial headnote that remarks, among other things, that “Some of the sentiments, which it contains, were prophetick, and are gradually fulfilling.” Thereafter it was quoted and { 7 } published elsewhere from time to time and was widely known by the time JQA drafted his fragmentary biography of JA in 1829; see note 2.
1. The characteristic reflections in this early, but later celebrated, letter had at least two identifiable sources. One was the course of the current French and Indian War, in which the British had recently suffered serious reverses, notably in Braddock's defeat near Fort Duquesne and in other actions on and around the lakes above the Hudson. Thus, JA mentions just below, the “dira [evils, sufferings] of War.” The possibility of the fall of the British Empire brought on a line of thought popular throughout the 18th century and memorably expressed in Bishop Berkeley's “Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America” (written 1707, published 1752), ending with the stanza, “Westward the course of empire takes its way;. . . / Time's noblest offspring is the last.” The plausible suggestion has also been made (John A. Schutz and Douglass Adair, eds., The Spur of Fame. . . , San Marino, Calif., 1966, p. 81, note) that JA had been reading Benjamin Franklin's remarkable essay “Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c.” (written 1751, published 1755; Franklin, Papers, 4:225–234). Here Franklin predicted that America would rapidly overtake England in population. The prospect of America's succeeding England as the seat of empire, or becoming itself a powerful independent empire, was a natural inference for JA to draw.
2. When, in preparing his memoir of his father, JQA came upon this letter to Webb, he was so struck by it that he not only quoted the text in full but added two full pages of laudatory commentary; see JA, Works, 1:23–26. In his Diary, JQA was equally laudatory but briefer, and concentrated on one aspect of the letter—the closing passage on friendship—which he felt had been overlooked by others but was the best of all the good things in it. It is “A Letter,” he wrote, “in the Analysis of which I find so much matter for commentary that a sober judgment must be called in to curb enthusiastic admiration. I propose to give the Letter entire, for it is the foot of Hercules. Nothing that my father ever wrote in the subsequent course of his life, bears in more indelible characters the stamp of his genius and of his heart. Webster and Wirt have both spoken of this Letter, with high commendation, but neither of them has noticed the part of it which is most deeply affecting to me—its encomium, tender and sublime, upon friendship. If I should say that the annals of epistolary correspondence cannot furnish a Letter more replete at once with intellect and heart, I should commit no excess.” (Entry of 15 Sept. 1829.)
3. Deacon John Adams' sister Ruth (1700–1761) had married Rev. Nathan Webb (1705–1772), Harvard 1725, minister at Uxbridge (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 7:617–619; see also index to JA, Diary and Autobiography).
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/