A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 10

Docno: ADMS-04-10-02-0044

Author: Otis, Mary Smith Gray
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1794-02-23

Mary Smith Gray Otis to Abigail Adams

I am quite ashamed my dear Mrs Adams that I have so long neglected writeing to you, indeed I can make but a very poor excuse for so doing, & must depend wholly on your candor to excuse my neglegence.
You wish to know how your acquaintance are, Mrs Washington enjoys as much health as can be expected at her time of life, and her spirits are better than I expected to find them. Mrs Powell, I am told is still very much distresed. Mrs Morris, Mrs Hamilton, & Mrs Dalton, are in very good health & spirits.—1 You would not suppose were you here, from anything you saw, that this had been a place of so much distress, as it really was, the last summer;—the only impression it seems to have made, is, to secure a retreat, in case the fever should appear again. It is said there is not a room to be let within 10 miles of Philadelphia.—
The assembles have commenced, & the new Theatre is opened notwithstanding the opposition made to it by the Quakers;2 it is attended with great egerness, I restrain my curiosity till the crowd have done going.
There has not been any large partys amongst the married ladys, but the young ones, say, they have been more disapated this winter, { 89 } than they ever were before, there haveing been so many private balls.—
Yesterday was the Presidents birthday, & was observed with every mark of respect, in the eveg: was a splended ball. I did not pay my respects by attending, for two reasons; the force of Education & habit, was so strong on my mind, that I could not help thinking it would encroch too near upon the Sabbath, the other that I should not be mised in the crowd.—
Your good gentleman I think enjoys his health very well, he some times says he is not, but he looks fat & hearty, I rather think he is more homesick, & times-sick, than bodily indisposed.—
My love to Mrs Cranch, Louisa, and all other friends. Mr Otis & Harriet desire their kind remembrances to you, we all enjoy good health, excep[ting] Saml Otis, who has kept house for 3 weeks, with the same complaint which has afflicted him all the last Summer.—That you may enjoy a confirmd state of health, is the fervent wish of / Your Affectionate Cousin
[signed] M: Otis
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs: Adams / Quincy.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.
1. Presumably Mary White Morris (1749–1827) of Philadelphia, who had married Robert Morris in 1769 (Charles Henry Hart, “Mary White—Mrs. Robert Morris,” PMHB, 2:157, 158, 182 [1878]).
2. The Society of Friends had long opposed theatrical performances, questioning their morality and associating the theater with luxury and corruption. Notwithstanding the Quakers’ objections, construction of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia was completed in 1793, but the house did not open until 17 Feb. 1794 owing to the yellow fever epidemic. The first performances were of John O’Keeffe’s The Castle of Andalusia and Hannah Cowley’s Who’s the Dupe (Bruce McConachie, “American Theatre in Context, from the Beginnings to 1870,” in Don B. Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby, eds., The Cambridge History of American Theatre, vol. 1, Beginnings to 1870, N.Y., 1998, p. 120, 126–127; William C. Young, Documents of American Theater History, vol. 1, Famous American Playhouses 1716–1899, Chicago, 1973, p. 35–39).

Docno: ADMS-04-10-02-0045

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1794-02-26

Abigail Adams to John Adams

[salute] my Dearest Friend

Not receiveing any Letters on saturday evening I was so impatient that I sent James to Town on sunday afternoon, and he brought me home your kind favours of the 8th 9th & 10th of this Month;1 I do not omit writing to you once a week, and sometimes twice
The late King of Prussia Said that every age must commit its own follies, and that the experience of others was but of little benifit to them.2 “National corruption must be purged by National { 90 } Calamities. A real reformation is not to be accomplish’d by ordinary means; it requires those extraordinary means which become punishments as well as lesson’s,” were the observations of a great Politician:3 whether France will ever emerge from the horrids Scenes, that deluge her with carnage, havock, and Blood, “is in the dark Gloom and abyss of Time”4 there present situation is well pictured in the following line

“The Sacred arts of rule

Turn’d to flagitious leagues against mankind

And arts of plunder more & more avow’d

Devotion turn’d to a Solemn farce

To holy dotage virtue; even to guile,

To Murder, and a mockery of oaths;

Dishonour’d courage to the Bravo’s trade

To civil Broil; and Glory to romance

Alass poor Gallia! What a bitter cup

of vengeance hast thou drain’d?

How many a ruffian form hast thou beheld?

What horrid jargons heard, where rage alone

Was all thy frighted ear could comprehend?

How frequent by the red inhumane hand

yet warm with Brother’s husbands, Fathers Blood,

Hast thou thy Matrons and thy virgins seen

To voilation dragg’d, and mingled death”5

you ask me what mr Wibird says now to the French. he says that he believes that they will all go to the Devil and that they deserve to, but still insists that they never would have gone to such dreadfull lengths if they had not been invaded and driven to Desperation by foreign powers, and that future generations will be benifitted by their calamity. The abuse upon the President which you mention, but which I do not see, proves that the most virtuous and unblemishd Characters are liable to the Malice and venom of unprincipald Wretches. Such virtue such disinterested Patriotism when thus requited, has frequently become Tyranical, and unlesss mankind were universally enlightned, which never can be. they are unfit for freedom, nor do I belive that our Creator designd it for them if such a Boon had been designd for them, all Ages and Nations from Adam to the present day would not have been one standing continued and universal proof to the contrary. Some were made for Rule others for submission, and even amongst my own Sex this doctrine holds { 91 } good. History informs us that of the few Queens who have reigned for any length of Time as absolute Sovereigns the greatest part of them have been celebrated for excellent Governours. Pliny, tells us that in Meroe, Women reigned for many Successive ages— among the Lacedemonians, the women had a great share in the political government; and that it was agreeable to the Laws given them by Licurgns in Borneo, the women Reign alone, and their Husbands enjoy no other privilege than that of being their most dignified Subjects;6 but as Reigning and Ruling is so much out of fashion at the present day, my ambition will extend no further than Reigning in the Heart of my Husband. that is my Throne and there I aspire to be absolute.
you will see in the Centinal a very vapid answer to a very vapid speach, and the estimation in which it was held, by the committe appointed to carry it.7 I have read with pleasure two very judicious papers in the Centinal taken from a Phyladelphia paper under the signature of Americanus.8 such writers are wise and salutary;

“oh Peace! thou source and soul of social Life

Blest be the Man divine, who gives us thee”9

I have deliverd your message to your Mother. she bids me tell you that she leaves you her Blessing, that she request your remembranc of her to the Throne of Mercy, that she is hastning to an other and a better Country, where she hopes one day to meet You, but that here she shall never see you more, and of this opinion I am daily more and more, as her decay becomes more and more visible a few weeks if not days must put a period to a long and to a very irreproachable Life. my constant attendance upon her has very much lessned my desire of long life. her fears least she should recover & become useless, her appearing to have out lived every enjoyment, shews that life at best is but a poor play, and the best that can come of it. it is a misirable Benediction.
these Reflections exclude any further addition to my Letter, than the sincerest which / I can make you of being ever / yours
[signed] A Adams
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs A. Feb 26. Ansd / 8. March. 1794.”
1. JA’s letters to AA of 8 and 10 Feb. and his first letter of 9 Feb. are all above. For JA’s second letter to AA of 9 Feb. (Adams Papers), see JA to AA, 8 Feb., note 4, above.
2. “The follies of the father afford no useful lesson to the son; each generation must have its errors” (Frederick II, Posthumous Works of Frederic II, King of Prussia, transl. Thomas Holcroft, 13 vols., London, 1789, 3:375).
{ 92 }
3. Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, to Jonathan Swift, 17 Jan. 1730/31, The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, D.D., 19 vols., London, 1808, 12:180.
4. Possibly a misquoting of Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, scene ii, line 50: “In the dark backward and abysm of time.”
5. James Thomson, Liberty, Part IV, “Britain,” lines 88–93, 96–97, 108–109, 111–117.
6. AA’s discussion of female rulers is paraphrased, and in parts directly quoted, from “On the Political Abilities of the Female Sex,” Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, 62:174–175 (April 1778).
7. For the General Court’s response to Samuel Adams’ speech, which appeared in the Boston Columbian Centinel, 22 Feb., see AA to JA, 12 Feb., note 2, above.
8. Americanus originally appeared in the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 31 Jan., 7 Feb., and was reprinted by the Boston Columbian Centinel, 19, 22 February. Americanus assesses how “the cause of Liberty” might be forwarded by U.S. involvement in the general European war, asking, “Whether the degree of service we could render, by participating in the conflict, was likely to compensate by its utility to the cause, the evils which would probably flow from it to ourselves.” The author focuses on the costs of war, the ability of the United States to lend meaningful support to France, and the impact involvement would have on U.S. prosperity, concluding that involvement would not meaningfully assist France and might damage U.S. interests.
9. James Thomson, “Britannia,” lines 122, 126.
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.