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Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive
John Adams diary 4, October 1759 - 20 November 1761, 21 November 1772

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No. 4. Copied. ["No. 4. Copied. " added by Chrarles Francis Adams][No transcription available -- see page image]

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The true End, which we ought to have in View, is that praeclarum ac Singulare quiddam, which follows here.

Tis impossible to employ with full Advantage the Forces of our own minds, in study, in Council or in Argument, without examining with great Attention and Exactness, all our mental Faculties, in all their Operations, as explained by Writers on the human Understanding, and as exerted by Geometricians.

Tis impossible to judge with much Pr cision of the true Motives and Qualities of human Actions, or of the Propriety of Rules contrived to govern them, without considering with like Attention, all the Passions, Appetites, Affections in Nature from which they flow. An intimate Knowledge therefore of the intellectual and moral World is the sole foundation on which a stable structure of Knowledge can be erected.

And the structure of british Laws, is composed of such a vast and various Collection of materials, taken partly from Saxony, Normandy and Denmark, partly from Greece and Rome, and partly from the cannon and feudal Law, that, 'tis impossible for any Builder to comprehend the whole vast Design, and see what is well and what

[ill] contrived or jointed, without Acquainting himself with Saxon, Danish, Norman [as] well as Greek and Roman History, with civil, feudal and Cannon Law.

Besides all this, tis impossible to avail our selves of the genuine Powers of Eloquence, without examining in their Elements and first Principles, the Force and Harmony of Numbers, as employed by the Poets and orators of ancient and modern times, and without considering the natural Powers of Imagination, and the Disposition of Mankind to Metaphor and figure, which will require the Knowledge of the true Principles of Grammar, and Rhetoric, and of the best classical Authors.

Now to what higher object, to what greater Character, can any Mortal aspire, than to be possessed of all this Knowledge, well digested, and ready at Command, to assist the feeble and Friendless, to discountenance the haughty and lawless, to procure Redress of Wrongs, the Advancement of Right, to assert and maintain Liberty and Virtue, to discourage and abolish Tyranny and Vice.

Began Octr. 12th, in Pursuance of the foregoing Plan to transcribe from Brightlands english Grammar, Answer's to Mr. Gridleys Questions for that Grammar.
I have begun too, to compare Dr. Cowells Institutes of the Laws of England, with Justinians Institutes of the Laws of Rome, Chapters by Title by Title, that each may reflect Light upon the other, and that I may advance my Knowledge of civil and common Law at the same Time.
[See also: John Adams, [Diary 5] for entries dating from 1760.]
Another Year is now gone and upon Recollection, I find I have executed none of my Plans of study. I cannot Satisfy my self that I am much more knowing either from Books, or Men, from this Chamber, or the World, than I was at least a Year ago, when I wrote the foregoing Letter to Sewal. Most of my Time has been spent in Rambling and Dissipation. Riding, and Walking, Smoking Pipes and Spending Evenings, consume a vast Proportion of my Time, and the Cares and Anxieties of Business, damp my Ardor and scatter my attention. But I must stay more at home -- and commit more to Writing. A Pen is certainly an excellent Instrument, to fix a Mans Attention and to inflame his Ambition. I am therefore beginning a new literary Year, with the 26th. of my life.

I am just entered on the 26th Year of my Life, and on the fifth Year of my studies in Law, and I think than it is high Time for a Reformation both in the Man, and the Lawyer. 25 Years of the Animal Life is a great Proportion to be spent, to so little Purpose, and four Years, the Space that we spend at Colledge is a great deal of Time to spend for no more Knowledge in the science and no more Employment in the Practice of Law. Let me keep an exact Journal therefore of the Authors I read, in this Paper.
This day I am beginning my Ld. Hales History of the Common Law, a Book borrowed of Mr. Otis, and read once already, Analysis and all, with great Satisfaction. I wish I had Mr. Blackstones Analysis, that I might compare, and see what Improvements he has made upon Hale's.
But what principally pleased me, in the first Reading of Hales History, was his  [illegible Dissertation upon Descents, and upon Tryals by a Jury.
Hales Analysis, as Mr. Gridley tells me, is an Improvement of one, first planned and sketched by Noy, an Attorney General in the Reign of Charles 1st. And Mr. Blackstone's is an Improvement upon Hales.

The Title is "The History of the Common Law of England." The Frontispiece, I cannot comprehend. It is this.

[No transcription available -- see page image] [John Adam's transcription of a Greek phrase that appeared in the publication mentioned above.]

His great Distribution of the Laws of England is into Leges scriptae and Leges non scriptae. The first are Acts of Parliament which are originally reduced to writing before they are enacted, or receive any binding Power, every such Law being in the first Instance, formally drawn up in Writing, and made as it were a Tripartite Indenture, between the King, the Lords and Commons.

The Leges non scriptae, altho there may be some Monument or Memorial of them in Writing (as there is of all of them) yet all of them have not their original in Writing, but have obtained their Force by immemorial Usage or Custom.

Finished the History of the Common Law, the second Time. The Dissertation on hereditary Descents, and that on Tryals by juries, are really, very excellent Performances, and well worth repeated, attentive Reading.
Ten days are now elapsed, since I began Hale the 2d time, and all the Law I have read, for 10 days, is that Book once thro. I read Woods Institute thro the first Time with Mr. Put. in twice that time i.e. in 3 Weeks, and kept a school every day. My present Inattention to Law is intolerable and ruinous.

Night before Thanksgiving. -- I have read a Multitude of Law Books -- mastered but few. Wood. Coke. 2 Vols. Lillies [Abridgment]. 2 Vols. Salkeld's Reports. Swinburne. Hawkins Pleas of the Crown. Fortescue. Fitzgibbons.  [illegible Ten Volumes in folio I read, at Worcester, quite thro -- besides Octavos and Lesser Volumes, and many others of all sizes that I consulted occasionally, without Reading in Course as Dictionaries, Reporters, Entries, and Abridgments, &c.
I cannot give so good an Account of the Improvement of my two last Years, spent in Braintree. However I have read no small Number of Volumes, upon the Law, the last 2 Years. Justinians Institutes I have read, thro, in Latin with Vinnius's perpetual Notes, Van Muydens Tractatio Institutionum Justiniani, I read thro, and translated, mostly into English, from the same Language. Woods Institute of the Civil Law, I read thro. These on the civil Law; on the Law of England I read Cowells Institute of the Laws of England, in Imitation of Justinian, Dr. and student, Finch's Discourse of Law, Hales History, and some Reporters, Cases in Chancery, Andrews &c. besides occasional searches for Business. Also a general Treatise of naval Trade and Commerce, as founded on the Laws and Statutes.

All this series of Reading, has left but faint Impressions, and [a] very Imperfect system of Law in my Head.
I must form a serious Resolution of beginning and pursuing quite thro, the Plans of my Lords Hale, and Reeve. Woods Institutes of common Law I never read but once, and my Ld. Coke's Commentary on Littleton I never read but once. These two Authors I must get, and read, over and over again. And I will get em too, and break thro, as Mr. Gridly expressed it, all obstructions.
Besides, I am but a Novice in natural Law and civil Law. There are multitudes of excellent Authors, on natural Law, that I have never read, indeed I never read any Part of the best authors, Puffendorf and Grotius. In the Civil Law, there are Hoppius, and Vinnius, Commentators on Justinian, Domat, &c. besides Institutes of Cannon and feudal Law, that I have to read.
Much may be done in two Years, I have found already. And let it be my Care, that at the End of the next two Years I be better able to shew that no Time has been lost than I ever have been yet.
Let me practice the Rule of Pythagoras.
[No transcription available -- see page image] [John Adams wrote this passage in Greek.]
Thus let me, every night before I go to bed, write down in this Book, what Book of Law, I have read.

I have not read one Word of Law, this Day. But several Points, and Queries have been suggested to me, by the Consultors. -- In whom is the Fee, and Freehold of our burying Yard? What Right has any Man to erect a Monument, or sink a Tomb there, without the Consent of the Proprietors? In England, the Church Yards are the Places of Burial, and the Parson is seised in fee, of them as of the Ground whereon the Church stands. But our Burying Yards, as well as the Ground, on which our Temples stand, are not vested in our incumbent Ministers, but in the Precinct or Parish, (the Corporation so called) where they lie, according to the late Resolution in the Dedham Case.
The Property of our Meeting House, is in the Precinct, i.e. the dissenting Part of it, -- And I think the Precinct, by its Committee sold the Pews to particular Persons, and perhaps, the Persons who have erected Tombs, might previously ask And obtain the Priviledge of the Precinct.
Read no Law. -- An exclusive Property is certainly claimed and enjoyed, by private Persons, in Tombs and Monuments, as well as in Pews. Inhabitants of other Towns, have usually asked Leave of the Select Men, to bury their dead in our burying Place. But I should think the Precinct Assessors, or Parish Committee, had rather the Inspection of our burying Yard. My Father never knew License given nor asked of Town, nor Precinct to sink a Tomb, nor to [raise a] Monument.

Suppose my Father, Wife, Child, friend died, and I order the sexton, or on his Refusal my own servant to open any Tomb in our burying Yard, and without further Ceremony deposit the Corps there, can the pretended Proprietor have any Action, or Remedy against me? The Course of the Descent of these Tombs and Pews, when undisposed by Will, is a matter of uncertainty too. Do they descend to the Heirs, as Inheritances in Houses and Lands, or do they go to the Executor or Administrator, as personal Estate?
There is an Anecdote in the Spectator, of De Wit, the famous dutch Politician. Somebody asked him how he could rid his Hands of that endless Multiplicity and Variety of Business that passed thro them, without Confusion? He answered, "by doing one Thing at once." When he began Any Thing, he applied his whole Attention to it, till he had finished it. -- This Rule should be observed in Law. If any Point is to be examined, every Book should be consulted and every Light should be considered, before you proceed to any other Business or study. If any Book is to be read, no other Book should be taken up to divert or interrupt your Attention till that Book is finished.
Order, Method, Regularity in Business or Study have excellent Effects both in saving of Time and in bettering and improving Performance. Business done, in order, is done sooner, and better.
Read no Law. Read Bolinbroke.

I am beginning a Week and a month, and I arose by the Dawning of the Day. And by sun rise had made my fire and read a number of Pages in Bolinbroke. Tuesday and Wednesday passed, without reading any Law.
Last Fryday I borrowed of Mr. Gridley, the second Volume of the Corpus Iuris Canonici Notis illustratum. Gregorii 13 Iussi editum.complectens Decretum Gratiani. Decretales Gregorii Papae 9. Sextum Deeretalium Bonifacii Papx 8. Clementinas, Extravagantes Ioannis Papae 12. Extravagantes communes.
Accesserunt Constitutiones Novx summorum Pontificum, nunquam antea editae, quae 7. Decretalium Loco esse possint:-Annotationes Ant. Naldi, cum Addit. novis. -- Et qux in Plerisque Editionibus desiderabantur, Petri Lancelotti, Institutiones Iuris Canonici; Regulae Cancellariee Apostolicae : cum Indicibus &c.
Mr. Gridley about 15 months since, advised me to read an Institute of the Cannon Law-and that Advice lay broiling in my Head, till last Week, when I borrowed the Book.
I am very glad, that he gave, and I took, the Advice, for it will explain many Things in Ecclesiastical History, and open that system of fraud, Bigotry, Nonsense, Impudence, and Superstition, on which the Papal Usurpations are founded, besides increasing my skill in the latin Tongue, and my Acquaintance with civil

Law, for  [illegible in many Respects the Cannon Law is grafted on the civil.
I have now almost finished the first book of Peter Lancelotts Institute, which first Book is taken up De jure Personarum, and is well analized in the 29th Title De Clericis non Residentibus, in these Words vizt. "Personarum quidam Laid sunt, quidam Clerici. Rursus Clericorum, quidam sunt in Sacerdotio constituti, quidam in sacris, licet non in sacerdotio, quidam nee in sacris, nec in sacerdotio. Eorum rursus, qui in sacerdotio constituti sunt, quidam sunt in celsiore gradu, ut Episcopi: quidam in inferiore, ut Presbyteri. In sacris vero dicuntur constituti Diaconi et subdiaconi qui vero nec in sacerdotio, nec in sacris reperiuntur, ii sunt, qui Bunt in Minoribus ordinibus constituti. Caeterum, quoniam adhuc quidam in Ecclesia sunt, qui non minus in Laicatu, quam in Clericatu constituti Domino Deserviunt, ut sunt Regulares ac Monachi, restat, ut et de his Pauca subiiciamus."
This morning, as I lay abed, I recollected my last Weeks Work. I find I was extreamly diligent, constantly in my Chamber, Spent no Evenings abroad, not more than one at the Drs. Have taken no Walks, [illegible never been on Horseback the whole Week, excepting once, which was on Tuesday, when I went to Boston. Yet how has this Retirement, and solitude been spent? In too much Rambling and Straggling from one Book

to another, from the Corpus Juris Canonici, to Bolingbroke, from him to Pope, from him to Addison, from him to Yoricks sermons, &c. In fine, the whole Week, and all my Diligence has been lost, for want of observing De Wits Maxim, "one Thing at once." This Reflection raised a Determination to re-assume the Corpus Juris, or Rather Lancelots Institutes, and read nothing else, and think of nothing else -- till sometime.
With the Week then, I begin the second Book Institutionum Juris Canonici. -- De Rerum Divisione, atque illorum Administratione. Titulus primus. Res Ecclesiasticae sunt, aut spirituales, aut temporales.
Res Spirituales sunt aut incorporales, aut corporales: et corporales dividuntur in sacramenta, in res sacras, sanctas et religiosas.
This Institute is a curious Monument of Priestly Ambition, Avarice and subtlety. Tis a system of sacerdotal Guile.
I have been interrupted from Reading this Institute ever since Feby. Amidst the Dissipations of Business, Pleasure, Conversation, Intrigue, Party &c. what mortal can give Attention to an old latin Institute of the Cannon Law? But it is certainly worth while to proceed and finish it, as I have already been 2/3 thro it.

I began Lancelotts Institute last Jany., and have read no farther than Liber 3. [Titulus] 8. De Exceptionibus et Replicationibus.
Another Year is come about round, and I can recollect still less Reading, than I could last Novr. The Increase of my Business, within 12ve months, has been nothing. I drew fewer Writs last October Court than I drew the October Court before, tho I drew an uncommon Number at both. -- Yet I have advanced a few Steps. Have procured my Brother, his office, abated Nathan Spears Writ, Battled it with Capt. Thayer at Majr. Crosbeys, recovered of Jo. Tirrell for Lambard, recovered of Lawrence for Tirrell, abated Kings Writ, conducted the  [illegible [Petition ]vs. [Taverns]. All These Things have been done in one Year. Besides have bought some Books &c. but have read but little Law.
This morning I have been Reading  [illegible Archbp. Sharps sermon, To the Upright there ariseth Light in the Darkness. His Character of the Upright man, &c. Same day read a Number of his sermons in his first Volume. He is a moving, affectionate Preacher-devotional, more than Tillotson, but not so moral.

Brother Quincy and I were Sworn, before the Superiour Court. It is now more than five Years since I began the study of the Law. And it is about three Years, since I was sworn at the Inferiour Court.
This day removed to my Chamber, and made a Fire. The Forenoon was Spent in Conversation with Zab, in walking to Dr. Turners, and up Pens Hill, and this afternoon in Conversation with Grindal Rawson and Zab at Mrs. Marshes. Yet I have caught several snatches of Reading and Thinking, in Blackstone, Gilbert &c. But I, as usual, expect great Things from this Chamber, and this Winter.

Eleven Years have passed since I minuted any Thing in this Book. What an admirable Advantage it would have been if I had recorded every Step in the Progress of my Studies for these Eleven Years.
If I had kept an exact journal of all my journeys on the Circuits, of all the Removes of my Family, my Buildings, Purchases, the gradual Increase of my Library, as well as of my and Family, as well as of the Improvement of my Mind by my Studies, the whole would have composed entertaining Memoirs, to me in my old Age, and to my Family after my Decease.
One Thing in this Book shall be a Lesson to me. The Gentleman to whom the Letter is directed, an extract of which is in the Beginning of this Book, Eleven Years ago I thought the best Friend, I had in the World. I loved him accordingly and corresponded with him, many Years, without Reserve: But the Scaene is changed. At this Moment I look upon him [as] the most bitter, malicious, determined and implacable Enemy I have. God forgive him the Part he has acted, both in public and private Life! It is not impossible that he may make the same Prayer for me.

I am now about removing, a Second Time from Braintree to Boston. In April 1768 I removed to Boston, to the white House in Brattle Square, in the Spring 1769, I removed to Cole Lane, to Mr. Fayerweathers House. In 1770 I removed to another House in Brattle Square, where Dr. Cooper now lives, in 1771, I removed from Boston to Braintree, in the Month of April, where I have lived to this Time. I hope I shall not have Occasion to remove so often for 4 Years and an half to come.
The numerous journeys and Removes, that I have taken in this Period, have put my Mind into an unsettled State. They have occasioned too much Confusion and Dissipation. I hope to pass a more steady, regular Life for the future in all Respects.
When I chance to meet with any of my own Compositions, of Ten Years old, I am much inclined to think I could write with more Accuracy and Elegance then than I can now, and that I had more Sense and Knowledge then, than I have now. My Memory, and Fancy were certainly better then, and my judgment,  [illegible I conjecture quite as good.

Inside Back Cover
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Cite web page as: John Adams diary 4, October 1759 - 20 November 1761, 21 November 1772 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. John Adams diary 4, October 1759 - 20 November 1761, 21 November 1772. Folded sheets with paper covers (16 pages, 10 additional blank pages). Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. Vol. 1.Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1961.