Diary of John Adams, volume 3

London Thursday March 30.

Saturday Ap. 15.

[Notes on a Tour of English Country Seats, &c., with Thomas Jefferson, 4–10? April 1786.]<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA03d166n1" class="note" id="DJA03d166n1a">1</a> JA [Notes on a Tour of English Country Seats, &c., with Thomas Jefferson, 4–10? April 1786.] Adams, John
Notes on a Tour of English Country Seats, &c., with Thomas Jefferson, 4–10? April 1786. 1

Mr. Jefferson and myself, went in a Post Chaise to Woburn Farm,2 Caversham, Wotton, Stowe, Edghill, Stratford upon Avon, Birmingham, the Leasowes, Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcester, Woodstock, Blenheim, Oxford, High Wycomb, and back to Grosvenor Square.


Edgehill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us, as Scaenes where Freemen had fought for their Rights. The People in the Neighbourhood, appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester that I was provoked and asked, “And do Englishmen so soon forget the Ground where Liberty was fought for? Tell your Neighbours and your Children that this is holy Ground, much holier than that on which your Churches stand. All England should come in Pilgrimage to this Hill, once a Year.” This animated them, and they seemed much pleased with it. Perhaps their Aukwardness before might arise from their Uncertainty of our Sentiments concerning the Civil Wars.

Stratford upon Avon is interesting as it is the Scaene of the Birth, Death and Sepulture of Shakespear. Three Doors from the Inn, is the House where he was born, as small and mean, as you can conceive. They shew Us an old Wooden Chair in the Chimney Corner, where He sat. We cutt off a Chip according to the Custom. A Mulberry Tree that he planted has been cutt down, and is carefully preserved for Sale. The House where he died has been taken down and the Spot is now only Yard or Garden. The Curse upon him who should remove his Bones, which is written on his Grave Stone, alludes to a Pile of some Thousands of human Bones, which lie exposed in that Church. There is nothing preserved of this great Genius which is worth knowing—nothing which might inform Us what Education, what Company, what Accident turned his Mind to Letters and the Drama. His name is not even on his Grave Stone. An ill sculptured Head is sett up by his Wife, by the Side of his Grave in the Church. But paintings and Sculpture would be thrown away upon his Fame. His Wit, and Fancy, his Taste and Judgment, His Knowledge of Nature, of Life and Character, are immortal.

At Birmingham, We only walked round the Town and viewed a manufactory of Paintings upon Paper.

The Gentlemens Seats were the highest Entertainment, We met with. Stowe, Hagley and Blenheim, are superb. Woburn, Caversham and the Leasowes are beautifull. Wotton is both great and elegant tho neglected. Architecture, Painting, Statuary, Poetry are all employed in the Embellishment of these Residences of Greatness and Luxury. A national Debt of 274 millions sterling accumulated by Jobs, Contracts, Salaries and Pensions in the Course of a Century might easily produce all this Magnificence. The Pillars, Obelisks &c. erected in honour of Kings, Queens and Princesses, might procure the means. The Temples to Bacchus and Venus, are quite unnecessary as Mankind have no need of artificial Incitements, to such Amuze-186ments.3 The Temples of ancient Virtue, of the British Worthies, of Friendship, of Concord and Victory, are in a higher Taste. I mounted Ld. Cobhams Pillar 120 feet high, with pleasure, as his Lordships Name was familiar to me, from Popes Works.

Ld. Littletons Seat interested me, from a recollection of his Works, as well as the Grandeur and Beauty of the Scaenes. Popes Pavillion and Thompsons Thomson's Seat, made the Excursion poetical. Shen-stones Leasowes is the simplest and plainest, but the most rural of all. I saw no Spot so small, that exhibited such a Variety of Beauties.

It will be long, I hope before Ridings, Parks, Pleasure Grounds, Gardens and ornamented Farms grow so much in fashion in America. But Nature has done greater Things and furnished nobler Materials there. The Oceans, Islands, Rivers, Mountains, Valleys are all laid out upon a larger Scale.—If any Man should hereafter arise, to embellish the rugged Grandeur of Pens Hill, he might make some thing to boast of, although there are many Situations capable of better Improvement.

Since my Return4 I have been over Black Fryars Bridge to see Viny's Manufacture of Patent Wheels made of bent Timber.

Viny values himself much upon his mechanical Invention. Is loud in praise of Franklin who first suggested to him the Hint of a bent Wheel. Franklin once told me, he had seen such a Wheel in Holland, before he set Viny to work. Viny says that Franklin said to him, “Mankind are very superficial and very dastardly. They begin upon a Thing but meeting with a difficulty they fly from it, discouraged. But they have Capacities if they would but employ them.” “I,” says Viny, “make it a Rule to do nothing as others do it. My first Question is how do others do this? and when I have found out, I resolve to do it, another Way, and a better Way. I take my Pipe and Smoke like a Lim-burners Kiln, and I find a Pipe is the best Aid to thinking.” This Man has Genius, but has Genius always as much Vanity? It is not always so open. It is really modest and humble sometimes. But in Viny it is very vain. His Inventions for boiling and bending his Timber, and for drilling his Irons, are very ingenious. The force requisite for bending a Stick of Ash into a hoop, suitable for a large Wheel, or a small one, is prodigious.5


In the MS the present entry has the bare caption “London April,” indicating, as does the substance of the entry itself, that it was written after the tourists had returned from their circuit from London to scenic and historic sites in Surrey, Berks, Bucks, and Warwick, as far as The Leasowes in Shropshire, and back through Worcester and Oxford to London. The dates of the tour have been 187 image well worked out by Julian P. Boyd in his editorial notes on Jefferson's “Memorandums” taken on the tour, the entries in Jefferson's Account Book being especially helpful for that purpose (Jefferson, Papers , 9:374). Readers comparing JA's and Jefferson's records of this pleasure jaunt should take note that the latter began his tour two days earlier (visiting Twickenham, Hampton Court, Woburn Farm, and other nearby points) and returned to London where he was joined by JA on 4 April, and also that Jefferson's notes have an addendum for his separate trip or trips to Moor Park, Enfield Chace, and Kew, which took place after he and JA had finished their tour together. They will further notice that while Jefferson mentions only those sites they visited that are dealt with in Thomas Whately's Observations on Modern Gardening, Illustrated by Descriptions, London, 1770, JA by no means confined himself to famous gardens, though he entered in the margins of his own copy of Whately's book (4th edn., 1777, in MB) every garden he visited with Jefferson.


This was a return visit for Jefferson to Woburn Farm, near Weybridge, Surrey; see his Account Book, 1783–1790 (MHi), under both 3 and 4 April 1786.


Contrast Jefferson's memorandum at Hagley, Lord Lyttelton's seat near Stourbridge, Worcester:

“From one of these [ponds] there is a fine cascade; but it can only be occasionally, by opening the sluice. This is in a small, dark, deep hollow, with recesses of stone in the banks on every side. In one of these is a Venus pudique, turned half round as if inviting you with her into the recess” ( Papers, ed. Boyd, 9:372).


The evidence is indeterminate on the exact date of the return to London. When the two friends started they did not know how far they would go. “We have seen Magnificence, Elegance and Taste enough to excite an Inclination to see more,” JA wrote his wife from the village of Buckingham, 5 April (NhD). “We conclude to go to Birmingham, perhaps to the Leasowes, and in that Case shall not have the Pleasure to see you, till Sunday or Monday” (i.e. till the 9th or 10th). From entries in Jefferson's Account Book it is clear that on the 9th they visited Blenheim and Oxford and came on to Tatsworth and High Wycombe (where Jefferson paid for “ent[ertainmen]t” 10s. 10d.), which seems to indicate that they lodged there for the night. But he also recorded paying that day for horses as far as Uxbridge, which is closer to London than High Wycombe. Considering the distance and the stops, it is most likely that the travelers spent the night of the 9th on the road and came on to London next day.

On the 9th Jefferson also recorded in his Account Book: “received of Mr. Adams £9–9 in part towards preceding expences from our leaving London Apr. 4. which are joint.” A later, separate account (DLC: Jefferson Papers, under date of Aug. 1786) is fuller:

Whole expences of our journey £35– 16– 9
One half is 17– 18– 4 1/2
Mr. Adams furnished 9– 9
£ 8– 9– 4 1/2


The date of the visit to the works of John Viney, “Timber-bender, Great Surry-Str. Blackfri[ars]” ( The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture, 3d edn., London, 1797, 1:319), is also indeterminate, but it must have occurred between 10 and 15 April, since the next entry in the Diary bears the latter date. Jefferson was also in the party, and if JA was inclined to belittle Viney's bent-timber wheels because the proprietor admired both himself and Franklin too highly to suit JA's taste, Jefferson was later indignant on patriotic grounds. In a letter to St. John de Crèvecoeur about published claims for Viney's process, Jefferson recalled his visit to Viney's works and pointed out that farmers in New Jersey had long made cartwheels by bending saplings into circles and had probably learned the process from Book IV of the Iliad, “because ours are the only farmers who can read Homer” (15 Jan. 1787; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 11:43–45).