Diary of John Adams, volume 4

April 16. Thursday 1778.

April 18. Saturday. 1778.

[April 17. Fryday.] JA [April 17. Fryday.] Adams, John
April 17. Fryday.

April 17. Fryday. We dined home with Company. Mr. Platt and his Lady, Mr. Amiel and his Lady, Mr. Austin, Mr. Alexander &c. There were two Alexanders, one a Batcheller, the other with a Family of several Daughters, one of whom Mr. Jonathan Williams afterwards married. They lived in a House not far from Us, were from Scotland, and had some connection with Mr. Franklin, which I never understood and took no pains to investigate.1

After dinner We went to see the Fete de long Champ, or the feast of the long Field. This was good Fryday. On this Week, all the Theatres of Paris are shutt up and the Performers forbidden to play. By this decree, whether of the Church or State, or both, All the fashionable People of Paris and its Environs are deprived of their daily Amusements and loose their ordinary topicks of conversation. The consequence of which is that they are si ennuiée, so weary of themselves that they cannot live. To avoid this direfull calamity they have invented this new Spectacle and have made it fashionable for every Person who owns a Carriage of any kind that rolls upon Wheels, and all those who can hire one to go out of Town and march their Horses slowly along one side of the great Road to the End of it, then they come about and return on the other Side, and in this manner the Carriages are rolling all day. It was asserted on that day that there was not a pair of Wheels left in the City. For some Years, the Ladies who were not acknowledged to have established reputations, were observed to appear in unusual splendor in these Processions, and the indecency increased from Year to Year till one of the most beautifull but one of the most infamous Prostitutes in Paris had sold her Charms to such profit that she appeared in the most costly and splendid Equipage in 63the whole Row:2 six of the finest horses in the Kingdom, the most costly Coach that could be built, more numerous Servants and richer Liveries than any of the Nobility or Princes. Her own Dress in Proportion. It was generally agreed to be the finest Shew that had ever been exhibited. This was so audacious an Insult to all modest Women and indeed to the national morality and Religion, that the Queen to her honor sent her a Message the next morning, that if she ever appeared again, any where, in that Equipage she should find herself in Bicetre the next morning.3 Yet even this was a modest fancy in comparison with the palace of Bellvue.4 This was another Symptom of the pure virtuous manners which I was simple enough to think would not accord with our American Republican Institutions. To be sure it had never yet entered my thoughts, that any rational Being would ever think of demolishing the Monarchy and creating a Republick in France.


The Alexanders were a numerous and ubiquitous clan, some of whom Franklin had known in England and others apparently in Scotland, and all of whom were correspondents of his. William Alexander Jr. owned property in the West Indies and had had financial dealings with Franklin before the Revolution. He left England for France in 1776, welcomed Franklin from Dijon, and later established himself with his daughters (one of whom, Marianne, married Franklin's grandnephew Jonathan Williams in 1779) at Auteuil. It is now known that Alexander was a secret agent of Sir William Pulteney, who in 1777–1778 tried to bring about peace by personal negotiations with Franklin. Alexander's career is described and his correspondence with Pulteney is quoted and abstracted by Frederick B. Tolles in “Franklin and the Pulteney Mission: An Episode in the Secret History of the American Revolution,” Huntington Libr. Quart., 17:37–58 (Nov. 1953) His letter of 26 May 1778 (p. 53–54) contains a vivid sketch of JA soon after his arrival in France.


In JA's Works (133) the preceding passage reads as follows: “For some years, certain persons of equivocal reputation were observed to appear in unusual splendor in these processions, and the scandal increased from year to year, till one of the most notorious females in Paris appeared in the most costly and splendid equipage in the whole row” —a rare but striking instance of editorial bowdlerizing by CFA.


A long letter from John Thaxter to AA, Paris, 18 April 1783 (Adams Papers), is very largely devoted to an account of the “Fête des longs Champs” that he had witnessed the day before.


Bellevue, the splendid palace built for Mme. de Pompadour on the Seine near Meudon; it is described in Dezallier, Environs de Paris, 1779, p. 35–40. See JA's reflections on the role of Bellevue and its mistress in French history, in the entry of 2 June, below.