Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

Mercy Otis Warren to Abigail Adams, 19 January 1774 Warren, Mercy Otis AA Mercy Otis Warren to Abigail Adams, 19 January 1774 Warren, Mercy Otis Adams, Abigail
Mercy Otis Warren to Abigail Adams
Plimouth january 19 1774

I sincerely Congratulate my much Esteemed friend on the Restoration of the invaluable Blessing of Health: without which (if I may so Express it) Life is but a painful Blank. May it be long: very long before she again knows an interuption.

But by the stile and spirit of yours of the 5th December one would judge you was quite as much affected by the shocks of the political as the Natural Constitution. Tho I hope we have less to Dread than you then apprehended, for as Catharticks and sometimes pretty Violent Exercise is recommended by the physician as Beneficial to the latter, possibly the Emeticks (and Consequent shakings of the smaller Arteries) lately perscribed by the skilful Tusceruros may be no less salutary to the former. And I hope we shall yet see the Beautiful Fabrick repaird and reestablished on so Firm a Basis that it will not be in the power of the Venal and narrow hearted on Either side the Atlantick again to break down its Barriers and threaten its total Dessolution.1


I cannot pretend to judge whether you had sufficient Grounds for your fears when you Expressd so Great Concern least those Commotions should not terminate till the Civil Sword is Drawn. But however dark the aspect has heretofore appear'd I think we now have a Brighter prospect, and hope the united Efforts of the Extensive Colonies will be able to Repel Every Attempt of the oppressor and that peace and Fredom will be restored at a less Costly Expence than the sacrifice of the Bleeding Hero.

But as our weak and timid sex is only the Echo of the other, and like some pliant peace of Clock Work the springs of our souls move slow or more Rapidly: just as hope, fear or Courage Gives motion to the Conducting Wiers that Govern all our movements, so I build much on the high key that at present seems to Animate the American patriots, and in particular on the Excelent spirits in which a Friend of yours has lately wrote.2

But to wave more important matters I think I can Claim more than half a promiss from that Gentleman of a Line from you Ere this time in Lieu of an uninteligable Bloted scrip3 which I acknowledge merited no return: nor should it have gone out of my hand in that manner on less advantagous terms.

I shall return a small Folio4 belonging to Mr. Adams the first safe and Convenient Opportunity. Tell him I almost regret the Curiosity that led me to wish to look over the pages in which Human Nature is portray'd in so odious a Light as the Characters of the Borgian Family Exhibits. But this Fatal inheritance of our first Mother often subjects us to painful inconveniencies, and we sometimes Grow wiser at the Expence of Candour, and that universal Esteem of Mankind so Natural and so becoming in the Early part of Life. For bad as the World appears after the Scores5 begin to roll over our heads I Cant but suspect the heart of that Youth who steps forward on the Stage of action with an ill opinion of his Fellow Men, but yet Commiserate the Wretch who by his distrust of all around him is deprived of the highest Cordial of Life: the social intercourse of the Friendly Mind. For he who has no Confidence in any one I believe has Little sincerity of his own.

As I am Called upon both by Mr. and Mrs. Adams to give my opinion of a Celebrated Comic Writer: silence in me would be inexcusable: tho, otherways my sentiments are of little Consequence.

The solemn strains of the tragic Muse have been generally more to my taste than the lighter Representations of the Drama. Yet I think the Follies and Absurdities of Human Nature Exposed to Ridicule in the 93Masterly Manner it is done by Moliere may often have a greater tendency to reform Mankind than some graver Lessons of Morality.

The observation that he Ridicules Vice without Engageing us to Virtue discovers the Veneration of my Friend for the latter. But when Vice is held up at once in a detestable and Ridiculous Light, and the Windings of the Human Heart which lead to self deciption unfolded it Certainly points us to the path of Reason and Rectitude. And if we do not Embrace the amiable image of Virtue we must Exculpate the Moniter and Attribute the Fault to the Wrong biass of our own Clamorous and ungovernd passions.

And if Mrs. Adams will Excuse my Fredom and openess I will tell her I see no Reason yet to Call in question the Genius of A Moliere or the judgment of the person by whose Recomendation I read him.

But if when I have gone further I alter my opinion I shall readily acknowledge it, and wherin I Err I stand now and at all times ready to submit to the Correction of my Candid Friends, from whom I hope soon to hear. I am with Compliments to Mr. Adams, unfeignedly your Friend,

M Warren

If there was any body in this part of the World that Could sing the Rival Nymphs: and Celebrate the Happy Victory of Salacia in a manner that would Merit Mr. Adams's approbation he may be assure'd it should immediately be Attempted, but I think a person who with two or three strokes of his pen has sketched out so fine a poetical plan need apply only to his own Genius for the Completion.6

But if he thinks it would be too Great Condescension in him to Associate much with the Muses while under the direction of Apollo his time is so much more usefully and importantly filld up, a particular Friend of his would be glad of a little clearer Explanation of some of his Characters, she not being well Enough Versed in ancient Mytholigy to know who is meant by the son of Neptune (who can so Easily transform himself into the Mischevious of Every species) as there are several Modern Proteus's to whom this Docility of temper is Equally applicable.

RC (Adams Papers). Early Tr (MHi: Mercy Warren Letterbook); see note 1 below; in an unidentified hand and dated 29 Dec. 1773, which is doubtless the date of Mrs. Warren's original but now missing draft.


Preceding two sentences (which allude of course to the Boston Tea Party) are not in Tr. Though it has the physical form of a letterbook and has long been so designated, the “Mercy Warren Letterbook” is not really a letterbook at all. The letter copies in it, extending from 1770 through 1800, are all in unidentified hands (no trace of her hand has been detected in the 94volume); they are arranged by correspondent rather than by date; editorial excisions and emendations appear in the texts; and the letters are furnished with literary captions, often with conjectural dates (some of them clearly wrong), and occasionally with explanatory notes. From all this it would appear that the volume is actually a collection of letters selected and transcribed from Mrs. Warren's original drafts (which may or may not be extant elsewhere) with a view to printing them in a volume. To judge from the handwriting, the copies were made not long after 1800, though perhaps after Mrs. Warren's death in 1814. Texts of letters derived from this source (and some in the present edition are so derived) cannot therefore be considered reliable.


Alluding probably to JA's letter to James Warren, 22 Dec. 1773 (MHi: Warren-Adams Coll.; printed in JA, Works , 9:334–336, a little inaccurately). JA's letter was also printed in Papers of John Adams, 2:2.


Mrs. Warren to JA, 30 Dec. 1773; not found, but acknowledged in JA to Mrs. Warren, 3 Jan. 1774 (MHi: Warren-Adams Coll.; Warren-Adams Letters , 1:21–23).


Not identified.


Thus in MS. Supply “of years”?


The postscript as a whole alludes to a playful passage in JA's letter to James Warren, 22 Dec. 1773 (see note 2 above), in which he proposed that Mrs. Warren put the recent Tea Party revels into rhyme and furnished her with a sketch of the supernatural machinery for such a poem. This she did in her letter to AA of 27 Feb. 1774, below.

Elizabeth Smith to Abigail Adams, 8 February 1774 Smith, Elizabeth (1750-1815) Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw AA Elizabeth Smith to Abigail Adams, 8 February 1774 Smith, Elizabeth (1750-1815) Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw Adams, Abigail
Elizabeth Smith to Abigail Adams
My Dear Sister Weymouth February. 8th. 1774

When I cast my Eyes backward; and take a general survey, of the great alterations which have been made within these few Years, I behold a Portrait whose lines are marked with indeliable Characters—the fickleness of Fortune, the shortness and uncertainty of Life, and the instability of Human Affairs. Those who yesterday glided smoothly on, in the calm Sunshine of Prosperity, “fed high in Fortunes Lap,” and lavished their Time in Riot's Orgies—to day, are overwhelmed, in the tempestous Ocean of Affliction, and are become poor and dependant, “soliciting the cold hand of Charity.” The healthy and beautiful, the gay and fortunate, the wise and virtuous droop in the Morning of Life, and like some fair Flower, die, e'er they reach the meridian of their Days. The most hopeful Expectations, the best concerted Plans of Felicity are no sooner formed, than destroyed; and the smiling, but delusive Structures of Ideal Happiness, are in one moment plucked from there aerial Heights.

When I enter on a more particular retrospect of the last seven Years of my Life, I find it replete with Revolutions. A lively Picture is displayed, of the weakness, and imperfection of our Natures, the Capriciousness of rational Creatures, and the deceitfulness of the human Heart. Those who have soared high on the Pinions of Fame, whom lisping Infants were taught to revere, as the Gaurdians of their Liberty, and the noblest Prop of decreasing Virtue, are now detested, and 95stigmatized with the opprobrious appellations of Rebels, and Traitors to their Country.

Those who were esteemed wise and judicious, modest and virtuous have been found guilty of Vices, diametrically opposite to those Perfections. Those who have been Votaries at the Shrine of Hymen, and had flattered themselves with Days of ease, and Happiness, are dragging out a miserable load of Life, in domestick Quarrels and perpetual Uneasiness. I see the once doating, but now disgusted Lover, forsaking his fond, and dejected Mistress. The vain and inhuman Coquette strangely delighting to torment the worthy Object of her Love, with whom she intends to spend her Life, and at whose Mercy she will then be.

Those who appear the most austere and rigid, who make the greatest pretensions to Delicacy in Publick, throw aside the Veil, and divest themselves in more convenient Places, of that Decorum which is the surest outguard of Virtue. But what astonishes me, beyond the power of description, is to see a Man Proud, Haughty, sensible, ambitious of making an elegant Figure in the World, and aspiring to be a star of the first magnitude acting repugnant to his predominant Passions; connecting himself in the nearest Relation with one, whom he cannot but despise for becoming so easy a Prey to his dishonourable Desires—with one who is inferior in Birth, Fortune, and Education, and who has neither the beauties of the Mind, or of Person to recommend her. Among unequals what Society, what Harmony or true Delight? Revenge herself, could not have placed him, in a more humiliating Situation.

I acknowledge this is not a very agreeable Picture, yet I imagine great benefit may be derived to a moralizing Mind from a frequent contemplation of it.—I wish it might teach me to be cautious and circumspect in every thing, candid and forgiving, since I find how difficult it is, even for the best, to act always consistent with their own Characters.

But you will perhaps object to this Picture as being too strongly shaded. Look around you my Sister, and you cannot but be convinced that this is (however mortifying to the flattering Expectations of Youth) a true Epitome of human Life, and I doubt not, but each succeeding Period will testify its verity.

By being habituated to Disappointments, we expect them, and by expecting them, we blunt there Edge, and hinder them from so keenly wounding.

Whenever I find myself laying Plans of future Felicity, I check the 96career of my Imagination, and consider that much Tribulation is the inevitable Lot of Humanity.

I have not yet answered Pollio's (agreeable) Letter, I have some scruples about writing to him on the subject of Love, I believe he expects I shall, and why should I disappoint a Person if I can avoid it.1

I know not what to think of your Questions, nor how to act.2 If they have not alarmed, they have sufficiently perplexed me. You are certainly very cruel or very tender.

Does not the greatest part of my Happiness result from seeing others pleased and delighted? and shall I not take pleasure in seeing my Friend happy, although honour and Prudence would oblige me to resign my Correspondent?

O Heart! What weakness do these Questions imply.—But why could not he have determined before? Why should a Correspondence be sollicited? Were the seeds of Friendship sown only to inform me, that it would be improper to cultivate them in this promising Soil.—But—

Forbid it Heaven!—that I should repine at a generous, humane Act. No, rather give me a Heart to rejoice in it. Teach me invaribly to pursue the Path of Rectitude, and with chearful Resignation, submit the disposal of every Event to Him, who certainly knows what is best, for Your Affectionate Sister,

Betsy Smith

PS I enclose an Epigram which was given me the other Day by an elderly Gentleman. By the way I really believe, I am growing a Favorite among them—If I may judge by the Presents I have lately received.

Our little Betsy is very ill. I wish you would be so kind as to send her a few sugar Plumbs.

RC (Adams Papers). Enclosure not found.


Pollio has not been identified. He could hardly have been John Shaw (1748–1794), whom the writer of the present letter was to marry in 1777, since Shaw was then boarding with the Smiths while keeping a school in Weymouth (though it is possible, of course, that he was away at this time). On Betsy Smith's rather tangled relationship with Shaw, see her letter to AA of 7 March, below. On Shaw see Adams Genealogy.


Presumably in a letter from AA which has not been found.