Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5

Descriptive List of Illustrations Descriptive List of Illustrations

[Note: for permissions reasons, not all illustrations from the letterpress volumes are available in this digital edition.]

Descriptive List of Illustrations
Charles Storer 18 [page] [image]

This miniature, shown to members of the Massachusetts Historical Society by Dr. Malcolm Storer in March 1922 (MHS, Procs. , 55:233, illustration facing p. 232), is the only known likeness of Charles Storer (1761–1829). The artist and date of execution are unknown. Judging by Storer's relatively mature appearance, the portrait probably dates from after his return to America in 1785.

Charles Storer was the second surviving son of Deacon Ebenezer Storer of Boston (1730–1807), a merchant and longtime treasurer of Harvard College (1777–1807), and Elizabeth Green. As a nephew of Abigail Adams' aunt by marriage, Elizabeth Storer Smith, and after 1777, a stepson of Abigail's cousin, Hannah Quincy Lincoln Storer, Charles was almost a relation of the Adams family. Graduating from Harvard in 1779 as first scholar in his class, he sailed for Europe in June 1781, with glowing endorsements from both Abigail Adams and Abigail Adams 2d, and joined John Adams and John Thaxter at The Hague in August 1782. In October he accepted John Adams' offer to accompany him to France as his second secretary, filling this office until July 1783. He extended his clerical services to Adams again in England, in August-September 1785, just before returning to America.

Charles Storer remained one of the closest friends of the Adamses through 1786, but thereafter his contact with them was infrequent. Although John and Abigail Adams regarded Storer as a young man of considerable promise and regarded him warmly into the 1790s, his fortunes were clouded by his father's financial decline after the War for Independence, and he apparently did not prosper after his return to Boston. In 1786 he announced his intention to take up farming in eastern Maine, but if he did move there, he did not stay long. In 1790, writing from Troy, New York, where whatever business he was engaged in evidently had not gone well, he sought John Adams' assistance in becoming official secretary to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, but Adams replied that the position must go to another. In 1793–94, he served as secretary to the federal Indian commissioners, and in 1796 he visited the Adamses in Quincy. In 1797 he asked Abigail to intercede with John for a federal office for his father, and in 1798, after Ebenezer Storer had been appointed a federal excise inspector, he asked John Adams to grant his father a more convenient position. Of the last thirty years of Charles Storer's life almost nothing is known.

Most of Storer's surviving correspondence is in the Adams Papers, xprimarily in the years 1783–1786. John and Abigail were his principal correspondents, but there are several letters exchanged with John Quincy Adams, and a few written to Abigail Adams 2d survive in print. Several letters to his cousins, Isaac Smith Jr. and William Smith, and to Indian commissioner Timothy Pickering, are in the Smith-Carter, Smith-Townsend, and Pickering Papers collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society. (Adams Papers Editorial Files; see also vol. 4; Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol 3; and Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 12:208–214 [Ebenezer Storer].)

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Thaxter Jr., ca. 1782 25[unavailable]

This small pastel portrait of John Thaxter Jr. (1755–1791), which he sent from Holland to America with Benjamin Guild in the late summer of 1782, was probably executed by a Dutch artist earlier in that year. It is about the same size (10¼″ х 7¼″.) and rendered in the same materials, as Isaak Schmidt's portrait of John Quincy Adams, done in Holland sometime in the following spring or early summer (see illustration no. 8), but nothing else is known to suggest the artist's identity.

John Thaxter Jr. was the son of John Thaxter and Anna Quincy Thaxter of Hingham; his mother was a sister of Abigail Adams' mother, Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Graduating from Harvard in 1774, Thaxter immediately became a clerk in John Adams' law office, roomed in Adams' house, and after Adams' departure for the First Continental Congress, began tutoring young John Quincy Adams. Thaxter continued his legal studies in Massachusetts until December 1777, when, with John Adams' endorsement, he journeyed to Congress to seek the post of secretary to the president. In January 1778 he accepted a clerkship in the office of the secretary to Congress, which he held until September. He then returned to Massachusetts, again boarded with Abigail and her family over the winter, and tutored Charles and Thomas Boylston Adams for the next year.

In November 1779, John Thaxter accepted John Adams' offer to be his private secretary during Adams' second diplomatic mission. After their departure for Europe with John Quincy and Charles Adams, Abigail wrote: “Mr. Thaxter too, who has lived in the Family near 6 years and was like a Brother in kindness and Friendship, makes one of the absent Family” (vol. 3:236–237). Thaxter served John Adams in France and the Netherlands, to Adams' great satisfaction, and offered occasional assistance in the education of John Quincy and Charles Adams, until his return to America with the completed treaty of peace with Great Britain, which he delivered to Congress in November 1783.

In May 1784 John Thaxter moved to Haverhill to set up a law practice. There he married Elizabeth Duncan in 1787, and passed the last seven years of his life. He continued his close friendship with John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston Adams, who were all studying with their uncle, the Reverend John Shaw, in Haverhill xiin the mid-1780s, but his correspondence with John and Abigail Adams became infrequent after his return to America. He died in 1791, less than a year after the death of his infant son, John Adams Thaxter, leaving his wife and infant daughter, Anna Quincy Thaxter.

John Thaxter was not one of the Adams' more gifted or concise correspondents, but he wrote frequently and reported on many events involving the Adamses that other correspondents ignored. In their voluminous correspondence, Abigail treated Thaxter almost like another son. He returned a filial affection, and regarded her as his closest confidant. For the entire period from 1774 through 1783, he was on the most intimate terms with each member of the Adams family.

Two likenesses of Thaxter are known to have been made. The first, a miniature that he considered no likeness, was executed in Paris in 1780 (to Abigail Adams, 19 September 1780, vol. 3:418). With some misgivings, Thaxter sent it to his sister Celia in Hingham in 1781, but he enjoined her never to wear it or show it to any one (to Celia Thaxter, 21 December 1780, 24 May 1781, Thaxter Papers, MHi). Whether through a delay in receiving Thaxter's May letter, or deliberate disregard of his request, Celia or another Thaxter did show this miniature to friends, and Abigail Adams thought it a poor likeness indeed (John Thaxter to Celia Thaxter, 9 October 1782, same; vol. 4:348–349). This miniature has not been found.

The second likeness is the pastel portrait reproduced here, which Thaxter liked better and sent to Celia, in care of Abigail Adams in the late summer of 1782, saying that anyone who chose could wear this portrait, but that “they will be soon tired, for Glass, Frame &ca, would be a little weighty: and besides, . . . it would not be borne by a silk Ribband” (9 October 1782, Thaxter Papers, MHi). Abigail, however, liked the portrait no better than the miniature (to Thaxter, 26 October 1782, below).

Thaxter's extensive correspondence with the Adamses, from 1775 to 1788, is in the Adams Papers and in small collections of Thaxter papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Public Library. The Thaxter Papers at the Society also contains over fifty letters written between 1778 and 1791 to his father, his sister Celia, and other family members.

From a Private Collection, photograph courtesy of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Rhode Island Portrait Index.

“I Cannot O! I Cannot Be Reconcild to Living as I Have Done for 3 Years Past”
Abigail Adams to John Adams, 8 October 1782 108 [page] [image]

The fall of 1782 marked three unbroken years of separation for Abigail and John Adams, the longest of their lives, and it would continue for nearly two years more. Beginning with John Adams' departure for Europe on his second diplomatic mission on 13 November 1779, accompanied by his and Abigail's two elder sons, John Quincy Adams and Charles Adams (vol. 3:224, 233–235), this separation would last until 7 August 1784, when they were reunited in xiiLondon (see John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 6 August 1784, below). The anxiety of these years was heightened for both parties, first by the war, then by John's serious fevers in Amsterdam and Paris, and the delays and mishaps that interrupted transatlantic mail nearly as effectively in the first years of peace as they had during the War for Independence.

Abigail Adams' letter of 8 October 1782 to John Adams, the first page of which is reproduced here, eloquently expresses these frustrations, and just as effectively conveys the balance in Abigail's mind between her desire to be reunited with John, her feeling that she ought to come to Europe to “try to soften, if I cannot wholy releave you, from your Burden of Cares,” and her own dedication to John Adams' mission in Europe: “I feel loth you should quit your station untill an Honorable peace is Established. . . . Tis no small satisfaction to me that my country is like to profit so largely by my sacrifices.”

From the original in the Adams Papers.

“No Swiss Ever Longed for Home More Than I Do. I Shall Forever be A Dull Man in Europe”
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 109 [page] [image]

In the nearly twenty years since their marriage, John and Abigail Adams had come to think remarkably alike on so many issues, both personal and public. John Adams' letter of 28 March 1783 to Abigail, the first page of which is reproduced here, nicely mirrors Abigail's letter of 8 October 1782, reproduced immediately above (illustration no. 3).

John begins as Abigail does, with the frustration of separation and poor communication: “On the 30 Nov. our Peace was Signed. On the 28. March We dont know that you have Yet heard of it.” He proceeds to his determination to return to her: “If I receive the Acceptance of my Resignation, I shall embark in the first ship, the first good ship I mean, for I love you too well, to venture my self in a bad one.” Then, again like Abigail accepting the paramount requirement of duty to country, John considers the possibility that he might have to stay longer in Europe, perhaps on an assignment in London, and in the passage used as a subscription to this illustration, he reacts to a continued separation much as Abigail had. Finally, he shares Abigail's preference (see Abigail Adams to John Adams, 19 October and 20 November 1783, both below) that their reunification be in America: “I cannot bear the Thought of transporting my Family to Europe. It would be the Ruin of my Children forever.”

From the original in the Adams Papers.

“Glorious Intelligence!” 1 April 1783 117 [page] [image]

“Thus drops the Curtain upon this mighty Trajedy,” wrote John Adams to his wife on 22 January 1783 (below). Peace would not be official until the definitive treaties were concluded and ratified, but xiiion 20 January representatives of Great Britain, France, and Spain met at Versailles to sign preliminary peace treaties and exchange declarations of an armistice. The arrival of this news signaled, for all intents and purposes, that the war of the American Revolution had ended. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin witnessed the occasion and, at the same time, signed an armistice agreement with the British representative, Alleyne Fitzherbert (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:108–110). These agreements brought the preliminary Anglo-American peace treaty of 30 November 1782 into effect. Its implementation had been conditioned upon the conclusion of a general peace in order to keep the United States within at least technical compliance with Article 8 of the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, which prohibited the conclusion of a separate peace (same, 2:38–39).

The broadside announcing the event was the work of John Gill, noted Boston printer and publisher of the Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser. Its appearance on the morning of 1 April was received with rejoicing and relief: the war was over. Abigail Adams wrote: “I now most sincerely rejoice in the great and important event which sheaths the Hostile Sword and, gives a pleasing presage that our spears may become prunning hooks” (to John Adams, 7 April 1783, below). Samuel Phillips Savage's note written on the reverse of the broadside was perhaps even more expressive. “This is kept for future Generations, tho it cannot by any means convey to them, the Joy so happy an Event gave us, who heard the first guns fired at Lexington and Concord and saw Charlestown in Flames, and who have endured and supported a Struggle of near 20 years and an actual, cruel and bloody war from 19 April 1775 until the arrival of a French Cutter called the Triumph, commanded by the Chavelier Duquesne on the 25 March 1783 at Chester in the River Delawar from Cadiz—for which happy Event may America be properly thankfull. Sam Phps Savage then 65 years Old.”

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Promenade A Longchamp 128[unavailable]

In the spring of 1783, John Thaxter wrote Abigail Adams a vivid description of the annual parade to Longchamp. Two years later, Abigail herself wrote a description of the event, to her niece Elizabeth Cranch. Both of these are printed below at 18 April 1783 and 8 May 1785 (vol. 6).

Longchamp was a Franciscan abbey founded in the mid-thirteenth century by Isabelle, sister of Louis IX (Saint Louis) in the Bois de Boulogne. By the first half of the eighteenth century, austerity had disappeared from the nunnery, and it was at this time that the parade of the Parisian beau monde to attend concerts during Holy Week began. The public concerts were stopped by Archbishop of Paris Beaumont, but the tradition of the parade continued.

At its height from about 1750 until it was suppressed in 1789, the parade attracted the gamut of society: servants of the royal household, chorus girls from l'Opéra, the wealthy and the penurious. xivThose with means competed in ostentatious displays of carriages and costumes, those without gawked. After describing this concentration of pomp and grandeur, Thaxter defers judgment to Abigail Adams. “Your own Reflections will be infinitely more judicious than any I can make, and therefore I will be silent as to the Impressions this Entertainment has made on my mind” (to Abigail Adams, 18 April 1783, below).

Adams' conclusion, from her own observations, is censorious. “It was a Ceremony that one must study Some time to find out either utility or pleasure in it. I own tho I made one in the procession I could not help feeling foolish as I was parading first up one side of a very wide road, for a mile and half and then turning, and following down a vast number of Carriages upon the other as slow as if you was attending a funeral. . . . it is a senseless foolish parade, at which I believe I shall never again assist” (to John Thaxter, 8 May 1785, vol. 6).

The engraving is by Dambrun, from Etrennes galantes des Promenades et Amusemens de Paris et de ses environs, Paris, 1781. See Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ; Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel ; under both Longchamp and Boulogne.

Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

The Continental Congress' Earnest Recommendations Regarding Loyalist Property, 14 January 1784 142[unavailable]

Adopted at the same time that the definitive peace treaty was ratified and proclaimed in force, this resolution brought the United States into compliance with Article 5 of the definitive peace treaty (Journals of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1928, vol. 26, p. 23–31; Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:154). That article sought to resolve what was easily the most divisive issue during the negotiations, the fate of the loyalists and their confiscated property. The Shelburne Ministry was under intense pressure to require restitution in any Anglo-American peace settlement. The American negotiators opposed such a provision as contrary to their instructions, but more important because Congress had no power to coerce the states and thus to require restitution would both block ratification and be meaningless. To settle the issue the negotiators agreed to a compromise that was an exercise in Anglo-American cynicism, for in agreeing to recommend rather than require restitution, both sides knew that there was little likelihood of the loyalists receiving satisfaction.

Although the article's effect depended wholly on the states' willingness to observe its provisions, that did not prevent controversy. Referring to the article's appearance in the preliminary treaty, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband on 28 April 1783 that “it would be at the risk of their lives” for loyalists to return to seek the restitution, and on 7 May she added that he could hardly imagine “the spirit which arises here against the return of the Refugees” (both below). John Adams thought that it would have been better if no articles regarding the loyalists had been included, but he refused requests to interpret their meaning and hoped that their spirit would be xvobserved (to Cotton Tufts, 10 September 1783, below). Adams' ambivalence concerning the loyalist compromise resulted from his fear that Britain would use the states' refusal to comply with the spirit of the article to justify its own violation of the treaty, a fear that was realized, particularly in Britain's refusal to evacuate forts in the Northwest (to Cotton Tufts, 24 April 1785, vol. 6).

This broadside, docketed on the reverse “Recommendation of Congress Respecting Restoring Lands” and “Jany. 14. 1784,” was one of the copies of the resolution ordered by Congress to be sent to the states ( JCC , 26:31).

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Quincy Adams by Isaak Schmidt, 1783 215[unavailable]

Isaak Schmidt, an Amsterdam artist, painted this portrait of John Quincy Adams during his stay at The Hague from April to August 1783. It is a small pastel on vellum, measuring 10¼ by 7¾ inches. Though Adams was only sixteen years old that summer, he just had returned from Russia after spending more than a year as private secretary to the American representative, Francis Dana. It is a picture of a boy, but a boy moving in an international world, developing into a poised, intelligent, and mature young adult.

Naturally, as a concerned parent, John Adams solicited reports on his son's whereabouts during his long journey back to the Netherlands. Even discounting the desire of his correspondents to flatter the important American, it is apparent that John Quincy impressed those he met (see John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 April 1783 and note 6, below). It is also apparent that he greatly enjoyed himself at the same time. Twenty-eight years later Adams, then U.S. minister to Russia, recalled that the Swedish were “the kindest hearted, friendliest and most hospitable people in Europe.” “I entered Sweden in November and left it in February. The beauties of the Country therefore, whatever they may be, were hidden from my eyes,” but “the beauties of the women . . . were not, and indeed could not be concealed. . . . [T]he Swedish women of that time were as modest, as they were amiable and beautiful. But to me, it was truly the 'land of lovely dames,' and to this hour I have not forgotten the palpitations of heart which some of them cost me, and of which they never knew” (to Alexander H. Everett, 19 August 1811, Everett-Peabody Papers, MHi).

After Adams returned to America in 1785 to continue his formal education, his sister, Abigail, hung the picture in her room. “I would not mortify you by saying I think it a likeness nor Pay so Poor a compliment to my own judgment. However as it was intended for you I shall look upon it for you, and derive some satisfaction from it, and at the same time wish it were better” (Abigail Adams 2d to John Quincy Adams, 4 July 1785, vol. 6). When he was sixty-four years old Adams remarked about himself and the early likeness that “they who look at the bald head, the watery eye, and the wrinkled brow of this day, would search in vain for the strong likeness which it was said to exhibit when it was taken” (to Caroline Amelia de xviWindt, 20 August 1831, de Windt Coll., MHi). The portrait descended through Abigail Adams 2d's family; it is now owned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

The Reverend William Smith (Abigail Adams' Father) 246[unavailable]

The illustration of the Reverend William Smith that appeared in volume 1 (p. xii, facing p. 81) was reproduced from a small photograph of a painting in Daniel Munro Wilson's The “Chappel of Ease” and Church of Statesmen: . . . the First Church of Christ in Quincy, Quincy, 1890, facing p. 81. Since that time the original portrait has turned up, and it is this that is illustrated here. The painting once was misattributed to John Singleton Copley, but the real artist and date of execution are unknown.

The Reverend William Smith died in September 1783 at the age of seventy-six, leaving his estate divided among his son and three daughters and in trust for his daughter-in-law. (For the division of property see his will, 12 September 1783, below.) He had served as the minister of the First Parish of Weymouth since 1734 and after the death in 1775 of his wife, Elizabeth Quincy Smith, continued to live in the Weymouth parsonage where Abigail Adams and her siblings were born (see vol 1:ix, and illustration facing p. 80).

The death of her father gave Abigail Adams greater freedom to think about joining her husband in Europe. She wrote John: “My dearest Friend—Dearer if possible than ever; for all the parental props which once sustaind and supported me are fallen!” (20 September 1783, below; see also Abigail Adams to John Adams, 19 October, below). Abigail later arranged for her father's slave Phoebe, who was offered her freedom in his will, and her husband to move into and care for Abigail's home in her absence. Although Abigail's inheritance was more modest than that left to her sisters and sister-in-law, her father specifically bequeathed his silver tankard to her. It was the only item singled out among the family possessions for such a personal gesture. It survives to this day among the furnishings of the Adams National Historic Site.

Reverend Smith is buried in Weymouth, the site marked by a monument inscribed by Cotton Tufts: “As a Divine he was eminent, As a Preacher of the Gospel Eloquent . . .” (New England Historic and Genealogical Register, 23 [October 1869]:425). Some of Smith's line-a-day diaries and the official records he kept as pastor of the First Church, Weymouth, are in the Massachusetts Historical Society. (See Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 7:588–591.)

Courtesy of Mrs. Lewis Greenleaf.

John Adams by John Singleton Copley 375[unavailable]

During his curtailed tour of England in the fall and winter of 1783, John Adams had fellow American and friend John Singleton Copley paint this grand portrait representing Adams as a dignified diplomat. Though Copley moved to England from Boston in 1774, followed by his wife and young children a year later, he was not a loyalist. xviiHis portrait of Adams celebrates the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain.

When Abigail Adams arrived in London, she saw the portrait prior to meeting her husband. “I went yesterday accompanied by Mr. Storer and Smith to Mr. Copleys to see Mr. Adams picture. This I am told was taken at the request of Mr. Copely and belongs to him. It is a full Length picture very large; and very good likeness. Before him stands the Globe: in his hand a Map of Europe, at a small distance 2 female figures representing peace and Innocence. It is a most Beautiful painting” (Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 July 1784, below).

Abigail Adams, perhaps focusing more on the image of her husband, whom she had not seen for four years, than on the details in the painting, inaccurately described the portrait and its commission. John Adams paid Copley 100 guineas for the portrait on 10 Dec. 1783 (receipt in the Adams Papers). He is depicted holding a scroll, presumably the treaty with Britain, and a map of America lays on a table. A single figure is in the background.

John Adams instructed his son, sent to meet both Abigails in London: “Desire Mr. Copeley to get a Frame made for my Picture and do you give him the Money. He will tell you how much and give you a Receipt. The Frame should be made, to take to Pieces, so that it may be removed to the Hague or to Boston, in time. Thus this Piece of Vanity will be finished. May it be the last” ( post 6 June 1784 , below).

Copley retained the portrait for over twenty years, ostensibly for engraving. Two engravers worked from the painting itself, first Noble, for the February 1786 issue of The New London Magazine, and later Hall, for the frontispiece to John Stockdale's 1794 edition of John Adams' Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United State of America. The second of these, a considerably better likeness, was the model for numerous later renditions. In 1796, Copley exhibited the portrait at the Royal Academy.

John Quincy Adams had the painting shipped from England in 1817, two years after Copley's death. Cousin Ward Nicholas Boylston kept it carefully for many years, in part because there was no suitable place in the Adams home in Quincy. With the family's agreement, he left it to Harvard College in his will.

See Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams , Cambridge, 1967, p. 23–38; Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley, Cambridge, 1966, vol. 2, p. 300; DAB ; DNB .

Courtesy of The Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828.

“I Will Not Attempt to Describe My Feelings at Meeting Two Persons so Dear to Me . . . I Will Only Say I was Completely Happy”
John Quincy Adams to John Adams, 30 July 1784 413 [page] [image]

It would only be a week more before the Adamses were finally xviii image reunited in London when John Quincy Adams wrote these heartfelt words to his father at The Hague. John Adams, confident in and proud of young John Quincy, wrote to Abigail soon after her arrival, “I Send you a son who is the greatest Traveller, of his Age, and without Partiality, I think as promising and manly a youth as is in the World. He will purchase a Coach, in which We four must travel to Paris” (26 July 1784, below).

The letter illustrated here is one of the last in a remarkable exchange between John and John Quincy from mid-May 1784 through July 1784. These letters, printed below, comprise the first fully mature correspondence between the Adams men. Until this time, John Quincy's letters were mainly reports to his father concerning his or his brother Charles' studies; in these later letters young Adams' style and manner becomes decidedly uninhibited and confident. After being admitted to the gallery of the House of Commons, John Quincy wrote: “I [have] given you my opinion of the eloquence of several great Orators. If it is erroneous my judgment is in fault, for I have followed in this matter the Ideas of no one” (6 June 1784, below). John Adams, quite pleased by John Quincy's attendance at Parliament and his vivid descriptions of the debates, was yet ever mindful of his son's studies: “You have had a Taste of the Eloquence of the Bar and of Parliament: but you will find Livy and Tacitus, more elegant, more profound and Sublime Instructors” (21 June 1784, below).

From the original in the Adams Papers.

Anne-Catherine, Comtesse De Ligniville D'Autricourt, Madame Helvétius, by Louis Michel Vanloo 347[unavailable]

Host of the famous salon “L'Académie d'Auteuil,” intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin, and near neighbor of the Adamses, Mme. Helvétius (1719–1800) was among the first French women Abigail Adams and her daughter met. Their shocked reactions are recorded in early letters from France.

One of twenty-two children, Anne-Catherine Helvétius was born into the ancient Ligniville family. After spending much of her youth in a convent with rather dim prospects, she was brought to Paris by her aunt, the author Françoise Grafigny. There she met and married, in 1751, the hedonistic philosopher and farmer-general Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–1771), author of the controversial De l'esprit. Inheriting her husband's significant fortune, Mme. Helvétius settled in Auteuil, enjoying her garden, her menagerie, and the company of many of the great thinkers of her era.

Benjamin Franklin called Mme. Helvétius “Notre Dame d'Auteuil” and sometime between 1778 and 1780 proposed to her. Upon being rejected, he wrote a letter to her containing a parable in which he meets the late M. Helvétius and Deborah Franklin, who have married in the afterlife, prompting Franklin to renew his proposition. (“The Elysian Fields, M. Franklin to Madame Helvétius,” printed in Benjamin Franklin: Writings, ed. J. A. Leo Lemay, xixN.Y., 1987, p. 924–925. It is thought to be dated January 1780 by the editors of the Franklin Papers.)

Following a dinner hosted by Mme. Helvétius, Abigail Adams 2d wrote to Lucy Cranch (4 September 1784, below): “I wish it were possible to give you a just idea of her. I know not in America any person of any class that would serve as a description, or comparison, unless it is Mrs. Hunt when she is crazy. I could not judge of her conversation as I could not understand a word, but if it was in unison with her dress, and manners, I assure you that I consider myself fortunate that I did not.”

Concluding a vivid description of Mme. Helvétius' behavior, Abigail Adams wrote, also to Lucy Cranch (5 September 1784, below): “I should have been greatly astonished at her conduct, if the good Doctor Franklin had not told me that in this Lady I should see a genuine French Woman, wholy free from affectation or stifness of behaviour and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Drs. word, but I should have set her down for a very bad one altho Sixty years of age and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance with any Ladies of this cast. . . . Thus my dear you see that Manners differ exceedingly in different Countries. I hope however to find amongst the French Ladies manners more consistant with my Ideas of decency, or I shall be a mere recluse.”

See Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ; Claude-Anne Lopez, Mon Cher Papa, Franklin and the Ladies of Paris, New Haven, 1966, p. 244–301.

Courtesy of the Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques, Paris (Copyright 1991 ARS, N.Y./SPADEM).