Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d, 1 April 1786 JQA AA2


John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d, 1 April 1786 Adams, John Quincy Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d
Cambridge, April 1st, 1786

What shall I say to my sister? Indeed, I am quite at a loss. I spend much more time in thinking what I shall say to you than I do in writing. I find here continually the sameness which I complained of at Haverhill. To give an account of one day, would give one of a month. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, every minute of our time is taken up. The rest of the week, any person that chooses may loiter away doing nothing. But a person fond of studying will never want for employment. Now, for the want of some thing better to say, 119you shall have a long detail of the distribution of our time at present. One week we recite to Mr. James, the Latin tutor. The next to Mr. Read, in Euclid. The third to Mr. Jennison, in Greek; and the fourth to Mr. Hale, in Locke.1 Then begin again. Monday morning at six, bell for prayers; from thence reciting; half after seven, breakfast; at nine, go to Mr. Williams', upon practical geometry; at eleven, a lecture upon natural philosophy; half after twelve, dinner, and reciting again; five, prayers. Tuesday, instead of practical geometry, at nine, it is a lecture from the Hebrew professor; at two in the afternoon, a lecture from the professor of divinity.2 Wednesday, at nine, another lecture upon divinity; at eleven, lecture on philosophy; two, afternoon, lecture on astronomy. Thursday, reciting in the morning. Friday, nothing but a lecture on philosophy. Saturday, reciting in the morning to Mr. Read, in Doddridge's Lectures on Divinity, a pretty silly book, which I wonder to find among the books studied here.3 So we go on from day to day, and if there is once a week an episode, such as going to Boston, or dining out, this is the greatest show of variety that I can make. Now where, from this story, can I possibly find materials for letters? If I had the art of writing half-a-dozen pages upon nothing, at least I should be enabled to fulfil my engagements with you. But I scarcely know what to say when a continued variety of scenes was rising before me; much less can I now that, like a horse in a mill, I am going continually the same round.


We had a very uncommon month of March, fine weather almost all the month; but the first day of this, at about noon, it began to snow, and for twenty-six hours it stormed with great violence. In some places there was more than five feet of snow.

The senior class have had, this forenoon, a forensic disputation upon the question whether a democratical form of government was the best. It went through the class—one supporting that democracy was the best of all governments, and the next that it was the worst. This is one of the excellent institutions of this University, and is attended with many great advantages.

7th, Friday.

Yesterday was fast day. We had two sermons from the president, who bewailed a great many things. He labors a great deal in preaching, shows much good sense, but no eloquence.4


This forenoon, just as I was going to the lecture upon experimental philosophy, Mr. Storer gave me a letter, upon which I saw your superscription—it contained your account till the ninth of December.5 But only think how I was tantalized. I was obliged, before I could read a line in your letter, to go in and listen for almost an hour and a half, to projectile motion and the central forces. At any other time Mr. Williams would have entertained me very much; but now I lost half the lecture, and was so impatient that every minute seemed ten. As soon as I came out I did not wait to get to my chamber, but walked there reading as I went. It was almost four months since I had received a line from you, and if ever expectation made the blessing dear, I had that to perfection. I have received all your letters except No. 2, which was the first you wrote me from England. Of that I never heard a word but what you wrote me.6

Saturday, 8th.

I dined this day at Mr. Tracy's. He has been here ever since he returned from Europe, but intends to go to Newbury in May.7 Our company was Mr. Molyneux, Mr. Price, Mr. Moses Mores, an Englishman, H. Otis, C. Storer, and Dr. Cutting.8 Were you ever in company with two professed wits? I don't know that I was ever more diverted with such a circumstance, than this day. Dr. Cutting and Mr. Hughes were very smart upon each other, and let fly their bonmots as fast as they could pass; and they appeared both to be as sensible of their wit as any body present. Mr. Price you remember. He proposes coming and settling in Boston. He, you know, is quite solid. Mr. Molyneux appears to be quite a gentleman. You know, from the first appearance of a gentleman, that nothing is perceived that can be taken notice of. I believe that every person has something in his character peculiar to himself. But as these peculiarities are, most commonly, disagreeable, the gentleman endeavors, as much as possible, to be free from them, and so far succeeds that an intimate acquaintance with him is necessary to perceive them.

Tuesday, 11th. Braintree.

The spring vacancy begins tomorrow. We had horses sent for us this day; and this afternoon we came. We had an exhibition this morning; there are three every year. You have doubtless heard of them, probably been present at one. We had an English, a Latin, a Greek and an Hebrew oration; a syllogistic and a forensic disputation; an English dialogue; and last of all, some vocal and instrumen-121tal music. There are none of the exhibitors that you know, except your cousin Cranch, who spoke the Greek oration.9 We came home in company with Beale, one of my classmates, who belongs to Braintree. About thirty years since, your father taught navigation to his father.10

In the course of the next quarter, I shall attempt to give you my opinion of the different members of our government. I shall write as freely as I think, and if you should find me too saucy in speaking of my superiors, at least you will have my real sentiments, unterrified by authority, and unabridged by prejudice.

Saturday, 15th.

Yesterday we went down to Germantown and spent the day. The —family11 are pretty well, but their spirits are broken by adversity—their misfortunes seem to come upon them in a rapid succession. The first, the greatest of the general's misfortunes was a vast ambition, which deprived him of the substance by inducing him to grasp at the shadow. Mr. Cranch came home from Boston, and brought a large parcel of English newspapers, and a short note from mamma.12 All are complaining here that you write no oftener, except myself. I have had such proofs of your punctuality, that although I was near four months without having a line from you, yet I did not suffer myself to doubt a minute of your exactness. Captain Cushing is expected hourly, and I hope to have another continuation of your journal. You ask me to find “fault with the length of your letters,” indeed, my dear sister, there is not a line, in any of your letters, that I could spare, and if I complain at all it is that they are not as long again. I have been quite out of humor with your colonel on that account, as I supposed it took so much of your time to serve as secretary, that my letters were considerably shortened; but now he has returned, you will have much more leisure, and I hope I shall profit by it, (as the Dutchman says.)


This afternoon, in the midst of the rain, who should come in but Eliza,13 who, in the beginning of October last, went to spend six weeks at Haverhill, which have been spun out to seven months. There was talking all together, the eyes of one glistened and the face of another looked bright, and all were happy—such scenes as these might cure the spleen of a misanthropist—the word is not English, but that is nothing to the purpose.


Mr. I. was married in the winter at New-York to Miss T. This is another victory of the ladies over the old bachelors.14 Mr. R. was married three weeks ago to Miss A.15 I have mentioned her in a former letter. I was surprised very much when I first heard this, but £20,000 sterling will cover almost as great a number of faults as charity.

I shall write to both our parents by this opportunity, and have therefore only to subscribe myself yours.

J. Q. Adams

MS not found. Printed from (AA2, Jour. and Corr. , 3:99–105.)


Timothy Lindall Jennison, Harvard 1782, Greek tutor 1785–1788, and John Hale, Harvard 1779, tutor of metaphysics 1781–1786 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ; JQA, Diary , 2:1, 28).


Eliphalet Pearson, Harvard's Hancock Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages, 1786–1806, and Edward Wigglesworth, Hollis Professor of Divinity, 1765–1791 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).


Philip Doddridge, A Course of Lectures on the Principal Subjects in Pneumatology, Ethics and Divinity, London, 1763.


JQA comments at greater length on Joseph Willard's sermons and his delivery in his Diary ( Diary , 2:14–15).


That of 5[–9] Dec. 1785 (vol. 6:478–483).


In addition, letters numbered 1, 3, and 4, written in May and June 1785, have not been found.


Nathaniel Tracy, a Newburyport merchant and ship owner, owned the Vassall-Longfellow house in Cambridge. He lost that home in 1786 when he declared bankruptcy but retained residences in Newbury and Newburyport. ( Sibley's Harvard Graduates , 17:249–250).


Dr. John Brown Cutting (1755–1831) of New York was formerly the apothecary of the eastern and middle hospital departments of the Continental Army, 1777–1780. He first studied law with John Lowell in Boston in 1783, then continued his studies in London in 1786–1787. He became an important correspondent of both JA and Jefferson in the 1790s (Heitman, Register Continental Army ; Doc. Hist. Ratif. Const. , 14:460).


JQA describes the “exhibition” in greater detail in this day's Diary entry ( Diary , 2:16).


Benjamin Beale, Harvard 1787, was the son of Capt. Benjamin Beale, a Braintree merchant who married and resided for several years in England. Capt. Beale and his family moved from the Squantum district of Braintree in 1792 to a new home he constructed adjacent to the Adams Old House. The Beale estate was purchased by the National Park Service in the 1970s and forms part of the Adams National Historical Park (vol. 5:421–422, note 4; JQA, Diary , 2:166–167; Boston Globe, 26 April 2001, p. H1).


Gen. Joseph and Mary Cranch Palmer.


AA to Richard Cranch, 23 Dec. 1785, not found; see Cranch to AA, 13 April, below.


Elizabeth Cranch.


Undoubtedly a reference to Elbridge Gerry's marriage to Ann Thompson of New York on 12 January. Gerry was 41 years old and Thompson only 20 ( DAB ; Billias, Elbridge Gerry , p. 147).


JQA may have intended to write “Mr. R. K.” See Charles Storer to AA, 13 April, below.

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch, 2 April 1786 AA Cranch, Elizabeth Norton, Elizabeth Cranch


Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch, 2 April 1786 Adams, Abigail Cranch, Elizabeth Norton, Elizabeth Cranch
Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch
My dear Neice London April 2. 1786

I think my dear Betsy that some Letter of yours must have faild, as I have none of a later date, than that which you sent me from Haverhill by mr Wilson, by which I find that you are studying Musick with Miss White.1 This is an accomplishment much in vogue in 123this Country, and I know of no other civilized Country which stands in so much need of harmonizing as this. That ancient Hospitality for which it was once so celebrated, seems to have degenerated into mere ceremony. They have exchanged their Humanity for ferocity and their civility, for, for; fill up the blank, you can not give it too rough a name.

I believe I once promised to give you an account of that Kind of visiting call'd “Ladies Route.” There are two kinds, one where a Lady sets apart a particular day in the week to see Company, these are held only 5 months in the Year it being quite out of fashion to be seen in London during the summer. When a Lady returns from the Country she goes round and leaves a Card with all her acquaintance, and then sends them an invitation to attend her Routes during the season. The other kind are where a Lady sends to you for certain Evenings and their Cards are always addrest in their own names both to Gentlemen and Ladies. Their Rooms are all set open and card tables set in each Room. The Lady of the House receives her company at the door of the drawing Room, where a set number of Curtizes are given; and received, with as much order, as is necessary for a soldier who goes through the different Evolutions of his excercise. The visotor then proceeds into the Room without appearing to notice any other person and takes her Seat at the Card table.

“Nor can the Muse her aid impart unskild in all the terms of art Nor in harmonious Numbers put the deal the shuffle and the cut Go Tom and light the Ladies up It must be one before we Sup.”2

At these Parties it is usual for each Lady to play a rubber as it is termd, where you must lose or win a few Guineas; to give each a fair Chance, the Lady then rises and gives her seat to an other set. It is no unusual thing to have your Rooms so crouded that not more than half the company can sit at once, Yet this is calld Society and Polite Life. They treat their company with Coffe tea Lemonade orgee3 and cake. I know of but one agreeable circumstance attending these parties which is that you may go away when you please without disturbing any body. I was early in the winter invited to Madam de Pintos the Portegeeze Ministers. I went accordingly, there were about 200 persons present. I knew not a single Lady but by sight, having met them at Court, and it is an establishd rule tho you was 124to meet as often as 3 Nights in the Week, never to speak together or know each other unless particularly introduced. I was however at no loss for conversation, Madam de Pinto being very polite, and the foreign ministers being the most of them present, who had dinned with us and to whom I had been early introduced. It being Sunday evening I declined playing at Cards. Indeed I always get excused when I can.

“Heaven forbid, I should catch the manners living as they rise”4

Yet I must Submit to a Party or two of this kind. Having attended Several, I must return the compliment in the same way.

Yesterday we dinned at mr Paridices. I refer you to mr Storer for an account of this family. Mr Jefferson, col. Smith, the Prussian and Venitian Ministers were of the company, and several other persons who were strangers.5 At 8 oclock we returnd home in order to dress ourselves for the Ball, at the French Ambassadors to which we had received an invitation a fortnight before.6 He has been absent ever since our arrival here till 3 weeks ago. He has a levee every Sunday evening at which there are usually several hundred persons. The Hotel de France, is Beautifully situated, fronting St James park, one end of the House standing upon Hyde park. It is a most superb Building. About half past nine we went, and found some Company collected. Many very Brilliant Ladies of the first distinction were present. The Dancing commenced about 10, and the rooms soon filld. The Room which he had built for this purpose, is large enough for 5 or 6 hundred persons. It is most elegantly decorated, hung with a Gold tissue ornamented with 12 Brilliant cut Lustures, each containing 24 candles. At one end there are two large Arches, these were adornd with wreaths and bunches of Artificial flowers upon the walls; in the Alcoves were Cornicup loaded with oranges sweet meats &c coffe tea Lemonade orgee &c were taken here by every person who chose to go for it. There were coverd seats all round the room for those who did not chuse to dance. In the other Rooms card tables and a large Pharo table were Set. This is a New kind of game which is much practised here. Many of the company who did not dance retired here to amuse themselves. The whole Stile of the House and furniture is such as becomes the Ambassador from one of the first Monarchs in Europe. He had 20 thousand Guineas allowd him, in the first instance to furnish his House and an anual sallery of 10 thousand more. He has agreeably blended the 125magnificence and splendour of France with the neatness and elegance of England. Your cousin had unfortunately taken a cold a few days before and was very unfit to go out. She appeard so unwell that about one we retird without staying Supper, the sight of which only I regreeted, as it was in a stile no doubt superiour to any thing I have seen. The Prince of Wales came about eleven oclock. Mrs Fitzherbet was also present, but I could not distinguish her. But who is this Lady methinks I hear you say? She is a Lady to whom against the Laws of the Realm the Prince of Wales is privately married, as is universally believed. She appears with him in all publick parties, and he avows his marriage where ever he dares. They have been the topick of conversation in all companies for a long time, and it is now said that a young Gorge may be expected in the Course of the Summer. She was a widow of about 32 years of age whom he a long time percecuted in order to get her upon his own terms, but finding he could not succeed, he quieted her conscience by Matrimony, which however valid in the Eye of Heaven, is set asside by the Law of the Land which forbids a Prince of the Blood to marry a subject.

As to dresses I believe I must leave them to describe to your sister.7 I am sorry I have nothing better to send you than a sash and a vandike ribbon, the narrow is to put round the Edge of a hat, or you may trim what ever you please with it. I have inclosed for you a Poem of col Humphriess. Some parts you will find perhaps, too high seasond. If I had observed it before publication, I know he would have alterd it.

When you write again tell me whether my fruit trees in the Garden bear fruit, and whether you raisd any flowers from the seed I sent you. O I long to be with you again, but my dear Girl, Your cousin, must I leave her behind me? Yes, it must be so, but then I leave her in Honorable Hands.

Adieu I have only room to Say Your affectionate Aunt A A

RC (MHi: Jacob Norton Papers); endorsed: “Letter from Mrs A Adams to Miss Eliz Cranch, London Apl. 2 1786 (No. 9.).”


Elizabeth Cranch to AA, 9 Oct. 1785 (vol. 6:421–422).


Jonathan Swift, The Journal of a Modern Lady. In a Letter to a Person of Quality, London, 1729, lines 211–212, 219–222. AA reverses the order of lines from the original.


Probably orgeat, a cold syrup or beverage made from barley, almonds, or orange-flower water ( OED ).


Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle I, lines 13–16: “Eye Nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies, / And catch the manners living as 126they rise; / Laugh where we must, be candid where we can, / But vindicate the ways of God to man.”


Graf Spiridion von Lusi, Prussian minister plenipotentiary since 1781, and Gasparo Soderini, who presented his credentials as Venetian resident in February ( Repertorium , 3:329, 464).


The invitation from Comte d'Adhémar to attend a supper dance on 30 March is at MQA.


To Lucy Cranch, 2 April, below.