Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 19 July 1786 AA Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 19 July 1786 Adams, Abigail Shaw, Elizabeth Smith Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw
Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Smith Shaw
My dear sister London july 19th 1786

Accept my thanks for your kind Letter of March 18th and for the pleasing favourable account you have given of your Nephews. May they ever continue to deserve the approbation of their Friends.

From an Eye so disserning as my sisters, I did not suppose that the fault which too easily besets a Young Gentleman, would long lie conceald. He might have informd You that his Pappa was often correcting him for it, and his Mamma gently reminding that young Men should never be possitive.

There are few persons upon a candid inquiry, who will not recollect and find that upon many occasions they have been faulty in this respect, yet must condemn it; in most instances, as a Breach of good Manners and politeness. Nor is a person let; his Learning be ever so extensive and his abilities ever so splendid; capable of rendering himself so usefull to Mankind: if at the same time, he discovers an overbearing and dogmatical disposition.1 The late Dr Johnson, Author of the Ramblers and compiler of the dictionary was a very striking proof of this assertion, and he plainly discovers his sentiments in an observation which he makes in his Lives of the Poets, “Whoever is apt to hope good from others is diligent to please them, but he who believes his powers strong enough to force their own Way, commonly tries only to please himself.”2 Pope has juster Ideas upon this Subject and discovers a Greater knowledge of Mankind, which will be best convey'd to you in his own words.

“Tis not enough your counsel should be true Blunt Truths more Mischief than nice falshoods do 264 Men must be taught as if you taught them not And things unknown, propos'd as things forgot Without good Breeding truth is disapprov'd That only makes superiour sense beloved.”3

Three of as Learned Men, as ever I had the honour of knowing, are three of the modestest Dr Priestly, Dr Price, and mr Jefferson, in neither of whom a self importance appears or a wish to force their sentiments and opinions upon Mankind. Whoever thinks too highly of himself will discover it, and just in proportion as he overvalues his abilities, will mankind endeavour to mortify and lessen them nor will they suffer him to take that as a right, which they claim the privelege of bestowing as a reward.

I hope however that your Nephew will strive to correct this disposition, and that he will never want a kind Friend like his Aunt, to reason with him from regard and affection, which have the surest effect upon generous minds and I feel no small satisfaction when I say to you, that I do not know an other fault which he has. Perhaps I discover the blind Partiality of a Parent.

Your Neice will write to you I presume under the signature of a Name once very familiar to you, and with it she has acquired a Man of Honour, Virtue and integrity for her Partner and companion. Sensible delicate and affectionate just the Character you would have chosen for your Neice, whose prospect (in this New connection), for happiness appear to be rationally founded. May Heaven Smile upon and bless their union is a petition in which I know you will join me. The only unpleasing Idea which attends it, is, that we must in all probability live in different states, perhaps in different Countries. But how small is this consideration, when compared with others? I gave her to him with all my Heart, he was worthy of her.

I want to return Home, and bring them with me, we should all be happier in America. There we should find sentiments and opinions more agreeable to us, society and Friends which the European World knows not of. It is all lost in ceremony and Parade, in venality and corruption, in Gameing and debauchery, amongst those who stile themselves polite People, the fashonable World. I would not check the Benevolence of my Country Men, but I would have them grow more cautious where; and upon whom they bestow it. This Nation surely has no claim to be considerd as the most favourd.4 I wish a general Spirit of Liberality may prevail towards all Mankind. Let them be considerd as one Nation equally intitled to our regard 265as Breathren of the same universal Parent. Let Learning personal Merit and virtue create the only distinctions,5 and as we have taken the Lead of all other Nations with respect to Religious toleration, let us shew ourselves equally Liberal in all other respects. Than will our Nation be a Phenomenon indeed, and I am Sure the more we cultivate peace and good will to Man, the happier we shall be.

Pray how does my Friend Mrs Allen? is the family like to increase?6 I do not wonder as I formerly used to, that persons who have no children substitute cats dogs and Birds in their stead.

I design to write to mr Thaxter if I have time. I suppose I may congratulate him upon his Nuptials, or shall I say to him in the Words of Shakspear, “here is Benidict the Married Man.”7 I believe I ought to rally him a little, but all my Authorities are in America filed in the Letters he used to write me. I never believed his vows of celibacy of insensibility &c.8 Young people are fond of Boasting sometimes not considering how great they make the merrit of the conquerer: Good Dr Price told us last sunday that Marriage was a Natural state, an honorable State, and that no man could be so happy out of it, as he might be in it, that those who by lose connections unfitted themselves for that state, perverted the order of Nature and would suffer a punishment concequent upon it. He also pointed out those virtues and qualifications necessary to a happy union, and the Duties resulting from that union. The Dr has been giving us a number of discourses upon Relative duties. You may judge of our value for his Sermons when we go six miles every Sunday to hear him.9 He preaches only once a day.

Captain Callihan will sail next week. My Letters must all be ready this, and I have more than a dozen to write yet; provided I fullfill all my engagements. Next Monday I go into the Country to spend a week with mr Hollis at his Country Seat. Mr and Mrs Smith accompany us. Remember me to mr Shaw I hope the Books reachd him.10 Be so good as to send one of the Phamplets to mr Allen with my compliments. Love to Billy and Betsys from your Ever affectionate Sister


RC (DLC: Shaw Family Papers.) Dft (Adams Papers), dated 14 July.


In the Dft, AA wrote this sentence without any internal punctuation. If the punctuation in the RC is changed, a possible, clearer reading is: “Nor is a person, let his Learning be ever so extensive and his abilities ever so splendid, capable of rendering himself so usefull to Mankind, if at the same time, he discovers an overbearing and dogmatical disposition.”


Samuel Johnson published The Rambler twice a week from 20 March 1750 to 14 March 1752 and A Dictionary, with a Grammar and History, of the English Language in 1755. Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to 266the Works of the Most Eminent English Poets first appeared in 1781 and later was published under the title of Lives of the English Poets (“A Chronological Catalogue of the Prose Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 4 vols., Oxford, 1826, 1:xvii, xx–xxi). AA quotes from Johnson's essay on poet John Gay (Lives of the English Poets, 2 vols., 2:64–65, in The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 9 vols., Oxford, 1825).


Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Part III, lines 13–18. In line 13, Pope wrote, “. . . your counsel still be true.”


In the Dft, AA wrote the following instead of the previous sentence:

“Let not the English be the most favourd Nation amongst us, unless personal merit intitles a man to respect, the country at large do not deserve that respect which was once shewn it.”


In the Dft, AA concluded this paragraph,

“but perhaps this is wishing for more than mankind are capable of attaining till the mellinium, or the thousand years in which we are told the just only shall reign upon earth but I must still think that the more we cultivate this temper and disposition the happier we shall be.”


At this point in the Dft, AA added the following:

“I wish I had my little Neice here I should find an amusement which I really want, I have a miss with me for a week or ten day during part of the School Hollydays a daughter of Dr Jeffries's of about 7 years old, a sprightly sensible child.”


Similar phrases appear in Much Ado about Nothing, Act I, scene i, lines 269–270; Act V, scene i, lines 185–186; and Act V, scene iv, line 99.


Thaxter often wrote to AA during 1782–1785 about his intention to remain single. See, for example, his letter of 10 Nov. 1782 (vol. 5:34).


Price preached regularly at a church in Hackney, in the northeast portion of London, several miles from the Adamses' home in Grosvenor Square (vol. 6:197).


See AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 24 April, and note 3, above.

Abigail Adams to Lucy Cranch, 20 July 1786 AA Cranch, Lucy Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch Abigail Adams to Lucy Cranch, 20 July 1786 Adams, Abigail Cranch, Lucy Greenleaf, Lucy Cranch
Abigail Adams to Lucy Cranch
My Dear Neice London july 20th 1786

My fourth Letter I begin to you.1 I dare not reckon the Number I have to write; least I should feel discouraged in the attempt. I must circumscribe myself to half a sheet of Paper. Raree Shows are so much the taste of this Country that they make one even of the corpse of great people, and the other Day a Gentleman presented me with a Card to go and see the corpse of the Duke of Northumberland, who died at his House in the Country but was brought here to be laid in state. It is said he, a senseless peice of Pagentry, but as such, I would advise you to see it. It is practised only with crownd Heads and some of the most ancient families of Dukes. The Late Duke was Father to Lord Peircy, whom the Americans well remember. His Lordship (who lives a few doors from us), being the elder son inherits the title and estate, and is now duke of Northumberland.2

Northumberland House is in the city, a great immence pile of Building to which one enters through massy Iron Gates.3 At this Gate stood four porters clad in Black, the court up to the house was hung in Black and divided by a temporary railing that the spectators 267might pass in, upon one side and out upon the other. From the Court we enterd a long Suit of rooms, 5 in Number through rows of servants on each side of us; all Sabled as well as the rooms. I never before understood that line of Pope's

“When Hopkins dies a thousand Lights attend.”4

I believe there were two thousand here, for Day light was totally excluded. Upon the walls were as many Eschutcheon as candles, these are formd so as to place a light in each. These plates are all washd with Silver, being put up upon the black Cloth and lighted in this manner gave the rooms a Tomb like appearence, for in this manner are the Tombs of the Dead enlightned in Catholick Countries, and it is not uncommon for the great to leave a large Sum of Money for lights to be kept constantly burning. Through these rooms we moved with a slow pace and a Solom Silence into that which containd the corps. Here upon a superb Bed of State, surrounded with 24 wax Lights upon enormous silver candle Sticks, lay the remains of his Grace, as I presume, but so buried amidst Stars and Garters, and the various insignias of the different offices he sustaind, that he might as well have been at Sion House;5 for all that one could see of him, for these ornaments are display'd like flags

The George and Garter dangling from the bed Where Gaudy Yellow strove with flameing red6

Upon the Bolster lay the Ducal coronet, and round the bed stood a dozen Men in black whom they call Mutes. It was said that the Corps was cloathd in a white satin tunick and cap richly trimd with Blond lace, but for this I cannot vouch, tho I do not think it more ridiculous than the other parts of the parade which I saw: and this farce was kept up ten Days. The Body was then deposited in westminster abbe, with as much Parade and shew as possible; but being out of Town, I did not see it.7 We made an excursion as far as Portsmouth, which lies about 75 miles from London. I was much dissapointed in the appearence of the Country, great part of it being only barren Heath. Within 18 mils of the Town it appears fruitfull and highly cultivated. We spent only one Day at Portsmouth, but returnd an other road which brought us back through windsor. Here we stoped a day and half, and I was Charmd and delighted with it, the most Luxurient fancy cannot exceed the Beauties of this place. I do not wonder that Pope Stiled it, the Seat of the Muses. Read his 268Windsor Forrest,8 and give full credit to his most poetic flights. The road by which we enterd the Town was from the Top of a very steep Hill. From this hill a lawn presents itself on each side, before you a broad straight road 3 miles in length, upon each side a double plantation of lofty Elms lift their Majestick Heads, which is exceeded only by a view of the still Grandeur Forest at a distance which is 30 miles in circumference. From this Hill you have a view of the castle and the Town. This place as in former Days, is the retreat of the monarck. The Royal family reside here nine Months of the Year, not in the Castle, as that would require the attendance of Ministers &c. The present Queen has a neat Lodge here close to the Castle and there is an other a few rods distant for the princessess. His Majesty is a visitor to the Queen and the family reside here with as little parade as that of a private Gentlemans. It is the Etiquette that none of his Majesties Ministers approach him upon buisness here, dispatches are sent by Messengers, and answers returnd in the same way. He holds his Levies twice a week in Town. The Castle is one of the strongest places in Europe as it is said, and a safe retreat for the family in case any more Revolutions should shake this kingdom. It was first built by Edward the 3d, Charles the 2d kept his Court here during the Summer Months, and spaird no expence to render it Worthy the Royal residence. He furnishd it richly and decorated it with paintings by the first Masters.9 It is situated upon a high Hill which rises by a gentle assent and enjoys a most delightfull prospect round it. In the front is a wide and extensive 10 vale, adornd with feilds and Medows, with Groves on either side, and the calm smooth water of the Thames running through them. Behind it are Hills coverd with fine Forests, as if designd by nature for Hunting. The Terrace round the Castle is a noble walk; coverd with fine Gravel it is raised on a steap declivity of a hill, and over looks the whole Town. Here the King and Royal family walk on sunday afternoons in order to shew themselves to those of their Subjects, who chuse to repair to windsor for that purpose. In fine weather the terrace is generally throngd. From the Top of this tower on the castle they shewd us 3 different Counties.11 To describe to you the appartments the Paintings and Decorations within this castle would require a volm instead of a Letter. I shall mention only two rooms and the first is that calld the Queens bed chamber, where upon the Top of the cealing is painted the Story of Diana and Endymion.12 The Bed of state was put up by her Majesty, the inside and counterpain are of white sattin the curtains of pea Green richly embrodered 269by a Mrs Wright embroderer to her Majesty. There is a full length Picture of the Queen with her 14 children in minature in the same peice, taken by mr West. It is a very handsome likeness of her.13 The next room is calld the room of Beauties, so named for the Portraits of the most celebrated Beauties in the Reign of Charles the 2d, they are 14 in Number. There is also Charles Queen a very handsome woman. The dress of many of them, is in the Stile of the present Day.14 Here is also Queen Carolinies China closet, filled with a great variety of curious china elegantly disposed.15

I have come now to the bottom of the last page. If I have amused my dear Neice it will give great pleasure to her affectionate

A. Adams 16

PS I send you the fashionable Magizine.17

RC (MHi: Misc. Bound Coll.). Printed in AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1840, p. 338–343.


AA's previous letters to Lucy Cranch written from London are dated 27 Aug. 1785 (vol. 6:312–314), 2 April, and 22 May (addressed to both Elizabeth and Lucy Cranch), both above.


Hugh Percy, né Smithson, Duke of Northumberland, died 6 June. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hugh, Earl Percy, who, as an officer in the 5th Regiment of Fusiliers, commanded the British camp at Boston and covered the British retreat from Lexington and Concord. The elder duke is again linked to the Adams family history, when in the 1830s and 1840s, JQA spearheaded the congressional effort to accept a $500,000 bequest from the duke's illegitimate son, James Smithson, and establish the Smithsonian Institution ( DNB ; The Great Design: Two Lectures on the Smithson Bequest by John Quincy Adams, ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn, Washington, D.C., 1965, p. 13–14).


Northumberland House, Charing Cross, was built in the early seventeenth century in the shape of a “U,” the opening of which led out to the gardens and river and was later enclosed. Additions in the mid-eighteenth century included an art gallery and a statue of the Percy lion above the arched entrance along the Strand. The house was demolished in 1874 ( London Past and Present , 2:603–605; London Encyclopaedia ).


Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, Epistle III, line 291.


For AA's visit to the Duke of Northumberland's country seat, Sion Syon House, see AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 24 April, above.


A paraphrase of Pope, Moral Essays, Epistle III, lines 303–304.


The remains of the Duke of Northumberland were brought to London on 8 June for embalming. His funeral took place on the 21st (London Daily Universal Register, 9, 22 June).


Line 2 of Pope's poem describes Windsor as “At once the Monarch's and the Muse's seats” (Pope, The Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, N.Y., 1903, p. 28–34). He praises the rural delights of the town near which he grew up for nearly 300 lines.


William the Conqueror was the first to build on the site of Windsor Castle, which occupies a naturally defensive position along the Thames, and his successors made many improvements and additions. Between 1359 and 1368, Edward III reconstructed and added to the castle to house both the private apartments of the king and queen and the state apartments used for official and ceremonial business. The palace was looted during the English Civil War and allowed to fall into disrepair. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II commissioned architect Hugh May to rebuild and restore the grandeur of Windsor Castle (Robin Mackworth-Young, The History and Treasures of Windsor Castle, N.Y., 1982, p. 6–7, 16–19, 33–45).


The text in brackets is supplied from AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1840, p. 341. For its subsequent loss, see note 16.


While three counties may have been 270pointed out to AA, twelve were visible from Windsor Castle's Round Tower: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, and Wiltshire (W. H. Pyne, The History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James's Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House, and Frogmore, 3 vols., London, 1819, 1:187–188).


Italian-born artist Antonio Verrio was commissioned by Charles II to decorate the ceilings and walls of the royal apartments at Windsor Castle with scenes illustrating classical mythology and glorifying the monarchy. Verrio's materials proved fragile, and paintings in the queen's bedchamber and other rooms deteriorated and were removed in later renovations. Three rooms by Verrio survive (Mackworth-Young, The History and Treasures of Windsor Castle, p. 40–42).


The Benjamin West painting of Queen Charlotte was completed in 1779. It required several revisions to incorporate additional children as they were born. In the end, it showed the queen full-length with thirteen children around her and was considered to be the king's favorite royal portrait (Robert C. Alberts, Benjamin West: A Biography, Boston, 1978, p. 131).


Sir Peter Lely painted ten of the portraits of the ladies of the court of Charles II, William Wissing three, and Jacob Huysman one. Another of Lely's portraits was of Catherine of Braganza, consort of Charles II (Pyne, History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, 1:116–117, 154).


Queen Caroline, wife of George II and a noted supporter of the arts, owned a substantial quantity of Japanese ware that had originally been a gift from the East India Company (John Van der Kiste, King George II and Queen Caroline, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1997, p. 123).


Supplied from AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1840, p. 343. The signature, which was probably “A. Adams,” has been neatly cut out of the RC resulting in the loss of five words on the reverse. In 1839, when CFA began gathering together his grandmother's letters for publication, Lucy Cranch, who married John Greenleaf in 1795, let him copy AA's letters to both her and her mother, Mary Cranch (CFA, Diary , 8:278, 297).


The Fashionable Magazine; or, Lady's and Gentleman's Monthly Recorder of New Fashions, etc., vol. 1, London, 1786.