Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To Thomas Bulfinch

From James Warren

484 To John Adams from John Singleton Copley, 15 October 1786 Copley, John Singleton Adams, John
From John Singleton Copley
George Street Hanover Square Octr: 15. 1786. 1 Dear sir

I thank you for the loan of the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, they have afforded me much entertainment particularly those written by Governor Bowdoin on the structure of the Heavens, and on Light;2 I feel my-self happy that my Countrymen are inspired with a thirst after knowledge, and to see them emulating the Nations of Europe in the cultivation of the Arts and Sciences.

As you have done me the honor to desire my opinion of the plates in this work, I will give it to you without reserve; I think them well Engraved, much better than I should have expected, as there was no person that knew much of that Art, in the State of Massachusetts when I left it; but there is a total want of the knowledge of Perspective in every part of them; It is by this Art that all objects are truly represented just as they appear to the Eye be they ever so complex, and none of the Imitative Arts are capable of perfection but this, because it is the only one that is wholly within the sphere of Mathematical Science.

All objects deminish as they recede from the Eye and finally lose themselves in a point in the Horizon, called the point of sight; this point is always opposite to the spectator and on a level with his Eye; but as example is always better than precept, I herewith send to you a Drawing of a pavement with eight square Pillars set in two rows and at equal distances from each other, with the process of drawing them explained by the dotted lines.3

I am / Sir / Your Most Obt: / Humbl: Sert.

John Singleton Copley

RC (MBA); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams”; endorsed: “A Letter from Mr Jno. S. Copley / to His Exy John Adams LLD / Read Jany. 31. 1787”; docketed: “Oct 15 86.”


Once settled in London, JA and AA renewed their acquaintance with the expatriate Boston artist John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) and his wife, Susanna Farnum Clarke Copley (1745–1836). The families frequently socialized, and the Copleys attended the private wedding of AA2 and WSS at the American legation on 11 June ( AFC , 6:211, 305, 379; 7:22, 218, 221, 235, 239, 305; ANB ). For Copley’s 1783 portrait of JA, see vol. 15:xiii–xiv, 356.


JA had loaned Copley a copy of the inaugural volume of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ journal, Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1 (1783), Evans, No. 18900. James Bowdoin, then president of the academy, wrote three 485 related treatises for Part II of the Memoirs, all observations on light, gravity, and the “Waste of Matter in the Sun and fixt Stars” (p. xxv, 187–233).


JA received this letter on 15 Oct. and forwarded it and Copley’s sketch to Bowdoin on the same day. The letter was read before the academy on 31 Jan. 1787 (“Documents,” Dædalus, 86:167–168 [Sept. 1956]), but the sketch has not been found.