Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr., 16 March 1763 AA Smith, Isaac Jr. Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr., 16 March 1763 Adams, Abigail Smith, Isaac Jr.
Abigail Smith to Isaac Smith Jr.
Dear Cousin1 Weymouth March 16 1763

Tis no small pleasure to me, to hear of the great proficioncy you have made in the French tongue, A Tongue Sweet, and harmonious, a Tongue, useful to Merchants, to Statesmen; to Divines, and especially to Lawyers and Travellers; who by the help of it, may traverse the whole Globe; for in this respect, the French language is pretty much now, what I have heard the Latin formerly was, a universal tongue.

By the favor of my Father I have had the pleasure of seeing your Copy of Mrs. Wheelwrights Letter, to her Nephew, and having some small acquaintance with the French tongue, have attempted a translation; of it, which I here send, for your perusal and correction.2


I am sensible that I am but ill qualified for such an undertaking, it being a maxim with me that no one can translate an author well, who cannot write like the original, and I find by Experience that tis more difficult to translate well, than to write well.

You will see that I have endeavourd to translate the letter as literally as I could, without treading on the heels of my Lady abbess, Esteeming literal translations to be the best as well as truest. Should be glad if you would favor me with your translation, for you, being taught the French language by one of the greatest masters, I make no doubt but that your performance shines in all the beauty and perfection of Language.

That you may daily grow in virtue and useful Learning, and be a bright Orniment in Church or State is the sincere wish of Dear Cousin Your affectionat Friend, Nabby Smith

N B. How the Lady abbess came to subscribe herself Serviteur, which you know is of the masculine Gender I cannot devise unless like all other Ladies in a convent, she chose to make use of the Masculine Gender, rather than the Feminine.

Excuse the writing for tis late at night.

RC (MHi: Smith-Carter Papers); addressed: “To Mr. Isaac Smith junr. Boston”; endorsed: “Nabby.” Enclosure missing; see note 2.


Isaac Smith Jr. (1749–1829), son of AA's uncle Isaac Smith (1719–1787) of Boston; later a clergyman and loyalist; see Adams Genealogy. AA and her cousin had begun a literary correspondence in 1762.


“Mrs. Wheelwright” is Esther Wheelwright (1696–1780), who had been captured by Indians in Wells, Maine, in 1703 and taken to Canada, where she became a nun and eventually, in 1760, Mother Superior of the Ursuline Convent in Quebec. She kept in periodic touch with her family in New England, and very likely her “Letter, to her Nephew,” here discussed, was written to her sister's son, Joshua Moody, who visited Quebec in 1761 and brought back a portrait of his aunt. See Emma Lewis Coleman, New England Captives Carried to Canada ... during the French and Indian Wars, Portland, Maine, 1925, 1:425–435, with portrait of Esther Wheelwright reproduced facing p. 428. Another nephew, Nathaniel Wheelwright, recorded his visits to the Convent during 1754 in a diary recently edited by Edward P. Hamilton and published in Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Bull., 10:259–296 (Feb. 1960); see especially p. 275, 291–292.

John Adams to Abigail Smith, 20 April 1763 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Smith, 20 April 1763 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Smith
Diana April 20th. 1763

Love sweetens Life, and Life sometimes destroys Love. Beauty is desirable and Deformity detestible; Therefore Beauty is not Deformity nor Deformity, Beauty. Hope springs eternal in the human 5Breast, I hope to be happyer next Fall than I am at present, and this Hope makes me happyer now than I should be without it.—I am at Braintree but I wish I was at Weymouth! What strange Revolutions take Place in our Breasts, and what curious Vicissitudes in every Part of human Life. This summer I shall like Weymouth better than Braintree but something prompts me to believe I shall like Braintree next Winter better than Weymouth. Writers who procure Reputation by flattering human Nature, tell us that Mankind grows wiser and wiser: whether they lie, or speak the Truth, I know I like it, better and better.—I would feign make an original, an Exemplar, of this Letter but I fear I have not an original Genius.

Ned. Brooks is gone to Ordination, I know.1 I have not seen him, nor heard of him, but I am sure that nothing less than the Inspiration of his Daemon, that I suppose revolted from him somewhere, near the foot of Pens-Hill, could have given me Understanding to write this Letter. This is better Reasoning than any I learned at Colledge.

Patience my Dear! Learn to conquer your Appetites and Passions! Know thyself, came down from Heaven, and the Government of ones own soul requires greater Parts and Virtues than the Management of Kingdoms, and the Conquest of the disorderly rebellious Principles in our Nature, is more glorious than the Acquisition of Universal Dominion. Did you ever read Epictetus? He was a sensible Man. I advise you to read him: and indeed I should have given this Advice, before you undertook to read this.2

It is a silly Affectation for modern statesmen to Act or descant upon Ancient Principles of Morals and Civility. The Beauty of Virtue, The Love of ones Country, a sense of Liberty, a Feeling for our Fellow Men, are Ideas that the Brains of Men now a Days can not contemplate: It is a better Way to substitute in the Place of them, The Beauty of a Girl Lady, the Love of Cards and Horse Races, a Taste in Dress, Musick, and Dancing, The Feeling of a pretty Girl or Fellow and a genteel Delicacy and Complaisance to all who have Power to abuse us.

I begin to find that an increasing Affection for a certain Lady, (you know who my Dear) quickens my Affections for every Body Else, that does not deserve my Hatred. A Wonder if the Fires of Patriotism, do not soon begin to burn! And now I think of it, there is no possible Way of diminishing the Misery of Man kind so effectually as by printing this Letter.

It is an intolerable Grievance and Oppression upon poor literary Mortals, to set wasting their Spirits And wearing out that great Gland 6the Brain, in the study of order and Connection, in fixing every Part of their Compositions to 3 a certain scope. This keeps them besides from the Joys of seeing their Productions in Print, several days longer than is needful, (not nine years indeed, according to those fools the Ancients): We are to our Honor grown a good deal wiser than they.

Now I can demonstrate that a Man might write three score Years and ten, after the Model of this Letter, without the least Necessity of Revisal, Emendation or Correction, and all that he should write in that time would be worth Printing too.—I find the Torrent Hurries me down, but I will make a great Effort to swim ashore to the Name of


To the great Goddess Diana

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “For Miss Nabby Smith Weymouth.”


According to Weis, Colonial Clergy of N.E. , Edward Brooks (1732?–1781), Harvard 1757, of Medford, was not ordained until 1764, at North Yarmouth, where he was settled until his dismissal in 1769. But more significantly with relation to the Adamses, Brooks became the paternal grandfather of Abigail Brown Brooks (1808–1889), who in 1829 was to marry JA's grandson, Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886). See Adams Genealogy.


For the editions of Epictetus owned by JA, in Greek, Latin, and English, see Catalogue of JA's Library , p. 84.


MS torn. The missing word may be “meet” or “fill.”