Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3



Book Purchases by John Adams for Himself and His Sons in Paris and Amsterdam facing 213[unavailable]

Laurent Tricot's Les rudiments de la langue latine. This work appears, somewhat irrelevantly, in the remarkable bibliographic letter and list that John Quincy Adams compiled and sent to his brothers Charles and Thomas Boylston, mainly of books that would contribute to their efforts to master French. Since, in writing of the book, he used the full and almost exact text of the titlepage: “a l'usage des Colleges de l'université de paris par Mr. Tricot Mtre. des Arts & de pension en la meme université Quatorzieme edition” (3 October 1778, below), we can assume that he wrote with the volume open before him. Moreover, from his citation of the present edition (the 14th, Paris, 1777) and from the date, 1778, that accompanies his signature on the reverse of the titlepage, it is probable that this copy, now among John Adams' books at the Boston Public Library, is one of those acquired earlier in that year as John Quincy took up the study of Latin in M. Le Coeur's pension at Passy. See No. 4 in the present Descriptive List.

Demarville's Les verbes françois. When John Quincy Adams on 21 March 1780 reported from Passy to his father in Paris a conversation that he had initiated with M. Pechigny, master of the school attended by himself and his brother Charles, on Charles' readiness to undertake Latin, in which Pechigny had held that, subject to John Adams' approval, Charles should spend another month conjugating French verbs (the letter is reproduced in the present volume; see No. 11 in the present Descriptive List), the father reacted decisively. On that same day John Adams had purchased from the bookseller Pissot, “Les Verbes François, ou nouvelle Grammaire en form de Dictionaire Par Mr. Demarville.” Next day, he purchased another copy so that he might make Charles “a Present” of one copy for his use. He accompanied it with a reply to John Quincy in which he agreed fully with M. Pechigny's opinion, quoted the extracts from the English reviews of Demarville that were printed as advertisements in the edition purchased (the 2d, London, 1773), described the book's contents, and prescribed a method for Charles to follow (to John Quincy Adams, 22 March 1780, below, and Diary and Autobiography , 2:437). The work is in French and xixEnglish, printed on opposite pages or in parallel columns. The copy remaining among John Adams' books at the Boston Public Library, on the French titlepage of which he has inscribed his name, the date acquired, and the cost (“Liv. 3:0:0”), is probably the copy he retained for himself.

Sir William Temple's Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The inscription, “C. Adams & J. Q. Adams's from their father. September 9th 1780,” in the copy of the Observations among John Quincy Adams' books deposited at the Boston Athenaeum, identifies it as having been acquired by John Adams so that the two sons he had brought with him to Amsterdam in early August (p. 390, 394–395, below) could without delay become familiar with the new country in which they found themselves. John Adams had known Temple's account for some years, having described it in a letter to his wife in 1777 as “elegant and entertaining, but very brief and general” (vol. 2:286). Abigail Adams must then or later have followed that recommendation, for in a letter to John Thaxter, 5 February 1781, below, she recalls having read it and no other on the history of the Netherlands. Thaxter, in reply, 27 May 1781, below, recommended additional titles for her to read on the Low Countries, allowing loftily that Temple's book was “perhaps calculated for the Meridian of the Times in which he lived. He is not without his Errors . . . and whatever Credit he may have obtained in England and among Foreigners, this Country allows him but a small share of Merit.”

Temple's of course was a work then more than a century old, having been written not long after Sir William's triumphal return from his celebrated five-day negotiation in the Netherlands of the triple alliance in 1668 (The Dictionary of National Biography). The Observations was first published in 1672, the copy John Adams gave his sons being of the 8th edition (Edinburgh, 1747).

During and after John Adams' long efforts to win recognition at The Hague for America in 1780–1782, the figure of Sir William Temple (1628–1699) as an earlier exemplar had even more interest for John and Abigail Adams than did Temple's book. On 25 May 1781 Abigail wrote her husband wishing him the same success in his mission that had crowned Temple's efforts in the same place, noting that “there is no small similarity in the character of my Friend, and the Gentleman.” When, a year later, John Adams had attained all his diplomatic objectives, he returned, in a letter to Abigail, 16 June 1782, to the parallel between his own negotiations and Temple's, finding the only difference between them in his own regrettable want of a masterly pen to celebrate his triumph: “Your Friend will never have Leisure, he will never have the Patience to describe the Dangers, the Mortifications, the Distresses he has undergone in Accomplishing this great Work” (both letters in vol. 4).

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library and of the Boston Athenaeum.