Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

Edward Wigglesworth to Abigail Adams, 13 October 1780 Wigglesworth, Edward AA


Edward Wigglesworth to Abigail Adams, 13 October 1780 Wigglesworth, Edward Adams, Abigail
Edward Wigglesworth to Abigail Adams
Madam Harvard College Octo. 13. 1780

I am directed by the Corporation to advise you, that the Hon. Mr. Adams, in his Letter favoured by the Hon. A. Lee, informed them, “that you would deliver five Volumes of M. Court de Gébelin's Monde Primitif with the L'Histoire natural de la Parole for our Library.”


M. Gebelin has been pleased to enrich our public Library with that very learned Work. And as Mr. Adams had the five first Volumes of it in his own Library here, to avoid the Risque of the Sea, he has retained those Volumes of M. Gebelin's with him, and been so kind as to direct that his own Set should be placed in our Library in their Stead.

If you should have an Opportunity of sending the Books, either to the Care of Ebenezer Storer Esqr.1 at Boston, or to mine here, it will be gratefully acknowledged by the Gentlemen of the Corporation.

I am, Madam, with Respect and Esteem, your most obedient humble servant, Edward Wigglesworth2

RC (Adams Papers); at foot of text: “Hon. Mrs. Adams.”


Treasurer of Harvard College and, through his second marriage, to the former Hannah (Quincy) Lincoln, connected with AA's family. There is a brief identifying note on Storer at vol. 2:48, but see also Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 12:208–214, and Adams Genealogy.


The work in question was Antoine Court de Gébelin's huge and ongoing compilation of data and speculation on the origins of religion and language, which had a comparably lengthy title but is usually called for convenience Monde primitif. See notes on both the book and its author at vol. 3:106–107, above, and in JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:323.

On 3 March JA had written to “The Reverend the President and Corporation of Harvard Colledge” as follows:

“I have the Honour to transmit you a Letter from Monsieur Court de Gebelin, who has sent me Six Volumes of his learned Work, intituled Monde Primitif to be sent by me, as a Present from him to Harvard Colledge. I shall discharge this Trust with great Pleasure as soon as I can find a good Opportunity: but it will be somewhat difficult to find a Friend who can take so large a Bundle to a Seaport, and from thence to America: the first however that I can find, will have the Honour to convey it” (LbC, Adams Papers).

The present letter, from Edward Wigglesworth, professor of divinity and a member of the Corporation, shows that JA later hit on a different mode of proceeding: by the hand of Arthur Lee he sent another letter (so far not found), in which he proposed to hold back the volumes just presented him by the author for Harvard, and instructed the Corporation to apply to AA for the corresponding volumes that were already in his own library at Braintree.

The second plan did not work out, and the earlier one did. The Harvard College Library has a complete set of the Monde primitif, of which volumes 1–6 and 8 contain early bookplates bearing the notation “The Gift of the Author, M. Court de Gebelin of Paris Recorded 27 Nov. 1780.” (Volumes 7 and 9 were not acquired until 1900 and 1923 respectively.) And in the University Archives is Court de Gébelin's letter of presentation, dated “Paris 2e. Mars 1780” and addressed to the President and Corporation, which must have been enclosed in JA's letter of 3 March quoted above in this note. It is a long and effusive one:

“Habitans d'un Monde nouveau, Membres d'une Societé qui prend une forme nouvelle et qui s'elevant sur des bases pleines de sagesse, annonce l'avenir le plus flatteur, Vous jetterez sans doute avec plaisir un coup d'oeil sur un Ouvrage qui retrace les tems anciens: qui montre comment se formerent et s'eleverent ces Societés primitives et respectables que l'Antiquité celebra, dont le souvenir c'est transmis jusqu'à nous, et dignes de n'etre pas oubliées par les heureux habitans du Nouveau Monde.”

There is much more in this vein, including an appeal to the scholars at Har-6vard to aid the author in bringing his work “à une plus grande perfection” by their criticisms and by furnishing information concerning “les Langues de ces vastes Contrêes, leurs usages, leurs traditions, leur culte, leurs mots sacrés: ces vieilles Chansons conservées parmi eux et qu'ils n'entendent qu'à peine.”

The arrival of the volumes presented by the author, to whom the Corporation voted on 27 Nov. to send its thanks, precluded the need to send the same volumes from Braintree. JA's set in nine volumes (with an extra copy of vol. 7), Paris, 1775–1782, is now among his books in the Boston Public Library. In his old age, when reading widely in the field of comparative religion, he annotated most of the volumes, and although he found much to correct, he declared that Court de Gébelin's work as a whole “does honor to human Nature and has been useful to Mankind. No Man can read it without being richly rewarded for his Time and pains” (Frank E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods, Cambridge, 1959, p. 274).

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 15 October 1780 AA JA


Abigail Adams to John Adams, 15 October 1780 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
My Dearest Friend October 15 1780

I closed a long Letter to you only two days ago and sent it to Cales,1 but as no opportunity is omitted by me, I embrace this, as Col. Flury was kind enough to write me on purpose from Newport to inform me of it, and to promise a carefull attention to it. Yet I feel doubtfull of its safety, the Enemy seem to be collecting a prodigious force into these seas, and are bent upon the destruction of our Allies. We are not a little anxious for them, and cannot but wonder that they are not yet reinforced. Graves Fleet, Arbuthnots and Rodneys, all here. With such a superiority, can it be matter of surprize, if Mr. de Ternay should fall a sacrifice? My own Mind I own is full of apprehension, yet I trust we shall not be deliverd over to the vengance of a Nation more wicked and perverse than our own. We daily experience the correcting and the defending Arm. The enclosed paper will give you the particulars of an infernal plot, and the providential discovery of it—for however the Belief of a particular Providence may be exploded by the Modern Wits, and the Infidelity of too many of the rising generation deride the Idea, yet the virtuous Mind will look up and acknowledge the great first cause, without whose notice not even a sparrow falls to the ground.

I am anxious to hear from you. Your last Letter which I have received was dated in June the 17. I have wrote you repeatedly that my Trunk was not put on Board the Alliance. That poor vessel was the sport of more than winds and waves, the conduct with regard to her is considerd as very extrodanary. She came to Boston as you have no doubt heard. Landay is suspended—the Man must be new made before he can be entitled to command. I hope Capt. Sampson arrived safe, he carried the resolve of Congress which you wanted.


As to our domestick affairs Mr. Hall is dead, and your Mother went to your Brother he having lost his wife in the Spring, and was there taken Ill. I sent for her home, and have nursed the old Lady through a severe turn of a fever in which I feard for her life. She is however upon the recovery and desires her tenderest regards to you, tho she fears she shall not live to see your return. I am myself just recovering from a slow fever, weak and feeble yet. If you have an opportunity by way of Holland by Mr. Austin to send me some paint and oil, stone coulour, I wish you would. You tell me to send you price current. I will aim at it.2 Corn is now 30 pound, Rye 27 per Bushel, flower from a hundred and 40 to a hundred and 30 per hundred, Beaf 8 dollors per pound, Mutton 9, Lamb 6, 7 and 8, Butter 12 dollors per pound, cheese 10, Sheeps Wool 30 dollors per pound, flax 20. West India articles Sugar from a hundred and 70 to 2 hundred pounds per hundred, Molasses 48 dollors per Gal., Tea 90, Coffe 12, cotton Wool 30 per pound. Exchange from 70 up to 75 for hard Money. Bills at 50—Money scarce, plenty of Goods, enormous Taxes. —Our State affairs are thus. Hancock will be Governour by a very great Majority—the Senate will have to choose the Leiut. Governour —our constitution is read with great admiration in New York and pronounced by the royall Governour to be the best Republican form he ever saw, but with sincere hopes that it might not be accepted. How will it be administered is now the important Question?

I request you would write to me by the way of Bilboa and Holland. I have sent you a set of Bills for 4 hundred dollors. I have one more for a hundred which I have not yet enclosed. I did not know but I had best send it to Holland or Bilboa, but am not determined. Enclose a Letter for Mr. Thaxter. Shall write again to Amsterdam a vessel will soon sail. Let Mr. Dana know that I heard last Night from Mrs. D——a that she, the judge and family were all well.—The Report of the day is that 3 thousand troops are arrived at New York from England.

Adieu most affectionately yours.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed by Thaxter: “Portia Octr. 15. 1780.” Enclosures not found.


Thus in MS, but AA unquestionably meant Cadiz since the long letter she had “closed” two days before must have been that dated 8 Oct., above, sent by “a vessel going to Spain.”


The following list has been repunctuated for clarity.