Diary of John Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. December 3 or 4 [i.e. 5?].<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA01d207n1" class="note" id="DJA01d207n1a">1</a> JA Tuesday. December 3 or 4 [i.e. 5?]. Adams, John
Tuesday. December 3 or 4 i.e. 5.1

Bob Paine is conceited and pretends to more Knowledge and Genius than he has. I have heard him say that he took more Pleasure in solving a Problem in Algebra than in a frolick. He told me the other day, that he was as curious after a minute and particular Knowledge of Mathematicks and Phylosophy, as I could be about the Laws of Antiquity. By his Boldness in Company, he makes himself a great many Enemies. His Aim in Company is to be admired, not to be beloved. He asked me what Duch Commentator I meant? I said Vinnius.—Vinnius, says he, (with a flash of real Envy, but pretended Contempt,) you cant understand one Page of Vinnius.—He must know that human Nature is disgusted with such incomplaisant Behaviour. Besides he has no Right to say that I dont understand every Word in Vinnius, or even in for he knows nothing of me. For the future let me act the Part of a critical spy upon him, not that of an open unsuspicious friend.—Last Superiour Court at Worcester he dined in Company with Mr. Gridly, Mr. Trowbridge,2 and several others, at Mr. Putnams, and altho a modest attentive Behaviour would have best become him in such a Company, yet he tried to ingross the whole Conversation to himself. He did the same, in the Evening, when all the Judges of the Superiour Court with Mr. Winthrop, Sewall, &c. were present, and he did the same last Thanksgiving day, at Coll. Quincies, when Mr. Wibirt, Mr. Cranch &c. were present. This Impudence may sett the Million a Gape at him but will make all Persons of Sense despize him, or hate him. 60That evening at Putnams, he called me, a Numbskull and a Blunder Buss before all the Superiour Judges. I was not present indeed, but such expressions were indecent and tended to give the Judges a low Opinion of me, as if I was despized by my Acquaintance. He is an impudent, ill-bred, conceited fellow. Yet he has Witt, sense, and Learning, and a great deal of Humour, and has Virtue and Piety except his fretful, peevish, Childish Complaints against the Disposition of Things. This Character is drawn with Resentment of his ungenerous Treatment of me, and Allowances must therefore be made, but these are unexaggerated facts.

Lambert setts up for a Witt and a Humourist. He is like a little nurley3 ill natured Horse that kicks at every Horse of his own size, but lears and shears off from every one that is larger. I should mind what I say before him for he is always watching for wry Words to make into a droll story to laugh at. He laughs at John Thayer, for saying, “Lambert, I am sorry I am your good Friend I am sorry. This will cost you between 2 and 3 hundred Pounds.”4 And it was a silly, . . . impertinent, ignorant Speech. He laughs at Field for being nettled at his laughter. Field complained that he laughed at him. Lambert said, I will laugh when I please. If you carry me to the Rat hole I will laugh all the Way, and after I get there.—Such fellows are hated by all mankind, yet they rise and make a figure, and People dred them.

Altho men of bitter witt, are hated and feared, yet they are respected, by the World.

Quaere, was there ever a Witt, who had much Humanity and Compassion, much Tenderness of Nature? Mr. Congreve was tender, extreamly tender of giving offence to any man. Dr. Arbuthnot was as great a Wit and Humourist, yet he was tender, and prudent. Mr. Cranch has Witt, and is tender and gentle.5

The other Night I happened to be at the Drs., with Ben. Veasey. He began to prate upon the Presumption of Philosophers in erecting Iron Rods to draw the Lightning from the Clouds. His Brains were in a ferment with strong Liquor and he railed, and foamed against those Points and the Presumption that erected them, in Language taken partly from Scripture and partly from the drunken Disputes of Tavern Philosophy, in as wild mad a manner as King Lear raves, against his Daughters Disobedience and Ingratitude, and against the meaness of the Storm in joining with his Daughter against him in Shakespears Lear. He talked of presuming upon God as Peter attempted to walk 61upon the Water, attempting to controul the Artilry of Heaven, an Execution that Mortal man cant Stay—the Elements of Heaven, fire, Heat, Rain, Wind, &c.

Let me search for the Clue, which Led great Shakespeare into the Labyrinth of mental Nature! Let me examine how men think. Shakespeare had never seen in real Life Persons under the Influence of all those Scenes of Pleasure and distress, which he has described in his Works, but he imagined how a Person of such a Character would behave in such Circumstances, by analogy from the Behaviour of others that were most like that Character in nearly similar Circumstances, which he had seen.


If JA was correct in giving the day of the week as Tuesday, this entry should be dated 5 Dec.


Edmund Trowbridge (1709–1793), of Cambridge; Harvard 1728; attorney general and later a justice of the Superior Court. JA sometimes calls him Goffe, a name Trowbridge used in college and for a time thereafter because his guardian was a great-uncle named Edmund Goffe.


Dwarfish, gnarled ( OED , under “knurly”).


The point of this anecdote is now lost, perhaps owing to JA’s punctuation, which stands here as in the MS except for moving back the closing quotation mark to this point from its original position after the first use of the word “sorry” in the preceding sentence.


The following two paragraphs are separated from the present entry and from each other by lines drawn across the page in the MS; they may have been written at any time between 5 and 18 Dec.

[Marginalia in Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes, December 1758?]<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA01d208n1" class="note" id="DJA01d208n1a">1</a> JA [Marginalia in Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes, December 1758?] Adams, John
Marginalia in Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes, December 1758? 1

“O! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of GOD!”2

This Exclamation was very popular, for the Audience in general like the rest of the Province, consider Thunder, and Lightning as well as Earthquakes, only as Judgments, Punishments, Warnings &c. and have no Conception of any Uses they can serve in Nature. I have heard some Persons of the highest Rank among us, say, that they really thought the Erection of Iron Points, was an impious attempt to robb the almighty of his Thunder, to wrest the Bolt of Vengeance out of his Hand. And others, that Thunder was designed, as an Execution upon Criminals, that no Mortal can stay. That the attempt was foolish as well as impious. And no Instances, even those of Steeples struck, where Iron Bars have by Accident conveyed the Electricity as far as they reached without damage, which one would think would force Conviction, have no weight at all.3

This Invention of Iron Points, to prevent the Danger of Thunder, 62has met with all that opposition from the superstition, affectation of Piety, and Jealousy of new Inventions, that Inoculation to prevent the Danger of the Small Pox, and all other usefull Discoveries, have met with in all ages of the World.

I am not able to satisfy myself, whether the very general if not universal apprehension that Thunder, Earthquakes, Pestilence, Famine &c. are designed merely as Punishments of sins and Warnings to forsake, is natural to Mankind, or whether it was artfully propagated, or whether it was derived from Revelation.

An Imagination that those Things are of no Use in Nature but to punish and alarm and arouse sinners, could not be derived from real Revelation, because it is far from being true, tho few Persons can be persuaded to think so.


The two following paragraphs were written, without indication of date, in JA’s copy of John Winthrop, A Lecture on Earthquakes; Read in the Chapel of Harvard-College in Cambridge, N.E. November 26th 1755, Boston, 1755, the first at p. 37 and the second on a blank final leaf. This copy is in the Boston Public Library, and Mr. Zoltán Haraszti has published the marginalia, with a helpful commentary, in “Young John Adams on Franklin’s Iron Points,” Isis, 41:11–14 (March 1950). See also entries of 18 Nov. 1755, above, and 12 March 1761, below.


This sentence is quoted in Winthrop’s text from Rev. Thomas Prince’s Earthquakes the Works of God, Boston, 1755, a sermon first published in 1727 and reissued with a new appendix after the earthquake of 18 Nov. 1755. In the appendix Prince took a very dim view of the recent invention by “the sagacious Mr. Franklin.” “The more Points of Iron are erected round the Earth to draw the Electrical Substance out of the Air; the more the Earth must needs be charged with it,” and consequently the more earthquakes. “In Boston are more erected than any where else in New England; and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! there is no getting out of the mighty Hand of God! If we think to avoid it in the Air, we cannot in the Earth: Yea it may grow more fatal.” To this Winthrop replied in an appendix of his own: “I should think, though with the utmost deference to superior judgements, that the pathetic exclamation, which comes next, might well enough have been spared. 'O! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of GOD!’ For I cannot believe, that in the whole town of Boston, where so many iron points are erected, there is so much as one person, who is so weak, so ignorant, so foolish, or, to say all in one word, so atheistical, as ever to have entertained a single thought, that it is possible, by the help of a few yards of wire, to 'get out of the mighty hand of GOD.’” JA’s comments are attached to this paragraph of Winthrop’s.


JA’s faulty grammar is retained as in MS.