Diary of John Adams, volume 2

Tuesday. May. 14. 1771. JA


Tuesday. May. 14. 1771. Adams, John
Tuesday. May. 14. 1771.

Yesterday came to Town with my Wife. A fine Rain all night. Captn. Bradford sent his Compliments, and desired me to meet the Clubb at his House this Evening which I did—Dr. Cooper, Mr. Lathrop, Otis, Adams, Dr. Greenleaf, Wm. Greenleaf, Dr. Warren, Thom. Brattle, Wm. Cooper, C. Bradford. A very pleasant Evening. Otis gave us an Account of a present from Dr. Cummings of Concord to Harvard Colledge Chappell of a brass Branch of Candlesticks, such as I. Royal Esqr. gave to the Representatives Room, and that it was sent to N. Hurds to have an Inscription engraven on it. The Inscription is

In Sacelli hujusce ornatum et splendorem phosphoron hoc Munus, benigne contulit Cummings Armiger, Medicus concordiensis.1

Danforth. The Inscription was much faulted, by the Witts at Clubb—and as it was to be a durable Thing for the Criticisms of Strangers and of Posterity, it was thought that it ought to be altered.

Dr. Cooper mentioned an old Proverb that an Ounce of Mother Wit, is worth a Pound of Clergy. Mr. Otis mentioned another which he said conveyed the same Sentiment—an Ounce of Prudence is worth a Pound of Wit. This produced a Dispute, and the sense of the Company was that the Word Wit in the 2d. Proverb, meant, the faculty of 14suddenly raising pleasant Pictures in the Fancy, but that the Phrase Mother Wit in the first Proverb meant, natural Parts, and Clergy acquired Learning—Book Learning. Dr. Cooper quoted another Proverb, from his Negro Glasgow—a Mouse can build an House without Timble2— and then told us another Instance of Glasgows Intellect, of which I had before thought him entirely destitute. The Dr. was speaking to Glasgow about Adams Fall and the Introduction of natural and moral Evil into the World, and Glasgow said they had in his Country a different Account of this matter. The Tradition was that a Dog and a Toad were to run a Race, and if the Dog reached the Goal first, the World was to continue innocent and happy, but if the Toad should outstrip the Dog, the world was to become sinfull and miserable. Every Body thought there could be no danger. But in the Midst of the Career the Dog found a bone by the Way and stopped to knaw it, and while he was interrupted by his Bone, the Toad, constant in his Malevolence, hopped on, reached the Mark, and spoiled the World.


John Cuming of Concord, Mass., was voted an honorary A.M. by Harvard in 1771; the present gift (lost in a fire in the 19th century) was only one of his benefactions to Harvard (Quincy, History of Harvard Univ. , 2:422–423; note by CFA in JA, Works , 2:262). The inscription as recorded by JA might be translated “For the adornment and splendor of this Chapel, the Honorable Cummings, a physician of Concord, has presented this gift, a bearer of light.”


Thus in MS. CFA silently corrects to “trouble,” but a better guess would be “Timber.”

Wednesday May 15th. 1771. JA


Wednesday May 15th. 1771. Adams, John
Wednesday May 15th. 1771.

Argued before the Sessions the Question whether the Court had Authority by Law to make an Allowance of Wages and Expences, above the Fees established by Law to the Jurors, who tryed Captain Preston and the Soldiers. The two Quincys, Otis and Adams, argued.1 Otis is the same Man he used to be— He spares nor Friend nor Foe, but calls to Mind like Doomsday, all the faults of all Mankind. He will certainly soon relapse into his former Condition. He trembles. His Nerves are irritable. He cannot bear Fatigue.—“Brother A. has argued so prodigiously like a Representative that I cant help considering him as the Ghost of one”—&c.2


The subject thus argued was explained and commented on by Josiah Quincy Jr. in an anonymous article in the Boston Gazette, 20 May 1771, which will also be found in Quincy's Reports , p. 382–386. The trials of Preston and the soldiers had for the first time in the history of the Massachusetts courts required keeping the jury together for more than one day, and the Superior Court therefore “Ordered, that it be recommended” to the Court of General 15Sessions to make “a reasonable Allowance”of money to the jurors for their protracted service. The jurors then petitioned for this allowance, but the Court of Sessions “having a Doubt of their Power touching the Grant of the Prayer thereof, ordered the Petition to stand over for Argument at the Sessions in April.” The argument took place on 15 May, as JA records, and required the whole day. The prayer was refused on the ground “that the only Power of the Sessions to grant Monies must be derived from provincial Law,” and certainly not from an order or recommendation of the Superior Court. The itemized bill for lodging and subsisting the jurors in the soldiers' trial, a highly interesting document, is printed by John Noble in Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. , 5 (1902):59–60.


On 7 May Otis had been elected a Boston representative to the General Court in the place of JA.