Early Diary of John Adams, volume 1

19 Tuesday.

21 Thurdsday.

20 Wednesday. JA


20 Wednesday. Adams, John
20 Wednesday.

At Colledge, a most Charming and Beautifull Scene is this morning displayed. All nature wears a Chearfull garb, after so plentifull a Shower as we were favoured with the Last night, receving an additionall lustre from the sweet influences of the Sun.—This Day, I (in the religious Phylosopher) read the following experiment, (viz) that the filings of iron, mix’d with sulphur and kneaded to a Dough By the addittion of Cold water will in a few hours Become warm, and at last Be set on fire.1 Which is undoubtedly true, and if so I think that it affords a very probable method of solving the phaenomina of subterraneous fires. For it is highly probable that there are abundance of the particles of iron, Sulphur, and water which, (By the flux of water perhaps in the subterraneous Caverns,) may Be Brought together, and then it appears By the precedent experiment, that this effect (viz a fire) will Be produced. At 2 o’Clock heard Mr. Winthrop’s lecture in the Hall, in which he was employed in evincing the sphaeroidall form of the earth, which he Did, from the vibrations of pendula, the precession of the aequinox, and from actual mensuration of Degrees at the aequinox and the poles.2 —After which I extracted the following Hydrostatical Laws from the religious Phylosopher (viz) 1st: if a Body is to be Carried upwards in any liquor, an equall Bulk of said liquor must gravitate or weigh more than such a Body. 2ndly. that in order to Cause a Body to sink in a liquor, an equal Bulk of said liquor must weigh less than the Body. 3rdly. if you would have the Body, neither to rise or fall But preserve it’s place in any part of the46 liquor, an equal quantity of the said liquor must weigh equally with the Body.3


The Religious Philosopher: Or, the Right Use of Contemplating the Works of the Creator, with a detailed outline of its contents on its titlepage (see facsimile in the present volume), was a religio-scientific compilation written by Bernard Nieuwentijdt (1654–1718), translated “from the Low-Dutch” by John Chamberlayne, and published in 3 vols., London, 1718 ( Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek , 6:1062–1063). Although by 1750 it was an old-fashioned work, it had gone through numerous French and English translations (BM, Catalogue ). Its popularity may be succinctly explained by a sentence in the “Letter from the Revd. Mr. Desaguliers” to the translator prefixed to English editions: “He that reads Niewentyt, will easily see that a Philosopher cannot be an Atheist; and if it were true, that a Smattering in Physics will give a proud Man a Tincture of Atheism, a deep Search into Nature will certainly bring him back to a Religious Sense of god’s Wisdom and Providence.”

No Adams copy of The Religious Philosopher has been found. The iron-and-sulphur experiment JA read this day is in “Contemplation XXI. Of Fire,” §24.


On John Winthrop (1714–1779), Harvard 1732, Hollis professor of natural philosophy since 1738 and a scientist of international repute, see DAB under his name, and Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 9:240–264. For his influence on and relations with JA, see the discussion in the Introduction, p. 34–35, above; JA, Diary and Autobiography , index; and the JA–Winthrop correspondence in the Adams Papers. As Hollis professor, Winthrop delivered lectures once or twice a week “publicly in the Hall” to “all students that will attend on such topics relating to the science of the mathematics, natural and experimental philosophy as he shall judge most necessary and useful” (Endowment Funds of Harvard University, June 30, 1947, Cambridge, 1948, p. 55–56). Winthrop’s lecture hall and apparatus room was the west room on the second floor of old Harvard Hall (MH-Ar: Faculty Records, District Reports, 1st ser., 1752–1755, and Papers relating to Harvard Hall, 1672–1764). Copley’s portrait of Winthrop beside his telescope is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume.


The precise passage in The Religious Philosopher has not been found. JA was evidently abstracting rather than quoting. Nieuwentijdt deals with “Hydrostatical Laws” in “Contemplation XXVI. Of Certain Laws of Nature,” §20 et seq.