Early Diary of John Adams, volume 1

[Letters to Three Friends on Studying Law, October–November 1758.] <a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#EJA01d044n1" class="note" id="EJA01d044n1a">1</a> JA Wentworth, John Dalton, Tristram Quincy, Samuel [Letters to Three Friends on Studying Law, October–November 1758.] Adams, John Wentworth, John Dalton, Tristram Quincy, Samuel
Letters to Three Friends on Studying Law, October–November 1758. 1
To John Wentworth.2
Mon Ami

My letters, for the future will come to you, not from a School House but from the Cell of an Hermit. I am removed from Worcester to Braintree where I live secluded from all the Cares and Fatigues of busy Life in a Chamber which no mortal Visits but myself except once in a day to make my Bed. A Chamber which is furnished in a very curious manner, with all sorts of Hermetical Utensils.

Here, no Idea of a Lady, of Diversions, of gay Life Business or of Pleasure ever enters. Here I read, smoke, think, and sleep. Old Roman Lawyers, and dutch Commentators are my constant Companions. What ample Provision have I here accumulated for lasting Felicity! The only Thing I fear is, that all my Passions, which you know are the Gales of Life, as Reason is the Pilot, will go down into an everlasting Calm. And what will a Pilot signify, if there is no Wind.

To prevent this I must intreat you to redouble your Letters, which65 always raise a full Gale of Love, sometimes almost a Tempest of Emulation and some times a Breeze of Envy, and will be sufficient, in Addition to those of a few other Friends, to waft the Vessell, tho she is not the best of sailors, with full Speed, along the Voyage.—But what, and where is the Port of my Destination? In sincerity I am afraid to tell you. Tis however a Harbour, where every Vessell may ride securely. A Harbour, in which, tho Tempests rage around, and Thunders roll above, and Earthquakes shudder beneath, neither the Vessell, her Cargo or her Crew, ever receive any Damage.

But to be plain, I am beginning Life anew. I have new Friendships to make, new Employments to follow, new Concerns, Prospects and Studies, opening before me. And now I have mentioned Studies, I find my self entering an unlimited Field. A Field in which Demosthenes, Cicero, and others of immortal Fame have exulted before me! A Field which incloses the whole Circle of Science and Literature, the History, Wisdom, and Virtue of all ages.—Shall I dare to expatiate here in full Career, like the nobler Animals, that range at large, or shall I blindly, basely creep, like the mole, or the weezell?—Tell me.

To Tristram Dalton.3

How long is it my Friend, since I either received a Letter from you or you from me? Some years I believe. And how long will it be, e’er another Letter passes between us? Why If I may judge of the future by the past, I shall receive one from you about 6 months hence, and then an Intermission of 2 or 3 years will succeed. This has been the Course of our Correspondence, and perhaps you would be as well pleased, if the Intermission should be of 2 or 3 Centuries, or inperpetuo instead of 2 or 3 years. You need not hope however to escape so. Whenever I am fatigued with roman Lawyers and Dutch Commentators, I will set down, and discharge the Vapours of the Brain, upon Paper, and send it away to you write to you, as Painters turn their Eyes to a green mild pleasant Green Colour after long Attention to black in order to ease and Relieve the Eye. This is said, (by the Way) in Conformity to the common Place Cant of the present Day that The study of Law is the most dry, unentertaining study in the World, which I take to be full as wise as Lady ——s Contempt of Shakespears Tragedies in the Lethe of Mr. Garrick.4 You have heard many Persons say that the study of Mathematicks and of Physicks is dry. Others can find no Beauties in Poetry. And I believe them, as undoubtingly as I believe some others, when they say that Law is dry. Every Thing, my Friend, is dry in Proportion as it is not understood, and I shall not be66 at all surprised to hear a young Spark whose whole Attention is dissipated among Horses and Ladies, (heaven forgive me) fiddles and frolicks, Cards and Romances, say that the Law is dry.

But to examine this Matter a little, can no Pleasure be found in tracing to their original sources in Morality, in the Constitution of human Nature, and the Connections and Relations of human Life, the Laws which the Wisdom of perhaps fifty Centuries, has established for the Government of human Kind. No Pleasure in studying the Eloquence of Greece and Rome in those stupendous Monuments of it which have loeen the Wonder and Delight of every Age, to the present Day? No Pleasure in the Study of those Remains, those prescious Remains of grecian and roman Eloquence, which have been the wonder and delight of preserved to the Admiration of all Ages, down to the present day? Far otherwise, So far otherwise that I assure you, even the most Common Law of England, and the precedents and Statutes of former Times, which are most venomously misused at this day, when once their Language is understood, afford us all the Pleasure of Reasoning in as great Perfection as your favourite science of Mathematicks with the Exception only that we have not always that absolute Certainty, that we have in Mathematicks. 5

Tis true, we are not able to attain, in every Case of Law, that total Certainty which you have in some Problems and Theorems, nor have you in Mathematicks, the success in every Problem which you have in some.

To Samll. Quincy.6

How surprizingly we how inviolably

How resolutely, how inviolably, how surprizingly we have preserv’d and pursued The Resolution we took of writing each other upon Law. Points of Law, which we took at Weighmouth.—But Oh my Friend how easily we are bro’t fired to lawdable Determinations! But oh proh Dolor, how soon are such Determinations forgot?—Quite as suddenly as the Vows of perpetual Constancy made by a young Fellow, when in the most violent Hurry. This has some how or other recalled to my Memory a Pice of Advice, which Polonius gives to his Daughter in Shakespears Hamlet. I do know When the Blood burns, how prodigal the soul Lends the Tongue Vows. These Blazes oh my Daughter Giving more Light than Heat, extinct in both, You must not take for Fire. 67 The soul is no less Prodigal in lending the Tongue Vows, when the Blood glows with Ambition of getting Learning or Virtue, than when it burns with a very different Passion, the Passion alluded to in these Lines. And perhaps the Protestations of the Lover, are as sincere as the Resolutions of the scholar. And as the generous Lover, who by such Vows, has deceived and deflowered an innocent, virtuous Lady, would think him self bound in Honour, and in Conscience, to fullfill his Promises, so should the generous Schollar esteem it a violation of his Conscience, a base, ungenerous, debauching and ruining of himself, to forget his Vows of Industry.

For my own Part, my Conscience reproaches me with a long series of such Self Perfidy! I start sometimes, and shudder at myself, when the Thought comes into my mind how many million Hours I have squandered in a stupid Inactivity neither furnishing my mind nor exercising my Body. Yet new Reflections continue to arise, and I every Day determine to begin a new Course of Life tomorrow. My Resolutions are like bubbles, they are perpetually rising to the surface of the stream and then are broke and vanish by every puff of Wind. Yet new ones rise and die in perpetual succession.

In order to connect the preceeding Letter with this, let me add that to taste this Pleasure, active Industry, and not now and then a sudden Resolution alone, is necessary.—And now I have mentioned Resolutions how unwilling and remainder missing 7


The whole of this entry, like those that follow it, is in JA’s small, mature hand. For the date assigned to this group of letter-drafts as a whole, see the Introduction, p. 10–11.


John Wentworth (1737–1820), later Sir John, was a classmate, correspondent, and, until the Revolution separated them, a warm friend of JA’s. He became the last royal governor of New Hampshire, a loyalist exile, and lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia.

Much of the correspondence between JA and Wentworth has been lost. In the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 5 (1851):414/6, appears an undated letter from JA to Wentworth, which is known in no other version and which creates a small puzzle concerning the letter-draft in JA’s Diary Fragment. The printed letter touches on the very topics dealt with in the draft (though in entirely different language), was certainly sent because it was in the hands of a Wentworth descendant in 1851, and begins: “I resume with Pleasure my long neglected Pen ... to inform you that I am still alive, and well; that I am removed from Worcester to Braintree where I expect to live and die.” It must therefore have been written in Oct. or Nov. 1758 and virtually precludes the possibility that the present letter, making the same announcement, was actually sent. Or was it sent to someone other than Wentworth, the stated addressee?

On Wentworth see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:4; 2:308; 4:85; Lawrence Shaw Mayo, John Wentworth, Cambridge, 1921; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:650–681.


Tristram Dalton (1738–1817), of Newbury (later Newburyport), another classmate of JA’s, “read law for pleasure” but married a rich wife and be-68 came a merchant, shipowner, and U.S. senator (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:569–578; Benjamin W. Labaree, Patriots and Partisans: The Merchants of Newburyport, 1764–1815, Cambridge, 1964). The Adams Papers files show that Dalton and JA corresponded intermittently for over forty years.


Lethe; or, Esop in the Shades, a farce produced at Drury Lane in 1740 and afterward published, was David Garrick’s first play. In it a character named Mrs. (not Lady) Riot tells Charon when she confronts him on the banks of the river Lethe: “Your Taste here, I suppose, rises no higher than your Shakespears and your Johnsons; oh you Goats and Vandils! in the Name of Barbarity take ’em to yourselves, we are tir’d of ’em upon Earth—one goes indeed to a Playhouse sometimes, because one does not know how else one can kill one’s Time—every body goes, because—because—all the world’s there.”


In the MS of the Diary Fragment this is the point, between {14} and {15}, where a leaf was slit out by JA, leaving only a narrow stub. See the Introduction, p. 5.


Samuel Quincy (1734–1789), Harvard 1754, son of Col. Josiah Quincy of Braintree and brother of Hannah Quincy, the “Orlinda” of the Diary Fragment, studied law with Benjamin Prat and was admitted to the bar with JA in Nov. 1758. He and JA were to be friends, colleagues, and rivals until the Revolution, when Quincy, who held a lucrative crown office, took the loyalist side and became a permanent exile. See JA, Diary and Autobiography, 1:47, 50 ff., 109, 252; 2:2, 14, 72; 3:261, 273, 289, 295; Adams Family Correspondence , 1:122–123, 128, 130–131, 152; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:478–488. Copley’s portrait of Quincy, about 1767, appears as an illustration in the present volume.


It is not beyond question whether this paragraph is part of the letter to Quincy or a detached reflection. But in respect to both substance and position (since it has a slight interval of space separating it from the preceding text) it appears to be distinct from the letter.

[On Some Friends Who Nourish Wounds in Their Hearts, October–December 1758.] <a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#EJA01d045n1" class="note" id="EJA01d045n1a">1</a> JA [On Some Friends Who Nourish Wounds in Their Hearts, October–December 1758.] Adams, John
On Some Friends Who Nourish Wounds in Their Hearts, October–December 1758. 1

Vulnus alit Venis, et caeco carpitur igni.2

Alo, alere, alui, alitum, to nourish. Vulnus, a Wound or Hurt.

Carpo, carpere, carpsi, carptum, to waste away. Carpor to be troubled. Carpitur, is consumed, wasted.

He nourishes a Wound in his Veins, and is consumed with a blind hidden fire.—Warner, Fessenden, Clark, Cranch, Quincy.3 All of them cherished by their incessant Thinking, the Wound in their Hearts, and all consume, with a hidden internal flame.


Nothing in this detached entry furnishes a clue to its date, but since it was inserted upside down in the blank space below the draft letter to Quincy, we may suppose that it was written after that draft was composed.


Virgil, Aeneid, bk. IV, line 2. Said of Dido’s secret passion for Aeneas.


Of the five persons listed, all of whom must have been Harvard, Worcester, or Braintree friends of JA’s, two bear names (Warner, Clark) too common to permit identification since they do not occur elsewhere in JA’s early records. Fessenden is probably the “Benjamin Fessenden” with whom JA discussed Col. Josiah Quincy’s character in April 1759 (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:81–82). Cranch is of course Richard Cranch, JA’s most intimate friend, who had long nourished a “Wound” in his heart, inflicted by69 Hannah Quincy. Writing from Worcester, 18 Oct. 1756, JA told Cranch that it would be a great triumph if he could “conquer a Passion for a Lady so greatly accomplished as Mrs. i.e. Mistress, Miss H—— Q. . . . [T]he more engaging the charms of her person and the more distinguished the Refinements of her Mind, the more noble your Resolution will appear” (Tr, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 114). That Cranch was still in Hannah’s toils in 1758 seems evident from JA’s letter to him about “Orlinda” in the following entry in the Diary Fragment. As for the last name in JA’s list, it is no doubt that of Samuel Quincy, who was at this time courting Hannah Hill of Boston, whom he later married; see Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:479–480.