Papers of John Adams, volume 11



Titlepage of John Adams' Copy of His A Translation of the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English, London, 1781 94

This pamphlet is John Adams' reworking of Thomas Pownall's A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, London, 1780, published by John Stockdale. Thomas Pownall's Memorial influenced John Adams' views of foreign policy more than any other published work and Adams' revision of Pownall's pamphlet constitutes a clear, focused exposition of the principles that guided his diplomacy for the remainder of his career. Of more importance for Adams as minister to negotiate an Anglo-American peace was Pownall's view that Britain's economic self-interest demanded an immediate peace to reopen the American market to British merchants and manufacturers. Adams believed it essential to present that argument to the British public and leadership in a clear and articulate format, and thus undertook the task of revising Pownall's work. Edmund Jenings informed Adams of the Translation's publication in his letter of 31 January and he enclosed a copy with his letter of 7 February, x which Adams acknowledged in his reply of 11 February, all below. For the origins and drafting of the Translation, see vol. 10 9 :157–221; and for a French translation with a preface by Jean Luzac published at Amsterdam in 1780, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 4, vol. 10:viii–ix.

The pamphlet's publication in London was important to John Adams and he likely was gratified, if not also surprised, when it received an excellent review in the Monthly Review; or Literary Journal of February 1781. On the titlepage of the Translation reproduced below, as well as the facing page, Adams copied the words of the reviewer: “In our Review for August 1780, We gave an Account of the 'Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe' the author of which was not then mentioned, nor even guessed at. The Work was Supposed to have been the Production of no ordinary Pen, but rather to have come from a Masterly hand, who chose to conceal himself under the disguise of a peculiar style, and a fictitious Tale, with respect to the Birth and Parentage of the nameless Foundling.

“The Language of this Piece, was variously spoken of, at the Time of its first Publication: it is stiff and affected. It is quaint. It is disguised by a Studied Obscurity. It ought to be translated into plain English. Of the Same opinion with the last Objector, was We suppose the ingenious Author of the present Republication; who not only professes to have renderd this famous memorial into intelligible English, but also to have reduced it to common Sense: a point of Improvement, in which We did not perceive the original to Stand in much need.

“With respect to the real Author of this Performance, the present Translator Scruples not to tell Us, that the Memorial, is Said to have been written by Governor P—l. Perhaps he is right: but whoever was the Parent, or whatever were his Reasons for concealment, We think he had no cause to be ashamed of his offspring.

“We have only to add, in regard to the Merit of this Translation, as it is called, that the Republisher of the Memorial, has certainly cloathed it, in a more easy, natural, and becoming dress. He has also considerably reduced it, in Size; but Some Readers will possibly think, that while it hath gained by Elegance of Form, it hath rather Suffered, by abridgment: as the rough Diamond is reduced by the Polisher. Like the Diamond however, in the Jeweller's hand this Performance appears to much greater Advantage by having its Sentiments new Set, by a Skilfull Artist.”

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.