Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

76 Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Jr., 20 April 1771 AA Smith, Isaac Jr.


Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Jr., 20 April 1771 Adams, Abigail Smith, Isaac Jr.
Abigail Adams to Isaac Smith Jr.
Dear Sir Braintree April the 20 1771

I write you, not from the Noisy Buisy Town, but from my humble Cottage in Braintree, where I arrived last Saturday and here again am to take up my abode. “Where Contemplation plumes her rufled Wings And the free Soul look's down to pitty Kings.” Suffer me to snatch you a few moments from all the Hurry and tumult of London and in immagination place you by me that I may ask you ten thousand Questions, and bear with me Sir, tis the only recompence you can make for the loss of your Company.

From my Infancy I have always felt a great inclination to visit the Mother Country as tis call'd and had nature formed me of the other Sex, I should certainly have been a rover. And altho this desire has greatly diminished owing partly I believe to maturer years, but more to the unnatural treatment which this our poor America has received from her, I yet retain a curiosity to know what ever is valuable in her. I thank you Sir for the particular account you have already favourd me with, but you always took pleasure in being communicatively good.

Women you know Sir are considerd as Domestick Beings, and altho they inherit an Eaquel Share of curiosity with the other Sex, yet but few are hardy eno' to venture abroad, and explore the amaizing variety of distant Lands. The Natural tenderness and Delicacy of our Constitutions, added to the many Dangers we are subject too from your Sex, renders it almost imposible for a Single Lady to travel without injury to her character. And those who have a protecter in an Husband, have generally speaking obstacles sufficent to prevent their Roving, and instead of visiting other Countries; are obliged to content themselves with seeing but a very small part of their own. To your Sex we are most of us indebted for all the knowledg we acquire of Distant lands. As to a Knowledg of Humane Nature, I believe it may as easily be obtained in this Country, as in England, France or Spain. Education alone I conceive Constitutes the difference in Manners. Tis natural I believe for every person to have a partiality for their own Country. Dont you think this little Spot of ours better calculated for happiness than any other you have yet seen or read of. Would you exchange it for England, France, Spain or Ittally? Are not the people here more upon an Eaquality in point of knowledg and 77of circumstances—there being none so immensly rich as to Lord it over us, neither any so abjectly poor as to suffer for the necessaries of life provided they will use the means. It has heretofore been our boasted priviledg that we could sit under our own vine and Apple trees in peace enjoying the fruits of our own labour—but alass! the much dreaded change Heaven avert. Shall we ever wish to change Countries; to change conditions with the Affricans and the Laplanders for sure it were better never to have known the blessings of Liberty than to have enjoyed it, and then to have it ravished from us.

But where do I ramble? I only ask your ear a few moments longer. The Americans have been called a very religious people, would to Heaven they were so in earnest, but whatever they may have been I am affraid tis now only a negitive virtue, and that they are only a less vicious people. However I can quote Mr. Whitefield as an authority that what has been said of us is not without foundation. The last Sermon I heard him preach,1 he told us that he had been a very great traveller, yet he had never seen so much of the real appearence of Religion in any Country, as in America, and from your discription I immagine you join with him in Sentiment. I think Dr. Sherbear in his remarks upon the english Nation has some such observation as this.2 In London Religion seems to be periodical, like an ague which only returns once in Seven Days, and then attacks the inhabitants with the cold fit only, the burning never succeeds in this Country. Since which it seems they have found means to rid themselves intirely of the ague.—As to news I have none to tell you, nor any thing remarkable to entertain you with. But you Sir have every day new Scenes opening to you, and you will greatly oblige me by a recital of whatever you find worthy notice. I have a great desire to be made acquainted with Mrs. Maccaulays own history. One of my own Sex so eminent in a tract so uncommon naturally raises my curiosity and all I could ever learn relative to her, is this that she is a widdow Lady and Sister to Mr. Sawbridge. I have a curiosity to know her Education, and what first prompted her to engage in a Study never before Exibited to the publick by one of her own Sex and Country, tho now to the honour of both so admirably performed by her. As you are now upon the Spot, and have been entroduced to her acquaintance, you will I hope be able to satisfie me with some account, in doing which you will confer an oblagation upon your assured Friend,

Abigail Adams

P.S. I thank you Sir for the West Indian, tis really a prety performance and afforded me an hours or two of very agreable entertainment.


RC (MHi: Smith-Townsend Papers); addressed: “To Mr Isaac Smith—London.”


George Whitefield, the celebrated Methodist evangelist, had died at Newburyport, Mass., 30 Sept. 1770 ( DNB ).


[John Shebbeare,] Letters on the English Nation, 2 vols., London, 1755. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:52–53, 81, 194.

Isaac Smith Jr. to John Adams, 3 September 1771 Smith, Isaac Jr. JA


Isaac Smith Jr. to John Adams, 3 September 1771 Smith, Isaac Jr. Adams, John
Isaac Smith Jr. to John Adams
Dear sir London, Septr. 3: 1771

I have just returned from an agreable excursion, in the course of which I had the pleasure of receiving your favour of April last, with that of Mrs. Adams, for each of which I beg leave to return my thanks.

I am sorry to find that you have deserted Boston. You plead as an excuse, sir, “the load of public and private care, which oppress'd you.” But you would have pleased me better, if instead of changing the residence of your family; you had only shifted your own for awhile. I trust, sir, that you would both repair the health of your body, and ease the burthen of your mind by using the relaxation of a voyage to Europe, more effectually than by breathing the air of Braintree in preference to that of Boston.

About 3 months past I have spent in a visit to the adjacent Continent, and was 5 weeks in Paris, the capital of a kingdom calculated by nature for one of the finest in the world, but by the joint influence of ambition, avarice and superstition, renderd the object of commiseration to a liberal mind.

The public affairs of France are infinitely more embarrass'd than those of England. The former boasts of having a greater variety of ressources at command than the latter. Poverty however covers the face both of the public, and of individuals. The wretched state of its finances at present is a great security to our tranquillity.

A prime minister exiled—another substituted in his room, the object of public odium—parliaments one after the other dissolved and banished—and the princes of the blood (one only excepted) thrown into disgrace! If an instance of illegal violence adopted against a single member of the british parliament could raise such a clamour here, what would proceedings of such a nature occasion? A rod hung over the heads of the people in that kingdom, tho' it cannot suppress their murmurs, yet is sufficient to prevent them from carrying their complaints into action.

To so sensible a nation as the french, it must be a most mortifying circumstance, that the revolutions of their government are often 79dependent on the amours of their monarch. This is notorious in the late change of their administration. The history of the present Sultana of their Court1 is curious. It seems that she is the natural daughter of a monk, and was a domestic in a family at Paris. A particular nobleman is struck with her beauty. As he had either already formed such a connection, or was afraid of degrading his dignity too far, he persuades his brother to marry her. In course of time, to serve the political purposes of a family, she is recommended to the King, who is particularly fond of bestowing his caresses on a married lady. To make herself appear in the more respectable light at Court, she claims an affinity with an ancient family of Ireland, the present possessor of whose title, Lord Barrymore, a nobleman equally distinguished for his conjugal fidelity in London, as Madame la Comtesse de Barre for her unspotted virtue in Paris, is so very condescending as to own the relation; and she is now treated with as much respect, as if she owed her connection with the monarch to birth instead of fortune. I had not an opportunity, tho I spent a day at the Palace of Versailles, of admiring the charms of this celebrated Lady.

Of the public buildings, the Churches, the libraries, the paintings, the amusements, and the manners of Paris, I shall be able to inform you more fully, when I enjoy the pleasure of seeing you again, which I am willing to indulge the hope of doing, by the middle of November if I can get ready to leave England by the first of October as I am endeavoring to do at present. I have no inclination to breathe the impure air of London if I can avoid it another winter; but I am in doubt whether I can finish a few excursions, which are necessary to make before I embark for Boston so as to accomplish my wishes of returning before winter.

In the mean time, sir, I am, with all the sincerity imaginable, Yr. very affect. & hum servt, I. Smith jr:

P.S. I am sorry to find, that anything new should happen, to renew the want of mutual confidence between the different branches of our legislature. I need not inform you, sir, to whom you are indebted for every new source of dispute. It is not Ld. Hillsborough it is Governor Bernard who has been the dispenser of instructions with regard to America at least with regard to the affairs of Massachusetts, for the year past. It may be some satisfaction to you to know, that Sir Francis is retiring to a distance from the Capital, and proposes to fix his future residence in his native county of Lincoln.

I agree with you, sir, absolutely that America suffers to an inexpres-80sible degree for want of proper connections in England. But when you ask me to procure you a friend or an acquaintance here, you put me, sir, to a very difficult task indeed.2 This is the worst place in the world, perhaps, to form connections that are of real service. I have but few friends, I have been able to make but few, except such as are immediately engaged in business; and such to an inquisitive American are not the most useful; and the most valuable I have in L. have such a superiority of years, as deprives me of that freedom and intimacy with them, which I could wish.—There is one Gentleman however, who honours me with his friendship from the recommendation of Dr. Chauncey, a gentleman of sense, of reading, and of leisure, who lives near L. and whose correspondence I intend, sir, to recommend to you on my return, and I may then perhaps, have it in my power to mention to you one or two other also. But with any who move within the sphere of the Court, I neither have, nor expect to have any connection in the least.

Mess. Dilly will enter into a correspondence with you sir, agreable to your desire with pleasure; but would be glad of some particular directions from you, as to the articles you would chuse to have from 'em. They wish to know the quantity and the quality of the paper that you want. Books on law and government are not published, (they say) in such a number in the course of a year, as to amount to the sum you have specified. They tell me of two, that have appear'd within the last 6 months, which they will send you, with any other works of merit as they rise, if you will but authorise them to do so, by writing. The books they mention, are Vezey's reports, 2 Vol. fol., Wilson's do. one V. and Cases in the Kings bench at the time Ld. Hardwicke presided there.—Mess. Dilly have very extensive concerns in their business, and have treated me with so much complaisance, that I cannot but recommend 'em to any friend of mine.

I know little, sir, of the character of Mr. Morris.3 He is said to possess a disposition too sanguine to consist with prudence. I imagine, sir, that he would esteem your correspondence a favour. American good sense is of no small consideration on this side the water.

They tell strange stories here this week, of the fire at Portsmouth; but whatever is said about it, will probably evaporate in smoke.

An ardent desire of visiting the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge the former at least detains me here; and if I should not be able to dispatch these with other objects I have in view very soon, I shall write to you, as occasion offers; and hope I shall receive, sir, repeated instances of your regard in the same way.

[fol. 80] [fol. 80] [fol. 80] [fol. 80] 81 I write to Mrs. Adams, by this opportunity, or very soon; and am, sir, with all the respect possible to her, and to every body at Braintree or Weymouth—Yr. &c., I. Smith jr:

RC (Adams Papers).


Madame du Barry.


This request must have been made in a letter not found.


Robert Morris, a London barrister and political radical, who had addressed “A bold, free, open, elegant Letter” to one of the judges of the King's Bench that JA had read in April ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:7). Presumably JA had inquired about him in a missing letter.