Adams Family Correspondence, volume 6

Abigail Adams to John Shaw, 18 January 1785 AA Shaw, John Abigail Adams to John Shaw, 18 January 1785 Adams, Abigail Shaw, John
Abigail Adams to John Shaw
Auteuil Janry. 18 1785

I find Sir, what I never doubted; that you are a Gentleman of your word: I thank you for the agreeable proof which you have given me of it,1 and that I may not be wanting in punctuality I have taken my pen2 to discharge the debt which I acknowledge is due to you. Amongst the publick Edifices which are worthy of notice in this Country are several Churches. I went a few days Since to see three of the most Celebrated in Paris.3 They are prodigious Massess of Stone Buildings, and so surrounded by Houses which are seven story high that the Sun seldom enlightens them. I found them so cold and damp that I could only give them a very hasty and trancient Survey. The Architecture, the Sculpture, the paintings are Beautifull indeed, and each of them would employ my pen for several pages, when the Weather will permit me to take a more accurate and critical inspection of them. These Churches are open every day, and at all times of the Day, so that you never enter them without finding preists upon their knees, half a dozen at a time, and more at the Hours of confession. All kinds of people and all ages, go in without Ceremony, and regardless of each other, fall upon their knees, cross themselves say their pater nosters, and ave Marias, silently and go out again without being noticed, or even seen by the priests whom I found always kneeling with their faces towards the Alter. Round these churches (for they have not pews and Galleries as with us; Chairs alone being made use of) there are little Boxes, or closets, about as large as a Centry Box, in which is a small grated window, which communicates with an other closet of the same kind. One of them holds the person who is confessing, and the other the confessor, who places his ear at this window, hears the crime, absolves the transgressor,4 and very often makes an assignation for a repetition of the Same Crime, or prehaps a new one. I do not think this a breach of Charity, for can we suppose that of the many thousands whom the Religion of the Country obliges to Celibacy, one quarter part of the number can find its influence sufficently powerfull; to conquer those passions, which nature has implanted in Man, when the gratification of them will cost them only a few livres in confessions. The Priest who is known to betray his trust, or devulge any thing committed to him in confession; is punished with Death.5

I was at the Church St. Rock6 about ten oclock in the morning, 63and whilst I was there, about three hundred little Boys came in from some Charity Seminary which belongs to that Church; they had Books in their Hands. They followed in each other in regular order, and fell upon their knees in rows like Soldiers in rank and file. Their might be 50 other persons in the Church at their devotion. Every thing was still and Solemn throughout this vast edifice. I was walking with a slow pace round it, when all at once, the drear Silence which Reignd was suddenly broken by all these Boys at one instant Chanting; with loud voices which made the dome ring; and me spring, for I had no apprehension of any Sound. I have never been to any of these Churches upon a Sunday, when the weather is warmer I design it, but their Churches seem rather calculated to damp Devotion than excite it. I took such a cold there; as I have not had since I have been in France before. I have been several times to the Chaple of the Dutch Ambassador; and should go oftner, if I could comprehend the discourses which are all in French. I believe the American embassy is the only one to which Chaplings are not allowed. Do Congress think that their Ministers have no need of Grace? Or that Religion is not a necessary article for them. Sunday will not feel so to me, whilst I continue in this Country. It is High Hollyday for all France.

We had a visit the other day from no less a personage than Abbe Thayer in his Habit, who has become a convert.7 His visit I suppose was to me, for he was a perfect stranger to Mr. Adams. He told us that he had spent a year at Rome, that he belonged to a Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris; that he never knew what Religion was untill his conversion, and that he designd to return to America in a year or two, to see if he could not convert his Friends and acquaintance. After talking sometime in this Stile he began to question Mr. A. if he believed the Bible, and to rail at Luther and Calvin, upon which Mr. A took him up pretty short, and told him that he was not going to make a Father confessor of him, that his Religion was a matter that he did not look upon him self accountable for, to any one but his Maker, and that he did not chuse to hear either Luther, or Calvin treated in such a manner.

Mr. Abbe took his leave after some time, without any invitation to repeat his visit.

With respect to our interest at Medford what ever is necessary to be done8 for our mutual benifit, you will be so good as to direct performd. I am glad that the old Tennant did not go off, untill death removed him.9 The account you give of your Nephews is vastly pleasing to their, and Your affectionate Friend.10

A Adams

RC (DNDAR); addressed in JQA's hand: “The Revd. John Shaw Haverhill Massachusetts”; endorsed: “Jan 18th 1785.” Dft (Adams Papers), originally identified as written to Cotton Tufts, dated [1784], and filmed under that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 363).


John Shaw to AA, 15 Oct. 1784, above.


At this point the draft completes this sentence: “without any previous preparation of Subject to entertain you with.”


The draft sentence begins: “I went last week,” and AA2 records visiting Notre Dame and St. Sulpice with her parents on 12 Jan. ( Jour. and Corr. , 1:41). The third church was St. Roch.


The rest of this sentence is not in the draft. The text from “I do not think” to “a few livres in confessions” is written at the end of the draft, with no indication that it was to be inserted at any point. In place of the last sentence in this paragraph, the draft has “From hence come those many of those foresaken beings call'd enfans trouves which I have described in my Letter to Mrs. Shaw” (AA to Elizabeth Shaw,11 Jan., above).


This sentence is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA.


St. Roch, on the Rue Saint Honoré, a little north of the Tuileries Gardens, was built in the 1650s, with alterations to 1740 (Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel ).


John Thayer, born in Boston in 1758 and related to the Thayers of Braintree, preached as a Congregationalist in Boston during the War for Independence. In 1781 he traveled to France, where he offered to become Benjamin Franklin's personal chaplain. Franklin declined. In 1783 Thayer converted to Roman Catholicism. He completed his theological studies at the Séminaire de St. Sulpice in 1787, was ordained, and in 1790 returned to America, where he proselytized for over a decade, from Massachusetts to Kentucky. He spent his last years in Limerick, Ireland, where he recruited young clerics to go to New England ( DAB ).


At this point the draft adds: “by way of repairs.” The Medford interest was the farm left by Rev. William Smith to AA and Elizabeth Shaw. John Shaw had reported the death of tenant Benjamin Teel (or Teal) in his letter of 15 Oct. 1784, above.


At this point the draft adds: “tho we may meet with some Difficulty in getting the Rent.”


In place of this sentence the draft has: “I hope you will continue from time to time to write to your affectionate Friend and sister.” This paragraph is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA.

Abigail Adams to Hannah Quincy Lincoln Storer, 20 January 1785 AA Storer, Hannah Quincy Lincoln Abigail Adams to Hannah Quincy Lincoln Storer, 20 January 1785 Adams, Abigail Storer, Hannah Quincy Lincoln
Abigail Adams to Hannah Quincy Lincoln Storer
My Dear Madam, Auteuil, 20 January, 1785

For your kind congratulations upon my arrival in Europe,1 receive my thanks. Those only, who have crossed the ocean, can realize the pleasure which is felt at the sight of land. The inexperienced traveller is more sensible of this, than those who frequently traverse the ocean. I could scarcely realize that thirty days had removed me so far distant from my native shore; but the new objects which surrounded me did not efface from my remembrance the dearer ones which I left behind me. “And is this the country, and are these the people, who so lately waged a cruel war against us?” were reflections, which did not escape me amidst all the beauty and grandeur, which presented themselves to my eyes. You have doubtless heard from my friends, that I was pleased with England, and that I met with much civility and politeness there, and a large share of it from your connexions.2

I am now resident in a country, to which many Americans give the 65preference. The climate is said to be more temperate and mild. I can pass no judgment by comparison, but that there are more fogs in both, than are agreeable to me. A North-American, however, has no right to complain of the rigor of a climate, which, in the middle of January, is as mild as our May; though I think the fall of the year was near as cold as ours.3

Do you know, my dear Madam, what a task you have set me? a description of ladies!

“Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of this minute.”

To a lady of Mrs. Storer's discernment, the mere superficial adorning of the sex would afford but little satisfaction. Yet this is all I shall be able to recount to her. A stranger in the country, not only to the people but to the language, I cannot judge of mental accomplishment, unless you will allow that dress and appearance are the index of the mind. The etiquette of this country requires the first visit from the stranger. You will easily suppose, that I have not been very fond of so awkward a situation as going to visit ladies, merely to make my dumb compliments, and receive them in return. I have declined visiting several personages, to whom Mr. Adams would have introduced me, upon this account. An acquaintance with a gentleman by no means insures to you a knowledge of his lady; for no one will be so ill-bred as to suppose an intercourse between them. It is from my observations of the French ladies at the theatres and public walks, that my chief knowledge of them is derived.

The dress of the French ladies is, like their manners, light, airy, and genteel. They are easy in their deportment, eloquent in their speech, their voices soft and musical, and their attitude pleasing. Habituated to frequent the theatres from their earliest age, they become perfect mistresses of the art of insinuation and the powers of persuasion. Intelligence is communicated to every feature of the face, and to every limb of the body; so that it may with truth by said, every man of this nation is an actor, and every woman an actress. It is not only among the rich and polite, who attend the great theatres, that this art is acquired, but there are a dozen small theatres, to which all classes resort. There are frequently given pieces at the opera, and at the small theatres, where the actors speak not a single word, but where the action alone will delineate to you the story. I was at one of this kind last evening. The story is too long to relate here; but there was a terrible sea-storm in it; the rolling of the sea, the mounting of the vessel upon the waves, in which I could discern a lady and little 66child in the utmost distress, the terrible claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, which flew from one side of the stage to the other, really worked me up to such a pitch, that I trembled with terror. The vessel was finally dashed upon the rocks, and the lady and child were cast on a desert island.

The dancing on the stage is a great amusement to me, and the dresses are beautifully fanciful. The fashionable shape of the ladies here is, to be very small at the bottom of the waist, and very large round the shoulders,—a wasp's,—pardon me, ladies, that I should make such a comparison, it is only in shape, that I mean to resemble you to them. You and I, Madam, must despair of being in the mode.

I enclose to you the pattern of a stomacher, cape, and forebody of a gown; different petticoats are much worn, and then the stomacher must be of the petticoat color, and the cape of the gown, as well as the sleeves. Sometimes a false sleeve is made use of to draw over the other, and, in that case, the cape is like the gown. Gowns and petticoats are worn without any trimming of any kind. That is reserved for full dress only, when very large hoops and negligees, with trains three yards long, are worn. But these are not used, except at Court, and then only upon public occasions; the Queen herself, and the ladies of honor, dressing very plain upon other days. Abby has made you a miniature handkerchief, just to show you one mode; but caps, hats, and handkerchiefs are as various as ladies' and milliners' fancies can devise.4

Thus Madam, having displayed the mode to you, be so good as to present Mr. Adams's and my regards to Mr. Storer, and, in one word, to all who inquire after your affectionate friend,

A Adams

RC not found. Printed from (AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1840, p. 271–275.) Dft (Adams Papers); dated ca. 15 January. The Dft is incomplete and about one third shorter than the printed text, which must have been based on the RC or a copy made from it. Two cases of material in the Dft that is not in the printed text are noted below.


Not found.


Charles Storer and Elizabeth Storer Atkinson, two of Hannah Storer's stepchildren.


In the draft, AA adds that the fall was said to be “not so pleasant as usual.” She also wrote that in “the middle of Janry the grass is as green as it commonly is in May with us,” and reported just one snowfall “which might be 6 inches deep,” probably from the snowstorm of 12 December, mentioned in her letter of 9 Dec. 1784 to Mary Cranch, above.


In her draft AA added: “No such thing as a quilted peticoat to bee seen and Scarcly an Apron of any form or fashion.”