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CHARACTERISTIC ENTERIES IN HIS DIARY

by John Adams

 

GOOD sense will make us remember that others have as good a right to thinkfor themselvesand to speak their own opinionsas we have; that another man'smaking a silly speech does not warrant my ill-nature and pride in grasping theopportunity to ridicule him and show my wit; a puffyvainconceitedconversation never fails to bring a man into contemptalthough his naturalendowments be ever so greatand his application and industry ever so intense;no accomplishmentsno virtuesare a sufficient atonement for vanity and ahaughty overbearing temper in conversation; and such is the humor of the worldthe greater a man's partsand the nobler his virtues in other respectsthemore derision and ridicule does this one vice and folly throw him into.Good-sense is generally attended with a very lively sense and delight inapplause; the love of fame in such men is generally much stronger than in otherpeopleand this passionit must be confessedis apt to betray men intoimpertinent exertions of their talentssometimes into censorious remarks uponothersoften into little meannesses to sound the opinions of othersandoftenest of allinto a childish affectation of wit and gayety. I must ownmyself to have beento a very heinous degreeguilty in this respect; when incompany with persons much superior to myself in years and placeI have talkedto show my learning; I have been too bold with great menwhich boldness willno doubtbe called self-conceit; I have madeill- natured remarks upon theintellectualsmannerspracticeetc.of other people; I have foolishly aimedat wit and spiritat making a shining figure in gaycompany; butinstead ofshining brighterI only clouded the few rays that before rendered me visible.Such has been my unhappy fate. I now resolvefor the futurenever to say anill-natured thing concerning ministers or the ministerial profession; never tosay an envious thing concerning governorsjudgesministersclerkssheriffslawyersor any other honorable or lucrative offices or officers; never toaffect wit upon laced waistcoatsor large estatesor their possessors; neverto show my own importance or superiority byremarking the foiblesvicesorinferiority of others. But I now resolveas far as lies in meto take noticechiefly of the amiable qualities of other people; to put the most favorableconstruction upon the weaknessesbigotryand errors of othersetc.; and tolabor more for an inoffensive and amiablethan for a shining and invidiouscharacter.

Observations of the Fair

Pretensions to wisdom and virtuesuperior to all the worldwill not besupported by words only. If I tell a man I am wiser and better than he or anyother manhe will either despiseor hateor pity meperhaps all three. Ihave not conversed enough with the world to behave rightly. I talk to Paineabout Greek; that makes him laugh. I talk to Samuel Quincy about resolutionandbeing a great manand studyand improving time; which makes him laugh. I talkto Ned about the folly of affecting to be a heretic; which makes him mad. I talkto Hannah and Esther about the folly of love; about despising it; about beingabove it; pretend to be insensible of tender passions; which makes them laugh. Italk to Mr. Wibird about the decline of learning; tell him I know no youngfellowwho promises to make a figure; cast sneers on Dr. Marshfor not knowingthe value of old Greek and Roman authors; ask when will a genius rise that willshave his beardor let it grow ratherand sink himself in a cell in order tomake a figure? I talked to Parson Smithabout despising gay dressgrandbuildings and estatesfameetc.and being contented with what will satisfythe real wants of nature.

All this is affectation and ostentation. It is affectation of learningandvirtueand wisdomwhich I have not; and it is a weak fondness to show all thatI haveand to be thought to have more than I have. Besides thisI haveinsensibly fallen into a habit of affecting wit and humor; of shrugging myshoulders and moving and distorting the muscles of my face; my motions are stiffand uneasyungraceful; and my attention is unsteady and irregular. These arereflections on myselfthat I make; theyare faultsdefectsfopperiesandfolliesand disadvantages. Can I mend these faults and supply these defects?

O-- makes observations on actionscharactersevents in Pope's HomerMiltonPope's Poemsany playsromancesetc.that she reads; and asksquestions about them in company - "What do you think of Helen? what do youthink of Hectoretc.? what character do you like best? did you wish the plothad not been discovered in Venice Preserved?" These are questions thatprove a thinking mind. E-- asks none such.

Thusin a wild campaigna dissipating party of pleasureobservations andimprovements may be made; some fopperyand follyand vicemay be discerned inone's selfand motives and methods may be collected to subdue it; some virtueor agreeable quality may be observed in one's selfand improved and cherished;or in anotherand transplanted into one's self.

Though O-- knows and can practise the art of pleasingyet she failssometimes; she lets us see a face of ridicule and spying sometimesinadvertentlythough she looks familiarly and pleasantly for the most part. Sheis apparently frankbut really reserved; seemingly pleased and almost charmedwhen she is really laughing with contempt; her face and heart have nocorrespondence.

Hannah checks Parson Wibird with irony. "It was very saucy to

disturb youvery saucyI'm sure" etc.

I am very thankful for these checks. Good treatment makes me think I amadmiredbelovedand my own vanity will be indulged in me; so I dismiss myguardand grow weaksillyvainconceitedostentatious. But a checka frowna sneera sarcasmrouses my spiritsmakes me more careful and considerate. Itmayin shortbe made a questionwhether good treatment or bad is the best forme; that iswhether smileskind wordsrespectful actionsdo not betray meinto weaknesses and littlenesses that frownssatirical speechesandcontemptuous behaviormake me avoid.

Popularitynext to virtue and wisdomought to be aimed at; for it is thedictate of wisdomand is necessary to the practice of virtue in most....

The Young Lawyer's Reflections

Reputation ought to be the perpetual subject of my thoughtsand aim of mybehavior. How shall I gain a reputation? how shall I spread an opinion of myselfas a lawyer of distinguished geniuslearningand virtue? Shall I make frequentvisits in the neighborhoodand converse familiarly with menwomenandchildrenin their own styleon the common tittle-tattle of the town and theordinary concerns of a familyand so take every fair opportunity of showing myknowledge in the law? But this will require much thought and timeand a veryparticular knowledge of the province law and common mattersof which I knowmuch less than I do of the Roman law. Shall I endeavor to renew my acquaintancewith those young gentlemen in Boston who were at college with meand to extendmy acquaintance among merchantsshopkeeperstradesmenetc.and mingle withthe crowd upon changeand traipse the town-house floor with one and anotherinorder to get a character in town? But thistoowill be a lingering method andwill require more artand addressand patiencetoothan I am master of.Shall Iby making remarks and proposing questions to the lawyers at the barendeavor to get a great character for understanding and learning with them? Butthis is slow and tediousand will be ineffectual; for envyjealousyandself-interestwill not suffer them to give a young fellow a freegenerouscharacterespecially me. Neither of these projects will bear examinationwillavail. Shall I look out for a cause to speak toand exert all the soul and allthe body I ownto cut a flashstrike amazementto catch the vulgar; in shortshall I walk a lingeringheavy paceor shall I take one bold determined leapinto the midst of famecashand business? That is the question; -

a bold pusha resolute attempta determined enterpriseor a slowsilentimperceptible creeping; shall I creep or fly?

I feel vexedfrettedchafed; the thought of no business mortifiesstingsme. But let me banish these fears; let me assume a fortitudea greatness ofmind.

In such a slowgradual ascent to fame and fortune and businessthe pleasurethat they give will be imperceptible; but by a boldsudden riseI shall feelall the joys of each at once. Have I genius and resolution and health enough forsuch an achievement?....

A New England Couple in 1771

Spent this week at Ipswichin the usual labors and drudgery of attendanceupon court. Boarded at Treadwell's; have had no time to write. Landlord andlandlady are some of the grandest people alive; landlady is thegreat-granddaughter of Governor Endicottand has all the great notions of highfamily that you find in WinslowsHutchinsonsQuincysSaltonstallsChandlersLeonardsOtisesand as you might find with more propriety in the Winthrops.Yet she is cautious and modest about discovering it. She is a new light;continually canting and whining in a religious strain. The Governor wasuncommonly strict and devouteminently so in his day; and his greatgreat-granddaughter hopes to keep up the honor of the family in hersanddistinguish herself among her contemporaries as much. "Terrible things sincauses" sighs and groans"the pangs of the new birth. The death ofChrist shows above all things the heinous nature of sin! How awfully Mr. Kenttalks about death! how lightly and carelessly! I am sure a man of his yearswhocan talk so about deathmust be brought to feel the pangs of the new birth hereor made to repent of it forever. How dreadful it seems to me to hear himI thatam so afraid of deathand so concerned lest I an't fit and prepared for it!What a dreadful thing it was that Mr. Gridley died so!-too greattoo bigtooproud to learn anything; would not let any minister pray with him; said he knewmore than they could tell him; asked the newsand said he was going where heshould hear no news" etc.

Thus far landlady. As to landlordhe is as happyand as bigas proudasconceited as any nobleman in England; always calm and good-natured and lazy; butthe contemplation of his farm and his sons and his house and pasture and cowshis sound judgmentas he thinksand his great holinessas well as that of hiswifekeep him as erect in his thoughts as a noble or a prince. Indeedthe moreI consider of mankindthe more I see that every man seriously and in hisconscience believes himself the wisestbrightestbesthappiestetc.of allmankind.

The Nomination of the Commander-In-Chief

Accordinglywhen Congress had assembledI rose in my placeand in as shorta speech as the subject would admitrepresented the state of the Coloniestheuncertainty in the minds of the peopletheir great expectation and anxietythedistresses of the armythe danger of its dissolutionthe difficulty ofcollecting anotherand the probability that the British army would takeadvantage of our delaysmarch out of Bostonand spread desolation as far asthey could go. I concluded with a motionin formthat Congress would adopt thearmy at Cambridgeand appoint a General; that though thiswas not the propertime to nominate a Generalyetas I had reason to believe this was a point ofthe greatest difficultyI had no hesitation to declare that I had but onegentleman in my mind for that important commandand that was a gentleman fromVirginia who was among us and very well known to all of usa gentleman whoseskill and experience as an officerwhose independent fortunegreat talentsand excellent universal characterwould command the approbation of all Americaand unite

the cordial exertions of all the Colonies better than any other person in theUnion. Mr. Washingtonwho happened to sit near the dooras soon as he heard meallude to himfrom his usual modestydarted into the library-room. Mr. Hancock-who was our Presidentwhich gave me an opportunity to observe his countenancewhile I was speaking on the state of the Coloniesthe army at Cambridgeandthe enemy heard me with visible pleasure; but when I came to describe Washingtonfor the commanderI never remarked a more sudden and striking change ofcountenance. Mortification and resentment were expressed as forcibly as his facecould exhibit them. Mr. Samuel Adams seconded the motionand that did notsoften the President's physiognomy at all. The subject came under debateandseveral gentlemen declared themselves against the appointment of Mr. Washingtonnot on account of any personal objection against himbut because the army wereall from New Englandhad a General of their ownappeared to be satisfied withhimand had proved themselves able to imprison the British army in Bostonwhich was all they expected or desired at that timeMr. Pendletonof Vir-giniaMr. Shermanof Connecticutwere very explicit in declaring thisopinion; Mr. Cushing and several others more faintly expressed their oppositionand their fears of discontents in the army and in New England. Mr. Paineexpressed a great opinion of General Ward and a strong friendship for himhaving been his classmate at collegeor at least his contemporary; but gave noopinion upon the question. The subject was postponed to a future day. In themean timepains were taken out-of-doors to obtain a unanimityand the voiceswere generally so clearly in favor of Washingtonthat the dissentient memberswere persuaded to withdraw their oppositionand Mr. Washington was nominatedIbelieve by Mr. Thomas Johnson of Marylandunanimously electedand the armyadopted.

On the Way to France in 1778

One evening when we were approaching the French coastI was sitting in thecabinwhen Captain McIntoshour prisonercame down to meand addressed mewith great solemnity. "Mr. Adamsthis ship will be captured by mycountrymen in less than half an hour. Two large British men-of-war are bearingdirectly down upon usand are just by. You will hear from themI warrant youin six minutes. Let me take the liberty to say to you that I feel for you morethan for any one else. I have always liked you since I came on boardand havealways ascribed to youchieflythe good treatment I have receivedas well asmy people; and you maydepend upon itall the good service I can render youwith my countrymenshall be done with pleasure."

I saw by his countenancegesturesairlanguageand everythingthat hebelieved what he said that he most heartily rejoiced in his own prospect ofdeliveranceand that he heartily pitied me. I smiledhoweverat his offers ofkind offices to meknowing full wellthat his prayers and tears would be asunavailing as my ownif he should be generous and I weak enough to employ themwith British officersministersjudgesor kingin the then circumstances ofthings and temper of the Britons. I made him a bowexpressive of my sense ofhis politenessbut said nothing. Determined to see my dangerbefore I would beintimidated at itI took my hatand marched up to the quarter-deck. I hadbefore heard an uncommon trampling upon deckand perceived signs of some alarmand confusionbut when upon deck I saw the two ships indeed. They both appearedlarger than our frigateand were already within musket-shot of us. The air wasclearand the moon very bright. We could see everythingeven the men on board.We all expected every moment to be hailedandpossiblysaluted with abroadside. But the two ships passed by uswithout speaking a wordand I stoodupon deck till they had got so far off as to remove all apprehensions of dangerfrom them. Whether they were two American frigateswhich had been about thattime in Francewe never knew. We had no inclination to inquire about theirbusiness or destinationand were very happy that they discovered so littlecuriosity about ours.

A Place for Kings

Franklin told us one of his characteristic stories. "A Spanish writer ofcertain visions of Hellrelates that a certain devilwho was civil andwell-bredshowed him all the apartments in the placeamong othersthat ofdeceased kings. The Spaniard was much pleased at so illustrious a sightandafter viewing them for some timesaid he should be glad to see the rest of them.'The rest?' said the demon. 'Here are all the kings that ever reigned upon earthfrom the creation of it to this day. What the devil would the man have?' Thiswas not so charitable as Dr. Wattswhoin his View of Heavensays'Here andthere I see a king.'" This seems to implythat kings are as good as othermensince it is but here and there that we see a king upon earth.

The truth isthat neither thennor at any former timesince I had attainedany maturity in agereadingand reflectionhad I imbibed any generalprejudice againstor in favor of kings. It appeared to me thenas it has doneever sincethat there is a state of Society in which a republican government isthe bestandin Americathe only one which ought to be adopted or thought ofbecause the morals of the peopleand circumstances of the countrynot only canbear itbut require it. Butin several of the great nations of Europekingsappeared to me to be as necessary as any government at all. Nor had I ever seenany reason to believe that kings werein generalworse than other men....

Adams at the French Court

Went to Versaillesin company with Mr. LeeMr. Izard and his ladyMr.Lloyd and his ladyand Mr. Francois. Saw the grand procession of the Knights duSaint-Espritor du cordon bleu. At nine o'clock at nightwent to the grandcouvertand saw the kingqueenand royal familyat supper; had a fine seatand situation close by the royal familyand had a distinctand full viewofthe royal pair.

Our objects were to see the ceremonies of the knightsandin the eveningthe public supper of the royal family. The kneelingsthe bowsand thecourtesies of the knightsthe dresses and decorationsthe king seated on histhronehis investiture of a new created knight with the badges and ornaments ofthe orderand his majesty's profound and reverential bow before the altar as heretiredwere novelties and curiosities to mebut surprised me

much less than the patience and perseverance with which they all kneeledfortwo hours togetherupon the hard marble of which the floor of the chapel wasmade. The distinction of the blue ribbon was very dearly purchased at the priceof enduring this painful operation four times in a year. The Count de Vergennesconfessed to me that he was almost dead with the pain of it. And the onlyinsinuation I ever heardthat the King was in any degree touched by thephilosophy of the agewasthat he never discovered so much impatienceunderany of the occurrences of his lifeas in going through those tedious ceremoniesof religionto which so many hours of his life were condemned by the CatholicChurch.

The queen was attended by her ladies to the gallery opposite to the altarplaced in the centre of the seatand there left alone by the other ladieswhoall retired. She was an object too sublime and beautiful for my dull pen todescribe. I leave this enterprise to Mr. Burke. Butin his descriptionthereis more of the orator than of the philosopher. Her dress was everything that artand wealth could make it. One of the maids of honor told me she had diamondsupon her person to the value of eighteen millions of livres; and I alwaysthought her majesty much beholden to her dress. Mr. Burke saw her probably butonce. I have seen her fifty times perhapsand in all the varieties of herdresses. She had a fine complexionindicating perfect healthand was ahandsome woman in her face and figure. But I have seen beauties much superiorboth in countenance and formin FranceEnglandand America.

After the ceremonies of this institution are overthere is a collection forthe poor; and that this closing scene may be as elegant as any of the formerayoung lady of some of the first families in France is appointed to present thebox to the knights. Her dress must be as rich and elegantin proportionas thequeen'sand her airmotionsand courtesiesmust have as much dignity andgrace as those of the knights. It was a curious entertainment to observe theeasy airthe graceful bowand the conscious dignity of the knightinpresenting his contribution; and the corresponding easegraceand dignity ofthe ladyin receiving itwere not less charming. Every musclenerveandfibreof bothseemed perfectly disciplined to perform its functions. Theelevation of the armthe bend of the elbowand every finger in the hand of theknightin putting his louis d'ors into the boxappeared to be perfectlystudiedbecause it was perfectly natural. How much devotion there was in allthis I know notbut it was a consummate school to teach the rising generationthe perfection of the French airand external politeness and good- breeding. Ihave seen nothing to be compared to it in any other country.

At nine o'clock we went and saw the kingqueenand royal familyat thegrand couvert. Whether M. Francoisa gentleman who undertook upon this occasionto conduct ushad contrived a plot to gratify the curiosity of the spectatorsor whether the royal family had a fancy to see the raw American at theirleisureor whether they were willing to gratifyhim with a convenient seatinwhich he might see all the royal familyand all the splendors of the placeIknow not; but the scheme could not have been carried into executioncertainlywithout the orders of the king. I was selectedand summoned indeedfrom all mycompanyand ordered to a seat close beside the royal family. The seats on bothsides of the hallarranged like the seats in a theatrewere all full of ladiesof the first rank and fashion in the kingdomand there was no room or place forme but in the midst of them It was not easy to make room for one more person.Howeverroom was madeand I was situated between two ladieswith rows andranks of ladies above and below meand on the right hand and on the leftandladies only. My dress was a decent French dressbecoming the station I heldbut not to be compared with the goldand diamondsand embroideryabout me. Icould neither speaknor understand the language in a manner to support aconversationbut I had soon the satisfaction to find it was a silent meetingand that nobody spoke a wordbut the royal familyto each otherand they saidvery little. The eyes of all the assembly were turned upon meand I feltsufficiently humble and mortifiedfor I was not a proper object for thecriticisms of such a company. I found myself gazed atas we in America used togaze at the sachems who came to make speeches to us in Congressbut I thoughtit very hard if I could not command as much power of face as one of the chiefsof the Six Nationsandthereforedetermined that I would assume a cheerfulcountenanceenjoy the scene around meand observe it as coolly as anastronomer contemplates the stars. Inscriptions of Fructus Belli were seen onthe ceiling and all about the walls of the roomamong paintings of the trophiesof warprobably done by the order of Louis XIV. who confessedin his dyinghouras his successor and exemplar Napoleon will probably dothat he had beentoo fond of war. The king was the royal carver for himself and all his family.His majesty ate like a kingand made a royal supper of solid beefand otherthings in proportion. The queen took a large spoonful of soupand displayed herfine person and graceful mannersin alternately looking at the company invarious parts of the halland ordering several kinds of seasoning to be broughtto herby which she fitted her supper to her taste. When this was accomplishedher majesty exhibited to the admiring spectatorsthe magnificent spectacle of agreat queen swallowing her royal supper in a single spoonful all at once. Thiswas all performed like perfect clock-work; not a feature of her facenor amotion of any part of her personespecially her arm and her handcould becriticised as out of order. A littleand but a littleconversa- tion seemed topass among the royal personages of both sexesbut in so low a voicethatnothing could be understood by any of the audience.

The officers about the king's person brought him many letters and papersfrom time to timewhile he was at table. He looked at these. Some of them hereador seemed to readand returned them to the same officers who broughtthemor some others.

These ceremonies and shows may be condemned by philosophyand ridiculed bycomedywith great reason. Yet the common-sense of mankind has never adopted therigid decrees of the formernor ever sincerely laughed with the latter. Nor hasthe religion of nationsin any ageapproved of the dogmas or the satires. Onthe contraryit has always overborne them alland carried its inventions ofsuch exhibitions to a degree of sublimity and pathoswhich has frequentlytransported the greatest infidels out of themselves. Something of the kind everygovernment and every religion hasand must have; and the business and duty oflaw-givers and philosophers is to endeavor to prevent them from being carriedtoo far.

The End