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Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) to James Bridge

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00958.07 Author/Creator: Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) Place Written: Boston, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 10 August 1791 Pagination: 6 p. ; 24 x 19 cm.

Summary of Content: Adams denies that his father had any part in writing the Publicola letters, which attacked Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" as too radical. Adams does acknowledge that he is the author, claiming that idleness motivated his effort to "dabble in political speculation." The letter reveals Adams' knowledge of his father's abuse by enemies. Adams also expresses mixed feelings about participating in politics. Information about Adams' law practice and news about the lives of various mutual friends also appears.

Background Information: Notes: Originally after #958.04 in scrapbook.

Full Transcript: Boston August 10th: 1791.
My dear Friend.
Coll. North delivered me this morning your favour of the 28th: of last month, and when I assure you that the warmest pleasures I ...have for many months past enjoyed, result from the correspondence of my old collegiate friends, you may form some tolerable estimate of the satisfaction I had in hearing again from the dearest of them all. - Publicola - Common fame it seems has repeated in your regions a few of the lies which she has very profusely told here. The stories of the publications under the signature you mention, being written by my father or written by me and revised by him, were fabrications propagated for the purpose of abusing him, and the circumstance has been faithfully improved to answer that intention; it was convenient to some people in almost every part of the continent to render him odious; and as it was not found perfectly easy to discover a real ground upon which to erect the dirty batteries, the anonymous champions for the good cause substituted the fictions of their own brains, and have accordingly descanted upon the topic with as much decorum as veracity. He had in fact no hand in the writing or in the publication of those papers, and you are too well acquainted with the spirit of your friend to believe, that he would submit to a school-boy revision of his sentiments for publication, even from the hand of his father. - But the completion of your prophecy diverts you - why, it is too true, with shame I acknowledge it, I have been foolish enough to dabble in political speculations, which have not attained the celebrity of Publicola, and of which you have never heard; but I have not I assure you made any pathetic apostrophe, or valedictory address to the pleasures [2] of private life or domestic tranquility; on the contrary every step I advance upon the theatre of life opens to me new [struck: motives] views of happiness arising from them, and every day that passes over my head confirms me in the disposition to leave to the great children their toys; to decline the rugged ascent to greatness, whose summit affords only a dreary sterility, or eternal frosts, and to rest upon the happy plain, equally distant if possible from the vale of obscurity - I am afraid you will think I have been reading the pilgrim's progress, but if my metaphors are stale, they will at least be rescued from the reproach of being fictitious. - (I verily believe indeed that some daemon whispered to me to enter into the lists of political speculation: the daemon was the spirit of idleness; you know who it is that sits idle people to work.) - My time has often hung heavy upon my hands. Some law, I have read; but I know not whether your own feelings will supply the deficiencies which there must be in the description of mine. Since I have had an office of my own, I have never been able to fix myself steadily at a course of elementary reading like that of a student; the rays of application must be collected into some focus; whatever points of law have occur[inserted: r]ed hitherto in my small practice, have indeed claimed my particular attention, and I have made it an object to investigate every question which I supposed might be involved in any cause in which I have been engaged but I take no pleasure in general reading relative to the science, and even when I surmount the aversion, and take my book, every idea I pursue seems but a repetition of what I knew before, and discourages me from continuing, with the fancy that I am spending my time without instruction as well as without entertainment. This feeling results I believe from situation, and as yours has been in some measure similar to mine you will I fancy know what I mean, though I believe it cannot be thoroughly understood by those who have not experienced it. - I have read however much of miscellaneous literature, but I find this kind of reading does but promote the itch for scribbling: reading alone, is you know an employment altogether useless to the world and to the individual, and I have written therefore to convince myself that I had not read so much to no purpose: (my natural inclinations dictated my paths to me: the newspapers and magazines were open, and I addicted myself to parties and politics. [3] The "poets corner," the "parnassian loom," the "feat of the muses" &c have been more than once encumbered with the fruits of my vigils. - "indoctus solebam
"Stredenti miserum stipula disperdere carmen"
but the age of poetry, as well as that of chivalry is gone. my elegies, my sonnets my ballads, and all my rhiming small craft obtained the perusal only of a few love-sick youths, and novel reading damsels; in vain did my Muse seem in her own eyes to labour with the inspiring God; all her pains served but to produce an abortion, or at best a still born brat, which closed its eyes just as they were bursting into light. - I renounced poetry in order to keep pace with the world, and determined [inserted: to] direct my ore through the medium of a different metal. The tale of the day, the political Cynthia of the minute, appeared to me to offer the best opportunity to indulge my solitary fancies and upon various occasions I have ventured into print, and as my existence has been in newspapers, I may literally say that I have lived my day, and in most instances peacefully expired.
You have my confession holy father, and I am willing to submit to any penance you can impose, but remember it was not my situation or connexions, nor any apostacy from my faith in the superior pleasures of private life, but idleness which put the pen into my hands - I could have found other employment for my leisure time: but as to Love, I have tried it more than once; I have always found it a state of "fevered rapture or of cruel care;" and I have had since I came here more than ever occasion to "keep my heart with all diligence," because I shall not have as heretofore the resource of flight for my salvation - Dissipation is fashionable enough, and I might easily have engaged myself in a train, which would have drowned all future exertion, all habits of industry, and all the economy so essential to my existence, in a flood of present thoughtless pleasures; - I had a choice of evils; I took that which appeared to me to be the least, and scribbled - Like the old pope of whom we read I cry peccave - judica me.
In the mean time you have been coquetting. It is indeed a path strewed with flowers of sweeter fragrance than either of the fields upon which I entered; but you could not keep [4] yourself within the bounds of moderation, and could only be called back to the paths of duty, by the loss of your business and a certain prospect of destruction - such is your confession, and I may therefore congratulate you upon the recovery of that cool indifference so favourable to the useful pursuits of [inserted: active] life, but so insipid to those of happiness. - You must however have something to fill up the dreary vacuity of leisure time; the Passions must be interested in some eternal object, or they [inserted: will] prey upon our own hearts - you are above poetry; politics are probably not so fashionable with you as in a populous town and the devil does not tempt you every day with the opportunity of a newspaper. Love is inevitable therefore, and as your situation or resolution persuaded you not to interfere with a Ladiy's matrimonial views, I expect that your sympathies will only change their object, and flow in another current. I shall always expect the same confidence which has hitherto subsisted between us upon this subject, and which I shall renew on my part if there should ever again be occasion.
Freeman is actually married, as you have probably been informed: married to a Miss Ford of this town - his friends admire exceedingly at his choice. To me it is unaccountable - It could not be an affair of passion, the woman is very plain, three or four and twenty, by no means remarkable for vivacity wit or sensibility - She was not made for him I am sure. As a bargain of convenience, he might have suited himself much better. Her father is a man of considerable property and she an only child; but he is a young man in good health, and as fair a life for annuity as Freeman himself, and I do not hear that there was any ready cash paid down at the marriage, a dull dreary visto of distant expectation is a poor compensation for the sacrifice which Nat has made of himself, in this instance.
Little I am informed has returned to Newbury Port, but I have not heard from him since he came back. I have not indeed had any letters from him for several months. I am afraid our advice to him derives more merit from its intention than its success. - Putnam does at Salem quite as well, perhaps better than he expected, and has the character of being remarkably attentive to his business and his office. - Cranch has opened an [5] office at Haverhill, and has I believe got an eligible situation. - Foster was sworn into Court a day or two since, and proposes to take the tour of the Continent in the course of two or three months: he has some thoughts of speculating in the southern practice, and of trying his fortune in Georgia. His natural instability will never suffer him to stay any where very long. I shall expect him back before the year comes round.
I received your Letter containing the power from Emerson, with directions to defend the suit; but upon seeing Emerson's letter, and a deficiency of evidence, Lowell determined not to enter the action. I filed a complaint for costs and had judgment for them; but upon Lowell's representation, that his client has nothing, and that her body must be taken in Execution, if the costs should be levied, I told him I would not inform Emerson that I had obtained costs, unless he himself should make the enquiry. You will therefore only tell him that the action was not entered, and that my demand upon him amounts to four dollars.
When your father was in town last, he left with me a note against a Mr: Miller of this town with directions to sue it, which I did accordingly, and have an execution upon it. I have seen Miller who says he cannot pay it &c, as usual - But, he offers to endorse to your father, either a note given him by Paul Reed of Townsend, or a note from Joseph Lewis of Boothbay, each of them for about thirty pounds. He says your father knows the men, and he will therefore judge for himself, whether it will be most eligible to take either of those notes, or both of them, or to levy the Execution here - I wish you would be kind enough to mention those circumstances to your father, and tell him I am waiting for his further directions, before I deliver the Execution to the officer. If he concludes to take either of the notes or both of them, I will send them down to you as soon as possible.
Adieu, my Letter is monstrous long - You will not fail writing as soon and as often as possible, to your inalienable friend. J. Q. Adams

P.S. Upon further reflection I have taken the enclosed note in order to save time. Miller has endorsed it in order to facilitate the collection. If your father thinks best to depend upon Miller [6] himself you will please to send me back the note. if [struck: you] [inserted: he] can collect the whole note of Lewis he will deduct ?10.. 4.. 1. the [struck: value] [inserted: amount] of the Execution I have, and transmit the remainder of the money to Miller. At any rate you will soon write me on the subject. The other note which I mentioned of Reed's, has already been sued, and one Execution returned unsatisfied. If there is any probability of getting any thing of him, I can take out an alias, and send it down to you. This likewise may perhaps be within your knowledge. J.Q.A.
The Execution which I have against Miller is for ?6.., 8.. 4. damages &
3.. 15.. 9. costs.

See More

People: Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848
Bridge, James, 1765-1834
Paine, Thomas, 1737-1809

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentLiterature and Language ArtsPoliticsLawJournalism

Sub Era: The Early Republic

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