Abigail Adams and Her Times

by Laura E. Richards

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Chapter IV - The Boston Tea Party

Chapter IV - The Boston Tea Party from Abigail Adams and Her Times

EVEN though it has little to say about his domestic life, I linger over John Adams' diary. It is enthralling reading; most of it belongs rather to history than to a slight record like this, yet here and there we get pleasant glimpses of the man himself. Here he is on circuit, riding through Maine, which was then Massachusetts.

"Began my journey to Falmouth in Casco Bay. . . . Dined at Goodhue's, in Salem, where I fell in company with a stranger, his name I knew not. . . . One year more, he said, would make Americans as quiet as lambs; they could not do without Great Britain, they could not conquer their luxury, etc. Oated my horse, and drank balm tea at Treadwell's in Ipswich, where I found Brother Porter, and chatted with him half an hour, then rode to Rowley and lodged at Captain Jewett's. Jewett 'had rather the House should sit all the year round, than give up an atom of right or privilege. The Governor can't frighten the people with, etc.' . . .

"Sunday. Took a walk to the pasture to see how my horse fared. My little mare had provided for herself, by leaping out of a bare pasture into a neighboring lot of mowing-ground, and had filled herself with grass and water. These are important materials for history, no doubt. My biographer will scarcely introduce my little mare and her adventures in quest of food and water. The children of the house have got a young crow, a sight I never saw before;—the head and bill are monstrous; the legs and claws are long and sprawling. But the young crow and the little mare are objects that will not interest posterity."

I do not agree with you, John. I like to think of you watching the little mare at her stolen breakfast, gravely observing the young crow; later, with a whimsical smile curling the corners of your firm mouth, entering the observations in your diary.

The climate of Boston did not suit Mr. Adams: he longed for his native air of Braintree.

"The complicated cares of my legal and political engagements, the slender diet to which I was obliged to confine myself, the air of the town of Boston, which was not favorable to me, who had been born and passed almost all my life in the country, but especially the constant obligation to speak in public, almost every day for many hours, had exhausted my health, brought on a pain in my breast, and a complaint in my lungs, which seriously threatened my life, and compelled me to throw off a great part of the load of business, both public and private, and return to my farm in the country. Early in the Spring of 1771, I removed my family to Braintree, still holding, however, an office in Boston. The air of my native spot, and the fine breezes from the sea on one side, and the rocky mountains of pine and savin on the other, together with daily rides on horseback and the amusements of agriculture, always delightful to me, soon restored my health in a considerable degree."

Yet still he wondered why he was not stronger. Turning the pages of the diary, we feel no such surprise. He simply overworked himself, continuously and relentlessly. "Now my family is away, I feel no inclination at all, no temptation, to be anywhere but at my office. I am in it by six in the morning, I am in it at nine at night, and I spend but a small space of time in running down to my brother's to breakfast, dinner and tea."

"Returned at night . . . to Braintree,—still, calm, happy Braintree—at nine o'clock at night."

This was no way to live, John, for any length of time. Small wonder that in November, 1772, he once more moved into Boston, having purchased a house in Queen Street, "where I hope I shall live as long as I have any connection with Boston."

How Abigail liked this "to-ing and fro-ing," we do not know. She is silent, and John has little to say about her. Now and then we find an entry like this: "My wife says her father never inculcated any maxim of behavior upon his children so often as this,—never to speak ill of anybody; to say all the handsome things she could of persons, but no evil; and to make things, rather than persons, the subjects of conversation. These rules he always impressed upon us, whenever we were going abroad, if it was but to spend an afternoon. He was always remarkable for observing these rules in his own conversation." This gives us a pleasant glimpse of good Parson Smith.

Now and then, too, we read of a drive or walk or tea-drinking "with my wife"; but that is all. As a rule, John felt no more need of mentioning her, than the air he breathed, or the food that nourished him. She was there, and that was enough.[64] By and by, however, Abigail began to speak, or rather to write for herself, and from now on her letters must be our best guide.

Be it remembered that, in 1767, by the so-called Townshend Acts, a tax had been levied on glass, lead, paper, painters' colors, and tea. Three years later all these taxes had been repealed, except that on tea, which was retained as the sign and token of Great Britain's right to tax her colonies when and how she pleased. This fact, borne in mind, explains the following letter, written by Mrs. Adams on December 5th, 1773, to her friend, Mercy Warren, wife of General James Warren of Plymouth and sister of James Otis:

"Do not, my worthy friend, tax me with either breach of promise or neglect towards you; the only reason why I did not write to you immediately upon your leaving town was my being seized with a fever, which has confined me almost ever since. I have not for these many years known so severe a fit of sickness. I am now, through the favor of Heaven, so far returned as to be able to leave my chamber some part of the day. I will not make any other apology for my past neglect, being fully sensible that I alone have been the sufferer. My pen, which I once loved and delighted in, has for a long time been out of credit with me. Could I borrow the powers and faculties of my much valued friend, I should then hope to use it with advantage to myself and delight to others. Incorrect and unpolished as it is, I will not suffer a mistaken pride so far to lead me astray as to omit the present opportunity of improvement. And should I prove a tractable scholar, you will not find me tardy.

"You, madam, are so sincere a lover of your country, and so hearty a mourner in all her misfortunes, that it will greatly aggravate your anxiety to hear how much she is now oppressed and insulted. To you, who have so thoroughly looked through the deeds of men, and developed the dark designs of a rapacious soul, no action however base or sordid, no measure, however cruel and villanous, will be matter of any surprise.

"The tea, that baneful weed, is arrived. Great and, I hope, effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it. To the public papers I must refer you for particulars. You will there find that the proceedings of our citizens have been united, spirited and firm. The flame is kindled, and like lightning it catches from soul to soul. Great will be the devastation, if not timely quenched or allayed by some more lenient measures. Although the mind is[66] shocked at the thought of shedding human blood, more especially the blood of our countrymen, and a civil war is of all wars the most dreadful, such is the present spirit that prevails, that if once they are made desperate, many, very many of our heroes will spend their lives in the cause, with the speech of Cato in their mouths.

"Such is the present situation of affairs, that I tremble when I think what may be the direful consequences, and in this town must the scene of action lie. My heart beats at every whistle I hear, and I dare not express half my fears. Eternal reproach and ignominy be the portion of all those who have been instrumental in bringing these fears upon me. There has prevailed a report that tomorrow there will be an attempt to land this weed of slavery. I will then write further. Till then, my worthy friend, adieu."

During ten days more, Abigail Adams' heart was to "beat at every whistle she heard." The patriots meant to make no mistakes in this important matter. They steadfastly refused to receive the tea; they used their utmost efforts to induce Governor Hutchinson to allow its return. It was not till all had been done that man could do, that the final step was taken and the tea disposed of. Trevelyan, in his history of the American Revolution, says: "Boston, under circumstances which have been too frequently described to admit of their ever again being related in detail, gratified the curiosity of an energetic patriot who expressed a wish to see whether tea could be made with salt water." It is the only passage in that admirable work with which I have a quarrel. Boston born and bred, I cannot be expected to pass over the Tea Party with a brief word. I must recall, if only for the sake of that beating heart of Abigail Adams', that scene on the night of December 16th: the painted figures stealing from street and alley and crooked lane to the rendezvous at the Old South Church; the war-whoop ringing out, the rush down Franklin Street to Griffin's Wharf; the shouts and laughter, under which lay such deadly earnestness; the scuffle on the decks, the splash! splash! as chest after chest of best Bohea and Hyson (to the value of eighteen thousand pounds) dropped into the icy water, and went "sailing so merrily out to sea." How should I not call up the scene at least thus briefly, when my own great-grandfather was one of the Mohawks? And how do we know that little Abigail and John Quincy Adams were not singing, in the days of turbulent excitement that followed the Tea Party, songs[68] something like the following, though this is of a somewhat later date:

There was an old lady lived over the sea,
And she was an Island Queen.
Her daughter lived off in a new countrie
With an ocean of water between.
The old lady's pockets were full of gold,
But never contented was she,
So she called on her daughter to pay her a tax
Of three-pence a pound on her tea,
Of three-pence a pound on her tea.

"Now, mother, dear mother," the daughter replied,
"I shan't do the thing you ax.
I'm willing to pay a fair price for the tea,
But never the three-penny tax."
"You shall," quoth the mother, and reddened with rage,
"For you're my own daughter, you see.
And sure 'tis quite proper the daughter should pay
Her mother a tax on her tea,
Her mother a tax on her tea."

And so the old lady her servant called up
And packed off a budget of tea,
And, eager for three-pence a pound, she put in
Enough for a large familee.
She ordered her servant to bring home the tax,
Declaring her child should obey,
Or old as she was, and almost woman grown,
She'd half whip her life away,
She'd half whip her life away.

The tea was conveyed to the daughter's door,
All down by the ocean side,
And the bouncing girl poured out every pound
In the dark and boiling tide,
And then she called out to the Island Queen,
"Oh! Mother! Dear Mother!" quoth she,
"Your tea you may have when 'tis steeped enough,
But never a tax from me,
No, never a tax from me!"[11]

The diary has little more to say than Trevelyan. We read "Twenty-eight chests of tea arrived yesterday, which are to make an infusion in water at seven o'clock this evening." And the next day: "Last night twenty-eight chests and a half of tea were drowned."

It is clear that Mr. Adams knew what was to be done; he never knew the names of the doers, steadfastly refusing to be told. "You may depend upon it," he says, writing to a friend in 1819, "that they were no ordinary Mohawks. The profound secrecy in which they have held their names, and the total abstinence from plunder, are proofs of the characters of the men. I believe they would have tarred and feathered anyone of their number who should have been detected in pocketing a pound of Hyson."

The following year, 1774, was a momentous one. The destruction of the tea had roused George III and his ministers to frenzy; they bent all their energies to punish the rebellious town of Boston. Edict followed edict. The Five Intolerable Acts, they were called. This is not the place to name them; be it merely said that one of them amounted practically to a repeal of the Charter of Massachusetts. Early in May General Gage arrived, with full powers as Civil Governor of the Colony, and as Commander-in-Chief for the whole continent, to see that the edicts were carried out. First came the Boston Port Bill, which closed the harbor of Massachusetts and transferred the business of the custom-house to Salem.

On May 26th, 1774, Governor Gage informed the General Court that its sessions would be held at Salem from June first till further orders. The court obeyed, met at Salem, under the leadership of Samuel Adams, and proceeded to make arrangements for a general congress at Philadelphia. Gage, hearing of this, sent a messenger post haste to Salem to dissolve the meeting. The messenger found the door locked, nor was it opened till the congress had been determined upon, and the Massachusetts committee appointed: James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Cushing, Robert Treat Paine. This was on June 17th, 1774. On the same day, a great meeting was held at Faneuil Hall, with John Adams as moderator to protest against the iniquitous Port Bill.

Jonathan Sewall, John Adams' bosom friend, was a strong Royalist. On hearing of Adams' nomination to the projected Congress, he hastened to protest against his accepting it, with all the eloquence of which he was master. Every school child knows the answer by heart.

"I know," said John Adams, "that Great Britain has determined on her system, and that very fact determines me on mine. You know I have been constant and uniform in opposition to her measures; the die is now cast; I have passed the Rubicon; to swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country, is my unalterable determination."

Meantime, on June 1st, the blockade of Boston Harbor was proclaimed, and the ruin and starvation of the city zealously undertaken. "I'll put Boston seventeen miles from the sea!" Lord North had vowed, and he was better than his word.

"The law was executed with a rigour that went beyond the intentions of its authors. Not a scow could be manned by oars to bring an ox, or a sheep, or a bundle of hay, from the islands. All water carriage from pier to pier, though but of lumber, or bricks, or kine, was forbidden. The boats that plied between Boston and Charlestown could not ferry a parcel of goods across Charles River. The fishermen of Marblehead, when they bestowed quintals of dried fish on the poor of Boston, were obliged to transport their offerings in wagons by a circuit of thirty miles."[12]

The British troops, which had been removed after the "Massacre," came back into the town, "sore and surly,"[13] and encamped on Boston Common. The evil days had begun. Small wonder that under such conditions as these, John Adams' heart was heavy at leaving his home, even on so high an errand as that which called him to Philadelphia.

A month before this, he was writing to his wife the first of the famous Familiar Letters. It is dated Boston, 12 May, 1774.

"I am extremely afflicted with the relation your father gave me of the return of your disorder. My own infirmities, the account of the return of yours, and the public news coming all together have put my utmost philosophy to the trial.

"We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What will be the consequence, I know not. The town of[73] Boston, for aught I can see, must suffer martyrdom. It must expire. And our principal consolation is, that it dies in a noble cause—the cause of truth, of virtue, of liberty, and of humanity, and that it will probably have a glorious resurrection to greater wealth, splendor and power, than ever.

"Let me know what is best for us to do. It is expensive keeping a family here, and there is no prospect of any business in my way in this town this whole summer. I don't receive a shilling a week. We must contrive as many ways as we can to save expenses; for we may have calls to contribute very largely, in proportion to our circumstances, to prevent other very honest worthy people from suffering for want, besides our own loss in point of business and profit.

"Don't imagine from all this that I am in the dumps. Far otherwise. I can truly say that I have felt more spirits and activity since the arrival of this news than I had done before for years. I look upon this as the last effort of Lord North's despair, and he will as surely be defeated in it, as he was in the project of the tea.

"I am, with great anxiety for your health,

"Your John Adams."

Abigail was probably visiting in the country at this time; but shortly after, John moved his family once more to Braintree, "to prepare myself as well as I could for the storm that was coming on." He rode his circuit as usual, but for the last time. His letters are full of foreboding; full also of courage, and resolve to meet whatever fate held in store.

"Let us, therefore, my dear partner, from that affection which we feel for our lovely babes, apply ourselves, by every way we can, to the cultivation of our farm. Let frugality and industry be our virtues, if they are not of any others. And above all cares of this life, let our ardent anxiety be to mould the minds and manners of our children. Let us teach them not only to do virtuously, but to excel. To excel, they must be taught to be steady, active, and industrious."

He is not too anxious to give his usual keen attention to all he sees and hears. From York he writes:

"This town of York is a curiosity, in several views. The people here are great idolaters of the memory of their former minister, Mr. Moody. Dr. Sayward says, and the rest of them generally think, that Mr. Moody was one of the greatest men and best saints who have lived since the days of the[75] Apostles. He had an ascendency and authority over the people here, as absolute as that of any prince in Europe, not excepting his Holiness.

"This he acquired by a variety of means. In the first place, he settled in the place without any contract. His professed principle was that no man should be hired to preach the gospel, but that the minister should depend upon the charity, generosity, and benevolence of the people. This was very flattering to their pride, and left room for their ambition to display itself in an emulation among them which should be most bountiful and ministerial.

"In the next place, he acquired the character of firm trust in Providence. A number of gentlemen came in one day, when they had nothing in the house. His wife was very anxious, they say, and asked him what they should do. 'Oh, never fear; trust Providence, make a fire in the oven, and you will have something.' Very soon a variety of everything that was good was sent in, and by one o'clock they had a splendid dinner.

"He had also the reputation of enjoying intimate communication with the Deity, and of having a great interest in the Court of Heaven by his prayers.

"He always kept his musket in order, and was[76] fond of hunting. On a time, they say, he was out of provisions. There came along two wild geese. He takes gun and cries, 'If it please God I kill both, I will send the fattest to the poorest person in this parish.' He shot, and killed both; ordered them plucked, and then sent the fattest to a poor widow, leaving the other, which was a very poor one, at home,—to the great mortification of his lady. But his maxim was, Perform unto the Lord thy vow.

"But the best story I have heard yet was his doctrine in a sermon from this text, 'Lord, what shall we do?' The doctrine was that when a person or people are in a state of perplexity, and know not what to do, they ought never to do they know not what. This is applicable to the times."

On August 10th, Mr. Adams, with the other commissioners, took coach and started from Boston for Philadelphia, escorted by enthusiastic crowds. From this time, the Letters tell the story as nothing else can. I therefore quote from them with only such comment as may be necessary.

"The particulars of our journey I must reserve, to be communicated after my return. It would take a volume to describe the whole. It has been upon the whole an agreeable jaunt. We have had opportunities to see the world and to form acquaintances with the most eminent and famous men in the several colonies we have passed through. We have been treated with unbounded civility, complaisance, and respect. We yesterday visited Nassau Hall College, and were politely treated by the scholars, tutors, professors, and president, whom we are this day to hear preach. Tomorrow we reach the theatre of action. God Almighty grant us wisdom and virtue sufficient for the high trust that is devolved upon us. The spirit of the people, wherever we have been, seems to be very favorable. They universally consider our cause as their own, and express the firmest resolution to abide by the determination of the Congress.

"I am anxious for our perplexed, distressed province; hope they will be directed into the right path. Let me entreat you, my dear, to make yourself as easy and quiet as possible. Resignation to the will of Heaven is our only resource in such dangerous times. Prudence and caution should be our guides. I have the strongest hopes that we shall yet see a clearer sky and better times.

"Remember my tender love to little Abby; tell her she must write me a letter and inclose it in the next you send. I am charmed with your amusement with our little Johnny. Tell him I am glad to[78] hear he is so good a boy as to read to his mamma for her entertainment, and to keep himself out of the company of rude children. Tell him I hope to hear a good account of his accidence and nomenclature when I return. . . .

"The education of our children is never out of my mind. Train them to virtue. Habituate them to industry, activity, and spirit. Make them consider every vice as shameful and unmanly. Fire them with ambition to be useful. Make them disdain to be destitute of any useful or ornamental knowledge or accomplishment. Fix their ambition upon great and solid objects, and their contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. It is time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every decency, grace, and honesty should be inculcated upon them. . . ."

Abigail Adams to John Adams.

"I own I feel not a little agitated with the accounts I have this day received from town; great commotions have arisen in consequence of a discovery of a traitorous plot of Colonel Brattle's,—his advice to Gage to break every commissioned officer and to seize the province's and town's stock of gunpowder. . . .

"I should be glad to know how you found the people as you traveled from town to town. I hear you met with great hospitality and kindness in Connecticut. Pray let me know how your health is, and whether you have not had exceeding hot weather. The drought has been very severe. My poor cows will certainly prefer a petition to you, setting forth their grievances and informing you that they have been deprived of their ancient privileges, whereby they are become great sufferers, and desiring that they may be restored to them. More especially as their living, by reason of the drought, is all taken from them, and their property which they hold elsewhere is decaying, they humbly pray that you would consider them, lest hunger should break through stone walls.

"The tenderest regard evermore awaits you from your most affectionate

"Abigail Adams."

"Braintree, 14 September, 1774.

"Five weeks have passed and not one line have I received. I would rather give a dollar for a letter by the post, though the consequence should be that I ate but one meal a day these three weeks to come. . . .

"We are all well here. I think I enjoy better health than I have done these two years. I have not been to town since I parted with you there. The Governor is making all kinds of warlike preparations, such as mounting cannon upon Beacon Hill, digging intrenchments upon the Neck, placing cannon there, encamping a regiment there, throwing up breast-works, etc. The people are much alarmed, and the selectmen have waited upon him in consequence of it. The County Congress have also sent a committee; all which proceedings you will have a more particular account of than I am able to give you, from the public papers. But as to the movements of this town, perhaps you may not hear them from any other person.

"In consequence of the powder being taken from Charlestown, a general alarm spread through many towns and was caught pretty soon here. The report took here on Friday, and on Sunday a soldier was seen lurking about the Common, supposed to be a spy, but most likely a deserter. However, intelligence of it was communicated to the other parishes, and about eight o'clock Sunday evening there passed by here about two hundred men, preceded by a horsecart, and marched down to the powder-house, from whence they took the powder, and carried it into the other parish and there secreted it. I opened the window upon their return. They passed without any noise, not a word among them till they came against this house, when some of them, perceiving me, asked me if I wanted any powder. I replied, no, since it was in so good hands. The reason they gave for taking it was that we had so many Tories here, they dared not trust us with it. . . . This town appears as high as you can well imagine, and, if necessary, would soon be in arms. Not a Tory but hides his head. The church parson thought they were coming after him, and ran up garret; they say another jumped out of his window and hid among the corn, whilst a third crept under his board fence and told his beads."

"The church parson" was probably the Rev. Anthony Wibird, of whom Mrs. Adams said, when on Fast Day, 1775, she drove to Dedham to church, that she did so because she "could not bear to hear our inanimate old bachelor." A few days after the burning of Falmouth she wrote, "I could not join today in the petition of our worthy pastor for a reconciliation between our no longer parent, but tyrant state and these colonies. Let us separate. They are not worthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce them, and instead of supplications, as formerly,[82] for their prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the Almighty to blast their counsels and bring to naught all their devices."

"16 September.
"I have always thought it of very great importance that children should, in the early part of life, be unaccustomed to such examples as would tend to corrupt the purity of their words and actions, that they may chill with horror at the sound of an oath, and blush with indignation at an obscene expression. These first principles, which grow with their growth, and strengthen with their strength, neither time nor custom can totally eradicate."

John Adams to Abigail Adams.

"Philadelphia, 20 September, 1774.
"I am anxious to know how you can live without Government. But the experiment must be tried. The evils will not be found so dreadful as you apprehend them. Frugality, my dear, frugality, economy, parsimony, must be our refuge. I hope the ladies are every day diminishing their ornaments, and the gentlemen, too. Let us eat potatoes and drink water; let us wear canvas, and undressed sheepskins, rather than submit to the unrighteous and ignominious domination that is prepared for us.


"Tell Brackett I shall make him leave off drinking rum. We can't let him fight yet. My love to my dear ones.

"Adieu." A few days after this, Abigail writes, dating her letter "Boston Garrison, 24 September, 1774."

"I have just returned from a visit to my brother, with my father, who carried me there the day before yesterday, and called here in my return, to see this much injured town. I view it with much the same sensations that I should the body of a departed friend—having only put off its present glory for to rise finally to a more happy state. I will not despair, but will believe that, our cause being good, we shall finally prevail. The maxim 'In time of peace prepare for war' (if this may be called a time of peace) resounds throughout the country. Next Tuesday they are warned at Braintree, all above fifteen and under sixty, to attend with their arms; and to train once a fortnight from that time is a scheme which lies much at heart with many. . . .

"I left all our little ones well, and shall return to them tonight. I hope to hear from you by the return of the bearer of this, and by Revere. I long for the day of your return, yet look upon you as[84] much safer where you are—but I know it will not do for you. Not one action has been brought to this court; no business of any sort in your way. All law ceases and the gospel will soon follow, for they are supporters of each other. Adieu."

In another letter she says: "All your family, too numerous to name, desire to be remembered. You will receive letters from two who are as earnest to write to papa as if the welfare of a kingdom depended upon it."

These two were little Abby and Johnny, who were missing their father sadly. One of John's letters reads thus:

"Sir—I have been trying ever since you went away to learn to write you a letter. I shall make poor work of it; but, sir, mamma says you will accept my endeavors, and that my duty to you may be expressed in poor writing as well as good. I hope I grow a better boy, and that you will have no occasion to be ashamed of me when you return. Mr. Thaxter says I learn my books well. He is a very good master. I read my books to mamma. We all long to see you. I am, sir, your dutiful son,

"John Quincy Adams."

It is pleasant to think of the little seven-year-old boy bending over his paper, laboriously composing this letter. He must have been a pretty boy, with his firm, clear-cut features. His dress was his father's in little, flapped waistcoat, knee breeches, buckled shoes, coat with cuffs and buttons and all the rest of it. I trust Mother Adams was too sensible to put him in a wig, but I do not know; most sons of well-to-do people wore wigs at that time. William Freeman was seven, just Johnny Adams' age, when his father paid nine pounds for a wig for him. Wigged or not, Johnny Adams knew how to write a letter. I wonder how many boys of seven could equal it today!

I cannot resist quoting another letter of Master Johnny's, written two years later.

"Braintree, June 2d, 1777.

"Dear Sir:
"I love to receive letters very well; much better than I love to write them. I make but a poor figure at composition. My head is much too fickle. My thoughts are running after birds' eggs, play and trifles, till I get vexed with myself. Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me a-studying. I own I am ashamed of myself. I have but just entered the third volume of Rollin's Ancient History, but designed to have got half through it by this time. I am determined this week to be more diligent. . . . I have set myself a stint this week, to read the third volume half out. If I can but keep my resolution, I may again at the end of the week give a better account of myself. I wish, sir, you would give me in writing, some instructions with regard to the use of my time, and advise me how to proportion my studies and play, and I will keep them by me, and endeavor to follow them. With the present determination of growing better, I am, dear sir, your son

"John Quincy Adams."

"P. S. If you will be so good as to favor me with a blank book, I will transcribe the most remarkable passages I meet with in my reading, which will serve to fix them upon my mind."

Johnny's taste in poetry was less mature. Writing in later years of these times, he says: "With these books (a copy of Shakespeare) in a closet of my mother's bedchamber, there was, (in 1778) also a small edition in two volumes of Milton's Paradise Lost, which I believe I attempted ten times to read, and never got through half a book. I might as well have attempted to read Homer before I had learned the Greek alphabet. I was mortified even to the shedding of solitary tears, that I could not even conceive what it was that my father and mother admired so much in that book, and yet I was ashamed to ask them an explanation. I smoked tobacco and read Milton at the same time, and from the same motive,—to find out what was the recondite charm in them which gave my father so much pleasure. After making myself four or five times sick with smoking, I mastered that accomplishment, and acquired a habit which, thirty years afterward, I had more difficulty in breaking off. But I did not master Milton. I was nearly thirty when I first read the Paradise Lost with delight and astonishment."


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