IT was not in the little "hut" of former days that Portia awaited her dearest friend. A statelier dwelling was theirs henceforth, the house built by Leonard Vassall, a West India planter. It stood, and still stands, in its ample grounds, under its branching elms. The original building has received many additions, but it is the same house to which John Adams came on that spring day of 1801; the home of his later life, and of three generations of his descendants. John Adams was now seventy-six years old, still in the fullness of vigorous manhood. I seem to see him entering that door, a defeated and disappointed man, yet holding his head as high, and looking forward with as clear and steadfast a gaze as if he were come home in triumph. He might be angry, he might be hurt; but no injury could bow the head, or bend the broad shoulders, of him who had once been acclaimed as the Atlas of Independence. Thus seeing him, I cannot but recall the summing up of his character by another strong man, Theodore Parker, the preacher.
"The judgment of posterity will be, that he was a brave man, deep-sighted, conscientious, patriotic, and possessed of Integrity which nothing ever shook, but which stood firm as the granite of his Quincy Hills. While American Institutions continue, the People will honor brave, honest old John Adams, who never failed his country in her hour of need, and who, in his life of more than ninety years, though both passionate and ambitious, wronged no man nor any woman.
"And all the people shall say Amen!"
In this peaceful and pleasant home, Mr. and Mrs. Adams were to pass the rest of their days. They wasted no time in repining; they were thankful to be at home, eager to enjoy the fruits of leisure and the quiet mind. By early May, Mrs. Adams was setting out raspberry bushes and strawberry vines, and working daily in her dairy. She sends word to her daughter that she might see her at five o'clock in the morning, skimming her milk.
She was not the only busy one. "You will find your father," she writes to her son Thomas, "in his fields, attending to his hay-makers. . . . The crops of hay have been abundant; upon this spot, where eight years ago we cut scarcely six tons, we now have thirty."
Mr. Josiah Quincy, in his "Figures of the Past," gives us delightful glimpses of Mr. and Mrs. Adams. He was a child of five when he used to gaze in wonder at the second President in Quincy meeting-house.
"The President's pew was conspicuous in the reconstructed edifice, and there the old man was to be seen at every service. An air of respectful deference to John Adams seemed to pervade the building. The ministers brought their best sermons when they came to exchange, and had a certain consciousness in their manner, as if officiating before royalty. The medley of stringed and wind instruments in the gallery—a survival of the sacred trumpets and shawms mentioned by King David—seemed to the imagination of a child to be making discord together in honor of the venerable chief who was the centre of interest."
As Josiah Quincy recalls his childhood, so the old President loved to recall his own. "I shall never forget," he would say, "the rows of venerable heads ranged along those front benches which, as a young fellow, I used to gaze upon. They were as old and gray as mine is now."
When he was six, Josiah Quincy was put to school to the Reverend Peter Whitney, and, while there, was often asked to dine at the Adams house of a Sunday. "This was at first," he says, "somewhat of an ordeal for a boy; but the genuine kindness of the President, who had not the smallest chip of an iceberg in his composition, soon made me perfectly at ease in his society." With Mrs. Adams, he found "a shade more formality"; but this wore off, and he became much attached to her. "She always dressed handsomely, and her rich silks and laces seemed appropriate to a lady of her dignified position in the town." He adds:
"I well remember the modest dinner at the President's, to which I brought a school-boy's appetite. The pudding, generally composed of boiled cornmeal, always constituted the first course. This was the custom of the time,—it being thought desirable to take the edge off one's hunger before reaching the joint. Indeed, it was considered wise to stimulate the young to fill themselves with pudding, by the assurance that the boy who managed to eat the most of it should be helped most abundantly to the meat, which was to follow. It need not be said that neither the winner nor his competitors found much room for meat at the close of their contest; and so the domestic economy of the arrangement was very apparent. Miss Smith, a niece of Mrs. Adams, was an inmate of the President's family, and one of these ladies always carved. Mr. Adams made his contribution to the service of the table in the form of that good-humoured, easy banter, which makes a dinner of herbs more digestible than is a stalled ox without it. At a late period of our acquaintance, I find preserved in my journals frequent though too meagre reports of his conversation. But of the time of which I am writing there is not a word discoverable. I can distinctly picture to myself a certain iron spoon which the old gentleman once fished up from the depths of a pudding in which it had been unwittingly cooked; but of the pleasant things he said in those easy dinner-talks no trace remains."
Henry Bradshaw Fearon, an Englishman who visited the Adamses in 1817, gives this description of the dinner:
"1st course a pudding made of Indian corn, molasses and butter. 2nd, veal, bacon, neck of mutton, potatoes, cabbages, carrots and Indian beans, Madeira wine, of which each drank two glasses. We sat down to dinner at one o'clock. At two nearly all went a second time to church. For tea we had pound cake, wheat bread and butter, and bread made out of Indian corn and rye. Tea was brought from the kitchen and handed round by a neat white servant girl. The topics of conversation were various: England, America, politics, literature, science and Dr. Priestley, Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Siddons, Mr. Kean, France, Shakespeare, Moore, Lord Byron, Cobbett, American Revolution, the traitor, Gen. Arnold. . . . The establishment of the political patriarch consists of a house two stories high, containing, I believe, eight rooms; of two men and three maidservants, three horses and a plain carriage."
Mrs. Adams' strength continued to decline, though her spirits never flagged. She writes to her sister, Mrs. Shaw, in June, 1809:
"I was unable to reply to my dear sister's letter of May 19th when I received it, being visited by St. Anthony, who scourged me most cruelly. I am sure I wished well to the Spanish patriots, in their late struggle for liberty, and I bore no ill-will to those whose tutelar saint, thus unprovoked, beset me. I wish he had been preaching to the fishes, who, according to tradition, have been his hearers; for so ill did he use me, that I came near losing my senses. I think he must be a very bigoted saint, a favorer of the Inquisition, and a tyrant. If such are the penances of saints, I hope to hold no further intercourse with them. For four days and nights my face was so swelled and inflamed, that I was almost blind. It seemed as though my blood boiled. Until the third day, when I sent for the doctor, I knew not what the matter was. It confined me for ten days. My face is yet red; but I rode out today, and feel much better. I think a little journey would be of service to me; but I find, as years and infirmities increase, my courage and enterprise diminish. Ossian says, 'Age is dark and unlovely.' When I look in my glass, I do not much wonder at the story related of a very celebrated painter, Zeuxis, who, it is said, died of laughing at a comical picture he had made of an old woman. If our glass flatters us in youth, it tells us truths in age. The cold hand of death has frozen up some of the streams of our early friendships; the congelation is gaining upon vital powers and marking us for the tomb. 'May we so number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom.'
"The man is yet unborn, who duly weighs an hour.
"When my family was young around me, I used to find more leisure, and think I could leave it with less anxiety than I can now. There is not any occasion for detailing the whys and wherefores. It is said, if riches increase, those increase that eat them; but what shall we say, when the eaters increase without the wealth? You know, my dear sister, if there be bread enough, and to spare, unless a prudent attention manage that sufficiency, the fruits of diligence will be scattered by the hand of dissipation. No man ever prospered in the world without the consent and coöperation of his wife. It behoves us, who are parents or grandparents, to give our daughters and granddaughters, when their education devolves upon us, such an education as shall qualify them for the useful and domestic duties of life, that they should learn the proper use and improvement of time, since 'time was given for use, not waste.' The finer accomplishments, such as music, dancing, and painting, serve to set off and embellish the picture; but the groundwork must be formed of more durable colors.
"I consider it as an indispensable requisite, that every American wife should herself know how to order and regulate her family; how to govern her domestics, and train up her children. For this purpose, the all-wise Creator made woman an help-meet for man, and she who fails in these duties does not answer the end of her creation.
Life's cares are comforts; such by Heaven designed; They that have none must make them, or be wretched. Cares are employments, and, without employ, The soul is on a rack, the rack of rest.
I have frequently said to my friends, when they have thought me overburdened with cares, I would rather have too much than too little. Life stagnates without action. I could never bear merely to vegetate;
Waters stagnate when they cease to flow." Some of the most delightful letters of her later years are addressed to her granddaughter, Caroline Smith. The two following ones give a lively picture of her daily life.
"Your letter, my dear Caroline, gave me pleasure. As all yours are calculated to enliven the spirits, I take them as a cordial, which during the residence of the bald-pated winter and a close confinement to my chamber for several weeks, I have been much in want of. And now what return can I make you? What can you expect from age, debility and weakness?
"Why, you shall have the return of a grateful heart, which amidst infirmities is not insensible to the many blessings which encompass it. Food, raiment and fuel, dear and kind friends and relatives, mental food and entertainment sufficient to satisfy the craving appetite, and the hopes and prospect of another and better country, even an heavenly.
Eternal power! from whom these blessings flow, Teach me still more to wonder—more to know, Here round my home still lift my soul to thee,
And let me ever midst thy bounties raise An humble note of thankfulness and praise.
"Although my memory is not so tenacious as in youth, nor my eye-sight so clear, my hearing is unimpaired, my heart warm and my affections are as fervent to those in whom 'my days renew' as formerly to those from 'whom my days I drew.' I have some troubles in the loss of friends by death, and no small solicitude for the motherless offspring, but my trust and confidence are in that being who 'hears the young ravens when they cry.' I do not know, my dear Caroline, that I ever gave you encouragement to expect me at the valley, although I should rejoice to be able to visit you—but I now look forward with the hope of seeing you here as an attendant upon your mother as soon as the spring opens and the roads will permit.
"We have snow by the cargo this winter. Not a bird flits but a hungry crow now and then, in quest of prey. The fruit trees exhibit a mournful picture, broken down by the weight of the snow; whilst the running of sleighs and the jingle of bells assures us that all nature does not slumber.
"As if you love me, proverbially, you must love my dog, you will be glad to learn that Juno yet lives, although like her mistress she is gray with age. She appears to enjoy life and to be grateful for the attention paid her. She wags her tail and announces a visitor whenever one appears.
"Adieu, my dear child—remember me with affection to your brother and with kind affection to your honored father and also to your uncle whose benevolent qualities I respect and whose cheerful spirits have made 'the wilderness to smile and blossom as the rose.' Most affectionately,
"Quincy, 19 November, 1812.
"My Dear Caroline:
"Your neat, pretty letter, looking small, but containing much, reached me this day. I have a good mind to give you the journal of the day.
"Six o'clock. Rose, and, in imitation of his Britannic Majesty, kindled my own fire. Went to the stairs, as usual, to summon George and Charles. Returned to my chamber, dressed myself. No one stirred. Called a second time, with a voice a little raised.
"Seven o'clock. Blockheads not out of bed. Girls in motion. Mean, when I hire another manservant, that he shall come for one call.
"Eight o'clock. Fires made, breakfast prepared. L—— in Boston. Mrs. A. at the tea-board. Forgot the sausages. Susan's recollection brought them upon the table.
"Enter Ann. 'Ma'am, the man is come with coals.'
"'Go, call George to assist him.' (Exit Ann.)
"Enter Charles. 'Mr. B—— is come with cheese, turnips, etc. Where are they to be put?' 'I will attend to him myself.' (Exit Charles.)
"Just seated at the table again.
"Enter George with, 'Ma'am, here is a man with a drove of pigs.' A consultation is held upon this important subject, the result of which is the purchase of two spotted swine.
"Nine o'clock. Enter Nathaniel, from the upper house, with a message for sundries; and black Thomas's daughter, for sundries. Attended to all these concerns. A little out of sorts that I could not finish my breakfast. Note: never to be incommoded with trifles.
"Enter George Adams, from the post-office,—a large packet from Russia, and from the valley also. Avaunt, all cares,—I put you all aside,—and thus I find good news from a far country,—children, grandchildren, all well. I had no expectation of hearing from Russia this winter, and the pleasure was the greater to obtain letters of so recent a date, and to learn that the family were all in health. For this blessing give I thanks.
"At twelve o'clock, by a previous engagement, I was to call at Mr. G——'s for Cousin B. Smith to accompany me to the bridge at Quincy-port, being the first day of passing it. The day was pleasant; the scenery delightful. Passed both bridges, and entered Hingham. Returned before three o'clock. Dined, and,
"At five, went to Mr. T. G——'s, with your grandfather; the third visit he has made with us in the week; and let me whisper to you he played at whist with Mr. J. G——, who was as ready and accurate as though he had both eyes to see with. Returned.
"At nine, sat down and wrote a letter.
"At eleven, retired to bed. We do not so every week. I tell it you as one of the marvels of the age. By all this, you will learn that grandmother has got rid of her croaking, and that grandfather is in good health, and that both of us are as tranquil as that bald old fellow, called Time, will let us be.
"And here I was interrupted in my narrative.
"I re-assume my pen upon the 22d of November, being this day sixty-eight years old. How many reflections occur to me upon this anniversary!
"What have I done for myself or others in this long period of my sojourn, that I can look back upon with pleasure, or reflect upon with approbation? Many, very many follies and errors of judgment and conduct rise up before me, and ask forgiveness of that Being, who seeth into the secret recesses of the heart, and from whom nothing is hidden. I think I may with truth say, that in no period of my life have the vile passions had control over me. I bear no enmity to any human being; but, alas! as Mrs. Placid said to her friend, by which of thy good works wouldst thou be willing to be judged? I do not believe, with some divines, that all our good works are but as filthy rags; the example which our great Master has set before us, of purity, benevolence, obedience, submission and humility, are virtues which, if faithfully practiced, will find their reward; or why has he pronounced so many benedictions upon them in his sermon on the mount? I would ask with the poet,
Is not virtue in mankind The nutriment that feeds the mind, Then who, with reason, can pretend That all effects of virtue end?
I am one of those who are willing to rejoice always. My disposition and habits are not of the gloomy kind. I believe that 'to enjoy is to obey.'
Yet not to Earth's contracted span, Thy goodness let me bound; Or think thee Lord alone of man, Whilst thousand worlds are round."
This period of quiet retirement did not lack its thrills of interest, public and private. Europe was in the throes of the Napoleonic Wars, a conflict surpassed in bitterness only by that of our own day. In due time came our own War of 1812, and for three years this country was in a continual state of alarm. On December 30th, 1812, Mrs. Adams writes to her friend of many years, Mrs. Mercy Warren:
"So long as we are inhabitants of this earth and possess any of our faculties, we cannot be indifferent to the state of our country, our posterity and our friends. Personally we have arrived so near the close of the drama that we can experience but few of the evils which await the rising generation. We have passed through one revolution and have happily arrived at the goal, but the ambition, injustice and plunder of foreign powers have again involved us in war, the termination of which is not given us to see.
"If we have not 'the gorgeous palaces of the cloud-capp'd towers' of Moscow to be levelled with the dust, nor a million of victims to sacrifice upon the altar of ambition, we have our firesides, our comfortable habitations, our cities, our churches and our country to defend, our rights, privileges and independence to preserve. And for these are we not justly contending? Thus it appears to me; yet I hear from our pulpits and read from our presses that it is an unjust, a wicked, a ruinous and unnecessary war. If I give an opinion with respect to the conduct of our native State, I cannot do it with approbation. She has had much to complain of as it respected a refusal of naval protection, yet that cannot justify her in paralyzing the arm of government when raised for her defence and that of the nation. A house divided against itself—and upon that foundation do our enemies build their hopes of subduing us. May it prove a sandy one to them.
"You once asked what does Mr. Adams think of Napoleon? The reply was, I think, that after having been the scourge of nations, he should himself be destroyed. We have seen him run an astonishing career. Is not his measure full? Like Charles the XII of Sweden, he may find in Alexander another Peter. Much, my friends, might we moralize upon these great events, but we know but in part and we see but in part. The longer I live, the more wrapt in clouds and darkness does the future appear to me."
British cruisers patrolled the New England coast, and could frequently be seen from the upper windows of the Quincy houses. If Mrs. Adams had climbed Penn's Hill on June 1st, 1813, she could have watched the naval duel between the Chesapeake and the Shannon, as in 1776 she had watched the burning of Charlestown.
A few months later, the neighborhood of Boston assumed once more the military aspect of forty years before. "Troops from Berkshire were quartered in Dorchester, at Neponset Bridge, generally considered the last outpost toward the enemy, who, it was thought, would land on Mr. Quincy's farm. One Sunday, a report came that the British had actually landed at Scituate, and were marching up to Boston. The drums beat to arms; and the elders, who remembered the Revolution, increased the trepidation of their juniors by anecdotes of devastation. These apprehensions were much exaggerated."
In the midst of these alarms, John and Abigail Adams celebrated their golden wedding. "Yesterday," she writes to a granddaughter on the 26th of October, 1814, "yesterday completes half a century since I entered the married state, then just your age. I have great cause of thankfulness, that I have lived so long and enjoyed so large a portion of happiness as has been my lot. The greatest source of unhappiness I have known in that period has arisen from the long and cruel separations which I was called, in a time of war and with a young family around me, to submit to."
In the same house, their son, John Quincy Adams, and their grandson Charles Francis Adams, were in time to celebrate their golden weddings; a notable series of festivals.
A member of the Adams family tells me the Second President "has the reputation in the family of being very high tempered, and it is said that when he wrote letters which his wife thought unwise, she would hold them back and give them to him a week or so later, saying she thought perhaps he would prefer to change them! The singular thing was that he apparently never resented the tampering with his correspondence."
There can be no stronger proof than this of the oneness of this remarkable couple. President John may have been high tempered, but I fancy there are few men of today who would receive with meekness such action on the part of their wives.
The winter of 1814-15 opened gloomily enough. There seemed no immediate prospect of peace. Accordingly, when, on the 14th day of February, 1815, the bells began to ring, people merely said, "Fire!" and looked out of window for the smoke. There was no smoke till the bonfires sprang up at night. More and more joyfully the bells pealed, till all knew that the war was over, that peace had been declared. Boston and Quincy and all the other neighboring towns went mad with joy. "The whole population were abroad, all classes congratulating each other on the happy tidings. Almost every house displayed a flag. Drums beat; cannon fired; the military were in motion. Sailors in large sleds, each drawn by fifteen horses,—the word 'Peace' in capitals on the hat of the foremost man,—greeted everyone with loud huzzas. The joy and exultation were in proportion to the previous fear and despondency. It was a day never to be forgotten."
There were to be no more alarms for Abigail Adams; no more thunder of cannon or marching of troops: the rest of her life was peace. She had the joy of welcoming her eldest son, after his foreign service of eight long years, and of seeing him appointed Secretary of State. This, her grandson thinks, was the crowning mercy of her life. A few years more, and she might have seen him exalted to the loftier office which his father had held; but this was not to be. In October, 1818, she was stricken with typhus fever; and on the 28th day of that month, she died.
In closing the record of such a life as this, one longs for some perfect tribute which may fitly sum it up. I find this tribute, in the words of Josiah Quincy: "Clear and shedding blessings to the last, her sun sank below the horizon, beaming with the same mild strength and pure radiance which distinguished its meridian."
Another beautiful word was that of President Kirkland of Harvard University, spoken at Mrs. Adams' funeral:
"Ye seek to mourn, bereaved friends, as becomes Christians, in a manner worthy of the person you lament. You do, then, bless the Giver of life, that the course of your endeared and honored friend was so long and so bright; that she entered so fully into the spirit of these injunctions which we have explained, and was a minister of blessings to all within her influence. You are soothed to reflect that she was sensible of the many tokens of divine goodness which marked her lot; that she received the good of her existence with a cheerful and grateful heart; that, when called to weep, she bore adversity with an equal mind; that she used the world as not abusing it to excess, improving well her time, talents, and opportunities, and, though desired longer in this world, was fitted for a better happiness than this world can give."
John Adams survived his dearest friend by eight years, preserving his faculties to the last, clear-minded and vehement as on the day when he signed the Declaration of Independence. At noon on the fiftieth anniversary of the "day of deliverance," amid the "pomp and parade," the "shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations," which he had bespoken for it, his valiant spirit passed from earth. His last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives!" This was not the case. His ancient colleague, at one time his bitter opponent, but of late years once more his affectionate friend, had died an hour before.
Husband and wife lie side by side, under the portico of the First Church of Quincy, a building given by Mr. Adams to his beloved town. On the walls of that church are inscribed their epitaphs, which may most fitly close this simple record.
LIBERTATEM, AMICITIAM, FIDEM, RETINEBIS D. O. M. BENEATH THESE WALLS ARE DEPOSITED THE MORTAL REMAINS OF JOHN ADAMS. SON OF JOHN AND SUZANNA (BOYLSTON) ADAMS, SECOND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES; BORN 19/30 OCTOBER, 1735. ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1776, HE PLEDGED HIS LIFE, FORTUNE, AND SACRED HONOR TO THE INDEPENDENCE OF HIS COUNTRY. ON THE THIRD OF SEPTEMBER, 1783, HE AFFIXED HIS SEAL TO THE DEFINITIVE TREATY WITH GREAT BRITAIN, WHICH ACKNOWLEDGED THAT INDEPENDENCE, AND CONSUMMATED THE REDEMPTION OF HIS PLEDGE. ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1826, HE WAS SUMMONED TO THE INDEPENDENCE OF IMMORTALITY, AND TO THE JUDGMENT OF HIS GOD. THIS HOUSE WILL BEAR WITNESS TO HIS PIETY; THIS TOWN, HIS BIRTHPLACE, TO HIS MUNIFICENCE; HISTORY TO HIS PATRIOTISM; POSTERITY TO THE DEPTH AND COMPASS OF HIS MIND. AT HIS SIDE SLEEPS, TILL THE TRUMP SHALL SOUND, ABIGAIL, HIS BELOVED AND ONLY WIFE, DAUGHTER OF WILLIAM AND ELIZABETH (QUINCY) SMITH; IN EVERY RELATION OF LIFE A PATTERN OF FILIAL, CONJUGAL, MATERNAL, AND SOCIAL VIRTUE. BORN NOVEMBER 11/22, 1744, DECEASED 28 OCTOBER, 1818, AGED 74. MARRIED 25 OCTOBER, 1764. DURING AN UNION OF MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY THEY SURVIVED, IN HARMONY OF SENTIMENT, PRINCIPLE, AND AFFECTION, THE TEMPESTS OF CIVIL COMMOTION; MEETING UNDAUNTED AND SURMOUNTING THE TERRORS AND TRIALS OF THAT REVOLUTION, WHICH SECURED THE FREEDOM OF THEIR COUNTRY; IMPROVED THE CONDITION OF THEIR TIMES; AND BRIGHTENED THE PROSPECTS OF FUTURITY TO THE RACE OF MAN UPON EARTH. PILGRIM. FROM LIVES THUS SPENT THY EARTHLY DUTIES LEARN; FROM FANCY'S DREAMS TO ACTIVE VIRTUE TURN: LET FREEDOM, FRIENDSHIP, FAITH, THY SOUL ENGAGE, AND SERVE, LIKE THEM, THY COUNTRY AND THY AGE.