John Adams to Abigail Adams
Passy April 12. 1778
My dearest Friend
I am so sensible of the Difficulty of conveying Letters safe, to you, that I am afraid to write, any Thing more than to tell you that after all the Fatigues and Dangers of my Voyage, and Journey, I am here in Health. . . .1
The Reception I have met, in this Kingdom, has been as friendly, as polite, and as respectfull as was possible. It is the universal Opinion of the People here, of all Ranks, that a Friendship between France and America, is the Interest of both Countries, and the late Alliance, so happily formed, is universally popular: so much so that I have been told by Persons of good Judgment, that the Government here, would have been under a Sort of Necessity of agreeing to it even if it had not been agreable to themselves.
The Delights of France are innumerable. The Politeness, the Elegance, the Softness, the Delicacy, is extreme.
In short stern and hauty Republican as I am, I cannot help loving these People, for their earnest Desire, and Assiduity to please.
It would be futile to attempt Descriptions of this Country especially of Paris and Versailles. The public Buildings and Gardens, the Paintings, Sculpture, Architecture, Musick, &c. of these Cities have already filled many Volumes. The Richness, the Magnificence, and Splendor, is beyond all Description.
This Magnificence is not confined to public Buildings such as Churches, Hospitals, Schools &c., but extends to private Houses, to Furniture, Equipage, Dress, and especially to Entertainments.—But what is all this to me? I receive but little Pleasure in beholding all these Things, because I cannot but consider them as Bagatelles, introduced, by Time and Luxury in Exchange for the great Qualities and hardy manly Virtues of the human Heart. I cannot help suspecting that the more Elegance, the less Virtue in all Times and Countries.—Yet I fear that even my own dear Country wants the Power and Opportunity more than the Inclination, to be elegant, soft, and luxurious.
All the Luxury I desire in this World is the Company of my dearest Friend, and my Children, and such Friends as they delight in, which I have sanguine Hopes, I shall, after a few Years enjoy in Peace.—I am with inexpressible Affection Yours, yours,
RC (Adams Papers.)
1. Suspension points in MS. This is the first surviving letter from JA to AA since those he wrote her on 13 Feb., the day he went on board the Boston in Nantasket Roads (see vol. 2:388–389, above); and it was not expressly acknowledged by AA until 23 Nov., below, well after she had received later letters from JA. Whether or not he wrote her from Marblehead a day or two later is not clear; see vol. 2:392–393, 403. He had certainly written her one or more letters at sea and had sent them by the British letter-of-marque vessel Martha, captured by the Boston on 10 March, but this prize was promptly retaken by the British, and its commander, Lt. Hezekiah Welch of the Boston, threw into the sea all the letters he carried. See JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:284–286; AA to JA, 30 June, below.
Thus, curiously, JA seems not to have written home upon his arrival or during his stay at Bordeaux. However, from a well-placed informant a detailed account of JA’s reception in Bordeaux survives and has recently come to light. This is in a letter from John Bondfield, a merchant of Canadian antecedents who may have known JA in America and had recently settled in Bordeaux. On 4 April 1778 Bondfield wrote to Samuel Adams “In Congress”:
“Your Brother the Honble. John Adams Esqr. landed Safe at this port from on board the Boston frigate the 1st. Instant.
“His arrival gave universal joy to the Inhabitants of this City and was celebrated with various marks of esteem attatchment and veneration. In the evening an entertainment was given by the house of Messrs. Reculé de Basmarins Raimbault & Ce. in honor of his presence to which was invited the principal officers of the crown and most of the first Merchants of this City his arrival to the Company was anounced by the discharge of thirteen of Canon, after Supper thirteen patriotick toasts, the first given by Mr. Adams was the King which was accompanied by a Royal discharge of twenty one peices of Canon, the Second the Congress and a Continental Salute of thirteen and So in gradation the whole thirteen the Gardens where Illuminated and in the Center
from wh[ich] refflected rays illumined the atmosphere it was not possible to gratiffy the principal People in this City who all [came?] for the honor of his company, he was obliged to Shun the Publick walks not being able to pass for the crouds that continually attended him, his embassy pressing his department he set off this Morning for Paris and was Saluted as he crosst the River by a discharge of Thirteen peices of Canon, he will arrive at Paris the 8th. Instant at Night.” (P.R.O.: High Court of Admiralty 32, Prize Papers, bundle 473, pt. 1.)
Together with others from Bondfield to American correspondents, this letter was captured at sea and never reached Samuel Adams (communication from H. C. Johnson, Public Record Office, London, to the editors, 7 Feb. 1964). It was brought to the editors’ attention by Mrs. Katharine Kellock of Washington, D. C. Concerning Bondfield, appointed American commercial agent at Bordeaux by the American Commissioners at Paris in March of this year, see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:293–294 and passim.