John Adams to Abigail Adams
May 5. 1780
My dear Portia
By your Uncles Letter of 26 feb., he could not hear of any Letters from me by Trash. I certainly wrote by him from Corunna, so did the Children. I wrote to Congress, as well as to you. I wrote also by Babson, who carried some Things for you, from Bilbao. I hope the letters are not lost.
I went a few days ago to Biçetre, to see the Curiosities of that Place.1 It is a Bedlam for the Mad, a Prison for Felons, an hospital for the Poor, and particularly for the most abandoned and decayed Women of the Town.—What a Collection of Insanity, Criminality, and Misery!—It is impossible for me to find time to describe in detail the Things that I saw there. The Objects of Horrour, which are there in such Numbers and such Variety of sorts, would be too painfull to describe.
There are 4600 Persons, in this Castle and its Appendages, including the distracted, the Culprits, the Poor, and the Tradesmen who reside there, and whose labours are necessary, for the subsistance and Accommodations of the Inhabitants of the Place. It is about 3 miles out of the City. In a beautifull and airy situation—it has a large fine Garden—a spacious Court Yard: but the most remarkable thing is a Well, 45 feet in Circumference and of a vast depth out of which they draw all the Water for the Place. It is poured into a vast Reservoir, Square, and 9 feet deep, from whence it is taken for the supply of the People.
I went next Day to see the Guarde Meubles of the King, which is at the Place of L[ouis] 14. Here were riches and Magnificence without End—Gold, silver and prescious stones. But I cannot enter into Descriptions of particulars.2 After which We all went to see the Hospital of Invalids.
RC (Adams Papers).
1. Under 1 May 1780 JA’s account of personal expenditures has the following entry: “Gave at Biçetre, the bedlam of Paris 9 ” (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:439). This famous hospital, asylum, and house of correction, founded in the 1630’s, took its name from a château in the countryside, just south of the then limits of Paris, which was the earliest building devoted to hospital use. For a description of the buildings and grounds of the Bicêtre at the time of JA’s visit, see Dict. historique de la ville de Paris description begins Pierre Thomas Nicolas Hurtaut and ——— Magny, Dictionnaire historique de la ville de Paris et de ses environs . . ., Paris, 1779; 4 vols. description ends , 1:606–610.
2. The Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was the private art collection or “précieux dépot” of the King. See a detailed contemporary description in Dict. historique de la ville de Paris description begins Pierre Thomas Nicolas Hurtaut and ——— Magny, Dictionnaire historique de la ville de Paris et de ses environs . . ., Paris, 1779; 4 vols. description ends , 3:111–116. It was housed in 1780 in a building in the Rue Royale, Place de Louis XV (not XIV).